Soto v. Romero-Barcelo (1983) Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 


Case Description 

Soto v. Romero-Barcelo was a case which brought suit to uncover FBI involvement in the killing of young pro-independence activists at Cerro Maravilla, Puerto Rico. The case led to substantial awards to plaintiffs and televised Puerto Rican Senate hearings as well as several convictions of police officers for obstruction of justice and perjury.

Cerro Maravilla, one of the highest mountains in central Puerto Rico, is the site of most of the island’s communications towers. There, in July 1978, two young supporters of Puerto Rican independence, Carlos Soto Arrivi and Arnaldo Dario Rosado, were killed in an ambush by the police. According to the government, the two young men planned to blow up the towers. Their families, in a $2.4 million civil rights action, charged that the deaths resulted from a conspiracy by members of the pro-statehood administration of Governor Carlos Romero Barcelo. According to the families, the conspiracy had two goals: to discredit the independence movement and to teach its supporters a lesson.

In June 1983, the Puerto Rican senate launched a full-scale public investigation of the incident, conducting daily televised hearings. Facts and details began to emerge, confirming the plaintiffs’ conspiracy theory. Puerto Rico’s attorney general named a panel to investigate the incident. The governor, whose summary judgment motion against the plaintiffs was successful, denounced the senate’s investigation as a “political circus” and demanded the attorney general’s resignation.

As a result of the investigation, federal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice were brought against 10 policemen, including the then head of the “Red Squad” intelligence division. All were convicted and sentenced to lengthy jail terms.

Spurred on by these events, the parties entered into settlement negotiations which resulted in a substantial award to the plaintiffs.