Prison Worker Helped 2 Escape By Smuggling Tools In Raw Meat, Prosecutor Says

Prison Worker Helped 2 Escape By Smuggling Tools In Raw Meat, Prosecutor Says

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The New York prison worker accused of helping two convicted murderers escape from a maximum-security facility smuggled tools to them by freezing them in raw hamburger meat, prosecutors said.

Joyce Mitchell, 51, hid hacksaw blades, drill bits and a hole punch in the meat before bringing it into the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday evening.

Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 35, were discovered missing from the prison June 6 and have been on the lam for more than two weeks. Officials said they used power tools to cut through cell walls and navigated their way through a maze of tunnels and pipes on their way to freedom.

Mitchell “just stuffed it into the hamburger and snuck it in,” Wylie said of the contraband. Once the illicit meat was inside the prison, Wylie said, Mitchell stored it in the refrigerator of the tailor shop where she worked.

According to Wylie, corrections Officer Gene Palmer then retrieved the meat from Mitchell and delivered it to Matt and Sweat in their cells. It’s unclear why Palmer would have made the deliveries, which Wylie said were done under Matt’s direction.

Palmer, who was placed on administrative leave last week, has passed polygraph tests as part of the investigation, Wylie said. He has not been charged with any crime. According to Wylie, Mitchell has told investigators she doesn’t believe Palmer knew about the tools hidden in the ground beef.

Matt and Sweat were living in an “honor block,” and their cells included televisions, lockers and hot plates, which inmates often use to cook extra food gleaned from the commissary or family packages.

Normally, any such food items brought into the prison would need to go through metal detectors, Wylie said. He said authorities are still trying to figure out why that didn’t happen.

Typically, Wylie said, longer-term inmates can apply to live in an honor block after a period of good behavior. Neither Matt nor Sweat had cellmates at the time of their prison break.

Mitchell has been charged with colluding with the inmates and bringing them contraband. She has pleaded not guilty and is being held in a county jail.

According to police, she also plotted with the escapees to murder her husband.

On Tuesday morning, Mitchell’s husband, Lyle Mitchell, said that his wife had gotten “in too deep” with the inmates’ plot to break free, and that they later threatened her when she wanted to back out of the plan.

In an interview with NBC’s “Today” show, Lyle Mitchell, who also works at the prison, said his wife was manipulated by the “attention” the inmates gave her. She realized things had gotten “out of hand” when the pair began threatening to kill or hurt him, he said.

“When it came down to her hurting me, that’s when she said something was wrong,” Lyle Mitchell told “Today” host Matt Lauer. “She said she was in too deep, she didn’t know how to get out of it.”

Lyle Mitchell said that his wife denied having a sexual relationship with either of the inmates, but that she was drawn to the attention Matt paid her and “did not believe I loved her anymore.”

He said she told him the inmates had planned to have her pick them up in the couple’s Jeep. Instead, he said, she checked herself into a hospital, complaining of chest pains.

As the Mitchells were leaving the hospital, he said, she turned on their cellphone, which lit up with messages from family and investigators.

“She said, ‘Oh my God … Matt and Sweat escaped,’ ” Lyle Mitchell recalled, adding that she looked shocked.

After speaking to police, he said, investigators told him his wife had been more deeply involved than she was letting on. They called asking about a “package,” he said, and afterward his wife admitted that part of the plan was to kill him.

When his wife tried to back out, Lyle Mitchell said, one of the inmates threatened that someone inside the prison might kill him if she didn’t stick to the getaway plan.

Matt and Sweat often spoke to Lyle Mitchell inside the prison as well, according to his attorney, Peter Dumas. Dumas said he thinks the two inmates were going “from person to person” to see whom they could enlist to help with the escape.

Lyle Mitchell said he doesn’t know what to think at this point — or whether he can stand by his wife.

“Do I still love her? Yes. Am I mad? Yes,” he told Lauer. “How can she do this? How can she do this to our kids?”

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Screenshot: ABCNews/YouTube

Pilot Lands Gyrocopter At Capitol In Apparent Protest; Charges Pending

Pilot Lands Gyrocopter At Capitol In Apparent Protest; Charges Pending

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Business has returned to normal at the U.S. Capitol — or, at least, as normal as it might be after a man landed a gyrocopter just outside the building Wednesday in an apparent protest demanding campaign finance reform.

The tiny aircraft flew in low over the National Mall, whizzing past a row of trees and a statue of Ulysses S. Grant, as a group of onlookers stood by. Both houses of Congress were in session at the time.

Capitol Police said they detained Douglas Hughes of Ruskin, Fla., after he landed the craft on the West Lawn of the Capitol about 1:30 p.m. He has been moved to a cellblock, and charges against him are pending, they said.

The pilot was the only one on board the gyrocopter, said Shennell Antrobus, a police spokesman. A bomb squad found nothing hazardous on the craft, so it was moved to a “secure location,” police said.

Hughes claimed responsibility for the stunt on a website dedicated to what he called an act of civil disobedience. According to the site, Hughes aimed to personally deliver 535 letters by “air mail” to members of Congress. “The unending chase for money I believe threatens to steal our democracy itself,” Hughes writes in a letter, posted by the Tampa Bay Times. “I’m demanding reform and declaring a voter’s rebellion.”

Hughes said he was aware of the risk of being shot down as he approached the Capitol. “There is no way I can prevent overreaction by the authorities,” Hughes wrote, “but I have given them as much information and advance warning as my fuel supply allows.” Hughes added that before taking off, he had sent an email to President Barack Obama to try to convince authorities that “I am not a threat and that shooting me down would be a bigger headache than letting me deliver these letters.”

He took off more than an hour away from the no-fly zone over Washington, he wrote.

In 2013, Hughes was visited by Secret Service agents, Brian Leary, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said in an email.

“On October 4, 2013, the Secret Service obtained information from a concerned citizen about an individual purporting their desire to land a single manned aircraft on the grounds of the United States Capitol or the White House,” Leary said in an email. “That same day, the information was reported to law enforcement partners at the U.S. Capitol Police.”

Leary said the individual, whom he did not identify, was located and interviewed the following day in Ruskin.

The Secret Service had no prior warning Wednesday about the pilot’s plans, Leary said.

About an hour before the aircraft landed at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, the Tampa Bay Times published a story about Hughes, who had told the paper he planned to fly to Congress in his gyrocopter.

“If you’re reading this, Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old mailman from Ruskin, has taken flight,” said the Tampa Bay Times story, which was published at 12:11 p.m. local time. Hughes’ goal was to personally deliver a message to Congress to draw attention to the issue of campaign finance reform, the report said.

In a statement released after Hughes landed, the Tampa Bay Times told CNN that Hughes had contacted reporter Ben Montgomery last summer and discussed his plans to fly to the Capitol. The newspaper confirmed with Hughes and a co-worker that they had both been interviewed by the Secret Service at work.

In preparation for the mailman’s attempt, the Times sent Montgomery and a photographer to Washington. Montgomery tweeted photos of the aircraft, which appeared to hover over the heads of unsuspecting pedestrians.

Shortly after Hughes’ streaming of the flight went live, the newspaper published the story, it said. About an hour later, the paper called Capitol Police and the Secret Service to ask whether they were aware of Hughes’ flight; they said they were not. The gyrocopter landed a half hour later.

According to the website, which is registered to a Douglas Hughes of Ruskin, Fla., Hughes is married, has four children and has been flying gyrocopters for more than a year.

He grew up in Santa Cruz, Calif., and lives with his wife and 11-year-old daughter, he wrote.

In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration said the pilot did not have authorization to fly there and had not contacted FAA air-traffic controllers to inform them of his flight. “Airspace security rules that cover the Capitol and the District of Columbia prohibit private aircraft flights without prior coordination and permission,” the statement said.

The pilot could face civil and criminal penalties for flying near the Capitol, which is considered part of a national defense airspace. The FAA said it was working with aviation security partners in Washington to investigate the incident.

A White House spokesman said Obama, who was attending a town hall event in Charlotte, N.C., had been briefed on the incident.

The U.S. Postal Service confirmed that Hughes is employed as a rural letter carrier. The agency’s Office of Inspector General is “in contact” with postal management about the incident, a Postal Service representative said in an email.

(Times staff writer Ryan Parker contributed to this report.)

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Doug Hughes flies his gyrocopter March 17, 2015, near the Wauchula Municipal Airport in Wauchula, Fla. Hughes wants to shine a spotlight on campaign finance reform, so he wrote a letter of protest to every member of Congress with the intent to deliver them by flying through the no-fly zone and landing in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (James Borchuck/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

New York Rep. Michael Grimm Pleads Guilty To Federal Charge

New York Rep. Michael Grimm Pleads Guilty To Federal Charge

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Embattled Republican Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) pleaded guilty Tuesday to a single count of tax evasion, according to federal court records.

Grimm was indicted in April on federal charges including mail fraud, wire fraud, tax evasion, employing undocumented workers and perjury in relation to a Manhattan fast-food restaurant he once co-owned and operated.

In a 20-count indictment, federal prosecutors accused Grimm of underreporting his employees’ wages to the Internal Revenue Service, paying them in envelopes full of cash, and said he had lied under oath when he claimed he was not responsible for handling payroll.

Grimm sold his interest in the restaurant before taking office in 2011, according to prosecutors.

The trial was set to begin in February, according to the Associated Press. If convicted, Grimm could have faced a sentence of anywhere from six months for hiring undocumented workers to 20 years for each of the mail and wire fraud charges, prosecutors said.

The Staten Island Republican, a former FBI special agent and Marine, has called himself the victim of a political witch hunt.

Controversy has dogged the congressman, who was just elected to his third term, for years.

Federal prosecutors first began investigating Grimm in a probe of an alleged “donor swapping” scheme designed to skirt individual contribution limits to candidates.

In January, Grimm threatened to throw a New York TV reporter off a balcony and break him in half “like a boy” for asking him about the allegations on camera. Video of the incident quickly went viral, and he was pilloried by pundits and on late-night shows.

Despite the controversy, Grimm won re-election in November.

“I know who I am and I know what I’ve done for this country,” Grimm told reporters after pleading not guilty in April. “I know I’m a moral man, a man of integrity. I also know that I have a lot more service and leadership to provide this country, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”

But Tuesday’s guilty plea renewed questions about his future in Congress, as Democratic leaders called for his ouster.

In a statement released Tuesday ahead of Grimm’s plea, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) released a statement calling on House Speaker John Boehner to “insist that Congressman Grimm resign immediately.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also called for Grimm’s resignation. “It’s past time for Michael Grimm to go and it’s John Boehner’s responsibility to make it happen,” said Josh Schwerin, a DCCC spokesman, in a statement. Schwerin said allowing Grimm to stay in Congress despite his guilt “is a disservice to the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn and a stain on the institution of the United States House of Representatives.”

Boehner’s office had no immediate comment.

“We won’t have any announcements until the speaker discusses the matter with Mr. Grimm,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner.

Grimm has previously that if he was convicted, he would step down from Congress. “Certainly, if I was not able to serve, then of course I would step aside,” he said at a debate in October, according to the Associated Press.
(Staff writers Michael Memoli and Richard Serrano contributed to this report.)

AFP Photo/Alex Wong

This story has been updated.

‘Rolling Stone’ Casts Doubt On University Of Virginia Gang Rape Story

‘Rolling Stone’ Casts Doubt On University Of Virginia Gang Rape Story

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Rolling Stone says it no longer trusts the account of a brutal gang rape described in an explosive story it published last month about sexual assaults at the University of Virginia.

The story, written by contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely, opens with a grisly account from a woman identified only as Jackie, who described being attacked by several members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, sexually assaulted for hours and raped with a beer bottle at their fraternity house.

The article sparked anger and protests, and prompted the University of Virginia to suspend all fraternity activities until next year. The university also pledged to re-examine the way it handles sexual assault allegations and asked police to investigate the alleged assault, which Jackie said in the article occurred in 2012 when she was a freshman.

In a statement issued on the Rolling Stone website and appended to the top of the article, managing editor Will Dana says “there now appear to be discrepancies” in the woman’s account, and that editors have “come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.”

While reporting the story, the magazine did not contact the men Jackie alleged raped her and it has been criticized for that in recent days. Rolling Stone says the fraternity and its national leadership would not confirm or deny the claims, and that Jackie “neither said nor did” anything that made the reporter question her credibility.

Dana said the magazine now regrets the decision not to contact her alleged rapists or the man she claimed orchestrated the attack. “We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault,” Dana wrote. “We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.”

In a statement released shortly after the apology, the university’s Phi Kappa Psi chapter said it had no knowledge of the alleged attacks.

“Our initial doubts as to the accuracy of the article have only been strengthened as alumni and undergraduate members have delved deeper,” the statement said.

The chapter pointed to several inconsistencies in the story, the result of what it called “internal fact-finding” over the past two weeks.

The chapter did not hold a date function or social event during the weekend of Sept. 28, 2012, the night Jackie claimed she was raped, it said. The fraternity also said no member was employed at the campus pool in 2012, a detail the woman recalled about the man she claimed orchestrated the attack.

“No ritualized sexual assault is part of our pledging or initiation process,” the fraternity’s statement continued. “This notion is vile, and we vehemently refute this claim.”

In interviews with The Washington Post, several of Jackie’s close friends expressed doubts about her story, the newspaper reported. Alex Pinkleton, a close friend of the woman and rape survivor, told the Post that after speaking to Jackie in recent days, she now feels misled. “One of my biggest fears with these inconsistencies is that people will be unwilling to believe survivors in the future,” Pinkleton told the Post.

The Post also reported that in an interview with Jackie Thursday, the day before Rolling Stone issued its apology, the woman contradicted an earlier account by saying she did not know if the man she says organized the alleged attack was a member of Phi Kappa Psi.

“I don’t even know what I believe at this point,” another friend, Emily Renda, told the newspaper. Renda said she had introduced Jackie to Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the Rolling Stone writer.

A spokeswoman for the University of Virginia could not be immediately reached for comment.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Recovering After Heart Procedure

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Recovering After Heart Procedure

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent a procedure to place a heart stent this morning after doctors discovered blockage in one of her arteries, the high court announced.

In a statement, the Supreme Court said Ginsburg had felt some discomfort while exercising Tuesday night, and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where doctors discovered the blockage.

Court officials say Ginsburg is “resting comfortably” at Medstar Washington Hospital Center, and is expected to be released within 48 hours.

Ginsburg, who took her seat on the court in 1993 and is approaching 23 years of service, underwent surgery for colon cancer in 1999, followed by months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. In 2009, Ginsburg had surgery for early-stage pancreatic cancer, and was released from the hospital several days later. Less than three weeks after the surgery, Ginsburg was back on the bench to hear oral arguments.

Ginsburg has resisted calls for her to step down from the nation’s high court to ensure that President Obama can make an appointment before he leaves office in 2017.

Photo: Wake Forest University School of Law via Flickr

House GOP Sues Obama Over Health Care Law

House GOP Sues Obama Over Health Care Law

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

House Republicans have filed a lawsuit against President Obama over his health care law, Speaker John Boehner announced Friday, making good on a resolution passed in July.

The lawsuit is the first legal challenge of its kind by a chamber of Congress and came one day after the president’s announcement that he was using executive authority to institute immigration reform. Republicans have discussed whether to expand their health care lawsuit to include the immigration actions.

In the statement announcing the lawsuit, Boehner said: “Time after time, the president has chosen to ignore the will of the American people and re-write federal law on his own without a vote of Congress. That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work.”

Republicans have taken issue with Obama’s failure to enforce a provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which requires businesses to pay a penalty if they don’t offer basic health insurance to employees. The Obama administration has delayed the provision twice, and it won’t fully take effect until 2016.

Boehner said the lawsuit also will address Republican opposition to an estimated $175 billion in payments to insurance companies over the next 10 years as part of a cost-sharing program under the health care law.

“Congress has never appropriated funds for the program,” Boehner said in a statement Friday. “The administration is instead unlawfully and unconstitutionally using funds from a separate Treasury Department account … and thereby unilaterally altering the structure of the health care law.”

Photo: Talk Radio News Service via Flickr

Arkansas Gov. Beebe To Pardon Son But Rethinks Pardoning Family Friend

Arkansas Gov. Beebe To Pardon Son But Rethinks Pardoning Family Friend

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Outgoing Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe says he will pardon his son, Kyle, in connection with a felony drug conviction from more than a decade ago. Also on Wednesday, he backpedaled on his intention to pardon another man with personal ties to him.

The Arkansas Parole Board recommended the pardon of Kyle Beebe, now 34, last month. He was convicted in 2003 for possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and sentenced to three years’ probation. According to parole board documents, police found two ounces of marijuana in Beebe’s home.

He completed his probation in 2006, and, his father said Wednesday, has learned from his mistake.

“He’s grown up a lot,” the elder Beebe told Arkansas TV station KATV. “Kids, when they’re young, do stupid stuff. He was no different.”

Beebe’s announcement came the same day he put another controversial pardon request on hold. That one was for convicted sex offender Michael E. Jackson, who has personal ties to the governor, and prosecutors and several state lawmakers had objected to his being pardoned.

Last week, Beebe’s office announced his intention to pardon 34-year-old Jackson, who was convicted in 2008 of Internet stalking of a child.

On Wednesday, Beebe’s office reversed course, saying it had received a copy of an affidavit in a child custody case that includes unspecified allegations against Jackson. The pardon would be granted, the governor said, only if those accusations “are found to be untrue.” Beebe, a Democrat, did not elaborate on the nature of those accusations.

In the 2008 case, Faulkner County prosecutor Cody Hiland says that Jackson was having a sexually explicit online conversation with what he thought was a 14-year-old girl on the Internet, and that he arranged to meet her at a Taco Bell. Jackson had actually been conversing with a police officer and was arrested shortly after. He was sentenced to two years in prison, of which he served less than four months, and to three years of probation. He completed his probation in January 2013 but must still register as a sex offender.

In a letter to the Arkansas Parole Board, Jackson called Gov. Beebe, his first football coach, a “father figure” who had “helped raise” him. “Mr. Beebe, you have known me since the day I was born,” Jackson wrote to the governor. “You know my character…. Our personal relationship shouldn’t sway you either way, but I do want to be a contributing member of society.”

Jackson said in the letter that he is “in no shape or form a repeat offender” and that the incident occurred at “a time in my life that I lost myself and had clouded judgment.” He said he wants to be a counselor and work with youth or coach sports.

Local prosecutors and sheriff’s officials have objected to Jackson’s pardon application. Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock called the fact that Jackson is eligible “ridiculous” in a statement to the parole board.

Still, in March, the Arkansas Parole Board recommended Jackson for a pardon.

Matt DeCample, the governor’s spokesman, acknowledged that Jackson and the Beebe family have known each other for “a very long time.”

“There’s always going to be a human factor involved” in pardon requests, DeCample said. “I think in this case, the governor’s personal knowledge of Mr. Jackson factored into his feeling that he would not be a risk to the public.”

Several lawmakers and a prominent conservative group have come out against Jackson’s planned pardon. In a statement Wednesday, the governor’s office said “new information sometimes arises,” which is “one of the reasons” the state requires a 30-day waiting period between the governor’s stated intent to grant a pardon and its finalization.

Meanwhile, the governor’s son is still on track to be pardoned.

In a letter to the parole board and the governor, Kyle Beebe said he’s changed: “I was young and dumb. At that time in my life, I felt like I was missing something and I tried to fill that emptiness by selling drugs. … Eleven years have passed since that time and I can assure you that I have learned from my mistake.”

He also noted that he’s now a husband and “proud father of two little girls.”

“I’m asking for a second chance at life. I am asking for a second chance to be the man that I know I can be,” he wrote.

The governor’s office said he has issued hundreds of pardons during his time in office, and that his son’s pardon does not constitute special treatment. The governor intends to pardon nearly a dozen people with similar drug offenses, according to a list posted last week.

“If you took his son’s name off the file, it would look like a lot of other people the governor has issued pardons to, as well … people who committed nonviolent crimes as a first offense when they were young,” said DeCample, the governor’s spokesman.

DeCample noted that as with many other pardon cases, Kyle Beebe has completed all of his sentencing requirements and has not been in trouble with the law since.

Public opinion polls continue to show a softening of attitudes toward marijuana, and drug sentencing in particular. Last year, a clear majority in a Gallup national poll — 58 percent of those surveyed — for the first time said the drug should be legalized.

In California, the recent passage of Proposition 47 will reduce sentences for drug possession, among other nonviolent crimes.

On the timing of Kyle Beebe’s pardon, the governor said he would have granted one to his son sooner if he had asked earlier. The governor is scheduled to leave office in January after two terms in office.

Although it’s unusual for outgoing office-holders to pardon close family members, politicians often leave the most controversial executive acts for the eleventh hour of their terms.

In the final hours of his presidency, Bill Clinton pardoned his half-brother, Roger, for a 1980s drug conviction.

In 2011, on his final night in office, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced the prison sentence of the son of former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, Esteban Nunez, who had pleaded guilty to participating in the killing of a college student. Over the objections of prosecutors, Schwarzenegger cut Nunez’s prison term from 16 years to seven years.

Photo: L. Allen Brewer via Flickr

Nurse Nina Pham Is Ebola-free: ‘I Feel Fortunate And Blessed’

Nurse Nina Pham Is Ebola-free: ‘I Feel Fortunate And Blessed’

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Two weeks after she was hospitalized with a fever, Dallas nurse Nina Pham is now Ebola-free and has been released from the hospital.

“I feel fortunate and blessed to be standing here today,” Pham told reporters at a news conference outside a National Institutes of Health clinic in Bethesda, Md. “Throughout this ordeal, I have put my trust in God and my medical team.”

Pham, dressed in a black suit and light teal top, her nails and makeup done, looked healthy and was smiling as she stood next to her mother, sister and NIH doctors who helped bring her back to health. Many of them were wearing ribbons in the colors of Texas Christian University, a tribute to Pham’s nursing school.

“She as an individual is extraordinary, but she also represents the nurses and health care workers who put themselves on the line…to take care of people who are in such need,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the NIH’s Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci said five consecutive Ebola tests have now shown that Pham’s blood is free of the Ebola virus.

While hospitalized, Pham was cared for by a special team of doctors and researchers, who provided general supportive care, but did not treat Pham with any experimental Ebola drugs, Fauci said.

Pham was able to communicate with family and friends by phone and Facetime.

“She taught me how to use Facetime,” Fauci said, to laughter. “I’m going to miss Nina a lot.”

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, called it a “very special moment” for the institution.

Pham, 26, was the first of two nurses diagnosed with Ebola this month after taking care of Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed on U.S. soil, died on Oct. 8.

Two days later, Pham went to the hospital with a fever and was put into isolation. Hospital officials upgraded Pham’s condition Tuesday from “fair” to “good.”

Nurse Amber Vinson, the third person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., is also free of the disease, Emory University Hospital says.

“We are overjoyed to announce that, as of yesterday evening, officials at Emory University Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control are no longer able to detect virus in her body. She has also been approved for transfer from isolation,” Vinson’s family said in a statement. “Amber remains under treatment within Emory’s Serious Communicable Diseases Unit.”

Although the virus may no longer be in Vinson’s blood, she will still require treatment to regain her strength, her mother, Debra Berry, noted. The family statement did not say when the 29-year-old might be released from the hospital.

News of Pham’s release from the hospital came as New York was dealing with its first diagnosed case.

A doctor who tested positive for Ebola was in stable condition at a New York hospital on Friday, as federal officials face heightening scrutiny over protocols for health care workers who have treated Ebola victims.

The ill doctor, Craig Spencer, 33, became feverish in his Manhattan apartment on Thursday and was diagnosed hours later at Bellevue Hospital. He returned to the United States on Oct. 17 after working with Ebola victims in Guinea, a West African country badly hit by Ebola.

AFP Photo/Alex Wong

More People Quarantined Amid Ebola Fears In Spain, Officials Say

More People Quarantined Amid Ebola Fears In Spain, Officials Say

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times

Four more people have been placed under quarantine at a Madrid hospital as officials there try to stop the spread of Ebola beyond one confirmed case.

That case, a nursing assistant who was infected after helping care for 69-year-old Manuel Garcia Viejo, was the first known transmission of the disease outside of West Africa in the current outbreak.

The nursing assistant, identified in news reports as Teresa Romero Ramos, was diagnosed Monday and is being treated at the Carlos III Hospital in Madrid. Her husband has also been quarantined there.

In addition to Romero and her husband, one man and one woman, both nurses, were hospitalized Wednesday and are exhibiting “mild symptoms,” officials say. The nurses were part of the team that helped treat Viejo.

Two other doctors who have been helping treat Romero have also agreed to voluntary quarantine at the same hospital, bringing the total number of people under quarantine to six.

Officials with Spain’s Ministry of Health said in a statement that two other people who had been under quarantine have tested negative and were discharged. One was a nurse who had also treated Viejo, and the other was an unrelated person being monitored after developing symptoms after travel to Nigeria.

Spanish officials have faced mounting criticism that they did not do enough to stop the spread of the disease to health care workers who cared for Viejo. Health care workers are among the most vulnerable to contracting Ebola, which is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids.

On Wednesday, local health officials in Madrid confirmed that they had euthanized Romero’s dog, a mixed-breed named Excalibur, for fear that the pet could spread the disease to humans. The move prompted an uproar from animal rights activists.

AFP Photo/Curto De La Torre

Texas Ebola Patient Still Critical, Now Receiving Experimental Drug

Texas Ebola Patient Still Critical, Now Receiving Experimental Drug

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times

A Liberian man being treated for Ebola in a Dallas hospital is still in critical condition, but is now receiving an experimental treatment.

Thomas Eric Duncan has been in isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital since Sept. 28, after he came down with symptoms of Ebola days after arriving in Texas from Liberia.

Health officials are still monitoring 50 people thought to have possibly come into contact with Duncan. His girlfriend, her son and two other men living at an apartment where Duncan had stayed have been moved to a private residence while the apartment is cleaned. None of them has developed symptoms of Ebola.

In a statement Monday, officials at the hospital said Duncan was in critical but stable condition. He is receiving a drug called Brincidofovir, manufactured by North Carolina drug company Chimerix Inc., the statement said.

Officials over the weekend downgraded Duncan from serious to critical condition, and officials reported Sunday he was on a respirator and fighting for his life.

Chimerix confirmed in a statement that the drug “has been provided for potential use in patients with Ebola.” Doctors treating patients had requested the drug, the company said, and the request was granted by the Food and Drug Administration through the Emergency Investigational New Drug Application process.

The FDA does not comment on specific drug applications.

“Chimerix is committed to working with global health organizations and government agencies in the fight against the Ebola virus outbreak,” said Chimerix Chief Executive Dr. M. Michelle Berrey in a statement. “We are hopeful that Brincidofovir may offer a potential treatment for Ebola Virus Disease during this outbreak,”

Chimerix says the drug has made it to Phase 3 testing for two other viruses — adenovirus and cytomegalovirus — but has shown some promise against Ebola in test tube experiments. The fact that it has made it this far means that regulators know the drug is safe. According to company officials, the FDA had fast-tracked the drug as a treatment for cytomegalovirus, adenovirus and smallpox.

The company is testing the drug’s efficacy against Ebola in animal subjects.

AFP Photo/Jewel Samad

First Ebola Case Diagnosed In U.S.: Here’s Why You Don’t Need To Panic

First Ebola Case Diagnosed In U.S.: Here’s Why You Don’t Need To Panic

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times

With officials confirming the first Ebola case diagnosed in the United States, and the first case diagnosed outside of Africa during this outbreak, some Americans continue to express fear that the deadly disease — which is believed to have killed at least 3,091 people in West Africa — could spread in the United States.

If you’re one of them, you can calm down. Health officials say there is virtually no danger to the public. Here’s what you need to know about the virus:

Question: What’s the likelihood of a major Ebola outbreak happening in the U.S.?

Answer: Remote, according to officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now that an Ebola patient has been diagnosed in Texas, the first human case ever diagnosed in the United States, health officials say the American health system will work to contain the disease and the likelihood of it spreading is very low.

Once an Ebola patient is identified here, says CDC Director Thomas Frieden, protocols allow doctors and health officials to quickly isolate and treat the person, and to put anyone who may have come in contact with him or her under close surveillance for 21 days, the incubation period for Ebola.

If any of those people develop symptoms, the contact tracing cycle begins all over again.

The CDC has issued travel advisories recommending that U.S. citizens avoid nonessential travel to the most affected countries, but have also said Ebola exit screening at airports in West Africa and entry screening for those travelers arriving from affected countries will identify anyone showing symptoms of the virus.

The CDC has said in the past that it’s very unlikely that American travelers to West Africa could contract the disease, since they’d have to come in direct contact with an infected person’s blood, organs or other bodily secretions, but it issued the advisories amid concerns that travelers might find themselves at risk in West African hospitals.

Weak health care systems in West Africa have led to the virus spreading rapidly there. So have traditional burial rituals that involve washing the bodies of loved ones after death.

Q: Why are we allowing people with Ebola into the country?

A: The patient who was diagnosed at a Texas hospital on Sept. 30 was not showing any symptoms of the disease until four days after arriving in the U.S., CDC and hospital officials said.

The person was subject to screening when leaving West Africa and upon arrival in the United States and exhibited no symptoms of the disease at the time, officials say. That means the patient was not contagious at the time, and there was no reason to isolate the person or restrict his or her movement into the United States.

In the case of the three U.S. missionaries who have been evacuated to American hospitals after becoming ill with Ebola, officials have said bringing them to the U.S. ensured that they had access to “modern medical facilities and technology” that could save their lives.

Dr. Kent Brantly, missionary Nancy Writebol and Dr. Rick Sacra all contracted Ebola while working in West Africa and were evacuated to the United States for treatment.

They have all since recovered and been released.

No other secondary infections have been reported as a result of their transport and treatment here.

Q: Were other people in the plane or at the airport with the patient in danger?

A: Officials have not revealed the flight on which the Texas patient arrived to the United States, saying there was “zero risk” of transmission to anyone traveling with the person since he or she did not show symptoms until four days after arriving.

The CDC says there’s no reason to think anyone on the flight might have been at risk.

The patients who have been evacuated to the United States have been transported via specially equipped medical planes outfitted with an isolation pod, a portable, tent-like structure that can prevent infected patients from exposing flight crews and other personnel.

Q: What happens after an Ebola patient is identified in the U.S.?

A: When a patient shows signs or symptoms of Ebola and is confirmed to have recently returned from West Africa, CDC protocol requires that the patient be isolated immediately and blood samples be sent to the CDC for testing.

Even low-risk patients have been tested out of an abundance of caution, such as a recent patient in Sacramento who ultimately tested negative.

If a patient tests positive, CDC officials and the U.S. health system have strict protocols for keeping and treating the patient in isolation, including use of personal protective equipment including gloves, full-body suits, goggles and masks for healthcare workers in direct contact with the infected person.

In most cases, local and state public health officials, as well as the CDC, must be informed immediately of any suspected or confirmed case.

U.S. health officials have said that any U.S. hospital should be capable of properly isolating and caring for a contagious Ebola patient.

There is no specific treatment or cure for Ebola, so patients are typically closely monitored and receive blood and IV drips for dehydration. However, it has been disclosed that all three patients evacuated to the U.S. were treated with experimental Ebola treatments.

Hospital officials in Texas say they are in discussions with federal authorities and the patient’s family regarding using an experimental treatment on the recently diagnosed patient.

Q: Are there any other Ebola patients in the United States now?

A: This is the first and only patient diagnosed so far in the United States, and the only patient diagnosed outside of Africa so far in the current outbreak.

But the CDC and a number of state and local governments have said they are preparing for the possibility that new patients could emerge, especially with the amount of international travel that happens to and from the United States and the number of health care volunteers traveling to assist in the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

There have been three other Ebola patients treated in U.S. hospitals — Brantly, Writebol and Sacra_but all have recovered and been released.

CDC Director Frieden says it’s “certainly possible” that new cases could emerge since the Texas patient had contact with “a handful” of family members and friends.

New Ebola cases could pop up as long as the outbreak in West Africa continues, he said.

But, he added, health officials are committed to “stopping this in its tracks” in the United States.

Q: Might I encounter someone with Ebola at an airport?

A: Probably not. All of the affected West African nations have announced plans to screen airport passengers before they leave. That includes taking their temperatures to check for fevers.

In the event that a passenger does become ill on a flight, commercial airlines have received special instructions from the CDC on how to notify the agency and effectively isolate the patient_as well as anyone who may have had contact with them — on arrival. The CDC has 20 isolation stations at major airports around the country, including one at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. These are staffed 24/7 and are fully equipped to deal with an Ebola patient should they enter the country ill.

Q: I’m still worried about contracting Ebola. Should I be on the lookout for symptoms?

A: There’s really no need. Unless you or someone you have been in close contact with has recently traveled to West Africa, there’s almost no chance you will get sick with Ebola.

Even if someone is infected, they are not contagious until they exhibit obvious symptoms of being ill, such as fever, vomiting or diarrhea, according to the World Health Organization.

But just so you know, symptoms of Ebola include sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and headaches, along with vomiting and diarrhea. The disease can cause kidney and liver failure, as well as internal bleeding. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms and has recently traveled to Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria or a country nearby, go immediately to your doctor and tell them about your recent travel.

Photo: Texas Health Presbyterian hospital on Tuesday, September 30, 2014, in Dallas. A patient at the hospital tested positive for the Ebola virus. (G.J. McCarthy/Dallas Morning News/MCT)

Survivor Kent Brantly Tells Congress Of ‘Emotional Toll’ Of Ebola

Survivor Kent Brantly Tells Congress Of ‘Emotional Toll’ Of Ebola

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times

Less than a month after being released from the hospital following his recovery from the Ebola virus, Dr. Kent Brantly appeared in Washington before a congressional panel Wednesday, detailing the pain he endured from the disease and urging the world to act quickly to turn the tide against it.

“Agencies like the World Health Organization remain bound up by bureaucracy,” Brantly told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee during a hearing about global efforts to fight Ebola. “Their speeches, proposals, and plans, though noble, have not resulted in any significant action to stop the spread of Ebola.”

Brantly, who met with President Barack Obama on Tuesday, said he was “pleased” with the announcement that the United States will redouble its efforts in the fight against Ebola, sending 3,000 military personnel to West Africa and committing to training 500 health care providers a week.

“Now, we must make those promises a reality,” Brantly said.

Looking healthy and wearing an American flag pin on the lapel of his gray suit, Brantly expressed his “deep gratitude” toward the U.S. government and the State Department for their role in evacuating him and missionary Nancy Writebol back to the United States.

“Thank you for bringing me home when I was sick,” Brantly said, going on to describe the intense pain and emotional isolation he felt as he struggled to recover in a Liberian Ebola ward.

“Ebola is a scourge that does not even allow its victims to die with dignity,” Brantly testified. “I came to understand the extreme physical and emotional toll that Ebola inflicts in an even more personal way after I was diagnosed.”

Brantly described being cared for by doctors and nurses wearing protective gear that looked like “spacesuits.”

“All I could see were their eyes through their protective goggles. The only human contact I received came through double layers of medical gloves,” he said.

Brantly acknowledged the intense media coverage his infection and subsequent recovery has received, saying he was “grateful” for the awareness it raised. “But it is unfortunate that thousands of African lives and deaths did not warrant the same global attention as two infected Americans,” Brantly told the panel. “Even after this attention, it has been impossible to find medical gloves and rubber boots.”

The doctor said the health care systems in Liberia and other countries affected were having to turn patients away, and urged U.S. officials and others to turn their attention toward providing home health care providers with education and protective gear.

Brantly said he had heard recently that the facility where he was working in Monrovia, and where he contracted the disease, was turning away as many as 30 infected patients a day.

“If we do not provide education and protective equipment to caregivers, we will be condemning countless mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons to death simply because they chose not to let their loved ones die alone,” Brantly said.

AFP Photo/Joni Byker

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Medal Of Honor Awarded To 2 Men Who Served In Vietnam War

Medal Of Honor Awarded To 2 Men Who Served In Vietnam War

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times

President Barack Obama awarded two men the Medal of Honor on Monday afternoon for their bravery during the Vietnam War.

In a ceremony at the White House, Obama bestowed the nation’s highest military recognition on Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins and posthumously to Army Spc. Donald P. Sloat.

“You served with valor, you made us proud, and your service is with us for eternity,” Obama said at the ceremony. “No matter how many years go by, we will continue to express our gratitude for your extraordinary service.”

Adkins was on his second tour of duty in Vietnam, at an isolated camp along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, when the camp came under attack by North Vietnamese forces.

Adkins ran into enemy fire several times, retrieving ammo, supplies, and helping his fellow injured soldiers to safety.

Sloat was killed in action when he shielded other soldiers from a hand grenade blast on Jan. 17, 1970. Sloat, who was 20 at the time, was patrolling with his squad near the Hawk Hill Fire Base, south of Da Nang, Vietnam, when one of the other soldiers triggered an enemy hand grenade trap.

The grenade rolled down the hill toward Sloat, and he picked it up, intending to throw it away.

But when he realized it was about to explode, he shielded it with his own body, saving three of his fellow soldiers.

His brother, Dr. William Sloat of Enid, Oklahoma, accepted the award on his behalf.

Photo:/Abaca Press/MCT/Olivier Douliery

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South Carolina House Speaker Suspends Himself From Office After Being Indicted

South Carolina House Speaker Suspends Himself From Office After Being Indicted

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times

The speaker of South Carolina’s House of Representatives found himself in the awkward position of having to suspend himself from office Thursday, a day after he was indicted by a grand jury on campaign finance and misconduct charges.

Bobby Harrell informed the clerk of the state House of his decision in a letter.

“I have great respect for this institution and the people of South Carolina,” Harrell wrote. “I have always sought to act in their best interest and continue to do so now by taking this action and suspending myself from office.”

Harrell added that he is “proactively taking this step,” which he described as “the right decision.”

South Carolina law governing public officeholders requires that any member of the legislature indicted in a state or federal court for a felony, a crime of “moral turpitude,” an election law violation or an offense that carries a sentence of more than two years be suspended “immediately without pay by the presiding officer of the House or Senate.”

A Richland County grand jury indicted Harrell on nine charges, including filing false campaign reports, using campaign money for personal expenses, and misconduct in office, prompting Gov. Nikki Haley and several House members to call for his resignation as speaker.

The allegations include assertions that Harrell used campaign funds to pay for “nonexistent” trips in his private jet and that he used $70,000 from his campaign account to pay the salary of an assistant at his State Farm insurance business.

Harrell faces removal from the House if he is convicted or pleads no contest, but if he’s acquitted, he’ll be entitled to reinstatement and back pay.

During the suspension, Harrell cannot “participate in the business of his public office,” the law says.

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr

Judge Says BP’s ‘Reckless’ Conduct Led To Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Judge Says BP’s ‘Reckless’ Conduct Led To Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times

A federal judge has ruled that BP’s “gross negligence” resulted in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 people and spilled more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

In a ruling released Thursday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans said that BP’s actions leading up to the well blowout were “reckless.”

In particular, Barbier said, the company’s decision to drill the last 100 feet of the well, left it in “extremely fragile condition” and made it vulnerable to blowout.

In the first phase of a trial that will ultimately determine how much companies will be penalized for violations of the Clean Water Act, Barbier assigned the majority of the fault in the incident to the oil giant, determining that oil services company Halliburton and BP’s drilling contractor, Transocean, were negligent but responsible to lesser degrees.

The judge determined that BP should hold 67 percent of the blame, while Transocean and Halliburton are responsible for 30 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

Halliburton announced Tuesday that it had settled most of its civil claims related to the spill for $1.1 billion.

The decision could have a major impact on the second phase of the trial, set to begin in January, which will determine the amount of penalties that BP could pay.

AFP Photo

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Halliburton Agrees To $1.1 Billion Settlement In 2010 Gulf Spill

Halliburton Agrees To $1.1 Billion Settlement In 2010 Gulf Spill

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times

Halliburton has agreed to a $1.1 billion settlement stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that spewed more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and killed 11 people, attorneys for the company and plaintiffs said Tuesday.

The settlement seeks to put to bed most of the claims filed against the oil field services giant by individuals and businesses affected by the spill, including commercial fishermen and charter boat operators and individual fishermen or hunters in certain areas who depended on their catch for subsistence, attorneys with the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in the Deepwater Horizon litigation said.

“Halliburton stepped up to the plate and agreed to provide a fair measure of compensation to people and businesses harmed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy,” attorneys Stephen J. Herman and James P. Roy said in a statement from the committee.

According to Halliburton, the agreement covers:

-Claims against Halliburton stemming from a class-action settlement between BP and thousands of individuals and businesses who had reported damage as a result of the disaster.

-Punitive damages against Halliburton by plaintiffs who said they suffered property damage or losses related to the commercial fishing industry.

-Affirmation that Halliburton has no liability for damages stemming from BP’s 2012 $7.8 billion class-action settlement.

The settlement must be approved by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.

Halliburton pleaded guilty last year to destroying evidence, including results of internal tests conducted after the spill that were designed to evaluate the soundness of advice the company gave to BP before the explosion.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, 2010, and spewed oil into the gulf for more than three months. At one point, oil fouled about 1,000 miles of coastline, affecting birds, marine life, fishing and tourism.

The rig was owned by offshore drilling company Transocean but leased and operated by BP. Halliburton did cement work on the well, owned by a number of oil companies including BP.

A federal commission found that BP, Halliburton and Transocean had tried to cut corners, contributing to the disaster. The panel faulted Halliburton’s unstable cement job on the well for leading to the explosion.

AFP Photo

Britain Raises Security Threat From ‘Substantial’ To ‘Severe’

Britain Raises Security Threat From ‘Substantial’ To ‘Severe’

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times

Responding to recent events in Syria and Iraq, Britain has upgraded its security threat level to “severe,” the government announced Friday, meaning a terrorist attack there is “highly likely.”

The nation’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, an independent body, made the determination based on its latest intelligence, officials said.

This is the first time in three years that the U.K. has been at such a heightened security threat level.

The announcement of the increased threat level cited terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq that are “planning attacks against the West,” saying some plots are likely to involve Europeans that have traveled to the region to take part in the fighting.

In a news conference, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said citizens were “shocked and sickened” by the murder of American journalist James Foley, and by revelations that the terrorist who killed him was likely British.

“It was clear evidence… that this is not some foreign conflict thousands of miles from home that we can hope to ignore,” Cameron told reporters. “The ambition to create an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and Syria is a threat our own security here in the U.K.”

Cameron said the British government thinks that at least 500 people have traveled from Britain to fight in Syria in Iraq, blaming the violence of the Islamic State on “poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism.”

“We cannot appease this ideology, we have to confront it at home and abroad,” Cameron said.

In a statement, Home Secretary Theresa May said there was no specific intelligence to suggest that an attack is imminent.

Mark Rowley, the U.K.’s head of counterterrorism, urged people to report any suspicious activity to the police, and said police would be increasing patrol levels and implementing other security measures by Friday afternoon.

AFP Photo

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