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Civil rights law violations likely underreported; forum discusses what to do if it happens to you

Civil rights – we all have them, but do we understand what they mean and what to do if our rights are violated?

United States Attorney William Ihlenfeld and his staff were at the Monongalia Community Center at Mylan Park in Morgantown Tuesday for an open discussion with community leaders and members or the public about the constitutional rights of citizens and how those rights are enforced.

Ihlenfeld said federal civil rights laws are important for making communities safer and more welcoming, but are often overlooked, and data indicates violations are severely underreported.

Each year crime data, including hate crimes, is collected by the FBI, but the reporting is voluntary and not all agencies submit reports.

According to data collected for 2020, by 15,138 law enforcement agencies who submitted reports, there were 8,263 hate crime incidents involving 11,129 offenses in the United States.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jarod J. Douglas, who presented information on identifying, reporting and preventing hate crimes, said that of the agencies providing hate crime statistics, 85% reported that zero hate crimes occurred. 

Douglas said statistics from West Virginia showed a little over 50 hate crimes reported in the state in 2020 with race being the biggest motive with 30 reported incidents.  

The next biggest motives for hate crimes in the state were religion, with 16 incidents, and sexual orientation with four, Douglas said.

“I think these crimes are underreported,” Ihlenfeld said.  “I think part of it is that many of us don’t fully understand the rights that we possess.” 

“Who to call, where to file a complaint, who to send an email to,” he said.  “Events like this will really help raise awareness.”

There is a broad overview of civil rights materials available online at as well as, Ihlenfeld recommended.  Both sites will provide information on the statutes that are at play as well as ways to report these crimes. 

Even with all the information provided at Tuesday’s forum and found on the suggested sites, there is still a lot of gray area when it comes to civil rights laws.

Ihlenfeld said there is no need to guess as to whether or not you have a claim.  There is a complaint form available at

“It’s complicated and there are a lot of nuances to these statutes,” he said.  “So instead of trying to figure it out on your own, why not fill out the form, send it in, and let the experts at the U.S. Attorney’s Office or Department of Justice analyze the facts that you presented against the law that we know so well.”

Additional speakers at Tuesday’s forum included Timothy Swanson, FBI supervisory special agent, who discussed the FBI Civil Rights Program; Assistant U.S. Attorney Maximillian Nogay, who spoke about disability rights; and Christopher Prezioso, civil division chief and assistant U.S. Attorney, who went over the Fair Housing and False Claims Acts.

Ihlenfeld said the big takeaway from the forum should be that these crimes need to be reported to be prosecuted or pursued.

“Report it, let us look at it, let us call you back and let you know what we think,” he said.  “It might be something that the U.S. Attorney’s office opens and pursues. 

“It might be something where we work with our counterparts at the state level – might be a county prosecutor’s office – we might refer you to a private attorney who is better situated to file a complaint in state or federal court,” he said.

Ihlenfeld said if you have a group or organization that would like to hold a civil rights discussion about the issues affecting them to reach out to the U.S. Attorney’s Office – Northern District of West Virginia at