5th Death Linked to Vaping

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Five deaths in the US have been linked to vaping as health officials continue to grapple with the dangers of e-cigarette use and the exact cause of the deaths.  All five died after developing a severe lung illness that is believed to be linked to vaping.  The exact cause of the deaths and the dangers of vaping still remain unclear but are being investigated on both the federal and state level.

More than 450 possible cases of respiratory illnesses have been reported in 33 states after use of e-cigarette products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The average age of those with the illness is 19, which is not surprising considering of the almost 10 million vapers in the US, nearly half of those are under 35, with 18-24-year-olds the most regular users.

Those who have suffered from the lung illness reported experiencing coughing, chest pain or shortness of breath before their health deteriorated to the point of respiratory failure and they needed to be hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Respiratory failure is where your body either can’t break down oxygen, produce carbon dioxide, or both. The result is that your lungs stop working and breathing becomes difficult.  Other reported symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and weight loss. Many victims have ended up with acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs and prevents the oxygen people’s bodies need to function from circulating in the bloodstream.

Those affected used a number of different devices from vaporizers to smaller e-cigarettes and a variety of different brands of liquids and cartridges.  Health officials recently said many cases involved products that contained THC, the mind-altering substance in marijuana.  The FDA has now collected over 120 samples to test for different chemicals, including nicotine, cannabinoids, additives and pesticides.

They also recently identified a common contaminant in some of the cannabis products used by patients across the country — an oil derived from vitamin E.  It remains unclear whether this is the cause or one of the causes of the illnesses.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement that advised against using electronic cigarettes while it investigates the issue.   The agency also said people should stop buying vaporizers, cartridges and liquids off the street or modifying vaping products bought legally.

New York Health officials have focusing their investigation on Vitamin E acetate after they found high levels of it in nearly all of the cannabis-containing vapes tested.  At least one vape containing both cannabis and vitamin E has been linked to every patient who submitted products for testing, the New York health department said.  Vitamin E isn’t known to be harmful if ingested as a vitamin supplement, but it could be dangerous if inhaled because of its “oil-like” properties. It has not been approved as an additive for New York’s medical marijuana program.

Federal health officials are warning that vitamin E is likely only one piece of the puzzle. The CDC is running its own tests on more than 100 samples for vitamin E, pesticides, opioids, poisons and other toxins.  “No one substance or compound, including vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all the samples tested,” Zeller said. “The samples we’re continuing to evaluate show a mix of results.”

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Jeffrey Epstein’s Accusers Testify

 

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More than 20 accusers of Jeffrey Epstein testified in the Southern District of New York in what Judge Richard Berman called both “a matter of law” and “a measure of respect for the victims.”  U.S. District Judge Richard Berman scheduled the hearing after prosecutors asked that he drop the case because Epstein is dead.  Berman lamented the loss of a judicial process in the case against Epstein, who died by apparent suicide in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan after being refused bail.

His death came two days after signing a new will, filed in the Virgin Islands, which established a trust fund worth $577 million. According to new outlets, the new will was expected to make it more difficult for Epstein’s many alleged victims to collect damages from the deceased financier.

Assistant US attorney Maurene Comey motioned to dismiss the indictment against the now-deceased wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was charged with the sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy. Before the accusers were given the opportunity to stand and testify, Comey emphasized that the investigation into Epstein’s co-conspirators was not over, echoing statements from the Department of Justice since Epstein’s death that urged more victims to come forward. She noted that civil forfeiture was ongoing.

Berman said that he would offer survivors, prosecutors and Epstein’s lawyers a chance to speak.  More than 20 of the women said they were victims of Epstein and 16 of them took the stand to recount what the convicted sex offender did to them, and how it has affected the rest of their lives. Lawyers read from an additional seven victims’ statements.  There are an additional 30 accusers who were not present in the courthouse.

Many of the women expressed that they were very vulnerable at the time they met Epstein, and he enticed them with offerings that ranged from a Victoria’s Secret catalog appearance to a letter of recommendation for Harvard.  Several women testified in tears while others choked up as they took their place before the judge to give their accounts of what happened to them and the impact his sudden death has had on his victims.  His victims had been expecting their day in court to come as part of the criminal prosecution and trial of Epstein but now feel he robbed them of their chance to confront him in court.

Epstein’s former girlfriend and close associate  Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of the late press baron Robert Maxwell was also brought up at the hearing.  Several accusers identified themselves as victims of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell’s international sex trafficking ring.  Maxwell has been accused of being his madam and of being instrumental in setting up a network of victims and other employees who found them.  She has been the subject of allegations that for years she recruited and abused them alongside the convicted sex offender.  She has emphatically denied all allegations of wrongdoing and has gone to great lengths to contest allegations involving her.

Epstein Under Suicide Watch After Being Unconscious In Cell

 

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Jeffrey Epstein, 66, was moved to a suicide-watch unit in a New York City detention center after the financier facing sex-trafficking charges was found unconscious in his cell with marks on his neck.  Epstein is being held pending trial at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. He faces two counts related to alleged sex trafficking of minors.  Epstein has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking minors, after his arrest in July 6.   The charges allege that he lured young girls to homes in Manhattan and Florida between 2002 and 2005 for purposes of trafficking. If convicted, he faces 45 years in prison.

Sources say when Epstein was found he was on the floor of his cell in a fetal position in a semi-conscious state, with marks on his neck.  Some believe Epstein may have tried to hang himself but some say Epstein’s injuries were not serious, and raised the possibility that he may have used the incident to try obtain a transfer from the jail.

On July 18, a federal judge rejected bail and Epstein’s request to be placed under house arrest in his Manhattan home, instead ordering him to be detained.  The judge calling him a danger to the community and a considerable flight risk. Days earlier, prosecutors said a search of his home turned up a phony passport and about $70,000 in cash.  Judge Richard Berman also noted the fact that Epstein had in recent months made large payments to potential witnesses against him, and the discovery by FBI agents of a trove of lewd photographs of young women at his Manhattan townhouse.

“This newly discovered evidence also suggests that Mr. Epstein poses ‘ongoing and forward-looking danger,’” the judge wrote. “Mr. Epstein’s dangerousness is considerable and includes sex crimes with minor girls and tampering with potential witnesses.”  Prosecutors say he sexually abused dozens of underage girls from 2002 through 2005 at his New York City townhouse and Palm Beach, Florida, who visited him under the guise of giving him massages. Some of the girls were as young as 14 years old.

In 2008, Epstein was charged with molesting and trafficking dozens—and potentially hundreds—of underage girls in Florida. He ended up serving just 13 months in county jail in what’s been described as “one of the most lenient deals for a serial child sex offender in history.”  The investigation into that case started in March 2005 when a woman contacted Florida’s Palm Beach Police Department and alleged that her 14-year-old stepdaughter had been taken to Epstein’s mansion by an older girl. There she was allegedly paid $300 to strip and massage Epstein.  She had allegedly undressed, but left the encounter wearing her underwear.  Police began an 11-month undercover investigation of Epstein, followed by a search of his home. Police alleged that Epstein had paid several girls to perform sexual acts with him.  Items found in Epstein’s trash and home allegedly showed that some of the girls involved were under 18 and a police search of Epstein’s home found two hidden cameras and large numbers of photos of underage girls throughout the house, some of whom the police had interviewed in the course of their investigation.  The lawsuit filed in 2006 that Epstein installed concealed cameras in numerous places on his property to record sexual activity with underage girls by prominent people for criminal purposes, such as blackmail.  Epstein allegedly “lent” girls to powerful people to ingratiate himself with them and also to gain possible blackmail information. A former employee told the police that Epstein would receive “massages” from young girls three times a day.

James Fields Sentenced In Federal Court

 

 

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James Fields, the self-described neo-Nazi who killed activist Heather Heyer at an anti-hate rally in 2017, was sentenced to life in prison. Fields plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville at a counter-protest of the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally.  Lawyers for Fields, 22, had pleaded for mercy, citing his difficult childhood and mental health problems.  “I’d like to apologize,” Mr. Fields told the judge before his sentencing Friday, according to one of his lawyers. “I apologize to my mother for putting her through all of this. Every day I think about my actions and how this could have gone differently. I’m sorry.”

 

Mr. Fields had previously admitted he intentionally targeted the counter-protesters.  The sentencing came nearly two years after Fields’ attack killed Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal who was demonstrating against the hundreds of white nationalists who took to the streets that day.  Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, asked for a life sentence but said she hoped Mr. Fields “can heal someday and help others heal.”

Fields was among hundreds of white supremacists who swarmed Charlottesville in August 2017 for the rally, in which they shouted anti-Semitic phrases, marched with tiki torches and attacked a racially diverse group of counter-protesters. The rally appeared to be winding down when Mr. Fields drove his car into a crowd of those counter-protesters.  Fields’s lawyers had asked the judge for a sentence that would allow him to eventually be released from prison. Mr. Fields had been trying to leave the rally to return home to Ohio, his lawyers said, but found the street blocked by counter-protesters and made the split-second decision to drive through them.  The incident followed violent clashes that erupted at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Attorneys for Fields had asked the federal authorities to be more lenient than jurors in his state-court murder trial had been late last year when he was sentenced to life plus 419 years.  Mr. Fields pleaded guilty to 29 federal charges earlier this year, including a hate crime for Ms. Heyer’s death. Federal prosecutors dropped another charge that could have led to the death penalty.  Prosecutors had argued that Mr. Fields’s racist, anti-Semitic beliefs motivated his decision to attend the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and to attack counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others.

“This was calculated, it was coldblooded, it was motivated by this deep-seated racial animus,” Thomas T. Cullen, the United States attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said after the sentence was announced. He said the case set a precedent for future instances of domestic terrorism.  The incident was immortalized in a photo that shows Mr. Fields’ car ramming into the crowd and those hit flying into the air. In addition to killing Ms. Heyer, the attack hurt more than 30 people, whose injuries ranged from fractured skulls to damaged organs to broken arms, Mr. Cullen said Friday.

 

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.”

 

 

 

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.

 

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.