Officials slam US report on Puerto Rico police

October 8, 2011 - 5:50 PM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico's Justice Department has denounced a scathing U.S. federal report on the island's police force even though the governor and other officials accepted the findings and pledged improvements.

The territory's attorneys attacked the federal findings in a court motion this week involving a police brutality suit brought by two university students.

The motion, which was filed with Justice Secretary Guillermo Somoza's name at the bottom, calls the 116-page federal report is unreliable, flawed and biased, and it says the methodology used to reach its conclusion was "rather obscure."

Somoza told The Associated Press he was not initially aware of the motion and said he will file a new motion early Monday to remove what he says is inflammatory language.

"I am accepting that the adjectives and characterizations do not reflect the department's sentiments. ... I am not satisfied by what she wrote," he said, referring to the lawyer who submitted the motion in his name.

Somoza is one of the officials who said earlier that the Caribbean territory is acting to solve problems outlined in last month's report by the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division. It alleged that the 17,000-officer police force has unnecessarily injured hundreds of people and killed numerous others and that it has routinely conducted illegal searches and seizures.

Gov. Luis Fortuno said at the time that his administration has "recognized the same problems and we have a very similar vision." He pledged to work with federal authorities on reforms.

Federal prosecutors said the U.S. Justice Department would pursue a lawsuit if Puerto Rico does not adhere to the report's 133 recommendations.

Somoza said the government has already started working on at least 100 of those recommendations.

The U.S. Attorney's Office also did not respond to requests for comment.

In the new motion, Puerto Rican officials accuse federal prosecutors of manipulating information and portraying victims' complaints against police as facts even when they are unconfirmed.

"This is highly questionable of a report that intends to portray itself as holding the truth about the Puerto Rico Police Department," the motion states.

William Ramirez, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Puerto Rico, said he was concerned the criticism in the motion raises questions about whether the territory is committed to the reforms it has publicly embraced.

"The Puerto Rico government needs to get its story straight," he said. "Are they telling the truth that they're going to cooperate? ... Or are they going to fight the Department of Justice at every corner? That seems to be what's happening."

The 15-page motion filed Thursday challenges an attempt by the students' attorney to use it to bolster their suit, which stems from a protest at the island's Capitol last year.

Their attorney, Judith Berkan, told The Associated Press that she mentioned the federal report in her court filings to demonstrate that her clients' complaints are plausible.

She said she is not seeking to present the report's findings as evidence in court, as alleged by government attorneys.

Somoza said the new motion he plans to submit will still argue that the federal report cannot be submitted as evidence.