Seeking to widen Suffolk hate crime probe

Immigration advocates, including The Rev. Allan Ramirez, hold

Immigration advocates, including The Rev. Allan Ramirez, hold a news conference calling for federal civil rights officials to examine allegations that the Suffolk County officials disrupted hate crime investigations. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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A coalition of immigrant advocates called Monday for the expansion of a federal probe into claims of discriminatory policing in Suffolk to also examine tensions between County Executive Steve Levy and the former head of the police hate crimes unit.

The advocates also met in Central Islip with officials from the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, to raise their concerns.

Henry Fernandez, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, who was among those at the meeting, said Justice officials should look at how a conflict between Levy's office and the unit "hampered the ability of the Suffolk Police Department" to complete hate-crime investigations.

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Levy placed Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks, who commanded the Suffolk Police Department's hate crimes unit, under a higher-ranking supervisor in January.

Reecks, who resigned from the county's hate crimes task force in January but remains as the unit's deputy commander, complained that the Levy administration controlled communications issued by the unit and failed to notify the public of ongoing cases. Levy's office countered that it sought thorough investigations before labeling cases as hate crimes.

The federal investigation was started in the aftermath of the 2008 killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero, assaulted by a group of teens targeting Latinos in Patchogue.

"The public dispute that's been going on . . . speaks to a pattern of practice and the inability to investigate hate crimes," said Anthony Miranda of the National Latino Officers Association of America.

Levy's office responded in a written statement Monday, saying it only wanted the unit to follow proper procedure. Reecks could not be reached, but the department supported Levy's comment.

"We are sure the Department of Justice will recognize that the definition of what is and what is not a hate crime is determined through New York State law, and cannot be influenced by the administration," Levy said. "How Suffolk County investigates, reports and prosecutes hate crimes is of utmost concern to us."

A Civil Rights Division spokeswoman said there was an ongoing investigation but declined to comment further.

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