New York City Police Efforts To Spy On Students In The Northeast Called “Disgusting”

February 26, 2012

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – At Columbia University and elsewhere, the fear that the New York Police Department might secretly be infiltrating Muslim students’ lives has spread beyond them to others who find the reported tactics “disgusting,” as one teenager put it.

The NYPD surveillance of Muslims on a dozen college campuses in the Northeast is a surprising and disappointing violation, students said Saturday in reaction to Associated Press reports that revealed the intelligence-gathering at Columbia and elsewhere.

“If this is happening to innocent Muslim students, who’s next?” asked freshman Dina Morris, 18, of Amherst, Mass. “I’m the child of an immigrant, and I was just blown away by the news; it’s disgusting.”

Documents obtained by the AP show that the NYPD used undercover officers and informants to infiltrate Muslim student groups. An officer even went whitewater rafting with students and reported on how many times they prayed and what they discussed. Police also trawled college websites and blogs, compiling daily reports on the activities of Muslim students and academics.

It was all part of the NYPD’s efforts to keep tabs on Muslims throughout the region as part of the department’s anti-terrorism efforts. Police built databases of where Muslims lived and worked, where they prayed, even where they watched sports.

In the past week, Muslims and non-Muslims alike held a town hall meeting on the Manhattan campus of the Ivy League college to discuss the police surveillance. Concerned members of many school groups attended.

On Friday, some of their counterparts at New York University choked up as they gathered to voice their outrage at the notion that even students’ religious habits were being tracked by the NYPD.

“Why is the number of times that we pray per day – whether or not I come in this space and put my forehead on the floor in worship of my Lord – why does that have anything to do with somebody trying to keep this country safe?” said Elizabeth Dann, 29, an NYU law student.

At first, when it was revealed last weekend that Muslim students were targets of police surveillance, “people were distressed and frazzled,” Mona Abdullah, a member of Columbia’s Muslim Students Association, told the AP.

But by Saturday, she said, a different mood descended on the campus.

“We’re now feeling a sense of unity, because this is not an issue that affects only Muslims,” said Abdullah, 20, who is majoring in political science and Middle Eastern studies. “We’re still worried, but there’s also a sense of solidarity over an issue that has to be taken seriously by everyone.”

Students are also feeling empathy for those outside the university community who are being subjected to the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” policy targeting anyone who seems suspicious, mainly blacks and Hispanics.

“We’re not the first and we’re definitely not going to be the last,” Abdullah said.

Police were interested in Muslim student groups because they attracted young men, a demographic that terrorist groups have tapped. The NYPD defended the effort, citing a dozen accused or convicted terrorists worldwide who had once been affiliated with Muslim student groups.

But students say that unfairly categorizes them all as potential terrorists.

The Muslim students “are just as American as anyone, and to make them feel unsafe and unwanted is really unfair!” said Morris, who attends Barnard College, which is affiliated with Columbia.

“There was a lot of police blowback after 9/11; they were not respecting civil liberties,” said Leo Schwartz, 19, a political science major and columnist for Columbia’s student newspaper, the Daily Spectator.

Anmol Gupta, 22, an engineering student, said that in a city like New York, which prides itself on ethnic diversity, “the idea of the surveillance of Muslims does surprise me, it’s disturbing.”

Sitting on a bench, he glanced across the university’s quad at the students of many races and faiths who were walking around on a chilly winter day.

Gupta said he didn’t feel students could do anything to stop the surveillance.

They certainly shouldn’t do anything to change how they live from day to day – even if they’re afraid they’re being watched, Abdullah said. “We’re saying, `Don’t change the way you act, don’t change anything you do, because we’re not doing anything wrong.'”

Still, many on the campus of more than 25,000 students craved reassurance.

University President Lee Bollinger plans to host a fireside chat on Monday evening to discuss the secret monitoring.

He said in a statement Friday: “We should all be able to appreciate the deeply personal concerns of the Muslim members of our community in learning that their activities were being monitored – and the chilling effect such governmental efforts have on any of us in a university devoted to the foundational values of free speech and association.”

On Saturday, the unanswered question among Columbia students remained: Is the NYPD still conducting surveillance on students?

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Friday: “We’re going to continue to do what we have to do to protect the city.”

He did not elaborate.

And Mayor Michael Bloomberg said his police department’s monitoring of Muslims – even outside the city at colleges in Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and upstate New York – was “legal,” “appropriate” and “constitutional.”

Authorities left open what students most wanted answered – “if and when the surveillance ended,” Abdullah said.

“I don’t think it has ended.”

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Sacramento California Airport Terminal Shutdown After Dumbass TSA Agents Wander Off From Checkpoint

February 26, 2012

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – Terminal B at Sacramento International Airport was shut down temporarily after five people got past an unattended security checkpoint.

The security breach happened Saturday when a walk-through metal detector was left unattended for less than a minute, officials said.

After noticing it was unattended, Transportation Security Administration officials closed the checkpoint and went to search for the five individuals that got by. Police were called to help.

“All five individuals were located and were brought back to the checkpoint and rescreened as a precaution,” according to a statement from the TSA.

According to TSA spokesperson Ann Davis, the terminal was closed for an hour starting at around 9 a.m.

As a result of the incident, officials said, two TSA officers have been removed from screening duties and are to undergo additional training.

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Former Columbus Georgia Police Officer Edward Pascucci Pleads Guilty To Robbing Bank – Didn’t Want To Be Homeless – Wanted Health Care At Taxpayer Expense In Federal Prison

February 26, 2012

COLUMBUS, GEORGIA – A former Columbus police officer admitted in court that he robbed a bank last year so he can get health benefits being in a federal prison.

Edward Pascucci told U.S. District Court Judge Clay D. Land Thursday that he was facing “severe health problems” and homelessness when he decided to rob the Citizens Trust Bank last August, according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

“I didn’t want to be homeless,” Pascucci said, according to the paper. “I should not have manipulated the justice system, but I couldn’t think of any other way to get help.”

The FBI said Pascucci walked out of the bank with more than $1,000, according to WTVM-TV. He was jobless for more than a year when the crime occurred.

Pascucci – who served as a police officer for 15 years – was sentenced to five years and three months in prison.

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Man Beat Son Who Wouldn’t Watch Obama’s State Of The Union Address

February 24, 2012

STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT – A North Stamford father trying to make his pre-teenaged son listen to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech last month was arrested on a warrant Wednesday and accused of striking his son with a coffee mug when the youth would not pay attention.

Mohamed Shohan, 49, of 55 Mather Road, Stamford, was charged with third-degree assault, disorderly conduct and risk of injury to a child. He was released after posting $5,000 bond and will be arraigned on the charges at state Superior Court in Stamford Thursday.

Youth Bureau Sgt. Joseph Kennedy said police were made aware of the assault Jan. 27 when the youth was brought to Stamford Hospital for treatment of an injury to his face. When police interviewed the 11-year-old boy, he told them the two sat down at home to watch the address the day after his father recorded it, Kennedy said.

When the boy kept acting out, the father lost his temper and grabbed a coffee mug his son was holding and hit him in the face with it, causing a bruise to the bridge of his nose, it is alleged.

When interviewed, Shohan could not explain how his son was injured, police said. Police then obtained an arrest warrant for Shohan.

“The father ended up overreacting quite a bit,” Kennedy said.

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Utha Minors Will Need ID And Parental Permission For Tanning

February 22, 2012

UTAH – Minors who want to go to tanning salons would have to get parental permission on each visit under a bill passed Wednesday by the Utah Senate.

Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said parents have a responsibility to learn about the risks posed by the ultraviolet light from tanning beds, which she warned is a known carcinogen and 15 times more dangerous than midday sunlight.

“If you think it’s inconvenient for parents to be warned about the dangers of tanning, how inconvenient is it to take your children to chemotherapy treatments?” Jones asked.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, opposed SB41, arguing that parents be presented information on the risks and allowed to give consent annually. Jones called his amendment an attempt to “gut the bill,” and his effort failed.

The Senate passed the bill 18-9. It now goes to the House.

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Family Stranded In Texas Because Of Crease In Back Cover Of Passport

February 22, 2012

DALLAS, TEXAS – A Denver family was supposed to be in Belize this week enjoying a beach getaway with their loved ones.

Instead, they’re in a hotel room in Dallas, TX because an American Airlines official there claimed they had a mutilated passport.

“We started at Denver International Airport, where we checked in and all our passports were checked very thoroughly,” said Kyle Gosnell.

Gosnell, his wife Dana, and their young son, Kye, received boarding passes all the way through to Belize City.

But in Dallas, they hit a roadblock. “They took a look at our passports and said that my passport was mutilated, therefore I wasn’t able to fly,” Gosnell said.

Little Kye’s passport has a crease on the back cover, which Gosnell says came from him accidentally sitting on the passport.

His passport was questioned, but not denied. It was Kyle Gosnell’s that was the real problem. It has a small crease on the back cover, and is overall weathered and worn.

While some travelers may consider that a badge of honor, of sorts, the government doesn’t.

Ray Priest, owner of International Passport Visas in Denver, said your passport isn’t actually yours at all; it belongs to the US government.

“To have a passport is privilege, it’s not entitled to you by citizenship,” Priest said. He said the issue may be with a microchip embedded in the back of all new passports. “They have no reason in the world to let you travel if it’s been damaged,” Priest said. “It’s like cutting your photo out or something if that chip doesn’t work.”

Kyle Gosnell has used this passport to travel to Belize before. The family just wants there to be more uniform policies.

“There was no protocol,” said Dana Gosnell. “They don’t have the same system of rules for the Denver airport that they do for the Dallas airport.”

But Priest called this a fair warning for other travelers. “This is done for national security, for whatever reason they can’t make an exception, period,” he said. American Airlines is paying for the family’s hotel.

A spokesperson for the airline didn’t give FOX31 an official statement, but said it is within the airline’s rights to refuse a traveler for a passport that might not be able to be scanned.

The family is going to the passport office Tuesday to hopefully get new documents and continue with their scheduled trip to Belize.

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Trigger Happy Scottsdale Arizona Police Officer Shoots And Kills Unarmed Man Holding A Baby Outside His Home

February 17, 2012

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA — An Arizona man was shot to death by police Tuesday while holding his grandson.

Police say 50-year-old John Loxas was holding his grandchild in his arms as he walked around his Scottsdale neighborhood Tuesday night threatening neighbors and police.

“There were at least three officers in position to engage the suspect. At least one of the officers thought he saw something in the suspect’s hands,” said Sgt. Mark Clark.

Loxas was standing outside of his home with his grandchild still in his arms when Officer James Peters fired one shot to the head, killing the suspect.

Police say the 9-month-old boy was not injured during the shooting.

Officers also escaped unharmed.

Some neighbors are now questioning the officers actions.

Investigators say the officers on the scene thought Loxas was holding a gun.

Detectives did not find a weapon on Loxas following the shooting, but did locate several firearms inside the home.

Officer Peters, who fired the fatal shot, has been involved in seven shootings over the past decade.
Six of those have been fatal, and all have been ruled justified.

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