In a move applauded by local officials and criticized by the family of hate crime victim Marcelo Lucero, a judge dismissed a $40 million lawsuit filed by his family against Brookhaven Town and the village of Patchogue.
U.S. District Court Judge Leonard D. Wexler last week granted a motion to dismiss by the town and village after each entity argued that it did not maintain its own police department and thus should not be part of the lawsuit also filed against Suffolk County, its police department and 10 unnamed officers.
The lawsuit remains active against the county, the department and the officers, attorneys in the case said. County and police officials declined to comment.
The family of Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant assaulted by a group of youths and stabbed to death three years ago, filed the civil rights lawsuit in November 2010 in federal court in Brooklyn.
The lawsuit accuses officers of violating Lucero's civil rights by failing to prevent the Nov. 8, 2008, assault. Police and public officials should have taken steps to reduce known racial tensions in the area, the lawsuit argued.
Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri and Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko said they were relieved -- but unsurprised -- by the decision.
"I don't think we had any culpability in it, and the decision is the right one," Pontieri said.
But Joselo Lucero, Marcelo Lucero's brother, said the decision sets a troubling precedent.
"This sends a very sad message to other villages and towns, because it gives all of them the option of not being responsible," Joselo Lucero said. "We are talking about murder here and the judge should consider the impact his decision will have."
Marcelo Lucero was attacked and stabbed while walking home from work near Railroad Avenue and Stephen Street in Patchogue.
The lawsuit claims the county, its police department, the town and village had "knowledge and indifference to the obvious racial tension between whites and Hispanics in the Patchogue area" and failed to properly protect Marcelo Lucero by taking steps to reduce the tension.
Wexler wrote in his Nov. 2 opinion that since neither the town nor village policed the area of the attack, "general allegations as to a sentiment of racism within the town or village of some residents or officials, even if true, are insufficient to state a claim."
With the lawsuit pending against the county and police, Lucero family attorney Frederick Brewington of Hempstead said it still "speaks to trying to make sure that things that have gone wrong in Suffolk County and surrounding communities do not continue, in regards to how we treat our brothers and sisters, no matter what race or color they are."
Jeffrey Conroy of Medford in 2010 was convicted of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Six other teens also pleaded guilty in the attack.
With Victor Ramos