Tag Archive: mark shuster UGA


 

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Protesters in New York City rallied throughout the weekend at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where more than 1,600 prisoners were forced to endure freezing temperatures during last week’s polar vortex, with no heat, no light and no hot water.   For several days, crowds gathered outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn to protest reports of freezing and dark conditions inside the jail after it partially lost power nearly a week ago.

Staff members and current and former prisoners at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center testified at a hearing that the heat at the federal detention facility started to fail as early as mid-January.  The hearing came following reports that quickly spread over social media that over 1,600 prisoners were being held without heat, hot meals or electricity, including during last week’s polar vortex.  Many inmates had been on lockdown in cells without electricity or heat during days of bitter cold temperatures.

After the hearing, Judge Analisa Torres visited the MDC herself to inspect conditions at the jail.  After more than a week without heat and power, conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn showed signs of improvement.  Emergency generators were on and heat had been restored to parts of the federal jail, but public officials and lawyers who toured the facility on Sunday February 3rd, told reporters that many cells still did not have heat and some inmates were going without their medication.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler said after touring several floors on Sunday, “It is very apparent that there is a massive failure of caring here, a massive failure of proper supervision, a massive failure of planning.”  Nadler said there was heat in several parts of the building, but many cells remained frigid. He said the warden told him 600 blankets from the city had been distributed.  But council member Lander, who was also on the tour, said he didn’t see any blankets in any of the cells they visited.  It was later revealed that the blankets were never distributed to the inmates.

Nadler said he spoke with the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, who seemed to be acting with more urgency after the protests began.  The NYCLU is calling on the Bureau of Prisons to allow family and legal visits immediately.  Executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement “The confrontation between the Bureau of Prisons and family members of inmates at MDC highlights the desperate need to address the dangerous, inhumane and unlawful conditions inside the facility,” “This has gone on for far too long.

The Department of Justice has said it would work with the Bureau of Prisons to prevent future issues.  “The electrical power at the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility at MDC Brooklyn was restored at approximately 6:30 pm this evening. With the heat and hot water operational, and the restoration of electrical power, the facility can now begin to return to regular operations. In the coming days, the Department will work with the Bureau of Prisons to examine what happened and ensure the facility has the power, heat and backup systems in place to prevent the problem from reoccurring.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also calling for a full investigation into what is happening at the facility.  Cuomo wrote in a statement “I am calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately investigate the circumstances at the Metropolitan Detention Center. New York State stands ready to provide any support necessary to keep the heat, hot water and electricity running at the Center and augment the investigation into those responsible for this mess.”

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Grammy-nominated rapper 21 Savage, was detained by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement on February 3, 2019.  ICE says British-born Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, better known by his stage name 21 Savage, overstayed his visa after coming to the U.S. at the age of 12 in 2005.   Lawyers for the rapper say he is being wrongfully detained and that his new visa application is currently pending.

Abraham-Joseph, 27, faces deportation after he was turned over to ICE by cops targeting his cousin, rapper Young Nudy.  Nudy, whose real name is Quantavious Thomas, was stopped by DeKalb County police and agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in a targeted stop.  Abraham-Joseph, happened to be riding with Thomas and has not been charged with any crime in connection with the stop.

ICE alleges that he entered the US legally in July 2005, when he was a minor but subsequently failed to depart under the terms of his nonimmigrant visa.   ICE says Abraham-Joseph became unlawfully present when his visa expired in July 2006.  “Mr. Abraham-Joseph is presently in ICE custody in Georgia and has been placed into removal proceedings before the federal immigration courts,” ICE said in a statement. “ICE will now await the outcome of his case before a federal immigration judge to determine future actions.”

His detention has provoked outrage among his fan base and has shone a spotlight on immigration proceedings.   An attorney for Abraham-Joseph said his representatives are working to secure his release.  “We are working diligently to get Mr. Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with the authorities to clear up any misunderstandings.”  His lawyers say that he was “left without legal status through no fault of his own” at the age of 13 and are arguing that his detention is based on “incorrect information about prior criminal charges.  They say that ICE is now refusing to release him on bond of any amount, despite the fact that he has a pending U-Visa application, and that he has relief from removal available to him.”  A U-Visa is available to crime victims who are willing to provide ‘helpful information’ to law enforcement.  His lawyer said that the feds have known his client’s address since he filed for the U-Visa in 2017 and questioned why they took no action until this weekend.

Abraham-Joseph, who has collaborated with some of the music world’s hottest stars, including Drake, Cardi B, Travis Scott and Post Malone, has had numerous encounters with the law and has never sought to hide his status from the authorities, his legal team say.  In 2014 he was convicted of drug possession in Fulton County  In 2016, he called the cops to report that someone had kicked in the door of his 10th Street condo, taking a Glock handgun, a Rolex and other jewelry, a Louis Vuitton bag and a safe containing $345,000.

His lawyers have argued that he is a “role model to the young people in this country, especially in Atlanta, Georgia, and is actively working in the community leading programs to help underprivileged youths in financial literacy.”  He will now likely miss the Grammy’s ceremony, where he is up for record of the year for Rockstar with Post Malone.

 

 

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A federal grand jury has filed 19 new charges, including 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death and two counts of hate crimes involving attempted murder, as well as several others. Bowers, the accused gunman in last year’s mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, now faces 63 criminal counts.  The indictment against Bowers cited his online attacks on the Jewish charity HIAS, including posts from the day of the shooting.

On October 27, 2018, eleven Jewish worshipers were shot and killed in what has been described as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.  Bowers, 46, allegedly opened fire on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people and injuring 7 others.  He had made anti-Semitic comments on the extremist-friendly social network Gab shortly before the attack.  The Tree of Life synagogue housed three congregations and approximately 75 people were inside the building at the time.

As morning services were underway, just before entering, Bowers posted a final message to Gab, once again referencing the conspiracy theory. “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” he wrote. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” Bowers entered the synagogue at 9:50am and opened fire.  By 9:54am police began receiving multiple calls from people barricaded in the building reporting the attack.  Survivors say Bowers was shooting for around 20 minutes and at one point yelled “All Jews must die!”

Police arrived at 9:59 am and Bowers fired on police from the entryway, apparently on his way out of the building.  Police returned fire, causing the gunman to retreat into the building.  At 10:30 a.m., tactical teams entered the building and exchanged fire with Bowers.  Bowers was wounded during the exchange and retreated to a room on the third floor of the synagogue.  Two SWAT members were also wounded during the exchange.  At 11:08 a.m., the Bowers crawled out of the room and surrendered.  Bowers was allegedly armed with three handguns and an AR-15.

In his posts on his Gab profile, Bowers called Jewish people “the children of Satan” and in the days before the shooting, Bowers authored increasingly anti-Semitic posts.  On October 10, he posted about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a Jewish charity that was hosting charity events for immigrants. One of the events was at the Dor Hadash congregation, which was housed at the Tree of Life synagogue.  Bowers accused HIAS and its associated congregations of bringing “hostile invaders to dwell among us.” The claim is part of a white supremacist conspiracy theory that falsely claims Jewish people are trying to promote immigration to make countries less white. Bowers also posted anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi memes.  He was charged in federal court that month with dozens of offenses including 11 murder charges. Bowers had previously pled not guilty to the charges against him in October. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.bowers.jpg

 

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Police have arrested five people over the devastating dam collapse in Minas Gerais, Brazil that killed at least 65 people, with nearly 300 still missing. Three of those arrested work for Vale, the mining company that owned and operated the dam. The other two worked for a German company that carried out inspections on the dam last year.  Attorney General Andre Mendonca said Vale is responsible for the disaster, the second of its kind in three years involving the mining company.

Authorities called the 2015 Mariana dam collapse the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history. That collapse killed 19 people and wreaked havoc on the environment, leading mining company Samarco — a joint venture between Vale and BHP Billiton — to reach a deal in 2016 with the Brazilian government to pay up to $6.2 billion.  In a video over the weekend, Vale chief Fabio Schvartsman called the Brumadinho dam break “inexcusable” and asked the Brazilian public for forgiveness. He said the company will aid victims and noted that Vale put “immense effort” into improving its dams after the disaster in Mariana.

Soon after the most recent collapse, the state judiciary froze more than $260 million from Vale, with a presiding judge citing the company’s responsibility for the disaster. The money will be deposited into a judicial account to compensate for any costs to the state as a result of rescue operations or victim support. Minas Gerais state has fined Vale $99 million for damage caused by the dam break and said the money will be used for repairs.

The Civil Defense of Minas Gerais said 291 people were still missing and 192 people have been rescued from the area.  Authorities say 427 people were in the Córrego do Feijão mine in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais when the dam burst.  Hundreds of people are still missing and the collapse buried most of the mining town-Brumadinho.  The disaster shed light on potential risks at nearly 700 other mining dams in the state of Minas Gerais and drew attention to what some described as a lack of appropriate regulation.

The collapse unleashed a muddy sea of mining debris into the region and the extent of the damage is still being calculated.  Authorities temporarily halted search and rescue and placed 3,000 people under evacuation orders amid fears that another dam nearby was about to rupture. The orders were lifted after authorities determined dam VI was no longer at risk of bursting.  In an effort to find missing people, the Federal Attorney General’s Office obtained an injunction in the Federal Court of Minas Gerais ruling that mobile carriers should provide data from the cell phone signals of people who were in the region where the dam broke.

Officials say they expect to contain the sludgy mine waste known as tailings within two days. The Brazilian National Water Agency said they are monitoring the tailings and coordinating plans for supplying water to the affected region.  Officials said during a press conference that the priority now is assisting victims and their families. After that, officials said they’d focus on environmental damage and the mining process.

Several videos circulating of the disaster show the devastation of the dam collapse.  One video shows the exact moment the dam collapsed, sending a sea of mud and debris swallowing up the area as unsuspecting cars are scene, likely for the last time.   Videos of the rescue efforts show helicopters hovering feet above the ground as firefighters’ pluck people from the muck.

 

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Three men and a teen were arrested for allegedly plotting to attack Islamberg, a small predominantly Muslim community near Binghamton, New York.  Brian Colaneri, 20, Vincent Vetromile, 19, Andrew Crysel, 18, were arrested along with a 16-year-old in connection to the alleged plot.  The suspects were said to be in possession of multiple improvised explosive devices and firearms, and were charged with criminal possession of a weapon and conspiracy.

Police uncovered the plot when the 16-year-old boy was reported to police in Greece, New York, for  making a lunchroom comment.  He allegedly showed another student a photo of a schoolmate who, he told others, looked “like the next school shooter.”  While interviewing the boy about the comment he made investigators were told that he was allegedly working with three men to attack Islamberg.  Greece Police Chief Patrick D. Phelan said “The initial investigation was about the comment made by the student and then our investigation took us to this plot that we had no idea about.  I don’t know that there was a specific date. They had a plan in place,” Phelan said.

Phelan told reporters that three improvised explosive devices in the shape of mason jars wrapped in duct tape were found at the home of the juvenile.  “They were homemade bombs with various items – black powder, BBs, nails, inside a container,” Phelan said.  The bombs are currently being examined by the FBI to see if they would have been capable of detonating.  Police searched five locations and seized 23 weapons and numerous electronic devices, including phones and computers.   Some of the guns were owned by the suspects and others were owned by family members but the suspects had access to them.

Colaneri, Vetromile and Crysel are each charged with three counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the first degree and one count of conspiracy in the fourth degree. Information about the 16 year old was not released by police due to his age.  Phelan credited the students who reported the lunchroom comment with saving lives.  “If they had carried out this plot, which every indication is that they were going to, people would have died,” the chief said. “I don’t know how many and who, but people would have died.”

Islamberg is a rural community in Delaware County that is operated by The Muslims of America, an indigenous American Muslim organization based in the U.S.  It was settled by followers of Pakistani cleric Sheikh Mubarik Gilani in the 1970s to escape crime and crowding in New York City.  It’s a gated community with dirt roads and several dozen small homes in New York’s Catskills Mountains.  There are  200 or so members of the community, where children are home-schooled and residents worship at a mosque built on the 70-acre property.   Police and analysts have dismissed accusations that the community is a terrorist training ground, but the claims have persisted for decades.

This is not the first time Islamberg has been the target of an alleged hate crime plot.  In 2017, a Tennessee man was convicted on federal charges for what authorities called plans to burn down Islamberg’s mosque in 2015. Robert Doggart, now 67, is serving a 20 year sentence in federal prison.  Doggart was arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in April 2015 after saying in wiretapped telephone calls that he planned to recruit a militia and travel to Islamberg for an attack.  While there, he intended to “carry out an armed attack” that included burning down a mosque or “blowing it up with a Molotov cocktail or other explosive device.” The wiretaps also recorded him saying “I don’t want to have to kill children, but there’s always collateral damage.”

 

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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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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.

 

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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.”