Two Puerto Rican men pleaded guilty today to federal charges of conspiracy to commit a hate crime and obstruction of justice, arising out of an assault with a dangerous weapon against a transgender woman because of her gender identity.
According to court documents, on Feb. 24, 2020, at around 12:29 a.m. ET, Jordany Rafael Laboy-Garcia and Christian Yamaurie Rivera-Otero, along with their former co-defendant Anthony Steven Lobos-Ruiz, were out driving together in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, when they saw the victim, identified as A.N.L., standing under a tent near the side of the road. The defendants recognized A.N.L. from social media posts concerning an incident that had occurred the day prior at a McDonald’s in Toa Baja. During that incident, A.N.L. had used a stall in the McDonald’s women’s restroom.
Upon recognizing A.N.L., Lobos-Ruiz used his iPhone to record a video of himself yelling, “la loca, la loca,” as well as other disparaging and threatening comments to A.N.L. from inside the car. The defendants then decided to get a paintball gun to shoot A.N.L. and record another iPhone video. Within 30 minutes, they retrieved a paintball gun and returned to the location where they had last seen A.N.L., who was still at that location. Lobos-Ruiz then used his iPhone to record Laboy-Garcia shooting at A.N.L. multiple times with the paintball gun. After the assault ended, Lobos Ruiz shared the iPhone video recordings with others.
Several hours later, Rivera-Otero and Lobos-Ruiz exchanged text messages, in which they told each other to delete the evidence of their harassment and paintball gun assault of A.N.L., in order to conceal their involvement. Following this message exchange, Lobos-Ruiz deleted the videos on his iPhone of himself yelling at A.N.L. and of Laboy-Garcia firing paintballs at A.N.L.
“The defendants are being held accountable for assaulting a transgender woman because of her gender identity and then trying to obstruct an investigation into that assault,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Acts of violence against LGBTQI+ people have no place in our society today. As we mark 25 years since the death of Matthew Shepard, the Justice Department remain steadfast in its commitment to investigate and prosecute those who target LGBTQI+ people with acts of violence.”
“To assault an innocent victim who posed no threat to the defendants for no other reason than her gender identity is reprehensible behavior that will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend the rights of all people, regardless of their gender identity, to be free from hate-fueled violence. Our community must stand together against acts of violence motivated by hate for any group of people – we remain steadfast in our commitment to prosecute civil rights violations and keep our communities safe and free from fear.”
“What makes our country great is our diversity in all aspects of life,” said Special Agent in Charge Joseph Gonzalez of the FBI San Juan Field Office. “This diversity makes us strong, and criminal acts undermine our society’s foundations. The FBI will not tolerate hateful criminal activity of any kind and will pursue these cases to the full extent of the law. We urge anyone who thinks they have been a victim or a witness to a hate crime to call 787-987-6500 or leave a tip by visiting Tips.FBI.Gov. Know that we are here for you.”
As part of the plea agreement, Laboy-Garcia pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit a hate crime and admitted that he shot paintballs at A.N.L. because she was, and was perceived to be, transgender. Rivera-Otero pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and admitted to directing his co-defendant to delete video recordings of the assault and harassment of A.N.L.
Sentencing hearings for both defendants have been scheduled for Nov. 10. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Lobos-Ruiz previously pleaded guilty to committing a hate crime and was sentenced to 33 months in prison.
The FBI San Juan Field Office investigated the case.