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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, April 2, 2015

Department Of Justice And U.S. Attorney’s Office Mark The Fifth Anniversary Of The Matthew Shepard And James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — On Thursday, April 2, the United States Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the United States Department of Justice, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the Napa Valley Criminal Justice Training Center, the Central California Intelligence Center, and the Sacramento State Pride Center participated in events commemorating the 5th anniversary of the passage of the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

In the morning, the U.S. Attorney’s Office hosted local law enforcement representatives at the Central California Intelligence Center (CCIC) in McClellan Park. The four-hour Hate Crimes Prevention Act training featured instruction on federal and state hate crimes statutes, with particular emphasis on the importance of accurate reporting of hate crimes. The program featured several special guest speakers, including Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard (after whom the statute was named), U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, and representatives from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The training is part of the Civil Rights Division’s nationwide effort to provide training on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act to local law enforcement entities.

Later this evening, Judy Shepard, U.S. Attorney Wagner and others will address members of the community at a commemoration of the Act’s anniversary held at California State University Sacramento. Among other things, the event will focus on the history of the Shepard Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and current federal, state and local enforcement efforts to combat hate crimes.

“The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is a critical tool in our ongoing fight against invidious bias motivated violence.  The Civil Rights Division is committed to working with our U.S. Attorney partners, local law enforcement, and community members to increase awareness about the Act and to continue our robust enforcement efforts.  This training in Sacramento is the first of five regional trainings and community events that we will co-host around the country to mark the fifth anniversary of the Act's passage.  Our hope is that these events will lead to greater collaboration between the community and law enforcement, more effective strategies to combat hate crimes, and enhanced public safety.”
“The five year anniversary of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is an occasion to both celebrate the passage of this critical legislation and the significant enforcement actions that have already occurred, and to dedicate ourselves to the work necessary to enforce the Act even more effectively going forward,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “Our local law enforcement partners are dedicated to confronting this issue, and the training that my office is providing to them is part of a nationwide effort by the Department of Justice to increase our collective ability to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. We owe a great debt to the Shepard family for their unceasing efforts in support of this cause, and I am particularly grateful for their presence and participation in our efforts in Sacramento.”

Mrs. Shepard, who will speak to the victim’s perspective on hate crimes, said: “On the long road to passing this law, Dennis and I always kept in mind the true purpose, which was to not only see that justice is done for hate crime victims and their loved ones, but more importantly to educate the public about the sheer size of this problem and the community about the exact ways it can protect them. Trainings like these are vital to ensure the Act delivers its full potential.”

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act enables the Justice Department to prosecute crimes motivated by race, color, religion and national origin without having to show that the victim was engaged in a federally protected activity. The Shepard-Byrd Act also empowers the department to prosecute crimes committed because of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability as hate crimes.

In 1998, Matthew Shepard — a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming — was robbed, tortured, tied to a fence along a country road and left to die by two men who offered him a ride home from a local bar. The investigation into Matthew Shepard’s death found strong evidence that his attackers targeted him because he was gay.

That same year, James Byrd Jr. — a 49-year-old African-American man living in Jasper, Texas — accepted a ride home from three men. They drove him to the remote edge of town where they beat him severely, tied him by the ankles to the back of a pickup truck, and dragged him to his death. The three men responsible for his killing were well-known white supremacists.

While the men responsible for the Shepard and Byrd killings were ultimately convicted of murder, none of them was prosecuted for committing a hate crime. At the time these murders were committed, neither Wyoming nor Texas had a hate crimes law, and existing federal hate crimes protections did not include violent acts based on the victim’s sexual orientation and only covered racial violence against those engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting or attending school.

Updated April 8, 2015