BROWN: Lucero case shows need to report hate attacks

+ -
On Nov. 3, 2008, according to testimony, Octavio On Nov. 3, 2008, according to testimony, Octavio Cordovo was beaten unconscious near a gasoline station in Medford by four teenagers. Cordovo later testified in the Jeffrey Conroy trial. Photo Credit: James Carbone

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

If there's one thing that the trial and conviction of young Jeffrey Conroy made clear, it's that someone knew about attacks against Latinos in Patchogue.

The victims knew.

The attackers knew.

And in at least one case - we now know through testimony at Conroy's trial - Suffolk police knew.

Conroy was convicted of attempted second-degree assault as a hate crime in three attacks, one of them occurring five days before Marcelo Lucero died.

On Nov. 3, 2008, according to testimony, Octavio Cordovo was beaten unconscious near a gasoline station in Medford by four teenagers.

That night, police arriving at the scene found a trifecta that could have helped make quick work of solving the assault. There was a victim, Cordovo. There were suspects, identified by the victim. And there was a witness, a Good Samaritan who had called 911 when he saw Cordovo on the ground with two of the teenagers standing over him. The man then went to his SUV and chased the two teens.

In court, Cordovo, an emigrant from Mexico, testified that he did not want to press charges that night - because he was frightened of speaking to the police.

All he wanted to do, he said, was go home.

So he did. So did the witness.

And so did Conroy and three other teens. All of them would be charged in the attack on Lucero five days later.

After Lucero was killed, the district attorney's office, working with the police department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, went back to the Cordovo case.

To the victim. And to the Good Samaritan. And, with their help, they managed to build enough of a case to persuade a grand jury - and on Monday, a jury - that Cordovo had been a hate crime victim.

Both Cordovo and the Good Samaritan, Vincent Martino, of Medford, testified at Conroy's trial.

Fast forward, now, to Tuesday's news conference at the district attorney's office in Hauppauge, where prosecutors and police announced the arrest of a ring of suspects charged in connection with a series of robberies.

The suspects picked their victims because they were Latino, prosecutors charge.

What happened in Patchogue and, a decade ago, in Shirley, where two day laborers were beaten, almost to death, are not anomalies.

But this time, the victims were not afraid to go to Suffolk police. As a result, precinct commanders were able to quickly identify a pattern, and just as quickly, Spanish-speaking officers who flooded the area identified a group of suspects.

That's police work.

Tuesday, Police Commissioner Richard Dormer stated unequivocally that police want to hear from victims. That's the way it should have been before Marcelo Lucero's death, before the district attorney and the Federal Bureau of Investigation stepped in. And before the U.S. Justice Department launched its ongoing investigation into how the police department handled complaints of crimes against Latinos.

Tuesday, Dormer declined to talk about the Lucero verdict.

Dormer's boss, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy - a candidate for New York governor - has yet to address the verdict beyond a written statement handed out by his office on Monday.

But at least it's clear that policing in Suffolk has changed. And for the better.

Still, the troubling question lingers: Where would Marcelo Lucero, or for that matter, Jeffrey Conroy, be had Octavio Cordovo felt unafraid to come forward?

You also may be interested in: