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Tag: justice department

Garland Fulfilling Commitments On Civil Rights, Police Reform

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Department of Justice had the kind of pro-police reform week that doesn't happen every year. In a seven-day period, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants, an overhaul on how to handle law enforcement oversight deals, and a promise to make sure the Justice Department wasn't funding agencies that engage in racial discrimination.

"This was a big week for civil rights at the DOJ," Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, shared in a thread about the progress on Twitter Thursday. "Proof that elections matter and that having civil rts attys in DOJ leadership matters. Let me walk you through what's happened in just this one week. It's actually astounding."

The first step forward on Ifill's list came in the form of a review of the Department of Justice's use of monitors who oversee implementation of consent decrees. The New York Timesdefined the legal mechanisms as "court-approved deals between the Justice Department and local governmental agencies that create a road map for changes to the way they operate." Garland rescinded Trump-era policy that blocked consent decrees from addressing police misconduct in April. "This has been a concern among community groups in cities where police dept's are covered by consent decrees after DOJ investigations," Ifill tweeted. Garland announced on Monday 19 actions the department will take to address that concern.

"The department has found that – while consent decrees and monitorships are important tools to increase transparency and accountability – the department can and should do more to improve their efficiency and efficacy," Garland said in a news release. "The Associate Attorney General has recommended – and I have accepted – a set of 19 actions that the department will take to address those concerns." Those actions include capping monitoring fees on consent decrees, requiring stakeholder input, imposing specified terms for monitors, and requiring a hearing after five years "so that jurisdictions can demonstrate the progress it has made, and if possible, to move for termination."

"Consent decrees have proven to be vital tools in upholding the rule of law and promoting transformational change in the state and local governmental entities where they are used," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in the news release. "The department must do everything it can to guarantee that they remain so by working to ensure that the monitors who help implement these decrees do so efficiently, consistently and with meaningful input and participation from the communities they serve."

That was only Monday.

Kristen Clarke, who leades the Justice Department's civil rights division, announced on Tuesday that the Justice Department has launched an investigation into allegations of unconstitutional mistreatment of prisoners in Georgia, according to The New York Times. "Under the Eighth Amendment of our Constitution, those who have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to serve time in prison must never be subjected to 'cruel and unusual punishments,'" Clarke said in her announcement of the investigation.

At least 26 people died last year by "confirmed or suspected homicide" in Georgia prisons, and 18 homicides have been reported this year in the state. That's not including those who have been left to die in horrible conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Inmates facing that threat rioted at Ware State Prison last August in a viral uprising. Two inmates at the facility had died of COVID-19, and 22 prisoners and 32 staff members had tested positive for the virus during the time of the riot, according to Georgia Department of Corrections recordsobtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"This is huge. The humanitarian crisis in southern prisons is a critically important issue," Ifill tweeted of Clarke's announcement."Then the DOJ announced that it will ban the use of no-knock entries and chokeholds by federal law enforcement officers (except in cases where deadly force is authorized - more to probe abt the exception to be sure) ."

The decision follows the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was sleeping when officers executing a no-knock drug warrant smashed in her door after midnight and shot her at least eight times in her Louisville, Kentucky, home on March 13, 2020. Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020 when a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes despite Floyd saying repeatedly that he couldn't breathe. "Building trust and confidence between law enforcement and the public we serve is central to our mission at the Justice Department," Garland said in a news release. "The limitations implemented today on the use of 'chokeholds,' 'carotid restraints' and 'no-knock' warrants, combined with our recent expansion of body-worn cameras to DOJ's federal agents, are among the important steps the department is taking to improve law enforcement safety and accountability."

Also on Ifill's list of Justice Department wins is a review to make sure it isn't awarding grants to law enforcement agencies that engage in racial discrimination. That review could have wide-reaching effects, touching education, health care, transportation, pretty much every facet that receive federal funding, The New York Times reported. "Approximately $4.5 billion in federal funding flows through the department to police departments, courts and correctional facilities, as well as victim services groups, research organizations and nonprofit groups," Times writer Katie Benner wrote. "All of these organizations, not just police departments, could be affected by this review."

Ifill tweeted it's been a long time since she's seen a week like last week, with the Justice Department announcing multiple measures to reform criminal justice "each with the potential to result in fundamental shifts in longstanding discriminatory practices." "I'm remembering AG Garland's confirmation testimony in which he explained that he needed AAG @vanitaguptaCR & Asst AG for Civil Rights @KristenClarkeJD on his team in particular to help him with critical areas of the work with which he does not have experience.

"This week feels like an important return on his commitment to assembling this rich team."

Kristen Clarke, a longtime voting rights advocate, was confirmed on May 25, making her the first woman and the first Black woman to lead the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division since it was created in 1957. When Gupta was confirmed on April 21, she became the first woman of color and the first civil rights lawyer to serve as associate attorney general.

Ifill went on to tweet: "For many I know this all may seem slow and clunky - it is after all, the government. I'm gratified to see that they're using the tools they have to undertake measures civil rights groups have been asking for for years. And they're working carefully and smart."

Justice Department Opens Civil Rights Probe Of Florida Mask Ban

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Last Friday Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis won a victory for bad public health when a three-judge panel in the First District Court of Appeals ruled that the governor could continue trying to punish school districts that enacted mask mandates for their schools. The decision overruled 2nd Judicial Circuit Court Judge John C. Cooper's ruling that the governor's ban on mask mandates was unconstitutional.
Lead attorney for the parents who brought the lawsuit against DeSantis, Charles Gallagher, told reporters "We are disappointed by the ruling and will be seeking pass-through jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Florida. With a stay in place, students, parents and teachers are back in harm's way."

Shortly after the 1st District Court of Appeal's decision, the Biden administration announced that the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights division would open up an investigation into whether or not DeSantis's order violates the federal civil rights statutes that protect students with disabilities.

Suzanne Goldberg, acting assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education, sent a letter to Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran stating the intention of the federal government. "OCR's investigation will focus on whether, in light of this policy, students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are prevented from safely returning to in-person education, in violation of Federal law. The remainder of this letter sets out in more detail the basis for this investigation and how the investigation will proceed."

This investigation mirrors the claims made by Florida parents in their lawsuit against Gov. DeSantis and Commissioner Corcoran. Law professor Claire Raj, who specializes in special education law and has written about the current investigations and litigations regarding these conservative bans on mask mandates, writes that while there is "no bright-line rule setting the limits of what modifications" on what would be called "reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, one need only look at existing accommodations that have been created in schools across the country in order to protect children's civil rights."

For example, in certain instances schools must offer allergen-free spaces such as nut-free classrooms when tasked with educating students with severe or life-threatening allergies to certain foods. Schools may have to take other precautions to ensure safe classrooms for students with severe allergies, such as wiping down tables frequently, installing or changing air filters, or running air-quality tests to ensure that a child with chemical or other allergen sensitivities can safely attend.

The Florida investigation is an extension of the Department of Education's existing civil rights investigations into Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. The department had previously declined to investigate Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, and Texas because of the existing litigation in those states that were preventing these conservative officials' bans from being enforced. Today's decision leaves those children and those educators unprotected from this truly awful political football of a policy.

Gaetz Falsely Claims He Is ‘Exonerated’ In Trafficking Case

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) seized on right-wing media reports on Wednesday to falsely suggest that he has been exonerated in a federal investigation into whether he engaged in sex trafficking of a minor. There is no indication that prosecutors have cleared him of anything.

Gaetz retweeted a One America News report titled "Rep. Matt Gaetz Exonerated, Fla. Developer Charged With Extortion." That story claimed, without any evidence, "Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has been exonerated and the Department of Justice's sex trafficking investigation has been shut down as the man who made the false allegations is now behind bars."

Gaetz also tweeted a Newsmax story about the indictment of a man in an alleged scheme to extort him with the comment "EXONERATED: Alford Indicted for Extortion Plot Against Matt Gaetz. 'It certainly shows that these claims about me were never true. They were used to try to bleed my family out of tens of millions of dollars.'"

But even the friendly Newsmax report he shared contradicts this claim: "The indictment does not clear Congressman Matt Gaetz, but it most certainly adds to his credibility. He told us there was an extortion scheme at play."

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida announced Tuesday that it has indicted Stephen Alford in a "scheme to defraud a victim out of $25 million" based on a dishonest claim that he "could deliver a Presidential Pardon for a family member of the victim."

The Justice Department did not respond to an inquiry for this story. But sources told the Washington Post that the referenced victim was Gaetz's father, former Florida state Sen. Don Gaetz, and that the pardon would have been for his son.

The Post reported that Alford and others involved in the alleged extortion scheme were unconnected to the ongoing sex-crimes investigation into Matt Gaetz; they merely knew about it before it was reported publicly.

On March 30, the New York Times first reported that Gaetz was facing a federal investigation into whether he had engaged in a sexual relationship with an underage girl and paid for her travel in a possible violation of sex trafficking laws.

A spokesperson for Gaetz did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story, but the Florida Republican has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Last month, ABC News reported that Gaetz's former "wingman," former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, had provided federal investigators records of Venmo and Cash App transactions, photos, videos, and social media communications that could implicate Gaetz.

After pleading guilty in May to charges of sex trafficking of a child and five other federal offenses, none of which to date have named Gaetz, Greenberg said he would give "substantial assistance" to the Justice Department.

So far, House Republicans have stood by Gaetz and let him keep his committee posts — including on the House Judiciary Committee — during the investigation.

"Those are serious implications," Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News in March. "If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him if that was the case. But right now Matt Gaetz says it is not true, and we don't have any information. So let's get all the information."

The progressive research group American Bridge 21st Century posted audio on Monday of Gaetz at an August 27 New Hampshire campaign event in which he jokes about his response to a question from tourists about "weird sexual allegations" that he and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) have in common. Gaetz says he responded, "No, that was Jordan."

Jordan has been accused by former student wrestlers at the Ohio State University of ignoring sexual abuse by a team doctor during his tenure there as an assistant coach. Jordan has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Federal Indictment Tells True Story Behind Gaetz 'Extortion' Tale

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A new grand jury indictment released on Tuesday revealed new details surrounding the complex and sordid case of Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz.

The grand jury charged Florida man Stephen Alford, 62, of attempting to commit wire fraud and conceal evidence. Previous reporting had found that there was a federal investigation into a scheme by Alford and others to ask Gaetz's father, Don Gaetz, for $25 million to fund a rescue mission in Iran.

Rep. Gaetz had claimed that this request was part of an "extortion" attempt related to the investigation into allegations that he has been involved in child sex trafficking, corruption and other crimes. An associate of his has already agreed to plead guilty to these charges, though Gaetz denies them. When the investigation into his conduct first emerged, Gaetz tried to distract from the scandal by pointing to the "extortion" tied to Alford.

He tried to argue that the investigation of him was driven by duplicitous agents out to get him. But it turns out that the supposed "extortion" attempt wasn't quite that — at least insofar as the Justice Department sees it.

Rep. Gaetz's argument was that the plot sought to use the investigation to extort his father out of money. What the indictment indicates, however, is that the plot wasn't about extortion, just fraud. It says Alford falsely promised he could get a presidential pardon for Gaetz in exchange for money, and he used interstate wires to do it.

When I previously wrote about Gaetz's extortion allegations in April, I argued that they were not supported by the public evidence. For example, one document obtained by the Washington Examiner said that the plan was that after the Iran rescue attempt, the team will "strongly advocate that President Biden issue a Presidential Pardon, or instruct the Department of Justice to terminate any and all investigations involving Congressman Gaetz." As I argued at the time, that doesn't look like extortion. That just looks like a silly and obviously hollow promise — there's no chance President Biden would pardon Gaetz for the allegations against him or intervene in a DOJ probe to help him.

The new indictment alleges that Alford made more than hollow promises, but demonstrably false claims in an effort to obtain Gaetz family money. It claims that Alford falsely communicated to Gaetz's father (described as "D.G." in the indictment) that Biden has said he will "strongly consider" pardoning Rep. Gaetz (called "Family Member A") or ending the investigations into him. Alford also reportedly said he "will get that pardon" and that he could "guarantee" no prison time.

It also says Alford attempted to destroy or conceal evidence on an iPhone in the course of the investigation.

It's not clear how strong a case this really is against Alford. It certainly seems like a hare-brained scheme, but it's not against the law to propose a terrible idea to someone. It is a crime to lie to them in order to get their money, but Alford may argue that he was just speaking hyperbolically about his hopes for the plan rather than defrauding anyone. It may be hard to judge the allegations without additional context.

Though it probably doesn't help Alford's case that, according to the Washington Post, he has already been convicted of local and federal fraud crimes.

But what does seem clear is that — unless the DOJ comes out with another indictment — investigators didn't find substantial evidence of extortion. That's important because it undercuts the reason Gaetz was so interested in drawing attention to the Alford scheme to begin with. If the charges were being used to extort the Gaetz family, it may be reason to believe that the investigation isn't on the level and the congressman is being unfairly targeted. But that's not what the indictment suggests. Instead, it suggests that a serious investigation of Gaetz was somehow discovered by a man with a ludicrous idea, creating a spectacular but ultimately inconsequential sideshow.

Capitol Police Officer Says Shooting Babbitt Was His 'Last​Resort'

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Capitol Police officer who fatally shot a woman as she tried to force her way into the House of Representatives during the January 6 attack said the shooting was a "last resort" because he believed she posed a threat to members of Congress.

"I tried to wait as long as I could," police Lieutenant Michael Byrd said in an interview with NBC Nightly News that aired on Thursday, in what were his first public remarks since the violence.

"I hoped and prayed no one tried to enter through those doors. But their failure to comply required me to take the appropriate action to save the lives of members of Congress and myself and my fellow officers."

Byrd described the shooting as an act of "last resort" as he spoke publicly three days after a review by the Capitol Police concluded he had acted lawfully and within department policy in shooting the supporter of then-President Donald Trump as she tried to force her way through a smashed window into the House of Representatives' Speaker's Lobby.

"It was a very terrifying situation," Byrd said.

The shooting of Ashli Babbitt, 35, came on a day of violence that saw hundreds of Trump supporters fight their way into the Capitol, attacking police and sending lawmakers running.

Babbitt was a U.S. Air Force veteran who embraced far-right conspiracy theories on social media, including Trump's false assertions that his 2020 presidential election loss was due to fraud. She was one of four participants in the riot to die on January 6.

Far-right groups have embraced Babbitt as a martyr, arguing she was murdered. Her cause has also been taken up by Trump, who falsely claimed last month that the officer who shot her was the "head of security" for a "high-ranking" Democratic member of Congress.

Police officers who fought the mob recounted scenes of violence in which rioters beat them, taunted them with racist insults and threatened to kill an officer "with his own gun" in testimony last month to a congressional committee.

A Capitol Police officer who had been attacked by rioters died the following day. Four police officers who took part in the defense of the Capitol later took their own lives. More than 100 police officers were injured.

The Capitol Police review of the shooting concluded that it may have saved lives.

"The actions of the officer in this case potentially saved Members and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters," the department said. It added that the officer's family had "been the subject of numerous credible and specific threats."

The Justice Department in April closed its investigation into the death of Babbitt, saying there was no evidence that the officer had acted criminally in the shooting.

The worst violence at the Capitol since the War of 1812 delayed the certification of Democratic President Joe Biden's election victory by several hours and brought a huge military presence into the city for several months.

Trump supporters, including some of his Republican allies in Congress, have since tried to play down the day's events. Representative Andrew Clyde, who was photographed on January 6 helping to barricade the House chamber door against attackers, has since compared the mob to "a normal tourist visit."

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Additional reporting by Katanga Johnson; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

Capitol Riot Charges Against Infowars Host May Implicate Alex Jones

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The Department of Justice on Friday announced charges against InfoWars co-host Owen Shroyer in connection with the Capitol riot on January 6. Shroyer, who hosts a Web series on the conspiracy-driven network run by Alex Jones, is facing charges of "disorderly conduct and entering a restricted area of Capitol grounds," according to Mother Jones.

In a new criminal complaint filed on Friday, August 20, the Justice Department detailed the charges Shroyer is facing. The complaint also included a number of videos and an image of an advertisement for January 6 that featured a photo of Shroyer with Jones. Part of the complaint also mentions Jones.

The complaint reads:

"Shroyer marched to the U.S. Capitol from the Ellipse shortly before the U.S. Capitol was breached. One video depicted Shroyer marching with other individuals, leading a crowd of people in a "1776!" chant as the host of the Infowars show on which the video was streamed stated, "Alex Jones at this moment is leading the march toward the Capitol building."

In the same video, Shroyer can be heard telling the crowd, "Today we march for the Capitol because on this historic January 6, 2021, we have to let our Congressmen and women know, and we have to let Mike Pence know, they stole the election, we know they stole it, and we aren't going to accept it."

The publication also reports:

"The complaint includes images of Shroyer in restricted areas, along with Jones. The images include one picture of Shroyer, near Jones, at the top of the stairs on the east side of the Capitol. This came after the crowd had pushed past police officers guarding the area."

Following the Justice Department's announcement on Friday, Shroyer addressed the criminal complaint on air. He admitted that he does plan to surrender to authorities on Monday, August 23, Buzzfeed reports.

"A couple hours ago, I was informed by my attorney that there is a warrant out for my arrest with allegations involving January 6, and I will have to turn myself in Monday morning," he said. "There's a lot of questions, some I have answers to, some I don't. I'm not going to be getting into more of this today on the air. And I plan on declaring innocence of these charges because I am."

While Alex Jones has not been charged in connection with the Capitol riots, Mother Jones notes that the charges against Shroyer raise speculation about the possibility of him being charged in the near future. Since January, the DOJ has brought charges against more than 600 individuals in connection with the Capitol insurrection.

Ex-Prosecutor Says Gaetz Indictment ‘Is Ready And He Will Face Charges’

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A former New York State prosecutor say Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) will be prosecuted by federal authorities and insists the "indictment is ready."

Tristan Snell, who served as assistant attorney general for New York state and is now the founder and the managing partner of Main Street Law helped lead the prosecution against Trump University that resulted in a $25 million settlement.

Snell has been sharing what he says he knows, via Twitter, and on Wednesday laid out the "Gaetzgate" case as he sees it.

"What we know," Snell writes, is that the "indictment is coming in the next few weeks, either in August or just after."

"Also clear that the US Attorney's Office is taking very strong positions with Gaetz and his counsel and is ready to indict Gaetz and others," Snell claims.

"What's really going on is that the feds are applying a lot of pressure on Gaetz to flip and cooperate — if the feds are taking a strong position, it's to get cooperation," he adds. "But what would Gaetz be able to cooperate on?"

"Gaetz could cooperate on the existing case they have open in federal court in Orlando — adding to the testimony from Gaetz's buddy Joel Greenberg."

Greenberg is the former Florida tax collector who was indicted on 33 federal charges, including theft, sex trafficking of a minor, stalking, and multiple counts of fraud. As part of a plea deal in May Greenberg pleaded guilty to six counts, including sex trafficking.

Gaetz has called Greenberg his "wingman."

Meanwhile, Snell adds that "the issue with Gaetzgate is not a lack of evidence or lack of a case. It's that there's soooo much evidence – and the case has gotten way bigger."

Snell, who has appeared on CNN and other media outlets and last month penned a Washington Post op-ed on prosecuting Trump, says "the more interesting question" is "what else could Gaetz do? What other things could he cooperate on?"

"So to be clear, the issue with Gaetzgate is not *if* he will face charges. He will," Snell insists. "The questions are when and how. Does he cooperate now? Or does he plead not guilty for now? And what would cooperation look like? If they're having this discussion now, the indictment is ready."