Three Officers Acquitted In Laquan McDonald Cover-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parolee Arrested In Deadly California Bowling Alley Shooting

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Missing Colorado Mom’s Fiancee Charged

 

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A Colorado man has been charged with murder and solicitation to commit murder in the death of his missing fiancée, Kelsey Berreth.  Patrick Frazee, 32, had a brief court appearance where he learned of the five charges against him.  Frazee is accused of working to find someone to kill Kelsey Berreth between September and November and causing her death on or around Thanksgiving.  They share a daughter together who is now in the custody of her maternal grandparents and child protective services.

The investigation into 29-year-old Kelsey Berreth’s whereabouts has drawn national attention.  Berreth disappeared on Thanksgiving Day and a police investigation was opened Dec. 2 after her mother Cheryl Berreth asked for a welfare check of her daughter.  On the morning of Nov. 22, Berreth was captured on surveillance video entering a Safeway grocery store at 12:05 p.m. with her 1-year-old daughter in a baby carrier. Frazee told authorities he picked up the couple’s daughter, Kaylee, from Berreth that afternoon-making him the last person to see her.

Investigators who went to the woman’s home found some cinnamon rolls in Berreth’s kitchen and both of her cars still in place outside the home. Doss Aviation, the company Berreth works for as a flight instructor, has accounted for all their planes and police have no reason to believe she used someone else’s plane for a flight.

Frazee has told police the couple, who are engaged but have never lived together, met to exchange custody of their daughter.  After that, police said the only signs of Berreth were text messages from her cellphone.  Frazee told police she last texted him Nov. 25, the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  Her employer, an aviation company, received a text message from Berreth’s phone the same day, saying the flight instructor planned to take the following week off.

Police later received data indicating Berreth’s phone was near Gooding, Idaho, nearly 800 miles from her home in Woodland Park. Before his arrest, Frazee had yet to speak directly with police about being the last person to see her, only communicating through his lawyer.  Law enforcement officers from several local, state and federal agencies are conducting an exhaustive search of Frazee’s 1 ½ story home and 35 acre cattle ranch in the Crystal Peaks Ranches subdivision near Florissant for possible evidence that could explain Berreth’s disappearance.

 

 

Nail Salon Owner Killed Over $35 Manicure

 

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Las Vegas police have identified the woman accused of killing a nail salon owner after failing to pay for a $35 manicure.  Police say they are looking for 21-year-old Krystal Whipple in the death of 53-year-old “Annie” Nhu Nguyen.  Police say Whipple stopped by the salon, Crystal Nails & Spa to get a manicure around 3:45 p.m. on Dec 29th.  She allegedly attempted to pay with a fraudulent credit card. When the credit card payment was declined, she allegedly said she would get cash from her black 2017 Chevrolet Camaro, but instead started to drive away.

When Nguyen noticed her pulling out of the parking lot, she rushed outside with husband Sonny Chung to try to stop her.  Nguyen ran in front of the vehicle and Whipple accelerated and hit Nguyen.  Nguyen was thrown under the car and dragged 50 feet as Whipple drove off.  Nguyen died of multiple blunt force injuries and her death was ruled a homicide by the Clark County coroner’s office.  Chung, who witnessed his wife’s horrific death, said he tried his best to stop Whipple from getting away by holding onto the back of the car.  Police said the car, a rental that had been stolen last month, was found abandoned at a nearby apartment complex.

Nguyen left behind three daughters aged 20, 25 and 28 and two grandchildren aged four and six.  She was a Vietnamese refugee who came to America and raised her three daughters as a single mother. She traveled the country before landing in Las Vegas two years ago, family members said. She and her husband Sonny loved their business. They were open 12 hours per day, seven days per week.

Las Vegas police released storefront security video footage of the incident along with a plea for information on the whereabouts of the suspect, Krystal Whipple.  Officer Larry Hadfield said “We are asking the public’s help if they have knowledge of where this person is to contact the homicide section.  Investigators have worked around the clock with no time off because they were determined to make Whipple “answer for this horrible crime.”  A previous booking photo of Whipple, dated April 2018, was provided in a press release from LVMPD.

Whipple was convicted in 2017 in Las Vegas of attempted possession of a stolen vehicle, according to Clark County District Court records. She was sentenced to four months in jail last year for violating probation in that case.

If you have knowledge of Whipple’s whereabouts or any information about the case, please call the Las Vegas Metro Police Department Homicide Section at 702-828-3521 or send an email to homicide@lvmpd.com.

Strasbourg Shooter Killed

 

 

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French Police have shot and killed 29-year-old Chérif Chekatt, the suspected gunman of the attack at an outdoor Christmas market in the northeast city of Strasbourg which killed five people and injured 11 others.  French authorities say Chekatt had multiple criminal convictions and was on a security services watchlist as a suspected Islamist extremist.  Chekatt was reportedly scheduled to be arrested for an armed robbery and attempted murder charge on the day of the shooting.

He was known to security services for a total of 27 convictions in France, Germany, and Switzerland, with 67 recorded crimes in France alone.  French police considered him a “gangster-jihadist”, a term referring to people convicted of various crimes and “radicalized” in prison.  Chekatt was released from prison in France in 2015, then received a prison sentence for theft in Singen, Germany and was expelled to France after his release in 2017.

On December 11th, just before 8pm, Chekatt allegedly entered the outdoor market area and opened fire in three different areas.  The shooting lasted ten minutes and was heard shouting “Allahu akbar” as he fired into the crowd.  He also attacked people with a knife before exchanging fire with soldiers of Opération Sentinelle  and with the National Police.  Despite being shot in the arm during the shootout with authorities, he escaped the area in a taxi cab.  The cab driver was unharmed and reported having taken an armed and wounded man from the area to police immediately.

France issued the highest level of security alert and two days later Chekatt was killed in a shootout with French police after a manhunt involving 700 officers.  An investigation was initiated after the attack and four people close to Chekatt were detained for questioning after the shooting.  Those detained were his father, his mother, and two of his brothers.  A fifth person was taken into custody and a search warrant was issued in Algeria for a “very radicalized” third brother.  Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz, who handles terror cases throughout France, told a news conference that a total of seven people were in police custody.  His parents and two of his brothers were later released “due to the lack of incriminating evidence at this stage” according to the prosecutor’s office.

Two victims of the shooting died at the scene and the three others later died in the hospital.  Four of the 11 people injured are in critical condition.  Anupong Suebsamarn, 45, a tourist from Thailand was shot multiple times and died at the scene.  He was on holiday with his wife, who was also shot but survived.  Strasbourg mayor Roland Ries told French TV that a local resident who has only been identified as a 61-year-old retired bank employee had also been killed.  Kamal Naghchband, a 45 year old mechanic and father of three was shot in the head while walking with his family.  He fell into a coma and died two days later.    Antonio Megalizzi, a 29-year-old Italian journalist covering the European Parliament plenary session was critically injured and died of his wounds three days later.  Barto Pedro Orent-Niedzielski, a 36-year-old Polish-born man was also critically injured in the attack and his death was announced three days later.   Orent-Niedzielski and his Italian friend Antonio Megalizzi, who were at the market together, were severely injured when they tried to stop Chekatt from entering a bar during the assault.

 

Border Patrol Agent Found Not Guilty In Death of Teen

 

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An Arizona jury has found Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz not guilty of involuntary manslaughter for shooting and killing 16-year-old José Elena Rodríguez through the U.S.-Mexico border fence in 2012.  The jury hung on whether to bring a charge of voluntary manslaughter, leaving it unclear whether prosecutors would seek to try Swartz a third time. A previous jury acquitted Swartz on murder charges but deadlocked on lesser manslaughter charges.

Authorities claimed José Elena Rodríguez was throwing rocks at agents over the border fence before Swartz opened fire.  Medical examiners say José was shot 11 times with all but one of the bullets striking from behind, leading them to conclude the teen was shot in the back as he lay on the ground.  An autopsy revealed that gunshot wounds to the head, lungs, and arteries killed him.

The incident occurred around 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday 10 October, 2012.  Nogales police received a call reporting “suspicious activity” on International Street, a road running directly along the border.  Officers on scene were investigating a report that two men carrying “bundles taped to their backs” had climbed the fence into the United States.  Identifying the bundles, on the basis of similar incidents in the past, as most probably containing marijuana, they called for back-up.  After several Border Patrol and Customs agents arrived, they saw the two men scaling the fence back into Mexico, empty-handed and with nothing on their backs. They commanded the two men to climb back down.  Officers reported seeing “rocks flying through the air” at the agents and also heard “gunfire,” although they were unable to identify its source.

After verbal commands from agents to cease throwing rocks were ignored, Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz then discharged his service weapon.  Swartz fired 16 rounds, hitting Rodríguez 11 times.  Rodríguez was unarmed, standing on the Mexican side of the border on a sidewalk on Calle International street, in front of a doctor’s office.  U.S. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Ray Swartz was charged with second degree murder for the killing.  Border Patrol agents are rarely criminally charged for using force but the killing sparked outrage on both sides of the border and came as the agency was increasingly scrutinized for its use of force.

Prosecutors said Swartz was frustrated over repeated encounters with people on the Mexico side of the border fence who throw rocks at agents to distract them from smugglers. They say he lost his cool when he fatally shot Rodriguez. Prosecutors acknowledge that the teen was throwing rocks at the agents but that wasn’t justification for taking his life.  A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office said prosecutors haven’t decided whether to try Swartz again on the voluntary manslaughter charge.

Swartz still faces a civil rights lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the teen’s mother.  Attorneys for Rodriguez’s mother filed the suit in federal district court in Tucson, seeking civil damages against the agents involved in what their lawsuit terms the “senseless and unjustified” death.  The suit alleges that in shooting and killing the teenager, agents “used unreasonable and excessive force” in violation of Jose Antonio’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights and that their actions were not legally justifiable or necessary. The suit doesn’t specify an amount sought in damages.

Officer Found Guilty In Laquan McDonald Shooting

 

 

 

 

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Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, 40, was convicted of second degree murder in the 2014 shooting death of 17 year old Laquan McDonald.  Van Dyke is the first Chicago officer to be charged with murder for an on-duty shooting in about 50 years. Second-degree murder usually carries a sentence of less than 20 years, especially for someone with no criminal history but probation is also an option. Van Dyke was also convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each bullet.

The second-degree verdict reflected the jury’s finding that Van Dyke believed his life was in danger but that the belief was unreasonable. The jury also had the option of first degree-murder, which required finding that the shooting was unnecessary and unreasonable.  Legal experts say Van Dyke will likely be sentenced to no more than 6 years but that because he is an officer, it will likely be in isolation.

The verdict was the latest chapter in a story that shook Chicago residents soon after a judge ordered the release of the video in November 2015.  Protests erupted and continued, demanding accountability for the shooting.  The city’s police superintendent and the county’s top prosecutor both lost their jobs — one fired by the mayor and the other ousted by voters. It also led to a Justice Department investigation that found a “pervasive cover-up culture” and prompted plans for far-reaching police reforms.

The city had been preparing for possible demonstrations in a case that already sparked protests with many downtown businesses and City Hall closing early in anticipation of protests.  Groups of demonstrators took to the streets for several hours after the verdict, chanting, “The people united will never be defeated,” and “Sixteen shots and a cover up.”

Prosecutors in Van Dyke’s trial called on multiple officers who were there that night in an effort to penetrate the “blue wall of silence” long associated with the city’s police force and other law enforcement agencies across the country.  Three officers, including Van Dyke’s partner, have been charged with conspiring to cover up and lie about what happened to protect Van Dyke. They have all pleaded not guilty.

According to testimony, on the night of the shooting, officers were waiting for someone with a stun gun to use on the teenager when Van Dyke arrived.  Former Police Officer Joseph Walsh, Van Dyke’s partner the night of the shooting, testified that Van Dyke said to him “Oh my God, we’re going to have to shoot that guy,” before arriving at the scene.  Van Dyke was on scene for less than 30 seconds before opening fire and the first shot he fired was 6 seconds after he exited his patrol car.

The first responding officer said that he did not see the need to use force and none of the at least eight other officers on the scene fired their weapons.  Video of the shooting shows that Officer Van Dyke was advancing on McDonald, while McDonald was walking away from him when the first shot was fired.  McDonald was shot 16 times in 14–15 seconds and 9 of those shots hit his back as he lay on the ground.  Toxicology reports later revealed that McDonald had PCP in his blood and urine.

Assistant special prosecutor Jody Gleason told the jury that Van Dyke contemplated shooting McDonald before he even encountered the young man, referring to testimony about what Van Dyke told his partner before arriving at the scene.  “It wasn’t the knife in Laquan’s hand that made the defendant kill him that night. It was his indifference to the value of Laquan’s life.”   Van Dyke was taken into custody moments after the verdict was read.  He is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on October 31.