From the prosecution of former Waterbury Mayor Philip Giordano to the prosecution of Corey Davis on human trafficking charges and most recently its intervention in a religious land use lawsuit, prosecuting civil rights violations is a long held tradition in the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s office.
And despite having no new financial resources, U.S. Attorney David Fein, said Wednesday that he wants to expand the civil rights docket in Connecticut.
At its first ever civil rights conference at Quinnipiac University Law School, Fein said he’s appointed two civil rights coordinators, one civil and one criminal to help coordinate the docket and help prosecute the cases.
Under investigation since last year the number of civil rights cases has more than tripled and Fein believes it will continue to grow as his office continues its community outreach.
“Civil rights cases are historically underreported,” Fein said. “So members of our office are interacting with the community and talking about the federal civil rights actions and our interest in prosecuting violations.“
He said they’re encouraging accurate reporting of these violations from federal, state and local law enforcement.
FBI Agent Kimberly Mertz said that local law enforcement in Norwalk and Bridgeport was instrumental in bringing Davis’ human trafficking case and the case of former New Haven Police Lieutenant Billy White to the attention of the FBI. She said they had no idea how long White had been taking bribes and stealing money from those he was supposedly looking to catch or help as head of the narcotics division. She said she was astounded at the number of victims over the years in the White case that never bothered to call.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who heads up civil rights division of the U.S. Attorney General’s office, said he’s often asked about why there’s a civil rights division in 2011. He said he wishes he didn’t have to prosecute hate crimes anymore, as he rattled off a number of cases he’s participated in across the country.
“We continue to sail into the strong headwind of intolerance,” Perez said.
He said he wishes his job was as easy as the job of the Maytag repairman, but unfortunately “we are a Toyota mechanic.”
He said most of the civil rights cases they’re prosecuting come from local law enforcement officials and they’re prosecuting more human trafficking cases than ever before. He said even though they’ve got consent decrees that are over 40 years old they’re still seeing problems.
He applauded Fein for being ahead of the issue.
He said his job and the job of U.S. Attorney’s is to make sure the “bank of justice does not go bankrupt.”
Perez helped author the Hate Crimes Act of 2009 back when it was first introduced by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1998. At the time Perez served as special counsel to Kennedy. He said he estimated it would only take a couple of years to get passed, instead it took 12 years. The Hate Crimes Act is named after Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming because of his sexual orientation.
Shepard’s father Dennis and Dave O’Malley the lead investigator in the Wyoming murder were also at Wednesday’s conference.
Gov. Dannel P, Malloy, a former prosecutor in New York, also attended the conference which included a full day of panel discussions on everything from fair housing to bullying to voting rights.