A Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney specializing in the prosecution of white supremacists for hate crimes is present at a regional Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. Attorney’s office that has assembled a grand jury to examine the deadly Unite the Right Rally last August, Rewire.News has confirmed.
The attorney, Stephen Curran, is best known for serving as special litigation counsel with the team of prosecutors that convicted Dylann Roof of 33 counts of federal hate crimes and other charges related to Roof’s 2015 premeditated murder of a group of Black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina, church. Roof was sentenced to death.
Curran, working for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, has prosecuted other white supremacists for hate crimes dating at least as far back as 2007, when he convicted a leader of the National Alliance for the racially motivated beating of a Mexican American man. His public record since 2007 includes a string of cases against white supremacists for hate crimes and police officers for misconduct. Curran has also received a Distinguished Service Award from the DOJ for his role in prosecuting three Pakistani citizens who provided support to a terrorist organization.
A receptionist from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charlottesville confirmed to Rewire.News that Curran was present in the office, but did not say what the terms of his presence there were. She said that Curran was in a meeting and unavailable at the moment.
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The U.S. Attorney’s office did not respond to an official request for comment by the time of publication. The DOJ declined to comment.
What this ultimately means for the fate of James Fields, who allegedly drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring dozens and killing Heather Heyer, is unclear.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean anything as far as the death penalty is concerned, though the federal death penalty statute is procedurally pretty complicated,” said Charlottesville defense attorney Lloyd Snook, who has represented defendants in death penalty cases.
“So if they were thinking about going with the death penalty, it is not surprising that they might send in someone from Main Justice,” Snook continued. “Justice has a section that prosecutes capital cases in particular, and when Roof was prosecuted, they sent in Deputy Chief Richard Burns of the Justice Department’s Capital Case Section and Curran, who was listed in the press release as special litigation counsel. I infer from that that Curran being involved here is a function of him being ‘special litigation counsel’ rather than because of a capital connection.”
A federal investigation into the events of August 12 began quickly. Within days, FBI agents began requesting surveillance video from local businesses with security cameras pointed towards public spaces. Locations that FBI sought footage from included several businesses located on 4th Street, where Heyer was killed.
While federal prosecutors have been silent about the investigation and grand jury, several people who have received subpoenas have confirmed that a grand jury examining the events of August 12 is underway.
A small, vocal group of activists in Charlottesville, including some who say they have received subpoenas, have staged a series of protests opposing the grand jury and pressuring witnesses to refuse cooperation. According to the Daily Progress, they “believe that their testimony could be used against the antiracist activists who protested the white nationalist rally this summer.”
“I have also been aware that the grand jury has been very interested in Fields,” Snook said. “My guess is that they have been trying to figure out if they have sufficient proof of a federal nexus to justify a federal prosecution. It is not sufficient for a federal prosecution that people be mad—they need to be able to prove, for example, that Fields killed Heather Heyer while committing some other federal crime, or that he crossed state lines with the intent to kill or do violence.”
Fields, who traveled from his home in Ohio to attend the rally, dressed in the same white golf shirt and khakis as other members of Vanguard America, a white nationalist group. During the rally, he carried a shield identical to the others carried by members of the group. But in a preliminary hearing in December regarding separate state-level charges against Fields, Charlottesville Police Detective Steven Young testified that in spite of access to Fields’ phone and computer, he had not found any evidence of Fields communicating with members of Vanguard America.
Fields currently faces a range of state charges including first-degree murder and multiple counts of malicious wounding.
This is a developing story. Rewire.News will continue to report as more information emerges.