updated 12/17/2009 3:48:40 PM ET 2009-12-17T20:48:40

The U.S. Justice Department brought more federal hate crimes cases this year than in any year since 2001, and an Obama administration official said Thursday he was shocked by the drop-off in prosecutions during the Bush years.

Twenty-five hate crime cases were filed for the budget year that ended in September, a period that encompassed most of President Barack Obama's first year in office and the last few months of the Bush administration.

In 2001, there were 31 such cases filed. The number fell to a low of 12 in 2006, before starting to rise again, reaching 23 in 2008.

"I was rather shocked to see the downtick in prosecutions of hate crimes," said Tom Perez, head of the Justice Department's civil rights divisions.

Speaking to reporters, Perez noted the number of hate crimes did not fall significantly during that period, but refused to say why he thought the federal prosecutions of such cases dropped.

Democrats harshly criticized the civil rights division during George W. Bush's presidency, saying lawyers there were not investigating aggressively hate crimes, housing and employment discrimination or police misconduct cases.

An internal Justice Department investigation found the division at that time was plagued by improper, politically motivated hiring and personnel decisions.

Perez spoke two days after his division announced federal indictments in its investigation of the fatal beating of a Mexican immigrant in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.

In that case, authorities charged two teenagers with the attack, and four police officers were indicted on a variety of charges. Three of the officers were accused of conspiring to obstruct the investigation of the case, and a fourth was charged in a separate case, accused of extortion.

Perez would not say if authorities were aware that two of the police officials they have charged also were named in a 2006 civil lawsuit that claimed police beat to death a Hispanic teenager, then made it look like a suicide. That case has yet to go to trial.

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