UPDATE: Oct. 23 ― Two federal agencies have determined that the damage to the office of a Black employee in the U.S. Department of Education was likely caused by accident, HuffPost has learned.
During a meeting open to staff on Tuesday, investigators explained that their inquiry ― which included interviews and fingerprints ― led them to believe that a framed poster had fallen off the office wall, breaking other objects as it dropped.
Federal authorities are investigating after a Black employee’s possessions at the Department of Education were recently vandalized in what could have been a racially motivated attack.
African art objects were beheaded and dismembered and a school desegregation poster was damaged within the department’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education in Washington, D.C., NBC News first reported, citing multiple unnamed department employees and a congressional aide.
“We can confirm there was an incident involving an employee’s personal belongings on the third floor,” Angela Morabito, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said in a statement to HuffPost.
The employee had been out of the office for several days prior to reporting the damage internally on Tuesday afternoon, Morabito said.
“Secretary DeVos took immediate action, including referring the case to Federal Protective Services for a comprehensive investigation, increasing building security, and most importantly, ensuring the impacted employee was supported,” the spokesperson said, declining to comment further on an “ongoing law enforcement matter.”
The Federal Protective Service is a branch of the Department of Homeland Security that responds to criminal acts against government officials and infrastructure, as well as against people who receive government services.
Although Morabito would not confirm that the vandalized office belonged to a female employee who had recently been designated a “diversity change agent” within the Education Department, as NBC News reported, she did emphasize Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ strong support for the diversity program.
As a diversity change agent, the female employee’s job would be to train other employees to “embrace diversity and inclusion as strategic opportunities,” according to a government website.
DeVos “has strengthened [the program] since taking office to ensure a strong culture of inclusion at the Department,” Morabito said.
Hate crimes and racially motivated violence appear to be on the rise across the country over the last several years, according to FBI data. The recent mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, was one particularly high-profile example, with the gunman allegedly having prepared an anti-Hispanic manifesto before killing 22 people.