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U.S. Atty. Stanton makes case for new civil rights unit

U.S. Atty. Ed Stanton and others built upon that foundation during an announcement of a new unit during a press conference in front of the historic National Civil Rights Museum last week. by Latrivia S. Nelson
Special to the Tri-State Defender

A new Civil Rights Unit, part of a broader civil rights initiative, is being looked to as vehicle to enhance the ability of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee to enforce federal civil rights law and “ensure the rights and freedoms the constitution guarantees.”

 Ed Stanton

U.S. Atty. Ed Stanton and others built upon that foundation during an announcement of the new unit during a press conference in front of the historic National Civil Rights Museum last week.

Stanton was joined by a panel of federal leaders, including Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S., Special Agent Amy Hess of the Memphis Federal Bureau of Investigation Field Office, veteran federal prosecutor Steve Parker, who was appointed by Stanton to lead the unit, law enforcement corruption prosecutor Brian Coleman, and Jonathan Skrmetti, former criminal prosecutor with the Civil Rights Division of the U. S. Department of Justice. Coleman and Skrmetti will also join Parker on the unit.  

“People are entitled to know the truth. That’s really what the cold case unit is about and the truth in some cases is that we have people who did in fact get away with murder,” said Perez.

The formation of the new unit is expected to preserve the existing momentum and facilitate future prosecutions by providing dedicated prosecutors and a formal arrangement to work with the many agencies that investigate the potential civil rights crimes.  

They will also re-open old cases of civil rights violations and focus on current cases such as the pending federal case against Dale Mardis, whom investigators are prosecuting for the murder of code enforcement officer Mickey Wright.

Wright’s family was at the announcement and attended the forum after the news conference to discuss issues in the Memphis community such as hate crimes and other civil rights violations.  

“The Justice Department is committed to enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws, and I am pleased that the Civil Rights Division has a strong partner here in Tennessee to help carry out this critical work,” said Perez.  

The FBI is the primary federal enforcement agency for federal civil rights crimes.  And while the Memphis FBI office ranks 45th out of the FBI 56 field divisions in terms of size, it is in the top five in terms of the number of civil rights cases it produces.  

The Civil Rights Unit will prosecute the full spectrum of federal civil rights crimes, including official misconduct, human trafficking and hate crimes.It will also handle law enforcement public corruption cases.

“The Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee every American rights and freedoms that cannot be taken away from them,” said Stanton.  “This new Civil Rights Unit will bring to bear the full constitutional authority of the United States to ensure that those rights are protected.”  

The Civil Rights Unit will also coordinate with the civil rights enforcement work of the Civil Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice as part of a broad civil rights enforcement initiative in the U. S. Attorney’s Office. That initiative will include the investigation and litigation of housing discrimination by mortgage lenders and small business lenders under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, violation of the Service members Civil Relief Act, employment discrimination, voting rights enforcement, and educational opportunities.

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