Tag Archive: www.hi4e.org


 

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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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A trial is underway in Boston against pharmaceutical executives who prosecutors say ran a criminal scheme of bribing doctors to prescribe its’ highly addictive fentanyl spray, Subsys, to patients who didn’t need it. John Kapoor, the founder of Insys Therapeutics and former CEO, and other drug executives are accused of organizing fake speaking events to pay and influence doctors. One of the defendants, Sunrise Lee, allegedly gave a lap dance to a doctor at a company event in order to persuade him to prescribe the drug.

Subsys is a powerful pain killer used to treat cancer pain in terminally ill patients. The drug, which is made from fentanyl, is incredibly powerful, about 100 times more powerful than morphine.  More than 900 people have died while using Subsys since it was approved in 2012.  Kapoor, was charged by the government in 2017.  The indictment against Kapoor and the other former Insys executives allege that they “conspired to mislead and defraud health insurance providers” who did not want to approve payment for Subsys when it was prescribed for patients who did not have a cancer diagnosis. The U.S. Department of Justice said the company executives were able to get around those concerns by setting up the “reimbursement unit,” which was dedicated to obtaining prior authorization directly from insurers and pharmacy benefit managers.

The executives — Sunrise Lee, John Kapoor, Michael Gurry, Richard Simon and Joseph Rowan — deny wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy.  They have argued that prosecutors are trying to make an example of Insys, a small segment of the pharmaceutical industry they say is unfairly maligned by a government trying to show it is making a dent in the opioid crisis.  The government also charged former CEO and company president Michael Babich and Alec Burlakoff, the former vice president of Sales.  Burlakoff and Babich have pled guilty to charges tied to the racketeering and conspiracy case and have agreed to cooperate with the government.  They are expected to be star witnesses for the government during the trial.

“In exchange for bribes and kickbacks, the practitioners wrote large numbers of prescriptions for the patients, most of whom were not diagnosed with cancer,” the government said in its 2017 announcement.  Prosecutors and court documents say, Subsys’s pharmaceutical sales team used a playbook of scandalous incentives to get the drug prescribed.  They hired attractive sales reps in their 20s and 30s and encouraged them to stroke doctors’ hands while “begging” them to write prescriptions.

The company offered doctors hefty speaking fees, often for events attended only by buddies and people who worked in their practices. How frequently a doctor participated in the company’s lucrative speaker program was based on how frequently doctors wrote Subsys prescriptions, prosecutors said.  Insys made 18,000 payments to doctors in 2016 — a total of more than $2 million that went to headache doctors and back pain specialists.

Prosecutors say Sunrise Lee, a former dancer at a Florida strip club was hired as a sales executive despite having no academic degree and her only management experience was running an escort service.  Prosecutors say Lee rose to become Insys Therapeutics’ regional sales director and once gave a doctor a lap dance during one of the speaking events.  Holly Brown, the Insys sales rep who recounted the lap dance story to federal jurors, testified that Lee frequently wore low-cut tops and frequently handed out her business card to doctors “ if they wanted to discuss the Fentanyl Spray ‘in private.’ ”

 

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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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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.”

Strasbourg Shooter Killed

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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The trial has begun for James Fields, the self-described neo-Nazi charged with killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 35 others at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.  Twenty-one-year-old Fields is standing trial for first-degree murder, five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and failure to stop at the scene of a fatal accident in connection with a car attack on Aug. 12, 2017.  He has entered a not guilty plea and faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted of first degree murder.

Fields is accused of ramming his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.  Video of the incident shows Field’s Dodge Challenger stopping a short distance from those marching in the area reversing, but then accelerating forward into them.  Witnesses say Fields slowly backed up his car in a downtown street then rapidly accelerated, ran through a stop sign and across a raised pedestrian mall, and drove directly into the crowd, hitting numerous individuals including Heather Heyer before ramming into a sedan.  The impact sent people flying through the air.  A few seconds after the initial impact, Fields drove in reverse at a high rate of speed for several blocks- hitting more people.  Pedestrians who had avoided the attack chased Fields along Fourth Street until he turned left and sped off down Market Street.

A Virginia State Police Bell 407 helicopter followed the car and relayed its route to ground units.  A deputy stopped and arrested Fields about a mile from the attack.  Charlottesville Police Det. Steven Young, who arrived at the scene of Field’s arrest, testified that Fields appeared  shocked and repeatedly apologized while sobbing when he was told a woman had been killed.  Young said that the Dodge had holes in the rear window—made by counter-protesters after the initial impact and heavy front-end damage. Young said that the car was “splattered” with blood and flesh with a pair of blue sunglasses stuck in the spoiler on the car’s trunk.   Young also testified that footage from the Unite the Right rally earlier in the day shows Fields chanting homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs as he marched with others.  A short time later, the helicopter footage shows his car driving into the crowd.

Testimony in the trial has largely featured first-hand accounts from people who were injured by the car attack on Fourth Street, by the intersection with Water Street.  Survivors of the deadly crash testified that the mood among counter-protesters was upbeat and celebratory before Fields slammed his Dodge Challenger into another car, triggering a chain reaction that hurled people in different directions.   Witnesses recounted the chaotic scene and testified to a litany of injuries they suffered in the crash, some of which they are still recovering from.

Ryan Kelly, a photojournalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for a photo he took that captured the moment Field’s car made impact with the crowd, also testified in the trial.  He testified that he saw the Challenger slowly backing up the hill. “I thought it was trying to get out of the way,” Kelly testified.  Then, he said he heard tires screech and saw the car speed past him on 4th Street.  “I saw the car accelerate the whole way into the protestors,” he said. “It was going fast into the crowd.”  Survivor and witness Star Peterson is also expected to testify in the trial.  Her right leg was crushed by Fields’ car resulting in her having five surgeries.  She still uses a wheelchair and cane.

Separately, a Virginia grand jury has charged Fields with 30 federal hate crime charges, some of which could result in the death penalty.  He has pled not guilty in those charges as well and no trial date has been set.

 

 

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A 26 year old security guard was shot and killed by a police officer outside a bar in the Chicago suburb of Midlothian.  Jemel Roberson was working at Manny’s Blue Room Bar, in Robbins, Illinois, when a fight broke out and security personnel asked a group of men to leave.  Soon after, at least one man returned to the bar and began shooting, injuring some of the people in the bar. Security returned fire and Roberson detained the man.

Jemel Roberson reportedly grabbed and held the suspected shooter to the ground, with his gun in his back.  When police officers from the Robbins and Midlothian police department arrived on the scene around 4am, witnesses say Roberson was immediately shot, despite people at the bar screaming that he was a security guard. According to witness statements given to local outlets, the officer fired even as witnesses were screaming that he was security.  Four other people, including a man believed to be the suspect behind the bar shooting, were injured in the incident.

At the time, Roberson was armed and held a valid gun owner’s license. One patron who witnessed the killing said the cops “saw a black man with a gun, and basically killed him.” An autopsy concluded that Roberson’s death was a homicide. Roberson was father of a 9-month-old son named Tristan; his partner, Avontea Boose, is pregnant with their second child. Roberson’s family has filed a federal lawsuit seeking $1 million dollars, calling the fatal shooting “excessive and unreasonable” and says it violated Roberson’s civil rights.

Illinois State Police are investigating the shooting and have said that the officer gave Roberson “multiple verbal commands” to drop his weapon before opening fire. “According to witness statements, the Midlothian Officer gave the armed subject multiple verbal commands to drop the gun and get on the ground before ultimately discharging his weapon and striking the subject,” state police said in a statement.  The agency added that Roberson was not wearing anything that identified him as a security guard though witnesses say he was wearing a hat with the words SECURITY clearly emblazoned on the front as well as a bright orange vest with the words Security on it.  Multiple witnesses have also contradicted the state police account, saying the officer started firing at Roberson before giving him an adequate chance to respond to his verbal commands.

After learning that its officer had shot a security guard, the Midlothian Police Department issued a statement offering condolences to Roberson’s family and calling the shooting “the equivalent of a ‘blue on blue,’ friendly fire incident.”  Midlothian police Chief Daniel Delaney wrote on the department’s Facebook page “What we have learned is Jemel Roberson was a brave man who was doing his best to end an active shooter situation at Manny’s Blue Room.  The Midlothian Police Department is completely saddened by this tragic incident and we give our heartfelt condolences to Jemel, his family and his friends. There are no words that can be expressed as to the sorrow his family is dealing with.”

 

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After weeks of denials and shifting narratives on the whereabouts of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the government of Saudi Arabia has finally admitted that Khashoggi is dead.  Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and was never seen again. Saudi officials now say Khashoggi was killed in a “fistfight” inside the consulate and that 18 Saudis had been arrested in connection with the death.

Turkish officials still maintain that Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered by a squad of 15 Saudi hit men shortly after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.  They claim that audio and video recordings show Saudi officials used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s body.  They maintain that it was a premeditated hit carried out by a squad of hit men and that one of the men was a forensic specialist specifically brought in to conceal the crime.

CNN aired CCTV footage obtained from the Turkish authorities, showing the Saudi agent Mustafa Mohammed Madani, a member of the 15-man team, leaving the consulate by the back door.  Madani was dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes, aside for mismatched shoes.  He had also put on a fake beard that resembled Khashoggi’s facial hair, his glasses and his Apple Watch.  Madani, who was of similar age, height, and build to Khashoggi, left the consulate from its back door and was later seen at Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, where he went to a public bathroom and changed back to his own clothes and discarded Khashoggi’s clothes.

The body double footage bolstered Turkish claims that the Saudis always intended either to kill Khashoggi or move him back to Saudi Arabia.  Anonymous Turkish officials believe that Madani was brought to Istanbul to act as a body double and that “You don’t need a body double for a rendition or an interrogation. Our assessment has not changed since October 6.  This was a premeditated murder, and the body was moved out of the consulate.”

An anonymous Saudi official claims Khashoggi had been threatened with kidnapping by Maher Mutreb and when he resisted, he was restrained with a chokehold, which killed him.  Madani then left the consulate through the back door dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes.  Khashoggi’s body was rolled up in a carpet and given to a “local cooperator” for disposal.  The official claims it was Mutreb who overstepped by threatening a kidnapping and accidental killing.  The team then filed a false report indicating they let Khashoggi leave after he warned of Turkish police interference.  The official provided Saudi documents indicating the operation was part of a wider initiative to bring expatriate dissidents home and the original plan was to keep Khashoggi in an Istanbul safe house for a period where he would be persuaded to return home or eventually released.  Many have been skeptical of their claims and still believe the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the hit.

Saudi officials again changed their story after Saudi Arabia’s attorney general said that evidence shared by Turkish officials suggests that the killing was premeditated.  They now admit that the killing was premeditated and carried out by a rogue team, still maintaining that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no prior knowledge of the killing.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has directly accused Saudi Arabia of the premeditated murder, calling it a political killing orchestrated by Saudi officials.  Erdogan urged Saudi Arabia to disclose who ordered the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as the identity of a “local cooperator” involved in the murder plot.  He also called for the Saudi suspects to be tried in Turkey.  Erdogan said Turkey has more information about the case than it has shared so far, suggesting he could release more details if the Saudis refuse to reveal vital information.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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An advocacy group, JOCO United- has recently launched by friends and supporters of the parents of a suicidal teen killed by police during a welfare check.  On Jan. 20, 2018, police were dispatched to the home of 17 year old John Albers at about 5:35 p.m. on a report that he was home alone and suicidal.  Albers had no criminal history but a history of mental health issues, was shot as he was backing the family’s minivan down the driveway by one of the first Overland Park officers to arrive at the home, Clayton Jenison.  Jenison resigned shortly after the shooting for personal reasons.  A month later, after a multi-jurisdictional investigation, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe concluded the officer reasonably feared for his life, deeming the shooting justified.  Dashcam footage was released and shown at the press conference when Howe announced that no charges would be filed.

Howe and Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez said they thought the officer’s actions were not unreasonable and that investigators could not determine if Albers was killed by the first two shots or the subsequent shots.  The release of the video touched off intense debate among the public, especially parents wondering whether calling the police for help with mental health issues was even a safe option.  The video shows two different dashcam recordings of the shooting and begins with the view of a police vehicle as it drives toward the Albers home.  The Albers home comes into view and the family minivan is backing out of the garage into the driveway with Albers at the wheel.  Overland Park Police Officer Clayton Jenison stands to the rear of the van and shouts “Stop!” As the van continues, Jenison fires two shots at it.  The van pauses and then continues backing down the driveway past the police officer, making a U-turn in reverse back toward the house.  The officer shouts “Stop the car!” as another police vehicle pulls up to the entrance of the driveway.  Officer Jenison shoots at the van 11 more times and another officer runs toward the driveway. One of the officers shouts “Shots fired! Shots fired! ”  The van rolls forward into the street and one of the officers shouts “Stop! Stop, John, stop the car!” The van rolls across the street into a neighbor’s front yard as other officers run to the van.  One officer calls for medical assistance “Shots fired, He’s down, we need medical ASAP.”  An officer talks to Albers. “John, John, John, John. God damn it! Glove up, glove up!”  The officer continues talking to Albers. “John, are you all right? Ah, (expletive).

Another video, taken from a dash cam in a vehicle parked on the opposite side of the Albers home, begins before the shooting.  It shows the first two officers arrive first and walk up to the house.  One officer walks back down the driveway while Officer Jenison stays at the front of the house.  Jenison walks into the driveway as the garage door opens.  The van starts backing out of the garage toward the officer.  The officer shouts “Stop!” three times while stepping backward down the driveway and into the grass.  Officer Jenison pulls his gun, firing twice and the van briefly stops in the driveway.  The van continues backing down the driveway and the officer steps to his right to avoid the van. The van makes a U-Turn in reverse into the yard as another police vehicle pulls into the driveway.  Officer Jenison shouts “Stop the car!” and fires 11 more times at the van as it backs up through the yard toward the house.  As other officers run toward the van two officers walk away.  “Hey, deep breaths, man,” one officer says to Officer Jenison. “Deep breaths.  “Come here, buddy, come over here,” one officer says.  Jenison, who sounds obviously shaken says “I thought he was going to run me over, man.” Another officer answers, “I know.”

 

 

 

 

 

Many people were disturbed by the shooting and by the district attorney’s findings, said Mark Schmid of Overland Park, who helped found JOCO United.  “We want to bridge the divide standing between us and the city’s police and political leaders so we can work together.”  One goal is to improve how officers respond to people with mental illness or are in mental distress.  Steve and Sheila Albers told news outlets “People from all walks of life were devastated and shaken by such a senseless act and the exceedingly poor response.” Sheila Albers filed a lawsuit in April, suing the officer who shot her son and the city of Overland Park.  The court documents state that the officer “acted recklessly and deliberately” when he shot and killed Albers, who may not have known police were at his home and was “simply backing his mom’s minivan out of the family garage, Aavehicle passing a police officer does not give that officer an ongoing license to kill an unthreatening citizen.”   The lawsuit is pending.