Gibson Guitar CEO Takes Aim At US Government After Armed Feds Raid Factories And Seize $500K Of Materials And Goods Without Any Filed Charges

October 13, 2011

TENNESSEE – Gibson Guitar Corp.’s chief slammed the U.S. government on Wednesday for sending armed agents to raid two Tennessee factories under a law aimed at curbing the illegal harvest of tropical hardwoods.

“Armed people came in our factory … evacuated our employees, then seized half a million dollars of our goods without any charges having been filed,” Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz told reporters and others at a Washington lunch.

“I think it’s a clear overreach,” he said.

Government agents seized a total of over $1 million worth of rosewood, ebony and finished guitars from Gibson factories in Memphis and Nashville in raids in 2009 and August of this year, Juszkiewicz said.

He brought samples of rosewood and ebony to the lunch; these tropical hardwoods, used in guitar fingerboards, are prized for their strength and tone. Gibson’s factories remain open “under great difficulty” because the raids took most of the company’s raw materials, the CEO said.

The U.S. Justice Department declined on Wednesday to comment on the case but provided information on the Lacey Act, which aims to curb trafficking in wildlife, fish and plant products, including illegally obtained timber.

“By prohibiting trafficking in wood illegally harvested overseas, the Lacey Act prohibits companies from undercutting law-abiding U.S. wood products companies … by trading in artificially inexpensive raw materials that have been illegally harvested from foreign forests,” Justice and Interior department officials wrote in a letter.

Gibson Guitar uses a small fraction of the world’s tropical hardwoods, compared to that used for furniture and flooring, and because it uses so little it can use it sustainably, Juszkiewicz said. He said his company has been a leader in this area with its line of SmartWood instruments, using wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

“The issue here is not illegal logging or some conservation abuse,” he said. “The laws that are being identified by the Department of Justice have to do with protectionism by the country of origin, keeping work in that country and therefore not allowing something that isn’t that value-added to be exported.”

The Lacey Act, enacted in 1900 and amended in 2008 to broaden the range of plant products it includes, makes it illegal to trade in plants obtained in violation of U.S. or foreign law.

Those who unknowingly possess an instrument containing wood that was taken illegally “do not have criminal exposure,” the government said in a letter responding to questions from members of Congress on the Gibson case.

Gibson has filed suit in federal court in Nashville to recover the seized material, but that suit has been stayed while the investigation continues, Juszkiewicz said.

Meantime, Gibson’s chief said the law should be changed.

“I believe in the intent of the law … but I do believe that the way it’s currently written allows what’s happening to me to happen to other companies, and that’s wrong,” he said.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner invited Juszkiewicz to join him in the speaker’s box to watch President Barack Obama’s address on jobs to joint session of Congress on September 8.

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Poor Planning: Taxpayer Funded $36 Million Terminal At Monroe Louisiana Regional Airport Can’t Connect To Airplanes

October 13, 2011

LOUISIANA – Monroe Regional Airport officials learned Tuesday passenger loading and unloading bridges at the new $36 million terminal are not able to connect to airplanes.

Airport director Cleve Norrell confirmed Tuesday afternoon that some of the loading and unloading bridges at the new terminal appear they will not be able to connect to some of the airplanes.

He said airport officials are working to determine what caused the problem, if the issue resulted from a design flaw during the construction process or if it was a result of an error on the city’s part.

“We are checking them out to see what the problem is, but it looks like some of them will fit and some won’t fit,” Norrell said. “We’re not sure what will fix it right now, but that’s what we’re working on. There are a lot of variables, but we’ll know when we try to put them up to the plane. We’re working to remedy the problem.”

Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo said he was made aware of the problem late Tuesday.

“I’m trying to find out what’s going on,” Mayo said. “What I’ve been told is the loading bridges are not long enough to reach the airplanes. They are several feet short, which presents a problem for the planes connecting to the loading bridges. There’s a certain distance the planes have to stop at the building, and the loading bridges cannot reach out there. I don’t know if there was a test, but there should have been one. I am very concerned whether or not a test was done prior to the first plane coming in, and I’m going to get to the root of the problem. It’s just not acceptable.”

He said in the meantime, the airport will have to improvise with the loading and unloading of passengers.

The new 58,000-square-foot terminal was constructed by Lincoln Builders of Ruston.

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Former FBI Agent John R. Graves And Wife Indicted By Federal Grand Jury In Investment Scam

October 13, 2011

MARYLAND – A former FBI agent and his wife have been charged in what authorities say is a $1.3 million investment fraud scheme.

John R. Graves, 52, and his wife, Sara T. Graves, 44, of Fredericksburg, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Richmond on charges of mail and wire fraud. Prosecutors say Graves, who left the FBI in 1999, is a certified investment planner.

Through his company, Brook Point Management, Graves sold insurance, performed estate and tax planning services and recruited investment clients.

Prosecutors say that during a three-year span ending in July, Graves and his wife raised $1.3 million in funds from 11 people through “misrepresentations about the safety and security of the investments.” The couple then used the money to buy real estate, pay back previous investors and to pay off personal expenses, including credit card bills, prosecutors said.

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Freemont California Officials Target Teen’s Annual Backyard Haunted House

October 13, 2011

FREMONT, CALIFORNIA – Halloween is still weeks away, but already a popular Haunted House in Fremont is being forced to close its doors after the city called it a public safety hazard.

For the past seven years, Chris Stelle has transformed his parents backyard into an elaborate haunted house for Halloween. Thousands of friends and neighbors have been through the annual freak show.

But this year, the city of Fremont got wise to the house, constructed mostly out of wood pallets, and declared it a safety hazard.

”We just don’t want to stop,” said Stelle. “We want to continue on with the spirit of Halloween and make people happy.”

Stelle is hoping to move the entire house to a local church, if he can get a permit from the city.

“I think it’s stupid, I really do,” said neighbor Helen Marquez. “I think they should just let it go.”

The city is giving the family until the 26th to have the house dismantled, or face daily fines.

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Orlando Florida Police Officer Crashes Into Seminole County Sheriff’s Office Motorcylce While Escorting Obama

October 12, 2011

SEMINOLE COUNTY, FLORIDA – Two law enforcement officers on motorcycles collided Tuesday while accompanying President Barack Obama.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the president’s motorcade was travelling east on Lake Mary Blvd. when an Orlando Police Department motor unit ran into the rear of a Seminole County Sheriff’s Office motor unit.

Both officers were ejected from their vehicles and suffered minor injuries.

President Obama is in Florida raising money for his 2012 re-election campaign.

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Confused And “Suffering From A Medical Condition” Kennett Township Pennsylvania Police Chief Albert J. McCarthy Gets Away With A Hit And Run Accident After Rear-Ending Another Vehicle With Patrol Car While On Duty

October 12, 2011

KENNETT TOWNSHIP, PENNSYLVANIA – The Kennett Township, Chester County police chief rear-ended another vehicle while on patrol last week, then left the scene and returned to it after hearing the 911 dispatch, state police said Tuesday.

In an incident report released Monday, state police from the Avondale barracks said the crash caused by Kennett Township Police Chief Albert J. McCarthy occurred Oct. 4 at 12:33 p.m. on southbound Route 82, south of McFarlan Road. McCarthy, “suffering from a medical condition, lost focus, and struck the rear” of a 2000 Jeep driven by Paula a. Shapre, 38, of Hockessin, De. No charges have filed against him.

Trooper Corey Monthei, a state police spokesman, said Tuesday that investigators had concluded that McCarthy, “had no intention of avoiding responsibility” when he left the scene and showed no signs of alcohol impairment.

“There’s no reason to dispute that he was anything but confused, suffering from an illness,” Monthei said, adding that privacy laws prevented him from elaborating.

He said McCarthy, who was on patrol in his 2008 Crown Victoria police vehicle, did not know he had hit the other vehicle. He returned after the other driver called 911, not realizing that he was responding to a crash he had caused, Monthei said. When state police arrived about 20 minutes later, McCarthy was at the scene and “cooperated fully,” Monthei said.

Allan F. Falcoff, chairman of the Kennett Township board of supervisors, said McCarthy, whom he described as “a valuable asset,” is on sick leave.

“We’re waiting to hear from his doctor about what happened,” Falcoff said of the “low-speed” collision. “Then we’ll go from there.”

According to the police report, both drivers were wearing seatbelts. Monthei described the damage to both vehicles as minor.

He said in cases like McCarthy’s, where no criminal conduct has occurred, sometimes PennDot may take action, such as requiring a driving test or suspending a license.

Falcoff said if it turns out that McCarthy is unable to drive, the township will explore ways in which he could keep his position.

For the past four years, McCarthy, a well-known presence in the township of approximately 7,500 residents, has served as a one-man department, acting as chief, patrol officer, traffic cop, lead detective, and chief arbiter.

“He’s probably most valuable . . . in what I call his role as chaplain,” said Falcoff. “He ends up settling a lot of disputes that might have escalated; he just has a way with people.”

Before working for Kennett Township, McCarthy was a long time officer with the Kennett Square force.

McCarthy joined the Kennett Square force as a patrolman in 1973 and became the borough’s chief in 1988. He continued in that position until a contentious parting that culminated with his resignation in September 2007 – and litigation over back pay McCarthy said he was owed. The federal case was dismissed in May 2010 “without cost to either party,” according to court records.

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FBI Agent Fred Kingston And Federal Prosecutor Get Away With Crashing Rare $750,000 Ferrari F50 During Joyride

October 12, 2011

DETROIT (AP) — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the U.S. government over the wreck of a $750,000 Ferrari driven by an FBI agent, saying federal law grants immunity if property is being held by law enforcement.

The wreck of the rare 1995 F50 sports car was “certainly unfortunate,” but the government cannot be sued in such a case, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn said.

Motors Insurance, based in Southfield, Mich., believes an FBI agent and a prosecutor were out for a joyride when the agent lost control of the Ferrari in a Lexington, Ky., industrial park in 2009. The government has refused to pay for the car.

The car was stolen in Rosemont, Pa., in 2003, eventually recovered and then kept by the FBI in Kentucky as part of an investigation. The government has declined to reveal much about the incident. But in an email that was released to the insurance company, Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Hamilton Thompson said he was invited for a “short ride” before the Ferrari was to be moved from an impound garage.

The driver, FBI agent Fred Kingston, lost control and the car hit bushes and a small tree, Thompson said.

The insurance company claimed the Ferrari was not actually in custody because the insurer had granted permission for the government to hold the car. The judge disagreed.

“The government’s purpose in holding the vehicle was not to create a status of either consent or punitive coercion. … Rather, the object was to control and preserve relevant evidence,” Cohn said in an 11-page decision on Sept. 27.

The insurance company’s attorney did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.

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Miami Florida TSA Officer Eduardo Valdes Arrested, Charged After Trying To Sneak His Unregistered Gun Into Airport

October 12, 2011

MIAMI, FLORIDA — A Transportation Safety Administration employee was taken into custody Tuesday after he unlawfully tried to bring a handgun into the secured area of Miami International Airport, police said.

Just before noon, Eduardo Valdes, 29, a screener for TSA was reporting for duty on the sterile side of the airport. He was passing through an employee security checkpoint when another screener noticed a handgun in his bag.

According to the police report, Valdes admitted he knew it was illegal to bring a firearm into the airport and that he just “forgot.” He also said the gun was not registered and he did not have a concealed weapons permit.

Valdes was taken to the Miami-Dade County Jail.

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Philadelphia Pennsylvania Police Officer Charles Jacoby III Charged With Wire Fraud After Stealing Credit And Debit Cards From Those Arrested – Caught On Video

October 12, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – A Philadelphia Police officer, who was supposed to protect inmate’s belongings, is now accused of stealing from them.

Charles Jacoby III, 30, worked as a cell block attendant in the 22nd district, according to assistant US attorney Kevin Brenner, “Guarding inmates who were incarcerated and he was responsible for safeguarding their personal belongings, which were removed from them as they were being processed.”

But instead of properly securing inmates’ belongings, Brenner says Jacoby was using them for personal gain.

“He would take the debit and credit cards to a Wawa store in Philadelphia where he would use the cards to purchase various items for himself and to fill up the tank of his personal vehicle and then he would rip up and throw away the stolen cards.”

“He was taking credit cards from arrestees and using them for his own purpose. I mean, we have video of him using the cards,” says Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “We started the investigation because of some complaints that we had.”

Ramsey says Jacoby took advantage of his position, “There have been other complaints, it has happened in the past, we weren’t able to prove it, this time we were. I’ll be firing him obviously, that paperwork is being generated now, and I will sign it as soon as it gets on my desk.”

He says the allegations are taken seriously, adding that it’s an embarrassment to the department. “He’s certainly not someone who should be a member of this organization and we’re going to do everything we can to root them out, (we’re) not going to stop. So, however embarrassing it is, you just have to bear with it until we clean house.”

Jacoby is charged with wire fraud. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and a $250,000 fine.

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Baltimore Maryland TSA Officer Michael Scott Wilson Arrested, Charged With Child Pornography

October 12, 2011

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND — A Transportation Security Administration security officer is out on bail after he was arrested and charged with child pornography.

Michael Scott Wilson, 41, has been suspended from his job following the arrest.

Wilson was charged Monday with possession and distribution of child pornography after agents searched his Perry Hall home.

Neighbors said he’s married with no children. They said they’re stunned and disturbed by the charges, especially since most of them described Wilson as a straight-laced federal worker who took pride in his position and the trust that comes with it.

“As a parent, it’s disturbing to find out that someone is living so close, especially employed in his capacity,” said neighbor Malik Kelly.

“I travel sometimes twice a week, so to think that one of those screeners could live in your neighborhood and face charges like this is alarming. Definitely alarming,” said neighbor Brian Ryerson.

The TSA released a statement regarding Wilson’s arrest, saying, “The TSA holds its security officers to the highest professional and ethical standards and aggressively investigates allegations of misconduct. The allegations against this individual in no way reflect on the outstanding job our more than 50,000 security officers do every day to ensure the security of the traveling public.”

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Legislation Would Make Selling Fake Maple Syrup A FEDERAL OFFENSE

October 11, 2011

MONTPELIER, VERMONT – U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy says he’s planning to introduce legislation to make it a federal crime for people to mislabel products as containing maple syrup.

Leahy said Tuesday the legislation is needed to protect Vermont’s maple crop from fraud.

The move came in the aftermath of a recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigation that found a man who had been selling fake Vermont “maple” syrup, when the product contained no syrup.

Leahy’s proposal would create a new federal felony offense and increase the sentences that prosecutors can seek for people who defraud consumers and farmers by intentionally mislabeling maple products.

Leahy, a Democrat, announced his plan at the same time he was announcing the state had received a $70,000 federal grant to help market Vermont maple syrup.

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Crazed Scotland Police Ban “Terrorist” Dad From Mall After He Took Pictures Of His 4 Year Old Daughter Eating Ice Cream

October 11, 2011

SCOTLAND – A father taking pictures of his daughter at a shopping center near Glasgow, Scotland, says he was banned from the mall and threatened with having his camera phone confiscated in the interest of preventing terrorism when he refused to delete the photos.

Chris White, 45, says police were called last week after he took photos of his 4-year-old daughter, Hazel, eating ice cream at Braehead shopping center, and a security guard approached him and asked him to delete the pictures and then banned him from the mall, the Daily Record reports.

The security guard allegedly told White that taking photos in the shopping center is “illegal” and that security could confiscate White’s camera phone under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

“I explained I had taken two photos of my daughter eating ice cream and that she was the only person in the photo, so I didn’t see any problem,” White said.

“I also said that I wasn’t that willing to delete the photos and there seemed little point as I had actually uploaded them to Facebook.”

Police arrived on the scene shortly afterward.

White says one of the police officers was “quite intimidating,” but allowed him to keep his camera phone in exchange for offering his full details, including name, place of birth, age, employment status and address.

“Had I not had my daughter with me, and the fact that we are trying to bring our daughter up to respect and trust police officers, I may have exercised my right not to provide those details,” White said.

A spokesman for Braehead Shopping Center says security acted in good faith.

“Retail staff at an ice cream stall in Braehead became suspicious after they saw a male shopper taking photographs of a child sitting at their counter. The staff thought the man had also been taking photographs of them and they alerted one of the center’s security staff.”

The spokesman said the retail assistants were unaware that the man and child were related.

“Like most shopping centers, we have a photography policy in the mall to protect the privacy of the staff and shoppers,” a spokesman for Braehead said in a statement.

“However, it is not our intention to — and we do not — stop innocent family members from taking pictures.”

A spokesman for Braehead says the shopping center is changing its policy to allow family and friends to take photos in the mall, effective immediately.

“We wish to apologize to Mr. White for the distress we may have caused to him and his family and we will be in direct contact with him to apologize properly.”

White has set up a Facebook page in response to the incident calling for people to boycott Braehead shopping center.

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Neighorhoods Go Dark – 1400 Streetlights Repossessed After Highland Park Michigan Can’t Pay Bills

October 11, 2011

HIGHLAND PARK, MICHIGAN – Most of the city’s street lights have been repossessed because officials failed to pay a multimillion-dollar utility bill, giving rise to concerns about safety and crime in darkened neighborhoods.

DTE Energy crews have removed about 1,400 light poles from Highland Park as part of a settlement that allowed the city to avoid paying $4 million in unpaid bills going back several years. DTE, which says the work will be completed by Oct. 31, has replaced 200 lights with newer models on street corners, but most neighborhoods remain in the dark.

Highland Park, plagued by financial trouble, was able to reduce its monthly utility bill from $62,000 to $15,000, an amount officials say fits the city’s budget.

But residents and business owners complain that the resulting darkness is like a welcome mat for criminals.

“After they took the street light from in front of my business, someone climbed onto my roof and stole an air conditioning unit,” said Bobby Hargrove, owner of Hargrove Machinery Sales on Oakland Avenue, who also claims a police officer asked him for money to beef up his protection. “I feel like I’m being punished — I’ve always paid my bills on time, but they took the street light anyway.”

Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopp insists that crime has not increased since the lights were removed.

“I had the police chief work up the crime stats, and found that most of our burglaries are taking place during the daylight hours,” Yopp said.

But resident Robert Davis, secretary of the city’s school board, said three schools were broken into at night, right after the street lights were removed. “Thankfully, DTE agreed to put new lights in front of the schools, although they’re not all up yet,” he said.

DTE spokesman Len Singer said Highland Park is “a unique situation.”

“We did everything we could to try to help the city come to a level of service they could manage,” Singer said. “We wanted to work with the city to maintain some level of service, and do so in a way that would allow the city to cover the bill each month. They simply weren’t able to maintain the costs for having all the previous lights.”

Singer said the utility is under no obligation to maintain service to communities that don’t pay their bills. “But obviously, we wanted to work with the city to provide some lighting for their residents and businesses,” he said.

DTE began removing the light poles in August, rather than just cutting off the power, to avoid lawsuits and confusion, he said.

“Mostly, it was a liability issue; we didn’t want to have poles there that were de-energized, and likely won’t ever be energized again,” Singer said. “Also, we wanted to avoid the confusion of having lights up that don’t work. In the end, we figured it was better to just take them out.”

Some cities own their street poles and pay DTE for the electricity. “But we own the lights in Highland Park,” Singer said.

The old poles were sold as scrap metal, Singer said. The 200 new poles will be fed power via overhead lines, rather than underground, which makes maintenance easier, Singer said.

Hargrove claims a Highland Park police officer tried to cash in on his loss.

“He contacted me about a week after my air conditioner was stolen and told me he’d make sure my place didn’t get broken into — if I paid him $650 every two weeks,” he said. “That’s like paying protection to the Mafia.”

Hargrove reported the alleged incident to city officials. Yopp said he’s investigating the claim.

“Our residents already pay for police protection; we’d better not be charging them twice,” he said. “I’m definitely going to get to the bottom of this.”

Jessie Flowers, 85, who has lived in Highland Park since 1947, said she’s “not happy” about the situation.

“I’m concerned about people breaking into my house,” she said. “The street lights should be on.

“I’m so flabbergasted I don’t even know what to do.”

Yopp said he understands the frustration and is trying to secure federal or state funding to restore lighting to the city’s neighborhoods.

“We’re no longer in debt, and our bill is lower each month,” he said. “But I’m certainly not happy about the level of lighting in the city, and I’m doing whatever I can to work something out.”

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Oversight Committee Letter Questions Disgraced US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr’s Trustworthiness And Credibility After Lies About His Department Supplying Guns To Mexican Drug Cartels

October 11, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s “lack of trustworthiness” in explaining what he knew about the failed “Fast and Furious” weapons investigation has “called into question his overall credibility” to serve as the nation’s top prosecutor, the chairman of a House committee investigating the operation said Monday.

In a blistering letter, Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told Mr. Holder that it was time for him “to come clean to the American public” on what he knew and when about the weapons investigation, saying Mr. Holder has made numerous statements about the operation that have “proven to be untrue.”

“The time for deflecting blame and obstructing our investigation is over,” Mr. Issa wrote. “Operation Fast and Furious was the department’s most significant gun-trafficking case. It related to two of your major initiatives — destroying the Mexican [drug] cartels and reducing gun violence on both sides of the border.

“On your watch, it went spectacularly wrong. Whether you realize yet or not, you own Fast and Furious. It is your responsibility,” he wrote, adding that Mr. Holder had an obligation to say who is going to be held accountable “for failing to shut down a program that has already had deadly consequences, and will likely cause more casualties for years to come.”

Mr. Issa has been investigating Fast and Furious for several months with Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The operation involved the purchase of weapons at Phoenix-area gun shops that eventually were “walked,” or taken, into Mexico, where they were delivered to Mexican dug bosses.

Two of the weapons, both AK-47 assault rifles, were found at the scene of the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry in December.

Mr. Issa said the Justice Department from the beginning of the probe has offered “a roving set of ever-changing explanations to justify its involvement in this reckless and deadly program.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman dismissed Mr. Issa’s letter Monday as “recycled” partisanship.

But Mr. Issa said Justice’s defenses were aimed at undermining the congressional investigation.

The Justice Department insisted from the start that no wrongdoing had occurred and asked that he and Mr. Grassley defer their oversight responsibilities because of concerns they would interfere with an ongoing investigation by the department’s Office of Inspector General, Mr. Issa said.

Additionally, he said, the department steadfastly insisted that none of the Fast and Furious guns had been “walked” into Mexico.

“Once documentary and testimonial evidence strongly contradicted these claims, the department attempted to limit the fallout from Fast and Furious to the Phoenix field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives,” he said. “When that effort also proved unsuccessful, the department next argued that Fast and Furious resided only within ATF itself, before eventually also assigning blame to the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona.

“All of these efforts were designed to circle the wagons around [Justice] and its political appointees,” he said.

Last month, Mr. Holder claimed Fast and Furious did not reach the upper levels of the Justice Department, Mr. Issa said, although documents discovered through the course of the investigation proved that “each and every one of these claims advanced by the department to be untrue.”

“It appears your latest defense has reached a new low,” he said, adding that Mr. Holder in a letter Friday said he was unaware of the Fast and Furious operation because his staff failed to inform him of information contained in memos that were specifically addressed to the attorney general.

“At best, this indicates negligence and incompetence in your duties as attorney general,” Mr. Issa said. “At worst, it places your credibility into serious doubt.

“Instead of pledging all necessary resources to assist the congressional investigation in discovering the truth behind the fundamentally flawed Operation Fast and Furious, your letter instead did little but obfuscate, shift blame, berate and attempt to change the topic away from the department’s responsibility in the creation, implementation and authorization of this reckless program.”

On Friday, Mr. Holder denied that emails sent to his office showed that he knew of the Fast and Furious operation and did nothing about it. He said public comments about the inquiry and his involvement with it had become “so base and so harmful to interests that I hope we all share” that he had to publicly address the matter.

Mr. Holder said he took “decisive action” when he learned earlier this year about Fast and Furious in ordering the Office of Inspector General to investigate the matter. He said he also overhauled the leadership at ATF and the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix, which oversaw the investigation.

“It has become clear that the flawed tactics employed in Fast and Furious were not limited to that operation and were actually employed in an investigation conducted during the prior administration,” Mr. Holder said, referring to a separate initiative known as “Operation Wide Receiver” managed by federal authorities during the George W. Bush administration.

“Regardless, those tactics should never again be adopted in any investigation,” he said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the Issa allegations, no matter how many times they are repeated, continue to be “baseless.” She said Mr. Holder took concerns about tactics used in Fast and Furious to the Office of Inspector General, where the operation is now under investigation.

“The department will continue to cooperate with both the inspector general and congressional investigations,” she said. “In the meantime, what the American people deserve is less partisan showboating and more responsible solutions to stopping gun violence on the Southwest Border.”

In the letter, Mr. Issa said documents obtained by congressional investigators show Mr. Holder was aware of Fast and Furious in the summer of 2010 at the latest, not April or May of this year as he testified. Mr. Issa said Mr. Holder was informed about the ATF investigation on at least five occasions and was told that straw buyers were responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to Mexican drug-trafficking cartels.

“Yet, you did nothing to stop this program,” Mr. Issa said. “You failed to own up to your responsibility to safeguard the American public by hiding behind” attorneys in your office, “who you now claim did not bring this information to your attention.”

Mr. Issa said the “most disturbing aspect of this intransigence” is that the Justice Department “has been lying to Congress ever since the inquiry into Fast and Furious began.”

“These firearms were not interdicted. They were not stopped. Your agents allowed these firearms purchases to continue, sometimes even monitoring them in person, and within days some of these weapons were being recovered in Mexico,” he said.

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Camden County Georgia Officals Look Towards Staffing Firestations With Inmates To Save Money

October 11, 2011

ST MARYS, GEORGIA – Officials in southeast Georgia are considering a money-saving program that would put inmates in fire stations.

The program would put two inmates in each of three existing firehouses in Camden County.

Officials say the inmates would respond to all emergencies – including residential fires – alongside traditional firefighters.

The inmates would have no guard, but would be monitored by a surveillance system and by the traditional firefighters, who would undergo training to guard the inmates. Authorities say one traditional firefighter with correctional training can supervise up to three inmates.

Authorities say the inmate firefighter program could save the county more than $500,000 a year by some estimates. Inmates charged with crimes such as drug offenses and thefts would be eligible.

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Fairfax County Virginia Officials Target Kids Treehouse

October 11, 2011

FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA – A tree house is causing controversy in one Falls Church neighborhood after a father built it for his two young boys. Fairfax County officials are considering tearing it down because the tree house violates county rules because it was built in the front yard. He needed a permit first to build the tree house.

Mark Grapin says he didn’t know about that rule until after he built it. He spent nearly $2,000 trying to make it legal. His sons helped him build the treehouse.

Last month he says the board voted against him in a hearing, meaning the tree house will have to come down. The family will appeal. The boys are making their plea to the board. Their next hearing is November 30th and many neighbors are hoping that the tree house will get to stay put.

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Topeka Kansas Joins Shawne County – Not Prosecuting Domestic Violence And Misdemeanor Cases – City And County Out Of Money

October 10, 2011

TOPEKA, KANSAS – Cash-strapped Topeka, Kansas, has decided to stop prosecuting domestic violence casses in order to save money.

The City Council announced the proposal Oct. 4, after the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office announced it could no longer prosecute misdemeanors, including domestic violence cases. The city’s maneuver may even require repealing the part of the city code that bans domestic battery. Mayor Bill Bunten told the Topeka Capital-Journal city officials take domestic violence seriously, and it would be “dead wrong” to assume offenders won’t be prosecuted. But the dispute is over who would pay for it, he said.

Shawnee County has already dropped 30 domestic violence cases since it stopped prosecuting the crime on Sept. 8. Some 16 people have been arrested for misdemeanor domestic battery charges and then released after charges were not filed.

County District Attorney Chad Taylor has reportedly offered to review all misdemeanor cases filed in Topeka for potential prosecution, including those now handled by the city’s municipal court, in exchange for a one-time payment of $350,000 from the city.

The Topeka YWCA said the problem must be resolved.

“When an abusive partner is arrested, the victim’s danger level increases,” Becky Dickinson, interim director of the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment, told the Capital-Journal. “The abuser will often become more violent in an attempt to regain control. Letting abusive partners out of jail with no consequences puts victims in incredibly dangerous positions.”

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Former Bergin Correctional Institution Deputy Warden Neal Kearney Sentenced To 30 Months In Connecticut Prison After Sexually Abusing A Male Inmate For Years

October 9, 2011

VERNON, CONNECTICUT –  A former deputy warden at a Connecticut prison has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for sexually assaulting an inmate in 2008.

Fifty-year-old Neal Kearney of Bloomfield, who also was once the cheerleading coach at the University of Connecticut, had pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree sexual assault last month.

The inmate told police that Kearney abused him for years at the Bergin Correctional Institution in Mansfield and coerced him into having sex after he was released from prison. Officials say the inmate had hidden evidence in the case in the prison, included a rubber glove containing Kearney’s DNA.

Kearney also was ordered to register as a sex offender after he is released.

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100+ Assault Weapons Supplied By U.S. ATF Found In Drug Cartel Enforcer’s Home In Mexico

October 9, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – High-powered assault weapons illegally purchased under the ATF’s Fast and Furious program in Phoenix ended up in a home belonging to the purported top Sinaloa cartel enforcer in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, whose organization was terrorizing that city with the worst violence in the Mexican drug wars.

In all, 100 assault weapons acquired under Fast and Furious were transported 350 miles from Phoenix to El Paso, making that West Texas city a central hub for gun traffickers. Forty of the weapons made it across the border and into the arsenal of Jose Antonio Torres Marrufo, a feared cartel leader in Ciudad Juarez, according to federal court records and trace documents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The smugglers’ tactics — quickly moving the weapons far from ATF agents in southern Arizona, where it had been assumed they would circulate — vividly demonstrate that what had been viewed as a local problem was much larger. Six other Fast and Furious guns destined for El Paso were recovered in Columbus, N.M.

“These Fast and Furious guns were going to Sinaloans, and they are killing everyone down there,” said one knowledgeable U.S. government source, who asked for anonymity because of the ongoing investigations. “But that’s only how many we know came through Texas. Hundreds more had to get through.”

Torres Marrufo, also known as “the Jaguar,” has been identified by U.S. authorities as the enforcer for Sinaloa cartel chieftain Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman. The Fast and Furious weapons were found at one of Torres Marrufo’s homes April 30 when Mexican police inspected the property. It was unoccupied but “showed signs of recent activity,” they said.

The basement had been converted into a gym with a wall covered with built-in mirrors. Behind the mirrors they found a hidden room with the Fast and Furious weapons and dozens more, including an antiaircraft machine gun, a sniper rifle and a grenade launcher.

“We have seized the most important cache of weapons in the history of Ciudad Juarez,” Chihuahua state Gov. Cesar Duarte said at the time, though he did not know that many of the weapons came from the U.S. and Fast and Furious.

Torres Marrufo has been indicted in El Paso, but authorities have been unable to locate and arrest him.

In the U.S., intelligence officials consider the Sinaloa cartel the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world. Weekly reports from U.S. intelligence authorities to the Justice Department in the summer of 2010, at the height of Fast and Furious, warned about the proliferation of guns reaching the Sinaloa cartel.

Under Fast and Furious, begun in fall 2009, the ATF allowed illegal buyers to walk away with weapons in the hope that agents in Phoenix could track the guns and arrest cartel leaders.

Three months into the program, El Paso began to emerge as a hub, perhaps the central location, for Fast and Furious weapons. On Jan. 13, 2010, El Paso police stumbled upon 40 firearms after following a suspicious dark blue Volkswagen Jetta that backed into a garage at a local residence, according to federal court records.

Alberto Sandoval told authorities he acquired the weapons three days after they were purchased from someone he knew only as “Rudy.” He said he was paid $1,000 to store the guns and “knew the firearms were going to Mexico.”

Sandoval pleaded guilty in federal court in El Paso and was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison. A month later, on Dec. 17, 2010, he escaped from a minimum-security prison in Tucson; officials believe he fled to Mexico.

Two others, Ivan Chavira and Edgar Ivan Galvan, were subsequently charged in that gun recovery, along with the recovery of 20 Fast and Furious weapons on April 7, 2010, in El Paso. Those guns also were discovered by chance by local authorities, and ATF trace records show that the weapons were purchased in Phoenix two weeks before they were found in El Paso.

Chavira and Galvan pleaded guilty. Chavira received eight years in prison; Galvan is to be sentenced next month.

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California Governor Jerry Brown Signs Law That Hands Out Tax Dollars To Illegal Immigrant Students

October 8, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Undocumented immigrant students in California will be able to receive state-funded financial aid in 2013 to attend college, under a new law signed Saturday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The law allows top students who are on a path to citizenship to apply and receive the state aid, the governor said.

About 2,500 students are projected to receive Cal Grants totaling $14.5 million, according to the California Department of Finance. That averages out to $5,800 per student.

The funding amounts to 1% of the overall $1.4 billion Cal Grant program, officials said.

The new law, AB 131, is one of two pieces of legislation known as the California Dream Act and will become effective January 1, 2013, officials said.

“Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking,” Brown said in a statement from Sacramento. “The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us.”

Currently, illegal immigrant students in California must pay resident tuition rates if they graduated from a state high school and are actively seeking to legalize their immigration status, officials said.

The other half of the California Dream Act was signed into law by Brown in July and allows undocumented immigrant students to receive privately funded scholarships administered at public universities and community colleges.

That law, called AB 130, was needed because the University of California and California State University systems avoided giving the private scholarships to their undocumented students, citing vagueness in laws, said the legislative aide to California Dream Act’s author, state Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo (D-Los Angeles).

Cedillo called Saturday’s signing “historic” and path-breaking for the United States — coming at a time when many states such as Alabama and Arizona are passing aggressive laws targeting undocumented immigrants. Some of those laws are being challenged in court.

“The signing of now both parts of the California Dream Act will send a message across the country that California is prepared to lead the country with a positive and productive vision for how we approach challenging issues related to immigration,” Cedillo said in a statement.

“Today, Ana and Maria Gomez, Jaime Kim, David Cho, Pedro Ramirez — and thousands of other students who are some of the best and brightest in California — have been told by our governor and legislative leaders that you are welcome here, that you have something to contribute, that you can be proud of what you have accomplished and that your talents and ambition will not go to waste,” Cedillo said.

Under AB 131, undocumented immigrant students will be eligible for state Board of Governors fee waivers, student aid programs administered by a college or university, and the state aid Cal Grants program for state universities, community colleges, and qualifying independent and career colleges or technical schools in California, according to Cedillo.

The California Dream Act differs from a proposed federal bill called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — or DREAM — Act, which would create a path to citizenship for immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children under the age of 16 and have lived in the United States for at least five years, obtained a high school or General Education Development diploma, and demonstrated “good moral character,” according to a White House fact sheet.

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Seattle Washington Police Officers Target Innocent Motorists With $144 Ticket For Honking In Support Of Protesters

October 8, 2011

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – Police experimented with a new tactic Friday night as they responded to a weeklong Occupy Seattle demonstration at Westlake Park — ticketing drivers who honked in support of protesters.

Starting at 11 p.m. Friday, police started pulling over and ticketing drivers who honked as they drove past protesters.

When the first car — a taxi — was pulled over, the protesters followed and shouted at police who then formed a blockade around the driver’s cab.

The cab driver was then given a $144 ticket — and protesters ended up handing him money afterwards to help pay for his fine.

“I’m really sorry this happened to you tonight, man,” one protester said to the cab driver.

The protesters also encouraged the driver to go to court and challenge the ticket.

The driver, Ayad Agila, later said he was only trying to show his support for the protest and was shocked when he got the ticket.

“That’s no good,” he said. “I was surprised. I’ve never seen it before in my life. … I’m not happy with it, but I’m happy to show support.”

A few minutes later, officers pulled over and ticketed another cab driver, with the same result.

Now Occupy Seattle protesters say they’re trying to warn drivers not to honk.

They quickly put up an impromptu sign that said “Don’t honk! After 10 p.m. you will be ticketed.”

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At Least 3 Dead And 17 Injured In Overnight Shootings In Chicago Illinois

October 8, 2011

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – At least three people were killed and at least 17 others wounded, including nine teenagers, in shootings across the city late Friday night and early Saturday morning.

Two women were shot in the head in the 2300 block of North Harding Street in the Logan Square neighborhood at about 4:40 a.m., police said. One woman was found unresponsive at the scene and the other’s condition wasn’t known, police said, citing preliminary reports. Their ages weren’t immediately available.

A man was shot in his chest and possibly stabbed in the 400 block of South Pulaski Road at about 4 a.m., police said, citing preliminary reports. The Cook County medical examiner’s office was notified of the death.

A 29-year-old man was shot and killed across from the Lake View High School at the intersection of Ashland Avenue and Irving Park Road early this morning in the city’s Lake View neighborhood, according to police. The Cook County medical examiner’s office identified the man as Louis Cotto. Cotto was standing on a corner when shots were fired in a possible drive-by shooting at about 1:20 a.m, police said. He was shot in his chest and back and was pronounced dead at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, police said. Nobody is in custody, police said.

A boy and a girl, both aged 17, were shot at about 2:15 a.m. in the 7500 block of South Dante Avenue in the Grand Crossing neighborhood, Chicago Police News Affairs Sgt. Al Stinites said. The boy was shot in his leg and the girl in her foot, and both were transported to Jackson Park Hospital, he said.

A 25-year-old man was shot in his back at 71st and Halsted Avenue Street at about 2:15 a.m., police said. He was initially listed in serious condition. Additional details weren’t immediately available.

A 56-year-old man was shot in the 4100 block of West Adams Street in the West Garfield Park neighborhood at about 1:30 a.m., police said. He was walking with a friend when someone approached him and shot him in the arm and leg. He’s in stable condition at Mount Sinai Hospital, police said.

A 20-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy were shot in the 13200 block of South Langley Avenue in the Altgeld Gardens housing complex on the Far South Side at about 1:30 a.m., police said. A group of people was chasing a second group and someone in the first group shot at the victims while they were running away, hitting the 16-year-old in his leg and hitting the 20-year-old in his abdomen, according to Chicago Police News Affairs Officer John Mirabelli. The teen was taken to Roseland Community Hospital and the older man was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in suburban Oak Lawn, Mirabelli said.

A 17-year-old boy was shot in the back in the 7400 block of South Blackstone Avenue at about 1:20 a.m. and is in serious condition at Mount Sinai Hospital, police said. He was sitting in the back seat of a vehicle when someone approached and shot into the car. The boy was driven to the University of Chicago Hospital and then transferred to Mount Sinai, police said.

At about 12:30 a.m., a 22-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy were shot in the 2600 block of South Ridgeway Avenue in the Little Village neighborhood, police said. The man was shot in his chest and ankle and the teen was shot in his leg, police said. Both victims are in stable condition at Mount Sinai Hospital, police said. They were standing in a backyard and were shot after a gun was fired from inside a light-colored SUV in an alley behind the house, police said. The SUV fled north in the alley.

A 41-year-old man was shot in his forearm, buttocks and suffered a graze wound to his head on the 3900 block of South Indiana Avenue in the Bronzeville neighborhood at about 11:30 p.m. Friday. He was involved in an argument with the person who shot him, police said. The shooter pulled out a gun, opened fire and fled the scene. The victim was transported in serious condition to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Mirabelli said.

A 24-year-old man was shot in the 8400 block of South Carpenter Street at about 11:10 p.m. in the city’s Gresham neighborhood. He was transported to Advocate Christ Medical Center after being shot in his abdomen, Mirabelli said. The shooting followed an altercation between the victim and the offender, who isn’t in custody, Mirabelli said.

A 17-year-old boy was shot in his neck while sitting in a car at a stop light on the 7600 block of South Chicago Avenue at about 11:10
p.m., police said. It wasn’t clear whether the boy was transported to the hospital by the Chicago Fire Department or whether he was driven in the same car, police said.

A 37-year-old man was shot in his groin in the 800 block of North Noble Street at about 10 p.m. in the Noble Square neighborhood, police said. Police responded to a shots fired call and found someone yelling that his friend had been shot, Mirabelli said. Police caught two “persons of interest” and recovered a handgun. The victim was shot once in the thigh and once in the wrist, Mirabelli said, and transported to Stroger Hospital.

Two other boys, age 16 and 17, were shot as they left a restaurant on the 3200 block of West Cermak Road at about 9:40 p.m. on Friday in the Little Village neighborhood, police said. The 16-year-old was in stable condition at Mount Sinai Hospital and the 17-year-old was in stable condition at Stroger Hospital, police said.

A 15-year-old was accidentally shot in the 7900 block of South Christiana Avenue in the Ashburn neighborhood at about 9:30 p.m. Friday, police said. He was standing with a man who was showing him a gun when the gun went off. The man will likely face gun charges, police said.

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Protester Takes A Dump On A New York City Police Car

October 8, 2011

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Attorney General Eric Holder Is Pissed Off At Critics Of His Department Arming Mexican Drug Cartels With Automatic Weapons

October 7, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Eric Holder angrily responded Friday to Republican critics of his handling of a controversial gun enforcement operation, charging them with using “irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric.”

“I simply cannot sit idly by as a (Republican) member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests, as happened this week, that law enforcement and government employees who devote their lives to protecting our citizens be considered “accessories to murder,'” Holder said in a letter to members of Congress.

“Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms,” he said.

The bitter debate follows the release this week of Justice Department documents on Capitol Hill that prompted Republican critics to charge Holder knew about the now-discredited Fast and Furious gun operation before he previously claimed in testimony before the Oversight Committee.

Holder did not mention by name anyone other than Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa in his stinging rebuke of the charges that have been leveled at the attorney general.
Obama stands by AG Holder
GOP calls for attorney general probe

Holder insisted, as his Justice Department aides have for several days, that he was not inconsistent in his testimony.

“My testimony was truthful and accurate,” Holder said. “I have no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or of hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it. Prior to early 2011, I certainly never knew about the tactics employed in the operation.”

The tactics Holder referred to center on Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents allowing illegally purchased guns to “walk” from Arizona gun stores to Mexico. The ATF plan was to track the weapons to Mexican drug cartels. However, many of the guns were lost in the operation, and two of them ended up at the scene where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered.

New boss at AFT announces major shake-up

Holder insists that when he learned of those tactics he stopped “uncontrolled crossing of guns across the border,” and called for an inspector general investigation to get to the bottom of the matter.

Frederick Hill, a spokesman for the committee chaired by Issa, issued a statement in response to Holder’s letter.

“If Attorney General Holder had said these things five months ago when Congress asked him about Operation Fast and Furious, it might have been more believable. At this point, however, it’s hard to take at face value a defense that is factually questionable, entirely self-serving, and a still incomplete account of what senior Justice Department officials knew about gun walking,” Hill said.

Holder’s five-page letter included detailed explanations in response to various points raised by his critics.

He concluded by saying: “Until we move beyond the current political climate, where real solutions take a back seat to both political posturing and making headlines on cable news programs, and is deemed more important than actually solving our country’s difficult challenges, nothing is going to change. I hope we can engage in a more responsible dialogue on this subject in the future.”

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Former Bayou La Batre Police Officer Sgt. Jason Edwards Arrested On Theft Charge

October 7, 2011

MOBILE COUNTY, ALABAMA – Mobile County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a former Bayou La Batre Police sergeant this morning, accused of stealing $2,600 from the department.

A Mobile grand jury indicted Jason Edwards on a charge of first-degree theft of property. He was released on $20,000 bail.

Edwards, who acted as a spokesman for the department for many years, resigned May 5 without notice.

“I understand that this resignation will not be accepted in good standings and furthermore agree that I will not seek employment with the police department in the future,” he said in his letter of resignation, a copy of which was obtained by the Press-Register.

It’s likely that the charge stems from a May inquiry by the Alabama Bureau of Investigation into money that had been seized but later went missing.

Mayor Stan Wright said at the time that he would do everything in his power to see the culprit “prosecuted to the fullest.”

Wright now faces his own legal troubles, accused of defrauding the federal government after Hurricane Katrina. He has denied wrongdoing.

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Not Guilty: Queens New York Prosecutors Targeted Battered Woman – Former Police Officer Husband Abused Her For Many Years

October 7, 2011

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – She had always admitted to killing her husband, using two guns to fire 11 bullets inside the couple’s home in Queens. But she insisted she had no choice: if she had not shot him, he would have surely killed her first.

On Thursday, a jury in State Supreme Court in Queens agreed, clearing the woman, Barbara Sheehan, of second-degree murder charges in a case that had been viewed as a strenuous test of a battered-woman defense. Her son and daughter, the children of her slain husband, wept with joy.

During the trial, the jury heard how Ms. Sheehan had been relentlessly abused by her husband, Raymond Sheehan, a former police sergeant, during their 24 years of marriage. But the critical question at trial was whether Ms. Sheehan was in imminent danger when she killed her husband; New York State’s self-defense law justifies the use of lethal force when a threat to a person’s life is deemed immediate.

The trial offered two narratives so diametrically opposed that jurors said it had often been difficult to decipher who the real Barbara Sheehan was.

In one version, Ms. Sheehan and her children testified that Mr. Sheehan smashed her head against a cinder-block wall during a family vacation in Jamaica in 2007, threw boiling pasta sauce at her and punched her in the face the evening before the killing took place in their Howard Beach home in February 2008.

But prosecutors characterized Ms. Sheehan as a pathological liar who executed her husband because she despised him after years of a sexless, dysfunctional marriage, and then cloaked herself in a false story of chronic abuse to escape justice.

The physical evidence appeared unpersuasive: Mr. Sheehan had been shaving before he was killed; his body was found on the bathroom floor, the faucet still running.

Ms. Sheehan testified that the couple had a fierce argument the day before, and she had decided to leave, carrying one of her husband’s guns for protection. When her husband saw her, she said, he reached for a gun on the bathroom vanity and aimed it at her.

Ms. Sheehan and her children burst into tears when the verdict was announced, and her lawyer, Michael G. Dowd, put his arms around her. Her supporters, adorned in purple in solidarity with victims of domestic violence, began cheering.

The killing had divided the Sheehan family. Mr. Sheehan’s twin brother sat alone on one side of the courtroom, while Ms. Sheehan’s children and various supporters sat on the other side. The case had also divided the jury: a day before the verdict was reached, the jurors said they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Nonetheless, the jury of nine women and three men unexpectedly reached a consensus on Thursday, in their third day of deliberations. Ms. Sheehan was acquitted of murder and of a gun possession charge, but was found guilty of a second gun possession charge, which carries a sentence of 3 1/2 to 15 years. The judge ordered her to return to court on Wednesday, when she will be remanded into custody. Her sentencing will follow.

Outside the courtroom, Ms. Sheehan, a school secretary, could not contain her tears, clasping the hands of her children. Mr. Dowd said she would not be speaking and wanted to spend time with her family.

“There is no joy today,” he said. “The only thing that can bring joy to this family would be to bring them back 17 years before the first blow was struck.”

In an interview, the jury forewoman, Barbara Fleisher, said jurors ultimately decided to exonerate Ms. Sheehan of murder because the family’s accounts of chronic and vicious abuse had rung true. She said they had believed that Ms. Sheehan reasonably feared she faced an imminent threat of bodily harm when she shot her husband the first time.

“We believed she was justified with all the things she went through over the years,” she said. “We didn’t believe that Raymond Sheehan was the perfect family man or the photographs that were supposed to make him look like a pillar.”

She said that the jury had decided, however, to find Ms. Sheehan guilty of possessing the second weapon, since she had shot her husband even after he no longer posed a danger. The verdict, she indicated, was something of a compromise.

Ms. Sheehan’s son, Raymond Sheehan, said he was happy that his mother had been exonerated of murder, but added, “We don’t want her to go back to jail.”

Mr. Sheehan’s twin brother, Vincent Sheehan, said it was a “bad verdict.”

Asked if his brother would be able to rest in peace, he said: “I think the truth is what makes you rest in peace — not what 12 citizens say about it. But this is the system and you’ve got to live with it.”

“People make decisions based on emotion,” he added.

Ms. Fleisher said the jury’s impasse had been overcome once jurors agreed that they had several doubts about the prosecution’s case. In particular, she said the jury doubted the attempt to show that Mr. Sheehan’s bizarre sexual behavior, which included forcing his wife to watch while he masturbated dressed in an adult diaper, had been a motive for a murderous rage.

Legal experts said the verdict was a vindication for the so-called battered-woman defense. Under this strategy the battered woman chronicles her abuse in intimate and graphic detail with the aim of convincing the jury that she reasonably feared for her life based on her abuser’s past behavior.

“The case is a good marker of the willingness of jurors to realize that a history of abuse can inform a woman’s sense of the need to act in self-defense,” said Holly Maguigan, a law professor at New York University.

Richard A. Brown, the Queens district attorney, said the case was a cautionary tale that those claiming domestic abuse should not take the law into their own hands. “This is a terribly sad and tragic case,” Mr. Brown said. “A family has been torn apart. Their two children will have to pick up the pieces.”

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Secret Panel Of US Government Officials Can Put US Citizens On “Kill List”

October 6, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials.

There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council, several current and former officials said. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.

The panel was behind the decision to add Awlaki, a U.S.-born militant preacher with alleged al Qaeda connections, to the target list. He was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen late last month.

The role of the president in ordering or ratifying a decision to target a citizen is fuzzy. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to discuss anything about the process.

Current and former officials said that to the best of their knowledge, Awlaki, who the White House said was a key figure in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate, had been the only American put on a government list targeting people for capture or death due to their alleged involvement with militants.

The White House is portraying the killing of Awlaki as a demonstration of President Barack Obama’s toughness toward militants who threaten the United States. But the process that led to Awlaki’s killing has drawn fierce criticism from both the political left and right.

In an ironic turn, Obama, who ran for president denouncing predecessor George W. Bush’s expansive use of executive power in his “war on terrorism,” is being attacked in some quarters for using similar tactics. They include secret legal justifications and undisclosed intelligence assessments.

Liberals criticized the drone attack on an American citizen as extra-judicial murder.

Conservatives criticized Obama for refusing to release a Justice Department legal opinion that reportedly justified killing Awlaki. They accuse Obama of hypocrisy, noting his administration insisted on publishing Bush-era administration legal memos justifying the use of interrogation techniques many equate with torture, but refused to make public its rationale for killing a citizen without due process.

Some details about how the administration went about targeting Awlaki emerged on Tuesday when the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, was asked by reporters about the killing.

The process involves “going through the National Security Council, then it eventually goes to the president, but the National Security Council does the investigation, they have lawyers, they review, they look at the situation, you have input from the military, and also, we make sure that we follow international law,” Ruppersberger said.

LAWYERS CONSULTED

Other officials said the role of the president in the process was murkier than what Ruppersberger described.

They said targeting recommendations are drawn up by a committee of mid-level National Security Council and agency officials. Their recommendations are then sent to the panel of NSC “principals,” meaning Cabinet secretaries and intelligence unit chiefs, for approval. The panel of principals could have different memberships when considering different operational issues, they said.

The officials insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

They confirmed that lawyers, including those in the Justice Department, were consulted before Awlaki’s name was added to the target list.

Two principal legal theories were advanced, an official said: first, that the actions were permitted by Congress when it authorized the use of military forces against militants in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001; and they are permitted under international law if a country is defending itself.

Several officials said that when Awlaki became the first American put on the target list, Obama was not required personally to approve the targeting of a person. But one official said Obama would be notified of the principals’ decision. If he objected, the decision would be nullified, the official said.

A former official said one of the reasons for making senior officials principally responsible for nominating Americans for the target list was to “protect” the president.

Officials confirmed that a second American, Samir Khan, was killed in the drone attack that killed Awlaki. Khan had served as editor of Inspire, a glossy English-language magazine used by AQAP as a propaganda and recruitment vehicle.

But rather than being specifically targeted by drone operators, Khan was in the wrong place at the wrong time, officials said. Ruppersberger appeared to confirm that, saying Khan’s death was “collateral,” meaning he was not an intentional target of the drone strike.

When the name of a foreign, rather than American, militant is added to targeting lists, the decision is made within the intelligence community and normally does not require approval by high-level NSC officials.

‘FROM INSPIRATIONAL TO OPERATIONAL’

Officials said Awlaki, whose fierce sermons were widely circulated on English-language militant websites, was targeted because Washington accumulated information his role in AQAP had gone “from inspirational to operational.” That meant that instead of just propagandizing in favor of al Qaeda objectives, Awlaki allegedly began to participate directly in plots against American targets.

“Let me underscore, Awlaki is no mere messenger but someone integrally involved in lethal terrorist activities,” Daniel Benjamin, top counterterrorism official at the State Department, warned last spring.

The Obama administration has not made public an accounting of the classified evidence that Awlaki was operationally involved in planning terrorist attacks.

But officials acknowledged that some of the intelligence purporting to show Awlaki’s hands-on role in plotting attacks was patchy.

For instance, one plot in which authorities have said Awlaki was involved Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner on Christmas Day 2009 with a bomb hidden in his underpants.

There is no doubt Abdulmutallab was an admirer or follower of Awlaki, since he admitted that to U.S. investigators. When he appeared in a Detroit courtroom earlier this week for the start of his trial on bomb-plot charges, he proclaimed, “Anwar is alive.”

But at the time the White House was considering putting Awlaki on the U.S. target list, intelligence connecting Awlaki specifically to Abdulmutallab and his alleged bomb plot was partial. Officials said at the time the United States had voice intercepts involving a phone known to have been used by Awlaki and someone who they believed, but were not positive, was Abdulmutallab.

Awlaki was also implicated in a case in which a British Airways employee was imprisoned for plotting to blow up a U.S.-bound plane. E-mails retrieved by authorities from the employee’s computer showed what an investigator described as ” operational contact” between Britain and Yemen.

Authorities believe the contacts were mainly between the U.K.-based suspect and his brother. But there was a strong suspicion Awlaki was at the brother’s side when the messages were dispatched. British media reported that in one message, the person on the Yemeni end supposedly said, “Our highest priority is the US … With the people you have, is it possible to get a package or a person with a package on board a flight heading to the US?”

U.S. officials contrast intelligence suggesting Awlaki’s involvement in specific plots with the activities of Adam Gadahn, an American citizen who became a principal English-language propagandist for the core al Qaeda network formerly led by Osama bin Laden.

While Gadahn appeared in angry videos calling for attacks on the United States, officials said he had not been specifically targeted for capture or killing by U.S. forces because he was regarded as a loudmouth not directly involved in plotting attacks.

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Two Top Washington DC ATF Supervisors Demoted After Agency Supplied Guns To Mexican Drug Cartels

October 6, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Two top supervisors at ATF headquarters in Washington — the deputy director and the assistant director for all field operations — have been reassigned as the beleaguered agency attempts to remake itself amid the fallout from a failed gun-tracking operation along the Southwest border called Fast and Furious, according to two sources briefed on the changes.

William J. Hoover, the No. 2 man at ATF, will become special agent-in-charge of the agency’s Washington field office, while Mark Chait, who ran all of the field investigations around the country, is being reassigned as head of the Baltimore field office.

Thomas Brandon, who was sent to Phoenix to run the field office there and help it recover from the repercussions of Fast and Furious, will be taking Hoover’s spot as deputy director.

The new assignments, along with other job changes, were announced today by Todd Jones, the U.S. attorney in Minneapolis who was named acting head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives this year. He succeeded ATF chief Kenneth Melson, who was reassigned to a lower-level position in the Justice Department.

Hoover had broad supervision over Fast and Furious, was given routine updates on the “gun walking” operation, and grew concerned over the number of firearms getting into Mexico without any U.S. indictments on this side of the border.

He tried to get it shut down six months after it began in the fall of 2009. But he failed, and the program continued until January of this year. During that time, a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed in Arizona and two Fast and Furious weapons were recovered at the scene.

Under the program, the ATF allowed the illegal purchase of countless weapons and expected agents to track them to Mexican drug cartels.

Instead, more than 2,000 were lost and many turned up in at least 170 violent crime scenes in Mexico.

The furor has prompted a congressional investigation and a review by the Justice Department’s inspector general’s office.

Appeared Here


U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Changes His Story With Respect To His Department Supplying Guns To Medican Drug Cartels

October 5, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – New documents obtained by CBS News show Attorney General Eric Holder was sent briefings on the controversial Fast and Furious operation as far back as July 2010. That directly contradicts his statement to Congress.

On May 3, 2011, Holder told a Judiciary Committee hearing, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

Yet internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.

The documents came from the head of the National Drug Intelligence Center and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

In Fast and Furious, ATF agents allegedly allowed thousands of weapons to cross the border and fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

It’s called letting guns “walk,” and it remained secret to the public until Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered last December. Two guns from Fast and Furious were found at the scene, and ATF agent John Dodson blew the whistle on the operation.

Agent: I was ordered to let guns “walk” into Mexico

Ever since, the Justice Department has publicly tried to distance itself. But the new documents leave no doubt that high level Justice officials knew guns were being “walked.”

Two Justice Department officials mulled it over in an email exchange Oct. 18, 2010. “It’s a tricky case given the number of guns that have walked but is a significant set of prosecutions,” says Jason Weinstein, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division. Deputy Chief of the National Gang Unit James Trusty replies “I’m not sure how much grief we get for ‘guns walking.’ It may be more like, “Finally they’re going after people who sent guns down there.”

The Justice Department told CBS News that the officials in those emails were talking about a different case started before Eric Holder became Attorney General. And tonight they tell CBS News, Holder misunderstood that question from the committee – he did know about Fast and Furious – just not the details.

Appeared Here


Detroit Michigan Police Officer Joseph Weekly Charged With Shooting And Killing 7 Year Old Girl During Botched Police Raid That Included Video Crew From A&E Reality Show “First 48″

October 4, 2011

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – Detroit Police Officer Joseph Weekley has been arraigned on charges of involuntary manslaughter and careless and reckless discharge of a firearm in the death of Aiyana Stanley Jones. The 7-year-old girl was shot and killed during a police raid in May of 2010.

The shooting made national headlines because police were accompanied by a camera crew filming the A&E reality cop drama “First 48.”

Weekley is a 14-year veteran who had been a member of the department’s Special Response Team (SRT) since 2004. He reportedly told his sergeant moments after the shooting, “A woman inside grabbed my gun. It fired. The bullet hit a child.”

But the Stanley-Jones family lawyer Geoffrey Fieger told the Detroit Free Press he was shown a video immediately after the shooting that shows police as the aggressors. The video in question has not been found was reportedly not investigated by police.

“All I know is that the [missing] video is pretty dramatic,” he said. “You can see the gunman shooting into the house from the outside.”

The video that police have “is very different,” he said. “It doesn’t show a thing.”

Fieger is arguing the shot came from outside of the house and struck Aiyana while she was sleeping with her grandmother on a living room couch.

The Michigan State Police conducted a 10-month investigation into Aiyana’s killing, and in March submitted a warrant request to prosecutors.The Detroit police department has also been federally sanctioned twice in less than a decade for excessive force and inhumane conditions at the city’s county jail.

Appeared Here


Hispanic Students Disappear From Alabama Schools After Federal Judge Upholds Majority Of New Immigration Laws

October 2, 2011

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA – Hispanic students have started vanishing from Alabama public schools in the wake of a court ruling that upheld the state’s tough new law cracking down on illegal immigration.

Education officials say scores of immigrant families have withdrawn their children from classes or kept them home this week, afraid that sending the kids to school would draw attention from authorities.

There are no precise statewide numbers. But several districts with large immigrant enrollments — from small towns to large urban districts — reported a sudden exodus of children of Hispanic parents, some of whom told officials they planned to leave the state to avoid trouble with the law, which requires schools to check students’ immigration status.

The anxiety has become so intense that the superintendent in one of the state’s largest cities, Huntsville, went on a Spanish-language television show Thursday to try to calm widespread worries.

“In the case of this law, our students do not have anything to fear,” Casey Wardynski said in halting Spanish. He urged families to send students to class and explained that the state is only trying to compile statistics.

Police, he insisted, were not getting involved in schools.

Victor Palafox graduated from a high school in suburban Birmingham last year and has lived in the United States without documentation since age 6, when his parents brought him and his brother here from Mexico.

“Younger students are watching their lives taken from their hands,” said Palafox, whose family is staying put.

In Montgomery County, more than 200 Hispanic students were absent the morning after the judge’s Wednesday ruling. A handful withdrew.

In tiny Albertville, 35 students withdrew in one day. And about 20 students in Shelby County, in suburban Birmingham, either withdrew or told teachers they were leaving.

Local and state officials are pleading with immigrant families to keep their children enrolled. The law does not ban anyone from school, they say, and neither students nor parents will be arrested for trying to get an education.

But many Spanish-speaking families aren’t waiting around to see what happens.

A school worker in Albertville — a community with a large poultry industry that employs many Hispanic workers — said Friday that many families might leave town over the weekend for other states. About 22 percent of the community’s 4,200 students are Hispanic.

“I met a Hispanic mother in the hallway at our community learning center this morning, where enrollment and withdrawal happens. She looked at me with tears in her eyes. I asked, `Are you leaving?’ She said `Yes,’ and hugged me, crying,” said the worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not an authorized spokeswoman.

In Russellville, which has one of the largest immigrant populations in the state because of its poultry plants, overall school attendance was down more than 2 percent after the ruling, and the rate was higher among Hispanic students.

There’s “no firm data yet, but several students have related to their teachers that they may be moving soon,” said George Harper, who works in the central office.

Schools in Baldwin County, a heavily agricultural and tourist area near the Gulf Coast, and in Decatur in the Tennessee Valley also reported sudden decreases in Hispanic attendance.

The law does not require proof of citizenship to enroll, and it does not apply to any students who were enrolled before Sept. 1. While most students are not affected, school systems are supposed to begin checking the status of first-time enrollees now.

The Obama administration filed court documents Friday announcing its plans to appeal the ruling that upheld the law.

The state has distributed to schools sample letters that can be sent to parents of new students informing them of the law’s requirements for either citizenship documents or sworn statements by parents.

In an attempt to ease suspicions that the law may lead to arrests, the letter tells parents immigration information will be used only to gather statistics.

“Rest assured,” the letter states, “that it will not be a problem if you are unable or unwilling to provide either of the documents.”

Appeared Here


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