WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced today the unsealing of an indictment charging three Staten Island, N.Y., men with conspiring to assault African-Americans in retaliation for President-Elect Barack Obama’s election victory.
Ralph Nicoletti and Michael Contreras, both 18, and Brian Carranza, 21, were arrested late Tuesday and are scheduled for arraignment today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann in Brooklyn. As alleged in the indictment and other court filings, on the night of Nov. 4, 2008, shortly after learning of Barack Obama’s election victory, the group, along with a fourth friend, decided to find African-Americans to assault.
"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."
As cited in the indictment and other court filings, Nicoletti allegedly drove the other defendants to Park Hill, a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Staten Island, where they came upon a 17-year-old African-American who was walking home after watching the election at a friend’s house. One of the defendants yelled "Obama!" as they passed the youth, and all four men then got out of the car and beat him, using a metal pipe and a collapsible police baton. The young man, who managed to escape and run home, suffered injuries to his head and legs.
The group then found an African-American man in the Port Richmond section of Staten Island and assaulted him, pushing him to the ground. The defendants also accosted a Latino man, demanding to know for whom he had voted, and later yelled profanities about Obama as they 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. Nicoletti 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.
The charges announced today are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, each faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
In addition to Becker, the charges were announced by Benton J. Campbell, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Joseph M. Demarest, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office, and Raymond W. Kelly, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department.
"Violence and intimidation aimed at interfering with the constitutional rights of every citizen, including the right to vote, which is the bedrock of democracy, 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, Criminal Section, the FBI, and the New York City Police Department, which has been vital to the success of this joint investigation and prosecution."
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."
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Pamela K. Chen and Margo K. Brodie and Special Litigation Counsel Kristy Parker.