ABC News' Jason Ryan reports: A former trial attorney in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division today blasted top officials at the Justice Department for dismissing a lawsuit against members of the New Black Panthers Party in an voter intimidation case from election day 2008. The attorney J. Christian Adams described the Justice Department’s voting right section as “lawless” before a hearing of the US Commission on Civil Rights, which is investigating the 2008 incident where two Black Panther members stood outside of a Philadelphia polling location allegedly yelling racial slurs while one of the men brandished a nightstick.
The Justice Department initially filed a lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party for violating the Voting Rights Act, which protects voters from acts of intimidation and coercion. A federal judge was set to award judgement to the Justice Department in the matter since the Black Panther members failed to respond to the legal action and the complaint filed against them. But in the final days of the case, the Justice Department headquarters ordered that the case be dismissed in May 2009.
Adams testified today before the Commission that “political appointees made the decision,” to drop the case. Adams cited a hostile work environment in the division and said that officials there had openly stated they did not have an interest in pursing race-neutral civil rights prosecutions. Adams' claims and testimony comes after the Division was found to be undercut during the tenure of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales when officials had improperly used political affiliations in the hiring process. Attorney General Holder and other top officials have vowed to return the Civil Rights Division to its previous stature.
Adams testified that his superiors had stated that they had little interest in bringing cases against black defendants. “The section doesn’t want to protect white voters.” Adams said. Adams, who has been labeled as a “conservative” by some media outlets stated his only interest was in protecting people’s rights to vote and ensuring equal constitutional protections. Adams referenced the Civil War and said that so many had fought for the right to vote that any case of voter intimidation should be followed, “It doesn’t matter if it’s one person with a stick or 5 people…so many people died to get us to this point.” Adams said before the commission.
The US Civil Rights Commission, made up of 4 Republican members, 2 Democrats and 2 Independents has been investigating the incident and the Justice Department’s dismissal of the lawsuit since June 2009. One of the Commission members, Michael Yaki, a Democrat, stated that the Commission’s investigation has been overly partisan and declined to attend today’s hearing.
The investigation has focused on Minister King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson, who were featured on several videos and news reports from election day. Shabazz is seen on the video holding a nightstick just a few feet away from the entrance to the polling location.
During a May 14, 2010 hearing before the Commission, the head of the Civil Rights Division, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez said, “The Department concluded that the allegations in the complaint against Jerry Jackson, the other defendant present at the polling place, as well as the allegations against the national New Black Panther Party and its leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, did not have sufficient evidentiary support. The Department reviewed the totality of the evidence in the applicable law in reaching these decisions.”
Despite the Justice Department offering numerous documents and some witnesses to the Commission, the Commission has said the Department has only been fulfilling requests in the investigation to appear transparent.
In a May 9, 2010 letter to the Attorney General, Commission Chairman Gerald A. Reynolds expressed his displeasure with delays from the Justice Department in the inquiry asserting, “The Department has repeatedly delayed the production of critical documents and information. When it has provided information, the Department appears to have done so only to maintain the appearance of cooperation and has timed its production of voluminous, but largely non-responsive documents to prevent adequate review by the Commission before critical junctures in the Commission’s scheduled proceedings. It has further refused outright to provide answers and documents to some of the Commission’s most critical questions and requests, and has refused to permit its employees with substantive knowledge of this case to cooperate with the Commission’s subpoenas.”
Adams resigned from the Department earlier this year and one of his superiors Christopher Coates, who was the Chief of the Voting Section, has also left his post and is now working for the Department in South Carolina at the US Attorney’s office.