Three Indicted for Federal Hate Crime Conspiracy
Defendants Charged with Conspiring to Assault African-Americans in Staten Island in Retaliation for President-Elect Barack Obama’s Election Victory
An indictment was unsealed this morning in Brooklyn federal court charging three Staten Island men – Ralph Nicoletti, Michael Contreras, and Brian Carranza – with conspiring to assault African-American residents in Staten Island in retaliation for President-Elect Barack Obama’s election victory.1 The defendants were arrested last night and will be arraigned this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann, at the U.S. Courthouse, 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York.
The charges were announced by Benton J. Campbell, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Department of Justice Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Grace Chung Becker; Joseph M. Demarest, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office; and Raymond W. Kelly, Commissioner, New York City Police Department.
As alleged in the indictment and other court filings, on November 4, 2008, the night of the presidential election, the defendants and several friends were gathered at their makeshift outdoor clubhouse in the Rosebank section of Staten Island. Throughout the evening, they received updates on the election results from friends and via the Internet. Shortly after learning of Barack Obama’s victory, the defendants and a fourth friend decided to find African-Americans to assault in retaliation for an African-American man becoming president.
Nicoletti allegedly drove the group to Park Hill, a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Staten Island, where they came upon Ali Kamara, a 17-year-old African-American man who was walking home after watching the election at a friend’s house. All four men got out of the car and attacked him, using a metal pipe and a collapsible police baton. Kamara, who managed to escape and run home, suffered injuries to his head and legs.
Resuming their hunt, the group found another African-American man in the Port Richmond section of Staten Island and assaulted him, pushing him to the ground. One of the men also accosted a Latino man, demanding to know for whom he had voted, and later yelled profanities about Obama as the group drove past an election night gathering of African-Americans at a hair salon.
The group’s final assault involved a man they mistakenly believed to be African-American, whom they spotted walking along Blackford Avenue in Port Richmond. The group decided that one of the men would hit the victim, Ronald Forte, with the police baton as they drove by him. Instead, as they approached Forte, Nicoletti decided to hit him with the car, causing the victim to be thrown onto the hood of the car and into the front windshield, shattering it. Although the victim survived, he was in a coma for a period of time after the attack.
“Violence and intimidation aimed at interfering with the constitutional rights of every citizen, including the right to vote, will not be tolerated,” stated United States Attorney Campbell. “Such conduct is loathsome and despicable, and those who engage in it will be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We are grateful for our partnership with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the FBI, and the New York City Police Department, which has been vital to the success of this joint investigation and prosecution.”
“It is shocking and sobering that allegations of racial violence continue in this day and age,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Grace Chung Becker. “The Justice Department takes these allegations very seriously and the Civil Rights Division, working with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country, will continue to use federal laws to prosecute individuals who conspire to commit such acts of violence and intimidation.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Demarest stated, “The defendants, motivated by racial animus, committed violent assaults resulting in real, and in one case near-fatal, injuries. But the Election Night assaults, coming on the day when we participate most directly in our democracy, were also an attack on the democratic process and an affront to everyone. The FBI is committed to civil rights enforcement and policing hate crimes.”
NYPD Commissioner Kelly stated, “I want to commend the NYPD detectives and their federal partners who pursued this case, particularly NYPD Inspector Michael J. Osgood, who as Commanding Officer of the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force had the foresight to assign a special team on election night until 4 a.m. the next morning. These officers were able to respond quickly to the bias attacks and begin an immediate investigation. They located an eyewitness to one of the attacks, and their subsequent distribution of flyers in the Rosebank area of Staten Island over three days led to the first major break in the case. History was made on Election Day. We wanted to make sure those who tried to retaliate did not escape justice.”
If convicted, each of the defendants faces a sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Pamela K. Chen and Margo K. Brodie, and Department of Justice Senior Trial Attorney Kristy Parker.
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