U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger announced the creation of a civil rights division on Monday. The sole focus of the division will be the enforcement of federal civil rights laws in New Jersey, he said.
The new division, which will report directly to the U.S. Attorney and the U.S. Attorney’s front office, will enforce both civil and criminal civil rights laws. The division will also engage with local community members, advocacy groups, and other federal and state agencies to protect civil rights. This is the first and largest division in the district’s history to focus entirely on enforcing and protecting civil rights, officials said.
“No one should ever be subject to acts of discrimination or hate because of where they are from, what they look like, whom they love, or how they worship,” Sellinger said. “Hate crimes and unlawful bias incidents are antithetical to the core principles underlying our democracy, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will do all it can to combat these threats to constitutional and civil rights. The Department of Justice was founded to protect the civil rights guaranteed by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Building on this legacy, I am creating a Civil Rights Division within the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which will focus all its efforts on protecting and upholding the civil rights of those in our community. To that end, I have nearly doubled the number of civil and criminal attorneys who will carry out this important mission – all of whom will work together in this newly created division.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Division will be led by Chief Michael Campion. It will combine the office’s longstanding Civil Rights Unit, which conducted civil enforcement as part of the office’s Civil Division, with federal prosecutors from the office’s Criminal Division, who will focus on federal criminal civil rights prosecutions. By increasing the number of attorneys dedicated to civil rights enforcement and merging civil and criminal civil rights enforcement into one Civil Rights Division, officials said the U.S. Attorney’s Office will be able to prioritize and coordinate protecting and advancing civil rights for all in New Jersey.
Officials said the Civil Rights Division will continue the office’s past efforts – often in partnership with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division – in bringing criminal civil rights prosecutions, as well as its efforts in bringing civil enforcement actions involving discrimination, fair housing, fair lending, the rights of institutionalized persons, police misconduct, voting rights, and the rights of veterans and servicemembers. Actions taken by the office to advance civil rights in New Jersey include:
• A consent decree to end unlawful sexual harassment by an Elizabeth landlord who required sex acts in exchange for housing benefits from numerous women and gay or bisexual men; this historic settlement provided for the largest victim compensation fund in the Justice Department’s history of sexual harassment in housing matters;
• A consent decree to end a pattern or practice of Eighth Amendment violations and protects prisoners from sexual abuse by facility staff at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.
• A Letter of Findings in the investigation into the Cumberland County Jail for failing to take measures to prevent inmate suicides, including the failure to provide medication to treat opioid use disorder.
• A consent decree to reform the Newark Police Department’s unconstitutional practices.
• Settlement agreements with the Union County and Ocean County Boards of Election under the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that voters with disabilities have access to polling places.
• Guilty pleas by several Paterson Police officers for violating civil rights, using excessive force, and filing false police reports.
• Settlements with several municipalities to end religious discrimination and burdens on the practice of religion resulting from unlawful zoning ordinances and zoning denials regarding mosques, synagogues, and other houses of worship.
• A consent decree with Hudson City Savings Bank to end redlining and pay $27 million to ensure equal lending services to predominantly Black and Hispanic communities.
• A consent decree with New Jersey’s student lending authority to provide damages to service members who were subjected to unlawful default judgments with respect to student loans.
• A settlement with Newark Public Schools to require the district to provide effective English learner services.
Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations online or via the U.S. Attorney’s Civil Rights Hotline at (855) 281-3339.