Originally published on August 27, 2014, at NationofChange.org
Twenty-two Puerto Rico Police Officers have pleaded guilty to multiple charges of robbery, extortion, civil rights violations, drug dealing, and obstruction of justice. Tainted by a pervasive history of abuse and corruption, the Puerto Rico police department operates with virtual impunity and a blatant disregard for the law. Separate investigations from the DOJ and ACLU confirm multiple reports of the police engaging in the unjustified use of excessive force, lethal force, and criminal activities.
On the evening of November 5, 2008, Lt. Erick Rivera Nazario and Officer Jimmy Rodriguez Vega confronted and killed 19-year-old Jose Luis Irizarry Perez. While Officer David Colon Martinez restrained Irizarry Perez, Lt. Rivera Nazario and Officer Rodriguez Vega beat the teenager to death with their batons. On March 8, 2013, Officer Rodriguez Vega pleaded guilty to one count of depriving Irizarry Perez of his civil rights by striking him with his police baton.
After failing to cover-up the unlawful killing, Officer David Colon Martinez pleaded guilty on August 22, 2014, to one count of making a false statement to the FBI and one count of perjury for lying to the federal grand jury that investigated the incident. Officer Miguel Negron Vazquez joined him in pleading guilty to making a false statement to the FBI.
Three days later, Lt. Rivera Nazario, Sgt. Antonio Rodriguez Caraballo, and Officer Angel Torres Quinones pleaded guilty to federal civil rights violations in connection to the fatal beating of Irizarry Perez. Lt. Rivera Nazario admitted to depriving the victim of his civil rights by repeatedly striking him with a police baton. Sgt. Rodriguez Caraballo pleaded guilty to one count of perjury for making a false statement to the federal grand jury. Officer Torres Quinones pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for providing misleading information to the local Puerto Rico prosecutor that initially investigated the matter.
Lt. Rivera Nazario and Officer Rodriguez Vega each face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for their convictions for violating Irizarry Perez’s civil rights. Officer Torres Quinones faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for his conviction for obstruction of justice by providing misleading information to the local prosecutor.
In a separate case on August 25, sixteen Puerto Rico cops pleaded guilty to running a criminal organization from their police department. Sgt. Carlos Candelario-Santiago, Sgt. Jose Flores-Villalongo, officers Osvaldo Vazquez-Ruiz, Orlando Sierra-Pereira, Danny Nieves-Rivera, Roberto Ortiz-Cintron, Yovanny Crespo-Candelaria, Jose Sanchez-Santiago, Miguel Perez-Rivera, Nadab Arroyo-Rosa, Luis Suarez-Sanchez, Eduardo Montañez-Perez, and Carlos Laureano-Cruz pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Officers Ruben Casiano-Pietri, Christian Valles-Collazo, and Ricardo Rivera Rodriguez pleaded guilty to robbery and extortion charges. Several defendants also pleaded guilty to firearms charges in connection with using their police-issued firearms during their crimes.
The officers concealed their illegal activity with fraudulently obtained court documents and falsified paperwork that made it appear they were engaged in legitimate police work. They gave false testimonies in exchange for bribes, manipulated court records, planted evidence to make false arrests, sold massive amounts of drugs, broke into houses, and extorted money from their victims. Sentencing hearings are scheduled for December 2014.
According to an ACLU report titled Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force, between 2005 and 2010, over 1,700 police officers were arrested for criminal activity including assault, theft, domestic violence, drug trafficking, and murder. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) also concluded that Puerto Rico’s police officers often engaged in excessive and unreasonable force along with committing multiple civil rights violations.
To illustrate the impunity existing within the police department’s disciplinary system, the ACLU investigated the case of Criminal Investigations Corps Officer Miguel Diaz Martinez. After being arrested eight times in his first five years as a cop, Officer Diaz Martinez held the Acting Police Superintendent and another officer hostage with a shotgun at a police station after assaulting and threatening to kill his wife.
After expelling Officer Diaz Martinez from the police force for a short time, the department reinstated him and returned his service revolver. On the day after his full return to active duty, he killed unarmed 18-year-old José Rivera and shot the teen’s unarmed sister María Rosario Díaz in the leg for not presenting their identification. After Officer Diaz Martinez received a psychiatric certification declaring him fit for active duty, he assaulted, arrested, and imprisoned court security guard Grancid Camilo for telling him not to park his car in the judge’s parking spot.