SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A jury acquitted three Puerto Rican police officers of federal civil rights charges Friday in the beating of a Dominican-born U.S. Marine at a baseball game between the two Caribbean rivals.
Sgt. Yonatta Crispin said the officers used metal batons and insulted him with ethnic slurs. His only provocation, he said, was to wear a cap with a Dominican flag insignia to the raucous 2007 game against the Puerto Rico squad.
But the jury rejected arguments that the officers used excessive force.
"He was drunk and rowdy, and he had to be taken out of the stadium," said Michael Corona, an attorney for one of the officers. "This had nothing to with nationality."
The seven-day trial highlighted long-running claims of police brutality toward Dominicans — allegations raised more typically by undocumented migrants who fill the ranks of low-paying jobs in this more affluent U.S. Caribbean territory.
Crispin, a 32-year-old Iraq war veteran who was born in the Dominican Republic, called the verdict a defeat for Dominican natives.
"Now the police have got a green light to assault Dominicans and get away with it," he said. "It's not only about me, it's about the Dominican community."
The scuffle came in the late innings a Caribbean Series match on Feb. 4, 2007, with the Dominican national team well on its way to a 12-0 victory.
Some in the overflow crowd of more than 20,000 were throwing beer bottles and popcorn at police. Officers responding to a complaint about the fans in one section of the Roberto Clemente Stadium in Carolina, just outside San Juan, confronted a friend of Crispin and ordered both men to leave.
As police forced Crispin out of the stadium, he said he only raised his hands in protest and shouted he was a Marine. But the police said the burly, 6-foot-5 Crispin put up a fight. With jeering fans crowding around them, defense lawyers said the officers did what was needed to keep the situation under control.
An official from the Dominican consulate who attended the game, Mirtha de Moya, testified that she tried to intervene as officers beat Crispin and an officer told her: "They do worse in your country."
The three defendants — Lt. Johnny Cruz Gonzalez, Sgt. Luis Diaz Ruiz and agent Karimar Peraza Salgado — were cleared of charges that they used unreasonable force and then conspired to cover it up by filing false police reports and lying to investigators.
Crispin received nine stitches for a gash in his head. He denied he was drunk. Police arrested him on a military installation days after the incident for assault, but those charges were dismissed in local court.