Loretta Lynch was a federal prosecutor in New York when she encountered an astonishing case of police brutality: the broomstick sodomy of a Haitian immigrant in a precinct bathroom.
The 1997 assault on Abner Louima set off street protests, frayed race relations and led to one of the most important federal civil rights cases of the past two decades — with Lynch a key part of the team that prosecuted officers accused in the beating or of covering it up.
President Barack Obama’s nomination of Lynch to be attorney general comes as the department she would take over continues to investigate the police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri and seems partly intended to convey the message that police misconduct and civil rights will remain a principal focus even after the departure of Eric Holder.
If confirmed by the Senate, Lynch would be the first black woman in the job and would follow the first black attorney general.
Lynch has overseen corruption, terrorism and gang cases in her years as a federal prosecutor. But it’s her involvement some 15 years ago in the Louima prosecution that gave her high-profile experience in step with a core priority of the Justice Department.
“It is certainly significant that she has a personal history of involvement in prosecuting police misconduct,” said Samuel Bagenstos, the former No. 2 official in the department’s civil rights division. “Obviously that will be helpful, and probably suggests that police misconduct cases will continue to be a priority of the Lynch Justice Department just as they were with the Holder Justice Department.
Lawyers say Obama likely selected Lynch, 55, the current U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, on the strength of a varied career and stature within the department.