Newsday – DA probes allegations of Latino bias in Long Beach case

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11/11/2009 DA probes allegations of Latino bias in Long Beach case

The Nassau District Attorney’s office is investigating allegations by a Long Beach Latino resident who says a group of teens yelled ethnic insults as they assaulted him last month.

The probe comes after police and victim Fernando Moreno, 26, differed over whether the original report of the Oct. 14 attack included a mention of slurs.

Police spokesman Lt. Bruce Meyer said Moreno did not tell police that the attackers used ethnically insensitive language.

“The victim didn’t say anything about it being racially motivated,” Meyer said.

But Moreno, 26, who does not speak English, told a reporter Tuesday he told an officer the attackers had used a string of insults as they yelled at him during the beating. He spoke to the officer at Long Beach Medical Center, where he was being treated for injuries from the attack.

Moreno said the officer did not speak Spanish and no translator was present. Long Beach City Manager Charles Theofan said a hospital employee served as an unofficial translator.

“I think this was an attack carried out because of my race, because I’m Hispanic,” Moreno said in Spanish. He said he bases that belief on the nature of the attack: His assailants did not try to steal his watch, cell phone or wallet, which contained $200.

Moreno said he set off on foot from his house about 8 p.m. Oct. 14 to go to a nearby grocery store when four males ambushed him on West Market Street. Moreno said the men broke his nose and chased him as he ran toward his house.

Once he reached the house, he said, his assailants turned and walked away. A relative of his wife called police, who met him at the house and drove him to the local bus depot, where he identified three males as his attackers. The fourth assailant has not been found.

Long Beach police arrested the three males and charged them with misdemeanor assault.

Lawrence Evans, 18, Ryankane Dixon-Harley, 18, and an unnamed juvenile have each been charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, said Chris Munzing, a spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

Evans’ attorney, Leslie Shamis of Long Beach, declined to comment. Dixon-Harley’s lawyer, Dennis Berkowsky of Long Beach, did not return a call seeking comment.

Munzing said Rice’s office took on the case because “there is a possibility the charge could be upgraded.” The case is scheduled to be presented to a grand jury, he said, but he did not provide a date.

The investigation by the district attorney’s office comes after the head of the nonprofit Círculo de la Hispanidad wrote a letter asking Rice to look into the case.

“We want the law enforcement institutions . . . to send a message to the community at large that attacks against Hispanics will be prosecuted to the fullest according to the law,” said Executive Director Gil Bernardino.

“Whether the incident is a hate crime or not we hope will be determined by the judicial system.”