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Man Arrested After Social Media Threats Against Black Students At University Of Missouri

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

COLUMBIA, Mo. — University of Missouri police arrested a 19-year-old man about 100 miles from campus on suspicion of posting social media threats against black students, who were deeply disturbed by anonymous messages, including one that said, “I’m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see.”

University police said in a Wednesday morning statement that the suspect had posted threats to the anonymous posting service Yik Yak and other social media and was not situated on or near campus “at the time of the threat.”

Another message on Yik Yak said: “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow.”

The suspect, Hunter Park, who is white and from Lake St. Louis, was arrested on suspicion of making terrorist threats and was being held on $4,500 bail, according to records from the Boone County jail.

University of Missouri police said in a statement that Park was arrested at 1:50 a.m. in Rolla, Mo., almost 100 miles southeast of Columbia. Police officials declined to release more details.

Black students were rattled by the threats, which came after a semester of mounting campus protests over racial issues that culminated with University System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announcing their resignations Monday.

Loftin tweeted that the suspect used “multiple accounts” to threaten students.

Some professors canceled classes and some black students left campus out of fear for their safety late Tuesday night as students — including Missouri student body President Payton Head — also circulated incorrect social media reports that Ku Klux Klan members had gathered on campus.

University of Missouri police Maj. Brian Weimer told the Los Angeles Times late Tuesday night that the department had received no reports of Klan members on campus.

Students were also unsettled by a man shouting and cursing late Tuesday night at the speaker’s circle next to the university library. Weimer said the man walked away with a friend.

Someone placed a threatening phone call to the campus’s black culture center earlier in the day Tuesday, but the center was not evacuated, said Weimer, who added that university police were maintaining a heavier presence on campus than usual.

Some black students were still upset Wednesday morning after a night in which students urged each other to walk home in groups and offer students walking alone an escort home.

“How Mizzou responds to the threat on Black lives today will dictate the progress of the school for the next 10+ years,” graduate student Jonathan Butler, 25, who held a seven-day hunger strike to call for the system president’s removal, wrote on Twitter.

University of Missouri officials said in a statement on its alert service that the university was still operating under its usual schedule, adding, “Safety is the university’s top priority, and we are working hard to assure that the campus remains safe while information is obtained and confirmed.”

Photo: Hunter Park is pictured in this undated booking photo provided by Boone County Sheriff’s Department in Missouri. Park, was in custody on November 11, 2015, for making online threats to shoot black students at the University of Missouri following racial protests that prompted the school’s president and chancellor to step down this week, campus police said. REUTERS/Boone County Sheriff’s Department/Handout via Reuters

Ohio Voters Soundly Reject Marijuana Legalization Initiative

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Ohio voters soundly rejected a marijuana initiative Tuesday that would have legalized recreational and medicinal use of the drug, and would have limited commercial growing to a small group of investors who drafted and promoted the measure.

The initiative was failing 65 percent to 35 percent, with more than three-quarters of precincts reporting.

“Issue 3 has been soundly defeated!” Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies crowed on Twitter. “No marijuana monopolies in this state!”

Four other states and the District of Columbia have already legalized the recreational sale of marijuana, which is still a federal crime. Ohio would have been the first state in the Midwest to do so.

But along with opposition from anti-drug groups and state elected officials, Ohio’s unorthodox initiative drew discomfort from some legalization supporters.

“This year’s initiative failed because a greed-driven monopoly plan is wrong for the state of Ohio,” one competing pro-legalization group, Legalize Ohio 2016, said in a statement. “Some activists were let down tonight because they put their faith in a bad plan, but their efforts have brought us a step closer to legalizing marijuana in 2016.”

Opponents alleged that Issue 3 would have effectively set up a monopoly by limiting commercial marijuana growth to 10 preselected plots of land owned by the entrepreneurs behind the measure.

A group of 24 investors backing the measure included former NBA star Oscar Robertson, descendants of President William Howard Taft and former boy-band celebrity Nick Lachey.

The “ResponsibleOhio” legalization campaign was driven by political consultant Ian James, who acknowledged he would profit from the measure.

“The honest and most easy response is: I am going to profit from this,” James told the Center for Public Integrity in June. “If people are upset about me making money, I don’t know what to say other than that that’s part of the American process. To win and make this kind of change for social justice, it does cost a lot of money.”

In a televised concession speech Tuesday night, James called the loss “a bump in the road” and accused state legislators of “refus(ing) to deal with the voters.”

State legislators seeking to derail Issue 3 had presented voters with an “anti-monopoly” initiative, Issue 2, designed to nullify the marijuana initiative and ban special-interest groups from creating constitutional amendments for financial gain.

Both measures appeared on the ballot Tuesday, presenting a potential legal conundrum if each one passed.

Generally, under Ohio law, whichever ballot measure receives more votes prevails.

But Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who opposed the legalization effort, said if both measures passed the legislators’ anti-monopoly initiative would have prevailed because it would go into effect immediately, while the voter-initiated marijuana measure would take 30 days.

In that case, experts expected the marijuana-initiative supporters to take the matter to court.

The vote for the anti-monopoly initiative was much closer. It was leading, 52 percent to 48 percent, with 76 percent of precincts reporting.

The defeat of the marijuana measure was the first such loss for a recreational legalization initiative since 2012, and the first loss for marijuana advocates more generally since Florida rejected medical marijuana last year, according to John Hudak, a fellow with the Brookings Institute.

“The forces of defeat had more to do with timing, referendum language, demographics, and other ballot initiatives than it did with public opinion on the issue,” Hudak wrote in an instant analysis of the measure’s defeat.

Hudak added that ResponsibleOhio was “never able to consolidate the marijuana reform community inside or outside Ohio, and the ballot measure’s fate was dramatically affected by it.”

In a statement after the vote, Tom Angell of the pro-legalization group the Marijuana Majority called Issue 3 a “flawed measure” that “didn’t represent what voters wanted.

“Tonight’s results — and the choices that inevitably led up to them — are especially sad for Ohioans who use marijuana and will continue to be treated like criminals for no good reason,” Angell wrote.

On Twitter, Angell also scolded the measure’s backers using the hashtag #HowNotToLegalizeMarijuana. In another tweet, he said, “You idiots.”

Issue 3 also aimed to establish a marijuana control commission to regulate growth, distribution and sales in the state.

The measure would have imposed a 15 percent tax on gross revenues of growing operations and a 5 percent tax on gross revenues of retail marijuana stores, plus annual licensing fees.

Fifty-five percent of the taxes would have been distributed to cities and townships and 30 percent to counties for infrastructure and public safety purposes. The remaining 15 percent would have gone to the marijuana commission.

Photo: Ohio would have been the first state in the midwest to legalize marijuana. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Virginia TV station ‘At A Loss’ To Explain Why Fired Worker Shot Pair 2 Years Later

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

As the cameras rolled Thursday morning, WDBJ-TV morning anchor Kimberly McBroom reached out to hold her colleagues’ hands.

It was 6:45 a.m., and McBroom told her viewers in southwest Virginia that the staffers at the Roanoke TV station were approaching a moment “none of us will forget.”

“It was yesterday around this time that we went live to Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward,” McBroom said, tremors of emotion creeping into her voice as she and other station staff members held a 30-second, on-air moment of silence.

Parker, 24, and Ward, 27, were shot and killed on live television in a shocking ambush by one of their former co-workers at the television station, Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, who went by the on-air name of Bryce Williams.

McBroom was the anchor on duty at the station Wednesday morning when the pair were shot and Ward’s camera tumbled to the ground, capturing Flanagan marching forward with a gun in his hand before the feed cut back to an astonished McBroom at the anchor desk.

The pair had been interviewing a local Chamber of Commerce leader, Vicki Gardner, who was wounded but is expected to survive.

Flanagan later shot and killed himself, but not before posting video he took of the shooting on Twitter and Facebook. He also apparently sent an angry manifesto to ABC News complaining about workplace bullying and praising the mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School.

In the rental car Flanagan crashed after a police chase, investigators found multiple license plates, a wig and 17 stamped letters, according to a search inventory released by officials Thursday.

Almost every element of Flanagan’s attack, which seemed maximized for public shock value, posed a challenge to journalism itself.

Across the nation, Flanagan’s on-air shooting and social media posts launched debates over whether media outlets should amplify the thoughts and actions that a killer specifically wanted the public to see.

Some news outlets declined to show the full videos. Others decided to republish the images, including the New York Daily News, which covered its Thursday front page with three freeze frames showing the moment Flanagan opened fire on a visibly shocked Parker. With its front-page story the Los Angeles Times published one freeze-frame image of Flanagan’s hand pointing a gun at the reporter.

The shooting tested the emotional and professional limits of WDBJ, where both victims were in romantic relationships with other staff members.

Since Wednesday the station has carried on under extraordinary circumstances.

Reporters have reported about co-workers, while live shots have been canceled out of an abundance of caution. Sobs have been heard off-set as staff members processed their emotions on-air. After Flanagan shot himself but before he died at a hospital, the station’s manager admitted on camera Wednesday that he wasn’t sure whether he wanted Flanagan to live or die.

Flanagan’s stint at the station was tumultuous, according to court records from a discrimination lawsuit he filed against it in 2014. The case was dismissed.

Flanagan worked at the station for less than a year after he was hired in March 2012, following several years spent out of the industry. In internal memos made public as part of the lawsuit, the station’s then-news director Dan Dennison detailed several episodes in which Flanagan had used hostile dialogue and body language with co-workers, especially photographers.

In one July 2012 memo, Dennison ordered Flanagan to undergo employee counseling or lose his job for creating a “hostile work environment,” which officials said Flanagan completed.

Flanagan was fired in February 2013 for poor news judgment and poor relationships with his colleagues, according to the station.
Another memo detailed his stormy exit from the TV station, which prompted managers to call police to escort Flanagan out. Flanagan threw a wooden cross at one manager and said, “You’re going to need this.” Flanagan, who was black, also accused the station of racism for keeping a watermelon in a hallway.

On his way out of the station, Flanagan flipped off Ward, who was recording the incident, and told the photographer to “lose your big gut,” according to the memo.

At a news conference outside the station Thursday, General Manager Jeffrey A. Marks said none of Flanagan’s complaints of discrimination was substantiated by management, by a court or by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where Flanagan had lodged an unsuccessful complaint.

In the two years since the firing, Flanagan had been seen around town but did not talk to or confront any station employees, Marks said.

“We are still at a loss to figure out what happened to him in those 2 years,” Marks said, flanked by a couple dozen station employees wearing ribbons honoring Ward and Parker. “But most of our time we are spending focused on the results of his actions yesterday, the loss of Adam and Alison, and our bond with the community, which has been so strong for the last 30 hours or so.”

The station, which has vowed to cover the aftermath of the shooting with fairness, has received support from local community members dropping off flowers and meals and from journalism outlets around the world.

Two Springfield, Mo., television stations have sent staff to help. KY3 anchor Steve Grant, KY3 reporter Eric Hilt and KSPR news director Bridget Lovelle have been sent for at least a few days, the Springfield News-Leader reported.

Grant was already on air Thursday morning as McBroom, the morning anchor, paid tribute to her colleagues and their final story, a light feature about the 50th anniversary of the man-made Smith Mountain Lake, about 25 miles southeast of Roanoke.

“It was during a conversation with (Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Director) Vicki Gardner — about another reason why we love living here — when the peacefulness of our community was shattered,” McBroom said.

“As we approach that moment, we want to pause and reflect, and we want to share with you once again what made these two so special, not just to us, but to all of our hometowns that WDBJ-7 serves,” she said.

During the moment of silence, the feed switched to photos of Parker and Ward, both smiling in their official station portraits.
Below their pictures, at the bottom of the screen, a news ticker continued to scroll details of other breaking stories. The world of news hadn’t slowed down, and neither would WDBJ-TV.

Photo: Vester Lee Flanagan, who was known on-air as Bryce Williams is shown in this handout photo from TV station WDBJ7 obtained by Reuters August 26, 2015. (REUTERS/WDBJ7/Handout via Reuters)

Carter ‘Prepared For Anything That Comes’ As He Begins Radiation For Cancer On His Brain

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The nation’s 39th president, wearing jeans with a red tie and sport coat, strode in to deliver some bad news: He had cancer, it had spread to his brain, and he would be undergoing radiation treatment immediately.

But Jimmy Carter was smiling.

“I’ve had a wonderful life. I’ve had thousands of friends. I’ve had an exciting, adventurous, gratifying existence,” Carter, 90, said during a televised Thursday morning news conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta. “I’ll be prepared for anything that comes.”

Even while facing one of the greatest challenges of his life, Carter once again demonstrated the candor and vitality that has distinguished his post-presidential career as a Nobel Peace Prize-winning humanitarian and international icon.

Carter sometimes cracked jokes and grinned as he discussed the internal melanoma that had spawned a tumor in his liver, four small masses on his brain and was expected to spread.

When asked whether he would have done anything differently, Carter drew laughs when he said he wished he’d sent “one more helicopter” on the botched 1980 rescue attempt of American hostages in Iran — the defining failure of the Democrat’s one-term administration.

“We would have rescued them, and I would have been re-elected,” grinned Carter.

Carter did not directly give a prognosis but was clearly optimistic.

Even as he said he would “fairly dramatically” cut back his work with his beloved Carter Center — the nonprofit he created with his wife, Rosalynn, in 1982, and which he said he would have chosen over another four years in office — Carter promised to continue contributing and to teach Sunday school at church.

“It won’t be tough on my part,” Carter said of his treatment. “I’ll do what the doctors recommend for me to extend my life as much as possible.”

The facts Carter revealed were worrisome: Doctors still don’t know the source of the melanoma, which was first detected in his liver during an exam in May when Carter came down with a cold. (Carter had been in Guyana to observe an election and had to cut the trip short.)

Doctors removed a malignant tumor measuring 2.5 cubic centimeters and about one-tenth of Carter’s liver in early August. After they did, medical scans of his head and neck revealed four small spots on Carter’s brain measuring about 2 millimeters.

No cancer has been discovered in Carter’s pancreas. Pancreatic cancer has killed four of Carter’s family members.

On Thursday afternoon, Carter underwent radiation treatment, and he could undergo more radiation treatments if necessary, although none are now scheduled, his office said.

Carter is expected to also undergo a total of four intravenous treatments with the melanoma drug pembrolizumab at three-week intervals, according to his office.

He said at the news conference that he would have four rounds of radiation therapy, but his office later issued a clarification to say it would be four treatments of the drug.

Carter underwent his first a round of intravenous medication Wednesday and said he was in little pain, which he hoped would continue.

“I don’t anticipate any trouble and pain and suffering,” Carter said.

The former president also remained hopeful that he might be able to go to Nepal on his annual trip to build houses with Habitat for Humanity, though it coincides with his final scheduled treatment.

“I’m going to have to give the treatment regimen top priority,” Carter said, adding that he would follow the advice of his doctors at Emory University.

Carter’s announcement Thursday followed a short statement last week confirming he had cancer.

He also revealed Thursday that he initially kept doctors’ reports of a mass on his liver secret from his wife for two weeks in early June. He delayed surgery on his liver to continue a book tour because doctors said the cancer was slow-growing.

Though after Carter discovered in August that melanoma had reached his brain, his gut reaction was that he might have only two weeks left to live.

That obviously wasn’t true. More than two weeks later, Carter was looking vibrant Thursday as he spoke about his 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren and of feeling “surprisingly at ease” as he faced the unknown.

“I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t go into an attitude of despair or anger or anything like that,” said Carter, who turns 91 in October.

He declared that marrying Rosalynn was the “pinnacle” of his life, and he urged other cancer patients to hope for the best but also accept what comes.

“We all thought and we all continue to think that Carter will live forever,” Paul Costello, a former assistant press secretary to Rosalynn Carter, said Thursday, noting that Carter has outlived many of his close advisers.

“What struck me today, the characteristics of what and how he spoke embodied his life,” Costello said. “There was grace, there was humility and there was the great love of the most important person in his life, Rosalynn.”

Costello also spoke admiringly of Carter’s endurance, recalling a “grueling” trip to Nepal with Carter seven or eight years ago in which the former president exuded his usual boundless energy.

Six or eight months from now, Costello hopes Carter will get the label “cancer survivor.”

“If there’s anyone who epitomizes a survivor, it’s Jimmy Carter,” Costello said.

The Democrat from Plains, Ga., whose full name is James Earl Carter Jr., is the second-oldest living president after George H.W. Bush, 91. Raised on a peanut farm, Carter was a relative unknown as Georgia governor when he launched his campaign that unseated President Ford in the 1976 election.

At the time, the nation was reeling from the Watergate scandal, President Richard Nixon’s resignation and Vietnam.

Carter’s signature achievements as president were primarily on the international front. They included the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel, which he personally brokered and which have endured through more than three decades of strife in the Middle East.

At home, though, his presidency was buffeted by crises — rampant inflation, gas lines and high unemployment — as well as by his administration’s inability to win the release of 52 Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days, the last 15 months of his term in office.

In 1982, Carter and his wife founded the Carter Center, which pressed for peaceful solutions to world conflicts, promoted human rights and helped work to eradicate disease in poor nations.

The center, based in Atlanta, launched a new phase of Carter’s public life that would earn him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

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

Photo: Former President Jimmy Carter discusses his cancer diagnosis at the Carter Center Thursday, AUg. 20, 2015 in Atlanta, Ga. The 90-year-old announced he had cancer after doctors removed small masses from his liver earlier this month. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Another Black Church Burns After NAACP Warns About Suspected Arson Attacks

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The NAACP warned black churches Tuesday to take “necessary precautions” as authorities in Southern states investigate whether several church fires over the last week were arsons.

Citing a series of arsons that struck black churches across the South in the 1990s, the NAACP used a Twitter hashtag that went viral this week and tweeted Tuesday, “Almost 20 years later, we must again ask, #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches?”

Hours later, another historically black church went up in flames.

Tuesday’s fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, S.C.—about 60 miles north of Charleston—comes 20 years after the same congregation’s church was burned to the ground by men with ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it is looking into the fire, whose cause has not yet been determined.

Officials have said two black churches were targeted by arsonists last week in Knoxville, Tenn., where a van was destroyed, and Charlotte, N.C., where a church building was destroyed. No arrests have been made or suspects identified in those cases. Nor has a possible motive been given.

Investigators were also looking into what caused the fires that destroyed black churches in Macon, Ga., and Warrenville, S.C., though officials said they have not found a cause or any evidence of criminal intent in those blazes.

The ATF has taken the lead on investigating the fires in Charlotte and Macon. A spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that there was no update on those cases.

Church fires are relatively common in the U.S. According to the most recent data available from the National Fire Protection Association, officials responded to 1,660 fires at religious and funeral properties in 2011, down from 3,500 in 1980.

About 16 percent of those church and funeral-property fires were intentionally set, which equals about five arsons a week, according to the association.

But the specter of black churches burning—especially after the June 17 massacre that left nine parishioners dead at a black church in Charleston, S.C. — rattled many black activists and social media users given the nation’s long history of racial violence against black churches.

A spike of arsons against black churches in the South during the mid-1990s led to the creation in 1996 of the National Church Arson Task Force, which investigated at least 827 arsons, bombings or attempted bombings at religious buildings that occurred between 1995 and 1999. The task force includes the FBI, the ATF, U.S. attorneys, local prosecutors and other federal and state law enforcement.

Of that 827, at least 269 involved black churches, with 185 of those churches located in the South, according to a 2000 report.

“The bulk of the attacks appear to be ‘random’ acts of vandalism, the work of ‘teenagers’ and ‘copycats’ rather than hardened conspirators,” Jim Campbell, an assistant professor of history at Northwestern University, wrote in a 1996 opinion piece for The Times titled “America’s Long History of Black Churches Burning” that was shared widely over social media on Monday.

There were 297 attacks on religious facilities in general in 1996, 208 in 1997, 163 in 1998 and 97 in 1999, according to the task force reports.

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

Screenshot: CNN/YouTube

Woman Resigns As NAACP Chapter Head Amid Claims She Lied About Being Black

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Rachel Dolezal, president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington, resigned Monday amid accusations that she is a white woman posing as a black woman.

In a statement posted on the chapter’s Facebook page, Dolezal, whose parents say she is white, did not directly address allegations that she lied about being a black woman.

“While challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness,” Dolezal wrote that she did not want to distract from the larger cause of racial justice and would step aside.

“I have waited in deference while others expressed their feelings, beliefs, confusions and even conclusions — absent the full story,” Dolezal wrote. “I am consistently committed to empowering marginalized voices and believe that many individuals have been heard in the last hours and days that would not otherwise have had a platform to weigh in on this important discussion.”

Dolezal said vice president Naima Quarles-Burnley would take over.

Dolezal had been expected to address the firestorm that erupted last week over her personal identity at the local chapter’s Monday meeting.

But that meeting was canceled Sunday “due to the need to continue discussion with regional and national NAACP leaders,” according to an unsigned note on the chapter’s Facebook page.

Last week, top officials of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had stood by Dolezal.

In a statement Friday, after her parents’ allegations were first reported in the Coeur d’Alene Press, the NAACP said Dolezal was involved in a “legal issue with her family.”

The group also stressed that anyone can fight for civil rights, regardless of his or her race. “One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership,” it said in a statement.

It added: “In every corner of this country, the NAACP remains committed to securing political, educational and economic justice for all people, and we encourage Americans of all stripes to become members and serve as leaders in our organization.”

(Tina Susman contributed to this report.)

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

Screenshot: KXLY/YouTube

Anti-Islam Activist Pamela Geller Was Possible Beheading Target, Official Says

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Controversial anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller was mentioned as a possible target for beheading by a man who was shot and killed by a counterterrorism task force this week, Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said Thursday.

“I think it was more along the lines of wishful thinking” rather than an imminent jihadist plot by Usaama Rahim, 26, who was shot in Boston on Tuesday after threatening police with a knife, Evans said in an appearance on The Today Show.

However, Evans added of Rahim, who had been under 24-hour surveillance: “This was very real, it was very dangerous, and when it unfolded Tuesday morning, could have saved not only police officers’ lives, but who knows where it could have gone also.”

Authorities have not discussed in detail how Rahim came under scrutiny.

Conspiracy charges filed Wednesday against one of his associates, David Wright, 24, revealed that the pair had apparently been discussing beheadings and a possible attack on police officers, often in generic terms.

Officials have said the pair discussed a possible beheading in conversation with an unidentified third person, but a third person has not been arrested, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston said Thursday.
Wright was arrested on Tuesday and made an initial court appearance Wednesday and a judge reportedly ordered him to remain in custody.

Evans said Thursday in the televised interview that he is “confident that at least this threat has been neutralized.”

“I believe we have everyone connected with this plot, ” Evans said. “There is nothing bigger, at least that we know of, operating in the city of Boston.”

On Wednesday evening, spokeswomen for the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston declined to comment on alleged threats against Geller, who hosted a provocative Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, last month that was attacked by two jihadist gunmen apparently outraged by the event. Police shot and killed both men in a parking lot.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Geller declined to say whether investigators had contacted her beforehand about any threats. Asked about whether she would change anything she was already doing, Geller responded, “Doing it more.”

“This is what’s getting lost in post-Garland, Texas — that ISIS is here, Islamic terrorism is here, they targeted me for violating Shariah blasphemy laws,” Geller said in a phone interview. “This is really a showdown for American freedom. Will we stand against the savagery or will we bow to them and silence ourselves? That’s the question.”

Official statements and court documents provide only glimpses of Rahim’s alleged plot to behead an unidentified person in a state outside Massachusetts.

He had bought knives on Amazon last week and, on Sunday went to Rhode Island with Wright to talk to a third suspect about a possible beheading, according to court documents.

Authorities apparently became more concerned about Rahim after intercepting a 5 a.m. Tuesday phone call in which officials said he told Wright he had decided he wanted to attack police officers.

“I’m just going to, ah, go after them, those boys in blue,” Rahim said, according to a transcript of the call in the court documents. “‘Cause, ah, it’s the easiest target and, ah, the most common is the easiest for me.”

Wright was charged with conspiring to destroy evidence after officials said he told Rahim to destroy his phone, “because, at the scene, at the scene, CSI” — an apparent reference to crime scene investigators — “will be looking for that particular thing and so dump it, get rid of that.”

Two hours later, officials with Boston police and the FBI in a Joint Terrorism Task Force approached Rahim near a CVS parking lot — not to arrest him, officials have said, but to question him about his intentions.

Rahim pulled out a knife, and when police told him to drop one of the knives he’d bought, he replied, “You drop yours,” according to court documents.

Community leaders who viewed surveillance video that shows the encounter from a distance said that Rahim advanced on the officers before they fatally shot him.

They discredited claims by Rahim’s brother, an imam, Ibrahim Rahim, that Rahim had been on the phone when he was shot and that he had been shot in the back.

Evans said Thursday that the investigation into Rahim’s plans continue.

The shooting will be investigated by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office to determine whether police and the FBI’s use of force was appropriate.

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

Screenshot: CNN/YouTube

Boston Man Under Terrorism Surveillance Was Not Shot In Back, Community Leaders Say

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Boston religious and community leaders said Wednesday that video shows a local man was not shot in the back during a confrontation with terrorism task force members who had been watching him and wanted to question him.

Police say Usaama Rahim, 26, was shot after pulling out a knife and advancing on four or five Boston police officers and FBI agents who approached him near a CVS parking lot in Boston’s Roslindale neighborhood around 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Officials have declined to say publicly why Rahim had been under 24/7 surveillance and declined to confirm news reports citing unnamed officials who say Rahim was planning to behead a police officer.

On Wednesday, investigators allowed Boston community and religious leaders to view surveillance video of Rahim’s shooting after Rahim’s brother alleged that he had been shot in the back while on the phone with his father.

“The individual was not on a cellphone. The individual was not shot in the back,” Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, told reporters at a news conference.

Williams and other community leaders, however, said the video was too far away to show the incident in detail, and they said they would withhold judgment on whether the shooting was justified.

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said Wednesday that the video shows officers “backtracking” as Rahim walked toward them with a knife.

Evans said calling the community meeting and showing leaders the video was “all about pulling the community together.”

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

Screenshot: CNN/YouTube

As Rain Stops In Oklahoma And Texas, Downriver States Brace For Flooding

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

It finally stopped raining this week in Oklahoma and Texas, where a nearly nonstop series of storms resulted in deadly flooding and made for the wettest month in both states’ recorded history.

So what is happening to all that water?

Some of it, naturally, will evaporate. Some has replenished reservoirs in both states after a punishing five-year drought.

But like the end of a football game when everyone heads for the exits, the waters are inundating rivers across four states, bringing new flood worries for weeks ahead as the torrents barrel toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Water from Oklahoma will first head through rivers in Arkansas and Louisiana before reaching the gulf. The water in eastern and southern Texas will generally take more direct paths to the coast.

“It’s a giant web,” Brannen Parrish, spokesman for the Tulsa, Oklahoma, district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said of the river system running through the lower Plains. “Ultimately that water ends up in the Gulf of Mexico.”

The rains in Texas and Oklahoma brought both sorrow and blessing — floods that claimed hundreds of homes and killed at least 36 people, but also ended a devastating drought.

A year ago, Texas’ reservoirs were only at 67 percent capacity, according to state water data. But in the last three months, capacity has jumped to 83 percent after reservoirs trapped enough rain to cover nearly 23,000 square miles of land — almost one-tenth of Texas — with about a foot of water. Some reservoirs in western Texas, not as hard hit by the storms, were still running low this week.

But in Oklahoma, almost every one of the state’s dozens of reservoirs has exceeded 100 percent normal capacity.

“The fact that we were in a drought helped mitigate some of the flooding issues we would have seen had they not had that extra space available,” said James Paul, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service’s Arkansas-Red Basin River Forecast Center.

However, Paul added, “once they get to the point of being as full as they can get, they have to start releasing that water.”
Many rivers in the region have grown dramatically more powerful because of the surging runoff.

About this time of year, the Red River typically passes between 8,000 and 15,000 cubic feet of water per second where it forms part of the border between Texas and Oklahoma, Paul said.

After last month’s deluge, the Red River has grown more than 10 times in volume and was pumping nearly 235,000 cubic feet of water per second downriver toward Arkansas and Louisiana as of Monday, he said.

“All that water in Oklahoma and northeast Texas that drains into the Red River is making its way to us,” said Aaron Stevens, the observing program leader at the National Weather Service’s office in Shreveport, La., noting that the region has already been deluged. “All the crops that have been planted in the lowlands have flooded, and we’ve lost those crops, and we have a lot of cattle that feed in those lowland areas.”

The Red River is expected to rise about 2 feet by Saturday as it passes through Shreveport in northwest Louisiana. Inmates in Caddo Parish, which includes Shreveport, have helped prepare sandbags for the river’s inevitable attack on the low-lying areas.

“We are not expecting any flooding inside residences, but there will be street flooding, if they aren’t experiencing that already,” Sheriff Steve Prator said in a statement Tuesday, warning the parish’s residents to be prepared. “We know our citizens are keeping a close eye on how the flood may affect their neighborhoods, and we want to make sure they are prepared for all possibilities.”

The Red River eventually dumps into the Atchafalaya River in east-central Louisiana, which then empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Arkansas River — which runs through Oklahoma and Arkansas until it flows into the Mississippi River — has also picked up strength, expanding from an average of about 50,000 cubic feet of water per second to roughly 300,000 to 350,000 cubic feet per second, according to Paul.

More than 40 homes have already been flooded downriver in Jefferson County in central Arkansas, where part of the courthouse and county facilities were swept away by the Arkansas River during a 1908 flood.

Some residents are taking boats to and from their homes and have put furniture, clothes and pictures on their roofs to prevent them from getting wet, Maj. Lafayette Woods of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.

Rains and river surges from Oklahoma have “not been good for us,” Woods said in an earlier interview, adding that the water had lapped over some sandbags protecting low-lying homes.

In Texas, the Nueces River will remain at major flood stage northwest of Corpus Christi through at least the rest of this week. The Trinity River, which is expected to flood for weeks, neared a record high southeast of Dallas on Tuesday before beginning to decline.

Both rivers, which flow through Texas before dumping into the gulf, are projected to threaten some homes and river farmland but have a generally beneficial effect on the environment.

“For river systems, these sort of flood events are a natural part of the landscape that resets the systems in many respects,” said Thomas Hardy, who studies rivers and river ecosystems at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University.

The new freshwater flows after years of drought will also be welcome for wildlife at bay and estuary systems along the coast, Hardy said.

Meanwhile, recovery continues in Hays County, Texas, where at least eight bodies have been found and three people remain missing after the Blanco River overflowed. On Tuesday, county officials said the last unidentified body discovered in the county belonged to Kenneth Reissig, 81, whose remains had been found May 28.

Officials say downriver flooding would be even worse if it weren’t for flood-control infrastructure built several decades ago as part of a long-running struggle between the government and the nation’s unruly rivers.

“It’d be a catastrophe” if an extensive system of levees and reservoirs weren’t keeping the waters in check, said Greg Raimondo, a spokesman for the Vicksburg, Mississippi, office of the Army Corps of Engineers. “There’s a lot of flat ground out there, you know?”

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

Photo: Flood waters being released from Lake Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Texas, on Monday, June 1, 2015. Tarrant Regional Water District officials now say the West Fork of the Trinity has grown to three quarters of a mile wide around Boyd. The flows haven’t peaked yet and may not for several days. (Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

2 Gunmen Killed, Guard Shot Outside Muhammad Cartoon Contest In Texas

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Two gunmen were killed and a security guard wounded in an attack Sunday outside a controversial Dallas-area event where organizers were holding a contest for cartoons featuring the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, police said.

The Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest, led by prominent conservatives who are critical of Islam, was ending when two men drove up in a car and began shooting at a Garland school security officer, Bruce Joiner, who was apparently helping protect the building, city officials said.

“He was shot in the leg, transported to the hospital and he’ll be fine,” Garland Mayor Douglas Athas said.

The attack lasted only seconds, police said. One of the gunmen was shot immediately by police, and the other was shot and killed when he reached for a backpack, leading police to fear the men may have brought explosives, Athas said.

Officials then evacuated the area as attendees were led away from the front of the building. Police searched for possible explosives in the area late into the night.

The shooting in Garland, a suburb about 20 miles from Dallas, was preceded by messages from two social media accounts that expressed radical Islamic viewpoints.

One tweet, sent at 6:35 p.m., used the hashtag #texasattack. The user wrote, “May Allah accept us as mujahideen.” Attendees at the contest didn’t get word about the shooting until about 6:50 p.m.

Garland police spokesman Joe Harn said the department had not been aware of any credible threats against the event.

The gathering was organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which is led by Pamela Geller, a well-known conservative political personality who has been harshly critical of Islam.

Classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group, the AFDI was behind controversial ad campaigns last year. Its ads on buses in San Francisco cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a “war between the civilized man and the savage.”

Geller is perhaps best known for her opposition to what critics called the “ground zero mosque,” a cultural and prayer center that was slated to be built in New York about two blocks from the World Trade Center site.

In 2010, she led thousands of people in a march protesting the project, which has since been scrapped.

After the shooting, Geller posted an outraged statement on her blog. “This is a war,” she wrote. “This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters?”

A cartoon on the AFDI’s website promoting the contest features a wild-eyed man in a turban wielding a sword, apparently the Prophet Muhammad, and saying, “You can’t draw me!” The hand of an unseen artist replies, “That’s why I draw you.”

The Garland cartoon event was intended as a defiant gesture supporting free speech after the Jan. 7 terrorist attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Two gunmen opened fire, killing 12 members of the staff and wounding 11.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was prompted by the magazine’s caricature of Muhammad. In Islam, depicting the prophet is considered a sacrilege.

French police identified two brothers with al-Qaida connections, Cherif and Said Kouachi, as the shooters. Both were later killed in a shootout with commandos.

The Garland contest reportedly received about 350 drawings of Muhammad and offered a top prize of $10,000, according to the AFDI’s website.

It also advertised a $2,500 prize for the most popular cartoon, as voted by readers of Breitbart.com, a conservative website.

The keynote speaker was Geert Wilders, a right-wing member of the Dutch parliament. After seeking to ban the Koran, comparing the text to “Mein Kampf,” and calling Islam a totalitarian ideology, the controversial lawmaker faced charges of inciting hatred in the Netherlands, but he was acquitted in 2011.

Athas, Garland’s mayor, said the city was not associated with the politics of the event. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with Garland or Texas,” he said. “It just happened to be in our city. We provided security to make sure everybody would be safe.”

About 200 people attended, said Randy Potts, a contributing editor for the Daily Beast who was covering the event.

The center where the contest took place had been heavily guarded before the shooting, according Potts. “The security, as you can imagine, is pretty extensive,” Potts said. “Even before we came … maybe 50 to 100 feet away from the building, all around, was all blocked off.”

He was about to leave the center when “guys rushed up to us yelling, ‘Get back to the conference room!’ ” he said.

A livestream of the event captured a police official in tactical gear telling the calm crowd that two suspects and a policeman had been shot.

“Were the suspects Muslim?” an audience member asked.

“I have no idea right now,” the police official said, and attendees were ushered back into an auditorium as police attended to the scene outside.

Potts said he didn’t hear any gunfire, but that others inside had heard one to three gunshots.

“It’s pretty calm in here, people are telling jokes,” Potts said from inside the auditorium where the audience was taken. “We all know that security was so extensive we were not actually worried someone would actually get inside the building.”

Two social media accounts tweeted messages about the attack apparently before it happened.

A Twitter account titled “Shariah is Light” _ bearing the image of extremist Islamic propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen in 2011 _ posted an allusion to the attack just minutes before it happened.

Before the shooting, the “Shariah is Light” account also tweeted a command to follow another account, titled “AbuHussainAlBritani,” which also tweeted before and after the attack.

“The knives have been sharpened, soon we will come to your streets with death and slaughter!” tweeted the “AbuHussainAlBritani” account before the attack.

After the attack, the “AbuHussainAlBritani” account began tweeting praise of the Texas shooting, and linked the attack to the militant group Islamic State.

“Allahu Akbar!!!!! 2 of our brothers just opened fire at the … art exhibition in texas!” the account tweeted. “Kill Those That Insult The Prophet.”

“They Thought They Was Safe In Texas From The Soldiers of The Islamic State,” the account tweeted.

The FBI is providing investigative and bomb technician assistance, a spokeswoman said.

At a news conference, Harn, the police spokesman, said investigators were uncertain of the identities and motives of the gunmen.

Late into the night, the two bodies were left on the street because of concerns that they might have explosives on them, he said.

“We don’t have any idea right now who they are,” Harn said.

(Times staff writers Lauren Raab in Los Angeles and David Zucchino in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.) (c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: (afp.com / Jared L. Christopher) An FBI agent views the area where debris of a car was blown up by police as a precaution, near the Curtis Culwell Center on May 4, 2015 in Garland, Texas

Oklahoma Reserve Deputy Thought He Was Using A Taser, Not A Gun

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

A white reserve deputy accidentally shot an unarmed black man with a gun instead of a Taser, and Oklahoma law enforcement officials berated the man as he lay dying on the ground, according to body-camera footage released this weekend.

“Oh, God. Oh, he shot me; I didn’t do shit!” the suspect, Eric Courtney Harris, can be heard saying as officers from the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office violent crimes task force surround him after a foot chase. “He shot me, man! Oh, my God.”

“You didn’t do shit? You didn’t do shit? You hear me?” responds a man on the task force.

“I’m losing my breath,” Harris says.

“Fuck your breath!” a man responds.

Harris died later at a hospital.

An investigator brought in by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office said this weekend that the reserve deputy had committed no crime during the April 2 incident.

Robert Charles Bates, a 73-year-old insurance executive, has close political ties to the sheriff. Bates was chairman of Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s successful 2012 re-election campaign and donated $2,500 to the effort, according to the Tulsa World. Bates won an award in 2011 as the top reserve deputy, the newspaper reported.

“It was me,” Bates told the Tulsa World last week. “My attorney has advised me not to comment. As much as I would like to, I can’t.”

The case has been referred to the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether to charge Bates.

Harris had a lengthy criminal background, including a 2013 felony conviction for assault on a law enforcement officer. He was targeted for arrest after selling drugs to an undercover officer and offering to sell guns, officials said.

Footage from an officer’s body camera shows Harris running away from members of the task force shortly after they said Harris sold a gun to an undercover officer.

The video, released by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday, shows a deputy tackling Harris in the street.

Moments later, Bates, whom officials said was assisting the task force, shouts “Taser!” — but then fires a single gunshot instead, the video shows.

“I shot him; I’m sorry,” says Bates, whose gun falls to the ground.

“Oh shit, man, he shot me!” Harris can be heard saying and then moaning as law enforcement officials surround him.

The video does not clearly show the faces of the officers surrounding him.

“You fucking ran!” one of the men shouts at Harris. “Shut the fuck up!”

The brief video doesn’t show whether the officers provided first aid.

The sheriff’s department defended Bates, the reserve deputy, at a Saturday news conference announcing that the findings of its investigation had been turned over to the district attorney.

Instead of handing off the investigation to a different agency, a Tulsa police sergeant was “brought on to do an independent evaluation of this situation and make an opinion for Sheriff Glanz” as a “private consultant,” Tulsa County Sheriff’s Maj. Shannon Clark told reporters.

Tulsa Police Sgt. Jim Clark defended the reserve deputy to reporters, declaring him blameless and quoting scientific theories such as “slips and capture” to explain how he could have confused a gun with a Taser.

“It is my opinion, after reviewing all the facts and circumstances of this case, the state’s excusable homicide statute] was applicable in this incident,” Clark said. “Reserve Deputy Bates did not commit a crime. Reserve Deputy Bates was a victim, a true victim, of ‘slips and capture.’ There’s no other determination I could come to.”

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

Image: Screenshot of footage from body camera, via NY Daily News.

Student At Center Of Rolling Stone Story Is Not To Blame, Investigation Authors Say

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The University of Virginia student at the center of a discredited Rolling Stone rape story was not to blame when a “systemic” failure of journalism led the magazine to publish her unverified account of the alleged attack, the authors of an outside investigation into the story said Monday.

“This failure was not the subject or source’s fault as a matter of journalism,” Columbia University Journalism School dean Steve Coll, who co-authored the report, said at a news conference in New York. “It was a product of failed methodology. … We disagree with any suggestion that this was Jackie’s fault,” referring to the student, who was only identified by her first name.

The public dissection of the independent report came as criticism against Rolling Stone mounted, with the fraternity accused in the story announcing Monday it would pursue “all available legal action.”

Rolling Stone on Sunday night retracted and apologized for the November cover story as soon as the Columbia report was released. The Columbia team reiterated Monday that it found deep flaws in the reporting and editing of the woman’s narrative of her allegedly being gang raped at a University of Virginia fraternity.

“The report by Columbia University’s School of Journalism demonstrates the reckless nature in which Rolling Stone researched and failed to verify facts in its article,” Stephen Scipione, president of the Virginia Alpha chapter of that fraternity, said in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times. “This type of reporting serves as a sad example of a serious decline of journalistic standards.”

Questions about the authenticity of the rape story had emerged almost immediately after publication, although the school took the accusations seriously and brought in the police. In the end, neither police investigators nor the Columbia University report found evidence that such a rape happened at the fraternity.

“The abject failure of accountability in journalism that led to Rolling Stone‘s ‘A Rape on Campus’ article has done untold damage to the University of Virginia and our Commonwealth as a whole,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a Monday statement. “This false account has been an unnecessary and dangerous distraction from real efforts to combat sexual violence on our college campuses.”

After retracting the rape story, the magazine removed it from its website and replaced it with the 12,644-word independent review by Columbia.

The review, which also found serious lapses in basic journalistic procedure, had been requested by Rolling Stone in December as doubts grew.

Coll said the report’s authors hoped to construct a “case study” that would be useful for journalists, journalism students, and the public “to see exactly how the editorial process broke down.”

He said that breakdown was not the result of the account Jackie gave, but of the magazine’s “failed methodology” in not confirming its basic accuracy.

Sheila Coronel, a dean of academic affairs at Columbia University and a co-author of the report, said the Columbia team decided not to fully identify the student known as Jackie even though her allegations of a gang rape could not be proved.

An attorney for Jackie declined to comment Monday. Jackie did not cooperate with either the police investigation or the Columbia review into the Rolling Stone story.

Although Rolling Stone‘s systemic breakdowns in verification and attribution marked one of the ugliest blemishes in the magazine’s sometimes storied history, Rolling Stone‘s publisher had no plans to fire any of the editors or the writer involved with the story, a spokeswoman said.

Through that spokeswoman, Rolling Stone‘s publisher, Jann S. Wenner, and its managing editor, Will Dana, declined requests for interviews with the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

In an interview with The New York Times on Sunday, Wenner had called Jackie “a really expert fabulist storyteller,” adding that he was not trying to blame Jackie, “but obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep.”

The Columbia report’s authors found no instances of fabrication or lying on the part of Rolling Stone.

Rather than blame a single person for the story’s failure — such as the author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely — the Columbia authors instead detailed a systemic breakdown of journalism at Rolling Stone.

“The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision, and fact-checking,” wrote the Columbia authors — deans Coronel, Coll, and Derek Kravitz, a postgraduate research scholar at the journalism school.

“The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s narrative so prominently, if at all.”

Through a spokeswoman, Erdely declined an interview request Sunday evening, but she apologized in a statement after the Columbia report was published, calling the last few months “among the most painful of my life.”

She apologized “to Rolling Stone‘s readers, to my Rolling Stone editors and colleagues, to the UVA community, and to any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.”

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

Photo: Adam Fagen via Flickr

Two Police Officers Shot During Protests In Ferguson

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Two St. Louis County police officers were shot outside the Ferguson Police Department during another night of protests in the troubled Missouri city, police confirmed early Thursday.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said two officers were hospitalized after the shooting, which occurred shortly after midnight during demonstrations that followed the resignation of the Ferguson police chief Wednesday.

“These police officers were standing there, and they were shot — just because they were police officers,” Belmar told reporters.

An officer from the St. Louis County Police Department, 41 years old and a 14-year veteran, was shot in the shoulder, and an officer from the Webster Groves Police Department, 32, was shot in the face, he said.

Both sustained serious injuries but were conscious, the chief said.

The turbulent night followed Wednesday’s announcement that Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson planned to resign in the wake of a scathing U.S. Justice Department investigative report that followed the fatal police shooting last summer of 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed black man.

Violent protests followed the shooting, and more demonstrations erupted when a grand jury elected not to indict the white officer, Darren Wilson, who said he shot Brown after the young man tried to grab his gun.

The Justice Department also cleared Wilson, who has since left the department, of any civil rights charges. But it found a “pattern of unconstitutional policing” in the department.

During Wednesday night’s events that stretched into early Thursday, Belmar said a group of officers had been standing directly in front of the police station when shots were fired from an undetermined location to the northwest.

“I don’t know who did the shooting, to be honest with you right now. But somehow they were embedded in that group of folks,” Belmar said.

The fact that the shots were fired parallel to the ground and hit a group of officers standing together suggests, he said, “that there were shots that were directed directly at my police officers.”

“My heart goes out to the officers injured tonight. There is too much violence in our city and this crisis of trust makes us all less safe,” St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who has played a prominent role in the Ferguson protests, said on Twitter.

Several witnesses told the Los Angeles Times that the shots appeared to come from a hill beyond where protesters had gathered.

About 50 protesters were in the parking lot of a tire store while police in riot gear were gathered in the parking lot of the police station across the street. Suddenly, several shots were fired, said Heather De Mian, who was recording the events on a live stream.

“We heard, like, a firework — we thought it was a firework — it was loud,” said Bradley Rayford, a journalist. He said about 50 protesters were left in a diminishing crowd when the shots were heard.

“You couldn’t even see where it was coming from, but you saw the muzzle” flash from up the hill, he said. “The bullets went right past my head.”

“We all ducked down” and the police took cover, Rayford said. “I saw a cop on the ground, obviously in pain; they had to drag him from the front lines.”

A video captured from a live stream of the events shows the protesters and the police standing idly when shots rang out. Screams and profanities could be heard before the camera operator apparently began running.

Tony Rice, a Ferguson resident and activist at the protest, said about three shots were fired.

“It was the first time I’d heard a bullet whiz and pass my head,” Rice said, adding that several officers dropped their riot shields to take cover. “There’s a bunch of shields on the ground,” he said.

One officer fell to the ground and yelled out, as if he had been hit, and officers surrounded him and carried him inside, Rice said. “My assumption is he did get hit,” he said.

Rice said he didn’t see who fired the shots. “They were way up the hill” and concealed in the dark, he said.

“It came from behind us,” De Mian said.

Protesters had gathered to celebrate Jackson’s resignation and to call for Mayor James Knowles III to resign, De Mian said.

“The crowd (had) been dispersing” when the shots were fired, De Mian said.

Afterward, police with rifles were at the scene. Some protesters remained. “It’s kind of scary,” De Mian said.

Mike Kinman, 46, an episcopal priest, had just arrived at the protest five minutes before the shots were fired.

“It was really pretty mellow at that point,” Kinman said of the protest. He too has been an active participant in the demonstrations since August.

Demonstrators were “standing around talking” in the parking lot when four or five shots “in rapid succession” sent protesters and officers ducking for cover, he said.

“A bunch of officers went down to the ground, and there was one that just didn’t move,” Kinman said.

He said “the shots definitely came up from behind us, up the street. It definitely did not come from the protesters.”

DeRay Mckesson, an activist at the scene, told The Times that there were at least four shots, but they were not quite rapid-fire.
___
Times staff writers Ryan Parker and James Queally contributed to this report.

Photo: St. Louis County police in riot gear deploy during protests outside the Ferguson Police Department on March 11, 2015 in Ferguson, Missouri

Storm Warnings Grip 17 States, Record Lows Expected

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Not content just to torture New England with blizzard after blizzard, Mother Nature is expected to unleash heavy snow and uncharacteristically bitter cold on the Midwest, the South and the East this week.

The governors of Virginia and North Carolina declared states of emergency Monday as a winter storm, lumbering their direction, dumped almost a foot of snow on parts of the Midwest and ice and sleet from Tennessee to Georgia.

As of midday Monday, winter storm warnings touching 17 states and affecting millions of residents stretched from Missouri to New Jersey.

Parts of Kentucky were still bracing for more than a foot of snow by the end of Monday, which would give the Bluegrass State a small taste of the weather that has hammered Boston in recent weeks, burying the city beneath several feet of snowy misery. Air traffic into and out of Louisville’s airport was significantly hampered Monday, as it was in Nashville and Memphis.

Worse yet, temperatures in the East will be 20 to 30 degrees lower than average for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service.

“This will especially be the case after yet another arctic cold front moves through after the winter storm departs the East Coast,” the National Weather Service said in a Monday forecast advisory. “Numerous record low temperatures are expected!”

In Michigan on Sunday, the dramatic cold already set or tied record lows of minus 21 degrees in Gaylord, minus 23 in Pellston and minus 25 at the Houghton County Airport.

The freeze spread to Pennsylvania on Monday morning, where a low of minus 32 degrees was reported in Chandlers Valley, and Harrisburg’s much milder zero-degree low tied a 110-year-old record, the weather service reported. The cold spurred school closures in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

A cold front tagging along with Monday’s Midwestern snow storm also brought an unwelcome display of contrasts across the South.

As the cold swept through Victoria, Texas, on Monday morning, temperatures fell from about 70 degrees to 48 degrees in less than half an hour, or almost a degree a minute.

In Mississippi, the temperature in Hattiesburg was 72 degrees at the same time that the temperature in Oxford — more than 200 miles north — was 32 degrees.

By Tuesday morning, single-digit lows are expected as for eastern states north of the Appalachian Mountains, and as far south as Missouri and Kentucky.

California, as per usual, is expected to remain warm and dry, with no rain to help alleviate the drought.

Photo: A pedestrian crosses Main Street as heavy snow falls  across central Kentucky on Monday, Feb. 15, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. (Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS)

Mario Cuomo, Former New York Governor And Fiery Liberal, Dies At 82

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Mario Cuomo, the former three-term governor of New York and a fierce champion of liberal causes, has died, according to his son. He was 82.

Cuomo, born in 1932 in Queens, N.Y., was New York’s governor between 1983 and 1994 and one of the Democratic Party’s most iconic voices for addressing economic inequality.

In his most famous speech, at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco in 1984, Cuomo criticized then-President Ronald Reagan’s likening of America to a “shining city on a hill,” comparing America instead to a “Tale of Two Cities.”

Cuomo’s youngest son Chris, a host for CNN, confirmed his father’s death to the network.

Cuomo’s eldest son, Andrew Cuomo, was sworn in Thursday for a second term as governor of New York, and in his inaugural address, he mentioned that his father was “at home and he is not well enough to come” to the ceremony at One World Trade Center in New York City.

Andrew Cuomo said he had spent New Year’s Eve with his father and went through his inaugural speech together. “He said it was good, especially for a second-termer,” Cuomo said, according to a transcript of his remarks.

Cuomo added that even though his father couldn’t attend, “He is in the heart and mind of every person who is here. He is here and he is here, and his inspiration and his legacy and his experience is what has brought this state to this point.”

Tributes began pouring in Thursday night.

“Tonight, New York has lost a giant,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “Mario Cuomo was a man of unwavering principle who possessed a compassion for humankind without equal.”

De Blasio ordered all flags in New York City to be lowered to half-staff for 30 days “as a mark of respect.”

Former Republican New York Gov. George E. Pataki — who defeated Mario Cuomo in 1994 in Cuomo’s bid for a fourth term as governor — called Cuomo “a proud son of immigrants, possessed of a soaring intellect, and a great New Yorker.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hailed Cuomo not just as a giant, but as an Italian American who was “a role model for future generations that anything was possible through hard work and education.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton called Cuomo “the last liberal giant of New York politics” and reminisced over the pair’s debates and disagreements.

“It seems ironic he died on his son’s inauguration address day,” Sharpton said in a statement. “He would have wanted to pass the torch on a day that we were all paying attention. Rest well, Governor. Mario, you have earned it and your place in history is secure.”

Photo: David Berkowitz via Flickr

New York City Moves To Name Streets After Two Slain Officers

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

New York City officials plan to name two streets after the two NYPD officers who were shot and killed in their patrol car earlier this month.

The move was announced in a Wednesday news release from Mayor Bill de Blasio and four City Council members, and it comes as de Blasio has been trying to smooth over relations with the New York Police Department, some of whose members have openly protested his administration.

In a City Council proposal to be introduced in January, the Brooklyn streets where Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos had homes would be co-named “Detective Wenjian Liu Way” and “Detective Rafael Ramos Way,” reflecting the officers’ posthumous promotions.

Co-naming means the streets also retain their original names, and both are posted on signs next to each other. City officials said the plans were made in consultation with the officers’ families.

“Our fallen heroes will never be forgotten,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Their memory lives on in their families, and in the NYPD family. And now it will live on in the streets of the communities these brave men lived in and protected.”

Ramos and Liu were fatally shot in Brooklyn on Dec. 20 by a troubled gunman who was possibly seeking revenge for the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police. The gunman then killed himself in a nearby subway station.

The slayings brought police discontent with de Blasio’s reform-minded administration into the open, with union leaders accusing de Blasio of having “blood on (his) hands.”

At Ramos’ funeral last week, hundreds of uniformed officers turned their backs on the mayor in a controversial show of disrespect _ one that some officials are hoping to avoid repeating at Liu’s funeral this weekend.

Wednesday’s announcement comes a day after de Blasio met with top police union leaders in a closed-door session, presumably to help cool down a civic spat that has turned New York’s local politics into national news.

A mayoral spokesman said the meeting had been focused on “finding ways to bring police and the community closer together,” though the leader of New York’s top police union said the rift between the administration and the department’s rank-and-file remained unbridged.

“There were a number of discussions, especially about the safety issues that our members face,” Patrick Lynch, leader of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a televised news conference after the Tuesday meeting, adding, “Our thought here today is that actions speak louder than words, and time will tell.”

Photo: Police deploy at the scene where two New York City police officers were killed as they sat in their marked police car on a Brooklyn street corner on December 20, 2014 in New York City (Spencer Platt/AFP)

No-Fly Zones Over Disney Parks Face New Scrutiny

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times

The “Happiest Place on Earth” has some of the strictest airspace in America.

One day last month, an odd pair of security alerts appeared on the Federal Aviation Administration’s website, reminding pilots that they are not allowed to fly into two areas in Southern California and central Florida.

The sky over Disneyland in Anaheim and Walt Disney World in Orlando is “national defense airspace.” Intentionally violating Mickey and Minnie’s airspace, the alerts warn, could result in interception, interrogation and federal prosecution.

These no-fly zones are known as temporary flight restrictions, like the ones that surround the president when he travels or those put in place above Ferguson, Mo., during protests over the summer. Wildfires, air shows, and large sporting events regularly get temporary flight restrictions.

Yet there is nothing temporary about the restrictions over the Disney properties. Such limits do not exist over competing theme parks such as Universal Studios in Los Angeles or Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif.

The Disney restrictions have been in place since 2003, thanks to a provision quietly slipped into a massive congressional spending bill weeks before the Iraq war. Defense and counterterrorism officials did not appear to ask for the Disney protections, which were instead urged by at least one Disney lobbyist, according to an Orlando Sentinel investigation in 2003.

The restrictions effectively ended a war between Disney and aerial advertisers who had buzzed over the parks for years before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The FAA’s leader, Michael P. Huerta, testified before Congress last year that if not for the 2003 law, he would eliminate no-fly zones over Disney properties. An FAA spokeswoman said last week that the agency also would like to take a closer look at no-fly zones over sporting events, which were made permanent by the 2003 law.

Defenders of the zones have said the Disney parks merit special protection because of their importance to American culture and the large crowds they draw. Critics say that the zones, which each cover a three-mile radius, would be useless against a true terrorist attack and that the restrictions instead mostly harm pilots who tow advertising banners.

“Banner towers used to make money with their banner tows around Disneyland; now they’re not allowed to. … People can’t take aerial photography shots,” said Mark Skinner, owner of Anaheim Helicopters. But “you can fly (around) Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags, no big deal,” he said.

According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, nearly 100 aerial advertising firms went out of business after Congress codified the no-fly zones over the Disney parks and sporting events. (Pilots have been especially critical of the sporting event no-fly zones, which may last just a few hours but are implemented thousands of times a year.)

Craig Spence, vice president of operations and international affairs for the association, said the restrictions served no real security purpose.

Skinner said even if terrorists attacked Disneyland, no one was actively patrolling the park’s airspace. “If something bad were to happen, how quickly could they get something up there? Not quick enough,” he said. “A plane can cover three miles in literally a minute.”

Richard W. Bloom, director of terrorism, intelligence and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., said although the no-fly zones were “certainly not foolproof,” they “definitely have a deterring value” as one of many layers of security designed to protect American airspace.

A Disney spokeswoman said the no-fly zones protected the public. “We believe the airspace restrictions over large gathering places like sports stadiums and our theme parks continue to make sense for enhancing public safety,” Cathi Killian said.

When the no-fly zones were approved, however, some of Disney’s public remarks suggested the company was not solely concerned about terrorist attacks.

“The sole and exclusive motivation for seeking these restrictions is for the safety and enjoyment of our guests,” Disney spokeswoman Leslie Goodman told the Orlando Sentinel after the restrictions were created. But Goodman added that “enjoyment” included keeping out “banner ads from trial lawyers” and pilots “buzzing the parks.”

The no-fly zones have been challenged in court, without success.

A Christian group, the Family Policy Network, sued the government in 2003 to allow a pilot to fly a banner that read “Jesus Christ: Hopeforhomosexuals.com” over Walt Disney World during Gay Day. In its court filing, the group argued that the no-fly zone was unfair because Disney didn’t own the airspace and that other theme parks or potential terrorism targets, such as downtown Chicago, didn’t have similar zones.

In response, government attorneys mounted a strident defense of the Disney no-fly zones, saying terrorists could plow planes into crowds of tourists, drop bombs on them, or spray them with chemical or biological agents.

“No building or wall protects bare flesh from the impact of even a small plane. No window or duct tape protects lungs from the invasion of airborne chemicals or germs,” wrote two federal attorneys, one from the Justice Department in Washington and the other an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida. Disney’s place in the American psyche, they argued, warranted the three-mile protective space.

A federal judge threw out the Family Policy Network’s arguments, writing that combating terrorism required “unquestioning adherence” to Congress’ action.

More than a decade later, the attorney who fought the Disney no-fly zone, Steve Crampton, chuckled when he was reminded of the government’s arguments. “Reading it now, it’s kind of a ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, right?’ reaction. Give me a break,” said Crampton, chief counsel for the American Center for Constitutional Rights.

“In the past 10, 12 years since those cases were argued, we’ve seen no further terrorist attacks of the type that took place at the World Trade Center and no real threat in these fly-over zones. I would say, today, that the case for protecting Disney is even weaker than it was when we argued those cases,” Crampton said.

Photo via Andy Castro via Flickr

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