ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA), announced today the formation of a Civil Rights Team in the Office’s Criminal Division, which will be responsible for enforcing the Nation’s federal criminal civil rights laws in EDVA, including additional resources to investigate and prosecute hate crimes, bias-related incidents, and alleged law enforcement misconduct, and to enhance outreach and awareness among impacted communities. The development of the Civil Rights Team in EDVA’s Criminal Division builds upon the prior establishment of the Civil Rights Enforcement Unit in EDVA’s Civil Division, which has engaged in trailblazing efforts to protect the civil rights of military servicemembers and individuals with disabilities, among others.
“Every individual has the right to enjoy their lives free from violence or discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, or any other protected basis,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Parekh. “Far too often, victims of hate crimes and discrimination suffer in silence. Through the creation and expansion of the Civil Rights Teams in both our Criminal and Civil Divisions, we aim to bring awareness, improve reporting of hate crimes and discrimination, increase enforcement of civil rights protections, and ensure the prosecution of those who infringe on the civil rights of others.”
These initiatives implement President Biden’s and Attorney General Garland’s directives to confront violence, hatred, and discrimination through modern, comprehensive methods that address the complexity of these issues. In a May 2021 memorandum, Attorney General Garland directed U.S. Attorneys’ Offices nationwide to bolster the Department’s effectiveness in this area, stating that these actions “will enhance our current efforts to combat unlawful acts of hate by improving incident reporting, increasing law enforcement training and coordination at all levels of government, prioritizing community outreach, and making better use of civil enforcement mechanisms.”
The civil rights enforcement efforts in EDVA’s Criminal and Civil Divisions are designed to meet these goals through close coordination with our federal, state, and local partners, and through sustained collaboration with impacted communities in the Eastern District of Virginia.
EDVA’s Criminal Civil Rights Team will focus on violations of federal civil rights laws, including hate crimes and bias-related incidents, alleged law enforcement misconduct, and other federal civil rights offenses. Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) Nicholas U. Murphy II will continue to serve as the district-wide Civil Rights and Hate Crimes Coordinator for EDVA’s Criminal Division. Acting U.S. Attorney Parekh also announced today that he is appointing the following AUSAs to serve as additional Civil Rights Coordinators in all four of EDVA’s geographic divisions: Jamar K. Walker (Alexandria); Stephen E. Anthony (Richmond), E. Rebecca Gantt (Norfolk), and D. Mack Coleman (Newport News). These Civil Rights Coordinators will serve as internal subject matter experts and provide legal advice and training to other AUSAs and EDVA personnel on best practices for investigating and prosecuting federal hate crimes and other civil rights violations, in coordination with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. In addition, the Civil Rights Coordinators will engage with federal, state, and local partners to expand EDVA’s existing outreach programs by improving awareness and proactively engaging with communities to increase hate crimes reporting and strengthen law enforcement’s collective response on these critical issues.
The creation of the Criminal Civil Rights Team follows last year’s announcement of the establishment of the Civil Rights Enforcement Unit in EDVA’s Civil Division, in connection with the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). EDVA’s Civil Rights Enforcement Unit has engaged in groundbreaking work to enforce the ADA and ensure equal access to public accommodations, such as health care providers, and state and local government services, such as polling locations, in addition to protecting the rights of military servicemembers and veterans under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The Civil Rights Enforcement Unit has also interacted extensively with the vulnerable communities that these laws seek to protect, providing essential education so that impacted individuals can understand and exercise the rights that the law affords.
Although the work of the Civil Rights Enforcement Unit has focused primarily on the enforcement of federal laws protecting the civil rights of veterans and individuals with disabilities, Acting U.S. Attorney Parekh announced today that the Unit’s work would expand to include the enforcement of federal civil rights laws for all protected individuals in connection with housing discrimination and harassment, actions that unduly burden religious expression, and law enforcement and correctional entities that engage in a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct.
The Civil Rights Enforcement Unit in EDVA’s Civil Division includes AUSA Steve Gordon, who serves as the Civil Rights Enforcement Coordinator, and AUSAs Lauren F. Oberheim, Deirdre G. Brou, and Clare P. Wuerker. AUSA Wuerker will focus her civil rights work on pattern or practice allegations in the law enforcement and correctional context.
“These enhanced efforts within EDVA’s Criminal and Civil Divisions will strengthen our Office’s unwavering commitment to ensuring that the civil rights of all who call the Eastern District of Virginia home—especially those in vulnerable communities—are vigorously protected,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Parekh.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.