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Family files $40M suit in fatal hate crime in Patchogue

Marcelo Lucero's brother, mother, and sister arrive at

Marcelo Lucero's brother, mother, and sister arrive at Riverhead Criminal Court for the sentencing of Jeffrey Conroy. Conroy, 19, was sentenced to 25 years in prison. (May 26, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

The estate of Marcelo Lucero - the Ecuadorean immigrant assaulted by a group of youths and then stabbed to death two years ago - has filed a $40 million civil rights lawsuit against Suffolk County and its police department, the Town of Brookhaven and the Village of Patchogue.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, also accused 10 unidentified police officers of violating Lucero's civil rights by failing to take appropriate action to deter the assault that took Lucero's life the evening of Nov. 8, 2008.

Lucero was attacked and stabbed while he was walking home from work near Railroad Avenue and Stephen Street in Patchogue, the complaint stated.

The federal lawsuit was filed by Luis Almonte, the administrator of Lucero's estate. The complaint charges that police actions violated Lucero's 14th Amendment rights and caused his wrongful death. The county, local towns and police department were also accused of being careless and reckless in hiring police officers who, the suit charges, "lacked the maturity, sensibility and intelligence" necessary for the job.

At a morning news conference in Islip Monday, County Executive Steve Levy said he'd just heard about the lawsuit. "We're going to refer it to the county attorney because it's subject to litigation," Levy said.

Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer addressed the lawsuit Monday afternoon.

"We believe this lawsuit will ultimately shatter the myth that there was knowledge of pattern of events," said Dormer. "Not a single elected official, advocate or media representative reported any kind of pattern prior to this awful event."

Fernando Mateo, a spokesman for the Lucero family, said at a news conference outside the Brooklyn courthouse that the suit was being filed "because of willful blindness that the authorities had, knowing that these kids were going out there day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, and beating up on Hispanic immigrants in Patchogue and in Suffolk County."

Mateo, who also is head of the nonprofit advocacy group Hispanics Across America, blasted the county and police leadership for allowing what he said was a volatile situation to exist.

"The problem is about the police department not protecting the Hispanic community as well as they should have, the same way they protect the white community," continued Mateo. "It was very clear that they knew what was going on and they did nothing,"

The federal complaint alleges that the county and other defendants knew that "their indifference toward Hispanics including Marcelo Lucero would lead to continued attacks on Hispanics."

The federal court action follows a state court lawsuit filed in July by Lucero's estate against the youths who participated in the deadly attack, as well as their parents. Last May, Jeffrey Conroy, who was convicted after a trial, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for stabbing Lucero, 37, an employee of a dry cleaning business. The six other youths pleaded guilty to gang assault.

In Washington, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said an investigation by the department's civil rights division into the Suffolk police department was ongoing. The investigation concerns allegations the police failed to adequately investigate crimes against Latinos.

With Kathleen Kerr and Andrew Strickler

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