City of New York Settles With Kalief Browder’s Family

 

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The city of New York has agreed to a $3.3 million settlement with the family of Kalief Browder, who spent three years at Rikers Island prison without being convicted of a crime and killed himself in 2015 at the age of 22.  In 2010, at the age of 16, Browder was accused of the theft of a backpack and its contents including a camera, $700, a credit card, and an iPod Touch. He always maintained his innocence and while awaiting trial, Browder was held on Rikers Island for three years, spending 800 days of that time in solitary confinement.  When not in solitary, Kalief was repeatedly assaulted by guards and other prisoners.

Browder was imprisoned at the Robert N. Davoren Center (R.N.D.C) on Riker’s Island.  The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara has said that the R.N.D.C. had a “deep-seated culture of violence” where inmates suffered “broken jaws, broken orbital bones, broken noses, long bone fractures, and lacerations requiring stitches.”  Browder was frequently a victim of prison violence by other inmates and guards while there.   On one occasion, he and other inmates were lined up against a wall because correction officers wanted to find the instigator of a prison fight. Browder and the inmates were punched, one by one. Browder said, “Their noses were leaking, their faces were bloody, their eyes were swollen.” The guards threatened the inmates with solitary confinement if they reported their injuries.  In a separate incident, on September 23, 2012, a film of Browder in handcuffs being assaulted by guards was recorded.  Browder attempted suicide twice while imprisoned.

Browder maintained his innocence and refused plea bargain deals over the time he was incarcerated.  He was finally released in May 2013 when the prosecutor’s case was found to be lacking any evidence against Browder and the case’s main witness had left the United States.  After his release, Browder and his brother, Akeem, sought legal representation with Brooklyn prosecutor, Paul V. Prestia.  In November 2013, Browder filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department, the Bronx District Attorney, and the Department of Corrections citing malicious prosecution among other charges.

Soon after his release, Browder also earned his GED and enrolled at Bronx Community College where he also worked as a tutor in mathematics for the G.E.D. exam.  Despite his efforts and dreams of success, his mental health issues persisted.  He said, “People tell me because I have this case against the city I’m all right. But I’m not all right. I’m messed up. I know that I might see some money from this case, but that’s not going to help me mentally. I’m mentally scarred right now. That’s how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back.  Before I went to jail, I didn’t know about a lot of stuff, and, now that I’m aware, I’m paranoid. I feel like I was robbed of my happiness.”

In November 2013, Browder made a suicide attempt and was admitted to the psychiatric ward of St. Barnabas Hospital, the first of three admissions to the ward.  In June 2015, two years following his release from prison, Browder died by suicide, hanging himself from an air conditioning unit outside of his mother’s home. Browder’s supporters say his suicide was the result of mental and physical abuse sustained in prison.   Browder’s case has been cited by activists calling for the reform of the New York City criminal justice system and brought attention to the abuse at Riker’s Island.   In 2014, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York took action against the City of New York for its use of “unnecessary and excessive force” on adolescents in Riker’s Island.  In January 2015, the New York City Council voted unanimously to end solitary confinement for inmates under the age of 21.  Kalief’s story also led New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to pledge in 2017 to close the Rikers Island jail—in 10 years’ time.

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Two Men Admit Role In Minnesota Mosque Attack

 

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Two members of an Illinois militia group admitted to bombing a Bloomington mosque in 2017 in a bid to terrorize Muslims into leaving the United States.  Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris rented a truck and drove more than 500 miles to bomb a Minnesota mosque.  Both men pled guilty to five counts related to the mosque attack, as well as the attempted bombing of an Illinois abortion clinic and other crimes.  A third suspect, 47 year old, Michael Hari, whom prosecutors said directed the bombing, remains in federal custody.

Hari is a former sheriff’s deputy from Illinois who runs a security company and submitted a bid to build President Trump’s border wall.  The plea agreements portray Hari as the ringleader of a militia group called the White Rabbits, which included Hari, McWhorter, Morris and at least five other people. Hari’s trial is set for July.  The plea agreements say the men targeted the mosque to interfere with the free exercise of religion by Muslims and to let Muslims know they were not welcome in the United States.

According to the plea agreements, the men were headed toward Minnesota when Hari told McWhorter and Morris that he had a pipe bomb in the vehicle and they were going to bomb a mosque.  When the three men arrived at Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington on Aug. 5, 2017, Hari gave Morris a sledgehammer and told him to break a window.  McWhorter then lit the fuse on the pipe bomb and threw it inside.   Morris then threw the gasoline mixture inside, causing an explosion, fire and extensive damage.  No one was injured in the attack, which happened just as morning prayers were about to begin, terrifying members of the local Muslim community.

Hari allegedly picked Dar al-Farooq because it was far enough away from the White Rabbits’ central Illinois hometown that he thought they wouldn’t be suspected. He also allegedly believed it was a focal point for terror recruiting, a claim that law enforcement has not substantiated.    Morris’ attorney, Robert Richman, said Morris merely followed the lead of Hari, a man he’d known as a father figure since he was 9.  “Hari essentially weaponized Joe Morris,” Richman said.

McWhorter and Morris also pleaded guilty to their roles in a failed attack on a Champaign, Illinois, abortion clinic in November 2017. A pipe bomb that Morris said he and Hari threw into the clinic did not explode.  Court documents also state that Hari, McWhorter, Morris and others also participated in an armed home invasion in Ambia, Indiana, and the armed robberies or attempted armed robberies of two Walmart stores in Illinois.  Morris and McWhorter also admitted to attempting to extort Canadian National Railway by threatening to damage tracks if the railroad didn’t pay them money.  Morris and McWhorter could each face at least 35 years in prison.  A fourth man, Ellis Mack of Clarence, already pled guilty to two counts in Illinois and is scheduled to be sentenced in April.

 

Three Officers Acquitted In Laquan McDonald Cover-Up

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A Chicago judge has acquitted three police officers accused of covering up the 2014 murder of 17 year old Laquan McDonald by a fellow officer Jason Van Dyke.  Van Dyke was convicted in October of the second-degree murder of Laquan McDonald, which was captured on an infamous police dashboard camera video.  McDonald was shot 16 times, including numerous times as he lay wounded in the street.  The three police officers — David March, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney — contradicted what the video showed and prosecutors alleged it was part of a cover-up.  None of them fired any shots that night. Several other officers had witnessed the shooting and given questionable accounts, but a grand jury declined to indict any others.

The acquittal came despite discrepancies between the three officers’ police reports and dash cam video showing that McDonald posed no threat and walked away from officers before he was shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke.  Associate Judge Domenica Stephenson rejected the prosecutors’ arguments that the officers had shooed away witnesses and then created a narrative to justify the 2014 shooting, which prompted citywide protests, the firing of the police chief and a wide-ranging federal investigation into the police force.  Prosecutors repeatedly cited the footage as they built a case against the officers on charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice.

Judge Stephenson said that even though the officers’ accounts of the shooting differed from the video, that it did not amount to proof that they were lying. “Two people with two different vantage points can witness the same event,” she said, and still describe it differently.  The judge said that key witnesses for the prosecution had offered conflicting testimony, and said there was nothing presented at trial that showed that the officers had failed to preserve evidence, as prosecutors allege.  Challenging the point that officers had shooed away a witness as part of a cover-up, the judge said it was not obvious that the police had known the witness had seen the shooting.

The witness in question, Alma Benitez, had stopped for a bite to eat at a nearby Burger King, on her way home from her night shift at a sandwich shop.  Benitez was interviewed by television news crews at the scene and featured in several news reports the next day saying McDonald was clearly not a threat to the officer. She told new crews that Van Dyke had no reason to open fire.  “It was super-exaggerated, you didn’t need that many cops to begin with. They didn’t need to shoot him. They didn’t. They basically had him face to face. There was no purpose why they had to shoot him.”

In a federal lawsuit filed in September 2016, Benitez alleges she had tried to take photos and video of the scene with her cellphone but wasn’t sure the recordings worked.  Once police “became aware” she was trying to record the incident, they demanded she surrender her phone and accompany officers to the detective headquarters, where she was detained and questioned for six hours.  Benitez claims she was allowed to leave the station around 4am, only after she demanded to see a lawyer and that she was “threatened and harassed” on multiple occasions after she was featured in news reports.  The suit accuses several officers and detectives of then writing false reports misstating what Benitez and other witnesses at the scene had told them.

Weeks before the city agreed to pay $5 million to McDonald’s estate, a letter written by lawyers representing McDonald’s family alleged that at least two other witnesses to the shooting were treated in similar fashion.  The letter alleged that all three were questioned for hours at the Area Central police headquarters and pressured into changing their accounts to match the official police version.  The letter also reported that Benitez was so appalled by what she witnessed that she actually screamed out ‘stop shooting!’ as Officer Van Dyke continued to discharge his weapon while Laquan was laid in the street.”

El Chapo Trial Reveals Alleged High Level Corruption

 

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According to witness testimony during the trial of accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto once accepted a $100 million bribe from drug traffickers.  Alex Cifuentes, who has described himself as Guzman’s onetime right-hand man, discussed the alleged bribe under cross-examination by one of Guzman’s lawyers in Brooklyn federal court.  Peña Nieto has not responded to the claim but has previously denied charges of corruption.

Cifuentes testified that he had told U.S. prosecutors Pena Nieto reached out to Guzman first, asking for $250 million, before settling on $100 million.  Cifuentes told the prosecutors that the bribe was paid in October 2012, when Pena Nieto was president-elect.  Pena Nieto was president of Mexico from December 2012 until November 2018 and previously served as governor of the State of Mexico.  Cifuentes also testified that Guzman once told him that he had received a message from Pena Nieto saying that he did not have to live in hiding anymore.

Guzman, 61, has been on trial since November after he was extradited to the United States in 2017 to face charges of trafficking cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the country as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.  El Chapo had eluded capture for years, in part by widespread corruption along with elaborate means of escape from authorities.   He once narrowly escaped a raid at a safe house through a staircase that led to underground tunnels which was hidden under a bathtub.  He was captured by Pena Nieto’s government in February 2014 but broke out of prison for a second time 17 months later, escaping through a mile-long tunnel dug right into in his cell.  The jailbreak humiliated the government and damaged the president’s already questionable credibility.  Pena Nieto personally announced news of the kingpin’s third capture when he was again arrested in northwestern Mexico in January 2016.

Cifuentes is one of many witnesses who have testified against Guzman so far after striking deals with U.S. prosecutors, in a trial that has opened a window into the secretive world of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the world’s most powerful drug trafficking organization.  Many witnesses at the trial have also made accusations of high-level corruption.  Much of the evidence against Guzman has come from the prosecution’s star witness, Jesús Zambada.  Zambada testified that the Sinaloa cartel allegedly paid off a host of top Mexican officials to ensure their drug business ran smoothly.  He testified that in 1994, traffickers paid $50 million in protection money to former Mexican Secretary of Public Security García Luna, so that corrupt officers would be appointed to head police operations.  Zambada said that when former Mexico City Mayor Gabriel Regino was in line to become the next secretary of security, that the the cartel bribed him as well.  Both Garcia Luna and Gabriel Regina deny the accusations.  Zambada has also testified that paid a multimillion dollar bribe to an aide of current Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in 2005.

Edgar Galvan testified in that trusted hitman Antonio “Jaguar” Marrufo had a sound-proofed “murder room” in his mansion on the US border, which featured white tiles with a drain on the floor to more easily clean up after slayings.  Galvan’s role in the organization was to smuggle weapons into the US, so that Marrufo could use them to “clear” the region of rivals.  At the time, Galvan was living in El Paso, Texas, while Marrufo was living in Ciudad Juarez, just across the US-Mexico border.  Both men are now in jail on firearms and gun charges.

 

Kenya Hotel Attack Leaves 21 Dead

 

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A terrorist attack at a luxury hotel and office complex in the Westlands area of Nairobi, Kenya has left 21 civilians dead and dozens more wounded or missing.  Five attackers were also killed during the siege that began around 3pm on Tuesday, January 15th and ended just before 10am the next day.   More than 700 people were safely evacuated during the attack.  In a statement, the Somalia-based Al-Shabab group claimed the assault was retaliation for President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  The attack began at a bank inside the compound after a car bomb explosion ripped through three vehicles in the parking lot, followed by a blast from a suicide bomber in the lobby of the seven-story Dusit Hotel.  The explosion triggered vehicles parked nearby to burst into flames. After the blast the remaining terrorists opened fire on guards, forcing them to open the gates of the complex at 14 Riverside Drive.

Kenyan authorities believe there were four to six attackers armed with guns and grenades.  Security camera footage released to local media outlets showed at least four armed men inside the complex as well as footage of the suicide bomber who calmly walked into the lobby and self-detonated a suicide vest.  The coordinated attack lead to a standoff that continued through the night, with people trapped in various parts of the buildings hours later.  The Recce company, the anti-terrorism unit of the Kenya Police, were sent in to combat the militants.  A member of the British SAS and an unspecified number of United States Navy SEALs, who were in the country to conduct training, also took part in the response.  Australian embassy security detail also exchanged fire with the terrorists as they made their way into the complex.

According to Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinett, sixteen Kenyans, one Briton, one American and three unidentified people of African origin are among the dead and twenty-eight others have been hospitalized.  Among the dead was U.S. businessman Jason Spindler, who in 2001 survived the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.  He was co-founder and managing director of I-DEV International, a firm advising on business strategy for emerging markets.  A British man is also among the dead and was later identified by the development organization Gatsby Africa as Luke Potter, head of its forestry and tea portfolio.

A few of the victims identified in the attack were: James Oduor, who worked at one of the offices inside the complex.  Oduor was trapped inside the complex in the hours after the initial blasts and sent out a tweet at 2:05am that read “Waaah. What’s happening at 14 Riverside fam? Any news from out there?”  Another victim, Bernadette Konjalo, worked at the Dusit Hotel, and was shot as she ran away from an armed attacker after helping hotel guests find safety.  Also killed were Kenyan development consultants Feisal Ahmed, 31, and Abdalla Dahir, 33, who worked for Adam Smith International (ASI).  Described as “inseparable buddies’ by friends, the two were killed as they were having lunch at the Secret Garden restaurant in the grounds of the hotel when the suicide bomber struck.  Mr Ahmed’s widow is reportedly seven months pregnant.

After the attack, the militant group Al-Shabab, said “In a response to the witless remarks of US President Donald Trump and his declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” the group targeted “Western and Zionist interests worldwide … in support of our Muslim families in Palestine.”  In 2013, Al-Shabaab militants targeted the luxury shopping center of Westgate, which is 2 miles away from the site of Tuesday’s attack, killing 67 people in a siege that lasted several days. The group also killed nearly 150 people, most of them students, in an attack on Garissa University College in Kenya in April 2015.

Parolee Arrested In Deadly California Bowling Alley Shooting

 

 

 

 

 

bowlingalleyshooter.jpgAn arrest has been made in connection with the deadly shooting at a California bowling alley that left three people dead and four others wounded.  Police say Reginald Wallace, 47, of Los Angeles was identified as the suspect within 30 hours of the shooting and was arrested and is being held without bail.  Wallace is on parole after serving a 17-year sentence for assault with a deadly weapon which involved a firearm and was released in 2017.  Felons are barred under state law from possessing firearms.

The shooting occurred just before midnight on Friday, January 4th at the Gable House Bowl in Torrance, about 20 miles south of Los Angeles.  Police say two women began fighting, then more people joined in and finally 10 to 15 people, both men and women were brawling.  It was then, police say, that Wallace shot into the crowd with a handgun and is believed to be the sole shooter in the incident.  It is unclear whether Wallace knew anyone in the bowling alley, but he was part of the larger group that was already inside the bowling alley.

The three deceased victims who died at the scene were identified as Michael Radford; 20, Robert Meekins; 28 and his friend Astin Edwards, also 28.  Meekins leaves behind a 5-year-old son.  Police said two injured males were taken to a hospital and two other males sought medical attention on their own.  Torrance Police Chief Eve Irvine said in a statement that there was complete chaos before Wallace started shooting.  “It was complete chaos, people were running all over, there were fights still occurring and when he pulled out the handgun, the minute people started hearing shots, even more chaos erupted.”

Wes Hamad, a 29-year-old Torrance resident, said he was at the bowling alley with his 13-year-old niece and cousin when he saw a “huge fight” break out. Hamad said the brawl, which lasted about five minutes, blocked the entrance and spiraled into complete chaos.  “I grabbed my niece and started running toward the far end of the bowling alley,” he said. “As we were running, we heard 15 shots.”  As he was leaving, Hamad said he saw a woman weeping over a man who had gunshot wounds to his head and neck.

Damone Thomas was in the karaoke section of the bowling alley when people ran in screaming that there was a shooter.  Thomas said his friend flipped a table to shield them as they heard gunshots.  Thomas said he didn’t feel scared because he was “just trying to survive.” It wasn’t until later, Thomas said that he realized how traumatic the situation was.  “Closing my eyes, all I can see is the women against the wall crying, not knowing what to do,” he said.

 

 

 

 

Yellow Vest Protests Enter 2nd Month

 

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In France, the “yellow vest” protesters took to the streets again over the weekend. The protests against a fuel tax erupted on November 17th 2018 when people across France donned high-visibility vests, giving them their nickname the yellow vests, and went out to disrupt traffic.  Similar actions have followed every weekend and while the number of demonstrators has dropped, cities across France continue to see rioting and disruption.  At least six people have died and at least 1,400 have been injured as a result of the unrest.

What began as anger over green tax on vehicle fuel has grown into more general discontent with the leadership of President Emmanuel Macron, who protesters accuse of favoring the urban elite.  The intensity of the protests forced the government to halt the plans for the fuel tax hike but demonstrators called for additional economic reforms, and many for the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron.  While Macron said the tax was necessary to “protect the environment” and “combat climate change”, protesters claimed the decision was yet another sign that the “privileged” president is out of touch with regular folk struggling to make ends meet.

President Emmanuel Macron delivered a national address announcing he would raise the minimum wage and cancel a tax increase on low-income retirees.  He also proposed some social reforms, including an increase in the minimum wage by 100 euros ($113) a month beginning in January that will not cost employers extra and a promise that overtime hours will not be taxed.  While Macron’s announcement appeased some demonstrators, many continue to take to the streets.

Last week, a group of protesters in Paris rammed a forklift into a government ministry building, while violent confrontations between some demonstrators and police took place in the capital.  French security forces fired tear gas and flash-balls after a march through picturesque central Paris turned violent.  Rioters started fires on the prestigious Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris.  Police boats patrolled the river while beyond the Seine, motorcycles and a car were set on fire on the Boulevard Saint Germain.  Riot police and firefighters moved in with a water canon as barricades mounted in the middle of the wide street burned.

A reported 50,000 people across the country came out as the movement is now in its second month of protests.  While the number of rioters has dwindled from the 280,000 that joined the protests in November, the disruption and destruction of property continues.  The march had been declared in advance and approved, in contrast to some illegal December demonstrations that degenerated into vandalism, looting and chaos.

After two months of civil unrest, the government has declared it will crackdown on the disruption.  Prime Minister Philippe said the government would support a “new law punishing those who do not respect the requirement to declare protests, those who take part in unauthorized demonstrations and those who arrive at demonstrations wearing face masks”.  Known troublemakers would be banned from taking part in demonstrations, in the same way known football hooligans have been banned from stadiums.