By Michael E. Miller
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By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
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By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
"These guys will go from Puerto Rico to New York because something happens in Puerto Rico and they have got to run," says a recently retired NYC gang investigator, who asked that his name not be used. "Other guys come here because of the drug trade or because they are no longer in good graces with their gang [on the island]... It's definitely a strong network."
Despite all the media attention and police response, few of Puerto Rico's recent grisly murders have been solved. In some, such as Camacho's killing, cops don't even have suspects. And even if they make arrests, witnesses are often too afraid to testify.
"Most of these cases are not resolved," Sujeylee Ramos says. "If you're a criminal, you'll do anything because you know you'll never be caught."
Wanda Figueroa left work just in time to see her two sons get shot.
It was a muggy afternoon in Manatí, a city of strip malls surrounded by jagged green hills to the west of San Juan. Figueroa had walked out of the Taco Maker, where she worked, and into the parking lot to meet her 22-year-old daughter and her youngest son, Saul, but she found him in a shouting match with a stranger holding a club.
She watched in horror as the man struck her 19-year-old over the head, sending him crashing to the pavement. Her older son, Adrian, stormed out of the restaurant and grabbed the man's weapon. Then the man pulled out a gun. He sprayed Adrian four times in the chest, shoulder, and foot and then turned, sinking two fatal shots into Saul's stomach. Finally, he pointed the gun at Figueroa and pulled the trigger. Click. It was out of ammunition.
It wasn't a robber or a drug dealer tearing apart Figueroa's family on April 27, though. The barrel she was staring down was government-issued. Her son's killer was a cop.
That double shooting is one of hundreds of cases of alleged brutality by the Puerto Rico Police Department, which was slammed in a 2011 DOJ report that cites "the staggering level of crime and corruption involving PRPD officers," including drug dealing, gun running, and murder. A 2012 ACLU probe, meanwhile, determined that PRPD is "a dysfunctional and recalcitrant police department that has run amok for years. Use of excessive or lethal force is routine, and civil and human rights violations are rampant."
Pesquera disputes those findings — "I don't care about all that special-agenda crap," he says — but to critics, Figueroa's story shows why many Puerto Ricans fear cops more than thugs.
"Police here are like an enormous octopus with its tentacles in everything," Figueroa says. "They do whatever they want."
A tiny woman with bleach-blond hair, Figueroa has worked at the Taco Maker for 23 years, rising to manager and raising her three kids by herself, bringing them to work to earn an honest living.
The day of the shooting, Figueroa and Adrian, then 20, had been working at the restaurant. Her daughter, Zuleyka Perez, and son Saul had been visiting his sick 5-month-old in the hospital. They arrived in separate cars, bearing the same good news: The infant was recovering from a bacterial infection.
The trouble began, everyone agrees, when Zuleyka parked her car in the Taco Maker lot and found Officer Alfredo Delgado Molina behind her on his motorcycle. "You ran the light," he told her. Saul quickly walked over, and Figueroa came outside.
That's when the facts get murky. Figueroa and her daughter say Delgado snapped at Figueroa: "If you're not a judge or a lawyer, you need to get the fuck back inside!" When Saul demanded that he stop yelling at his mother, the cop struck Saul and then — as Adrian ran out to help — pulled his gun and began shooting.
"We aren't bad people," Figueroa says with a sob, standing in the spot outside Taco Maker where she watched Saul die. "We all work in the same place, stay out of trouble. I raised all three kids by myself as best as I could. They aren't criminals. And then they take them away like this? It's difficult."
The police disputed that story. Delgado, who couldn't be reached for comment, said in a statement that the brothers had hit the officer in the face and knocked out a tooth. ("It was either his life or theirs," his supervisor added.) Cops also claimed to have found a metal pipe at the scene used to beat Delgado.
Pesquera adamantly defends his officer, who was cleared by the force's Special Investigations Department. "These two guys came out and hit the officer," the chief says. "He defended himself."
In fact, Pesquera says he wants his cops to act just like Delgado. "If you challenge a police officer and you bring a weapon, expect to be shot at."
Figueroa's struggle didn't end with Saul's death or Adrian's long recovery, though. Incredibly, both mother and son were slapped with five criminal counts ranging from assault to obstruction of justice. Under a law passed by Fortuño, they both face 99 years in jail because the alleged crimes resulted in a death — namely, Saul's.