7 Dead in Texas Shooting Spree

 

 

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A gunman killed seven people and injured 22 others on Saturday in the city of Odessa in western Texas.  Police have identified the gunman as 36-year-old Seth Ator and say he went on the rampage just hours after he was fired from his trucking job. Police say the massacre began after an officer pulled Ator over for failing to use a turn signal. He then reportedly opened fire using an AR-15-style weapon before speeding away. Soon after, he began shooting randomly at residents and motorists as he drove between the cities of Odessa and Midland.

During a press conference the day after the shooting, FBI special agent Christopher Combs identified the shooter and gave more details into the timeline of the shooting.  Combs said that Ator showed up to work enraged and was then fired from his job at Journey Oilfield Services.  Police say the firing led to both him and his employer calling the cops on each other because they were having a disagreement over the firing.  By the time police arrived to calm down the situation, the soon-to-be mass killer was gone.  Combs said 15 minutes later, Ator made a second call to the FBI national tip line.  “It was frankly rambling statements about some of the atrocities he felt he had gone through. He did not make a threat during that phone call. He ended that phone call. After that phone call, we initiated all of our law enforcement procedures trying to figure out who he was, where he was. Unfortunately, it was only 15 minutes before the trooper was engaged.”

The shooting spree began on Aug. 31st at 3:17 p.m. during a traffic stop on Interstate 20, where a Texas state trooper was shot while attempting to stop a Honda over a failure to signal a left turn.  Ator continued into Odessa, Texas, and shot another person on the Interstate.  In Odessa, he abandoned the Honda, hijacked a United States Postal Service truck, killing the postal worker and continued to drive and shoot people before police cornered him in a movie theater parking lot.  Ator was killed in the shootout with police in the parking lot of a Cinergy movie theater.  Ator killed seven people, ranging in age from 15 to 57.  Twenty-two others were hospitalized for injuries.  Among the injured are three police: a Texas state trooper, a Midland police officer, and an Odessa police officer. The youngest victim is a wounded 17-month-old child who is expected to recover.

The shooting spree lasted roughly an hour, with the gunmen shooting people at random as they walked through their front yards, walked through parking lots and went about their day.  Police say the gunmen drove in no particular pattern, doubling back from Odessa to Midland, spraying people with bullets as he drove.  During the frenzied hour, dispatchers and officers guided EMT to a growing number of locations as the calls kept coming in.  Ator’s vehicle switch only added to the confusion as the police in both communities scrambling to head to the scene of each call in hopes of stopping the shooter.  At one point during the chaos, officers believed they had two shooters due to the vehicle switch and multiple locations and officers requested that the Midland area be shut down immediately.

On September 1, the FBI said it was executing a search warrant at the suspect’s house, located about 20 minutes west of Odessa. Authorities say Ator lived alone, except for a small dog, in western Ector County in a metal shack that lacked electricity, plumbing, a floor and even furniture.  Police say in January 2014, Ator failed a national criminal background check when he tried to purchase a gun.  The system flagged him as ineligible because of a prior local court determination that he was mentally unfit.  According to law enforcement officials, Ator subsequently bought the gun used in the shooting via a private sale, without having to go through a background check.

A neighbor said that well before his killing spree he had yelled at her while carrying a big rifle. She also said he sometimes shot animals from his roof, about which she had complained to police, but they never responded to her complaint.  Police never visited Ator’s home because they couldn’t find the property on GPS maps.  Another neighbor said that her family had lived near Ator for the past five months and were afraid of him, due to his nighttime rabbit shooting and banging on their door early one morning.

All seven victims from the shooting have now been identified: 29-year-old Mary Granados, the postal worker who was killed when the gunman hijacked her postal truck; 57-year-old Rodolfo Arco was shot on his way home from work; 30-year-old Kameron brown was an army vet who served in Afghanistan; 40-year-old Joe Griffith, a resident in Odessa; 25-year-old Edwin Peregrino, a graduate of Perryton High School; 35-year-old Raul Garcia of El Paso and 15-year-old Leilah Hernandez who was shot outside of a car dealership.

 

 

 

 

 

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Judge Orders Johnson & Johnson To Pay $572 Million In Opioid Crisis

 

 

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Oklahoma Judge Thad Balkman has found that Johnson & Johnson helped fuel the state’s opioid crisis, and ordered the pharma giant to pay over half a billion dollars — $572 million. It’s the first major ruling against a drug company as part of the opioid epidemic, which has led to hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths around the country.  The decision is the first to hold a drugmaker culpable for the fallout of the liberal opioid dispensing that began in the late 1990s which led to a nationwide epidemic of overdose deaths and addiction.

More than 400,000 people in the US have died of overdoses from painkillers, heroin and illegal fentanyl since 1999.  In Oklahoma, more than 6,000 people have died of painkiller overdoses since 2000, the state charged in court papers, as the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed by pharmacies reached 479 every hour in 2017.  Johnson & Johnson’s products — a prescription opioid pill and a fentanyl skin patch sold by its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, were a small part of the painkillers consumed in Oklahoma.  Two other companies it owned had grown, processed and supplied 60 percent of the ingredients in painkillers sold by most drug companies in the US.

The decision has been hailed as a victory but the damages are much lower than the $17 billion Oklahoma had sought in the case.  Balkman did not give the state everything it sought, the state attorneys asked for $17.5 billion over 30 years for treatment, emergency care, law enforcement, social services and other addiction-related needs.  Judge Balkman concluded it would cost $572 million to address the crisis in the first year based on the state’s plan. He said the state did not provide “sufficient evidence” of the time and money needed to respond after that.

There are about 2,000 lawsuits in 40 other states against opioid manufacturers and distributors that are pending around the country.  A massive federal lawsuit brought by almost 2,000 cities, counties and Native American tribes is scheduled to begin in October.  The ruling in the first state case to go to trial could influence both sides’ strategies in the months and years to come.

Moments after the judge ruled, Johnson & Johnson, which has denied wrongdoing, said it would appeal. Company attorney Sabrina Strong said at a news conference, “We are disappointed and disagree with the judge’s decision. We believe it is flawed.  We have sympathy for those who suffer from opioid use disorder but Johnson & Johnson did not cause the opioid abuse crisis here in Oklahoma or anywhere in this country.”

Oklahoma settled in March with Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of OxyContin, accepting $270 million from the company and its owners, the Sackler family, who were not named as defendants in the lawsuit. Most of that will go to a treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University, although the federal government is seeking a portion of the money. In May, two days before the trial began, the state settled with Teva Pharmaceuticals, an Israeli-based manufacturer of generic drugs, for $85 million.  The Sackler family has also offered to settle the more than 2,000 lawsuits against them for their role in the opioid crisis for $10 billion to $12 billion which includes $3 billion from the Sackler family fortune. The deal was reportedly discussed last week by Purdue’s lawyers and includes a plan for Purdue to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy before restructuring into a for-profit “public benefit trust” that would allegedly serve the many plaintiffs suing the company. The Sackler family would also relinquish ownership of Purdue under the deal.

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.

RI Corrections Officer Resigns After Driving Truck Into Protesters

 

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The Rhode Island correctional officer accused of driving his truck into a group of peaceful protesters has resigned amid an investigation into the incident that occurred during a protest outside the Wyatt Detention Center.  Captain Thomas Woodworth resigned days after the incident after after initially being placed on leave.

Woodworth was seen behind the wheel of a pickup truck that drove into a crowd of protesters.  The Jewish activist group that started the protest, Never Again Action, released a statement that they are glad Woodworth resigned.  The group also called on authorities to punish the correctional officers that used pepper spray on the crowd of protesters surrounding the truck.

The detention center, owned by a municipal quasi-public agency, has been under scrutiny for months after entering an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house detainees while they await trial. Approximately 139 federal immigration detainees are currently being housed at Wyatt.  The protest was attended by an estimated 500 people who gathered at the facility around 7PM.  The group heard from local faith leaders and community activists, leading one another in chants and songs outside the facility.

Anticipating a shift change by guards, around 30 members of the group moved to block the main parking lot used by employees of the prison at around 9PM. Harvey says they intended to use “peaceful protest in the civil disobedience mode” to disrupt Wyatt’s operations for a few hours.  When the incident occurred, protesters were standing in front of the entrance to the facility, holding hands to form a chain. Another group of protesters sat on the ground, blocking off access to a staff parking lot.  A video showed a pickup truck, driven by Woodworth, 64, driving into the seated protesters, hitting some and sending others running. The protest group says one person has a broken leg.  The truck stopped and honked at the protesters surrounding it, before continuing to drive forward. Several officers were seen on video misting the crowd with what appears to be pepper spray after asking them to move away from the truck.

After Woodworth drove into the crowd, officers from the facility poured into the parking lot and used pepper spray against the protesters. Of the five people who were hospitalized following the incident, two were treated for injuries related to Woodworth’s attack including 64-year-old Jerry Belair, of Warren, who suffered a broken leg and internal bleeding.  Three others were treated for pepper spray-related injuries – including one woman in her 70s.

The Rhode Island attorney general’s office said in a statement that it is working with Rhode Island State Police to investigate the event.  “Peaceful protest is a fundamental right of all Americans,” the attorney general’s office said. “It is unfortunate last night’s situation unfolded as it did.”  Wyatt Detention Facility Warden Daniel Martin said that his office is investigating the incident and looking at how the facility responds to protests.

Newark NJ Water Crisis

 

 

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Newark, New Jersey’s water crisis is growing worse as authorities temporarily halted their distribution of bottled water to families whose tap water is contaminated with lead.  The Environmental Protection Agency told city officials to distribute bottled water “as soon as possible,” after it determined that water filters were ineffective at safely filtering lead from the water supply of thousands of homes. State and local officials began offering free bottled water to 15,000 Newark households, and hundreds of people queued in long lines in the summer heat for their allotment.  Officials stopped handing out the water after discovering many of the bottles had exceeded their best-by date.

The levels of lead in Newark, New Jersey’s drinking water are some of the highest recently recorded by a large water system in the United States.  City and state officials have been violating the Safe Drinking Water Act in several ways, such as failing to treat its water to prevent lead from flaking off from pipes into residents’ drinking water and neglecting to notify people about the elevated levels and the health risks.  For years, the city has had the greatest number of lead-poisoned children in New Jersey. This likely stems from a variety of exposures to lead, including from contaminated tap water and other sources.

One way lead particles get into water is through corrosion in pipes and it’s believed to be the cause in Newark.  The metal in lead service plumbing lines starts to tear away and mix with the water passing through. This is often apparent in older pipes; in some affected Newark neighborhoods, pipes are over 100 years old.  Citywide tests conducted in June 2017 showed that more than 10% of homes across Newark had twice the amount of lead that is considered safe according to federal law.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental and health advocacy group, sent a letter to officials in Newark later that year saying that they had failed to address the lead contamination issue.  After the city failed two more citywide lead tests in December 2017 and June 2018, the city announced in October that year that it would provide over 40,000 water filters to residents.  After the city then failed a fourth consecutive lead test in December 2018, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wrote an open letter to the President asking for federal help to fix the water system in the city.

The city failed another lead test in June 2019 and in August, after testing three homes that were using water filters provided by the city, officials found that two of those homes still had elevated levels of lead in them.  After the results of their water filter tests, city officials have begun handing out packages of bottled water to Newark residents, in accordance with guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

There is no safe level of lead exposure and pregnant women and children are most at risk.  Even low lead levels are associated with serious, irreversible damage to developing brains and nervous systems. Lead exposure is also linked to fertility issues, cardiovascular and kidney problems, cognitive dysfunction, and elevated blood pressure in otherwise healthy adults.newark.jpeg

Facebook Paid Contractors To Transcribe User’s Messages

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Facebook has been added to the list of tech firms who’ve paused their audio transcriptions over privacy concerns.  Earlier this year, it was revealed that Amazon, Apple and Google similarly hired thousands of workers to listen to users’ recorded audio.  Amazon saw received backlash for allowing contractors to manually review Alexa recordings without express user permission, forcing the company to add an opt-out to its Echo devices. Google also faced heat for allowing human review of audio data, along with Apple, which used contractors to listen to seemingly private Siri recordings. Microsoft also listened to some Skype calls made through the company’s app translation feature.

In a statement, Facebook said the practice was aimed at improving its artificial intelligence transcription service, but that the company had “paused human review of audio more than a week ago in the wake of worries about other companies’ transcription policies.”  The data was anonymized and came solely from people who’d volunteered for transcriptions, Facebook added.

Facebook’s data privacy policy doesn’t make clear that human beings might monitor content.  According to its support page, if even one person in your chat has consented to Facebook transcribing the conversation, any audio in the thread would have been translated, regardless of who sent it.  Nowhere in their terms of service does it indicate that humans would be reviewing the audio.

The social media giant reportedly paid hundreds of contractors to transcribe audio clips shared by users in private messages. News outlets report that the practice rattled the contract workers, who were often subjected to vulgar and intrusive recordings and were not told whose conversations they were transcribing or why.  Contractors from TaskUs reportedly weren’t told where the audio came from or why they were transcribing it. That led some of the workers to believe their work was “unethical,” especially when some of the conversations included vulgar material.  The company added that the audio snippets were anonymized before being listened to by the workers.

Facebook users concerned with privacy violations should opt out of this feature.  According to Facebook’s instructions: Click the Messenger app button, open a conversation and tap the name on top. Once you’re in the “Chat Details” menu, tap “Automatic Voice to Text” on or off for this chat only.

Last month, the U.S. government issued an unprecedented fine against Facebook as part of a settlement that requires the tech giant to pay $5 billion and submit to significant federal oversight of its business practices.  That decision came after a year of massive privacy mishaps, charging that the company deceived its users and “undermined” choices they made to protect their data

Sixteen months after opening its investigation, the Federal Trade Commission alleged that Facebook had repeatedly misled its 2.2 billion users. The agency argued that the social-networking company was not upfront about the ways app developers, advertisers and others gained access to users’ personal data — from the content they “liked” to the phone numbers they stored — in a breach of Facebook’s previous promise to improve its privacy protections online.

 

 

Investigation Launched After Epstein Suicide

 

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Federal investigators are probing the death of 66-year-old accused serial sex abuser and trafficker Jeffrey Epstein after he was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell of an apparent suicide by hanging around 6:30 AM.  Epstein’s death came less than 24 hours after hundreds of pages of court documents were unsealed with testimonies from former employees and new details of sexual abuse committed by Epstein, which also implicated a number of well-known politicians and others in the public eye.  Epstein was facing sex-trafficking and conspiracy charges, which carried jail sentences of up to 45 years.

Others implicated include former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson; former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell; Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor; Prince Andrew; and “a well-known Prime Minister.”  Many have denied the allegations.  Prosecutors say he lured dozens of underage girls into giving him erotic massages and engaging in other sexual acts in the early 2000s at his mansions in New York City and Palm Beach, Fla.  The girls were paid hundreds of dollars in cash for the encounters and, once recruited, were asked to return to his homes several times, where they were abused again, the indictment against him said.

Epstein was reportedly unsupervised in his cell despite being put on suicide watch on July 23rd after he was found unconscious with marks on his neck.  Six days later, prison officials determined he was no longer a threat to himself and returned him to a cell in a special housing unit known as 9 South.  He was supposed to have been housed with a cellmate and to have been monitored every half-hour by the two guards who patrolled the wing.

The night before he was found dead, however, he had been left alone after his cellmate was transferred. The two employees assigned to guard him had not checked on him for about three hours before he was discovered.  The two prison guards were suspended and a warden temporarily reassigned from MCC amid widespread reports that 30-minute checks, required within Epstein’s unit, were not carried out properly.  Officials said the employees, who have been placed on leave, were sleeping for some or all of that time.  One guard was working a fifth straight day of overtime shifts, it was reported, while another was forced to work mandatory overtime that night.

Guards at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center had been forced to work overtime to make up for the staffing shortages, according to the union representing the prison guards.  Eric Young, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals said in a statement that a hiring freeze has left thousands of staff vacancies across the Bureau of Prisons, creating “dangerous conditions” for both staff and inmates.  The remaining officers are regularly forced to work 70- and 80-hour work weeks, Mr. Young said.

The Department of Justice has launched an investigation into how Epstein was able to die in New York’s highly secure Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).  Attorney General William Barr said officials have uncovered “serious irregularities” at the jail, which has housed other high-profile detainees such as Mexican drug baron El Chapo and fraudster Bernie Madoff.  Barr has also promised that Epstein will continue to be investigated in order to bring to justice any other possible conspirators.