Number Of Homeless Families In Washington DC Jumps 18%

October 15, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC — When Janice Coe, a homeless advocate in Loudoun County, learned through her prayer group that a young woman was sleeping in the New Carrollton Metro station with a toddler and a 2-month-old, she sprang into action.

Coe contacted the young woman and arranged for her to take the train to Virginia, where she put the little family up in a Comfort Suites hotel. Then Coe began calling shelters to see who could take them.

Despite several phone calls, she came up empty. Coe was shocked to learn that many of the local shelters that cater to families were full, including Good Shepherd Alliance, where Coe was once director of social services.

“I don’t know why nobody will take this girl in,” Coe said. “The baby still had a hospital bracelet on her wrist.”

In a region with seven of the 10 most affluent counties in the country, family homelessness is on the rise — straining services, filling shelters and forcing parents and their children to sleep in cars, parks, and bus and train stations. One mother recently bought $14 bus tickets to and from New York so she and her 2-year-old son would have a safe place to sleep — on the bus.

As cold weather descends on the region, the need will become increasingly acute, advocates say. That will be especially true in the District, where continued fallout from the recession and lack of affordable housing has contributed to an 18 percent increase in family homelessness this year over last.

The city has recently come under fire for turning away families seeking help as 118 overflow beds that were added last winter at D.C. General — the city’s main family homeless shelter — sit empty. A few places have recently opened up, but 500 families — some of whom are living with relatives or friends — are on a waiting list for housing.

“We’re hoping we can keep pace with those in the more dire situations,” said David A. Berns, director of the city’s Department of Human Services.

Berns said the city is trying to keep the overflow beds open for hypothermia season, which begins Nov. 1. The city is mandated by law to shelter its residents if the temperature falls below freezing. The agency does not have the money to operate the extra beds, Berns said.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who has been critical of the agency’s handling of the crisis, wonders why families are being denied help when the District has a $140 million budget surplus.

“Never did I imagine that beds would be kept vacant,” Graham said. “It’s very upsetting.”

Family homelessness around the Washington region has increased 23 percent since the recession began — though the total number of homeless people stayed fairly steady at around 11,800, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which did its annual “point-in-time” survey of the homeless in January. This included some 3,388 homeless children, the study showed.

“These families are the most desperate because they have young children and have nowhere to go,” said Nassim Moshiree, a lawyer for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

Moshiree spent a good part of the day Friday trying to help a homeless mother of three who Thursday night slept with her children on the steps of a church in Northeast after unsuccessfully asking the city for help. After Moshiree intervened, the city found space for them late Friday.

“It’s a complete abomination,” said Antonia Fasanelli, executive director for the Homeless Persons Representation Project, a Maryland legal services and advocacy group based in Baltimore. She noted that in Baltimore — where homeless families from D.C. sometimes end up — three family shelters have been closed in the past five years, for a loss of about 100 shelter beds. “There is just not enough space.”

Throughout Maryland, Fasanelli said, 38 percent of homeless families are living on the streets. That’s the seventh-highest rate of unsheltered families in the country, according to a Department of Housing and Urban Development study on the homeless released in December.

At the Comfort Suites off Route 7 on Thursday, Helen Newsome, 25, fed her 2-year-old son, Cameron, an orange from the breakfast buffet as her infant daughter Isabella slept on the bed beside her.

Newsome said she became homeless this summer after she was evicted from her apartment in Prince George’s County. Since then, she and her children have slept most nights on a bench or the hard tile floor at the New Carrollton Metro, she said. Although she called several area shelters before she was evicted, she said she could never find one with room.

“I’m not asking for a whole room for myself, as long as I have someplace to sleep, somewhere soft,” Newsome said.

On Thursday, Coe took Newsome to the Loudoun County Department of Family Services, where a social worker helped her sign up for food stamps and other aid and said she would try and help her find a subsidized apartment. Finally, Newsome said she could see an end to her ordeal.

“They’re leaning on me,” she said, gesturing to her kids. “I’m their only hope. It’s okay. Everybody goes through something, some people worse than others.”

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Video: Jewish Youth Center Security Guard Regrets Calling New York City Police After Douchebags Brutally Beat Unarmed Homeless Man 2 Minutes For Sleeping In A Chair

October 15, 2012

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Surveillance video shows police officers pummeling shirtless man in youth center.

Two police officers repeatedly pummeled a shirtless man in a Jewish youth center in Brooklyn after they roused him from sleeping and moved to arrest him, surveillance video released Sunday night shows.

Cops showed up at the Aliya Institute on E. New York Ave. in Crown Heights on the evening of Oct. 8 after receiving a call about a fight between two men, a community source told the Daily News.

But Zlamy Trappler, 24, a volunteer security guard at the center, said he called cops because he found the shirtless man drunk and sleeping in the lounge of the center, which provides services to young Jewish adults.

Two police officers, one male and one female, found the man sleeping on a couch, surveillance video shows.

The officers awaken the man, identified by CrownHeights.info, which first made the video public, as Ehud Halevi, who is swaddled in a white sheet, the video shows.

As Halevi gets to his feet, Trappler comes in, and Halevi appears to have a heated exchange with the cops and Trappler, who leaves. The exchange between Halevi and the officers intensifies, with the male cop removing a pair of handcuffs, the video shows. Halevi pushes the male officer’s hands away from his body, the video shows.

The officer then charges Halevi, the video shows, punching him in the face, while the female officer appears to pepper-spray him and beats him with what appears to be a truncheon.

After a two-minute beatdown, another eight police officers arrive and handcuff Halevi, who appears to be unbloodied, the video shows.

“I regret making the call. I should have let him sleep. It spiraled out of control,” said Trappler.

Cops charged Halevi with assaulting a police officer, trespassing, resisting arrest and harassment, according to CrownHeight.info.

Police did not respond to requests for comment Sunday night.

The community source said Halevi had been allowed to stay at the Institute.

Sara Feiglin, wife of Rabbi Moshe Feiglin, who runs the youth center, confirmed the account given by CrownHeights.info. The rabbi did not respond to a request for comment.

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Federal Reserve Loses “Large Amount” Of Newly Designed $100 Bills – “Substantial” Number Of Bills Were Not Intended For Circulation Until 2013

October 14, 2012

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Unknown thieves stole a “large amount” of newly-designed $100 bills bound for a Federal Reserve facility in New Jersey on Thursday, the FBI said.

Frank Burton, Jr., spokesman for the FBI’s Philadelphia division, said the theft occurred at some point between when the shipment of bills landed at the Philadelphia airport on a commercial flight from Dallas at 10:20 Thursday morning, and when the shipment reached its New Jersey destination around 2:00 p.m., when the courier service transporting the bills reported some missing.

Burton declined to comment on the amount taken, but said it was substantial.

The missing bills carry a design that is not slated to reach circulation until 2013. They feature a large gold “100” graphic on the back, and an orange box on the front with a faint image of the Liberty Bell.

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Lawsuit Charges Brooklyn New York District Attorney’s Office With malicious Prosecution, Defamation, And False Imprisonment After Bogus Rape Carges Were Dismissed – Many Questions About Accuser’s Credibility And Whether Prosecutors Mishandled Evidence Pointing To Innocence

October 10, 2012

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – One of four men who had sex-crime charges against him in a case involving a young Orthodox Jewish woman dismissed last June has sued New York City and the Brooklyn district attorney’s office for malicious prosecution, defamation and false imprisonment.

The man, Darrell Dula, filed the lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn on Oct. 2, more than a year after he was jailed on Rikers Island and held there for months without bail on the charges, which were dismissed amid troubling questions about the accuser’s credibility and whether prosecutors mishandled exculpatory evidence.

Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, and Lauren Hersh, the chief of Mr. Hynes’s sex-trafficking unit, were named in a separate, related suit.

The case began in June 2011 when Mr. Hynes, at a highly publicized news conference, announced the indictments of Mr. Dula and three co-defendants — Damien Crooks and two brothers, Jamali and Jawara Brockett — on charges of rape, sex trafficking and compelling prostitution over the course of a decade.

The four men were accused of using assaults and threats of violence to silence the woman, a member of the Chabad Lubavitch community in Crown Heights who was only 13 at the start of the events described in the indictment.

According to the indictment, Mr. Dula, 26, was the least culpable of the four defendants, charged with a single count of rape. In April, after he had spent 10 months in jail, a judge released him when a police report surfaced recounting the victim’s recantation. In that report, the victim was quoted as telling an investigating officer, “Can’t a ho change her ways?” Jonathan Sims, Mr. Dula’s lawyer, said, “We believe that the victim’s account against our client was incredible from Day 1. The whole thing just stinks.” The suit was reported in The New York Post on Tuesday.

The defendants denied the woman’s charges; Mr. Crooks eventually said that he had consensual sex with her when she was 17.

The case began to unravel as an assistant district attorney, Abbie Greenberger, quit her job, complaining of pressure from Ms. Hersh to continue the prosecution even though the accuser had partially recanted her allegations — albeit under pressure from the police, the accuser claimed.

Shortly after, Ms. Hersh, who oversaw the case, also quit her job, amid claims that she had failed to tell the defense about the changed account or about other evidence that could have damaged the prosecution’s case. She resigned in May, after the district attorney’s office conducted a review and concluded that she had not acted improperly.

According to a former Brooklyn prosecutor with close ties to Mr. Hynes’s office, the lawyer-disciplinary committee of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court’s First Department, in Manhattan, is investigating Ms. Hersh’s conduct in the rape case and other cases. The Appellate Division’s Second Department normally oversees matters in Brooklyn but recused itself because of possible political ties to Mr. Hynes, the former prosecutor said.

A spokeswoman for the Office of Court Administration said that under state law officials cannot comment on pending investigations; she would neither confirm nor deny that an inquiry was taking place.

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$500 Million Federal Lawsuit Charges Westchester County New York County Jail With Not Providing Inmates Access To Needed Dental Floss

October 9, 2012

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — A group of Westchester County Jail inmates will have to fight their own legal battle for access to dental floss, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams ruled in Manhattan that the 11 Westchester inmates, who sued the county Sept. 10 for $500 million because they were denied access to dental floss, will have to convince him their case has a shot before he gives them a court-appointed lawyer.

“As a threshold matter, in order to qualify for appointment of counsel plaintiffs must demonstrate that their claims have substance or likelihood of success,” Abrams wrote in an Oct. 4 order. “In addition, in reviewing a request of appointment of counsel, the court must be cognizant of the fact that volunteer attorney time is a precious commodity, and thus, should not grant appointment of counsel indiscriminately.”

The inmates, lead by 26-year-old Santiago Gomez, filed their request for a free attorney after they sued Westchester County and its correction department after denying them dental floss, which they said lead to cavities in particular and bad dental health in general.

“When you get these cavities, they give you a temporary filling which, almost, by three or four weeks, falls out, which requires unnecessary procedures such as more drilling to replace this temporary filling,” Gomez told The Journal News in a telephone interview last month.

“Besides being in this facility, I’ve been in several facilities throughout New York state prisons,” Gomez said.

“All the facilities that I’ve been in sell dental floss,” he continued. “They’ve been advised in the grievance procedure here that they have ‘loops,’ which are inmate-friendly. They have a rubber appearance, they’re disposable, they come in Ziploc bags. All facilities sell them.”

Gomez is being held on a guilty plea to attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, stemming from his Nov. 25, 2011, arrest in Yonkers. He is to be sentenced Dec. 4.

The dental floss lawsuit is the third federal civil rights action he has filed since his arrest. He filed two other lawsuits in May, claiming that Yonkers police, county correction officers and medical personnel at the Valhalla jail refused his pleas for medical attention.

Gomez claimed he suffered a broken ankle, although jail officials said subsequent X-rays did not reveal a fracture.

Westchester County correction officials declined to discuss the lawsuit, but said the jail was examining safe alternatives to dental floss, which can present a security concern.

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New York City Police Shoot And Kill Innocent And Unarmed Army Guardsman – Officers Yelling Obscenities Before Pulling Car Over, Told His Girlfriend “Your Friend Shot Himself” – As An Off Duty Police Officer Slept In Backseat Of Their Victim’s Car

October 8, 2012

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — A passenger says there was nothing to provoke police to fatally shoot an unarmed Army National Guardsman driving on a New York City highway.

Diane Deferrari said the bullet that struck Noel Polanco in the abdomen narrowly missed her. She said uniformed officers pointed their guns through her open window.

She said the officers were yelling obscenities before pulling their car over near LaGuardia Airport on Thursday.

Deferrari said one of the officers told her, “Your friend shot himself.”

An off-duty police officer, Vanessa Rodriguez, was asleep in the back seat. She was awakened by the gunshot.

Police said it’s unclear what prompted Det. Hassam Hamdy to shoot.

Deferrari said she complied with an order to raise her hands, but the driver’s hands remained on the wheel.

According to The New York Times, Polanco worked at a local Honda dealership and was a member of the New York Army National Guard.

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Wetback On The Way To See Film About His Life As An Illegal Immigrant Jailed After His Arrest On Amtrak Train In New York

October 8, 2012

BUFFALO, NEW YORK – In an ironic twist of fate, an actor on his way to the Hamptons International Film Festival to see a film about his immigration journey was picked up by federal immigration officials.

Customs and Border Protection agents took Praq Rado, a 31-year-old Albanian-born actor who has lived in America for 11 years without documentation, into custody on Thursday while he was on board an Amtrak train in Buffalo, the agency confirmed on Sunday afternoon.

“Dreaming American,” a short narrative based on Rado’s life, makes its East Coast premiere during the film festival at the East Hampton movie theater on Monday at 8 p.m. He was due to speak at the festival headquarters at c/o the Maidstone on Sunday afternoon.

Lee Percy, who wrote and directed “Dreaming American,” confirmed Rado was traveling to East Hampton for the screening.

Rado is the lead actor in the 24-minute film that tells the story of his immigration journey, including how he escaped from Albania, without papers. He was thrown overboard from a ship off the Italian coast and made his way to shore.

“Family opposition to the prevailing regime had sharply curtailed his access to education or any sort of meaningful future. Even his personal safety was in jeopardy; his father’s death is still shrouded in mystery and political intrigue,” Percy said in a statement, adding that Rado dreamed of “living without fear of sectarian or political violence.”

In America, he struggled to survive and find work without a Social Security number, taking jobs as a go-go dancer at a gay bar in the East Village, Percy said by phone on Sunday. He ended up becoming a successful model and transitioned to acting.

Percy, an award-winning editor who worked on “Salt,” which stars Angelina Jolie, met Rado at an industry party. Rado was working at as a caterer and pitched his life story as a film. Barbet Schroeder produced the film.

“I thought it was moving,” Percy said of his story. “People always have an image of illegal immigration,” he said. “He’s a very determined, very hardworking, very good long fellow. Let’s take this one face … and perhaps give people a different attitude when they think of immigration.”

Lead Boarder Patrol Agent Michael Scioli said that Rado — whose given name is Preke Radoina — first illegally entered the country in Detroit in 2001. By 2007, immigration officials issued an order to remove him, he said.

According to Percy, Rado was never deported.

Rado, who has been working in Los Angeles but lives in New York, has not left the country since arriving, even though both of his parents died back in Albania, Percy said. He has to travel by train to avoid Homeland Security at airports, but was determined to come to East Hampton to see his film.

“I tried to warn him off, but he was excited about this festival,” Percy said.

While Scioli did not detail how authorities found out Rado was on the train, he said it is common for them to board a train and ask for documentation.

After Customs and Border Protection have completed paperwork in Buffalo, Rado will be sent to a federal detention center to await a deportation hearing, Scioli said.

“If he is sent back to Albania, not only will he be separated from his loved ones forever but his now public persona may further endanger his life,” Percy said. “Albania may have officially proclaimed support for freedom of ideas, but the everyday possibility of persecution and death remains very common and very real.”

His attorneys are fighting his deportation, asking that his petition to re-open his case can be heard. “Praq Rado’s dreaming American may all be for nothing,” he said.

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