Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sent a civil rights attorney from the Justice Department to help argue a murder case against the accused killer of a gender fluid teen in Iowa, The New York Times reported.
Sessions “personally initiated” the plan to have Justice Department attorney Christopher Perras, a hate-crimes expert, serve as a county prosecutor, the Times reported. Perras will help press the case against accused killer Jorge “Lumni” Sanders-Galvez, according to court documents filed Friday and reported by both the Times and the Des Moines Register.
Sanders-Galvez, 22, was charged with first-degree murder in the March 2016 shooting death of 16-year-old Kedarie Johnson. Johnson, who identified as both female and male, was characterized as gender fluid rather than transgender by the Des Moines Register.
Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers told the Iowa newspaper that federal authorities are investigating the case as a potential federal hate crime. They want a representative for “seamless prosecution, should an indictment in federal court be handed down,” she said.
Sessions, a former Alabama senator, has a reputation as a die-hard conservative and has battled against LGBTQ rights. The attorney general sparked the ire of the LGBTQ community and supporters earlier this month when he said transgender workers are not protected from discrimination under federal law, and religious employers can refuse to hire workers whose behavior is contrary to their faith. The Justice Department also rolled back the Obama administration policy encouraging public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Despite his controversial stances, Sessions told federal prosecutors at a hate-crimes meeting held by the Justice Department in June that he was concerned about a “spate of murders around the country of transgender individuals.” He said he had directed his Civil Rights Division to “identify ways the department can support state and local law enforcement authorities investigating these incidents.”
Sessions added: “We have and will continue to enforce hate crime laws aggressively and appropriately where transgendered individuals are victims.”
Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley told the Times that sending a federal prosecutor to Iowa was “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.”
Sharon McGowan, Lambda Legal director of strategy, called Sessions’ move a “publicity stunt” and “the height of cynicism.”
“No one in the Trump administration has done more to harm LGBT people, and especially transgender people, than Jeff Sessions ― and in a government chock full of anti-LGBT appointees, that is saying a lot,” McGowan said in a statement. She added: “For Sessions now to seek credit for helping prosecute hate crimes against transgender people is akin to him handing out gasoline and matches and then looking for a pat on the back when he prosecutes someone for committing arson.”
The Iowa murder trial is set to begin Oct. 24 in Henry County District Court in Mount Pleasant.
This article has been updated to include Sharon McGowan’s comments.