In a move that has left some opponents of the Trump administration scratching their heads, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has dispatched a federal hate crimes attorney to Iowa to help prosecutors convict a man accused of killing a transgender teen in 2016.
Attorney Christopher Perras, who works at the Justice Department’s Civil Right Division, will serve as county prosecutor in the murder case of 16-year-old Kendarie Johnson, who was shot to death in March of last year, the New York Times reported.
Officials claim that Sessions made the rare move personally, signaling that his Justice Department will strongly prosecute gender- or sexuality-based hate crimes even if it undoes certain protections put in place during the Obama administration.
“This is just one example of the attorney general’s commitment to enforcing the laws enacted by Congress and to protecting the civil rights of all individuals,” said DOJ spokesman Devin O’Malley.
Johnson, who lived in Burlington, Iowa, was known to friends and family as a gay youth who identified as both male and female and sometimes preferred to be called Kandicee. His body was found in some bushes, with neighbors having reported five or six gunshots in the area, and he suffered at least two gunshot wounds to the torso.
Sessions ran afoul of the LGBT community by reversing a policy that allowed schools to let transgender students use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. He also dismantled a policy that advised the Justice Department to consider transgender people protected by a civil rights law banning workplace discrimination based on sex.
However, Sessions has maintained a firm opposition to hate crimes, condemning the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and bringing a case against a man accused of burning a mosque.
“No person should have to fear being violently attacked because of why they are, what they believe, or how they worship,” he said during a speech in June.