29 Dead in Tai Mass Shooting

 

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Residents of the northeastern Thai city of Nakhon Ratchasima are grieving after Thailand suffered its worst mass shooting. A soldier went on a 18 hour rampage, killing at least 29 people and injuring scores more.  The gunman began his shooting spree on a military base before taking to the streets, then attacking shoppers at a mall. He was eventually shot and killed after a shootout with Thai forces. The shooter posted videos of the attack on Facebook Live; the videos and his account were later removed.

It was around 3pm Saturday, February 8, when Jakrapanth Thomma, 32, a sergeant and expert marksman in the Thai armed forces, began his rampage. He first shot and killed his commanding officer, Colonel Anantharot Krasae over a real estate deal gone bad.  Then he raided an unprotected weapons bunker at a nearby army base before advancing to Terminal 21 where he began to shoot civilians indiscriminately.

The attack carried on through the night as Thomma went from floor to floor, executing anyone he found hiding in the center.  He then stole a Humvee and wounded the driver. The gunman escaped the base and opened fire on two police officers and two civilians, wounding them. The officers sustained multiple gunshot wounds in their legs and backs.  After escaping, the gunman started shooting in the street: he stopped outside Wat Pa Sattha Ruam, a Buddhist temple and killed eight civilians and a police officer. He then arrived at the Terminal 21 Korat shopping mall in the city of Nakhon Ratchasima, where he left the vehicle and began shooting indiscriminately at people outside the mall, before detonating a cooking-gas cylinder, killing 12 civilians.

He then entered the mall, killing two people and taking sixteen hostages inside the mall on the fourth floor. The gunman live-streamed on Facebook Live during the siege and shared photos and memes on his profile page, although his account was eventually taken down by Facebook.  Police officers and soldiers stormed the mall and demanded the gunman’s surrender, to which he responded by opening fire, killing two policemen and a soldier and wounding at least three others. He remained inside for several hours, during which his mother was brought by authorities to try to convince him to surrender. Finally, in the early hours of Sunday, authorities dispatched the country’s top team of special forces to clear the complex. After about 18 hours of carnage, Thomma was finally shot dead. 

The prime minister, Mr. Prayuth, who met Sunday with some of the 58 injured victims, said that the gunman had been enraged over a “land problem.” He said it was a conflict that could have been resolved peacefully.  The dispute that preceded the massacre involved the gunman’s superior officer, Col. Anantharot Krasae, and a business operated by the colonel’s family that sold homes and helped soldiers borrow money from a military lending program.  A friend of Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, said that the sergeant major had expected to receive about $13,000 in cash back from a loan they had arranged — a significant sum — but the money had disappeared.

According to his friend, he asked repeatedly for the money but did not receive it and had lost hope.  On Saturday, the sergeant major met with Col. Anantharot, Ms. Anong and a property

Outrage Over Warehouse Full of Unused Emergency Supplies From 2017 Discovered in Puerto Rico

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In Puerto Rico, protesters took to the streets calling for the resignation of Governor Wanda Vázquez, after a video was posted showing undistributed emergency supplies sitting in a warehouse in the city of Ponce.   Many are still reeling after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit the island earlier this month, forcing thousands to leave their homes. Some of the supplies, which include cots, emergency radios, bottled water, baby diapers and propane gas, date back to 2017 and were reportedly intended as emergency aid for victims of Hurricane Maria.  Vázquez is also under fire over her handling of the recent 6.4 magnitude earthquake, which killed one person and left thousands homeless.  

The warehouse filled with unused emergency supplies was discovered when desperate residents broke in to retrieve goods as the area struggles to recover from the earthquake.  After the video went viral, Governor Vázquez ordered an investigation and fired three members of her Cabinet as public outrage mounted. Vazquez ordered the dismissal of Carlos Acevedo, the director of Puerto Rico’s Office of Emergency Management days after the video emerged.  She then ordered the dismissal of two more cabinet members — her secretaries of family services, Glorimar Andújar, and housing, Fernando Gil-Enseñat. The dismissals mean Vázquez fired three members of her cabinet in a little over 24 hours.  

Vázquez said inaction by the fired official, Carlos Acevedo, was unacceptable.  During a news conference, Vazquez said, “Under my administration nobody can come to me with lies. I have a commitment [with the people of Puerto Rico. Public officials serving with me have to have the same commitment.”  Acevedo has denied allegations that his office mishandled the supplies saying the agency continued to distribute them, including during the time Hurricane Dorian and Hurricane Karen threatened the territory. Some of the pallets of water that remained in the warehouse had expired, he said.  He said no residents had been denied the supplies in the warehouse, including food, diapers, baby formula and cots.

Vázquez announced that Nino Correa will be the new chief of operations for Puerto Rico’s Emergency Management Office, replacing Acevedo.  The governor had previously said that Secretary of State Elmer Román will now coordinate emergency aid and Adjutant General of the Puerto Rico National Guard José Reyes will be in charge of the Office of Emergency Management.  

 

 

Wisconsin Teen Facing 1st Degree Murder

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A  Wisconsin teenager, Crystul Kizer, is facing life in prison after she confessed to killing 34-year-old Randall Volar at his home last year after she says he raped her, according to her attorneys.  The killing incident occurred in Kenosha, Wisconsin, about 40 miles south of Milwaukee, in June 2018. Kizer allegedly shot Volar twice in the head, set his home on fire and then stole his luxury vehicle.  Randy Volar began sexually abusing Chrystul Kizer when she was 16 years old, filmed the abuse and allegedly trafficked her for sex. 

Kizer says she connected with Volar through the now-defunct Backpage.com, which was shut down last year for its involvement in human trafficking. Kizer reportedly told Volar she was 19 at the time, but she was actually 16 when he allegedly began paying her for sex and eventually selling her to other men.  She admits to initially lying about her age but says Volar knew she was a minor because they had celebrated her 17th birthday together.

The teen said she eventually tried to distance herself from Volar, because she wanted to get more serious with her boyfriend, Delane Nelson, who is three years older than her. Volar allegedly threatened to kill Kizer when she told Volar about her decision. Kizer didn’t report the threats to police, as she was convinced they would not help her.  In June 2018, Kizer said she had reached out to Volar after getting into a fight with Nelson. The teen claims she was afraid her boyfriend would hurt her, so she asked Volar if she could come to his house until things cooled down. 

Months before his death, in February 2018, Volar was arrested on charges of child sexual assault.  He was taken into custody shortly after a 15-year-old girl called the police from his house, claiming Volar had given her drugs and was going to kill her.  In a search of his home, they confiscated computers and other electronics, along with women’s bikini bottoms and underwear.

Although police found evidence Volar was abusing dozens of underage girls, he was released without bail.  At the time of his death he was suspected of human trafficking and child pornography — and Chrystul Kizer was among the girls police had footage of him having sex with.  In June 2018, Chrystul killed him after she says he attacked her when she refused to have sex with him. At the time of his death he was suspected of human trafficking and child pornography —  and Chrystul Kizer was among the girls police had footage of him having sex with.

When confronted by police, Kizer, who was 17 at the time, allegedly confessed to killing him because she was tired of him sexually assaulting her. She also alleged that he sold her to other men for sex, which is why her attorneys say she should be protected under sex trafficking victim laws.  Kizer faces multiple felony charges, including first-degree intentional homicide, possession of a firearm and arson, court records show. She is currently being held on $1 million bail and faces life in prison if convicted.

District Attorney Michael Graveley built a first-degree homicide case against her and wrangled with the public defenders about whether they had the right to review the case against Volar and the accompanying video, photographic, and financial evidence.  Eventually Kizer’s lawyers were granted access to evidence that clearly showed Kizer had been trafficked. Federal law dictates that any child under the age of 18 who has been bought or sold for sex is a sex-trafficking victim, regardless of circumstance.  Prosecutors say the law that protects those who are sex trafficked doesn’t apply wholly in this case. They said they do not believe she was engaged in prostitution at the time of the crime and they don’t believe her life was in danger at the moment. Prosecutors also said they have evidence, including communications with Kizer’s boyfriend and others, indicating that she plotted and planned the murder ahead of time.

 

Ring Data Leak

 

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Amazon is facing backlash over its Ring home security camera and “smart home” product after a data leak exposed the personal information of over 3,000 users. The data breach included emails, passwords and other sensitive information that would allow hackers to access live camera footage from inside every room of people’s homes. This leak could potentially provide criminals and stalkers with access to view live video feeds from inside and around thousands of Ring customers’ homes, see archived videos, and get the precise location of all Ring devices attached to the compromised account by studying the orientation of the footage and location information attached to each camera.
Using the log-in email and password, an intruder could access a Ring customer’s home
address, telephone number, and payment information, including the kind of card they have, and its last four digits and security code. An intruder could also access live camera footage from all active Ring cameras associated with an account, as well as a 30- to 60-day video history, depending on the user’s cloud storage plan.
Ring has claimed that this attack was the result of credential stuffing, a technique where
attackers gather usernames and passwords compromised in another data breach and try them on other websites. “Ring has not had a data breach. Our security team has investigated these incidents and we have no evidence of an unauthorized intrusion or compromise of Ring’s systems or network,” the spokesperson said. “It is not uncommon for bad actors to harvest data from other company’s data breaches and create lists like this so that other bad actors can attempt to gain access to other services.”
The Ring spokesperson added that the company will notify customers who were affected and require them to reset their passwords. Ring does not alert users of attempted log-in from an unknown IP address, or tell users how many others are logged into an account at one time. Because of this, there is no obvious way to know whether any bad actors have logged into people’s compromised Ring accounts without their consent.
This data leak is the latest in a string of incidents involving compromised Ring accounts. The home surveillance camera company was acquired by Amazon in 2018 and has been targeted by hackers who used the cameras to harass children and families while documenting their actions on podcast livestreams. In November, cybersecurity company BitDefender published a white paper describing a now-resolved vulnerability that allowed hackers to physically intercept communications between Ring Video Doorbell Pros and a person’s Wi-Fi network.
The company has also received criticism when it was revealed that over 700 police departments in the US have signed contracts with Ring. These contracts give police access the company’s law enforcement portal, which allows police to request camera footage from residents without receiving a warrant. In exchange, Ring often gives police free cameras, and it offers police more free cameras if they convince enough people to download its neighborhood watch app, Neighbors. In October, a group of 30 civil rights groups published a joint letter demanding that law makers stop the police partnership, calling it a threat to civil right sand liberties.

Three Baltimore Men Freed After 36 Years

 

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Three Baltimore men who spent 36 years in prison were released after authorities say they were falsely convicted of a 1983 murder.  Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart were granted a writ of innocence after being convicted of first-degree murder of a middle school student, DeWitt Duckett.   According to police, Duckett, 14, was shot and killed for his coveted Georgetown University basketball jacket in November 1983.

Chestnut has maintained his innocence since his arrest and the parole board denied his early release in part because he refused to admit responsibility for the shooting, the state’s attorney said.  After he filed an information request this past spring, he discovered new evidence that was kept from his attorneys during trial. He reached out to Baltimore’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which was reviewing old convictions.

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Chestnut and Watkins were 16 at the time of their arrest and Stewart was 17.  The three teenagers had been skipping high school classes to visit former teachers at Harlem Park Junior High. Their teachers said they were being “silly,” but not threatening. School security escorted them off campus about half an hour before the murder occurred, according to a joint petition filed by the men and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

Watkins lawyer said the three teenagers were each arrested Thanksgiving morning, waking up with police with guns drawn on them.  They were convicted based on witness testimony and what prosecutors at the time said was a crucial piece of evidence — a Georgetown jacket found in Chestnut’s bedroom.  Chestnut’s jacket had no blood or gunshot residue and his mother was able to produce a receipt.  A store clerk also testified that she had purchased it recently, the joint petition said.

Lawyers involved in the case said they were “horrified” to see the amount of exculpatory evidence that was hidden from the defense team and jury.  Both the suspects and trial witnesses, all minors, were interrogated by police without their parents.  Potential witnesses were interviewed in a group and told to “get their story together,” according to Chestnut’s lawyers.  Anonymous calls identifying another shooter were kept from the defense, Mosby said. That teenager was seen after the shooting wearing what appeared to be Duckett’s jacket and confessing to the murder, she said.  That suspect has since died and all trial witnesses have since recanted.  “We have intentional concealment and misrepresentation of the exculpatory evidence, evidence that would have showed that it was someone else other than these defendants,” Mosby said.

Mosby apologized to the men “I don’t think that today is a victory, it’s a tragedy. And we need to own up to our responsibility for it,” Mosby said. “There’s no way we can repair the damage to these men, when 36 years of their life were stolen from them.  You were all arrested on Thanksgiving 1983. Now you are free to spend the holidays with your loved ones for the first time in 36 years,” Mosby said in a press conference.  The men are now in their early fifties preparing to enter adulthood on the outside for the first time and at least two have never driven a car before.  Now, late in life, they will experience a world very different from the one they were barred from since their teens.

Clemency Granted To Troops Involved In 3 Controversial War Crimes Cases

 

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The administration has granted clemency to three controversial military figures embroiled in charges of war crimes, arguing the moves will give troops “the confidence to fight” without worrying about potential legal overreach.  Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, convicted of 2nd degree murder in the death of two Afghans, was given a full pardon.  Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who faced murder charges for a similar crime, was also given a full pardon for those alleged offenses.  Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, who earlier this year was acquitted of a string of alleged war crimes, had his rank restored to Chief Petty Officer.

Critics have warned the pardons could send the message that troops need not worry about following rules of engagement when fighting enemies abroad.  Lorance’s case dates back to a 2012 deployment to Afghanistan, when he ordered his soldiers to fire on three unarmed men riding a motorcycle near their patrol.  Members of his platoon testified against him at a court-martial trial, describing him as over-zealous and the Afghans as posing no real threat.  He was sentenced to 19 years in prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Golsteyn’s case had not yet been decided, with a scheduled trial date in December on charges he murdered an alleged Taliban bomb maker, and burned his remains in a trash pit during a 2010 deployment with 3rd Special Forces Group.  Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret major, had pled not guilty to murder and related charges.  His pardon effectively puts an end to that legal case before any verdicts were rendered.

While Gallagher was acquitted of murder and obstruction of justice charges in July, a panel of his peers recommended he be reduced in grade for posing with the body of the teenaged detainee, a crime he never denied.  His rank was restored with the pardon but the Navy plans to remove Chief Gallagher from the elite SEAL team despite the pardon.  It’s been reported that several top military officials threatened to resign if Navy officials did not move forward with these plans despite the pardon.

Chief Gallagher was accused of multiple offenses during his final deployment to Iraq and during the Battle for Mosul. The most prominent and disturbing accusation was the murder of a prisoner of war, a war crime.  A captured young ISIS fighter was being treated by a medic.  According to two SEAL witnesses, Gallagher said over the radio “he’s mine” and walked up to the medic and prisoner.  Without saying a word to the medic or prisoner, Gallagher killed the prisoner by stabbing him repeatedly with his hunting knife.  Gallagher and his commanding officer, Lieutenant Jake Portier, then posed for photographs of them standing over the body with some other nearby SEALs.  Gallagher then text messaged a fellow SEAL a picture of the dead captive with the explanation “Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.”

Gallagher was also accused of being indiscriminate, reckless and bloodthirsty during his 2017 deployment.  Fellow snipers did not consider him to be a good sniper because he would allegedly take random shots into buildings and indiscriminately spray neighborhoods with rockets and machine gun fire with no known enemy force in the region.  Several snipers testified that they witnessed Gallagher taking at least two militarily pointless shots, shooting and killing an unarmed old man in a white robe as well as a young girl walking with other girls.  Gallagher was allegedly known for boasting about the large number of people he had killed, claiming he averaged three kills a day over 80 days, including four women.

Supreme Court Clears Way for Newtown Lawsuit

 

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The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by gun manufacturer Remington Arms, that argued it should be shielded by a 2005 federal law preventing most lawsuits against firearms manufacturers when their products are used in crimes.  The decision has cleared the way for survivors and the families of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to pursue their lawsuit against the maker of the rifle used to kill 26 people.

The families are arguing that Remington violated Connecticut law when it marketed the Bushmaster rifle for assaults against human beings. The Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the case allows the lawsuit filed in Connecticut state court by a survivor and relatives of nine victims who died at the Newtown, Connecticut, school on Dec. 14, 2012, to go forward.  The lawsuit says the Madison, North Carolina-based company should never have sold a weapon as dangerous as the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle to the public.

Gunman Adam Lanza used it to kill 20 children between the ages of 5 and 10 along with six educators, after killing his mother at the home they shared.  The rifle used in the killings was legally owned by his mother.  The lawsuit also alleges Remington targeted younger, at-risk males in marketing and product placement in violent video games. Lanza was 20 years old when he committed the mass shooting.  Only two of the victims who were shot by Lanza—both teachers—survived the attack.  Lanza killed himself as police arrived at the school.

The case is being watched by gun control advocates, gun rights supporters and gun manufacturers across the country, as it has the potential to provide a roadmap for victims of other mass shootings to circumvent the federal law and sue the makers of firearm.  The National Rifle Association, 10 mainly Republican-led states and 22 Republicans in Congress were among those urging the court to jump into the case and end the lawsuit against Remington.

The Connecticut Supreme Court had earlier ruled 4-3 that the lawsuit could proceed for now, citing an exemption in the federal law. The decision overturned a ruling by a trial court judge who dismissed the lawsuit based on the 2005 federal law, named the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

The federal law has been criticized by gun control advocates as being too favorable to gun-makers. It has been cited by other courts that rejected lawsuits against gun-makers and dealers in other high-profile shooting attacks, including the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting and the Washington, D.C., sniper shootings in 2002.