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Never forget Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega

Published Mar 27, 2009 11:31 PM

The City of New York threw in the towel and agreed to pay $1.1 million to the families of Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega. The two young Puerto Rican men were killed, shot 22 times—11 in the back—in the Bronx on Jan. 12, 1995, by police detectives Patrick Brosnan and James Crowe.

Both Brosnan and Crowe had been volunteer bodyguards for New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani during his 1993 election campaign. Giuliani called the two white cops to congratulate them after the cousins Rosario and Vega were shot. The next year both these cops were able to retire on disability pensions.

For 14 years Rosario’s mother, Margarita Rosario, has fought for justice. She founded Parents Against Police Brutality. Tony Rosario, his father, has also been in the frontlines against police killings.

Margarita Rosario and Tony Rosario’s car was torched just hours after they spoke on WBAI radio on Jan. 7, 1999. Later that year when Margarita Rosario called Mayor Giuliani’s radio show, Giuliani cut her off and attacked her as an inadequate mother.

Questions have been raised for years about the execution-style shootings of Rosario and Vega. The two cousins had accompanied their friend Freddie Bonilla to the apartment of Jorge Rodriguez and Hermilinda Rodriguez to collect a debt. Detectives Brosnan and Crowe were waiting for them, and ordered the three men to lie on the floor. The cops then proceeded to kill Rosario and Vega while wounding Bonilla. Then the cover-up began.

The Civilian Complaint Review Board ruled that excessive force was used. New York Police Commissioner William Bratton, who is now the Los Angeles police chief, disregarded the CCRB’s report. Shortly thereafter CCRB Executive Director Hector Soto resigned.

Shooting survivor Freddie Bonilla wasn’t even called to testify before a grand jury, which narrowly voted not to indict the cops.

According to “Justifiable Homicide,” a 2002 documentary, the apartment building’s superintendent fled to Puerto Rico after being hounded by police.

Brosnan has a history of violence. On Nov. 22, 1991, Brosnan was involved in the brutal beating of Black police officer Scott Thompson and Latino police officer Antonio Echevestre by a mob of drunken white cops, according to “The Black Shields” by Roger L. Abel.

Facing a hostile court

After 14 years, the families’ civil lawsuit finally came to trial in Bronx Supreme Court on March 6. Inside the courtroom were many supporters, including parents whose children were killed by police.

Juanita Young, whose son Malcolm Ferguson was killed by police officer Louis Rivera on March 1, 2000, came to court. A jury awarded Young $10 million last year. Her lawyer, Seth Harris, represented the families of Rosario and Vega.

Nicolas Heyward Sr. also came to the Bronx courtroom. His 13-year-old son Nicolas Heyward Jr. was killed in Brooklyn’s Gowanus Houses on Sept. 22, 1994, by housing cop Brian George. Heywood’s family has since faced retribution. Three years ago his younger son Quentin was almost railroaded to prison on phony robbery charges before they were dismissed.

Iris Baez came to support the families of Vega and Rosario. On Dec. 22, 1994, Police Officer Francis Livoti strangled her son Anthony Baez to death.

Supporters endured a hostile atmosphere inside the courtroom. Margarita Rosario described Judge Alan J. Saks as “very rude.” Saks interrupted the questioning of police witnesses by Harris. Court cops tried to kick out supporters, including Gwen Debrow of the New York Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition.

But the “City of New York”—that is, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration—still faced a Bronx jury made up entirely of oppressed people who could see through the cops’ lies. This jury represented the real city of New York, overwhelmingly working class.

Bloomberg’s house lawyers offered a “take it or leave it” settlement with the implied threat of endless appeals. Under these circumstances the families reluctantly agreed. Margarita Rosario told Workers World that Judge Saks wouldn’t even look at her in his chambers until she asked him to.

New York City Law Department’s Fay Leoussis claimed this $1.1 million settlement was offered because of “uncertainties of litigation.” So why didn’t they offer it 14 years before?

As meager as it was, the only reason this settlement was offered was because of struggle. More struggle will be needed is get real justice for Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega.