Police of Puerto Rico Lieutenant Erick Rivera Nazario and Officer Jimmy Rodriguez Vega were indicted on civil rights charges alleging that they used excessive force on two men, the Justice Department announced today. Nazario and Vega allegedly violated the constitutional rights of Jose Irizarry Perez and his father Jose Irizarry Muniz while the two were celebrating the local election results at the Las Colinas housing development in Yauco, Puerto Rico, on Nov. 5, 2008. Rivera was also indicted for making false declarations before the federal grand jury during its investigation into the civil rights violations.
The indictment was announced today by Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division; Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico; and Joseph Campbell, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI San Juan Field Office.
According to the five-count indictment, Rivera and Rodriguez, while acting under color of law, physically struck and assaulted Irizarry Perez and Irizarry Muniz with police batons, which resulted in bodily injury to both of them, and thereby deprived the victims of their constitutionally protected rights to be free from the use of unreasonable force by those acting under color of law. Rivera, who was a sergeant at the time of the incident, was also charged with failing to intervene and keep the victims from harm when Rodriguez, an officer whom Rivera supervised, assaulted the victims in Rivera’s presence. Finally, Rivera was charged for making false declarations to the federal grand jury related to Rivera’s actions and observations during the incident. Although Irizarry Perez died as a result of injuries he sustained on Nov. 5, 2008, the indictment does not include charges that his death resulted from the defendants’ conduct.
If convicted, Rivera faces a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each of four charged counts of civil rights violations and a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for one charged count of making false declarations before the grand jury. Rodriguez faces a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each of two charged counts of civil rights violations.
An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
This case is being investigated by the San Juan Division of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jose A. Contreras from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico and Senior Litigation Counsel Gerard Hogan and Trial Attorney Shan Patel from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.