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Police investigate possible hate motives behind attack on immigrant

By Helena de Moura,CNN
  • Ecuadorian man beaten Saturday in Peekskill, New York
  • Four men are accused in the attack
  • "Nothing alive should be beaten the way this poor man was," police chief says

Peekskill, New York (CNN) -- Police in Peekskill are investigating whether four men accused of brutally beating an Ecuadorian man can be charged with a hate crime, officials said.

Julio Serrano, 39, remains in critical condition after he was attacked Saturday, police said.

Detective Sgt. Raymond Henderlong said police are still gathering information on whether hate was a motive in the attack in the small Hudson River town.

"We are going to exhaust every avenue to see if this was racially motivated," Henderlong said. "We are looking into whether they were targeting him because of his background."

Police said Serrano was walking near his home early Saturday when he was attacked.

Surveillance video shows him staggering up a flight of stairs after fleeing his attackers, who follow and eventually ambush him as he seeks refuge in a building.

Serrano suffered severe head injuries.

Ronnie Juett, 23; Jarron Sligh, 23; and Keith Walker, 18, have been charged with gang assault, police said. Jamar Walker, 19, is awaiting arraignment in Peekskill County Court.

According to the 2000 census, Peekskill has a population of about 22,000. Nearly 22 percent is of Hispanic or Latino origin.

Peekskill Police Chief Eugene Tumolo said it is possible that Serrano was beaten "because of the fact he is a Latino male, and a lot of these people are immigrants."

"Even animals shouldn't be beaten like this. Nothing human, nothing alive should be beaten the way this poor man was. It was an incredibly cowardly and vicious attack," he said.

In April, jurors convicted a Long Island man of manslaughter as a hate crime in the death of an immigrant from Ecuador.

Jeffrey Conroy was tried in the death of Marcelo Lucero, 37, who was fatally stabbed in the chest on November 8, 2008, in Patchogue.

Conroy was also found guilty of gang assault and conspiracy as well as of assaulting three other Latino men on Long Island.

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center said that increasingly virulent hate speech emerging from anti-immigrant groups has a role in recent attacks on immigrants.

"This is yet another example of America's anti-immigrant propaganda to demonize immigrants," Potok said.

"We've seen these cases popping up around the nation because of this type of hate speech. Words have consequences," he said.