Joshua Brandon Vallum, 29, of Lucedale, Mississippi, pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime for assaulting and murdering Mercedes Williamson because she was a transgender woman. Williamson, born Michael Wilkins, was 17 years old and resided in Alabama at the time of her death. Vallum was charged with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This was the first case prosecuted under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act where the victim was targeted because of gender identity. In a statement announcing the guilty plea, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said: “Our nation’s hate crime statutes advance one of our fundamental beliefs: that no one should have to live in fear because of who they are. Today’s landmark guilty plea reaffirms that basic principle, and it signals the Justice Department’s determination to combat hate crimes based on gender identity.”

Following a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department released its findings that Louisiana unnecessarily relies on nursing facilities to provide services to people with mental health disabilities, in violation of the community integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C.

The Justice Department reached an agreement with Princeton University to resolve a compliance review initiated in May 2014 regarding Princeton’s treatment of students with mental health disabilities and its policies and practices related to requests for reasonable modifications, withdrawals and leaves of absences. The agreement details specific steps Princeton will take to strengthen its policies, practices and training to benefit all current and future Princeton students with disabilities.

The Justice Department announced that it found reasonable cause to believe that the Ville Platte, Louisiana, Police Department (VPPD) and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office (EPSO) engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The department found that VPPD and EPSO used a procedure the agencies called an “investigative hold” to detain individuals without probable cause during criminal investigations. As a result of this pattern or practice, people in Louisiana’s Evangeline Parish have been arrested and placed in holding cells without probable cause. Often, individuals were in holding cells for several days at a time, where they were unable to contact family, friends or employers and had limited access to food and personal items.

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