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Police Arrest Dozens To End Ferguson Protests In Downtown L.A.

By Richard Winton, Kate Mather, Angel Jennings, Tre’vell Anderson, Samantha Masunaga, Marisa Gerber, Brittny Mejia, Ruben Vives, Taylor Goldenstein and Frank Shyong, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

A large demonstration against a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of a black teenager ended early Wednesday morning in downtown Los Angeles when police officers in riot gear surrounded a group of several dozen protesters.

At about 12:45 a.m., Los Angeles police told the group they were under arrest and ordered the crowd to sit down. Two police buses arrived near the intersection of Temple Street and Broadway. A police spokesman said the arrests were made on charges of disorderly conduct.
The LAPD also arrested 33 protesters at the intersection of Flower Street and 9th Street, according to Capt. Martin Baeza.

It was not immediately clear how many total arrests were made. Up until the late-night incident, the LAPD had arrested just four people in connection with the demonstrations. The California Highway Patrol had also arrested four people in connection with multiple attempts to block local freeways.

The crowd marked the remnants of a large rally outside LAPD headquarters that splintered into roving groups that had disrupted traffic in the area throughout the night. Tuesday’s protests began in South L.A. at about 3 p.m. and steadily moved east to the 110 Freeway. The majority of protesters were peaceful, but some became unruly as the night wore on.

After protesters caused repeated freeway, road and rail closures, they spread out throughout downtown and caused mayhem for motorists on local roads.

More than 100 protesters meandered through the streets and sidewalks near L.A. Live, briefly closing down traffic at Georgia Street and Olympic Boulevard. Nearby movie theatre Regal Cinemas locked its doors, allowing only customers with tickets inside. Police officers in riot gear formed human walls to block protesters from disrupting traffic on the freeway.

Another group outside LAPD headquarters began to march south on Main Street, then headed west on First Street toward Broadway. They left a handful of protesters behind, who drew chalk messages on the sidewalks and wrote anti-LAPD graffiti. A few gathered in a tight circle and sang freedom songs, their voices bouncing off of tall buildings.

Protesters briefly shut down the 101 Freeway in both directions after they placed barricades and metal debris on the road. Motorists trying to escape the jam flooded onto side streets in downtown Los Angeles. As cars packed Cesar Chavez Boulevard, a small group of protesters lay down where the street intersects with Grand Avenue, causing another traffic jam.

Some protesters jumped on a police cruiser near the Hall of Administration on Temple Street and posed for pictures. One of them was detained. A group of about 20 protesters sat down on Temple Street, forcing a truck to reverse and drive along Grand Avenue.

One officer was injured when a protester hurled a bottle of frozen water that struck the officer’s head, an LAPD spokeswoman said.

A small group of demonstrators seemed to be seeking confrontations with police and frequently tried to move the protests onto freeways to disrupt traffic. At least one patrol car appeared to have been defaced with graffiti.

Members of the crowd tried to stop fellow protesters from getting violent, shouting at them to stop.

Throughout the night, demonstrators clashed with each other about what form their protests should take. Some suggested heading to Beverly Hills, while another group split off and walked in a totally different direction.

Elan Lee, 27, watched a man throw a plastic bottle and asked him to stop. A group of men began to argue with her, telling her that both peaceful and violent protests are necessary.
“It was just seeing how mad he was,” Lee said, tears welling. “It made me sad to see someone so angry. … I don’t want throwing a bottle to cause the media to say protests are violent because they’re not.”

Lee, a downtown resident, said she understands the anger but she thinks there’s been enough violence.

“I just want a peaceful movement,” Lee said. “Enough is enough.”

Others felt that some protesters were simply taunting police to collect accolades on social media, where multiple demonstrators were posting pictures.

“Half of this protest I feel like is baiting cops … sort of about proving who you are against the police,” said Wilder Bunke, 21, of Hollywood, who was critical of actions by some in the crowd. “The modern-day “… the police” isn’t shooting a cop, it’s posting a picture of yourself posing with a cop car on Facebook or Twitter.”

Bunke said he felt some were demonstrating for the wrong reasons.

“I support the protest, I support this stand against police brutality and the institution of racism, but the antics of protesters are what delegitimize the protest as a whole.” he said.

Demonstrators said they were combating a sense of defeat and helplessness after the grand jury’s decision.

“Even though this might not do anything, being silent is much worse,” said Dylan Farr, 22, of Glendale.

His sister, a doctoral student at USC, was with him.

“I am angry and I feel powerless to change the way things are,” said Brittany Farr, 26. “It feels good to register my frustrations in a public way.”

Protests took a different form at Holman United Methodist Church, five miles from L.A. Live, where clergy and community groups called for peace and for collaboration.

More than 60 people from various faiths and ethnicities gathered in the church’s social hall about 7:30 p.m. to talk and pray about systematic change.

“I am disappointed, disturbed, but yet still determined … that we can display righteous anger, but do that in a constructive way,” said Kelvin Sauls, the senior pastor at the church.

“This moment and these moments we’ve had must become a movement,” he said.

In San Diego, several hundred protesters shut down a portion of Interstate 15 in the City Heights neighborhood for about 30 minutes Tuesday night. The crowd was moved off the freeway by San Diego police and CHP officers.

At least one person was arrested. There were no immediate reports of injuries or property damage.

A second protest march took place in downtown San Diego without incident.

AFP Photo/Jewel Samad

Ferguson: Burned Buildings, 61 Arrests In Wake Of Grand Jury Decision

By James Queally, Cathleen Decker, Lauren Raab and Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

FERGUSON, Mo. — At least a dozen buildings were burned and 61 people arrested during a night of violence and chaos in Ferguson, Mo., that followed a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in the killing of an unarmed black man, police said early Tuesday.

St. Louis County Police Department officials said those arrested could face charges of arson, burglary, possession of stolen property, unlawful possession of a firearm, and unlawful assembly. Only nine of those taken into custody were from Ferguson, authorities said.

During an early morning news conference held while flames still rose from some cars and buildings in Ferguson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said Monday night’s unrest exceeded what happened in the days after Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

Belmar told a news briefing that he heard about 150 gunshots during the night.
“I’m disappointed in this evening. … I didn’t see a lot of peaceful protests out there tonight,” he said.

Police were pelted with rocks and batteries as soon as the St. Louis County grand jury’s decision was announced, he said. Two police cars were set afire and “melted” on West Florissant Avenue, the scene of many protests, and at least a dozen buildings were torched, he said.

As day began to break, police still had no accurate count of the damage or the losses.

“What I’ve seen tonight is probably much worse than the worst night we had in August,” Belmar said. “There’s not a lot left” on a section of West Florissant ravaged by arson and looting.

But there was no loss of life, he said, and no serious injuries among police or protesters have been reported. “The good news is that we have not fired a shot,” Belmar said of law enforcement.

Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson lauded law enforcement’s restraint. “The officers did a great job tonight,” he told reporters. “They showed great character.”

Like Belmar, Johnson said the night’s violence dismayed him: “Our community has got to take some responsibility for what happened tonight. … We talk about peaceful protests, and that did not happen tonight.”

Belmar confirmed that an officer in University City, another St. Louis suburb, had been wounded by gunfire Monday night, but he said that “as far as I know, that is totally unrelated to events here in Ferguson.”

St. Louis County police said the officer was hit in the arm and would be OK.

Belmar said he looked forward to getting more National Guard troops in the community, as Gov. Jay Nixon ordered earlier in the evening, but he defended police preparedness.

“I don’t think we were underprepared,” he said, adding, “I don’t think we can prevent folks who are really intent on destroying a community.”

“I didn’t foresee an evening like this,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you.”

(Queally reported from Ferguson, Pearce from St. Louis and Decker and Raab from Los Angeles. Staff writer Connie Stewart contributed to this report.)

TNS Photo/Armando Sanchez/Chicago Tribune

Darren Wilson, Recalling Shooting, Said Michael Brown Looked Like A ‘Demon’

By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

It started with a simple request — “will you just walk on the sidewalk?” Forty-five seconds later, Michael Brown lay sprawled on the street, shot dead by a police officer who had never before fired his gun in the line of duty.

And as he drove away from the 18-year-old’s body, heading to the Ferguson police station to wash Brown’s blood from his hands and surrender his gun, all Officer Darren Wilson could think was, “I’m just kind of in shock of what just happened. I really didn’t believe it.”

Those were the words he shared with a grand jury. And late Monday, Wilson’s explanation of that deadly day in early August became public for the first time, in a small part of an enormous trove of documents released by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch.

Thousands of pages of police interviews, autopsy reports, and secret testimony — including Wilson’s — were made public after McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson in Brown’s death.

Until late Monday, Wilson’s voice had remained silent, and the general story line went largely unchallenged: White police officer shoots unarmed young black man trying to surrender on a summer day in a St. Louis suburb.

But on Monday, Wilson’s terror and panic were plain to see in 90 pages of his testimony before the grand jury on Sept. 16 and an 18-page interview with detectives that was recorded Aug. 10, the day after Brown’s death.

Wilson was leaving an earlier call, having assisted the mother of a sick infant, when he saw Brown and another young man walking down the middle of the street, forcing traffic to slow and swerve around them. The police officer told the grand jury that he drove up, stopped his car, and asked, “What’s wrong with the sidewalk?”

In Wilson’s account, it was all downhill from there. Brown swore at the officer, and the two men walked away. So Wilson called for backup, threw his police-issued Chevy Tahoe into reverse and cut the young men off.

As he opened the door, he testified, Brown slammed it shut on Wilson’s leg. The officer told Brown to get back and opened the door again.

“He then grabs my door again and shuts my door,” Wilson told the grand jury. “At that time is when I saw him coming into my vehicle…. I was hit right here in the side of the face with a fist.”

The two men scuffled, Wilson said, and when he struggled to gain some control over the situation “and not be trapped in my car anymore,” he grabbed Brown’s arm. “The only way I can describe it is I felt like a 5-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan.”

Brown, he said, looked like a “demon.”

When Wilson drew his gun from inside his car and told Brown to get back or he would shoot, the officer said, “he immediately grabs my gun and says, ‘You are too much of a [coward] to shoot me.'”

Wilson said he pulled his gun because “I felt that another one of those punches in my face could knock me out or worse.” Brown was bigger than the 6-foot-4 officer, and stronger, too. “I’d already taken two to the face, and I didn’t think I would, the third one could be fatal if he hit me right.”

Wilson ultimately got out of the car, and Brown began to run away. Then he stopped. And turned. And began to run back toward the officer. He made a fist with his left hand and reached under his shirt with his right. Wilson testified that he kept telling him to get on the ground. Brown didn’t.

“I shoot a series of shots,” Wilson said. “I don’t know how many I shot, I just know I shot it.”

Later, in front of the grand jury, Wilson was asked whether he had ever had to use excessive force in the line of duty before Aug. 9.

“I’ve never used my weapon before,” he replied.

TNS Photo/Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times

Texas Prepares To Execute Schizophrenic Inmate Despite Call For Clemency

By Anna M. Tinsley, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TNS)

As Texas prepares to execute its 11th inmate in a year with the fewest executions in nearly two decades, legal and mental health groups across the state and the nation are scrambling to spare Scott Panetti from the death chamber.

Panetti, a schizophrenic who is scheduled for lethal injection Dec. 3, was convicted of fatally shooting his in-laws in front of his estranged wife and children more than two decades ago in their home in Fredericksburg, Texas.

A new clemency petition has been filed to try to block the execution of Panetti, who acted as his own attorney and appeared in court wearing a purple cowboy suit and a 10-gallon hat. Some worry he is so mentally ill that he won’t understand why he is being put to death.

“The case of Scott Louis Panetti is a judicial disaster that has attracted national and international outrage — and for good reason,” according to the latest clemency petition. “Evidence of his incompetency runs like a fissure through every proceeding in his case — from arraignment to execution.

“The execution of Scott Panetti would cross a moral line.”

Texas, which has long led the nation in executions, is on track to put the fewest inmates to death since 1996 and some believe the death penalty may be fading away.

The state has 273 inmates on death row, state records show.

Nine executions are scheduled for the first four months of 2015.

“Texas has a deep commitment to the death penalty,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “In this state’s political culture, crime is to be treated very seriously, and the threat of the death penalty is one device that can be held over the head of criminals.

“The decrease in executions shows there is a very serious alternative to the death penalty.”

In 2005, legislators changed the law to give juries an alternative to the death penalty: life in prison without parole.

Since then, jurors have overwhelmingly chosen that option, giving 687 people life without parole, compared with 84 death sentences, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

A Gillespie County judge recently scheduled Panetti’s execution for Dec. 3.

But Panetti’s case has been in and out of the courts for years because of the 56-year-old’s history of mental illness.

Through the years, justices have tried to determine whether Panetti, who has been diagnosed as schizophrenic, can understand that he has been sentenced to die and why.

“Mr. Panetti has not had a competency hearing in nearly seven years,” according to one letter calling for clemency. “He has a fixed delusion that his execution is being orchestrated by Satan, working through the State of Texas, to put an end to his preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

During his trial in 1995, when he was convicted of killing his in-laws, Joe and Amanda Alvarado, Panetti tried to call President John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ as witnesses.
When Panetti refused to take his antipsychotic drugs, the judge allowed him to represent himself. Notes taken by Panetti’s standby counsel described his behavior as “trancelike,” “bizarre” and “scary.”

A group of officials including former Gov. Mark White has also written a clemency letter.
“We are deeply troubled that a capital sentence was the result of a trial where a man with schizophrenia represented himself, dressed in a costume,” the letter stated. “We come together from across the partisan and ideological divide and are united in our belief that, irrespective of whether we support or oppose the death penalty, this is not an appropriate case for execution.”

Former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul has also sent a letter.

Panetti’s execution would be the 11th in Texas this year.

That’s the fewest since 1996, when there were three, state data show. But it’s still more than any other state this year: Florida and Missouri have had eight each, Oklahoma three, and Georgia, Ohio, and Arizona one each, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.

“Texas is the capital of capital punishment,” said Richard Dieter, the center’s executive director. “Clearly, people see it as the most likely place to have an execution.”

But 2014 is a far cry from some of Texas’ busiest years for executions, when some said the state was home to the “conveyor belt of death.” There were 40 in 2000, 35 in 1999 and 37 in 1997.

“Things are changing in Texas,” Dieter said, adding that it’s not just demographics but also new laws and new elected officials. “Texas is not the dominant state in the death penalty that it has been.”

On average, an inmate spends 11 years on Death Row before being executed, state data show. A decline in executions was expected as the number of people sentenced to life without parole rose, Dieter said.

Before that option was added in 2005, Texas juries had two choices — the death penalty and life in prison with the possibility of parole, meaning that some inmates convicted at a young age could be released back into the community after serving 40 years.

When Gov. Rick Perry signed the life-without-parole measure into law, he said, “I believe this bill will improve our criminal justice system because it gives jurors a new option to protect the public with the certainty a convicted killer will never roam our streets again.”

The first year the option was available, only 17 people were sentenced to life without parole. That rose through the years, peaking at 109 in 2012. Through August this year, 69 people had been sentenced to life without parole, state records show.

Since the law changed, the number of people sentenced to death has hit double digits only three times — 10 in 2006, 15 in 2007 and 11 in 2009. This year, four people have been sent to death row, according to state records.

“With less death sentences coming in, it was bound to be true that the number of executions would go down as well,” Dieter said. “The whole system is receding.”

AFP Photo/Caroline Groussain