[From a press release]
Attorney General Peter F. Neronha has established a Civil Rights Team made up of criminal and civil attorneys to bring a coordinated and focused approach to the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes and police misconduct – whether pursued criminally or civilly. Comprised of the Civil Rights Advocate in the Civil Division and a new Civil Rights Prosecution Unit in the Criminal Division, the expanded team ensures that civil rights matters are addressed with the level of scrutiny and professionalism that all communities in the State deserve.
“While increasing and expanding civil rights work has been one of my top priorities, our goal is to build and embed an approach that lives well beyond my administration,” said Attorney General Neronha. “We adopted this new structure after reviewing similar models in other states for best practices and engaging in many conversations with advocates, community organizations and elected officials.
“The public should know they have a place to go with their concerns,” Neronha continued. “If you have allegations concerning civil rights matters, we want to hear from you. We want to know about them. And if there is action to be taken, we will take it.”
The Civil Rights Team also provides a consistent presence in the community through a robust training and education program in partnership with community organizations, including the Jewish Alliance, the Rhode Island Commission on Prejudice and Bias, and several police departments across the state. In partnership with the Commission on Prejudice and Bias, our team has presented 15 trainings to over 220 people this year.
Joint Investigation Model
The Civil Rights Team uses a joint investigation model to carefully analyze civil rights cases. This approach has already been put into action, as demonstrated by the filing of two hate crime sentencing enhancements this year, in State v. Richard Gordon and State v. Christine Longo, after that tool had not been used in the last five years.
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The joint investigation approach has also been used in the prosecution and ongoing review of several other matters involving police officers, including State v. Joseph Hanley and State v. Andrew Leonard.
“The Civil Rights Team has been meeting regularly and reviewing complaints, active cases and issues for several months. It’s a smart way to make sure we are approaching these matters consistently and developing expertise within the office,” said Attorney General Neronha. “Having our Civil Rights Advocate work alongside our prosecutors helps bring a fresh perspective and ensures we are bringing cases where we should. Different perspectives make for better decisions.”
Once the Office learns of a potential civil rights issue – whether from a direct complaint to the Office by an individual or organization, an advisement from a police department, or through our Intake Unit’s screening process – the Civil Rights Team uses the joint investigation model to determine if a criminal or civil action should be brought.
If the matter involves police misconduct, the team follows the Attorney General’s Use of Force Review Protocol.
“These are unique and oftentimes complex cases. In fact, I am personally involved in every one of them. They need to be handled by the only office in the state with full-time, experienced prosecutors,” said Attorney General Neronha.
Hate Crimes and Civil Rights Liaison
The Attorney General issued law enforcement guidance this week to address misconduct motivated by bigotry or hatred of protected groups and to improve law enforcement’s response to those cases.
This guidance recommends that each police department designate a Hate Crimes and Civil Rights Liaison, who will serve as a department contact to the Civil Rights Team. Having a designee within each police department will help streamline information sharing and facilitate training, allowing law enforcement to more effectively protect vulnerable communities.
“A well-coordinated response to hate crimes and related civil rights violations by law enforcement and by this Office will go a long way to addressing community concerns and improving outcomes,” said Attorney General Neronha.
About the Team
The Civil Rights Team is a dedicated group of experienced prosecutors working in together with the Civil Rights Advocate. The team is made up of:
- Keith Hoffman, Civil Rights Advocate has served as the Office’s Civil Rights Advocate since 2019. In this role, he helps lead the Office’s response to civil rights violations and prosecuted hate crimes. He serves on the Rhode Island Commission on Prejudice and Bias and trains police departments, police recruits, and other organizations around the State on how to investigate and counter bias-motivated misconduct.
- Dan Guglielmo, Chief, Civil Rights Prosecution Unit has been a prosecutor for the Office of Attorney General for 18 years. He has served as Chief of the Newport County office, Chief of the Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Unit, and now Chief of the Civil Rights Prosecution Unit. Over the last year, Guglielmo was also assigned to the Intake Unit where his leadership helped eliminate a backlog of cases three years in the making in just six months.
- Robert Johnsonis a Special Assistant Attorney General. In his nearly 10 years with the Office, he has proven himself to be an experienced trial attorney who has prosecuted murder, robbery, narcotics trafficking, firearms, and sex-crimes cases.
- Michael McCabe is a Special Assistant Attorney General who has served in the Office since 2016. He is an experienced attorney who has served in the Office’s District Court and Kent County units handling a wide range of criminal matters.
The Civil Rights Team’s main areas of responsibility include hate crimes, police misconduct, excessive use of force by police, and certain civil rights violations, such as when a perpetrator interferes with an individual’s constitutional or legal rights by force or threats of force. Matters that involve other civil rights violations and investigations– for example, issues related to fair housing or compliance with other antidiscrimination laws – will continue to be handled exclusively by the Civil Rights Advocate.
“There is no question that reports of hate crimes are on the rise, both nationally and right here in Rhode Island. Additionally, recent police misconduct cases – both here and across the country – have led to increased demands for accountability and transparency,” said Attorney General Neronha. “Creating this team formalizes our efforts and sends a clear message that this work is a top priority for this Office.”
For more information or to contact the civil rights team, visit http://www.riag.ri.gov/CivilDivision/CivilRights.php
To file a civil rights complaint online, use this form.