News and Press Releases

U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton, III Announces New Civil Rights Unit within the Local U.S. Attorney's Office

February 17, 2011

Memphis, TN - Edward L. Stanton, III, United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, and Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, announced today in Memphis the formation of a new dedicated Civil Rights Unit within the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee. The new Civil Rights Unit, part of a broader civil rights initiative, will enhance the ability of the U.S. Attorney to enforce federal civil rights laws in the Western District of Tennessee and ensure that all Americans enjoy the rights and freedoms the Constitution guarantees them.

Stanton and Perez made the announcement at the National Civil Rights Museum, situated at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. This site reflects Memphis’ commitment to both remembering and overcoming its troubled civil rights history.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee has a strong tradition of aggressively prosecuting civil rights crimes. The formation of the new Civil Rights Unit will help preserve the existing momentum and facilitate future prosecutions by providing dedicated prosecutors and a formal arrangement to work with the many agencies that investigate potential civil rights crimes.

Mr. Stanton has appointed veteran federal prosecutor Steve Parker to head the unit. Brian Coleman, an experienced law enforcement corruption prosecutor, and Jonathan Skrmetti, until recently a criminal prosecutor with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, will join Parker on the Civil Rights Unit.

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 U.S. Attorney and Assistant Attorney General were joined at the announcement by Special Agent in Charge Amy Hess of the Memphis FBI Field Office. The FBI is the primary federal enforcement agency for federal civil rights crimes. While the Memphis FBI office ranks forty-fifth out of the FBI’s fifty-six 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 also coordinate with the civil rights enforcement work of the Civil Section at 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. This broad initiative will include investigations and litigation of housing discrimination cases under the Fair Housing Act, violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, discrimination by mortgage lenders and small business lenders under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, violations of the Service members Civil Relief Act, employment discrimination, voting rights enforcement, and educational opportunities. The Civil Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office has been recognized for its proactive enforcement of federal civil rights laws, and under the new initiative it will be able to build on that already impressive record.

“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 Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

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

The U.S. Attorney’s civil rights initiative, spearheaded by the new Civil Rights Unit, reflects the Department of Justice’s renewed commitment to aggressive civil rights enforcement. By efficiently devoting resources and attention to these crimes, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will do its part to ensure the vindication of every American’s constitutional rights.

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