From December 2009 until this March, a man and a women targeted Latinos for robberies in Suffolk County, believing that their victims would carry cash, not
speak English, and be less likely to contact the police, according to an indictment announced today in Hauppauge by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.
Felicia Smith and Sean Allen—both charged with first-degree robbery as a hate crime—allegedly led a group of four other thieves who typically staked out delis with Hispanic patrons and then robbed men who they perceived to be Hispanic after the victims left the delis.
The robberies occurred in Centereach, Port Jefferson Station, and areas around Port Jefferson, according to the district attorney’s office.
Smith and Allen, from Selden and Middle Island, respectively, are the only two defendants charged with hate crimes. The pair referred to their victims individually as “Popi,” according to the district attorney’s office.*
At a press conference today, District Attorney Thomas J. Spota and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer both stressed that Latino victims had come forward to Suffolk County police to report the attacks: proof that the climate of fear among Latinos in Suffolk has dissipated, according to Dormer.
The United States Department of Justice is in the midst of an investigation examining how Suffolk County police have handled crimes against Latinos and crimes reported by Latinos.
Eight of nine victims in the robberies came forward and contacted police, which Commissioner Dormer said was “proof of the pudding” that Latino residents in Suffolk County feel comfortable enough to report crimes to the police.
Dormer reiterated that it is the Suffolk County Police Department’s policy not to ask a crime victim or complainant about his or her immigration status.
“We want to get that message out to everybody,” Dormer said. “We’re not going to check your immigration status.”
Suffolk police issued a directive telling officers not to inquire about the immigration status of a victim or complainant on November 20, 2008—12 days after the murder of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero.
Suffolk County’s policy—an addendum to a previous police memorandum, which did not prohibit officers from inquiring about immigration status—was enacted quietly and lethargically, in comparison to a similar policy in New York City.
In 2003, Mayor Bloomberg issued Executive Order 41, which prohibited workers in a wide range of city services, including police work, from asking about immigration status when providing services.
The 30-count indictment announced by the district attorney today comes on the heels of yesterday’s conviction of Jeffrey Conroy, the first successful conviction of a hate crime killing in Suffolk County.
Even though a grand jury heard the robbery case in March, the D.A.‘s office decided to keep the indictment sealed until after the Jeffrey Conroy trial, believing that the news coverage of the robberies might have influenced Conroy’s jurors.
Smith and Allen, the alleged “ringleaders” in the robberies, both pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, which, aside from first-degree robbery as a hate crime, include other robbery, assault, and conspiracy charges. Smith and Allen participated in all nine attacks.
The other four defendants—Barbara Monaco, Sammie Darby, Jr., Christopher Doughlin, and Joshua Rivera—face robbery and conspiracy charges, but are not charged with hate crimes.
Although the payout for the thieves was usually just small amounts of cash or a cell phone, some of the alleged robberies were violent, leaving victims with bumps, bruises, and cuts. At times, robbers wielded a pistol, BB gun, knife, and mallet.
Most victims were men leaving delis on bikes or on foot. In one instance, attackers drove alongside a victim and opened a car door to knock the victim off his bike, the district attorney said.
One Middle Eastern man was allegedly attacked because the robbers perceived him to be Hispanic, according to the district attorney’s office.
In order to nab the suspects in the “Popi” robberies, Suffolk police used Spanish-speaking detectives and plainclothes officers, Spota said at today’s press conference.
The police commissioner seemed intent on spreading the message that his department is addressing the climate of fear among Latino immigrants in Suffolk County.
“Don’t think that people, whether they’re documented or otherwise, aren’t going to call the police,” Commissioner Dormer said. “This proves they’re going to call the police.”
I have a copy of the indictment and will scan it in tomorrow and post it on the blog.