Former Dallas Officer Amber Guyger Sentenced

 

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Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was found guilty of murder for fatally shooting her neighbor, Botham Jean, after thinking he was an intruder when she mistakenly entered his apartment.  The jury was tasked with deciding whether Guyger, 31, acted reasonably when she used deadly force and if the prosecution had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that she had intentionally killed Jean. A lesser charge of manslaughter, which involves reckless conduct, was also on the table.

The next day, Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the same jury that convicted her of murder.  Guyger had been out on a $300,000 bond and faced a maximum of life in prison.   The sentence was met with boos and jeers by a crowd gathered outside the courtroom.   Jurors who spoke out after the sentencing said they were influenced by what they believed Jean would have wanted, the remorse Guyger exhibited on the witness stand and that she did not set out to kill Jean, but made fatal decisions after accidentally entering his home.  Many said the case was very different from the standard fatal shootings of unarmed black by police officers and they couldn’t bring themselves to give her a longer sentence knowing the facts of the case.

Botham Jean’s younger brother, Brandt Jean, in a victim impact statement after the sentence, told Guyger he forgave her and loved her as he would any other person.  “I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother — I personally want the best for you,” Brandt Jean, 18, said. “I wasn’t going to say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want.”  He asked the judge if he could hug Guyger, and the two embraced as Guyger sobbed.

Guyger was off-duty but in uniform when she twice shot at Jean on Sept. 6, 2018, just before 10 p.m., striking him in the chest. She had worked a 13-1/2-hour shift on the Dallas Police Department’s crime response team that day and parked on the fourth floor of the complex’s garage.  She lived on the third floor, and Jean, 26, an accountant and native of the island nation of St. Lucia, lived directly above her. The two did not know one another.

Prosecutors said Jean was watching television and eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream in his living room when Guyger burst inside, likely scaring him. Although Guyger said that she used her electronic key fob in the lock, the door pushed open, and she immediately drew her service weapon once inside.  Testifying in her own defense last week, Guyger tearfully told jurors that she was scared for her life when she entered an apartment that she thought was hers. She said she commanded, “Let me see your hands,” but the man inside began coming toward her and yelling, “Hey! Hey! Hey!”  The trajectory of the bullet showed that Jean was either getting up from his couch or cowering when Guyger fired at him, the prosecution said.

Guyger wept on the stand and testified that on the evening of Sept. 6, 2018, she thought she was entering her own unit, one floor below, when she encountered her unarmed black neighbor in his apartment. The off-duty officer mistook him for an intruder and fired two shots, killing Jean.  “I’m so sorry,” Guyger said. “I never wanted to take an innocent person’s life.  I wish he was the one with the gun that killed me,” she added.

Juror 34 said “I think that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  No matter how many years we would have gave Amber Guyger, it’s not bringing Botham back,” the juror said, calling the murder “a mistake.  Ten years, the juror said, acknowledged the severity of the crime but also allowed the 31-year-old to rebuild a life post-release.

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Coast Guard Lieutenant Pleads Guilty To Drug & Weapons Charges

 

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In Maryland, a self-described white nationalist Coast Guard lieutenant pleaded guilty to four federal weapons and drugs charges, after investigators uncovered his plot to kill high-profile liberal figures, including Democratic lawmakers, media personalities and judges. Fifty-year-old Christopher Hasson was arrested with a stockpile of 15 guns and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, after he used his work computer at the Coast Guard to read the manifestos of mass killers and to research sniper attacks.

Hasson worked as an acquisitions officer and was arrested at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington in February. Investigators said they found 15 firearms, two homemade silencers and more 1,000 rounds of ammunition in his Maryland home, as well as at least 100 pills of the painkiller Tramadol and more than 30 bottles of purported human growth hormone.  Two of the four counts in Hasson’s indictment charged him with illegally possessing unregistered and unserialized silencers. He also was charged with possession of a firearm by an unlawful user or addict of a controlled substance, and illegal possession of tramadol, an opioid painkiller.

Inspired by the manifesto of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, Hasson spent hours researching the tactics of domestic terrorists, prosecutors said. “I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on earth,” he wrote on his computer, saying he would “have to take serious look at appropriate individual targets, to bring the greatest impact.”  Among the targets on a list found on Hasson’s computer were Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes and Democratic Senator Kamala Harris.  Hasson also targeted two Supreme Court justices and two social media company executives and searched online for their home addresses in March 2018, within minutes of searching firearm sales websites, according to prosecutors.  Prosecutors wrote that the former Marine considered them “traitors.”

In a 2017 letter he sent to himself as a draft and apparently wrote to a neo-Nazi leader, Hasson identified himself as a white nationalist for over 30 years and “advocated for ‘focused violence’ in order to establish a white homeland,” prosecutors said.  He researched how to make homemade bombs and mortars, studied sniper training and used his government computer to search for information about Nazis and Adolf Hitler, prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors did not file terrorism charges against Hasson.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom indicated the government may seek the maximum sentence of up to 31 years in prison at the sentencing hearing scheduled for January 31, 2020.  Hasson’s attorney, Elizabeth Oyer, said she intends to seek a 3.5-year sentence for her client.  Oyer said Hasson “was not plotting a terrorist attack or any of the abhorrent acts that the prosecution has repeatedly speculated about but never actually charged.  Mr. Hasson never meant any harm to anyone. He deeply regrets the pain and embarrassment that he has caused his family and the U.S. Coast Guard”.   Oyer has said prosecutors found no evidence to back up terrorism allegations. She accused them of seeking to punish Hasson for “private thoughts” he never shared.

 

GM Strike 2019

 

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On September 15th, nearly 50,000 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) launched a strike, walking out of over 50 General Motors facilities.  Workers say GM continues to deny employees’ demands for fair conditions and compensation despite leading the company to record profits following bankruptcy and a federal bailout.  The nearly 50,000 full-time and temporary workers represented by the UAW make up about half of its workforce.GM workers say they are pushing for a more equitable contract that will guarantee better wages for new hires, stronger health-care benefits and more job security. Workers are forgoing their paychecks during the strike, though the UAW will pay them $250 a week from its strike fund.

GM has made over $30 billion in the past six years, since recovering from its 2009 bankruptcy.  Although they received profit-sharing checks that totaled $52,500 for the same period, workers want pay raises that will show up year after year.  They gave up cost-of-living pay raises and made other concessions to keep the company afloat during its 2009 bankruptcy, and now they want to be repaid. Longtime workers have received only two raises since 2010.  Workers hired after 2007 still make less than older workers, and the union wants to erase that gap.

The company is facing a global auto sales slowdown and also says health care costs are too high, and it wants to cut labor costs so they are closer to U.S. factories owned by foreign competitors. Senior GM workers now make around $30 per hour, but with benefits, it adds up to $63 per hour.  Total labor costs run an average of $50 per hour at the foreign plants.  The car giant has moved to close a handful of production facilities in the United States in recent years despite strong profitability margins.  GM made $8.1 billion in profit after taxes last year but announced the closure of four factories, scuttling thousands of jobs.  GM says it has offered to make $7 billion in investments and create 5,400 jobs, including introducing electric trucks, opening a battery cell manufacturing site and investing in eight existing facilities.

The strike has effectively halted GM’s production in the US and just a day after the strike, GM responded with a letter announcing they had cut off health insurance for the nearly 50,000 people on picket lines across the country.  GM spokesman David Barnas said the decision to cut workers’ health care was a standard practice during stoppages, likening it to the cessation of worker paychecks.  A spokesperson for the UAW stated that they would cover the striker’s health-care fees under COBRA in the interim from the pool of money it keeps for strikes.  Employee dental and vision plans will not be covered during the strike.

The effects of the strike have been felt quickly, when GM dismissed 1,200 workers from an assembly plant in Ontario, Canada just three days after the strike started.  GM has said the temporary layoffs were the result of parts shortages in the United States because of the strike. The factory had produced full-size pickup trucks.  Analysts say GM could be losing as much as $50 million to $100 million a day from the stoppage.

Felicity Huffman Sentenced In College Admissions Scandal

 

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U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani sentenced actress Felicity Huffman to two weeks in prison for paying $15,000 to get her daughter into college by having someone correct her answers on the SATs.  Huffman also received a $30,000 fine and 250 hours of community service.  She had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Her lawyers asked for no jail time, one year of probation, 250 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine.  Her sentence likely means other parents who’ve pleaded guilty in the nation’s college admissions scandal will spend time behind bars. It could also mean that others who made significantly larger payments will end up with more lenient prison terms than prosecutors say are fair.

During Huffman’s sentence she told the courtroom she was deeply ashamed.  Judge Indira Talwani said, “Ultimately, you knew it was fraud, it was not an impulsive act.  Trying to be a good mother doesn’t excuse this.”  Talwani added that the sentence she handed down was “the right sentence here,” but also told Huffman “You can rebuild your life after this,” the judge said. “You’ve paid your dues.”  Huffman will report to prison in six weeks, on October 25. Where she’ll serve her sentence has not been announced and will ultimately be decided by the Bureau of Prisons.

Fifty-two people have been charged as part of the college admissions bribery scandal known as “Varsity Blues.”   Of the 52 people charged in the scandal, 35 are parents.  Fifteen, including Huffman, have pleaded guilty in deals with prosecutors, while 19, including actress Lori Loughlin, have pleaded not guilty and are preparing for trial.  Rick Singer, the mastermind of the nationwide college admissions scandal, was paid to have cheat on their children’s SAT or ACT while others paid substantially more to get their children falsely tagged as athletic recruits as a way into prestigious schools.  Huffman is the first parent to be sentenced and prosecutors sought one month prison time for Huffman.  Prosecutors are pushing for longer sentences for other defendants — more than three years in some cases.

The next parent to be sentenced in Boston federal court is Devin Sloane, CEO of Los Angeles-based waterTALENT.  He pleaded guilty to paying $250,000 to Singer’s sham nonprofit to falsely designate his son as a water polo player to gain acceptance into the University of Southern California. Prosecutors are seeking one year in prison for Sloane.  Sloane’s hearing is scheduling for September 24th.  Two days later, Stephen Semprevivo, a former executive at Cydcor, also based in Los Angeles, will be sentenced. He pleaded guilty to paying $400,000 to Singer to get his son admitted into Georgetown University as a fake tennis recruit.  Prosecutors have asked that Semprevio receive 15 months in prison.

Both upcoming cases will reveal whether the judge treats the recruiting scheme the same as the testing scam, and whether she comes down harder on parents who paid more to Singer.   Longer sentences could be in store for parents who participated in the recruitment scheme because it had a more “direct effect” on the admissions process than test tampering. Such parents, including Loughlin, accused of paying $500,000 to Singer, have argued they made “legitimate donations” to Singer’s nonprofit, which they said had a history of donating to colleges.

Prosecutors have argued parents who paid more money to Singer should receive longer prison terms.  An order by the judge released hours before Huffman’s sentencing could cap sentences at six months for parents regardless of their how much they paid.  Judge Talwani ruled against the government’s request to sentence defendants under the federal commercial bribery statute, which allows more severe sentences depending on the amount of money paid. Instead, all sentences will be based on fraud statute guidelines, which recommend six months or less in prison for the offense.

 

 

 

 

 

Sixth Vaping Death Prompts Congressional Hearing

 

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A 50-year-old Kansas woman became the sixth person in the USA to die of a vaping-related lung illness, an outbreak that has ramped up health concerns nationwide.  Kansas State Epidemiologist Farah Ahmed said in a statement that the unidentified patient had a history of underlying health issues and had been hospitalized with symptoms that progressed rapidly.  Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said that the patient did have underlying health issues but nothing that would have foretold the fact that within a week after starting using e-cigarettes for the first time, she developed full-blown acute respiratory distress.  Doctors say it’s clear the vaping related lung illness is responsible for her rapid deterioration.

Kansas health officials noted six more cases associated with the outbreak, three patients confirmed with the illness and three cases under investigation.  Five previous vaping-related deaths were confirmed in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Oregon. After the Kansas fatality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied six deaths and more than 450 possible cases of severe lung injury in 33 states and one jurisdiction.  The CDC confirmed that investigators narrowed their focus and that the additive vitamin E acetate is a chemical involved in many of the cases, but officials emphasized it is not in all of the cases being reviewed.

People with a history of vaping who experience lung injury symptoms should seek medical care, according to Kansas health officials.  Nationally, symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, cough, vomiting and diarrhea.  Other symptoms reported by some patients include headache, dizziness and chest pain.  Though many patients across the nation have been in their late teens, 20s or 30s, the Kansas death is a warning that older adults may be at particular risk.

Patients tend to arrive at the hospital short of breath and coughing. Many have also had fevers, general fatigue and gastrointestinal problems. It is not unusual for patients to be put into intensive care units, and on ventilators. All reported vaping nicotine, THC or a combination of the two in the days and weeks before falling ill.  The CDC has recommended people stay away from vaping devices while investigators work to pinpoint exactly what’s behind the illnesses.

The rapid and worrisome increase has now prompted a Congressional hearing on the matter, after a policy discussion on the matter.  The recent death has prompted the U.S. President to call for a ban on thousands of e-cigarette flavors in an effort to get people to give up e-cigarettes.  E-cigarette companies have been given years to gather and submit evidence their products are safe and effective ways to quit smoking traditional tobacco.  A federal judge has set a May 2020 deadline for companies to do so.

Dr. Norman said “God only knows what all is in there.  There should be a moratorium on the sale of these products until we know more.”  The American Lung Association also released a statement warning the public that e-cigarettes could cause irreversible lung damage.  “No one should use e-cigarettes or any other tobacco product,” Harold Wimmer, national president of the American Lung Association, wrote in the statement. “This message is even more urgent today following the increasing reports of vaping-related illnesses and deaths nationwide.”

7 Dead in Texas Shooting Spree

 

 

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A gunman killed seven people and injured 22 others on Saturday in the city of Odessa in western Texas.  Police have identified the gunman as 36-year-old Seth Ator and say he went on the rampage just hours after he was fired from his trucking job. Police say the massacre began after an officer pulled Ator over for failing to use a turn signal. He then reportedly opened fire using an AR-15-style weapon before speeding away. Soon after, he began shooting randomly at residents and motorists as he drove between the cities of Odessa and Midland.

During a press conference the day after the shooting, FBI special agent Christopher Combs identified the shooter and gave more details into the timeline of the shooting.  Combs said that Ator showed up to work enraged and was then fired from his job at Journey Oilfield Services.  Police say the firing led to both him and his employer calling the cops on each other because they were having a disagreement over the firing.  By the time police arrived to calm down the situation, the soon-to-be mass killer was gone.  Combs said 15 minutes later, Ator made a second call to the FBI national tip line.  “It was frankly rambling statements about some of the atrocities he felt he had gone through. He did not make a threat during that phone call. He ended that phone call. After that phone call, we initiated all of our law enforcement procedures trying to figure out who he was, where he was. Unfortunately, it was only 15 minutes before the trooper was engaged.”

The shooting spree began on Aug. 31st at 3:17 p.m. during a traffic stop on Interstate 20, where a Texas state trooper was shot while attempting to stop a Honda over a failure to signal a left turn.  Ator continued into Odessa, Texas, and shot another person on the Interstate.  In Odessa, he abandoned the Honda, hijacked a United States Postal Service truck, killing the postal worker and continued to drive and shoot people before police cornered him in a movie theater parking lot.  Ator was killed in the shootout with police in the parking lot of a Cinergy movie theater.  Ator killed seven people, ranging in age from 15 to 57.  Twenty-two others were hospitalized for injuries.  Among the injured are three police: a Texas state trooper, a Midland police officer, and an Odessa police officer. The youngest victim is a wounded 17-month-old child who is expected to recover.

The shooting spree lasted roughly an hour, with the gunmen shooting people at random as they walked through their front yards, walked through parking lots and went about their day.  Police say the gunmen drove in no particular pattern, doubling back from Odessa to Midland, spraying people with bullets as he drove.  During the frenzied hour, dispatchers and officers guided EMT to a growing number of locations as the calls kept coming in.  Ator’s vehicle switch only added to the confusion as the police in both communities scrambling to head to the scene of each call in hopes of stopping the shooter.  At one point during the chaos, officers believed they had two shooters due to the vehicle switch and multiple locations and officers requested that the Midland area be shut down immediately.

On September 1, the FBI said it was executing a search warrant at the suspect’s house, located about 20 minutes west of Odessa. Authorities say Ator lived alone, except for a small dog, in western Ector County in a metal shack that lacked electricity, plumbing, a floor and even furniture.  Police say in January 2014, Ator failed a national criminal background check when he tried to purchase a gun.  The system flagged him as ineligible because of a prior local court determination that he was mentally unfit.  According to law enforcement officials, Ator subsequently bought the gun used in the shooting via a private sale, without having to go through a background check.

A neighbor said that well before his killing spree he had yelled at her while carrying a big rifle. She also said he sometimes shot animals from his roof, about which she had complained to police, but they never responded to her complaint.  Police never visited Ator’s home because they couldn’t find the property on GPS maps.  Another neighbor said that her family had lived near Ator for the past five months and were afraid of him, due to his nighttime rabbit shooting and banging on their door early one morning.

All seven victims from the shooting have now been identified: 29-year-old Mary Granados, the postal worker who was killed when the gunman hijacked her postal truck; 57-year-old Rodolfo Arco was shot on his way home from work; 30-year-old Kameron brown was an army vet who served in Afghanistan; 40-year-old Joe Griffith, a resident in Odessa; 25-year-old Edwin Peregrino, a graduate of Perryton High School; 35-year-old Raul Garcia of El Paso and 15-year-old Leilah Hernandez who was shot outside of a car dealership.

 

 

 

 

 

34 Dead in California Diving Boat Fire

 

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The U.S. Coast Guard has recovered all but one body after a commercial diving boat named the Conception, caught fire in the early hours of Monday morning off the coast of Santa Cruz Island in Southern California. The only survivors were five crew members of the 75-foot vessel who were sleeping on or above deck.  All 33 passengers and one crew member sleeping below deck at the time of the fire were killed in horrific disaster.  Authorities have yet to determine the cause of the fire.

The boat and company, Truth Aquatics Inc., are well-known in the tight-knit Southern California diving community, which is now reeling from the horrific maritime tragedy that killed teenagers, families, veteran divers, and one crew member, who were wrapping up a three-day scuba diving trip.  Divers were inspecting the ship’s wreckage with plans to raise it from the ocean floor, but that process may be complicated by forecast high winds in the coming days.

The surviving crew members told a harrowing story of their frantic attempts to save the passengers trapped below deck in a bunk room already engulfed in flames.  One member of the crew told of hearing a noise from his bunk on the wheelhouse deck of the Conception and that when he opened the door of the wheelhouse, he saw flames erupting from the galley area but never heard smoke alarms.  He told investigators he tried to get down a ladder but flames had engulfed the ladder.

Scrambling, the other crew members jumped from the bridge of the boat to the main deck. One person broke their leg doing so. They then rushed to the galley’s double doors to try and reach the passengers below, but the fire was already too intense.

At around 3:15 a.m., the captain made a frantic mayday call to authorities, telling them that the boat was engulfed, 33 people couldn’t escape, and “there’s no escape hatch for any of the people on board.”  At that point, due to heat, flames, and smoke, the crew had to jump from the boat.  Two crew members swam to the back of the Conception to get the inflatable skiff, then collected the others and made it to a nearby fishing boat, the Grape Escape.

Shirley Hansen, owner of the Grape Escape, said that she and her husband awoke at 3:30 a.m. to “horrific pounding” and a group of distraught, wet men, some injured and just in their underwear.  Once on the Hansen’s boat, the men tried to call 911 for rescue and two crew members then took the dinghy boat back to the Conception to try and rescue any survivors but there were none.  The Hansen’s said you could hear explosions from the engulfed diving boat every couple of minutes.

Officials have been looking at the dive boat’s maintenance and inspection records, which the Coast Guard said were up to date, and trying to understand if the 34 victims who had been sleeping in rows of narrow bunks even had a chance to escape.  Officials are using advanced DNA technology to identify the victims.  None of the names of the dead, who ranged in age from 17 to 60, have been publicly released by authorities but friends and family have confirmed who was on the boat.  Among the victims were a family of five, a teacher and his daughter, and a diving instructor and marine biologist.