of the Day
- April 4, 2010
some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood
activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local
newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage
of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood
activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible
issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular
point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From the LA Times
4 dead in 'blood bath' at Valley restaurant
At least two other people are injured as gunman opens fire at a mom-and-pop cafe in Valley Village.
By My-Thuan Tran and Andrew Blankstein
April 3, 2010
A gunman opened fire at a mom-and-pop restaurant in Valley Village on Saturday afternoon, killing four people and wounding at least two others, Los Angeles police said.
The Hot Spot Cafe, a Mediterranean restaurant on Riverside Drive, was packed with customers when a man walked in and opened fire around 4:40 p.m., according to police officials.
He remained at large late Saturday.
Police officials said the shootings occurred in a matter of moments.
After shots were fired, the customers ran out of the restaurant and scattered on foot and in cars, they said.
The killer was a white male in his 30s, said Los Angeles police officer Rosario Herrera.
Three people were declared dead at the scene, Herrera said. Several more victims were taken to a hospital, where one later died, she said.
Police officials investigating the incident described the scene as a "blood bath." They are examining evidence to see whether there was an accomplice, according to officials.
"At this moment, it is an ongoing investigation," Herrera said. "We are unsure of the motive and we don't know exactly how it occurred."
Law enforcement sources, who asked not to be identified because the investigation is ongoing, said they believe the shooting might have involved Armenian gangs.
But they also said that they have no evidence that the victims were involved in gangs, noting that the case is in its early stages.
Several hours after the killings, police cordoned off Riverside Drive near Colfax Avenue.
A large neon sign flashing "Mediterranean Restaurant" lit up as the sun set. Tall leafy plants in pots sat in front of the windows.
A few hours before the shooting in Valley Village, two men were fatally shot across town in the 160 block of E. 65th Street , Herrera said. The shooter was at large Saturday night.
Herrera said the two shooting incidents were not related.
The shootings come after a series of killings in the last two weeks that have diminished gains made this year in reducing the city's homicide rate.
Erin Andrews is 'under protection' after death threats, lawyer says
April 3, 2010
Erin Andrews, the ESPN reporter who last month was at the center of a Los Angeles court case involving a man who secretly videotaped her, has now been the subject of death threats, her attorney said.
Andrews, who is appearing on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," is now under protection. Her attorney, in a statement released to the media, did not specify the threats but said the FBI has been notified.
"It is unfortunate that there are sick people who prey on the fears and threaten the well-being of others," Marshall Grossman said.
Andrews spoke out last month about what she considered the light sentenced an L.A. federal judge handed down to a Chicago-area businessman who pleaded guilty to charges he secretly shot video of her and posted it on the Internet.
Andrews said she felt Michael David Barrett deserved a harsher sentence and that she continues to be victimized because the videos remain on the Internet.
In court, Andrews told the judge: "He stalked me, he terrorized me -- this will never be over for me, and I don't want it to ever be over for you," she said, referring to Barrett.
"You are a sexual predator, a sexual deviant," she told Barrett, saying she lives in a state of fear and needs security at work and home. "They should lock you up and throw away the key."
In December, Barrett, 48, of Westmont, Ill., pleaded guilty to various charges in connection with the case, including having the intent to "harass or to cause substantial emotional distress" to Andrews. He admitted that he used the Internet to try to distribute his videos.
Barrett was accused of shooting videos of Andrews through peepholes in hotel rooms in three states, posting the videos on the Internet and trying to sell them to celebrity website TMZ, court records show.
From the Daily News
Tons of produce tossed as many go hungry
By Tina Mather, Kimberly Daniels and Shannon Pence
First in a two-part series
Farmers, restaurants and supermarkets are discarding millions of tons of edible fruits, vegetables and meat each year, even as a growing number of Californians are struggling to put food on the table, documents and interviews show.
An estimated 6 million tons of food is thrown out each year in California, studies have shown - enough to fill the Staples Center 35 times over.
Despite laws and tax incentives that encourage donation, food is the largest single source of waste in California, making up 15.5 percent of its waste stream, according to the state Integrated Waste Management Board.
"Waste is built into the food chain, at all levels," said author Jonathan Bloom, the founder of wastedfood.com . "The amount of food we waste is ridiculous, especially when you consider the number of Americans who experience hunger every day."
An analysis by California Watch and the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at University of Southern California found weaknesses in every link of California's food distribution chain, allowing vast amounts of produce and other edible products to go to waste in landfills.
Among the findings:
Millions of tons of fruits and vegetables are left to rot in orchards and fields or are plowed because the crops are misshapen, discolored or otherwise unappealing. Gleaning programs - collecting leftover crops from the fields - salvage only a fraction of the field waste.
While some supermarket chains donate surplus food to programs for the needy, others discard meat, produce and other items not yet past their expiration date. Although federal and state laws protect grocers from liability, many stores expressed concern that donated food could sicken recipients.
The vast majority of the state's 90,000 restaurants do not participate in food donation programs, instead discarding tens of thousands of tons of food annually.
Food represents a quarter of all waste tossed away by California households.
Increased value of waste
A certain amount of waste is inevitable in all forms of business. It's built into the economics of every production and manufacturing cycle - whether it is making clothes, building homes or printing newspapers.
But with unemployment near record highs and food banks reporting surging demand for emergency assistance, the issue of food as a commodity takes on added significance. And health officials, researchers, economists, farmers and corporate leaders agree that the more efficient production and distribution of food could reduce waste and help feed millions of families.
Numerous volunteer organizations are now working to "re-harvest" California's vast produce landscape and divert surplus food from the waste stream into food banks and soup kitchens.
"It's a win-win situation," said Arlene Mercer, founder of Food Finders, a Long Beach-based food recovery group that collects donations from supermarkets and restaurants for food pantries. "They can receive a tax write-off, people will be fed, and it will stop food waste."
Many of California's farms, supermarket chains and restaurants donate millions of pounds of food each year to help the needy. They are spurred by good will, environmental initiatives and relentless demands to cut costs, including food waste disposal.
"When it comes to feeding people, there's no competition," said Lilia Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Albertsons, whose Fresh Rescue program makes dairy and meat products available to food banks. "We feel like if we don't do it, who will?"
But, Mercer and others say too many opportunities are missed to divert food to the hungry.
Fighting to cut losses
The problem starts in the fields.
California's carpet of farmland spans 25 million acres and produces about half of the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables, according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture.
Although no one can say exactly how much food is left in the fields, experts estimate it amounts to millions of tons of produce, much of it plowed under after every harvest.
Though farmers pride themselves on efficiency, they also run businesses that are subject to weather and market forces. If a farmer can't sell a crop at a profit or if some of it falls short of retailers' cosmetic requirements, the crop goes to waste - even if it is edible.
"Waste is inevitable," said Mike O'Leary, vice president of Boskovich Farms in Ventura County, which grows more than 30 crops on 10,000 acres in California and Mexico. "We try to minimize it, but sometimes fields have to be disked."
Some farms try to reduce their waste by donating produce to food banks. This year, Del Monte Foods Co. donated more than 2 million pounds of bananas and cantaloupes to Food Share, a regional food bank in Ventura County.
Millions more pounds are rescued from the plow blade by gleaning groups that deliver "second harvest" crops to food banks for distribution. The California Association of Food Banks, which represents 45 food banks, has distributed more than 60 million pounds of food through its Farm to Family gleaning program.
But there are limits to how much produce can be salvaged.
During one recent gleaning operation, just 10 percent of an estimated 140,000 pounds of carrots could be picked, said Christy Porter, founder of Hidden Harvest in Coachella, which hires low-income workers to glean locally grown food.
"We couldn't go fast enough to get the product before it spoiled," she said.
A 2004 study by anthropologist Timothy Jones estimated that up to 10 percent of certain crops, such as cauliflower, never leave the field. He projected that the overall figure for crop waste in the United States is closer to 20 percent.
Farmers dispute such estimates, noting that most factor a loss of 5 percent into their business plans to cover food left in the field, crops lost to bad weather and other factors.
"We're not in the business of leaving commodities in the field," said Scott Deardorff of Deardorff Family Farms in Ventura County.
By JESSE McKINLEY
This story is the result of a collaboration between USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and California Watch, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting.
From the New York Times
Hundreds of Drug Cases Are at Risk in San Francisco
SAN FRANCISCO — Hundreds of drug cases have been dismissed and hundreds more are being examined here by prosecutors who are scrambling to deal with the fallout from accusations that a technician in the Police Department's crime laboratory was stealing cocaine for personal use.
The technician, Deborah Jean Madden, 60, has not been charged, though the San Francisco police say she is under investigation. Ms. Madden, who retired last month, did not return calls for comment.
The laboratory was closed in early March after the police reported that Ms. Madden had been questioned. But an accounting of exactly how many cases Ms. Madden had worked on or might have influenced is continuing, and escalating.
Brian Buckelew, a spokesman for District Attorney Kamala D. Harris, said Friday that his department was looking at cases dating to 2007, many of which involved felony possession.
Some 600 cases have already been dismissed or discharged since Ms. Madden's suspected thefts and the closing of the laboratory were brought to light by the police, though Mr. Buckelew said many of those cases would be pursued after testing is done by an independent laboratory. Mr. Buckelew said his office was hoping to salvage some dismissed cases by using other types of evidence, including witness testimony and confessions.
“Where there's a way to prove it,” he said, “we intend to prove it.”
But the scandal has confirmed many public defenders' long-held suspicions about the quality of work at the laboratory, concerns that were echoed by a blistering independent audit released in late March.
The audit, conducted at the request of the police chief, George Gascón, in the wake of the laboratory's closing, revealed an array of problems, including inconsistencies in the chain-of-custody record-keeping for seized drugs; a potentially dangerous work space, with hazardous chemicals left unlabeled and stored in hallways; a lack of maintenance of microscopes and balances; improperly-sealed drug envelopes; and overworked technicians.
“Good laboratory practices have been repeatedly short-changed in favor of high case throughput,” the audit found. “Evidence tampering,” it added, “could have been prevented had good laboratory practices been in place.”
The audit also showed that Ms. Madden had been “repeatedly counseled” for an incident in which she failed to properly describe in her notes the packaging of seized items.
An audit in November had also found lab problems, including understaffing to the point that mandatory overtime had become the norm, necessitated by the need to complete testing within 48 hours to prevent the dismissal of criminal charges. That report also found insufficient training in some areas, among other things.
The police said they began investigating possible evidence tampering in December and interviewed Ms. Madden in late February. About a week later, a search warrant was served for her home in San Mateo County, south of the city, and she was arrested by county sheriff's officers on a separate charges.
Paul DeMeester, Ms. Madden's lawyer, said that his client would be arraigned this week on cocaine charges in San Mateo.
He said he had not seen the potential case against Ms. Madden in San Francisco, but said she had been cooperating with the investigation. “She's a great person,” he said. “But obviously, this is a very tough period for her.”
But there are signs that problems at the crime laboratory might have been percolating since before 2007. On Friday, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that four grams of cocaine handled by Ms. Madden and being used as evidence at a federal racketeering trial disappeared in 2005, expanding the time frame for potentially corrupted cases.
Jeff Adachi, who heads the city's public defender office and has called for the establishment of a crime laboratory independent of the Police Department, said that thousands of cases, dating back a decade, might have to be re-examined.
“This is a tsunami of incompetence,” Mr. Adachi said on Friday. “There weren't just red flags, there were burning red flags.”
Chief Gascón, in his first year on the job, has forcefully defended his department. “There has been no fabrication of evidence; no one was framed for crimes they did not commit,” he said in a statement. “Even though this regrettable incident has occurred, our crime fighting will continue.”
Few Veterans Have Applied for Increase in Benefits
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Only a fraction of wounded veterans eligible for better benefits has applied for them in the two years since Congress, acting on concerns that the military was cutting costs by playing down injuries, ordered the Pentagon to review disputed claims.
As of mid-March, only 921 veterans have applied out of the 77,000 that the Pentagon estimates are eligible, according to numbers provided to The Associated Press by the Physical Disability Board of Review . The panel was created in 2008 but started taking cases in January 2009.
More than 230 of those cases have been decided, about 60 percent in favor of improving the veteran's benefits, while an additional 119 cases were dismissed as ineligible.
“Quite frankly, I would like to see more opportunities for us to reach out to these people,” said Michael LoGrande, president of the three-member board that has a staff of 10. “But we are doing the best we can with the limited people and resources we have.”
Mr. LoGrande said the board was trying to reach eligible people mainly through veterans' groups.
At issue are disability ratings based on an injury's severity and long-term impact.
Veterans rated below 30 percent disabled with less than 20 years of service receive a one-time severance payment instead of a monthly retirement check. Also, their health care switches from the military to the Veterans Affairs system, and their families lose military health insurance.
A rating above 30 percent means monthly income and military health care for the family. A disabled service member's severance pay and monthly retirement are based on active-duty pay, years of service and whether the service member's injuries are combat-related.
Congress created the board after investigations found inconsistencies in how the military assigns ratings for the level of disability that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have before they are discharged.
Veterans advocates protested that the military was manipulating disability ratings to save money.
The panel is managed by the Air Force and charged with reviewing appeals from former members of the armed forces who received disability ratings of less than 30 percent from Sept. 11, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2009.
Before Congress created the streamlined process, veterans could appeal but were subjected to a lengthy review by a military panel that rarely changed the ratings. Under the new system, the board makes a recommendation in an average of about eight months.
The recommendation is sent to the service secretaries, who more than 90 percent of the time have accepted the board's review, according to numbers provided by the board.
F.A.A. Hears Distress Calls. How Well It Responds Is Another Matter.
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) — On a cloudy April afternoon three years ago, Sam Smiley's single-engine plane failed to clear a north Georgia mountain ridge and slammed into rugged woods.
Mr. Smiley, a 78-year-old Ohio businessman, freed himself from the wreckage and, though badly injured, activated an emergency signal. For nearly six hours, the letters “EMRG” flashed on radar scopes at a Federal Aviation Administration facility near Atlanta, giving air traffic controllers a general idea of Mr. Smiley's location.
Yet it was a full two days before rescuers arrived. Mr. Smiley was dead. He had scrawled a last note to his wife on an envelope.
GPS devices can direct commuters to the nearest Starbucks and military drones can track insurgents across the mountains of Afghanistan. When it comes to downed small planes and helicopters in the United States, however, rescue teams are not always getting the critical information that in some cases can mean the difference between life or death for crash victims.
The National Transportation Safety Board cited Mr. Smiley's case and four other accidents in a recent letter urging the F.A.A. to tighten its procedures for reporting lost aircraft and quickly getting radar data to the Air Force. The board said miscommunication, a lack of trained personnel and other problems were hindering rescue efforts.
“The whole process needs to get nailed down a lot tighter than it is,” said Scott Dunham, a radar expert for the safety board who drafted the letter.
The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in Florida, the agency chiefly responsible for getting inland searches started, said it helped search for 227 missing planes and helicopters in 2008, the latest figures available. The center could not say how many fatalities or injuries were associated with those searches.
In Mr. Smiley's case, there was a mix-up in terminology: An F.A.A. air traffic manager reported to the Air Force that he had a signal from an emergency beacon; the Air Force uses the term emergency transponder. The Air Force, believing the call was related to a different emergency signal south of Atlanta, did not begin a search.
The safety board, in its letter, placed most of the responsibility for the mix-up on the Air Force.
But the board also said the F.A.A. manager should have realized that a search had not gotten under way when the Air Force controller did not reply that a case had been opened. After the manager made his report to the Air Force, F.A.A. controllers continued to discuss the signal, but they did not take further action because they believed it had been reported properly, the letter said.
Mr. Smiley, flying home to Cincinnati from Hilton Head, S.C., was reported missing by his family after he failed to arrive that night. An alert for his plane was sent to radar facilities the next day, including the Atlanta facility.
But by that time there had been a shift change and the controllers on duty did not connect the alert to the previous day's emergency signal. Without a radar location to start from, Civil Air Patrol units in four states conducted an extensive search trying to trace the plane's route.
Sarah McCune, Mr. Smiley's daughter, says she does not know if her father could have been saved. But she regrets that searchers did not arrive sooner so that perhaps he would not have been alone when he died.
“I want somebody to know there were mistakes made and they should have done this process differently,” said Ms. McCune, who lives in Cincinnati.
Mr. Dunham, the safety board radar expert, said he began talking to F.A.A. officials in late 2007 about problems with getting critical radar information to the Air Force.
The board recommended that the F.A.A. always have a team of radar experts available to retrieve data remotely from computers, analyze it and provide a location to the Air Force.
The Air Force has access to most of the raw radar data, but “the first people to know the guy is gone is the F.A.A.,” Mr. Dunham said. “We think they should use their own data as fast as they can to get a good location.”
Doug Gould, an F.A.A. safety official, said the F.A.A. had accident investigators on call around-the-clock with access to the data, but most of their time is taken up with other duties. He said the agency was considering moving a radar expert to a new office to help investigators.
The F.A.A. generally does a good job analyzing radar data and sending it quickly to the Air Force, Mr. Gould said. But because of aging equipment — which is being replaced — experts cannot always review and remotely assess radar images from different centers. A technician has to drive to the radar facility, and that takes time, he said.
The problem will be mostly eliminated when the F.A.A. starts requiring planes to have devices that continually broadcast their location using GPS technology, Mr. Gould said. But that requirement is not expected to apply to private planes until around 2020.
“Come back in 10 years and it's going to be a night and day difference,” Mr. Gould said.
But Michael Barr, an aviation expert, said, “What the F.A.A. has done is they've accepted the current risk that people won't be found.”
In one case cited by the safety board, in which a small plane crashed while trying to land at night at a closed airport in Philipsburg, Pa., the F.A.A. never provided a crash location to the Air Force even though it promised to send one “as soon as possible.”
It took searchers over eight hours to find the site. The pilot was dead and the three passengers seriously injured. One passenger, Justin Hughes, was hanging upside down by his left foot, trapped in the wreckage.
“I just remember trying to get out and screaming and going unconscious again and doing the same thing all over again,” said Mr. Hughes, now 22 and a student at Middle Tennessee State University.
His left foot is difficult to control and Mr. Hughes still wears a leg brace more than three years after the accident. He said he wondered if the injury might have been less severe if he had reached a hospital sooner.
Mr. Gould said that the radar center on Long Island that handled the plane was one of the F.A.A.'s older facilities and that access to its equipment could not be gained remotely.
From Fox News
Sounds Heard in China Mine Where 153 Are Trapped
The sounds at the Wangjialing mine in the northern province of Shanxi were the first signs of life since the mine was flooded Sunday afternoon, rescue official Zhao Chuan said.
BEIJING -- Rescuers heard tapping sounds Friday from the pipes in a flooded Chinese coal mine where 153 workers were trapped more than five days earlier, and another rescue team reportedly heard shouts, an official said.
The sounds at the Wangjialing mine in the northern province of Shanxi were the first signs of life since the mine was flooded Sunday afternoon, rescue official Zhao Chuan said.
Government officials say the flood was triggered when workers digging tunnels broke through into an old shaft filled with water. More than 1,500 rescuers have been working around the clock to pump water out of the mine.
Wen Changjin, an official from the news center set up at the site, said rescuers tapping on the pipes began to hear tapping responses from about 820 feet (250 meters) below ground at around 2 p.m.
Zhao told The Associated Press by telephone that he had heard from colleagues that another rescue team reported hearing people shouting underground as well but he could not immediately confirm that account. Wen said officials at the news center had not heard reports of shouting.
He said rescuers have started sending glucose and milk down the pipes to the spot where the tapping was heard.
Zhao was quoted by China Central Television as saying that an iron wire was found tied to a drill rod and rescuers think it may have been attached by one of the trapped miners.
Footage on the state broadcaster showed rescuers tapping on pipes with a wrench, and then cheering and jumping in joy when they heard a response.
The 153 workers were believed to be trapped on nine different platforms in the mine, which was flooded with up to 37 million gallons (140,000 cubic meters) of water, the equivalent of more than 55 Olympic swimming pools, state television has reported.
Some of the platforms were above the underground water level, a spokesman for the rescue headquarters, Liu Dezheng, told state media Wednesday.
"It is believed that some workers may have a chance of survival," Liu said. "We will go all out to save them."
David Creedy, a former mine consultant who now works in China as coal mine methane director for Sindicatum Carbon Capital, said if the mine's tunnels remain open with no cave-ins, rescuers should be able to reach the miners by pumping out the water or sending a diver through.
"Certainly for the current time, a week or so, there's a good chance" for their survival, he said, though factors also include how cold and wet the miners are, and how much air is available.
A preliminary investigation found that the Wangjialing mine's managers caused overcrowding in the shaft by assigning extra tunneling crews in a rush to finish the work, and ignored warning signs, the State Administration of Work Safety said.
"Water leaks were found numerous times on underground shafts," but the mine's managers "did not take the actions necessary to evacuate people," it said.
It could prove to be the deadliest mine accident in China since a coal mine flood in eastern Shandong province in August 2007 killed 172 miners.
China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, despite a multiyear government effort to reduce fatalities. Most accidents are blamed on failure to follow safety rules or lack of required ventilation, fire controls and equipment.
Accidents killed 2,631 coal miners in China last year, down from 6,995 deaths in 2002, the most dangerous year on record, according to the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety.
Also Friday, officials said the death toll from an explosion at another mine in central China had risen to 19 people, with 24 still trapped underground.
A gas leak caused Wednesday night's blast, according to a report on the Web site for Luoyang city in the central province of Henan.
In a third accident, a coal mine fire in the northwestern province of Shaanxi killed nine people Thursday evening, Xinhua said. Another 17 miners escaped. Xinhua did not say what caused the accident.
Border Patrol Agent Urges Calm as Fears in Texas Town Rise
As Mexican drug cartels continue to frighten residents along both sides of the Rio Grande River, one Border Patrol Agent says a tiny Texas town can sleep easy.
Border Patrol Agent Joe Romero was among several local law enforcement officials at a town hall meeting on Wednesday in Fort Hancock, a town of 1,700 roughly 50 miles southeast Ciudad Juarez, the epicenter of Mexico's violent drug war.
Romero said the meeting was held following the request of Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West to quell rising fears stemming from the possibility that violence in Mexico, particularly from El Sorvenir just across the Rio Grande, could enter the United States at any moment.
“The residents are concerned,” Romero told FoxNews.com. “They want to know what's happening.”
Feedback was mostly positive and residents urged law enforcement officials to “keep doing what [they're] doing,” Romero said, but fear was not absent.
“For some of these people, they're a stone's throw away from what's going on across the border,” he said. “And they have genuine concerns. I know if I was living right along this area, I'd be very concerned too, and I'd have questions. We're here to reassure them. We're doing the best we can.”
Due to its size, Romero said residents of Fort Hancock, a desolate, sandswept town, are well-suited to spot newcomers, whether they be illegal immigrants, smugglers or members of drug cartels.
“Be on the lookout, make sure there's not something we need to be concerned about,” he said. “You get to recognize these things.”
Romero is quick to note that, thus far, Mexican drug cartels have not victimized anyone in the U.S. border town. Still, while the town is “safe,” he said, threats do remain.
“There's always going to be a threat, whether it's a drug cartel, an international threat or a local threat – you know, there's still gangs in the area,” he said. “But relative to what we're talking about, I haven't seen anything that would corroborate or justify any type of fear in the community to say, ‘Oh my God, we're in the middle of this drug violence about to spill over.' It just hasn't happened.”
Romero said Fort Hancock residents are actually safer now than they were five years ago when drug smuggling and violence were more prevalent in the area.
“Are there still some? Yes,” he said. “But very few compared to what we used to have … We do believe it's getting better.”
Despite those assurances, other Fort Hancock officials say the situation is worsening. Mike Doyle, chief deputy sheriff of Hudspeth County, has said he's received word that drug cartels have threatened to kill children in Mexican schools unless 5,000-peso ransoms are paid. And Fort Hancock Schools Superintendent Jose Franco has recently increased security and patrols around schools.
Those are realities not ignored by Romero.
“At no point am I going to indicate that we have full control of the border, or that we're 100 percent secure on the border,” he said. “It's still a struggle, there's still some work to be done. But we've made huge strides.”
5 arrests made in N.J. child gang-rape case
Authorities say 7-year-old girl was offered for sale by her stepsister
The Associated Press
April 3, 2010
TRENTON, N.J. - Two men and three teenage boys were charged Saturday with gang-raping a 7-year-old girl who was sold by her 15-year-old stepsister during a party at a crime-ridden apartment building in the state's capital, police said.
Details of the arrests were announced at a Saturday evening news conference outside police headquarters. Police Director Irving Bradley said detectives had been working around the clock since the crime was reported March 28.
"We did get a lot of cooperation from the community, which helped break this case," Bradley said.
Those arrested included Gregory Joseph Leary, 20, in custody since Friday, when he was charged with having sex with the 15-year-old. The other four are Timear Lewis, 19, and boys ages 13, 14 and 17. Each was charged with aggravated sexual assault and child endangerment.
Prosecutors likely would seek to try all of them as adults, Mercer County prosecutor Joseph Bocchini said.
The suspects, who were to be assigned public defenders, were being held Saturday night and couldn't be contacted for comment. There was no telephone listing for Lewis; a telephone for a G. Leary had been disconnected.
Increased security at apartments
The case shocked residents of the gritty Rowan Towers apartment building, where three of those arrested live, police Capt. Joseph Juniak said.
Building management has stepped up its security presence there and promised additional safety measures. Residents have expressed skepticism that the apartments would become safer.
Police say the 15-year-old girl went to a party with some men at Rowan Towers on March 28 and the younger girl tagged along because she was worried about her stepsister's safety. They say the 15-year-old sold sex to men and boys there, then took money to let them touch the younger girl. They say the touching turned to forcible sex as at least seven men raped the 7-year-old.
Additional arrests are expected, police said.
Before Saturday's arrest announcement, the 15-year-old had been charged with promoting prostitution, aggravated sexual assault and other crimes. Police have not released her name, and she remained in juvenile detention Saturday night.
‘They are going through a lot'
Mayor Doug Palmer, who met with the 7-year-old girl and her family in his office on Thursday, described their ordeal as a "torment."
"They're in a safe place right now," he said. "I would ask that the community embrace this family — they are going through a lot."
Palmer gave the girl a stuffed bunny rabbit for Easter. He said the family is getting counseling and indicated it may be permanently relocated away from the city.
He credited the police force for its hard work but said the investigation into "this heinous crime" isn't done.
"We're not finished because everyone who is responsible is still not arrested," he said. "The police will not rest until we get every individual who was involved in this."
Scared of retaliation
Police earlier in the week urged residents to come forward, but neighbors said they were scared of retaliation from gangs that prowl the streets if they spoke up.
Rowan Towers sits on a stretch of West State Street near downtown Trenton and is surrounded by blocks of abandoned, boarded-up homes.
City Councilwoman Annette Lartique, who represents the area where the crime occurred, said the high-rise has been plagued by crime.
Besides the parents and the 7-year-old, Palmer met with a grandmother, two younger children and other relatives.
"They were understandably upset," Palmer said. "They felt like they were victims. They said, 'People are blaming us.' We need to stop pointing fingers at the family members. These rapists are the problem, not the family."
Of the girl's parents, the woman is the mother of the 7-year-old girl, and the man is the father of the 15-year-old. They two have toddlers together.
New foe in U.S. drug war: Mexican assassins
Gang born in prison cells of Texas blamed in thousands of slayings
By William Booth
The Washington Post
April 3, 2010
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico - A cross-border drug gang born in the prison cells of Texas has evolved into a sophisticated paramilitary killing machine that U.S. and Mexican officials suspect is responsible for thousands of assassinations here, including the recent ambush and slaying of three people linked to the U.S. Consulate.
The heavily tattooed Barrio Azteca gang members have long operated across the border in El Paso, dealing drugs and stealing cars. But in Ciudad Juarez, the organization now specializes in contract killing for the Juarez drug cartel. According to U.S. law enforcement officers, it may have been involved in as many as half of the 2,660 murders in the city in the past year.
Officials on both sides of the border have watched as the Aztecas honed their ability to locate targets, stalk them and finally strike in brazen ambushes involving multiple chase cars, coded radio communications, coordinated blocking maneuvers and disciplined firepower by masked gunmen in body armor. Afterward, the assassins vanish, back to safe houses in the Juarez barrios or across the bridge to El Paso.
"Within their business of killing, they have surveillance people, intel people and shooters. They have a degree of specialization," said David Cuthbertson, special agent in charge of the FBI's El Paso division. "They work day in and day out, with a list of people to kill, and they get proficient at it."
The special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in El Paso, Joseph Arabit, said, "Our intelligence indicates that they kill frequently for a hundred dollars."
The mayor of Juarez, José Reyes Ferriz, said that the city is honeycombed with safe houses, armories and garages with stolen cars for the assassins' use. The mayor received a death threat recently in a note left beside a pig's head in the city.
Arabit said investigators have no evidence to suggest the Barrio Azteca gang includes former military personnel or police. It is, however, working for the Juarez cartel, which includes La Linea, an enforcement element composed in part of former Juarez police officers, according to Mexican officials.
"There has to be some form of training going on," said an anti-gang detective with the El Paso sheriff's department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of his work. "I don't know who, and I don't know where. But how else would you explain how they operate?"
On a sunny Saturday afternoon March 13, Lesley Enriquez Redelfs, 35, who worked for the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, 34, a deputy in the El Paso County Sheriff's Department and a detention officer at the county jail, were returning home to El Paso from a children's party sponsored by the U.S. consul in Juarez. As their white sport-utility vehicle neared the international bridge, they were attacked by gunmen in at least two chase cars. When police arrived, they found the couple dead in their vehicle and their infant daughter wailing in her car seat. The intersection was littered with casings from AK-47 assault rifles and 9mm guns.
Ten minutes before the Redelfs were killed, Jorge Alberto Ceniceros Salcido, 37, a supervisor at a Juarez assembly plant whose wife, Hilda Antillon Jimenez, also works for the U.S. Consulate, was attacked and slain in similar style. He had just left the same party and was also driving a white SUV, with his children in the car.
According to intelligence gathered in Juarez and El Paso, U.S. investigators were quick to suspect the Barrio Azteca gang in connection with what President Obama has called the "brutal murders." What was unclear, they said, was the motive. U.S. diplomats and agents have declined to describe the killings as a targeted confrontation with the U.S. government, which had been pushing to place U.S. drug intelligence officers in a Juarez police headquarters to more quickly pass along leads.
U.S. raid sweeps up gang members
Five days after the consulate killings, the DEA unleashed in El Paso a multiagency "gang sweep" called Operation Knockdown to gather intelligence from Barrio Azteca members. Over four days, officers questioned 363 people, including about 200 gang members or their associates, and made 26 felony arrests.
Soon after, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that the Barrio Azteca gang had given "a green light" to the retaliatory killing of U.S. law enforcement officers.
Authorities were especially interested in Eduardo Ravelo, a captain of the Barrio Azteca enterprise allegedly responsible for operations in Juarez. In October, the FBI had placed Ravelo and his mugshot on its 10-most-wanted list, though they warned that Ravelo may have had plastic surgery and altered his fingerprints. Ravelo is still at large.
DEA agents say that 27 Barrio Azteca members were detained as they tried to cross from El Paso to Juarez during Operation Knockdown, evidence of gang members' fluid movement between the two countries.
This week, authorities announced that Mexican soldiers, using information from the FBI and other sources, had arrested Ricardo Valles de la Rosa, an Azteca sergeant, in Juarez.
Valles's confession was obtained at a military base where he was allegedly beaten, according to his attorney, a public defender. He has not been charged in the consulate killings, though he is charged with killing rival gang members, including members of an enterprise known as the Artistic Assassins, or "Double A's," who operate as contract killers for the Sinaloa cartel. Sinaloa is vying for control of billion dollar drug-trafficking routes through the Juarez-El Paso corridor.
In his statements, Valles said he was told through chain of letters and phone calls from Barrio Azteca leaders in the El Paso county jail and their associates that gang leaders wanted Redelfs, the El Paso sheriff's deputy, killed because of his treatment of Azteca members in jail and his alleged threats against them.
Valles said he tracked down Redelfs at the children's party and then handed off the hit to others. He said the killing of the factory supervisor was a mistake because he was driving a white SUV similar to Redelfs's.
El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said in a statement that Valles was a career criminal and denied that Redelfs had mistreated inmates. He stressed that the motives remain unknown.
Fred Burton, a former State Department special agent and now a security adviser for the Texas state government, said he is suspicious of attempts to underplay the killings. "These were targeted hits done by sophisticated operators," he said. "But it is not politically expedient for either side to say that criminal organizations were behind this. That is a nightmare scenario for them."
Mexican officials say that Valles, 45, was born in Juarez but grew up in El Paso, where he lived for 30 years. Nicknamed "Chino," he was a member of the Los Fatherless street gang in El Paso. In 1995, he was convicted of distributing drugs and spent 12 years in eight U.S. federal prisons, where he met an Azteca gang leader. After his release, he was deported to Mexico and began working with the Aztecas in Juarez.
The theory that the carnage in Juarez is being stoked by rival gangs of contract killers — the Barrio Aztecas and the Artistic Assassins — each working for rival drug cartels makes sense to many observers.
The gangs are a binational phenomenon whose members exploit the mistrust between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement, said Howard Campbell, a professor at the University of Texas in El Paso and an expert on the drug trade.
"They use the border to their advantage," Campbell said.