Illegal immigrant placed on probation
by peter e. bortner -
Published: September 25, 2009

An illegal immigrant who testified in the trial of two teenagers charged in the fatal beating of an illegal immigrant in Shenandoah pleaded guilty Thursday in Schuylkill County Court to assaulting a fellow prison inmate.

However, Diego Tovar Alvarez, 20, will not spend any additional time in prison on the charges of simple assault and harassment, as Judge Charles M. Miller sentenced him to spend 12 months on probation and pay costs and a $100 fine.

Miller also made the sentence, which was part of a plea agreement between prosecutors and Tovar, concurrent to one the defendant already is serving.

Tovar will not go free, however; Miller said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, has filed a detainer for him, meaning that when he is released from the county prison, he will be housed in a federal detention facility pending deportation.

"So you're not a citizen?" Miller asked Tovar.

"Right," Tovar replied.

Pottsville police charged Tovar with assaulting Steward Steckley on April 25. Assistant District Attorney Thomas J. Campion Jr. said Thursday that the assault occurred at the Schuylkill County Prison, where both Steckley and Tovar were inmates.

Tovar is serving two consecutive sentences in connection with charges stemming from incidents in Shenandoah, to which he pleaded guilty April 23.

Judge D. Michael Stine sentenced Tovar that day to serve 251 days to 19 months in prison on charges of stalking, defiant trespass, loitering and prowling at night. The charges were brought by Shenandoah police Chief Matthew R. Nestor stemming from incidents that occurred between April 1 and July 31, 2008.

Tovar testified at the trial of Brandon J. Piekarsky, 17, of Shenandoah Heights, and Derrick M. Donchak, 19, of Shenandoah, who were convicted May 1 of simple assault and alcohol-related offenses in connection with the July 12, 2008, beating of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, 25, of Shenandoah. Ramirez died two days after the beating.

Although he said he was a friend of Ramirez, Tovar actually testified on behalf of Piekarsky and Donchak at their five-day trial.

Also, Tovar has filed two lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Scranton charging mistreatment by county officials and citizens.

In his first lawsuit, filed June 19, Tovar alleged numerous defendants violated his constitutional rights in their treatment of him before and during Piekarsky and Donchak's trial. He is asking damages of more than $1 million and demanded a jury trial of the case, which has been assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Malachy E. Mannion.

Tovar alleged he was questioned, and made to answer questions, about the Ramirez case even though he had said he wanted nothing to do with it. He also said the prison made him wear clothing he did not want when he testified and made him change his shoelaces because they supposedly were gang-related, and he said the county prison is unfit and his treatment has made him depressed and humiliated.

In his second lawsuit, filed July 1, Tovar sued Shenandoah, Nestor, several police officers and the county, alleging Shenandoah police beat and Tasered him and threatened that he would end up like Ramirez.

He asked for $8 million in damages, the firing and arrest of Nestor, police Capt. Jaime Gennarini and officers Joe Hall, Jason Hayes and Gary Keppel, as well as a transfer out of the county prison. The lawsuit has been assigned to Mannion and U.S. District Judge William W. Caldwell.Defendant: Diego Tovar Alvarez

Age: 20

Hometown: Shenandoah

Crimes committed: Simple assault and harassment

Sentence: 12 months probation ... bled=false