Following a week-long trial, former Police of Puerto Rico (POPR) Officer Jose Cartagena, 47, was convicted Tuesday for assaulting a juvenile victim and then attempting to cover up the abuse by falsifying an official police report and making misleading statements to a local official.
Evidence presented at trial established that, on Nov. 15, 2014, Cartagena, together with co-defendants Carlos Nieves, Jimmy Davis and Shylene Lopez, all former POPR officers, pursued C.C., the juvenile victim, in a police vehicle while C.C. fled from the defendants on his bicycle. During the pursuit, Nieves shot C.C. in the back. When the defendants caught up to C.C., C.C. complied with police commands to place his hands behind his back while lying face down on the ground. Cartagena then held the victim’s hands together and struck the victim in the back of the head with a gun. The defendants then handcuffed C.C. and placed him in the backseat of the police car. On the way to the police station, Cartagena struck the handcuffed juvenile victim in the face multiple times. The defendants’ abuse required C.C. to seek treatment at a local hospital.
Cartagena was charged with two counts of depriving C.C. of his constitutional rights under color of law for the assaults, and two counts of obstruction of justice, one for falsifying a police report by falsely stating that C.C. received his injuries when he fell of his bicycle, rather than from the defendants’ abuse, and one for making misleading statements to a local prosecutor about the incident. The jury found Cartagena guilty of all charges. Prior to trial, Nieves, Davis and Lopez pleaded guilty to violating C.C.’s constitutional rights during the incident.
“All children in our country have the right to be free from excessive and unlawful use of force at the hands of law enforcement officers,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This defendant was convicted for using a gun and his fists to violently assault a handcuffed boy in his custody, and then lying to officials about it. The Justice Department will continue to vigorously enforce our nation’s civil rights laws and hold accountable officers who break the law and undermine public trust.”
“The prosecution of cases like this one is important to our office, the citizens of Puerto Rico, and the law enforcement community at large. While the vast majority of law enforcement officers perform their duties with honor and professionalism, those who violate the civil rights of others will be held accountable,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico. “Officer Cartagena abused the public’s trust when he violated the civil rights of a minor and his prosecution underscores that no one is above the law, including law enforcement officers who abuse their authority.”
“The FBI mission is to protect the people and uphold the Constitution and our civil rights program is at the very core of that mission,” said Special Agent in Charge Joseph Gonzalez of the FBI San Juan Field Office. “Although the vast majority of law enforcement officers are good, honest public servants, it only takes one civil rights violation to shatter public trust in the badge. This is why these cases are of utmost importance to the FBI and this conviction is proof of our commitment to investigate these cases aggressively to bring justice to the victims.”
At sentencing, Cartagena faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. Sentencing will be set by the court on a future date. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant Attorney General Clarke, U.S. Attorney Muldrow and Special Agent in Charge González made the announcement.
The FBI San Juan Field Office investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney José Contreras for the District of Puerto Rico and Trial Attorney Avner Shapiro of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.