Tag Archive: mark shuster legal shield


 

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The city of New York has agreed to a $3.3 million settlement with the family of Kalief Browder, who spent three years at Rikers Island prison without being convicted of a crime and killed himself in 2015 at the age of 22.  In 2010, at the age of 16, Browder was accused of the theft of a backpack and its contents including a camera, $700, a credit card, and an iPod Touch. He always maintained his innocence and while awaiting trial, Browder was held on Rikers Island for three years, spending 800 days of that time in solitary confinement.  When not in solitary, Kalief was repeatedly assaulted by guards and other prisoners.

Browder was imprisoned at the Robert N. Davoren Center (R.N.D.C) on Riker’s Island.  The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara has said that the R.N.D.C. had a “deep-seated culture of violence” where inmates suffered “broken jaws, broken orbital bones, broken noses, long bone fractures, and lacerations requiring stitches.”  Browder was frequently a victim of prison violence by other inmates and guards while there.   On one occasion, he and other inmates were lined up against a wall because correction officers wanted to find the instigator of a prison fight. Browder and the inmates were punched, one by one. Browder said, “Their noses were leaking, their faces were bloody, their eyes were swollen.” The guards threatened the inmates with solitary confinement if they reported their injuries.  In a separate incident, on September 23, 2012, a film of Browder in handcuffs being assaulted by guards was recorded.  Browder attempted suicide twice while imprisoned.

Browder maintained his innocence and refused plea bargain deals over the time he was incarcerated.  He was finally released in May 2013 when the prosecutor’s case was found to be lacking any evidence against Browder and the case’s main witness had left the United States.  After his release, Browder and his brother, Akeem, sought legal representation with Brooklyn prosecutor, Paul V. Prestia.  In November 2013, Browder filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department, the Bronx District Attorney, and the Department of Corrections citing malicious prosecution among other charges.

Soon after his release, Browder also earned his GED and enrolled at Bronx Community College where he also worked as a tutor in mathematics for the G.E.D. exam.  Despite his efforts and dreams of success, his mental health issues persisted.  He said, “People tell me because I have this case against the city I’m all right. But I’m not all right. I’m messed up. I know that I might see some money from this case, but that’s not going to help me mentally. I’m mentally scarred right now. That’s how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back.  Before I went to jail, I didn’t know about a lot of stuff, and, now that I’m aware, I’m paranoid. I feel like I was robbed of my happiness.”

In November 2013, Browder made a suicide attempt and was admitted to the psychiatric ward of St. Barnabas Hospital, the first of three admissions to the ward.  In June 2015, two years following his release from prison, Browder died by suicide, hanging himself from an air conditioning unit outside of his mother’s home. Browder’s supporters say his suicide was the result of mental and physical abuse sustained in prison.   Browder’s case has been cited by activists calling for the reform of the New York City criminal justice system and brought attention to the abuse at Riker’s Island.   In 2014, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York took action against the City of New York for its use of “unnecessary and excessive force” on adolescents in Riker’s Island.  In January 2015, the New York City Council voted unanimously to end solitary confinement for inmates under the age of 21.  Kalief’s story also led New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to pledge in 2017 to close the Rikers Island jail—in 10 years’ time.

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Two members of an Illinois militia group admitted to bombing a Bloomington mosque in 2017 in a bid to terrorize Muslims into leaving the United States.  Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris rented a truck and drove more than 500 miles to bomb a Minnesota mosque.  Both men pled guilty to five counts related to the mosque attack, as well as the attempted bombing of an Illinois abortion clinic and other crimes.  A third suspect, 47 year old, Michael Hari, whom prosecutors said directed the bombing, remains in federal custody.

Hari is a former sheriff’s deputy from Illinois who runs a security company and submitted a bid to build President Trump’s border wall.  The plea agreements portray Hari as the ringleader of a militia group called the White Rabbits, which included Hari, McWhorter, Morris and at least five other people. Hari’s trial is set for July.  The plea agreements say the men targeted the mosque to interfere with the free exercise of religion by Muslims and to let Muslims know they were not welcome in the United States.

According to the plea agreements, the men were headed toward Minnesota when Hari told McWhorter and Morris that he had a pipe bomb in the vehicle and they were going to bomb a mosque.  When the three men arrived at Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington on Aug. 5, 2017, Hari gave Morris a sledgehammer and told him to break a window.  McWhorter then lit the fuse on the pipe bomb and threw it inside.   Morris then threw the gasoline mixture inside, causing an explosion, fire and extensive damage.  No one was injured in the attack, which happened just as morning prayers were about to begin, terrifying members of the local Muslim community.

Hari allegedly picked Dar al-Farooq because it was far enough away from the White Rabbits’ central Illinois hometown that he thought they wouldn’t be suspected. He also allegedly believed it was a focal point for terror recruiting, a claim that law enforcement has not substantiated.    Morris’ attorney, Robert Richman, said Morris merely followed the lead of Hari, a man he’d known as a father figure since he was 9.  “Hari essentially weaponized Joe Morris,” Richman said.

McWhorter and Morris also pleaded guilty to their roles in a failed attack on a Champaign, Illinois, abortion clinic in November 2017. A pipe bomb that Morris said he and Hari threw into the clinic did not explode.  Court documents also state that Hari, McWhorter, Morris and others also participated in an armed home invasion in Ambia, Indiana, and the armed robberies or attempted armed robberies of two Walmart stores in Illinois.  Morris and McWhorter also admitted to attempting to extort Canadian National Railway by threatening to damage tracks if the railroad didn’t pay them money.  Morris and McWhorter could each face at least 35 years in prison.  A fourth man, Ellis Mack of Clarence, already pled guilty to two counts in Illinois and is scheduled to be sentenced in April.

 

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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.”

 

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According to witness testimony during the trial of accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto once accepted a $100 million bribe from drug traffickers.  Alex Cifuentes, who has described himself as Guzman’s onetime right-hand man, discussed the alleged bribe under cross-examination by one of Guzman’s lawyers in Brooklyn federal court.  Peña Nieto has not responded to the claim but has previously denied charges of corruption.

Cifuentes testified that he had told U.S. prosecutors Pena Nieto reached out to Guzman first, asking for $250 million, before settling on $100 million.  Cifuentes told the prosecutors that the bribe was paid in October 2012, when Pena Nieto was president-elect.  Pena Nieto was president of Mexico from December 2012 until November 2018 and previously served as governor of the State of Mexico.  Cifuentes also testified that Guzman once told him that he had received a message from Pena Nieto saying that he did not have to live in hiding anymore.

Guzman, 61, has been on trial since November after he was extradited to the United States in 2017 to face charges of trafficking cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the country as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.  El Chapo had eluded capture for years, in part by widespread corruption along with elaborate means of escape from authorities.   He once narrowly escaped a raid at a safe house through a staircase that led to underground tunnels which was hidden under a bathtub.  He was captured by Pena Nieto’s government in February 2014 but broke out of prison for a second time 17 months later, escaping through a mile-long tunnel dug right into in his cell.  The jailbreak humiliated the government and damaged the president’s already questionable credibility.  Pena Nieto personally announced news of the kingpin’s third capture when he was again arrested in northwestern Mexico in January 2016.

Cifuentes is one of many witnesses who have testified against Guzman so far after striking deals with U.S. prosecutors, in a trial that has opened a window into the secretive world of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the world’s most powerful drug trafficking organization.  Many witnesses at the trial have also made accusations of high-level corruption.  Much of the evidence against Guzman has come from the prosecution’s star witness, Jesús Zambada.  Zambada testified that the Sinaloa cartel allegedly paid off a host of top Mexican officials to ensure their drug business ran smoothly.  He testified that in 1994, traffickers paid $50 million in protection money to former Mexican Secretary of Public Security García Luna, so that corrupt officers would be appointed to head police operations.  Zambada said that when former Mexico City Mayor Gabriel Regino was in line to become the next secretary of security, that the the cartel bribed him as well.  Both Garcia Luna and Gabriel Regina deny the accusations.  Zambada has also testified that paid a multimillion dollar bribe to an aide of current Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in 2005.

Edgar Galvan testified in that trusted hitman Antonio “Jaguar” Marrufo had a sound-proofed “murder room” in his mansion on the US border, which featured white tiles with a drain on the floor to more easily clean up after slayings.  Galvan’s role in the organization was to smuggle weapons into the US, so that Marrufo could use them to “clear” the region of rivals.  At the time, Galvan was living in El Paso, Texas, while Marrufo was living in Ciudad Juarez, just across the US-Mexico border.  Both men are now in jail on firearms and gun charges.

 

 

 

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A Tennessee woman who was convicted as a teenager for killing a man while she said she was a sex trafficking victim, was granted clemency.  Cyntoia Brown, now 30, was granted a full commutation to parole by Governor Bill Haslam and will be eligible for release Aug. 7 after serving 15 years in prison.  She will remain on parole for 10 years.  Brown was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery.  In 2006, she was sentenced to life for the death of Johnny Mitchell Allen, who paid Brown for sex.

Her case gained national attention and awareness about the toll of human trafficking.  At the time, Brown had run away from home and was living with her 24-year-old boyfriend, a pimp known as “Kut Throat,” who Brown said raped her and forced her into prostitution.    According to Brown, on the night of August 6, 2004, Brown, then 16-years-old, met Johnny Mitchell Allen, a 43-year-old real estate broker and US Army veteran, in the parking lot of a Sonic Drive-In in Nashville.  Brown agreed to have sex with Allen for $150.  The two then ordered dinner and Allen drove them to his home.

At some point during the evening, Brown shot Allen in the back of the head with a .40-caliber handgun.  Brown said she feared for her life and shot Allen, 43, while in bed with him because she believed he was reaching for a gun.  She then stole $172 in cash, several firearms, and a vehicle, a Ford F150.  She drove the stolen truck to InTowne Suites where she was living with her pimp.

During her trial, prosecutors argued the motive was robbery and say Allen was shot as he slept. Brown’s supporters and lawyer have argued her sentence was too extreme, given her age and circumstances.  Nashville police detective Charles Robinson testified that she told investigators she shot Allen because she feared for her life.  In a letter dated Dec. 12, 2017, Robinson urged Haslam not to grant clemency to Brown.  “First and foremost, Cyntoia Brown did not commit this murder because she was a child sex slave as her advocates would like you to believe. Cyntoia Brown’s motive for murdering Johnny Allen in his sleep was robbery.”  Among the evidence cited by Robinson, was how Allen’s “arms were folded underneath his head and his fingers were interlocked together,” which was inconsistent with Brown telling investigators he was reaching for a gun.

Haslam said in a statement that the decision comes after careful consideration of “what is a tragic and complex case. Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16.  Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.”

While in prison, Brown has earned a GED and an associate degree in 2015 through the Lipscomb Initiative for Education Program with a 4.0 GPA, Haslam said. Brown said she is scheduled to earn her bachelor’s degree in May.  Brown said she is committed to live the rest of her life helping others, especially young people.  “My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been,” she said.

Brown thanked the governor and her supporters in a statement released by her attorneys.  “Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance,” Brown said. “I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.”  Brown said she is grateful for the support, prayers, and encouragement she has received, including from Tennessee Department of Corrections officials.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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The actor Kevin Spacey has been charged with felony sexual assault for allegedly sexually assaulting a teenager in a bar in Massachusetts in 2016.  A public show-cause hearing was held for the case Dec. 20 where Clerk Magistrate Ryan Kearney issued a criminal complaint for the charge against Kevin S. Fowler, also known as Kevin Spacey.  Spacey is due in court on January 7 to face the felony charge that could bring him up to five years in prison. Spacey has denied the charges.

The alleged assault on a male victim took place at a Nantucket bar in July 2016.  Last year, former Boston TV news anchor Heather Unruh held a press conference to share her son’s allegation of sexual assault against Spacey.  She stated that her then 18-year-old son said was sexually assaulted by Spacey inside the Club Car Restaurant on Nantucket. Unruh says her son was not of legal drinking age but had told Spacey he was and that the actor bought him drink after drink after drink.  “My son was a starstruck, straight 18-year-old young man who had no idea that the famous actor was an alleged sexual predator or that he was about to become his next victim,” she said at the time. “When my son was drunk, Spacey made his move and sexually assaulted him.”

The Nantucket Police Department began its criminal investigation in November 2017, said Massachusetts attorney Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney for the alleged victim.   The department has since transferred the case to the district attorney’s office.  Garabedian said in a statement, “The complainant has shown a tremendous amount of courage in coming forward. Let the facts be presented, the relevant law applied and a just and fair verdict rendered.”  Multiple men have come forward with accusations of sexual assault and harassment against Spacey since October 2017, which prompted Netflix to abruptly cut ties with and drop the actor from its hit political drama House of Cards.  Spacey is still under investigation in Los Angeles and in England for other alleged sexual assaults.

Soon after the charges were filed against Spacey, the actor posted a bizarre video to his Twitter account where he portrays his House of Cards character Frank Underwood.  The actor addresses his House of Cards fate while also saying that he knows his fans want him back.  “I know what you want,” Spacey begins in Frank’s accent. “Oh sure, they may have tried to separate us, but what we have is too strong, too powerful. After all, we shared everything, you and I. I told you my deepest, darkest secrets. I showed you exactly what people are capable of. I shocked you with my honestly, but mostly I challenged you and made you think. And you trusted me, even though you knew you shouldn’t. So we’re not done, no matter what anyone says. And besides, I know what you want. You want me back.”

“Of course, some believed everything and have been just waiting with bated breath to hear me confess it all. They’re just dying to have me declare that everything said is true and that I got what I deserved. Only you and I both know it’s never that simple, not in politics and not in life,” he says. “All this presumption made for such an unsatisfying ending, and to think it could have been such a memorable sendoff.” He goes on to say that in both life and in art, nothing should be off the table: “I can promise you this. If I didn’t pay the price for the things we both know I did do, I’m certainly not going to pay the price for the things I didn’t do.”  Spacey ended the 3 minute video by directly calling out his death on House of Cards.  The actor puts on Frank’s signature ring before walking off. “My confidence grows each day that soon enough, you will know the full truth,” he says. “Wait a minute, now that I think of it, you never actually saw me die, did you? Conclusions can be so deceiving.”

 

 

 

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The Phoenix man involved in a murder suicide had lost his mother and brother to murder at the hands of his father.  Phoenix police say officers were doing a welfare check at a home on December 23rd at around 7:15 p.m. and forced their way inside after nobody came to the door.  Sgt. Tommy Thompson says they found 36-year-old Jocelyn Casdorph and 47-year-old Victor Issa dead.  A preliminary investigation indicates Victor Issa shot Casdorph and then himself.

Authorities say Victor Issa’s family had a history of domestic violence that resulted in the incarceration of his father and brother and the deaths of his mother and the same brother in California.  In 2010, his brother Amier Rocky Issa was convicted of slashing a former boyfriend’s face with a knife.  During jury deliberations, he fled to Las Vegas and was rearrested at the MGM Grand hotel with medications, large quantities of salt he had been eating, a rope and a tent, court records show.  Amier was sentenced to treatment at a state mental hospital and then to three years’ probation with further mental-health treatment and a domestic-violence class.

Six years later, between March 27 and 29, 2016, Shehada Issa fatally stabbed his wife inside their LA home and on March 29, 2016, fatally shot Amier Rocky Issa, 38 on the front lawn of the home.  The case drew national attention as family members said Shehada Issa wanted to kill his son because he was gay.

When police arrived at the family’s home, officers found the son’s body outside and the mother’s body was found inside a bathroom, according to evidence presented at trial.  Police said the father admitted to shooting his son with a shotgun, but said that it was in self-defense. His defense attorney argued that Amier Issa had killed his mother and threatened to kill his father with a knife, causing Issa to shoot his son in self-defense.   Detectives said Shehada’s story did not match with evidence at the scene, saying there was no knife found near his son’s body.

Prosecutors in the case told jurors that Issa thought he had committed the “perfect crime” by killing his wife and blaming it on his gay son, whom he claimed to have shot to death in self-defense.  According to prosecutors, Issa had a longtime gambling problem that caused him to have a constant need for cash and that Issa’s wife didn’t want to put their North Hills home up for sale.  The woman had told her husband that she would not sign home sale papers, and he responded by threatening her life and listing the home anyway.  During the trial, Victor Issa testified that his father was a troubled gambler who had a violent, abusive relationship with his mother Rabihah and an ever-increasing hatred for his gay son.  He told jurors about constant money problems and squabbles within the home as a result of his father’s gambling. He also said that when the defendant found out that Rocky was gay, “their relationship changed” and his father nursed a growing hatred for Amier Rocky.  He testified that his father detested the fact that his son was gay and was ashamed of him.  Victor said “He called him things like ‘whore of Babylon.’  It was constant for years. It was, ‘He deserves to die.’ ”   Shehada Issa was sentenced in 2017 to two consecutive life sentences plus 26 years in the murders.

Amier Rocky posted a message to Facebook ten days before the murder suicide saying he was worried that his parents, brother and sister were “literally controlling me in my sleep.  If there is a devil or evil spirit, I truly believe it manifests itself in my family.”

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The family of a New Jersey high school wrestler says racism drove a white referee to demand that their son, Andrew Johnson cut his dreadlocks before he could compete in a match. Video of the teen getting his hair cut with scissors in the gym sparked outrage.  The video was recorded just before the December 19th match and shows a sports trainer clumsily cutting the hair of the 16-year-old varsity wrestler, who’s dressed in a wrestling uniform and is visibly shaken to have his dreadlocks sheared off.  Johnson was told he had just 90 seconds to agree to the haircut or he would be forced to forfeit the match.  Andrew won the match in sudden victory in overtime.

Just out of the frame of the video—which has since gone viral—the referee, Alan Maloney, is directing the trainer to keep cutting Johnson’s hair until he was satisfied with its length.   Maloney had arrived late to the match and missed a weigh-in where referees would typically raise objections to a wrestler’s appearance.  Johnson was wearing his usual headgear and covering his hair when he stepped out to compete but the referee said his hair was not in compliance with state rules. The referee told Andrew his hair and headgear were not in compliance with league regulations.  Andrew told the referee he could push his hair back but the referee refused because Andrew’s hair “wasn’t in its natural state.”  He then gave the teen the ultimatum of cutting his dreadlocks or forfeiting the match with just 90 seconds to decide.  According to the NFHS wrestling rule book, a wrestler’s hair cannot fall below the top of a shirt collar in the back, below his earlobes on the sides, or below his eyebrows.  If it is longer than the rule allows, the wrestler has to braid his hair or hide it beneath a hair cover attached to his ear guards, the rulebook states.

New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Executive Director Larry White said in a statement that state authorities are investigating the incident.  The referee won’t be assigned to moderate matches until the incident “has been thoroughly reviewed,” White said.  “Finally, as an African-American and parent — as well as a former educator, coach, official and athlete — I clearly understand the issues at play, and probably better than most,” White added.  A spokeswoman for the office of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said its civil rights division opened an investigation into the incident as part of a 2013 agreement with the NJSIAA “to address potential bias in high school sports.”

Charles and Rosa Johnson released a statement through their lawyer, saying they are overwhelmed with the unsolicited support their son has received – including from an Olympic wrestler, leading civil rights advocates, and elected officials.  They said their son has been dealing with the aftermath of the controversial incident.  “Wrestling has taught Andrew to be resilient in the face of adversity. As we move forward, we are comforted by both the strength of Andrew’s character and the support he’s received from the community. We will do all that we can to make sure that no student-athlete is forced to endure what Andrew experienced,” his parents said in the statement.

Dominic Speziali, the attorney representing the family, argued that the referee should have raised any concerns during the pre-match weigh-in.   Though the referee missed the weigh-in because he was late to the meet, he “failed to raise any issues with the length of his hair or the need to wear a head covering.”  The family defended the athletic trainer and their son’s coaches.  “As this matter is further investigated, the family wants to be clear that they are supportive of Andrew’s coaches and the team’s athletic trainer,” Speziali said. “The blame here rests primarily with the referee and those that permitted him to continue in that role despite clear evidence of what should be a disqualifying race-related transgression.”

 

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A Missouri judge has ordered a serial poacher who illegally shot and killed hundreds of deer, to watch the Walt Disney film “Bambi” at least once a month over the course of a 1-year prison term.  Authorities say over a 3-year period David Berry Jr. left hundreds of bodies to rot after beheading the deer for hunting trophies.  Berry is one of three members of a southwest Missouri family that had been caught in a multi-year poaching case where authorities say hundreds of deer were killed illegally.

Lawrence County Prosecuting Attorney Don Trotter said the deer were trophy bucks taken illegally, mostly at night, for their heads, leaving the bodies of the deer to waste.  The southwest Missouri case involves David Berry Sr. of Springfield, David Berry Jr. of Brookline, and Kyle Berry of Everton. The trio were involved in a multi-year investigation by state, federal and Canadian law enforcement agencies and conservation officers involving suspects in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Canada.  Conservation agents are calling it one of Missouri’s largest cases of deer poaching.

David Berry Jr. received a 120-day sentence in Barton County Circuit Court for a felony firearms probation violation. On Dec. 6, he received a one-year jail sentence in Lawrence County Associate Court after pleading guilty to taking wildlife illegally on Oct. 11.  The 120-day sentence Berry Jr. received in Barton County Circuit Court will be served in addition to the one-year sentence he received in Lawrence County.  To date, the trio of poachers has paid $151,000 in bonds and $51,000 in fines and court costs and collectively served 33 days in jail.

David Berry Sr. and David Berry Jr. had their hunting, fishing and trapping privileges revoked for life by the Missouri Conservation Commission. Eric Berry and Kyle Berry had hunting and fishing privileges revoked for 18 years and 8 years, respectively.  Jerimiah Cline, of Republic, who took wildlife illegally and assisted the Berrys, had hunting privileges revoked for five years.  The family was caught and convicted through Missouri’s Operation Game Thief program.

Facts of the case were uncovered by several years of investigative work. On July 11, 2016, approximately 100 state, federal and Canadian wildlife officers simultaneously interviewed multiple suspects and other persons of interest in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Canada. Information gained from these and earlier interviews tied 14 Missouri residents to over 230 charges that occurred in 11 Missouri counties. Three suspects were tied to additional wildlife violations in Kansas, Nebraska and Canada. Two suspects were tied to Federal Lacey Act Wildlife violations that occurred in Kansas, Nebraska, and Canada.

Randy Doman of the Missouri Department of Conservation said ‘In situations like this, with serial poachers who have no regard for the animals, rules of fair chase or aren’t bothered by the fact that they’re stealing from others, it’s all about greed and ego.  Taking just the heads is their version of obtaining a ‘trophy,’ and leaving the carcass behind is merely an afterthought,” he continued. “While there are some cases where poachers go after the antlers for profit, with this bunch it was more about the thrill of the kill itself.”