In a sign that he is willing to fight for transgender people in certain areas, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has tasked the Justice Department with sending an experienced federal hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to assist in prosecuting a man charged with murdering a transgender 16-year-old, sources tell the New York Times. Kedarie Johnson, a high school junior, was shot to death in March of last year; two men, Jaron Narelle Purham and Jorge Luis Sanders-Galvez, have been charged with first-degree murder in the case, the Des Moines Register reported in March. Christopher J. Perras of the Justice Department civil rights division’s criminal section will serve as a county prosecutor in the trial for Sanders-Galvez, the Register reports. It's a rare move that, per the Times, sends a clear message on Sessions' part.
The attorney general has rolled back legal protections for transgender people as a group and has spoken out against same-sex marriage in the past, but he he has also brought several hate crime cases and has spoken out forcefully against those who commit them. "No person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, or how they worship," he said in June. As for his assignment of Perras to the Johnson murder case, "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," a Justice Department spokesperson says. Critics and supporters alike say Sessions is more likely to tackle civil rights matters individually, rather than systemically. State hate crime charges were not filed against Sanders-Galvez, per the Hill, but the Des Moines county attorney says the federal government is considering filing federal hate crimes charges in the case. (Read more Jeff Sessions stories.)