Archive for July, 2017


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has extended the state of emergency for another three months.  The extension followed weekend ceremonies to commemorate the first anniversary of the failed military coup in which around 250 people, mostly unarmed civilians, were killed.  Anniversary celebrations came a week after the leader of the main opposition, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, ended a nearly 280-mile “March for Justice” from Ankara to Istanbul by holding a rally attended by more than a million people calling for an end to emergency rule and injustice.

President Erdogan vowed to continue the brutal crackdown against activists, journalists, teachers and opposition lawmakers.  He also called for the reinstatement of the death penalty in Turkey.  Since emergency rule was imposed on July 20 last year, more than 50,000 people have been arrested and 150,000 people have been suspended in a crackdown which Erdogan’s opponents say has pushed Turkey on a path to greater authoritarianism.

Speaking at parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said the emergency rule had helped created the necessary legal environment to cleanse the state of Gulen’s network. The Turkish government says it is necessary to root out supporters of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who is believed to be behind the coup attempt. Gulen has denied any involvement.

Since the failed coup where Turkish military forces tried to overthrow the government, the Turkish government has taken what some say are controversial steps to strengthen its power.   In March, the Jurist Report was published by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The report describes a plethora of human rights violations committed by the Turkish government between July 2015 and December 2016.

The same month the report was published, around 330 individuals were put on trial for alleged involvement in an attempted coup.  In November Turkey significantly restricted the activities of NGOs like human rights organizations and children’s groups and arrested opposition party leaders alleging they were connected to terror organizations.  Earlier this month the Turkish Parliament elected seven new members to the country’s 13-member Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) in an overnight vote.

Ten human rights activists, including Amnesty International Turkey director Idil Eser, were in court to face terrorism related charges.  The targeting of human rights defenders and similar earlier crackdowns on lawyers and associations raises the question of who will be left to defend the tens of thousands of people caught up in the post-coup purge.

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Former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver has been indicted by a grand jury on murder charges for killing 15-year-old African-American student Jordan Edwards.  Police body cam video shows Oliver fired his assault rifle into the moving car that Edwards, his brother and two friends were in as they were driving away from a party on April 29.

Jordan Edwards was shot in the head as he sat in the front passenger seat of the vehicle.  One of the car’s passengers says the officer never even ordered the boys to stop driving before opening fire.

Originally Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber said the officer fired his gun after the car drove “aggressively” toward both officers but he later said he misspoke after reviewing the body cam footage.  Oliver was fired for violating several department policies and procedures in the shooting and charged with murder.  He posted his $300,000 bail that evening.  If convicted of murder, he faces up to life in prison.

Jordan’s parents filed a lawsuit shortly after the shooting against the city of Balch Springs, the Balch Springs Police department, and Roy Oliver, the police officer who shot and killed him.  They claim Oliver used excessive force and lacked proper training to be on duty, also alleging Oliver used a racial slur while detaining Jordan’s stepbrother, Vidal Allen, who was driving the car the night of the shooting.

Shortly after the indictment, the Edwards’ family lawyer, Lee Merritt tweeted  “A murder indictment for Roy Oliver is appropriate but the fact is it’s been +40 years since a cop was convicted in TX.” Merritt also made a statement referring to how he felt the officers and the Balch Springs Police Department handled the events following the shooting improperly. Not only did a cop fire a weapon in a car full of unarmed teenagers unnecessarily, he also suggested that the boys were mistreated instead of being offered proper medical attention – as is protocol.  “They were immediately treated as common criminals by other officers; manhandled, intimidated and arrested while their brother lay dying in the front seat,” Merritt added.

Roy Oliver, who had been with the department for six years, is an Army veteran who served in the Middle East.  He was also indicted last month on two charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after allegations that he pulled a gun on a woman and her sister after a road-rage incident two weeks before Jordan’s death. No trial dates have been set.

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a police officer shot a 40-year-old bride-to-be in the alley behind her house.  According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Justine Ruszczyk, who often went by her fiance’s last name Damond, called 911just after 11:30 pm  to report a possible assault in an alley near her home. On the night of the shooting, Ruszczyk, who worked as a yoga and meditation instructor, called 911 twice, first to report a possible sexual assault and then again 8 minutes later to say no officers had arrived and the assault was still going on.

Officer Matthew Harrity, who was driving the squad car, indicated that they drove up to the alley with their lights off and windows down.  He said he was startled by a loud noise near the squad car and immediately afterwards Ruszczyk approached the driver’s side of his police cruiser in her pajamas. Officer Mohamed Noor, who was seated in the passenger seat, shot Ruszczyk through the open driver’s-side window of the vehicle, hitting her in the stomach.

The officers then reportedly tried to offer emergency medical care to Ruszczyk, but they were unable to revive her. She was pronounced dead at the scene.  The officers’ body cameras weren’t on during the shooting, and the police car’s camera apparently didn’t capture the incident.  It’s not clear what the “loud sound” was that Harrity reported hearing outside the squad right before the shooting, but dispatch audio did capture a report of “aerial fireworks” in the area.

The shooting quickly received international attention, because Ruszczyk, who moved to the United States in 2014, is from Australia and was set to marry her fiancé, Don Damond, next month.  Her family in Australia is now demanding a federal investigation into the shooting.  Both officers are on paid administrative leave, as is standard after a shooting.

Ruszczyk’s relatives say they’re still stunned the bride-to-be was killed by police — and they’ve hired an attorney with experience handling police-involved shootings.  “We are still trying to come to terms with this tragedy, and we are struggling to understand how and why this could happen,” the family said in the statement released to CNN.

The shooting is under investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). Investigators reportedly interviewed Harrity but Noor has reportedly declined to be interviewed and has hired attorney Tom Plunkett.  Tom Plunkett, released a statement to the news media that said:  Officer Noor extends his condolences to the family and anyone else who has been touched by this event. He takes their loss seriously and keeps them in his daily thoughts and prayers. He came to the United States at a young age and is thankful to have had so many opportunities.”

“ He takes these events very seriously because, for him, being a police officer is a calling. He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves. Officer Noor is a caring person with a family he loves and he empathizes with the loss others are experiencing.  The current environment for police is difficult, but Officer Noor accepts this as part of his calling. We would like to say more, and will in the future. At this time, however, there are several investigations ongoing and Officer Noor wants to respect the privacy to the family and asks the same in return during this difficult period.”

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A Kansas City, KS toddler who was abducted while sleeping in the back seat of a car has been found safe.  On July 12th, 2017, a man left his girlfriend’s car running while he went inside a Kansas City gas station to get her three-year-old daughter a drink. The little girl remained in the backseat, asleep.  Police say that’s when Tyler Letzig, 28, and Karri Reich, 29, took the car with the girl inside.

Police cordoned off the Valero gas station at 7th and Riverview and quickly released surveillance of the two suspects to the media.  The video shows the suspects — a man in a green T-shirt and a woman in a blue one-piece short set — enter the gas station separately on more than one occasion and later converse near a gas pump.

The woman re-enters the store while the car with the child pulls up beside an older model white utility van the suspects allegedly drove.  The man in green can be seen on video canvassing a silver 2016 Ford Focus as the driver exits the vehicle.  The driver of the Ford enters the store, and the woman in the blue short set exits. The woman briefly speaks with the male suspect then jumps in the Ford and drives away.

Within an hour of the abduction, investigators say the boyfriend’s cell phone pinged several miles away in Leavenworth County. Officers from the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department, Wyandotte County sheriff’s deputies, troopers from the Kansas Highway Patrol, and federal agents all aided in the search.  When the pinging stopped in the area of Interstate 70 and 206th Street, police requested help from other law enforcement agencies with an aircraft but none were immediately available.

The little girl, 3 year old Amaya Vestor was found safe near the abandoned vehicle around 8pm in a rural area of Tonganoxie after a local television station’s helicopter spotted the stolen car in Leavenworth County.  Responding to the initial reports of a child abduction and stolen vehicle, SkyTracker headed to Leavenworth County to track down the location from the cell phone ping.  SkyTracker pilot Captain Gregg Bourdon and photographer James Moore scanned the area and noticed an abandoned, silver vehicle matching the description of the car stolen.  A quick call back to the station to update the newsroom, and 41 Action News Assignment Editor Steve Kaut alerted law enforcement.

A sheriff deputy came right under the helicopter and made his way down the road until he could see the child get out of the car.   SkyTracker captured the reunion from 2,000 feet in the air.  The male suspect, Tyler Letzig-reportedly was apprehended Thursday by authorities in Leavenworth County. The female suspect, Karri Reich-is still on the run.  Tyler Letzig and Karri Anne Reich were each charged Friday with one count of kidnapping, child endangerment and theft.

Update:  Karri Reich turned herself in and was booked into the Wyandotte County Jail Tuesday morning.

 

 

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The bodies of four young Pennsylvania men who went missing last week have been found.  Hours after finding a fourth body buried in a farm here, authorities charged two men with multiple counts of homicide in what authorities said were marijuana deals that turned murderous.  Cosmo Dinardo and his cousin Sean Kratz, both 20, were denied bail in preliminary arraignments.  Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub announced that the bodies of the young men who went missing last week had been found buried on a farm owned by Dinardo’s parents in Solebury Township.

The victims were identified as 19-year-old Dean Finocchiaro, Mark Sturgis, 22, Tom Meo, 21, who disappeared together and Jimi Tar Patrick, 19.  The defense attorney for Cosmo NiNardo, 20, said his client admitted to killing the four in three separate shootings, and told authorities the location of the bodies.  DiNardo is ready to plead guilty to four counts of first-degree murder in order to take the death penalty off the table.

Jimi Patrick was the first to go missing and days later- the three other men disappeared.  Investigators had focused their search on a property a few miles from the Delaware River, a farm owned by the parents of Cosmo Dinardo, the man who has been identified as a “person of interest” in the case.

Dinardo was initially charged with trying to sell Meo’s car, a 1996 Nissan Maxima and was being held in jail on $5 million cash bail after being deemed a flight risk.  Dinardo confessed his involvement in the disappearances, implicated Kratz, and gave information about the location of the fourth victim, police say.  Dinardo has a history of unspecified mental illness, and he was previously involuntarily committed to a mental health institution after firing a shotgun, authorities said.

In the arrest affidavit Dinardo told police that on July 5 he agreed to sell four pounds of marijuana for $8,000 to Jimi Patrick.  Dinardo picked Patrick up at his home and drove him to the farm but Patrick only had $800, the affidavit states. Dinardo then offered to sell Patrick a shotgun for that amount.  Dinardo took Patrick to a remote part of the property and gave him a shotgun. Dinardo then shot and killed Patrick with a .22 caliber rifle and buried his body six feet deep using a backhoe.

Two days later, Dinardo said he and Kratz, decided to rob Dean Finocchiaro during a drug deal. Dinardo told police he gave Kratz his mother’s Smith and Wesson .357 handgun for the robbery.  They met at Finocchiaro’s home and went to the farm.  Dinardo told police, Kratz shot Finocchiaro near a barn and the put his remains in a metal tank.   Kratz’s account of the killing describes Dinardo as the shooter.

Dinardo had a deal in place that same night to sell marijuana to Thomas Meo.  Dinardo met Meo and his friend Mark Sturgis and the two followed him to his farm where Kratz was waiting.  Dinardo and Kratz described Dinardo shooting Meo in the back and shooting at Sturgis as he tried to flee. According to the police affidavit, Dinardo said after he ran out of ammunition, he drove a backhoe over Meo’s body. Afterwards, they put the bodies in the metal tank, poured gasoline inside and set it on fire.  They returned the next day to bury the tank 12 feet deep using a backhoe.

 

 

 

 

 

16 servicemen killed.jpgSixteen service members were killed after a military transport plane that was being used on a training flight crashed in Mississippi, prompting an urgent rescue effort in one of the South’s most rural regions, the authorities said.  A Marine Corps spokeswoman at the Pentagon, Capt. Sarah Burns, said that one of the service’s KC-130 aircraft had “experienced a mishap.” The Marines use KC-130s for aerial refueling.

The cause of the crash, in an unincorporated part of Leflore County, was not immediately clear.  The plane crashed along County Road 547, a dirt road that connects acres of farmland between Itta Bena and Moorhead.  Military aircraft are a common sight in the skies of rural Mississippi.  Witnesses described the plane as disintegrating in the air as it neared the ground, leaving a debris field about five miles in diameter.  Many speculate that the plane experienced an explosion mid-air because of the large debris field.

The air tanker was based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, and was on its way from a Marine installation at Cherry Point, North Carolina, to a naval air field at El Centro, California, when it went down, officials said.  The planes final destination was Yuma, AZ.  The plane vanished from air traffic control radar somewhere over Mississippi before the crash that killed all fifteen marines and a navy corpsman on board.

Six of the Marines and the sailor were from an elite Marine Raider battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C.. Nine were based out of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., home of a Marine Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron.  The service members were identified as Cpl. Dan Baldassare, 20; Staff Sgt. Robert Cox; 28, Capt. Sean Elliott; 30, Maj. Caine Goyette; 41, Gunnery Sgt. Mark Hopkins; 34, Sgt. Chad Jenson,; 25, Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson; 46, Sgt. Julian Kevianne; 31, Staff Sgt. William Joseph Kundrat; 33, Sgt. Talon Leach; 27, Sgt. Owen Lennon,; 26, Sgt. Joseph Murray; 26, Cpl. Collin Schaaff;  22, Sgt. Dietrich Schmieman; 26, Staff Sgt. Joshua Snowden; 31 and Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Ryan Lohrey, 30.

Witnesses reported hearing a loud bloom around 4pm  and then the plane began spinning down to the ground.  Eyewitnesses recall hearing ammunition exploding after the crash.  The Marine Corps acknowledged that ammunition was on board the flight without specifying what kind. Due to the presence of the ammunition, restrictions were placed on who could initially approach the scene of the crash, officials said.

The force of the crash nearly flattened the plane and witnesses said there were bodies across a highway, more than a mile from the crash site.  Firefighters tried to put out the fire but withdrew after an explosion forced them back. The fierce blaze produced black smoke visible for miles across the flat region and continued to burn after dusk, more than four hours later.  The fire department used about 9,000 gallons of foam to extinguish the blaze.

Marine Corps officials are being aided in their investigation by a number of different agencies, including the Mississippi Management Association, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

 

 

In Chicago, a wave of violence over the long holiday weekend left 102 people shot—with 15 people killed and 86 others injured by gunfire.  Nearly half were shot in a spate of violence as the weekend closed out between 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and 3:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The weekend began with 19 people shot on Friday night and 23 on Saturday.  Sunday and Monday nights were both relatively quiet, by summer standards, with 17 people shot over the two days, according to Tribune data.

Violence in Chicago has become the standard as the city is plagued with gang activity.  The Chicago Police Department says that it has become standard procedure during long holiday warm weather weekends to put more than 1,300 extra officers on the street.  A total of 159 guns were seized by Chicago police since Friday. The violence this year was largely concentrated in the city’s south and west sides, including districts where the Chicago Police Department have deployed extra resources including hundreds of officers on overtime.

The Chicago Police Department expressed frustrations over the violent long weekend.  They said they are conducting “a very comprehensive review” after experiencing one of its most violent Fourth of July weekends in recent history.  Chief police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said “It’s perplexing, the mood here is frustration.”  “We deployed some very successful tactics over the Memorial Day weekend.” Yet those same tactics did not seem to work as well over the Fourth holiday.”

A lot of the shootings appeared to be over “petty disputes that escalated into somebody pulling out a gun.”  He mentioned some examples: A shooting in Smith Park that started as an argument over where people were sitting; a confrontation between a driver and bicyclists on State Street, with the driver getting a gun from his trunk and officers intervening. He said a “handful” of shootings were “retaliatory .. People drinking all day and then things escalating … It’s just enormously frustrating.”

As part of its review of what happened over the weekend, the department is looking at how amateur fireworks may have interfered with the ShotSpotter system, a relatively new technology the department hopes to expand.  The spotters register a shooting and deploy cameras in the direction of the shots while officers are deployed.  Analysts at the district station look at the data in real time to decide what steps to take next.  Guglielmi called it “micro-deployment.”

The violent weekend brings the total number of people shot in Chicago so far in 2017 to more than 1,800, according to data maintained by the Tribune, still below the 2,035 recorded at this time last year.

 

 

 

 

Popular craft chain store Hobby Lobby has agreed to pay a $3 million fine and return thousands of artifacts smuggled from Iraq.  Hobby Lobby’s owners are conservative Christians who plan to open a Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., this fall.

Federal prosecutors say Hobby Lobby spent over $1.5 million in December 2010 to purchase more than 5,000 Iraqi artifacts from a dealer based in the United Arab Emirates. The sales violated a ban on the sale of Iraqi cultural artifacts in place since 2004.

According to the complaint, Hobby Lobby began collecting a range of historically significant manuscripts and other antiquities in 2009. The following July, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green traveled with a consultant to the United Arab Emirates, where they inspected a large cache of cuneiform tablets and other artifacts.

Two Israeli antiquities dealers and one from the United Arab Emirates attended the July 2010 inspection with Hobby Lobby’s president and consultant. At the meeting, the complaint says, the artifacts were displayed informally, “spread on the floor, arranged in layers on a coffee table, and packed loosely in cardboard boxes, in many instances with little or no protective material between them.”

The dealers claimed the items were from the family collection of a third dealer who was not present, according to the complaint. They later sent Hobby Lobby a provenance statement — a guarantee of authenticity — indicating that the artifacts were legally acquired in the 1960s from local markets.

After returning to the United States, the complaint says, Hobby Lobby’s president and in-house lawyer spoke with an expert on cultural property law who warned them that antiquities from ancient Iraq may have been looted from archaeological sites. In a memo, the expert told them that any items of Iraqi origin that were not properly declared could be seized by customs officials.  Hobby Lobby proceeded with the sale despite the numerous “red flags”, buying hundreds of cuneiform tablets and thousands of other artifacts.  According to a civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the deal was “was fraught with red flags” and was consistent with a “clandestine” operation.  According to the complaint, Hobby Lobby got conflicting information about where the artifacts had been stored and never met or communicated with the dealer selling them. When it came time to pay, the company wired money to seven separate bank accounts.

A dealer based in the United Arab Emirates shipped packages containing the artifacts to three different corporate addresses in Oklahoma City. Five shipments that were intercepted by federal customs officials bore shipping labels that falsely declared that the artifacts’ country of origin was Turkey.  In September 2011, a package containing about 1,000 clay bullae, an ancient form of inscribed identification, was received by Hobby Lobby from an Israeli dealer and accompanied by a false declaration stating that its country of origin was Israel. The packages bore shipping labels that described their contents as “ceramic tiles,” the complaint said.

 

 

Employees at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital in New York are mourning after a doctor killed one of his former colleagues and injured six others in a shooting rampage at the hospital.  Dr. Henry Bello was a family medicine physician at the hospital until he left in April over unspecified “personal problems.”

Authorities said Bello, armed with an AR-15 assault rifle hidden under a lab coat, arrived at the hospital and asked for Dr Kamran Ahmed.  Authorities believe Ahmed was his intended target but fortunately for him, Ahmed had the day off.  Ahmed, who specializes in the early detection and treatment of dementia, said Bello “had a problem with almost everybody, so I’m not the only one. That’s why they fired him, because so many people complained.”

Bello went to the 16th and 17th floors of the hospital and started shooting, killing Dr Tracy Sin-Yee Tam, 32, a family medicine doctor and injuring six others before shooting himself.  Authorities said Bello’s attempted to set himself on fire first before killing himself.   Hospital officials said Tam normally worked in a satellite clinic and was covering a shift in the main hospital as a favor to someone else.

Former co-workers described a man who was aggressive, loud and threatening. Bello warned his former colleagues when he was forced out in 2015  amid sexual harassment allegations, that he would return someday to kill them.  Dr David Lazala, who trained Bello said Bello was always a problem when he worked there.   When Bello was forced out in 2015, he sent Lazala an email blaming him for the dismissal.

Bello sent an email to the New York Daily News just before the shooting where he blamed colleagues he said forced him to resign two years earlier.  “This hospital terminated my road to a licensure to practice medicine,” the email said. “First, I was told it was because I always kept to myself. Then it was because of an altercation with a nurse.”

Bello had a history of aggressive behavior. In unrelated cases, the doctor pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment, a misdemeanor, in 2004 after a 23-year-old woman told police Bello grabbed her, lifted her up and carried her off, saying, “You’re coming with me.” He was arrested again in 2009 on a charge of unlawful surveillance, after two different women reported he was trying to look up their skirts with a mirror. That case was eventually sealed.  It was not immediately clear if the hospital was aware of his criminal history when he was hired.

After the shooting stopped, medical staff at the hospital immediately treated all the patients in its emergency department. One victim was a patient and the five others are medical staff at the hospital, officials said. Two are medical students and the remaining are physicians.

One of the physicians underwent extensive surgeries after suffering gunshot injuries to the hand and another doctor is recovering after being shot in the neck.  Two of the most seriously wounded victims — a medical student who was shot in the brain and a resident who was shot in the liver are both in stable condition.

 

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A senior cardinal and top adviser to Pope Francis will return to Australia to face charges of sexual assault. Cardinal George Pell is the third-highest-ranking official in the Roman Catholic Church.  Pell was charged in his native Australia with multiple counts of sexual assault from years ago.

The charges against Pell were announced in Melbourne by Victoria State Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton.  Pell was ordered to appear in court July 26 to face multiple counts of “historical sexual assault offenses”.  Patton said there are multiple complainants against Pell, but he gave no other details.

It is unclear what the criminal charges against Pell involve, but two men, now in their 40s, have said that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.

In 2014, the Vatican admitted nearly 850 priests have been dismissed and more than 2,500 have been disciplined in a sprawling sexual abuse scandal dating back decades.  Cardinal Pell said Pope Francis granted him a leave of absence to return to Australia to defend himself.  The 76-year-old Pell — the highest-ranking Vatican official ever implicated in the scandal and has forcefully denied the accusations.

In a statement read to the press, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Vatican respected Australia’s justice system but recalled that the cardinal had “openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable” acts of sexual abuse against minors.  He noted Pell’s cooperation with Australia’s Royal Commission investigation of sex abuse and that as a bishop in Australia, he worked to protect children and compensate victims.

Pell’s actions as archbishop came under scrutiny in recent years by a government-authorized investigation into how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to the sexual abuse of children. The Royal Commission revealed that 7 percent of priests were accused of sexually abusing children in the past several decades.

Last year, Pell testified to the commission that the church had made “enormous mistakes” in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests. He conceded that he, too, had erred by often believing the priests over victims who alleged abuse. He vowed to help end a rash of suicides that has plagued church abuse victims in his hometown of Ballarat.

It was unclear if Pell would face a church trial stemming from the accusations. The Vatican has clear guidelines about initiating a canonical investigation if there is a semblance of truth to sex abuse accusations against a cleric. In the case of a cardinal, it would fall to Francis himself to judge. Penalties for a guilty verdict in a church trial include defrocking.