May 4, 2007— -- Some of the most notorious crimes committed in America -- police brutality, cross burnings, violence at abortion clinics, modern day slavery, all of which are federal crimes -- are prosecuted by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
But the team of prosecutors the department has put together does not entirely reflect the country it's supposed to protect.
An investigation conducted by ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington, D.C., has found that the Justice Department is missing a key component in its mission to protect civil rights -- diversity in the attorney ranks.
"They need someone to investigate them," says Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
WJLA has learned that since 2003, the criminal section within the Civil Rights Division has not hired a single black attorney to replace those who have left.
As a result, the current face of civil rights prosecutions looks like this: Out of 50 attorneys in the criminal section, only two are African-American, the same number who were in the criminal section in 1978, even though the size of the staff has more than doubled.
Conyers said he was amazed to learn the Civil Rights Division had so few black attorneys trying criminal cases.
"They don't have the diversity that we're saying is required in the country in businesses … and of course, in the Department of Justice itself."
WJLA obtained internal Justice Department records showing that very few black or Hispanic attorneys have been hired in the last few years.
"Zero, zero, zero point 7 percent. They're incredibly low," said Conyers, who examined the hiring statistics.
For more than a decade, Richard Ugelow was a supervisor in the civil rights section that sues government employers for discrimination in hiring and promotion.
"You can't operate like that. It's -- we're hypocrites," he said.
Ugelow now teaches law at American University in Washington, D.C. WJLA showed him the Justice Department's statistics on minority hiring.
"We would sue employers for having numbers like that," he remarked.
None of this should come as a surprise to the Justice Department. In 2002, it hired KPMG, an international consulting firm to analyze the diversity of its work force. It issued an 186-page report finding that the department had "significant diversity issues, that "minorities perceive unfairness," are "significantly underrepresented in management ranks" and "more likely to leave than whites" -- about 50 percent more likely.
The report showcases successful diversity programs at companies like Microsoft, DuPont, IBM and other federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Patent Office.
Page after page of recommendations call for accountability, recruiting from "minority bar associations, "mentoring programs" and "exit surveys" to ask attorneys why they leave.
When the Department of Justice first released the report, page after page of the recommendations were covered up.
"What's different now is a lack of commitment to the African-American community."
Ugelow contends the Civil Rights Division has strayed from its core mission. "You can look at voting, you can look at housing, you can look at employment," said Ugelow.
Regarding employment, WJLA found that a Justice Department chart revealed that over a six year period, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission referred 3,200 complaints by individuals about discrimination to the Civil Rights Division for action.Of those, only six lawsuits were filed that charged racial discrimination.
Conyers said the House Judiciary Committee would begin an investigation of the Civil Rights Division's diversity issues, using WJLA's findings as a trigger.
"Because this lack of diversity in the work force inside a vital … division within DOJ is totally unacceptable," Conyers said.
Officials at the Justice Department declined WJLA's requests for an on-camera interview.
Instead, they sent a statement outlining how, following the consultant recommendations, they recruit minorities and mentor new hires. They also said the Civil Rights Division as a whole is the most diverse office in the Department of Justice.
Next week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is scheduled to appear before the full House Judiciary Committee to respond to all the controversy over the U.S. attorney firings, and perhaps to new questions about the hiring practices at the Civil Rights Division.