FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FRIDAY, JUNE 5, 1998

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16 CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS PLEAD GUILTY IN PUERTO RICO

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A Puerto Rican correctional officer pleaded guilty today to civil rights violations for assaulting 22 inmates in 1994 and trying to cover it up, the Justice Department announced. He is the 14th officer to plead guilty this week to civil rights violations stemming from the assault. Last April 16 officers were indicted for making false statements to the FBI and a federal grand jury to cover up civil rights violations. The officers were attempting to cover up their assault on 22 inmates during a disturbance at the "Las Malvinas" Annex of the Rio Piedras Correctional Complex in July 1994. "Deceit and dishonesty have no place in law enforcement and the Department of Corrections in Puerto Rico," said Bill Lann Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "We will not hesitate to investigate and prosecute correctional officers who use their authority to hurt others intentionally." Edwin López-Pabón, who pleaded guilty to witness tampering this afternoon, is the last of 16 correctional officer to do so. Last Monday, Juan Ramos-Velázquez pleaded guilty to the felony of conspiring to make false statements to FBI agents during their investigation of the alleged assaults. Héctor Ortiz-González, Manuel Colón-Ortiz and Luis Pagán-Conde also entered felony pleas to tampering with a witness to prevent and hinder the communication of information to the FBI. Last Tuesday, José Ramos-Montañez, Carlos Rosa-Torres, Félix Meléndez-Benítez, Luis Sánchez-Molina, Freddy Ruiz-Montañez, Luis Reyes-López, Efraín Ramos-Lebrón, Jesús Echevarría-Rivera and Ramón de Jesús-Velázquez also pled guilty to witness tampering. Two defendants, Emeterio Lebrón-González and Jesús Quiles-Maldonado, earlier pleaded guilty to using excessive force against an inmate. Juan Ramos-Velázquez could be sentenced to no more than five years imprisonment as a result of his guilty plea. The other defendants could be sentenced to no more than 10 years imprisonment. Sentencing hearings are scheduled for October 23 and October 30, 1998. "The protection of the civil rights of our citizens is fundamental in our system of justice," said Acting U.S. Attorney Guillermo Gil. "Our office will vigorously prosecute such violations." "Civil rights belong to all citizens, including prisoners within penal institutions," added James K. Weber, Special Agent in Charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This prosecution resulted from the cooperative efforts of the FBI and the The Corrections Administration for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

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