Attorney General Jeff Sessions is sending a Justice Department federal hate crimes lawyer to help prosecute the murder of a transgender teenager in Iowa, according to a report Sunday.
It is unusual for the Justice Department to involve its lawyers in a local case, signifying the importance of the case to Sessions.
Sessions has been criticized by civil rights advocates for rolling back protections for transgender people.
“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,” said Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the Justice Department, in a statement to the New York Times.
The Iowa case involves a 16-year-old student in Burlington, Kedarie Johnson, who was shot to death in March 2016. Family and friends told local newspapers that he was gay and identified as both male and female. The New York Times said Sessions assigned Christopher Perras, a Justice Department lawyer, as a county prosecutor in the case.
Sessions since becoming attorney general has said transgender people are not protected under federal law from discrimination in the workplace. He reversed an Obama administration policy encouraging schools to allow transgender students to use a bathroom according to the gender they identify with.
But he has also condemned hate crimes, the Times noted. He publicly supported a case brought in the final weeks of the Obama administration in which a Mississippi man was sentenced to 49 years in prison for killing a transgender woman, the first U.S. federal prosecution of a hate crime based on gender identity.
Under federal law, it is a crime to attack someone based on gender identity.
“Hate crimes are violent crimes,” Sessions said in a June speech. “No person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, or how they worship.”
Sessions has taken a hard line on crimes against transgender people.
In March, six House members asked Sessions in a letter to investigate seven cases involving killings of transgender black women.
Sessions ordered civil rights prosecutors and the FBI to review each of the cases and contacted local authorities to offer assistance, the Times said.
This post originally appeared on Washington Examiner