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A former assistant prosecutor in Wayne and Macomb counties and the lead investigator into Michigan State University’s handling of complaints against former sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar will lead a new hate crimes unit within Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office.

The unit, launched Friday, will be spearheaded by Assistant Attorney General Sunita Doddamani and Special Agent David Dwyre.

The pair will investigate and prosecute any alleged crimes determined to have been motivated by a bias against a group, Nessel said in a Friday statement.

“Hate crimes are not just an attack on a specific individual but a message to an entire group,” said Nessel, who in 2017 helped found the Fair Michigan Justice Project in Wayne County in an effort to solve crimes against the gay and transgender community.

Nessel encouraged members of the public and law enforcement agencies to report alleged hate crimes to the unit. The hate crimes unit, she said, would launch its own investigation when needed or provide resources to local and federal law enforcement.

Nessel noted that neither hate nor speech are themselves crimes.

“But when a criminal offense is committed against a person or property and it is motivated by an offender’s bias against a particular group, then my office will act,” she said.

People who would like to report a hate crime can contact Nessel’s office at (313) 456-0180.

Like Nessel, Doddamani is a Wayne State University Law School graduate and former Wayne County assistant prosecutor. She also served as an assistant prosecutor in Macomb County.

Dwyre will continue his work on the MSU investigation alongside his responsibilities in the hate crime unit, said Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney.

Prior to the initiative, former Attorney General Bill Schuette had one person dedicated to handling civil rights incidents but no dedicated personnel to investigate hate crimes, Rossman-McKinney said.

The Friday launch of the hate crimes unit comes roughly a week after a law center in Ann Arbor filed a federal civil rights lawsuit linked in part to the creation of the task force.

The American Freedom Law Center asked the Western District of Michigan U.S. District Court to stop Nessel from using a list of Michigan hate groups generated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a basis for investigations by the hate crimes unit, calling the policy unconstitutional.

The Michigan law center, which was listed as “anti-Muslim” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the use of the “radical, leftist” group's classifications unjustly targeted the American Freedom Law Center for its political stances.

The American Freedom Law Center also asked the judge to stop a separate initiative by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights that would compile a database of hate and bias incidents that didn’t rise to the level of crimes. The department announced the initiative after citing an uptick in 2018 in the number of Michigan hate groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center

Nessel’s office has said the SPLC list “is a good place to start,” but any determinations regarding the Michigan groups would stem from the hate crimes unit’s own research and investigation.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3661

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