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.

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Stop & Shop Strike Ends

 

 

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After more than three months of negotiations and 11 days on strike, over 30,000 Stop & Shop workers have reached a tentative agreement with the supermarket chain that they said met their demands for better pay, health care coverage and other benefits.  The employees, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union at more than 240 Stop & Shops across Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, returned to work on April 22 after reaching the deal on Sunday.

During an interview, union spokeswoman Jessica Raimundo said “The new contract does satisfy the different points of contention.  The agreement preserves health care and retirement benefits, provides wage increases, and maintains time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current members.  Under this proposed contract, our members will be able to focus on continuing to help customers in our communities.”   Details of the proposed three-year agreement will not be made public until the 31,000 union members across five locals ratify the contract.

A previous three-year contract expired on Feb. 23, and workers had protested what they considered cuts in the new contract to health care, take-home pay and other benefits. Stop & Shop continued negotiations with the union throughout the strike.  During negotiations, Stop & Shop employees argued that the chain’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize, reported profits of more than $2 billion to its shareholders last year, and could afford to compensate workers better.

Stop & Shop is a subsidiary of Dutch supermarket giant Ahold Delhaize, with 415 stores across the Northeast. Workers at company stores in New York and New Jersey were not on strike.  Stop & Shop is one of the last remaining union shops in the industry and the largest grocery store chain in New England.

Workers on strike included cashiers, stockers, bakers, deli clerks and butchers.  When the strike began, Stop & Shops across the three states set in motion a contingency plan to keep the stores open. The chain sent out support staff members and temporary replacement workers to several supermarkets but some stores were forced to close during the strike.  The company limited its offerings amid the strikes. Stop & Shop President Mark McGowan said in a letter April 16 that most stores would remain open for 12 hours, seven days a week. However, he said bakery, customer service, deli, seafood counters and gas stations would not be operational.

Stop & Shop released a statement following the end of the strike and said it was thankful for its customers’ patience.  “The tentative three-year agreements, which are subject to ratification votes by members of each of the union locals, include: increased pay for all associates; continued excellent health coverage for eligible associates; and ongoing defined pension benefits for all eligible associates.  Our associates’ top priority will be restocking our stores so we can return to taking care of our customers and communities and providing them with the services they deserve. We deeply appreciate the patience and understanding of our customers during this time, and we look forward to welcoming them back to Stop & Shop.”

Video Shows Broward County Deputy Assaulting Teen

 

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The Broward County Sheriff’s Department says it will probe the actions of officers caught on camera brutally assaulting teenagers after responding to a call about an after-school fight in a McDonald’s parking lot near their high school in Coral Springs.  Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen said in a statement that the deputy shown in the viral video should be fired.  The incident between the teen and deputy was captured on cellphone video by a group of teens who had gathered at a McDonald’s parking lot after school to watch two teens fight.

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said he would launch a “thorough investigation” into deputies who are shown on video pepper-spraying, tackling and punching teens near J.P. Taravella High.  “It may take some time but we will be transparent, and if folks need to be held accountable, it shall be done,” he said in a video statement.  One of the deputies involved, Christopher Krickovich, has been with the department for six years and is on restricted assignment pending the investigation.  The other deputy, Sgt. Greg LaCerra, has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 17 years and his status is unclear.

The cellphone video appears to show one deputy who responded to the scene restraining a teenager in the parking lot when another deputy pushes away a girl who appeared to grab a phone from the ground.  When another teen intervenes, the same deputy then uses pepper spray on the teen before grabbing him and taking him to the ground.  Two other deputies then jump in, one of them straddles the boy who is face down on the ground, punched him in the head repeatedly before grabbing him by the back of the neck and slamming his face into the pavement.  The victim, a 14-year-old student at J.P. Taravella High School, was left bleeding heavily and was later rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.

It all began with the initial 911 call at 2:55 p.m. reporting that several students had gathered in the Tamarac McDonald’s parking lot, a popular after-school hangout.  A follow-up call at 3:08 p.m. reported that kids were fighting.  Krickovich wrote in a police report that he and LaCerra saw a fight starting but it ended before they got close enough to break it up. They also spotted a student who had been warned not to trespass at the shopping center and arrested him.  “While I was dealing with the male on the ground, I observed his phone slide to the right of me and then behind me.

I observed a teen wearing a red tank top reach down and attempt to grab the male student’s phone,” Krickovich wrote.  The teen “took an aggressive stance” toward LaCerra, “bladed his body and began clenching his fists,” Krickovich wrote. At that point, one of the deputies pepper-sprayed and “quickly jumped on the male with the red tank top,” Krickovich wrote, saying he was fearing for his safety.  The teen’s “left arm was free and next to him, while he placed his right arm under his face. I struck the male in the right side of his head with a closed fist as a distractionary technique to free his right hand. This technique was successful and I was able to place him into handcuffs without further incident.”  Krickovich’s also stated in the police report that the three officers were outnumbered by about 200 students “who were yelling, threatening us and surrounding us, I had to act quickly, fearing I would get stuck or having a student potentially grab weapons off of my belt or vest.”

Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen said the deputy who threw the student to the ground should be suspended at the very minimum and the deputy who punched the student and pushed his head into the ground should be removed.

Denver Schools Closed After FL Teen Obsessed With Columbine Made Threats

 

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Colorado police say they discovered the body of a Florida teenager who had allegedly threatened to mark the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings with a massacre of her own. Eighteen-year-old Sol Pais was found in the mountains west of Denver, dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police said Pais, who was “infatuated” with the Columbine massacre, had traveled to Denver Monday, buying a gun and ammunition in Littleton, CO before making threats that the FBI called “credible” but nonspecific.

Denver area schools, including Columbine High School, increased security Tuesday after the news broke.  The threats prompted authorities to cancel Wednesday classes across 20 districts in the Denver area for more than a half-million students.  April 20th marks the 20th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High—in which two students killed 12 fellow students and one teacher.

On Monday, Pais, a high school senior, purchased three one-way airplane tickets to Denver for consecutive days and left her Miami home.  Her parents reported her missing to local police and investigators discovered Pais was infatuated with the Columbine shooting so they called the Miami FBI office.  She kept an online journal that included sketches of one of the killers, Dylan Klebold and of guns. Social media posts along with comments she made to others led the FBI to see her as a credible threat.  Special Agent Dean Phillips, who is in charge of the Denver office, said Pais never made a specific threat to a specific school.

As the FBI began tracking Pais’ whereabouts, agents also began informing local law enforcement that Pais was in the area and that she was armed, prompting Tuesday’s lockdown and Wednesday’s cancellations.  Authorities have said she arrived in Denver late Monday morning and then went to a gun shop near Littleton, where she purchased a pump-action shotgun and two boxes of ammunition.   Even as schools began increasing security Tuesday afternoon, authorities had evidence that she was at Mount Evans with no means to come back to the city.

Authorities say Pais was dropped off by a rideshare service, about 56 miles west of Columbine High School at a pullout on Highway 103 at the base of Mount Evans in Clear Creek County.  She told the driver that she wanted to see snow.  From that moment, the 18-year-old dressed in a black T-shirt and camouflaged pants was on foot with no tent, no sleeping bag and no coat.  Searches had begun in and around Mount Evans as law enforcement continued to view her as a credible threat until they had located her.

Law enforcement stopped the search late Tuesday but resumed Wednesday morning.  They notified the Denver school district after Pais’s body was located and classes resumed on Thursday.  Authorities said Wednesday they are continuing to look into Pais’ communication, personal connections and social media usage from the past year to investigate whether she had any other accomplices. The FBI did not directly address a website linked to Pais in which she posted a series of disorganized rants that talk mostly about her hopelessness and loneliness.

NYC Declares Public Health Emergency As Measles Outbreak Continues

 

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New York City has declared a public health emergency over the growing measles outbreak with 285 confirmed cases in New York City since the fall.  The “epicenter” of the outbreak is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where vaccination rates among Orthodox Jews are particularly low.  The emergency order was declared in an effort to curtail the outbreak and protect others.  As part of the emergency order, all residents of four Williamsburg zip codes — 11205, 11206, 11211 and 11249 — must be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella if they are not already.

Those found to be in violation of the order could face up to a $1,000 fine, officials said.  Under the mandatory vaccinations, members of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will check the vaccination records of any individual who may have been in contact with infected patients. Those who have not received the MMR vaccine or do not have evidence of immunity may be given a violation and could be fined $1,000.  New York’s MMR vaccination rate is at 91.1 percent, below the 94 percent requirement to achieve herd immunity.

The NYC Health Department recently issued an order banning all unvaccinated members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg from entering yeshivas and day care programs. Non-compliant schools could be subject to closure.  Roughly 1,800 children in Williamsburg remain unvaccinated.  The city will help unprotected individuals secure affordable and accessible vaccination, and emphasized that vaccination is safe and effective.  In February, the department increased the recommended MMR vaccine dose for children between ages 6 months and 11 months who live in Williamsburg and Borough Park. Infants are advised to get immunized prior to international travel.

The Williamsburg outbreak started when an unvaccinated child acquired measles on a visit to Israel, where a large outbreak of the disease is occurring.  There have been additional people from Brooklyn and Queens who were unvaccinated and acquired measles while in Israel according to the health department.  Most of the Williamsburg cases involve members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, many of whom live by the Torah teachings that followers should not cause the body any damage since it is a gift from God.

Last month, in Rockland County, NY, near the city, county health officials declared a state of emergency and barred unvaccinated children from public spaces for 30 days. The order was temporarily halted last week after a judge ruled against it.  Outside of New York City and Rockland County, measles outbreaks are underway in the Pacific Northwest, California, New Jersey and Michigan.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported at least 465 individual cases of measles in 19 states in the past three and a half months. This outbreak has the second greatest number of infected individuals since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.

An analysis published in PLOS Medicine has shown that non-medical exemptions increased in 12 out of 17 states with relaxed laws on immunization. Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah gave leeway for philosophical beliefs as a basis to refuse the vaccine.  Authorities said they are now reviewing a bill to ensure that only patients with a qualified medical history like chemotherapy or organ transplantation will be given an exemption.

 

 

Some Parents Take Plea Deal In College Admissions Scandal

 

 

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Thirteen parents involved in the college admissions scandal, including Hollywood actress Felicity Huffman, and one coach, agreed to plead guilty to fraud.  Those who pled guilty are among 50 wealthy people charged in the largest college cheating scandal ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice known as “Operation Varsity Blues.”  Federal prosecutors gave the parents charged in the case a short window to consider a deal or they would potentially face additional charges.  Huffman admitted to paying $15,000 to have someone cheat on the SATs for her daughter and could serve four months in prison as part of her plea.

Federal prosecutors have offered deals to all the parents charged in the scheme but will only accept pleas that include prison time.  The different sentences will reportedly be determined by the amount the parents paid in bribes, as well as by whether they accept responsibility.  Prosecutors have reportedly recommended a range of sentences for those who accepted the deals with sentence recommendations ranging from 12 to 18 months in prison, though prosecutors also requested “low amounts” for certain defendants, like Huffman.

Shortly after the guilty pleas, federal prosecutors swiftly brought new money laundering charges against 16 parents who turned down the deal.  Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, are among the parents facing the additional charges, along with previously announced fraud charges, after they allegedly paid $500,000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California by getting them recruited by the crew team—even though they did not practice the sport.  Loughlin and Giannulli were reportedly facing two years in prison with their plea deals but they turned them down in hopes of a new deal with no jail time.  Now, with the new charges, they could face up to 20 years in prison.  William “Rick” Singer, 58, has already pled guilty to four felony counts after he admitted to collecting over $25 million in the scheme.

Parents charged in the scandal allegedly paid bribes of up to $6.5 million to get their children into elite colleges, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, federal prosecutors said.  Singer also allegedly bribed school coaches to give to his clients’ admissions slots reserved for student athletes in sports including crew and soccer. He went as far as to stage fake photos of his student clients engaging in sports they never played, or to digitally place the faces of his clients onto images found online of athletes.  Singer instructed parents to donate funds to a fake charity he had established as part of the scheme.  Parents were then able to deduct the donation from their income taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Federal prosecutors have said the probe is ongoing as they continue to investigate schools to see who at the institutions may have been involved.  Several elite Southern California prep schools have received subpoenas from prosecutors seeking information about some of the students involved in the fraud case. Prosecutors want to know whether any parents or others accused in the case sought or received help from the schools.  Stanford University announced this week they expelled a student who they say was connected to a $500,000 “donation” to one of Singer’s “charities”.

The scheme began in 2011 and was exposed when an  LA parent who was facing stock fraud charges, brought evidence to a law enforcement in exchange for a deal.  Rudy Meredith, Yale’s women’s soccer coach for more than two decades, had previously helped Singer fake the soccer credentials of a child of a Singer client.   In early 2018, on his own accord, he solicited a bribe directly from the father of another Yale applicant.  The man took the proposal to federal prosecutors looking to cut a deal, according to the court papers.

New York State Files Suit Against Purdue and Sackler Family Members

 

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New York State announced a sweeping lawsuit against members of the Sackler family, the owner of Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, the highly addictive drug at the center of the opioid epidemic.  A group of over 500 cities, counties and Native American tribes have filed suit against Purdue and 8 members of the Sackler family, which founded and owns Purdue Pharma, for their role in creating “the worst drug crisis in American history” by lying about the dangers of the opioid painkiller OxyContin and deceitful marketing of the drug.

New York Attorney General Letitia James accused the Sacklers of masterminding a scheme that “literally profited off of … suffering and death.”  While announcing the suit, James said “And as Purdue sold more and more opioids, the Sackler family transferred more and more wealth into their personal accounts. And as the lawsuits have piled up against the Sackler family and Purdue for their roles in this crisis, they continue to move funds into trusts and, yes, offshore accounts.”  The suit states that the Sackler family is worth an estimated $13 billion, partly due to the more-than-decade-long marketing campaign to boost sales of OxyContin.  At the same time, the economic cost to the U.S. for the opioid epidemic was $504 billion in 2015, the lawsuit contends.  Former Purdue CEO Richard Sackler allegedly touted the drug for unapproved uses and that Purdue workers were instructed to tell doctors the painkillers were not addictive and could help an “enhanced lifestyle,” according to the suit.

Portions of a lawsuit filed by the state of Massachusetts against Purdue that were made public, allege that the company, the Sackler family, and company executives misled prescribers and patients as they aimed to blanket the country with prescriptions for their addictive medications.  Five years after the drug was released to the market, questions were raised about the risk of addiction and overdoses that came with taking OxyContin and opioid medications.  Richard Sackler outlined a strategy that critics have long accused the company of unleashing: divert the blame onto others, particularly the people who became addicted to opioids themselves.  In a February 2001 email he wrote “We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible.  They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”  The Massachusetts suit claims “By their misconduct, the Sacklers have hammered Massachusetts families in every way possible and the stigma they used as a weapon made the crisis worse.”  The complaint reveals that since 2007, Purdue has sold more than 70 million doses of opioids in Massachusetts for more than $500 million. “And the stigma they used as a weapon made the crisis worse.”

Purdue and the family denied any wrongdoing in a statement “The latest legal action is part of a larger effort to “single out Purdue,” and fault it for the entire crisis.  Purdue Pharma and the individual former directors vigorously denies the allegations in the complaint and will continue to defend themselves against these misleading allegations,” the statement said.

The state of Oklahoma recently reached a $270 million agreement with Purdue Pharma—settling a lawsuit that claimed the company contributed to the deaths of thousands of Oklahoma residents by downplaying the risk of opioid addiction and overstating the drug’s benefits.  More than $100 million of the settlement will fund a new addiction treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University.  The settlement is the first Purdue has made amid more than 2,000 pending lawsuits connecting its painkiller OxyContin to the opioid crisis-which U.S. government data estimates is responsible for nearly 50,000 deaths per year.