Phoenix Police Issue Apology After Video of Heated Confrontation With Family Surfaces

 

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Phoenix’s mayor and police chief have both apologized after a video was released showing officers pointing guns and yelling at a family outside a Family Dollar store, after they say a 4-year-old girl took a doll from the store. The video, recorded by a witness, caused widespread outrage and showed the officers screaming orders at the father, pregnant mother carrying their baby and the young girl.  The police department became aware of the video on June 11th and the officers involved have been assigned to desk duty while their actions are being investigated.  The parents say the police officers violated their civil rights, and are filing a $10 million lawsuit.

On May 29, Dravon Ames and his fiancee, Iesha Harper, said they went on a family outing with their two children, London, 1, and Island, 4. Without their knowledge, Island took a doll from a Family Dollar Store.  A police patrol unit who was responding to the shoplifting report followed the couple’s car. The family entered their babysitter’s apartment complex and were still in the car as an officer approached the vehicle with his gun drawn and yanked open the front door.

“I’m going to put a cap in your a–,” one officer said to Ames as a second policeman, whose weapon was also drawn and pointed at Ames, walked up to the car, the video shows. “I’m going to shoot you in your f—ing face.”  The woman can be heard saying she is unable to hold her hands up because she is holding a child, and that she is pregnant.

The first officer — who has not yet been named by the department — pulled Ames, 22, from the car, pushed his head to the pavement, handcuffed him and yelled that Ames better follow orders, according to the claim. The officer threw Ames against the car, ordered him to spread his legs and “kicked him in the right leg so hard that the father collapsed.” Then, the officer dragged him upright and punched him in the back, the claim said.

Once Ames was handcuffed and inside the patrol car, the officers focused their attention on Harper and the children, according to the claim.  The two officers pointed their weapons at the visibly pregnant 24-year-old Harper and her children, the video shows.  “The first officer grabbed the mother and the baby around both of their necks, and tried to take the baby out of the mother’s hand,” the claim alleged. “He told her to put the baby on the ground, which she was unwilling to do because the baby could not walk, and the ground consisted of hot pavement.”

The officer tried to rip Harper’s youngest child from her arms, the claim stated. After Harper handed the children to a bystander, the officer threw Harper into the police car face first and then handcuffed her.  “I could have shot you in front of your f—ing kids,” he said, according to the claim.  The store manager declined to press charges so neither Ames nor Harper were arrested or ticketed, though they were detained by the police.  The notice of claim alleged that the police officers “committed battery, unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress, and violation of civil rights under the fifth and 14th amendments of the United States Constitution.”

 

 

 

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Estranged Husband of Missing CT Mother Released After Posting Bail

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The estranged husband of missing CT mother Jennifer Dulos and his girlfriend have both been released after posting their $500,000 bails.  Fotis Dulos, 51, and his girlfriend Michelle Troconis, 44, were charged with tampering or fabricating physical evidence and hindering prosecution on June 1st.  Jennifer Dulos, who was last seen May 24th, had filed for divorce from Fotis Dulos in 2017 and had sole physical custody of their five children with their father seeing them every other weekend.  They had been embroiled in a contentious divorce and child custody case for the past two years.

Jennifer was last seen May 24th driving a 2017 black Chevrolet Suburban, as she dropped her kids off at school.  Her friends reported her missing around 7 p.m. that day after they had not heard from her for about 10 hours and she had missed multiple appointments that day.  Their children, who range in age from 8 to 13 and include two sets of twins, have been living with their 85-year-old grandmother under armed guard in NYC since Dulos went missing.

Court documents filed in the divorce case say Jennifer Dulos feared Fotis Dulos would harm her in some way in retaliation for her filing for divorce, and she noted he had a gun.  Jennifer Dulos had accused her husband of having revenge fantasies, exhibiting “irrational, unsafe, bullying, threatening and controlling behavior” and saying he would abscond with their five children to another country, according to her custody petition.  Jennifer Dulos lived in a mansion in Farmington, Connecticut, with her husband and family until two years ago. In court documents, she said Fotis Dulos moved his girlfriend and the woman’s daughter into their Farmington house, and Jennifer Dulos moved out in 2017 to a home in New Canaan and filed for divorce, court records show.

Fotis Dulos and Troconis were arrested based on surveillance video that allegedly shows a man and a woman matching both of their descriptions in a vehicle where a man can be seen depositing around 30 trash bags into multiple trash receptacles.  The man can also be seen discarding items that appeared to be stained with a substance that is consistent with the appearance of blood.  Detectives later recovered clothing and household goods from trash receptacles with Jennifer Dulos’ blood on it.

Investigators looking into the woman’s disappearance discovered stains that tested positive for human blood on her garage floor, as well as evidence of attempts to clean up the scene.  Police also found blood spatter and evidence that a “serious physical assault” occurred in her New Canaan home.  State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr., a prosecutor in the case, said that Jennifer Dulos’ blood was also found mixed with her estranged husband’s DNA in the kitchen sink faucet at her New Canaan home.  Fotis Dulos has never lived at that house. He has remained at the couple’s former home in Farmington, Connecticut.

 

Bodies Of Missing Oregon Mother and Son Found

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The bodies of a missing Salem, Oregon mother and her son were found in a remote area of Oregon.  Karissa Fretwell, 25, and her 3-year-old son, William “Billy” Fretwell were reported missing last month. Family members said they had not seen or heard from them since May 13.  Karissa’s cause of death was determined to be from a single gunshot to the head, and the manner of death was determined to be homicide.  The cause and manner of death of Billy is yet to be determined, pending additional testing.

Despite the lack of bodies, Michael John Wolfe, 52, was charged last month with two counts of aggravated murder and two counts of kidnapping. Court documents identify him as Billy’s biological father and Karissa’s friends and family say Billy was conceived through an affair.  Wolfe, who is married to another woman, was established as Billy’s biological father through a DNA test in 2018 after Fretwell filed a petition to establish the boy’s paternity.

Wolfe and Fretwell had an affair while working together at a local steel mill and the two were locked in a custody battle.  Court documents state Fretwell and Wolfe were in court as recently as April, and Wolfe was ordered to pay over $900 a month in child support and provide health insurance coverage for Billy.  The court documents state Fretwell believed Wolfe wouldn’t pay child support without a court order.  Fretwell had sole custody of her son, and the two had been living in West Salem.  Billy Fretwell’s babysitter told police Karissa Fretwell reported being threatened by Wolfe and his wife, who said they would take custody of the boy.  Police say the wife is not a person of interest in the case at this point, but that detectives continue to look at anyone who could be connected.

The sheriff’s office said ongoing efforts by detectives to locate the missing mother and son led searchers to a remote area of Yamhill County, about 10 miles west of the city of Yamhill.  Crews searched the heavily wooded and remote area for about two hours before finding two bodies.  Yamhill-area police conducted about 20 searches looking for the bodies since they were reported missing in mid-May.  At one point, they searched about 800 yards away from where the bodies were eventually found partially covered by debris in a forested part of Weyerhauser property 10 miles west of the city of Yamhill.  Investigators say that Wolfe fished and had a permit to cut wood on the Weyerhauser property where the bodies were eventually found.

Detectives obtained data from Karissa Fretwell’s cellphone showing her phone used a cell tower southeast of Gaston, which provides coverage to Wolfe’s rural property.  Cell data also placed her phone Wolfe’s place of work, a steel mill in McMinnville. He told police he was working the night of May 13 and morning of May 14, but detectives believe surveillance video and cell tower activity disputes that.  Footage at the mill shows Wolfe leaving his work area on a golf cart and walking toward a line of trees and bushes to a nearby parking lot.

Wolfe reappears through the trees almost five hours later and drives the golf cart back to his work area while carrying a white trash bag filled with unknown items.  Phone records from May 13 also show Wolfe’s phone pinged cell towers “away from his place of work” shortly after he disappeared through the trees. That evening, Wolfe’s phone pinged a tower that would cover Fretwell’s apartment in Salem and pinged towers near his workplace about the time he reappeared at his workplace. Wolfe told detectives he had not been to Salem in more than a year.

ChristChurch Shooter Pleads Not Guilty

 

 

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The New Zealand man accused of massacring Muslim worshipers in the city of Christchurch in March pleaded not guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and engaging in a terrorist act. The 28-year-old Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, is an avowed white supremacist who emailed out a racist manifesto minutes before he opened fire with an assault rifle at two mosques, live-streaming his massacre on Facebook.

He live streamed 17 minutes of video which included footage of himself inside the first mosque, going room-to-room, victim to victim, shooting the wounded from close range as they struggled to crawl away and indiscriminately firing into piles of bodies.  In the 6 minutes Tarrant was inside, forty-one people were killed at the Al Noor Mosque.  The live streamed footage also showed the gunman casually talking and laughing as he walked out of the mosque where he shot at people near the area before driving away at high speed, heading for the Linwood Islamic Centre, about 3 miles away.  Another 7 people were killed at the Linwood Mosque, an eighth victim later died in the hospital. Tarrant was apprehended as he fled the Linwood Mosque when two police officers ran his car off the road.

According to his manifesto, he started planning a revenge attack about two years prior to the attack and chose his targets three months in advance.  His manifesto expressed several anti-immigrant sentiments including hate speech against migrants, white supremacist rhetoric, and calls for non-European immigrants such as Roma, Indians, Turkish people, Semitic people and others allegedly “invading his land” to be removed.  He described himself as an ethno-nationalist and referred to revenge for European civilians who were casualties in Islamic terrorist attacks within Europe as motivation for his attack.  He repeatedly mentioned revenge for Ebba Åkerlund, a victim in the 2017 Stockholm truck attack.

Tarrant was judged fit to stand trial after an assessment of his mental state. His pleas of not guilty raise the prospect of a lengthy trial that could give him a platform to air the white supremacist views that allegedly motivated the attack. Tarrant’s trial has been set for May of 2020. He was not in court in person in Christchurch; instead he appeared via a video link from a maximum-security prison where he’s being held in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.  New Zealand abolished the death penalty in 1989 and has not executed anyone since 1957. If found guilty, Tarrant faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Eighty survivors and family members of victims watched the proceedings. After the hearing, Abdul Aziz, a survivor of the attack said “He’s a coward and he will lose.” Aziz was at Linwood Mosque during the shootings and has been hailed a hero after confronting the gunmen-ultimately stopping him from claiming as many lives at the second mosque as he did at the first.   After hearing shots outside, Aziz ran outside and grabbed the first thing he could find, a credit card machine, which he threw at the gunmen.  The gunmen shot at him but they played cat and mouse between cars.  Then Aziz grabbed a gun that had been discarded by the attacker tried to fire at Tarrant but the gun was empty.  As Tarrant ran back to his car Aziz threw the gun at his car, shattering his windshield.  Tarrant yelled that he was going to kill them all but instead drove off and was apprehended by police minutes later.

 

Minnesota Officer Sentenced In 2017 Shooting

 

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A Minneapolis judge sentenced Mohamed Noor, the former police officer who shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017, to 12.5 years in prison. In April, Noor was found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Noor’s lawyers had argued for a light sentence but Judge Kathryn Quaintance sentenced the 33-year-old Noor to the identical sentence recommended under state guidelines.

Speaking in court before the sentence was read, Noor said that he had felt “fear” as he pulled the trigger. But when he saw Ruszczyk Damond on the ground, “I knew in an instant that I was wrong.  I caused this tragedy and it is my burden,” he said. “I wish though that I could relieve that burden others feel from the loss that I caused. I cannot and that is a troubling reality for me. I will think about Ms. Ruszczyk and her family forever. The only thing I can do is try to live my life in a good way going forward.”

The court also heard from Don Damond, Ruszczyk Damond’s fiancé, during an emotional victim impact statement that the day of her death was “the last time I felt a sense of happiness, a sense of trust and that everything could be OK.”  “How do I sum up the pain, the trauma, of these last 23 months… How can I provide the court the impact of a lost future? What would have potentially been 30 to 40 years filled with love, with family, with joy, with laughter,” he said.

The July 15, 2017, shooting occurred after Ruszczyk Damond called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in an alley behind her home.  When Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity arrived, Ruszczyk Damond approached the driver’s side of the squad car in her pajamas.  Harrity testified, he heard a “thump” and a “murmur.” Noor, who was seated in the passenger seat, shot Ruszczyk in the abdomen through the open driver’s-side window of the vehicle as she approached his police cruiser.  Noor testified that he feared for his partner’s life as Ruszczyk approached their squad car in the dark, empty alley.

Noor testified that Harrity’s terrified expression and the sight of Ruszczyk with her hand raised jolted him into action. Although he did not see a gun in Ruszczyks’ hand, he feared his partner might be shot as she began to raise her hand, he said.  Noor’s lawyers maintained at trial that Noor “acted as he has been trained” and that he should never have been charged with a crime.

“The narrative behind this tragedy really began long before the events that occurred in that alley,” Noor’s defense attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said on Friday. “Ms. Ruszczyk was doing her civic duty, she didn’t deserve this.” But he said that the fear that exists between police and members of the public was behind what happened that night.  “A prison sentence only punishes Mr. Noor for a culture that he didn’t create,” his lawyer said.

9/11 Victims Compensation Fund Extention Passes A Day After Jon Stewart’s Passionate Testimony

 

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The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill which would permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, the day after comedian Jon Stewart gave impassioned testimony in support of the bill.  The bill will now go to the floor for a full vote in the House of Representatives, where it is likely to pass.  Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010 and the act was reauthorized in 2015 for 90 years. But a portion of the law — the Victim Compensation Fund — was only funded for five years, through the end of 2020.

The fund aimed to provide necessary financial support for the thousands who suffered serious medical issues, including a spate of cancer diagnoses, after the 2001 attacks.  New York City health officials say the number of people who have been diagnosed with 9/11-linked cancers has tripled.  Thousands of first responders rushed to the scene of the attacks and in doing so, exposed themselves to toxic debris in the air, including asbestos, lead, and pulverized concrete, which causes silicosis.

Nearly 5,500 first responders and local residents have now been diagnosed with cancers linked to the toxic smoke and dust of 9/11.  As of September 2018, 2,000 deaths were attributed to 9/11 related illnesses. By the end of last year, many estimate that more people will have died from toxic exposures than were actually killed in the attack.

The spike in claims has left the VCF at risk of a massive funding shortfall. As a result, future payouts to 9/11 victims and their families may be cut by as much as 70%.  The bill that passed the judiciary committee on Wednesday aims to make the VCF permanent and grant additional funding to the bill. A specific amount has not yet been allocated.

At an emotional congressional hearing, Stewart, who has been a longtime advocate for the fund, blasted lawmakers for their inaction ahead of a vote on renewing healthcare funding for 9/11 responders.  During his testimony, Stewart became upset several times as he appealed to Congress. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders. And in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one. Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country, and it is a stain on this institution. And you should be ashamed of yourselves, for those that aren’t here. But you won’t be, because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”

Stewart made several points during his passionate speech.  “The official FDNY response time to 9/11 was five seconds. ​Five seconds. That’s how long it took for FDNY, for NYPD, for Port Authority, EMS to respond to an urgent need from the public. ​Five seconds. Hundreds died in an instant.  Thousands more poured in to continue to fight for their brothers and sisters.”  He went on to point out that as lawmakers had at first, denied the health issues were caused by the debri left behind the attack and when they no longer could deny it then then said it was a New York issue.    “More of these men and women are going to get sick and they are going to die. And I am awfully tired of hearing that it’s a 9/11 New York issue. Al Qaeda didn’t shout “Death to Tribeca.” They attacked America ​and these men and women and their response to it is what brought our country back. It’s what gave a reeling nation a solid foundation to stand back upon. To remind us of why this country is great, of why this country is worth fighting for. And you are ignoring them.”

 

Disciplinary Hearing Wraps Up For NYPD Officer Involved In Eric Garner’s Death

 

 

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The disciplinary hearing for New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo wrapped up this week.  Pantaleo is the officer who killed Eric Garner in on July 17, 2014 by putting him in a chokehold and refusing to let go even as Garner repeatedly gasped “I can’t breathe.” Pantaleo never faced criminal prosecution, after a grand jury decided not to indict him yet the city paid $5.9 million to settle a lawsuit with the family.  He has remained on desk duty on the police force but could lose his job and pension if found guilty of violating NYPD procedures.

A presiding judge will send a recommendation about Pantaleo’s fate to Police Commissioner James O’Neill in the coming weeks. A police supervisor testified that internal affairs investigators who reviewed Eric Garner’s death determined that the officer who wrestled him to the ground in 2014 used a forbidden chokehold on him.  Another internal affairs investigator, Inspector Barton, who oversaw the internal review, said he recommended disciplinary charges against Officer Pantaleo in January 2015, after a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges.

Garner died after officers held him down and handcuffed him on the pavement near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The police had stopped him because they thought he was selling untaxed cigarettes, or “loosies.”  Captured on bystander video, video captured Officer Pantaleo speaking into his radio before he and his partner moved in to make an arrest. Officer Pantaleo grabbed Mr. Garner, who weighed 395 pounds, from behind and the two stumbled into a plate-glass window before falling to the ground, where Mr. Garner begged for air.  While 4 police officers restrained him, Garner repeated “I can’t breathe” eleven times while lying face down on the sidewalk. After Garner lost consciousness, officers turned him onto his side to ease his breathing.

Officer Pantaleo wrapped his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck and clasped his hands like a “vise grip,” said the prosecutor, Jonathan Fogel, of the review board. The Police Department has “explicitly, unequivocally and absolutely” banned the maneuver, and it triggered “a lethal cascade,” Mr. Fogel said.

The medical examiner ruled Mr. Garner’s death a homicide caused by the compression of his neck from a “choke hold” and the compression of his chest while being forced to the ground in a prone position.  Garner’s death was one of several across the country that set off protests and led to a national reckoning over how the police treat people in poor and minority neighborhoods. Mr. Garner’s last words — “I can’t breathe” — became a rallying cry for people protesting police brutality.

Officer Pantaleo faces charges of reckless use of a chokehold and intentional restriction of breathing. His lawyer, Stuart London, says that Officer Pantaleo did not use a chokehold, but a different technique that is taught to officers in training and is known as a seatbelt. London has argued that  Mr. Garner, who was overweight and severely asthmatic, died because of poor health.