DA's office widens probe into targeting of Latinos
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The Suffolk County district attorney's office is widening its probe into claims that Latino immigrants were targeted for police traffic stops during which cash was stolen from them, after officials heard of more incidents, a chief investigator said Monday.
"We are actively trying to find other victims, and we are reaching out to leaders in the Hispanic community for their assistance as well," said Chris McPartland, who oversees investigations in District Attorney Thomas Spota's government corruption bureau. "We have reason to believe there are other victims."
The leads surfaced in the days after Spota filed official misconduct and petty larceny charges against Sgt. Scott A. Greene, a Sixth Precinct officer caught on camera taking a $100 bill from a car driven by an undercover Latino officer.
The investigation was sparked by the complaints of two Latino men who said they were stopped in the Farmingville-Medford area.
Greene has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Tim Mazzei of Blue Point, did not comment on the investigation, saying, "I will just repeat: I am shocked at these allegations."
Other immigrants have shared their stories with Make The Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group in Brentwood, organizer Irma Solis said.
The alleged victims described incidents in which an officer working in Coram and Farmingville flagged down vehicles driven by unlicensed immigrants with out-of-state license plates, had the drivers and sometimes passengers exit their cars, and frisked them. They told organizers that cash was taken from their pockets or from their cars before they were released without charges.
Those immigrants said they did not report the cases out of fear, partly because they reside in the country illegally and don't want to be deported.
"They are not feeling secure," Solis said. "They don't know whether the next officer who is going to stop them is going to do something like that to them."
One such immigrant, who asked to remain anonymous because of fear of reprisal, told Newsday that a police officer last summer followed his vehicle into a Farmingville parking lot, where the officer told him he had to inspect the pickup truck for drugs. He said the officer, whose name he did not know, had him exit the vehicle and empty his pockets.
"When he left," said the 49-year-old construction worker from Mexico, "my wallet was open and I was missing $100" -- his pay for a day's work. "A lot of people have been through this, but everyone is afraid of reporting it."
Karina Claudio, Make The Road's lead organizer, said her group will help to find potential victims.
"The district attorney is investigating this, and this is a signal that they are taking this seriously," she said. "But we need to go in deeper into the investigation, because this is not one incident, and we want to make sure our community has full accountability."
The allegations follow a December accord between the U.S. Department of Justice, Suffolk County and its police, establishing reforms to address allegations of discriminatory policing that ensued from the 2008 killing in Patchogue of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in a hate incident.
Foster Maer, an attorney with the Manhattan-based LatinoJustice advocacy group, which was among those that called for the federal probe, said this case "is disturbing beyond belief, as it demonstrates that an officer could get away with the most brutal forms of racial harassment and no one within the force would stop it."
Maer said his group would prefer that an independent special prosecutor be named to look into the matter.
McPartland said the district attorney's office wants people in immigrant communities to know "that their complaints will be taken seriously."