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Monday, April 14, 2008

Report: Officers joked about dying immigrant in NY case

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS - January 18, 2008

Police officers were taped joking about a dying, homeless Guatemalan immigrant after he was found on the side of a deserted road in their suburban town, a television station reported. "You wanna hear something really funny? ... He's alive," a Bedford police officer tells a sergeant on a taped phone call aired Thursday on WCBS-TV. The two go on to marvel - with the officer chuckling - that Rene Perez had apparently revived himself temporarily after authorities thought him dead on April 28, 2007. The television station said Perez died an hour after the officers' taped exchange.

Perez had had a series of encounters with police in Bedford and neighboring Mount Kisco that night. A Mount Kisco police officer has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges in Perez' death. Prosecutors say the officer drove the drunken Perez to Mount Kisco, dealt him a deadly blow to the abdomen and left him to die. In a later phone call to another Bedford sergeant, after Perez' death, a Bedford officer sings the title line from the 1966 Left Banke single "Walk Away Renee."

Bedford Police Chief Chris Menzel defended the department, telling WCBS, "We are not callous or indifferent." He said he could not comment further on the ongoing case. Fernando Mateo, president of Hispanics Across America, said in a statement Friday that the incidents "show a clear indication that we have troubled and hateful police officers and bosses who clearly don't like Hispanic immigrants." Mateo called for the suspension of the officers involved.

A lawyer for the Mount Kisco officer charged in the case, George Bubaris, did not immediately return a telephone call late Thursday. The lawyer, Edward Hayes, has subpoenaed all Bedford police records about Perez. Prosecutors have called the subpoenas improper and are trying to quash them; a hearing is set next week. Perez, 42, had a history of making drunken 911 calls. He called Mount Kisco police complaining of stomach pain on April 28, and police records show Bubaris reported there was no need for further action.

Lawsuits filed on behalf of Perez' family maintain that Mount Kisco and Bedford made a practice of "dumping" each other's undesirables in the neighboring town. Bedford police had taken Perez into Mount Kisco hours before Bubaris allegedly took him to Bedford. Through a translator, Perez' brother, Anival Perez, called the Bedford officers' taped conversations "unrespectful."

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