As Justice Department investigates shooting of Florida teen, doubts arise about federal charges

March 21, 2012

The Washington Post on March 20, 2012 released the following:

“By Sari Horwitz,

The decision by the Justice Department and the FBI to open an investigation into the slaying of an unarmed black teenager in Florida has spurred internal debate at the agency over whether the federal government could bring criminal charges in the case, which has sparked widespread protest.

Lawyers at the department said Tuesday that while the investigation into the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin would go forward, it would be difficult to prosecute the case under federal law. Civil rights law protects against “hate crimes” or actions by police officers, but Martin’s shooting may not have either of those elements, two officials said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the probe is still under federal review.

Martin was shot and killed Feb. 26 by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, who told police he was acting in self-defense. Zimmerman, 28, had called police from his car after he saw Martin walking in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.

According to the 911 tapes, Zimmerman told the dispatcher, “this guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something . . . they always get away.” The dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow, saying an officer was on the way. Minutes later, Martin was shot in the chest.

No charges have been brought against Zimmerman. Along with the Justice investigation, a local grand jury will consider evidence in the case.

Zimmerman’s family described him as “a Spanish-speaking minority,” and his father released a statement to the Orlando Sentinel saying his son did not target Martin because he was black.

Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said Monday, “I don’t understand why this man has not been arrested . . . let a judge and jury decide if he’s guilty.”

Lawyer Benjamin Crump, who represents Martin’s parents, said at a news conference in Florida on Tuesday that the teenager was on a cellphone with his girlfriend in Miami when he told her he was being followed, according to the Associated Press. She said Martin told her that he was trying to get away.

Crump, who did not release the name of Martin’s girlfriend because of privacy concerns, said she heard a scuffle and an altercation before the call was cut off.

Martin had not been using drugs or alcohol and would have had no reason to confront Zimmerman, Crump said in an interview. He had been watching basketball at his father’s girlfriend’s house when he went to a nearby 7-Eleven store for a snack, Crump said.

A bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea were on his body when police arrived.

Rallies have been held across Florida, with students calling for Zimmerman’s arrest, and the Rev. Al Sharpton will hold a national rally Thursday in Sanford.

Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, met in Washington on Tuesday with Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett and Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla). Brown urged Perez to prosecute the case as a hate crime.

Stephen A. Saltzburg, a professor at George Washington University Law School, called the case “a difficult one for the Justice Department.”

“This may be somebody who is racially biased, but from the 911 calls, it looks as though, however misguided this guy was, he thought that Trayvon was involved in some kind of suspicious activity,” Saltzburg said. “Race may play a role, but I just think it will be hard to bring this as a federal hate crime, given the limited reach of federal hate-crimes law.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa issued a statement late Monday saying that in civil rights crimes, the government “must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which law forbids — the highest level of intent in criminal law.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney offered condolences to the Martin family but said the White House was “not going to wade into a local law enforcement matter.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Indictments brought against suspect in Queens mosque, temple attacks

March 20, 2012

CNN on March 19, 2012 released the following:

“By Kendall Green, CNN

New York (CNN) — Authorities on Monday unsealed parallel indictments against Ray Lazier Lengend, who is accused of firebombing a mosque and a Hindu temple in Queens in January.

The seven-count federal indictment and 36-count state indictment charge Lengend with hate crimes and explosives offenses.

“Hate crimes offend the very principles upon which this country was founded, and those who engage in such conduct will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This defendant allegedly sought to fan the flames of ethnic and religious tension. Those flames will always be extinguished by the rule of law,” said U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch.

The 40-year-old unemployed tow-truck driver, who confessed to a firebombing spree on New Year’s Day, is no stranger to confinement.

New York City police said Wednesday that Lengend had been arrested at least six times before they detained him in connection with a series of attacks that spanned two neighborhoods in the city.

Police say the attacks are thought to stem from a list of grievances he tallied against his alleged victims over the course of a few years. The gripes range from Islamic center personnel refusing him use of their bathroom to a grocer who caught him stealing.

Police accuse Lengend of filling Frappuccino bottles from Starbucks with an accelerant and flinging them against buildings and residences in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, as well as against the home of one of his relatives living in neighboring Elmont, on Long Island.

But one of the attacks, targeting a Hindu temple, was actually the result of a wrong address, authorities later reported.

Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne added that Lengend, who had “a gripe with someone at each location,” was taken to Bellevue Hospital because he was demonstrating what police described as irrational behavior.

A dramatic video released by police two days earlier showed a person lobbing a flaming object toward a building, and a fiery explosion erupting an instant later.

No injures were reported in any of the incidents.

Authorities say they found Lengend by way of a stolen car with Virginia license plates spotted near at least one of the attacks.

The Buick, which police believe he stole from a rental car lot at John F. Kennedy International Airport on December 30, may have been used to flee the scene following the bombings.

Prior to the New Year’s charges, Browne noted, the most serious charge lodged against the Queens resident occurred in 2009 over the alleged possession of a loaded firearm in Long Island’s Nassau County.

Lengend is currently jailed on Rikers Island, according to spokeswoman for New York City Department of Corrections. He will be arraigned March 26 at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse.

Lengend is charged with arson as a hate crime, grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, criminal possession of a weapon, endangering the welfare of a child and other charges, according to a press release from the Queens County District Attorney’s Office.

If convicted, Lengend faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Lengend’s lawyer, Kenneth Dean, could not be reached for comment.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Curtis Coffee Pleads Guilty to Federal Hate Crime for Cross Burning

July 26, 2011

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on July 25, 2011 released the following:

“WASHINGTON – Curtis Coffee, 19, of Salado, Ark., pleaded guilty today to criminal violations of housing rights related to his role in the Aug. 28, 2010, cross burning in front of an African-American man’s apartment in Salado, the Department of Justice announced.

Coffee, along with co-defendants, Tony Branscum, 25, and Bradley Branscum, 23, also of Salado, were indicted in November 2010, by a federal grand jury on civil rights charges and other related federal charges stemming from their participation in the cross burning. Tony and Bradley Branscum, who are cousins, pleaded guilty last week for their roles in the cross burning.

Coffee admitted in court that on the night of Aug. 28, 2010, he, along with his co-defendants, devised a plan to burn a cross in the yard of an African-American in the Salado community. Thereafter, Tony Branscum constructed a wooden cross in a workshop behind his house. The men then covered the cross in gasoline-soaked clothing and Brad Branscum drove them and the cross to the victim’s residence. Upon arriving at the residence, Coffee propped up the cross on a satellite dish and ignited it.

“The burning cross is an unmistakable symbol of bigotry and hate, and to use it to threaten a person with violence because of his race is intolerable in this nation,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute hate crimes of this kind.”

Coffee faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

This case was investigated by the Little Rock, Ark., Division of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ray White of the Eastern District of Arkansas and Trial Attorneys Cindy Chung and Henry Leventis of the Civil Rights Division.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read The Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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