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Acting Maryland U.S. Attorney creates new unit to enhance focus on civil rights cases

The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office is creating a new civil rights unit, hoping to marshal more resources toward criminal prosecutions and civil enforcement of hate and discrimination cases.

Acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan Lenzner said the effort comes in response to an increase in hate crimes in recent years, as well as disparities exacerbated by the pandemic.

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“We’re trying to make sure the civil and criminal side are working together to take a more holistic approach to assessing problems in our district that relate to discrimination, bias, hate,” Lenzner said in an interview.

Part of the goal is to raise awareness with state and local agencies, as well as the private sector and nonprofits that can help alert them to such cases.

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“We want to make sure we have one unit to make sure [those partners] are aware of our prioritization in this area,” Lenzner said.

On the criminal side, such cases have been ongoing. Federal prosecutors are handling cases against an alleged domestic terrorism group called The Base, obtained a conviction this week of a member of the far-right Boogaloo movement, and recently charged a case involving vandalism of a Harford County church. The office could examine allegations of civil rights violations by law enforcement as well, Lenzner said.

The civil enforcement may be a new approach for the office. Lenzner said officials will be looking for patterns and practices of discrimination in areas such as housing, disability rights, education, health care, and voting rights, among others.

“This is important for Maryland,” he said.

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