ACLU: Puerto Rico Police are abusive and corrupt

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Photo Ricardo Alcaraz

The Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) is a “dysfunctional” and “recalcitrant” body that has been out of control for years and in which “a culture of unrestricted and unpunished abuse prevail,” according to a report issued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) after an exhaustive investigation.

The well-renowned civil rights organization portrayed the PRPD as such in its 182-page report, describing years of rampant and routine abuse of the island’s people, after which it announced that it will file suit to force the department to act on its recommendations.

“The PRPD performs an essential public safety function, yet the police force is plagued by a culture of violence and corruption. It is a dysfunctional and recalcitrant police department that has run amok for years. Use of excessive or lethal force is routine and civil and human rights violations are rampant. Years of unchecked abuses have resulted in the avoidable and unjustifiable loss of civilians’ lives, and severe and lasting injury to countless others. While police abuse historically has primarily affected low-income Puerto Ricans, Puerto Ricans of African descent, and Dominican immigrants, in the past three years nonviolent political protesters have also been targeted”.

The ACLU presented its report “Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force” at simultaneously held news conferences in Washington and San Juan. The PRPD is the second largest police force within the jurisdiction of the United States.

William Ramírez, executive director of the ACLU’s Puerto Rico Chapter, said the entity had been waiting for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to take legal action against the Government of Puerto Rico in light of the report it produced a year ago, but they have run out of time and the decision to file the suit was already made.

The attorney anticipated that “before the end of this month” they will file a wide-ranging suit which purpose will not be to seek a redress of damages but rather to attack the problem directly.

Police Superintendent Hector Pesquera reacted to the report attributing it to a “political agenda” and saying it was “incorrect and irresponsible.”

“That there have been cases (of abuse)? Yes. But, where haven’t there been (cases of abuse)? That happens. But that does not mean that the police department is dedicated to violating citizen’s rights. That is incorrect. There are cases, but that is no different than in the police departments of other places in the world,” Pesquera said in an interview on radio.

According to the ACLU, there are three times more civilian deaths at the hands of the PRPD that in New York City, which has twice the population. Between 2007 and 2011 the PRPD killed 36 citizens, the report indicated.

The ACLU urged Governor Luis Fortuño and Pesquera “to address the serious problem of police brutality that is affecting Puerto Rico.”

Among the violations of civil liberties pointed out in the report, PRPD officers “have killed civilians who posed no resistance nor were armed, even after being subdued by the agents.” In addition, people in low income communities or of African descent or Dominicans have suffered paralysis or traumatic brain injuries, even death, as a result of beatings and other mistreatments; also, peaceful demonstrators have been repressed with pepper gas, tear gas, batons and rubber bullets in the Capitol, at the University of Puerto Rico and other public places.
“In addition, the PRPD habitually does not act on crimes of domestic violence and rape, nor does it protect women who are victims of violence on the part of their partners.”

The Police “allow” its agents to avoid any sanctions or the consequences of their abuses, according to the report, and lets them keep their weapons and return to active duty.

“The PRPD endorses the use of force, covers up the abusive acts of its members and encourages adhering to a code of silence,” the organization pointed out.

More shadows cast over Pesquera

Pesquera, who is a career FBI agent, has been the subject of several journalistic investigations in the past, including one by Miami’s El Nuevo Herald which wrote in 2005 about his leading role in a media spectacle related to the arrest of five Cubans who are now in jail for spying.

That story attributed to Giovani Jose Vasquez de Armas, “a witness of the Venezuelan government in the investigation of the death of prosecutor Danilo Anderson,” the information that in 2003 Pesquera, then head of the FBI in Miami, participated in a meeting in Panama with a CIA official where the assassination of a Venezuelan official was planned.

Anderson died in a bombing in Caracas on November 18, 2004. The type of bomb used there has been tied to attempts by Cuban Americans.

The Miami New Times published another story about a Cuban businessman with a criminal background who refers to Pesquera as “a good friend” to whom he gave a Rolex watch as a gift and who he visited in his federal office in the city.

It has also been published that in 2003 he presumably destroyed the file of Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, who is responsible for blowing up Flight 455 of Cubana de Aviacion Airline that killed 73 persons in 1976.

Pesquera is linked to the operation that resulted in the incarceration of five Cubans – Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino and Rene Gonzalez – but ignored the training of operatives by the Al-Qaeda terrorist network that culminated in the September 1, 2001 attempts.

Links of interest:
Isla de impunidad. Policía de Puerto Rico al margen de la ley (Executive Summary in Spanish) –
Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force (Complete report in English
Police Brutality and Suppression of First Amendment Rights in Puerto Rico. ACLU Report 10/June/2011