INVESTIGATING THE INVESTIGATORS

Did the Suffolk County Police Department mishandle cases of missing Latino teens in 2016 and 2017? Were they victims of MS-13 gang members? We have details on ProPublica’s investigation.

Aired on October 23, 2018 & March 6, 2019.

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

INVESTIGATING INVESTIGATORS.

LONG ISLAND HAS CHALLENGED CASES WHERE IMMIGRANT FAMILIES ALLEGED MISCONDUCT WHEN REPORTING THEIR MISSING CHILDREN.

IN 2016 AND 2017, LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT WERE QUICK TO LABEL THEM AS RUNAWAYS.

ULTIMATELY, MANY OF THEIR BOD DOIS WERE FOUND IN SHALLOW GRAVES INSIDE AN AREA DUBBED THE KILLING FIELDS OF THE NOTORIOUS MS-13 GANG.

THE INVESTIGATION COMES IN RESPONSE TO REPORTING DONE BY NEWS OUTLETS THAT OUTLINED HOW ALLEGED POLICE BIAS AGAINST LATINOS HINDERED THE DEPARTMENT'S ABILITY TO STOP A WAIVE OF MURDERS.

HERE WITH THE DETAILS IS PROPUBLICA INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER.

HANNAH DRYER.

I FIRST WENT OUT BECAUSE I HEARD ABOUT THIS WAVE OF MURDERS, I KNEW THERE WERE A DOZEN KIDS WHO HAD BEEN FOUND DEAD IN THE WOODS AND IN THE STREETS.

I STARTED TO TALK TO THEIR PARENTS.

AND WHAT THEIR PARENTS TOLD ME ONE AFTER ANOTHER.

THEY HAD KNOWN SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAD HAPPENED TO THEIR CHILDREN.

AND THE POLICE HAVE INVESTIGATED.

THEY TOLD ME THEY HAD TO WEIGHT MONTHS FOR THEIR CHILDREN'S BODIES TO BE DISCOVERED.

DURING ALL THAT TIME, THE POLICE TOLD THEM, NO, YOUR KID IS JUST A RUNAWAY.

YOU FOCUS ON TROUBLING STORY.

A MAN NAMED MANUEL GARCIA MORAN WHO DISAPPEARED.

THIS IS A STORY I COULDN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT ONCE I HEARD IT.

MIGUEL MORAN WAS A 15-YEAR-OLD HE HAD COME TO THIS COUNTRY RECENTLY, HE DIDN'T SPEAK MUCH ENGLISH.

IT SEEMS LIKE HE HAD STARTED WEARING GANG CLOTHES TO SCHOOL SOMETIMES.

NOT BECAUSE HE WAS PART OF A GANG, BUT BECAUSE HE WAS TRYING TO LOOK COOL.

HE DISAPPEARED ONE NIGHT, AND HIS MOTHER FOUND FACEBOOK MESSAGES THAT SHOWED BOYS FROM SCHOOL LURING HIM INTO THE WOODS.

NOT LIKE ONE OR TWO, THERE WERE DOZENS --

84 FACE BOOK MESSAGES.

SHE BROUGHT THEM TO THE POLICE, AND SAID, PLEASE INVESTIGATE.

THE POLICE TOLD HER TO GO FIND A WITCH DOCTOR IF SHE WAS SO WORRIED.

HIS BODY WASN'T FOUND UNTIL 7 MONTHS LATER.

YOU.

TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HOW SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE -- IT'S A LARGE POLICE FORCE -- WHAT THEIR PROTOCOLS WERE FOR THAT.

AS OPPOSED TO NEW YORK CITY POLICE.

SOME CHILDREN REALLY ARE RUNAWAYS.

IT'S NOT THAT TEENAGERS NEVER RUN AWAY FROM HOME, THEY TOTALLY DO, EVERYONE THAT'S AN ACCEPTABLE THING FOR POLICE TO USE AS A LABEL.

IN NEW YORK CITY AND NASSAU COUNTY.

THERE ARE THESE LONG CHECKLISTS YOU HAVE TO DO IN EVERY CASE IF A CHILD GOES MISSING.

THINGS LIKE CHECKING SOCIAL MEDIA, PUTTING OUT AN ALERT.

THERE ARE ALL THESE THINGS YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO DO RIGHT AWAY.

AND THESE OTHER POLICE DEPARTMENTS LAY THEM OUT CLEARLY AS REQUIREMENTS.

AND SUFFOLK COUNTY, WHERE THESE KIDS WENT MISSING, THE ONLY REQUIREMENT THEY HAVE IS SEARCH THE AREA.

YOU TALK ALSO IN THE ARTICLE ABOUT DOIFLTS IN COMMUNICATING.

YOU POINT TO THE FACT THAT THAT COMMUNICATION DIFFICULTY EXACERBATED THIS.

I'M GOING TO TOSS TO A VIDEO HERE, THAT WAS TAKEN BY FAMILY MEMBERS WHEN THEY CAME IN TO THE SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT.

AND LOOKING FOR HELP IN A MISSING CHILD.

LET'S TAKE A QUICK LOOK AT THIS AND YOU AND I WILL TALK ABOUT IT.

YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?

YEAH.

STOP LYING RIGHT NOW.

YOU ARE LYING.

HOW ABOUT INSTEAD OF TAKING YOU BACK TO YOUR PARENTS WE BRING YOU TO THE JUVENILE FACILITY.

THE JAIL.

TALK MORE ABOUT THIS.

THIS IS A FAMILY WHOSE 15-YEAR-OLD GIRL HAD GONE MISSING.

SHE HAD BEEN MISSING FOR TWO DAYS.

BOYS HAD TAKEN HER FROM SCHOOL.

THE FAMILY HAD STARTED TO GET FRUSTRATED WITH THE POLICE.

THEY HAD STARTED VIDEOTAPING ALL OF THEIR INTERACTIONS WITH THE POLICE.

THAT'S WHY WE HAVE THIS VIDEOTAPE.

THEY FOUND THEIR DAUGHTER THEMSELVES.

SHE WAS WANDERING AROUND AT AN INTERSECTION.

THEY WERE WORRIED SHE HAD BEEN RAPED.

THEY TOOK HER TO THE POLICE STATION TO ASK THE OFFICERS TO INVESTIGATE WHO SHE HAD BEEN WITH.

THEY THOUGHT MAYBE SHE SHOULD GET A RAPE KIT.

INSTEAD OF TAKING THOSE CONCERNS SERIOUSLY.

WHAT THE VIDEO SHOWS IS THE DETECTIVES DIDN'T GET AN INTERPRETER.

SO OTT PARENTS COULD UNDERSTAND WHAT WAS HAPPENING.

AND THE DETECTIVES INSTEAD INTERROGATED THE GIRL AS IF SHE HAD COMMITTED SOME CRIME.

IT TURNED OUT A YEAR LATER, THE BOY SHE HAD BEEN WITH WAS ARRESTED FOR MURDER, FOR SEVERAL MURDERS.

HE WAS A MEMBER OF MS-13.

IN YOUR REPORTING, DID YOU FIND A MORE SYSTEMIC ANTI-LATINO BIAS?

OR WAS THIS MORE OF AN INCIDENTAL TYPE OF BIAS?

I'M SURE IN THE SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO DO THEIR JOBS.

VAST MAJORITY.

OF POLICE OFFICERS ARE HARDWORKING POLICE OFFICERS.

IN THIS DEPARTMENT, WE'VE SEEN A PATTERN OVER YEARS OF BIAS AGAINST LATINOS.

THE DEPARTMENT IS ACTUALLY UNDER INVESTIGATION BY THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE FOR JUSTICE ISSUES.

ARE YOU STARTING TO SEE ANYTHING THAT SEEMS TO YOU TO BE A CHANGE IN ATTITUDE.

ABSOLUTELY.

LOCAL POLITICIANS IN LONG ISLAND.

SAID THEY WERE GOING TO FORCE THE POLICE DEPARTMENT TO DEAL WITH WHAT WAS HAPPENING.

THE POLICE DEPARTMENT SAYS IT'S INVESTIGATING.

THE POLICE DEPARTMENT SAYS IT'S GOING TO INVESTIGATE WHAT IT'S DOING.

IF DISCIPLINE NEEDS TO BE MEATED OUT, IT SHOULD BE.

IT'S EXHAUSTIVE REPORTING, VERY POWERFUL REPORTING, AND IMPORTANT REPORTING.

AND I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR SPENDING TIME WITH US.

YOU BE WELL.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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