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Crime - The Huffington Post

Crime news and blog articles from The Huffington Post
  • Mar 30, 2017 10:06:18 PM

    This week, something unique happened: a white supremacist was charged with terrorism. Unfortunately, acts like this are rarely called out for what they rightfully are. But they must be if we want to keep America safe.

    Too often the terrorism label is reserved for those thought to be Muslim, while others suspected of equally heinous crimes tend to be deemed “mentally ill.” Thankfully, New York pursued accurate charges against James Harris Jackson, a 28-year-old white U.S. Army veteran who had reportedly traveled from Baltimore to New York for one single purpose: to kill black men.

    Why did Jackson hate black men? He stated in an interview after his arrest that he was angered by interracial relationships because as he saw it, black men were “putt[ing] white girls on the wrong path.” Jackson, who authorities say is a member of a white supremacist group, added that “the white race is being eroded.”

    Too often the terrorism label is reserved for those thought to be Muslim, while others suspected of equally heinous crimes tend to be deemed 'mentally ill.'

    Having arrived in New York, Jackson randomly chose 66-year-old African American Timothy Caughman and then repeatedly stabbed him to death. Worse, police say Jackson viewed the murder of Caughman as “practice prior to going to Times Square to kill additional black men.”  

    The response by elected officials in New York to thus demand that Jackson be charged as a terrorist should be commended. But I also must admit that I never expected it to happen. After all, Dylann Roof had brutally murdered nine African Americans in 2015 at a South Carolina church but was not slapped with a terrorism charge.  

    New York County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. took a stand that other prosecutors should follow. When the grand jury indicted Jackson on terrorism charges, Vance explained bluntly in a statement Monday that Jackson had, “prowled the streets of New York for three days in search of a black person to assassinate in order to launch a campaign of terrorism.”  

    Why does it matter that someone like Jackson is charged with terrorism? Simple ― it makes us safer. It makes the vitally important point that terrorism doesn’t come in only one skin color, ethnicity or religion. That someone who is a white American could fit the bill, too.

    That’s why charging people like Roof with only a hate crime is not sufficient. It neither conveys the seriousness of the crime nor does it make the bigger point that terrorism can be committed by a person who doesn’t have a foreign-sounding name or brown skin. “See something, say something” must apply to all suspicious behavior, not just Muslims. There is no white person exception for terrorism.

    Furthermore, if media and law enforcement label all terrorists as terrorists, it opens up the possibility that those who witness radicalization before an actual attack happens will speak up and say something so that we don’t have another Chapel Hill shooting where innocent Muslims are gunned down or another Charleston church shooting where innocent African American lives are lost. But with such a tailored notion of terrorism, people may not understand the gravity of the situation until it’s too late.

    Charging white supremacists like Jackson with terrorism makes the bigger point that terrorists are not only those with brown skin or foreign-sounding names.

    Take the case of Dylann Roof. Prior to the attack, Roof told his friend his goal of wanting “to start a race war.” Yet his friend’s response was, “He would say it just as a joke. ... I never took it seriously.” Adding to that, Roof had appeared in photos on Facebook openly donning symbols of white supremacy. Despite this, no one was alarmed enough to call the authorities.

    And it certainly doesn’t help that U.S. President Donald Trump focuses only on what he calls the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism” but was silent when a right-wing white Canadian walked into a mosque in Quebec and murdered six Muslims. By narrowing the definition of terrorism in his rhetoric, Trump is furthering the narrative that the only terrorist threats come from Muslims and alienating other victims of terror in the process.

    As the Southern Poverty Law Center notes, there has been a recent spike in the number of hate groups, especially neo-Confederate and anti-Muslim ones. According to CNN, there have been 35 incidents in which mosques have been targeted with arson, vandalism and threats between January 1 and late March of this year. And just a few days ago, a man was arrested in connection with an incident at a Colorado mosque that included rocks and a Bible being thrown through the Islamic center windows. These instances, some of which are deadly plots by right-wing extremists, rarely attract headlines and even more rarely do we hear the term terrorism used to describe them.

    Glendon Scott Crawford is just one of many examples. Sentenced in December to 30 years in prison for trying to build a weapon of mass destruction to kill Muslim Americans, he was not charged with terrorism nor did we see wall-to-wall to media coverage about his case ― something we would’ve likely witnessed if he were Muslim. And while a U.S. attorney did refer to Crawford as a terrorist after the conviction, he was not charged with terrorism and thus most media outlets refrained from using that term.  

    While some may think deciding whether an incident is terrorism or not has been a tricky and sometimes subjective call, it shouldn’t be. The federal statute covering “domestic terrorism” is on its face broad enough to cover white supremacist plots. This federal law, which has been adopted almost verbatim by various states including New York, defines domestic terrorism as “activities that”:

    (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

    (B) appear to be intended—

    (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

    (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

    (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

    (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

    The actions of the right-wing terrorists that are “dangerous to human life” clearly are intended to “intimidate” civilians. Jackson’s case in New York, to which the grand jury applied this statute, is just one example.

    By narrowing the definition of terrorism in his rhetoric, Trump is furthering the narrative that the only terrorist threats come from Muslims and alienating other victims of terror in the process.

    Going forward, premeditated attacks that are intended to frighten a community ― be it based on race, religion or ethnicity ― must be deemed terrorism. And law enforcement and media must use that term. 

    Many of the hate crimes we have seen in America are not just desecrations of buildings or places of worship. Rather, the goal is to intimidate a targeted civilian population. That is terrorism. Period.

    It’s long past time that we put aside bias, political correctness or whatever is keeping us from acknowledging this reality and call the attacks by right-wing extremists what they are: terrorism. Until we treat these threats as seriously and dedicate resources to fighting them like we do with “radical Islamic terrorism,” none of us can truly be safe.

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  • Mar 30, 2017 7:56:33 PM

    A Los Angeles County officer is under investigation after a YouTube video appeared in which he seems to ignores a dispatch call about a possible shooting while making kissy-faces into the camera. He apparently recorded the video to send to a former girlfriend.

    “She can go fuck herself,” the officer says, seemingly referring to a female dispatcher whose voice comes over the police radio.

    “I want you. You, you, you, you, you,” the officer continues.

    When the dispatcher announces there has been a report of a shooting, the officer looks at the camera and casually says, “Someone is getting shot right now. Damn. What the fuck.”

    The officer indicates he should be responding to the call (or possibly something else).

    “I know I got to go, but I’m not going to go because you’re mad,” he says. “Someone is getting shot. Oh well. Oh well. Because I want to make things right with me and you … gimme kisses.”

    It’s unclear when the troubling 51-second video was recorded. It was first reported on Monday by WitnessLA, which identified the officer as Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Fennell, of the Lakewood Division.

    Fennell was placed on administrative leave in January, after he was arrested for an incident of alleged domestic violence.

    WARNING: Video contains explicit language.

    Fennell sent this video to his former girlfriend, Priscilla Anderson, according to Los Angeles’ KABC-TV. Court documents show that Anderson made the domestic violence complaint and obtained a restraining order against Fennell.

    “He did several things to me, like struck me on the neck, choking me out by the neck, destroying things in the house,” Anderson told KABC-TV.

    She also said she has dozens of videos that Fennell sent her after their break-up. She alleged that some of the videos show him targeting motorists after she’d refused to speak with him.

    “He would just give people tickets randomly,” she told KABC-TV. “He would send it to me, make more videos and just tell me, ‘I’m going to continue to be like this to other people until you decide that you want to talk to me.’”

    Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell described the videos as “very disturbing.”

    In a statement to CBS Los Angeles, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s department said it was “thoroughly investigating the circumstances surrounding the case.” The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is also reportedly reviewing the matter.

    David Lohr covers crime and missing persons. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow him on Twitter. 

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  • Mar 30, 2017 7:14:01 PM

    Ricardo Medina Jr., a former star “Power Rangers Wild Force” star, was sentenced to six years in state prison for the stabbing death of Josh Sutter, a representative for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office confirmed to The Huffington Post. 

    Sutter was identified as Medina’s roommate by the LA County DA’s Office, though Medina’s attorney reportedly said the two were just friends, not roommates, according to KTLA

    Medina Jr. pleaded guilty earlier this month to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter and admitted to stabbing Sutter with a sword. Six years was the maximum sentence. 

    The 38-year-old actor was arrested for the crime back in January, after he and Sutter allegedly got into an argument that turned physical. 

    According to LA County Sheriff’s Department, Sutter forced himself into Medina’s bedroom, where Medina had gone with his girlfriend in the midst of the argument. The actor then stabbed Sutter with a sword he kept in his room. Afterward, Medina reportedly called police and was arrested when they arrived.

    The actor was held in jail for short period, but was released after a few days because the DA’s office declined to file charges against him. The DA did, however, ask the LA County Sheriff’s Department to continue their investigation into the incident, ABC7 reported. 

    At the time, Bell said the case was “a self-defense case,” according to ABC7.

    Medina is best known for playing Cole Evans/Red Lion Wild Force Ranger in 2002’s “Power Rangers Wild Force.” He also played Dekker in “Power Rangers Samurai” in 2011–2012 and has had small parts on “ER” and “CSI: Miami.” 

    The Huffington Post has reached out to Medina’s lawyer for further information and will update this post accordingly.  

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  • Mar 30, 2017 6:39:02 PM

    A serial killer and former nurse’s aide who was known as the “Angel of Death” has died on Thursday after being attacked two days earlier inside of an Ohio prison, the Associated Press reported.

    Donald Harvey, 64, who pleaded guilty to killing more than three dozen people at hospitals in Ohio and Kentucky in the 1970s and 1980s, was pronounced dead Thursday morning after suffering critical injuries inside his cell at the state prison in Toledo.

    According to a patrol report cited by the AP, Harvey was in his cell when an unidentified person attacked him Tuesday afternoon.

    A prison spokesperson confirmed to The Huffington Post that his death was under investigation by The Ohio State Highway Patrol, whose special response team handles prison incidents.

    The beating left him on life support, and medical personnel did not expect him to survive, WCPO-TV reported Wednesday citing local law enforcement sources.

    According to the AP, Harvey was serving multiple life sentences after pleading guilty to killing 37 people while working at hospitals in Cincinnati and London, Kentucky. He later claimed to have killed 18 others while working at a veterans’ hospital in Cincinnati. His most common method of killing his victims was by using arsenic and cyanide. 

    The string of the deaths began as mercy killings, he claimed. Eventually, he said he simply enjoyed killing and the power of choosing who would live and who would die.

    He ended up pleading guilty to the crimes to escape the death penalty, he said.

    According to online prison records, his first opportunity for parole was 2043.

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  • Mar 30, 2017 5:10:11 PM

    A refugee from Iran returned to his Oregon home this week to find nearly every surface in his house spray-painted with horrifying death threats and anti-Muslim messages. 

    “GET OUT OF USA YOU WILL DIE,” reads one message on a wall inside the Troutdale home of Hasel Afshar, according to KPTV’s Kelsey Watts. 

    “TERRORIST” was written on a kitchen cabinet; “FUCK YOU TERRORIST” on a wall; “MUSLIM” and “KILL YOU” on the bedroom walls; “DIE” on a mirror; and “HATE” on a door

    Chairs, doors, a couch, and a mattress were hacked with a hatchet, according to KPTV. 

    And perhaps most frightening: bullets were left behind in the shape of a cross, weighing down a note. 

    “If I come back here and see you again... I will shoot you and burn your house,” Afshar said the note read. 

    A neighbor who toured Afshar’s house told KATU there was a threat that read, “If you don’t leave this house within a week, we’ll kill you.”

    “I think this is a great country but I don’t know, it’s just a lot of racist people,” Afshar told KOIN6

    Lieutenant Chad Gaidos, of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed to The Huffington Post that officers arrived at Afshar’s house Wednesday night to investigate the threats and vandalism. 

    “The Sheriff’s Office is investigating this case as an intimidation/biased crime,” he said in an email, adding that protocol required that the sheriff’s department notify the FBI of the crime. 

    The Council on American-Islamic Relations called for the FBI to get involved in the investigation on Wednesday. An FBI spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter. 

    The attack on Afshar’s home is sadly a familiar story in America this year, as Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim have been repeatedly targeted in hate crimes. 

    In just the last week, a Muslim family in Virginia returned to their home to find “FUCK MUSLIMS” written on a wall, and their copy of the Quran destroyed; a man in Minnesota said his hatred of Muslims drove him to stab a Somali man; and in Colorado, a man was arrested for throwing rocks and a Bible through the glass doors of a mosque. 

    Twice in one week this month, men allegedly threatened to shoot Muslim women in public. 

    Earlier this month in Arizona, a man tore up copies of the Quran inside an Islamic center, and a couple allegedly urinated on a Quran inside a New Mexico library. 

    And in one seven-week span this year, authorities determined that arson was to blame for three mosque fires. According to CAIR, mosques have been targeted with threats and acts of vandalism or destruction over 30 times in the first few months of 2017. 

    The Southern Poverty Law Center says the number of anti-Muslim hate groups tripled in 2016. And according to the FBI, the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes rose 67 percent in 2015. (The numbers for 2016 haven’t been released yet.) 

    Afshar, who came to America from Iran 7 years ago, is not a Muslim, he told the local news outlets in Oregon. He’s Baha’i. 

    He told KPTV that after what happened to his home this week, he will probably move out of America. 

    America does not do a good job of tracking incidents of hate and bias. We need your help to create a database of such incidents across the country, so we all know what’s going on. Tell us your story.

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  • Mar 30, 2017 4:36:19 PM

    The University of Pittsburgh Law School is bringing the real life lessons from HBO’s classic series “The Wire” to the classroom.

    The 3-credit course, “Crime, Law and Society in ‘The Wire,’” will use the Baltimore-based drama to analyze many of the contemporary issues in the criminal justice system. According to the course description, these include, “drug enforcement, race, confessions, police manipulation of crime statistics, mass incarceration, use of force, gender, criminal organizations, gun violence, and honesty and accountability in law enforcement.”

    The class, taught by David A. Harris, will lead group discussions on episodes from the first two seasons as well as additional assigned topics. Students are also required to “invest a significant amount of time outside of class watching the series” and to submit two papers focusing on issues “The Wire” tackles.  

    “The Wire,” created by David Simon, first aired in 2002 and lasted for five seasons. The show starred Wendell Pierce, Michael K. Williams, Idris Elba, Mack Wilds, Michael B. Jordan, Andre Royo, Dominic West, among others. It explored riveting themes that are still relevant today, such as the city’s relationship with law enforcement, the drug trade, politics, corruption and the media.

    And it’s still heralded as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. “The Wire” was raw, un-cut and ahead of its time at taking a deep dive into actual issues plaguing inner cities. 

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  • Mar 30, 2017 2:01:08 AM

    WASHINGTON ― At a roundtable discussion on the opioid epidemic Wednesday, President Donald Trump lamented that a crisis which has claimed tens of thousands of lives in recent years has not gotten enough attention. And in an effort to turn the tide, he announced he was forming a commission led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

    “It’s really one of our biggest problems our country has, and nobody really wants to talk about it,” Trump said, flanked by top administration officials and individuals with firsthand experience battling addiction to opioids. “More importantly, we have to solve the problem.”

    Trump has pledged to play an active role in combating opioid abuse, and his appointment of Christie, who elevated the issue as a candidate in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, shows he still is paying attention to the topic.

    But for those on the front lines of the epidemic, much of what the president has done so far has been, at least, a disappointment and, at worst, likely to do more harm than good.

    Trump, for starters, seems willing to unwind approaches that were working to alleviate the crisis in favor of going back to the combative “drug war” policies of the 1980s, which have long since been discredited. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reflected this antiquated mindset when he recently called for a return to former first lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” strategy to address drug use.

     “There’s a lot of frustration from the advocacy community,” said Daniel Raymond, the deputy director of planning and policy at Harm Reduction Coalition, which seeks to end the stigma of addiction and champions public health reforms. “Are we really going to spend six months reinventing the wheel here at a time when overdose deaths have never been higher? Nobody feels like we can take a wait-and-see approach.”

    But it’s not just the framework that has advocates worried. It’s the financial commitments, too. The administration’s proposed budget calls for steep cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health as well as a reorganization of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ― agencies vital to funding treatment initiatives and research to improve treatment for future generations.

    Last week, in an embarrassing defeat, Trump tried to help pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, an effort that would have stalled the Medicaid expansion in multiple states. It also would have had severe consequences for those in recovery, advocates warned. But the harm wouldn’t stop there. The GOP replacement bill would have allowed insurance companies to stop offering mental health coverage or drug addiction treatment. If it had passed, 24 million Americans would have lost their health insurance, according to Congressional Budget Office projections.

    Are we really going to spend six months reinventing the wheel here at a time when overdose deaths have never been higher?
    Daniel Raymond, Harm Reduction Coalition

    Setting up a symbolic commission while working to defund actual initiatives, therapies and research has reinforced public health officials’ fears that Trump hasn’t studied up on the epidemic enough and might stall the progress the Obama administration made in addressing the issue.

    “This is a national crisis that demands a sustained strategy and funding and a real commitment,” said Joshua Sharfstein, an associate dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “That has not been evident to date.”

    The opioid epidemic was fairly central to Trump’s political appeal during the campaign. In the early days of the presidential race, he brought up the issue on the stump as a way to justify his promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. And he had an audience for his message. The crisis has devastated states across the country, most notably in Rust Belt communities in West Virginia and Ohio and in early primary states, including New Hampshire.

    With the spread of deadly synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, communities have struggled to maintain the spread of overdose deaths. A recent CDC study showed that opioids killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, a record. Drug overdoses now kill more than the HIV/AIDS epidemic did at its height in the U.S.

    The Obama administration gradually ― some argue too gradually ― coalesced around a policy that shunned the drug warrior tactics for a public health approach that helped to mainstream programs such as needle exchanges. The then head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli, derided the war on drugs as a failure.

    Botticelli and others in the administration, most notably officials in the Department of Health and Human Services, reduced barriers to medication-assisted treatment, which the medical establishment views as the best chance for someone with an opioid addiction to make a lasting recovery. The treatment combines medications such as Suboxone or methadone with counseling. It has been shown to dramatically lower the rate of overdose deaths.

    By the end of his term, President Barack Obama, along with bipartisan allies in Congress, successfully included $1 billion in funding in the 21st Century Cures Act to enhance evidence-based treatment. The surgeon general also published a definitive report on the epidemic and how to address it.

    But since taking office, Trump has rebelled against Obama’s policies. “I think there is a tremendous amount of fear that we are going to retreat from all of the science and evidence that we know to be true about addiction,” Botticelli told The Huffington Post in late January, before the end of his tenure as the nation’s drug czar.

    In the runup to their budget unveiling, Trump and his team have floated the idea of dismantling the drug czar’s office. And advocates are worried that the commission headed by Christie ― which includes the heads of HHS and Veterans Affairs, along with Sessions ― would replace it.

    “Commissions are nice to have and they are great for generating news, but at the end of the day we have to remember the federal government already has tools in place to address this issue in a smart way,” says Rafael Lemaitre, who worked in the drug czar’s office for more than a decade. “It just needs to use them. There are literally dozens of nonpartisan experts working in the White House today that should be leaned on and supported. There’s already a commission to address the opioid crisis. It’s called the ONDCP.”

    To Lemaitre’s point, there were relatively few actual experts at Trump’s event on Wednesday. Along with Cabinet secretaries, there was Pam Bondi, the attorney general of Florida, and retired New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera. One of, if not the only, treatment specialists who appeared was AJ Solomon, a 26-year-old who used to work for Christie’s advance team. He was in recovery and started his own treatment facility in New Jersey, which offers intensive therapeutic services. He was just happy to be able to meet the president.

    “It was just awesome ― beyond my wildest dreams ― as someone in recovery meeting the president,” he told HuffPost. 

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  • Mar 29, 2017 11:48:40 PM

    AUSTIN, Texas, March 29 (Reuters) - At least 13 people were killed, and two injured, when a Texas church bus carrying senior citizens collided head-on with another vehicle on Wednesday, the church and a Texas state trooper said.

    The bus had 14 people aboard when it collided with a pickup truck carrying one person, about 80 miles west of San Antonio. The cause of the crash was being investigated, said Sergeant Conrad Hein, a spokesman of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

    The vehicles collided when the truck crossed the center line, Johnny Hernandez, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, told the San Antonio Express-News.

    The truck driver was airlifted to a San Antonio hospital, the paper said on its website. The survivor who was on the bus was in serious but stable condition, the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels said on social media.

    A group of senior adults affiliated with the church were on the bus returning from a three-day retreat in Leakey, Texas, the church said on its Facebook page.

    “Thank you for the outpouring of love and support,” it added. “Please continue to pray.”

    Texas Governor Greg Abbott and his wife offered condolences to the victims.

    “We are saddened by the loss of life and our hearts go out to all those affected,” Abbott said in a statement.

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  • Mar 29, 2017 10:53:46 PM

    LOS ANGELES ― California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Wednesday that he will continue to seek the death penalty against Scott Dekraai, a man who pleaded guilty to killing eight people in 2011, even though the case has been tainted by misconduct from prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies.

    “After weighing the evidence, considering the law and the responsibilities of my office, I have concluded that the appropriate course of action is to seek the death penalty in this case,” Becerra said in a statement.

    Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals ejected the entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office from the Dekraai case in 2015. He found the office’s use of jailhouse informants constituted egregious misconduct. After Goethals’ decision, which a California appeals court affirmed, the state attorney general’s office assumed responsibility for Dekraai’s case. 

    The Justice Department announced in December that it was investigating allegations that the informant program used by the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices had violated defendants’ rights. 

    Many legal experts are unnerved by the decision to seek the harshest punishment available against Dekraai, considering the uncovered and alleged misconduct in the case. 

    “Given the serious improprieties in the handling of this case ― including the disqualification of the District Attorney’s office for egregious misconduct, as found by the trial court and Court of Appeal ― it is very disturbing that they are seeking the death penalty,” Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of law at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.

    Daniel Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University who has written at length about prosecutorial misconduct, said he was “deeply troubled” by Becerra’s decision to pursue the death penalty.

    “The fact that a different prosecution team ― state, and not the county ― is pursuing it does not remove the taint,” Medwed said. “Before pursuing the ultimate penalty, one hopes prosecutors are extremely confident in the integrity of the underlying evidence ― with respect to the crime itself and any aggravating factors. It seems far-fetched to have such confidence in a case infected by one of the most egregious informant scandals in the past quarter century.”

    Even relatives of the shooting’s victims have pleaded with prosecutors to abandon the death penalty, although OC Weekly reported in December that they are especially concerned with ending the case quickly. 

    Goethals has also called for new evidentiary hearings in Dekraai’s case, partly because it appears some information had been manipulated and/or destroyed and partly because of allegations that the sheriff still has not turned over all documents related to the informant program.

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    In his 2015 ruling, Goethals said a pair of sheriff’s deputies “either intentionally lied or willfully withheld information” about the existence of a jail database on informants when they testified in the Dekraai case. 

    He also admonished the district attorney’s office for failing to turn over records pertaining to Fernando Perez, an especially prolific informant at the center of Dekraai’s case. Dekraai’s attorney, assistant public defender Scott Sanders, has argued that prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies intentionally planted Perez next to Dekraai in order to glean incriminating information from him ― a violation of his constitutional rights ― and then concealed that effort. 

    Becerra’s office did not directly inform Dekraai’s defense team of its decision to continue to seek the death penalty, Sanders told The Huffington Post. He said his defense team was “very disappointed” to hear the news. 

    “However, as will begin to show very soon, the misconduct that has poisoned this litigation is far more extensive than even known to the defense a few months ago,” he said. “We look forward fully adjudicating all of the issues relevant to this case.”

    Sanders has filed a series of blockbuster motions to unearth evidence that a secret, tainted snitch network has for decades existed in county jails. He alleges that county prosecutors and police have violated multiple defendants’ rights by illegally obtaining, and sometimes withholding, evidence received from jail informants. 

    His discoveries have led to the unraveling of multiple murder cases in the county. Some accused murderers have had their sentences vacated.   

    It seems far-fetched to have such confidence in a case infected by one of the most egregious informant scandals in the past quarter century.
    Daniel Medwed, law professor at Northeastern University

    It’s not unusual or illegal for authorities use informants to help bolster cases. But Sanders alleges that in some Orange County cases, informants held recorded and unrecorded conversations with inmates who were already represented by lawyers, which violates an inmate’s right to counsel. Prosecutors then allegedly took damning evidence gathered by the informants and presented it in court, while withholding evidence that could have been beneficial to the defense — which is a violation of a defendant’s right to due process. 

    It remains unclear exactly how many cases in the county may have been affected by tainted informant evidence. Sanders has argued that every case involving a jailhouse informant in Orange County over the last 30 years deserves to be re-examined.

    And the scandal continues to grow. Just last year, Goethals made public 242 pages of notes, known as the “special handling log.” The log reveals the inner workings of the county’s informant program and appears to contradict testimony given by multiple deputies. The district attorney’s office conceded that the log contradicts statements made by multiple witnesses, including several members of law enforcement who had testified during hearings in the Dekraai case. 

    The pages represent just a fraction of the total 1,157-page database, still largely under seal, which was used between 2008 and 2013 and maintained by sheriff’s special handling deputies. 

    Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has maintained that no one in his office intentionally behaved inappropriately in relation to the jailhouse informant program. OCSD argues similarly and that it has taken steps to create more robust ways of documenting and managing inmates.

    The sheriff’s department has continued to deny that a formal jail informant program even exists ― despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. There are also thousands more pages of internal OCSD records which have not been made public yet, but some may be unsealed soon. A hearing regarding the potential release of some of those documents is scheduled for this week.  

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  • Mar 29, 2017 10:46:04 PM

    A young woman smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico said she endured two years of horrific abuse at the hands of a Florida woman who repeatedly tried to artificially inseminate her.

    Those are the shocking allegations made in court documents filed against Esthela Clark, 47, of Jacksonville. Clark pleaded guilty Monday to one count of forced labor in connection with the case, the Justice Department announced.

    Per the terms of a plea agreement, Clark, escaped more serious charges, including sex trafficking and involuntary servitude.

    The Justice Department said that in 2012, Clark recruited a 22-year-old woman from Mexico and convinced her to come to the U.S. for the purpose of serving as her pregnancy surrogate. Clark told the woman, who has not been identified, that she would receive roughly $4,000 in exchange for participation in a “medically supervised” procedure. Clark then paid human smugglers, also known as “coyotes,” roughly $3,000 to smuggle the woman out of Mexico, authorities said.

    The trip turned into two years of hell for the young woman.

    The woman told investigators her first nine months in the country were spent enduring Clark’s repeated attempts to impregnate her.

    “Clark and [her boyfriend] would have sex using a condom,” according to a criminal complaint obtained by The Huffington Post. “When [Clark’s boyfriend] ejaculated, Clark would transfer the semen from the condom to a plastic syringe and then insert the semen into [the victim’s] vagina.”

    The young woman said she was subjected to injections “three to four times a day” when she was ovulating. When those efforts failed, she said Clark forced her “to have sex with two complete strangers.”

    Things took a turn for the worse in March 2013.

    The woman said Clark began beating her, forcing her to work, and chastised her for being “too fat” to conceive. She said Clark would only allow her to eat beans, which resulted in a 65-pound weight loss.

    Allegations set forth in the affidavit include:

    • “Clark advised [the victim] that if she tried to escape, [the victim’s] family and child in Mexico would be harmed.”

    • “Clark prohibited [the victim] from washing or changing her clothing for days and weeks at a time.”

    • “On one occasion ... Clark required [the victim] to sleep on the kitchen floor in a puddle of bleach as punishment.”

    • “Clark often would force [the victim] to undress.”

    • “Clark physically beat [the victim] at least four or five times.”

    Clark also isolated the victim from her family and “attempted to collect from the victim’s family the cost she had paid to the coyotes, with interest,” a statement from federal prosecutors reads.

    The abuse continued until January 2015, when a concerned citizen contacted the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Investigators assigned to the case uncovered a mountain of evidence, which corroborated the victim’s story, according to the criminal complaint.

    Six months later, a Grand Jury indicted Clark

    In entering into the plea deal, Clark, according to prosecutors, acknowledged she is guilty of the allegations made against her and will make restitution to the victim, in an amount yet to be determined by a judge.

    Clark now faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

    David Lohr covers crime and missing persons. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow him on Twitter. 

    Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

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  • Mar 29, 2017 10:38:03 PM

    Georgia state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, resurrected his controversial “campus rape bill” in the Georgia House of Representatives on Tuesday night which then passed it again 102 to 56 after it had stalled in a Senate Committee that wanted more time to study it. He used a parliamentary procedure to replace the provisions of another bill pending before the House, Senate Bill 71 designed to protect health savings accounts from bankruptcy, with the provisions of his House Bill 51. The bill has now been sent back to the Senate for possible consideration Thursday.

    “The Senate needs to oppose this bill because it was created to protect perpetrators, not to help survivors,” said Venkayla Haynes, a student activist who testified against House Bill 51. “Mandatory reporting is not something that will improve the way sexual assault is handled on college campuses, it will actually make things worse. It's time that we listen to survivors and allies for once and not tell them to ‘trigger somewhere else.’”

    While Ehrhart’s bill sounds like a measure that would both crack-down on campus rapes, by requiring campus officials to report them to the police, and protect accused students, by affording them with “due process” in campus disciplinary proceedings the devil truly is in the details.

    Sexual assault survivors and their advocates have been telling legislators since the bill was introduced in January that mandatory reporting will actually have a chilling effect causing fewer survivors to come forward. The “due process” provided to accused students is undefined leaving it unclear if this means the protections already guaranteed under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, or is intended to mean something else putting schools in the difficult position of having to design proceedings where there are unclear expectations as well as possible conflicts with longstanding federal laws, not only Title IX but also the Jeanne Clery Act, designed to help guide colleges and universities properly respond to campus sexual assault.

    There have been several versions of the “campus rape bill” considered by the Georgia General Assembly, but all of them have contained the same fundamental flaws of mandatory reporting and unclear expectations for student disciplinary proceedings. The version passed by the House this week is the same one without protections for survivors that they already passed earlier this month, but even if protections for them included by Senators find their way into a finished product the bill remains fatally flawed.

    “We will not compromise on any bill that was drafted to violate our autonomy, suppress our control, and silence our voices,” said law student Grace Starling, a survivor and one of the organizers of Students Against House Bill 51. “There is no reason that this bill needs to be put on the Senate floor this session. But if it is, I certainly hope that the Georgia state Senate will protect the rights of survivors, and protect its own in affirming the unanimous decision of the Senate Judiciary Committee to table this bill.”

    Georgia is not alone in facing this challenge, and a key resource on these questions of national law is expected to be available by next year that could help provide much needed insight into how to balance all of these interests. The American Bar Association Task Force on College Due Process Rights and Victim Protections has been tasked with crafting recommended “guidelines and best practices to ensure due process for both the victim and the accused in college campus sexual misconduct cases.”

    Given the high stakes – for survivors, the accused, and the colleges and universities charged with balancing their rights – the only sensible course forward at this time is to hold off on taking action until a bill can be crafted that protects all students on Georgia’s campuses, and considered next year. Acting rashly now could easily cause more harm than good.

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  • Mar 29, 2017 7:37:13 PM

    By Christopher Zoukis

    Prison might be the last place you would expect to see a great performance of Shakespeare. But for more than a decade, Marin Shakespeare Company in California has taught Shakespeare in several prisons, and to rave reviews.

    In 1989, the company launched to reinvigorate Shakespeare in Northern California, but has expanded its scope over the years, teaching a variety of workshops and programs, including outreach through the Shakespeare for Social Justice Program, started in San Quentin Prison in 2003, and expanding it to several other facilities. Their mission is “to achieve excellence in the staging and study of Shakespearean plays, to celebrate Shakespeare and to serve as a cultural and educational resource for the people of Marin, the San Francisco Bay Area, and beyond.”

    Shakespeare might seem like an odd choice, stereotypically relegated to the fodder of English classes and the efforts of British actors, but program proponents espouse its benefits. Studying Shakespeare teaches complex language and literacy skills, critical thinking about human emotions and the consequences of choices, emotional intelligence, empathy, self-reflection and gives rise to the exploration of new ways of thinking.

    The atmosphere and exercises of theater and performance also teaches cooperation, interpersonal interaction, communication and problem-solving. It assists in breaking down barriers, building bridges, and helps people recreate themselves as their best selves.

    Lesley Currier, the managing director of the company, notes that inmates delve into complex themes while exploring Shakespeare. “Macbeth and Julius Caesar are about committing murder and the psychology behind that: Why they do what they do, how they feel after they do it," he said in an interview with the Marin Independent Journal.

    Heavy and emotional topics can arise through studying Shakespeare, and working through these via a fictitious character can be immensely helpful for the participants when reflecting on their own situations and past decisions. The "soft skills" they learn in navigating their emotions and pasts are immensely valuable, both in prison, and as they move into their communities after they are released.

    At San Quentin every year, two plays are performed — one of Shakespeare’s works, and a Parallel Play of original pieces that are written and performed by inmates, inspired by the Shakespearean work they performed. Plays are also performed at Solano State Prison. The inmates involved don’t just memorize lines and perform; they have weekly meetings where they complete drama exercises, and learn the variety of skills that can be applied to their daily lives.

    Dameion Brown is just one example of the success of the program. He played Macduff in Solano’s performance of Macbeth in 2015. He has since been released, and uses the skills he learned in the program to improve his life and those of others. In 2016 he played the starring role in Othello with Marin Shakespeare Company, and has spoken about his role with students in schools. He is now a youth case manager at Community Works West, working with young men who have been recently released from jail and others referred as part of a diversion program. Brown says he identified with the character of Othello, and had hoped to play the character long before ending up in prison. He was cast as Othello for a school play, but it was canceled after outcry from his community over the interracial romance in the story.

    Beyond prison walls, Marin Shakespeare Company launched the Theater Group for Returned Citizens in 2015, to allow former inmates to continue to learn about Shakespeare and theater, and to tell their stories.

    Shakespeare for Social Justice isn’t the only program teaching Shakespeare and theater skills to inmates. Other successful programs include the Michigan-based Shakespeare Behind Bars, Rehabilitation Through the Arts in New York, and the Shakespeare Prison Project at Racine Correctional Institution, in partnership with University of Wisconsin-Parkside. The Mission of Shakespeare Behind Bars (SBB), as one example, “is to offer theatrical encounters with personal and social issues to incarcerated and post-incarcerated adults and juveniles, allowing them to develop life skills that will ensure their successful reintegration into society.” There are 10 core values to the program, including developing literacy, empathy and problem-solving skills. The recidivism rate of SBB participants is an impressive 5.1 percent, compared to a national average of more than 50 percent. These programs clearly make an impact in the lives of participants, who learn a wide variety of necessary life skills and re-enter their communities as better citizens. Weaving arts into the rehabilitative tapestry offered inmates is a worthwhile endeavor.

    Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com and PrisonerResource.com.

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  • Mar 29, 2017 4:15:45 PM

    Authorities are searching for a massive 24-karat gold coin that was stolen Monday from a museum in Germany.  

    Nicknamed “Big Maple Leaf,” the Canadian coin has a face value of 1 million Canadian dollars (about $750,000), but because of its weight and purity is actually worth $4 million at auction.

    It’s gone,” Bode Museum spokesman Markus Farr said Monday, according to NBC News.

    Police said they were alerted to the break-in around 4 a.m., The New York Times reported.

    It appears the operation wasn’t exactly high-tech by today’s standards. Police suspect the thieves used a ladder to enter the second story of the Berlin museum through a window and smashed the bulletproof glass box that contained the coin. Authorities believe they escaped through the same window, used a wheelbarrow to transport the coin, and eventually reached a getaway vehicle.

    The following Reuters video shows how the heist may have gone down.

    The Royal Canadian Mint issued the coin — at the time the world’s largest — in 2007. It weighs about 220 pounds and measures about 21 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. The coin has a depiction of Queen Elizabeth II on one side and a maple leaf on the other. 

    The Bode Museum has had the coin in its collection since 2010.

    Of course, theft is a serious matter, but The Mississauga News couldn’t help taking a little jab at the thieves.

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  • Mar 29, 2017 3:31:27 PM

    It’s a day for standing up to fear.

    Police officers, local Muslim leaders and thousands of others gathered Wednesday to form a human chain on London’s Westminster Bridge, mourning the terror attack that left five people dead and dozens more wounded last week.

    The bridge in central London was closed to traffic as people bowed their heads in silence. Just seven days ago, it was a scene of chaos as an attacker drove a car through a crowd of pedestrians, killing three and injuring 50 before fatally stabbing a police officer inside the gates of Parliament. Police fatally shot the suspect, Khalid Masood.

    The attack bred tension and fear, reinvigorating discussions about race, religion, identity and immigration, according to reports

    But Wednesday wasn’t a day for division.

    “This afternoon is about remembering the victims of last week’s events,” said Craig Mackey, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service. “I would urge you, if you get time, to go onto the bridge, talk to Londoners, talk and get a feel for this great city and how it’s come together in responding to these events.”

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  • Mar 29, 2017 2:47:51 PM

    Animal welfare workers in eastern England are investigating why two sick, underweight ponies were dumped in a wet, muddy field.

    The pair of fillies were “just hours from death” when an inspector from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals acted on an anonymous tip-off and found them in Longstanton, near Cambridge, on March 3.

    They were both severely underweight, there was no grazing in the field and they had just been left to starve to death,” the inspector, Richard Lythgoe, wrote in a statement. 

    One of the ponies, an 8-month-old piebald who’s since been named Pancake, was severely dehydrated, suffering from chronic malnutrition and unable to stand up by herself. The other, a 6-month-old black pony now named Poppet, was anemic and “in extremely poor condition due to parasites,” according to the RSPCA.

    The foals were taken to the Cambridge Equine Hospital at the University of Cambridge for treatment. Almost a month since they were found, the two are making slow but steady recoveries, officials said.

    “It was touch and go for a while, but with intensive care, regular turning and lifting, careful deworming and feeding, Pancake has gradually grown in strength and has made great progress,” said equine veterinarian Vikki Scott.

    Poppet, meanwhile, has “grown in strength” and is “beginning to come out of her shell” to “show off her true, cheeky personality in full,” Scott added.

    The RSPCA’s Lythgoe is asking members of the public to share any information they have about the incident, which he said wasn’t “isolated.” 

    “The RSPCA deal with harrowing incidents of dead and dying horses being dumped like rubbish on a regular basis, as some owners cannot afford or do not care about their horse enough to pay for veterinary care,” he said.

    However, Lythgoe did reveal that Pancake and Poppet, having won over the hearts of equine hospital staff, have already found their forever homes, which they’ll move to after making full recoveries.

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