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Monday, December 09, 2019

No Federal Charges Against Officer In Ferguson Shooting, Justice Department Says

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

FERGUSON, Mo. — The Justice Department will not bring federal charges against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, officials announced Wednesday.

“There is no evidence upon which prosecutors can rely to disprove Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he feared for his safety,” a Justice Department criminal investigation found.

No reliable evidence proves that Brown had his hands up when he was shot, the investigation found.

In the meantime, the future of the Ferguson Police Department remained unclear with Missouri officials expected to comment later Tuesday on the report showing that blacks were subjected to a pattern of excessive force and harassment.

The report revealed patterns of racial bias toward African-Americans across the criminal justice system in Ferguson, from encounters with police patrol officers to treatment in the municipal court and jail.

Black drivers, for example, are far more likely to be searched than whites, even though they are less likely to be found with illegal substances. Nearly all people kept at the city jail for more than two days are black and the overwhelming majority of cases of police force involved African-Americans.

The report was ordered in the wake of the fatal shooting of the unarmed Brown, who was black, by Wilson, a white police officer, on Aug. 9, 2014. The first wave of protests, which at times turned violent, came in the weeks after the shooting, and a second wave came in November after a grand jury decided not to bring any charges against Wilson, who has since left the force.

There were no protesters in front of the Ferguson police headquarters early Wednesday, but the main street was still marked by the nights of turmoil that followed the grand jury decision — more than a dozen storefronts are still boarded up. Uplifting slogans, from “Ferguson strong” to “An injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” and “Community” were visible.

Darren Seals, 27, just coming off the night shift at a General Motors plant Wednesday morning, said that after hearing about the Justice Department report he’s convinced the police department should be shut down.

“I don’t see no other way,” Seals said. “You can’t improve that. How are they going to improve their hearts, their intentions? You need an entirely new police force. I mean, look at how they treated the protesters. They haven’t done the right thing in all this time, they’re not going to do it now.”

Bradley Rayford, 22, a junior at St. Louis Community College Florissant Valley, was among those who met with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. last summer when he visited Ferguson in the wake of Brown’s shooting.

“I’m just glad people know it happened. The question is what can you do about it now? What can you start to change about the culture in the police department? The culture is going to be hard to change. So I’m interested to see what happens going forward,” Rayford said.

The Brown family was in town Wednesday but did not plan to make any statements about the Justice Department report, said family attorney Anthony Gray.

“Clearly it’s not enough,” Gray said of the report. “The family has always felt that a crime occurred on Aug. 9 and the officer should be held accountable.”

Gray said that whether the police department is shut down or overhauled as a result of the report, the key will be holding it accountable in months and years to come.

The city announced it would not comment on the report until it is formally released. But city leaders are expected to face hard choices in the coming days, including how to pay for possible retraining of the existing force vs. contracting out police services to St. Louis County.

“It will be expensive to carry out charges,” said Antonio French, an alderman in nearby St. Louis and a frequent presence during the demonstrations and disturbances. “It is not clear where that money will come from and it may be easier to contract with the county.”

Patrick Green, mayor of nearby Normandy, said Ferguson will have to revamp its department.

“It’s in their best interests. The department was running in some ways on its own without the detailed oversight from its officials,” Green said.

“They need to restructure,” he said, “Can they do it because of what DOJ is saying? Sure they can.”

African-Americans make up about two-thirds of the population of Ferguson, about 10 miles from downtown St. Louis. At the time of the Brown shooting only three of 53 city police officers were black.

The Justice Department has conducted about 20 investigations of police departments during the last six years while being led by Holder. Holder has announced he is stepping down soon.

Investigations that find wrongdoing usually lead to a consent decree between the federal government and the municipality, and an independent monitor is appointed to oversee the recommended changes, including the retraining of law enforcement officers.

Large cities can usually afford the cost associated with retraining but smaller cities have had to scrimp or borrow to make ends meet.

Gabe Crocker, president of the St Louis County Police Association, said he was eager to see the full Justice Department report, especially their statistical analysis.

“As a police union leader, I want to know the numbers, I want to see how they did what they did and how they came to those conclusions,” he said.

He said he expects the Ferguson police department will end up operating under a consent decree.

“They had to find something,” he said, because, “a lot of folks out there want to see change.”

AFP Photo

Obama Announces Plans For New Ebola Screening Of Airline Passengers

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times

The Obama administration is developing additional screening protocols for airline passengers both overseas and in the United States to control infectious diseases such as Ebola, President Barack Obama said Monday.
After meeting with his senior health, homeland security and national security advisers, Obama told reporters that in the wake of the first Ebola case diagnosed in the U.S., officials would study increasing screening plans.
“We’re also going to be working on protocols to do additional passenger screening both at the source and here in the United States,” the president said, without offering details. New measures could be announced shortly, an administration official said.
“I consider this a top national security priority,” Obama said.
He spoke after Texas officials said they were making good progress in monitoring those who had been in contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas last month. Also Monday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called for more screening at the borders in the wake of the Duncan case.
At a televised news conference to announce his new 17-member task force to deal with infectious diseases, Perry said federal officials should tighten screening procedures at all U.S. points of entry. Screeners would take travelers’ temperatures and conduct other assessments to determine their overall health.
Duncan did not have a fever when he left Liberia on Sept. 19, but developed symptoms days after arriving in Dallas. He first sought medical care the night of Sept. 25 but was sent home with antibiotics. When his condition worsened on Sept. 28, he was rushed back to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where he is in isolation and in critical but stable condition.
He has been receiving an experimental treatment using the antiviral drug brincidofovir.
In Dallas, Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey told reporters of continuing efforts to monitor those who may have come in contact with Duncan or with his secondary contacts. Lakey said no symptoms have developed among those being monitored, not even among the 10 people considered to be in the high-risk group. Those at high risk include the family and friends who stayed with Duncan at a Dallas apartment when he had symptoms. The low-risk group, mainly those who encountered people in the high-risk group, has 38 people, Lakey said.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said the second phase of the apartment cleanup has been completed, including disposal of most of Duncan’s personal items, which could be infectious.
Meanwhile, a freelance journalist who had been working for NBC News arrived in Omaha, Neb., to be treated for Ebola, which he contracted in Liberia. Ashoka Mukpo was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center, where he will be kept in isolation. Mukpo, who became ill last week, is the fifth American with Ebola to return to the U.S. for treatment during the outbreak.
Mukpo was able to walk off the plane on his own Monday before being loaded onto a stretcher for the ambulance ride to the hospital, his father, Dr. Mitchell Levy, said at a televised news conference. Levy told reporters that his son wanted to help the people of Liberia because he lived there for two years while working with a nonprofit.
It was not known how Mukpo became infected, but Levy said it may have happened when his son helped clean a vehicle in which someone had died.
In Spain, officials announced that a nurse who helped care for two priests infected with Ebola has tested positive for the virus — becoming the first person known to have contracted Ebola outside West Africa. She was described as in stable condition. According to the World Health Organization, more than 3,400 people have died during the current outbreak, the worst on record.

AFP Photo/ Carl de Souza

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Arkansas Assesses Tornado Damage As Storms Keep Moving East

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Michael Muskal and Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times

VILONIA, Ark. — Parkwood Meadows subdivision is the sort of place where neighbors know each other. Their children play together at a communal basketball hoop set up in the street.

But on Sunday, a fierce tornado leveled more than three dozen of its single-story brick homes. The wind blew belongings into surrounding fields and dense woods. Roofs were ripped off, walls toppled, garages imploded. Eight of about 50 homes remained standing, but the subdivision’s brick sign survived unscathed — as pristine as the pair of brown cowboy boots propped against it.

Linda Mulligan, 42, weathered the tornado in a closet with her husband and two stepdaughters, ages 18 and 10.

“It lifted us about 30 feet,” said Mulligan, field coordinator for an elevator company. “If it wasn’t for my husband holding everyone’s hands and praying, we wouldn’t have made it.”

As they looked at the damage on Monday, they took comfort in just being alive. “They carried one out today,” she said of a body. “It’s a terrible, terrible thing.”

Police Chief Brad McNew said eight people had been killed in Vilonia, but he couldn’t be sure how many were from Parkwood Meadows.

According to Kathy Wright, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, 15 people died statewide — 11 in Faulkner County, three in Pulaski County and one in White County. At least two other weather-related deaths, one in Oklahoma and the other in Iowa, were also reported, bringing Sunday’s toll to 17.

Even as Arkansas continued its cleanup efforts, tornadoes spread Monday afternoon to Mississippi, where a severe weather system brought “significant damage to some businesses and hotels” in northwestern Tupelo. About 100 miles to the south, the Winston Medical Center in Louisville, Miss., was damaged.

In Alabama, the coroner’s office confirmed two deaths west of Athens, Limestone County Emergency Director Rita White told The Associated Press.

Tornado watches were also in place for Tennessee.

Earlier Monday, Arkansas officials had put the state’s death total at 16, but revised it downward by two because some people had been counted twice. Then another confirmed death brought the tally to 15. The final toll is still a question mark, however.

“We don’t have a count on injuries or missing. We’re trying to get a handle on the missing part,” Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said at a news conference. “Just looking at the damage, this may be one of the strongest we have seen.”

About 120 injuries of varying severity were reported in Arkansas alone. At least nine people remained hospitalized Monday at the Conway Regional Medical Center, with several in serious condition, spokeswoman Lori Ross said.

Early reports said the tornado that touched down in Arkansas on Sunday was at least half a mile wide and cut a swath as much as 80 miles long. The twister could have carried winds of more than 136 mph, which would make it an EF-3, one of the strongest measured. But weather officials warned that a final determination will require analysis of the damage.

President Barack Obama, who is traveling in Asia, called Beebe to express his condolences. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate was traveling to Arkansas on Monday to ensure the appropriate federal resources were available, the agency announced.

FEMA said it was preparing for widespread, severe storms — including tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail — through Monday night over parts of the eastern United States from the Mississippi Valley to the Appalachians.

In southeastern Iowa, a woman was killed Sunday when a tornado or powerful straight-line winds caused a farm building to collapse. Another tornado was blamed for one death in Quapaw, Okla., before the twister crossed into Kansas, where it destroyed more than 100 homes and businesses and injured 25 people in the city of Baxter Springs, according to Kansas authorities.

But Arkansas remained the hardest hit. Rescuers continued looking for people and trying to assess the damage. Among the ruins in Vilonia was a new intermediate school that was to open this fall — built to replace the school destroyed by a 2011 tornado.

“There’s just really nothing there anymore. We’re probably going to have to start all over again,” Vilonia Schools Superintendent Frank Mitchell told reporters after surveying what was left of the building.

The weekend was the third anniversary of a tornado outbreak that struck from April 25 to 28, 2011, when parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia were hit by 358 tornadoes. More than 300 were killed then, including five in Arkansas, with four of those in Vilonia.

On Sunday, Dawn Neely, 41, weathered the Vilonia twister at her home in the Parkwood Meadows subdivision.

Neely, a house cleaner with two children who were not at home, said she hid in a 3-foot-square bathroom closet, her two dogs on the floor outside.

After the twister passed, she couldn’t get out until a neighbor cleared away debris from the closet door.

When Neely emerged, her bathroom ceiling was gone and so were most of the walls. One of her dogs was trapped under debris. The other was missing.

She freed the first dog, which was unharmed. Monday morning she got a call: The second dog, a Labrador mix named Georgia Belle, had been found about a mile away, alive.

Her husband, an airman deployed in the Middle East, was due home Tuesday. Some of his colleagues helped her search the rubble for valuables. Monday morning, they found her wedding ring. By evening, they had found his, a gold band sparkling with diamonds.

Neely held the ring up to the hot afternoon sun like a prize, smiling. Then her face crumpled. In front of her sat the skeleton of her home.

“That will make you cry,” she said, slipping the oversized ring on a slim finger. “That will get you.”

She has not allowed her children, ages 14 and 10, to see the house, she said. It’s just too much.

AFP Photo/Tasos Katopodis