Suburban New York police department settles with feds over bias claims

Story highlightsThe murder of an Ecuadoran man in 2008 sparked the investigation Suffolk County police were accused of failing to investigate crimes against Latinos"Let's go find some Mexicans to f--- up," one of the killers reportedly said A suburban New York police department has reached a tentative settlement with federal authorities to beef up its efforts to ensure that it does not discriminate against Latinos.

The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York announced the tentative agreement with the Suffolk County Police Department on Tuesday; the county's legislature must approve it for it to take effect.

The investigation began after Marcelo Lucero, a 37-year-old Ecuadoran immigrant, was killed by a group of teenagers on Long Island -- one of whom was quoted as saying, "Let's go find some Mexicans to f--- up" -- as he was walking home on the evening of November 8, 2008.

Investigators focused on claims that Suffolk County police had discouraged Latino victims from filing complaints and had failed to investigate crimes and hate-crime incidents involving Latinos, the Justice Department said in a news release.

As a result of that policy, the seven teenagers involved in the killing felt they could act with impunity, said Fernando Mateo, president of Hispanics Across America and spokesman for the Lucero family, in a telephone interview on Thursday.

The killer got a sentence of 25 years in prison; the other six each got 10 years, Mateo said.

But the family feels the police department bears some of the blame and wants an apology, he said.

Since Lucero's death, police response to allegations of crimes against Latinos has improved, Mateo said.

"Today, the police department treats them with a little more respect," he said. "It's getting better, but it's not perfect."

Two years ago, federal authorities recommended changes to promote trust between police and the Latino community, and several of those changes have been carried out, the Justice Department said. They include "enhanced training and investigation of allegations of hate crimes and bias incidents, meaningful access to police services for individuals with limited English proficiency, strengthened SCPD outreach efforts in Latino communities, and the development and maintenance of a true Community Oriented Policing Enforcement program throughout the county."

The release said the department would monitor the county's compliance for at least a year.

"All residents of Suffolk County deserve full and unbiased police protection, regardless of national origin, race, or citizenship status," said U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch. "When people feel they cannot turn to the police for protection, they have lost one of our most basic rights -- the right to feel safe in one's community."

"Years of discriminatory county policies bred hostility toward immigrants that manifested itself in the senseless murder of Mr. Lucero," said Amol Sinha, director of the the Suffolk County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "We are optimistic this settlement will put our community on a new path where everyone feels safe, secure, valued and respected, regardless of race or ethnicity."