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Protecting Civil Rights - In Memphis, the FBI remains on the front lines of civil rights investigations (Memphis Agent Seeks Justice for Victims )

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Protecting Civil Rights - In Memphis, the FBI remains on the front lines of civil rights investigations (Memphis Agent Seeks Justice for Victims )

Post  Gary Dee on Sat 7 Jul - 16:19



“This community has a legacy of being on the front lines of civil rights issues,” says
Edward Stanton, III, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.

Special Agent Tracey Harris is a 13-year veteran of the FBI who specializes in civil rights cases such as hate crimes and human trafficking. But it’s not just her job—it’s her passion.

When she transferred back to her native Memphis, Tennessee in 2003 and landed on the civil rights squad, it was not her top choice—that is, until her first case, which involved a police officer who raped a 12-year-old girl in his squad car while he was on duty.

“That’s when I realized that somebody has to do these cases,” Harris said. “Many civil rights victims represent the social ills of the world,” she explained. “They may be prostitutes, victims of human trafficking, or individuals abused by police. These are not generally people who have strong family ties or come from stable homes. They often have no voice. It’s our job,” Harris said, “to give them a voice. Somebody has to speak for these victims.”

Harris works closely with the agents on her squad and with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee, which is one of the nation’s leading prosecutors of federal civil rights cases.

“This community has a legacy of being on the front lines of civil rights issues,” said Edward Stanton, III, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. In February 2011, Stanton established a dedicated civil rights unit and announced the initiative at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, located on the site where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was slain.

“I don’t think it’s by happenstance or coincidence that our district often leads the nation in civil rights prosecutions,” Stanton said. “We couldn’t do that without our partners from the FBI. At the end of the day, pursuing justice remains the bottom-line goal for both agencies. Our prosecutors and their FBI colleagues have a special bond and a dedication to these cases.”

That special bond is due in part to the unique nature of civil rights cases, said Steve Parker, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Memphis who heads the civil rights unit.


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The FBI and Civil Rights

The FBI is the lead agency for investigating violations of federal civil rights laws. We work to prevent offenses in four major areas:

- Hate crimes.

- “Color of law” abuses that involve U.S. law enforcement and other officials such as judges taking illegal advantage of their authority.

- Human trafficking/involuntary servitude.

- Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act violations.

In fiscal year 2010, the FBI initiated more than 750 civil rights cases that fell into one of these four categories. Special Agent Tracey Harris, who specializes in civil rights investigations in our Memphis Field Office, pointed out that many victims of civil rights crimes are among the most vulnerable members of society and may not be able to seek justice on their own.


For More information see:
* http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights
* http://www.justice.gov/crt/

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In many federal criminal investigations, agents bring a fully investigated case to a prosecutor for trial. Civil rights cases are different, Parker said, because they rely more on grand juries to gather information. “Witnesses in civil rights cases don’t come forward on their own because they are usually close associates or friends of the defendants,” he explained. “It takes the leverage of the grand jury and the expertise of the investigators and prosecutors working together to successfully deal with these cases.”

Parker added, “I work 90 percent cases of my cases with the FBI’s civil rights squad. We do interviews together and go to grand juries together—we work together very closely just about every day.”




The announcement of a new dedicated civil rights unit was made last February at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, located at the Lorraine Motel where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was slain.

Agent Harris acknowledged that civil rights cases can be emotionally difficult and can take years to resolve. “You deal with that by taking them one case at a time and one prosecution at a time,” she said. “And you are gratified when the bad guys go to jail and the victims and their families get some measure of justice.”

One such difficult case that Harris and prosecutors are especially proud of involved the murder of a 46-year-old Memphis code enforcement officer and father of five named Mickey Wright. His killer, Harris said, “took Mickey’s life just because he was black.”


http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/february/civilrights_020312/civilrights_020312?utm_campaign=email-Immediate&utm_medium=email&utm_source=fbi-top-stories&utm_content=68471

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Protecting Civil Rights Part 2:

Post  Gary Dee on Sat 7 Jul - 16:27



Protecting Civil Rights Part 2: Closing a Memphis Murder Case



Two days after Mickey Wright went missing in 2001, his work identification badge and
other personal items were found in a ditch about 20 miles outside of Memphis.


Mickey Wright, a 46-year-old devoted father of five, was a code enforcement officer for the city of Memphis, Tennessee. “One day he went to work,” said Special Agent Tracey Harris, “and he never came home.”

During a routine stop at an auto repair business in 2001, Wright was murdered—“just because he was black,” Harris said.

The Mickey Wright case outraged the Memphis community and illustrates not only how emotionally charged civil rights cases can be, said Harris, but how difficult they are to investigate and prosecute.

Wright went missing on April 17, 2001. Two days later, his work identification badge and other personal items were found in a ditch about 20 miles outside of Memphis. Ten days after his disappearance, Wright’s burned code enforcement truck was discovered in a Mississippi field.

Suspicion fell on Dale Mardis, a gun dealer who owned the property where the auto repair shop was located. But it would be three years after the killing before Mardis was charged by the state of Tennessee with second-degree murder. In 2007, he was allowed to plead no contest—acknowledging that the state had enough evidence to convict him but not having to admit guilt in the murder. He began serving a 15-year sentence.

“This was a very public case,” Harris said, “and there was a public outcry when Mardis entered his plea and only got 15 years. Mickey Wright’s body was still missing, and many believed this was a hate crime—a far more serious offense than the second-degree murder charge.”

On behalf of Wright’s family, a local official asked the FBI to investigate the case as a civil rights matter. With Mardis in jail, some of the witnesses who had earlier perjured themselves during the state proceedings felt more comfortable telling the truth, Harris said. “And we located new witnesses whom Mardis had told about the crime.”

In 2008, federal prosecutors charged Mardis with the racially motivated killing of Wright. That April day when Wright stopped at the auto repair shop, Mardis became incensed and shot him. Federal prosecutors said Mardis often fought with code enforcement inspectors, especially if they were black. Mardis later admitted to burning the body with diesel fuel in a 55-gallon drum.




During the FBI investigation, Harris said, a witness also implicated Mardis in another murder, to which he also pled guilty. Last July, 10 years after Mickey Wright’s murder, Mardis was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole—and he finally admitted publicly to the hate crime he committed.

“It really meant a lot when we were able to get that guilty plea and life sentence,” said Jonathan Skrmetti, an assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case. “Mickey Wright’s family was there with us in the courtroom, and we were able to explain to them that this man would never again be out on the streets and that no other families would face the risks that they had suffered, losing a loved one for no good reason.”

“This case was personally very rewarding,” Harris added, “but more importantly it was good for the community. People were angered by this case, and together with the U.S. Attorney’s office, we helped restore the public’s faith in the criminal justice system. That’s a very good feeling.”


http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/february/civilrights_020712

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