| NEWS of the Day - January 5, 2012
|on 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 Los Angeles Times
Suspect faces life term in arson rampage
Harry Burkhart's 'rage against Americans' inspired a four-day rampage, prosecutors say. More charges are expected as bail is set at $2.85 million.
by Victoria Kim, Richard Winton and Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times
January 5, 2012
Hollywood arson suspect Harry Burkhart terrorized Los Angeles residents with a four-day rampage over New Year's weekend because he was "motivated by his rage against Americans," prosecutors alleged in court papers filed Wednesday.
Burkhart appeared in court briefly to be arraigned on 37 felony counts of arson that could send him to prison for life. He looked disheveled and distracted as jail authorities have him under suicide watch.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Upinder S. Kalra set bail at $2.85 million and agreed to postpone arraignment until Jan. 24 at the request of Burkhart's public defender. The judge, who declined to hold Burkhart without bail, said the government could bring more evidence at the next hearing to back its contention that the defendant poses a flight risk or could resume setting fires if freed pending trial.
Burkhart torched cars, garages and homes across a significant portion of Los Angeles "to harm and terrorize as many residents" as possible, authorities wrote in a court filing asking that Burkhart be denied bail.
Deputy Edward M. Nordskog of the sheriff's arson unit wrote in a declaration filed with the court that Burkhart would be a danger to the public if released because of his hatred of Americans and the U.S. government.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Carney told the court that charges filed against Burkhart so far are probably "less than half of the charges we plan to file," noting that they covered 12 of the 52 suspected arsons authorities attribute to Burkhart.
Burkhart appeared in court in a green jail jumpsuit, wearing his long brown hair loose and unkempt. He is being closely monitored in custody, the Los Angeles Police Department reported, to ensure that he doesn't harm himself. He moved languidly in Kalra's courtroom, his gaze wandering and his body slumping and twitching.
The charging documents also accused Burkhart of using an acceleration device, which could lead to a longer prison term if he is found guilty of the special circumstance. If convicted on all 37 counts and ordered to serve the maximum terms consecutively, Burkhart could be facing up to a 341-year sentence.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley told reporters after the bail hearing that Burkhart faces "an awful, awful lot of time in prison" because of the trauma inflicted on the community, and that he thought a life sentence was warranted, calling the offenses "almost attempted murder."
Prosecutors disclosed in court papers that Burkhart had previously been arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon but that no charges had been filed. . A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, Jane Robison, declined to provide a declination on the incident, citing policy on older cases that are closed without charges.
Earlier on Wednesday, prosecutors with the Hesse state government in central Germany disclosed that a 24-year-old named Harry Burkhart was being investigated in connection with a suspected arson at his family's home in the Schwalm-Eder district about an hour's drive north of Frankfurt.
A half-timbered house belonging to the Burkhart family suffered major damage in a fire three months ago that local investigators said left evidence of having been deliberately set.
Owners of the vacant home near the Medieval fortress town of Marburg filed an insurance claim after the blaze caused about $50,000 in damage and the incident is being investigated as a case of arson and insurance fraud, said Annemarie Wied, spokeswoman for the Marburg regional office of the Hesse state prosecutor.
Burkhart's mother, Dorothee, who is also in custody in Los Angeles, is wanted on a Frankfurt court warrant alleging that she defrauded about $10,000 from a plastic surgeon who performed a 2004 breast augmentation procedure, and defrauded at least a dozen renters and landlords of an additional $35,000, according to a complaint filed last month in Los Angeles by the U.S. attorney's office.
Harry Burkhart, a 24-year-old who authorities said travels on German documents but was born in the restive Russian region of Chechnya, reportedly came to the attention of Los Angeles law enforcement because he erupted into a rage at his mother's extradition hearing Dec. 29 in federal court. Burkhart was evicted by federal marshals after an expletive-laced diatribe against Americans and the U.S. government. A federal official who witnessed his tirade recognized him in security camera images from one of the weekend fires.
In the court documents filed in Los Angeles, prosecutors disclosed that sheriff's detectives searching the Hollywood apartment rented by Burkhart and his mother found newspaper clippings about the Los Angeles fires as well as German newspaper articles about other suspected arsons in Frankfurt.
Judge Kalra prohibited the media from taking video or photographs of Burkhart after prosecutors said investigators were continuing to interview possible witnesses. A Times photographer took photos of Burkhart's attorney, who was standing directly in front of his client. But Kalra ordered that those images be deleted because two images included part of the defendant's biceps.
Overturned conviction frees Texas man who served 31 years in rape
A 56-year-old Texas man who served 31 years for rape, was released from prison Wednesday after a judge ruled that prosecutors had withheld evidence that could have helped clear him of the charges.
Rickey Wyatt was convicted in a 1980 sexual assault in Dallas and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. But when new evidence emerged, a Dallas County judge vacated the conviction.
“It's been a beautiful thing to be able to enjoy your life as free man — for the last 15 minutes,” Wyatt told The Times, only minutes after exiting the courtroom.
In January 1981, Wyatt was arrested in connection with three related sexual assaults and was tried and convicted of one attack. Throughout the trial, he maintained his innocence, rejecting a plea bargain for a five-year sentence.
“It was devastating,” he said. “But I was sure that one day I would be free.”
After his arrest, Dallas Police failed to alert prosecutors of a line-up viewed by one of the victims, said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project in New York, which represented Wyatt.
That victim said Wyatt resembled her attacker, but was far too small to be him, Scheck said.
Victims of the crimes had described their attacker as a clean-shaven man who weighed 170 to 200 pounds. During the trial, Wyatt's friends and family members testified that he consistently had facial hair and weighed about 140.
The prosecutors, while contending that the witnesses were lying, had a photo of Wyatt taken at the time of the arrest that showed him with facial hair and a fingerprint card that documented his weight at 135 pounds.
The prosecution withheld the evidence, never turning it over to the defense. If they had, Wyatt may never have been convicted, Scheck said.
Wyatt's release is not, however, an exoneration.
The case now goes before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which will decide whether to vacate the conviction based on the new evidence. The Dallas County district attorney's office will also determine whether DNA evidence is enough to declare Wyatt innocent of the crime.
If he is declared innocent, he is eligible to receive compensation from the state for wrongful imprisonment, Scheck said.
ACLU to North Carolina officials: Don't make beggars get permits
Should a panhandler be required to show a photo ID and permit, plus submit to a background check, in order to beg on the street?
Those are among new restrictions on street beggars in effect or under consideration by three governing bodies in North Carolina. But the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina is warning authorities that the requirements may be unconstitutional -- and possible targets of ACLU lawsuits.
The News and Observer of Raleigh reported Wednesday that the ALCU sent out warning letters this week as commissioners in Johnston County, southeast of Raleigh, considered a new panhandling ordinance. The proposed law would require a $20 fee, background check and photo ID for a monthlong panhandling permit.
All three requirements unlawfully restrict free speech, according to the ACLU.
"The least among us, those who have been hit hardest and are really down on their luck, need the most protection under the Constitution," Katy Parker, legal director of the state ACLU, told the newspaper.
Raleigh, the state capital, and surrounding Wake County require a photo ID to obtain a panhandling permit. The permits are free, but Raleigh requires them to be renewed weekly. Wake County's permits are good for a year.
Last week, Raleigh police arrested eight people for panhandling without a permit, according to the News and Observer.
"What's happening here is the city of Raleigh, Wake County and Johnston County want to deny panhandlers the ability to do what they have a constitutional right to do,'' Parker said.
Commissioners in Johnston County passed a panhandling ordinance by a 6-1 vote Tuesday night. But in response to ACLU pressure, the commissioners dropped a proposed requirement that panhandlers pay a $20 monthly fee.
The county's new law, which requires a photo ID and background check, goes into effect Jan. 15.
From Google News
Texas police kill 8th-grader carrying pellet gun
by CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN
BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — The parents of an eighth grader who was fatally shot by police inside his South Texas school are demanding to know why officers took lethal action, but police said the boy was brandishing — and refused to drop — what appeared to be a handgun and that the officers acted correctly.
The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun that closely resembled the real thing, police said late Wednesday, several hours after 15-year-old Jamie Gonzalez was repeatedly shot in a hallway at Cummings Middle School in Brownsville. No one else was injured.
"Why was so much excess force used on a minor?" the boy's father, Jaime Gonzalez Sr., asked The Associated Press outside the family's home Wednesday night. "Three shots. Why not one that would bring him down?"
His mother, Noralva Gonzalez, showed off a photo on her phone of a beaming Jaime in his drum major uniform standing with his band instructors. Then she flipped through three close-up photos she took of bullet wounds in her son's body, including one in the back of his head.
"What happened was an injustice," she said angrily. "I know that my son wasn't perfect, but he was a great kid."
Interim Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez said the teen was pointing the weapon at officers and "had plenty of opportunities to lower the gun and listen to the officers' orders, and he didn't want to."
The chief said his officers had every right to do what they did to protect themselves and other students even though there weren't many others in the hallway at the time. Police said officers fired three shots.
Shortly before the confrontation, Jaime had walked into a classroom and punched a boy in the nose for no apparent reason, Rodriguez said. Police did not know why he pulled out the weapon, but "we think it looks like this was a way to bring attention to himself," Rodriguez said.
About 20 minutes elapsed between police receiving a call about an armed student and shots being fired, according to police and student accounts. Authorities declined to share what the boy said before he was shot.
The shooting happened during first period at the school in Brownsville, a city at Texas' southern tip just across the Mexican border. Teachers locked classroom doors and turned off lights, and some frightened students dove under their desks. They could hear police charge down the hallway and shout for Gonzalez to drop the weapon, followed by several shots.
Two officers fired three shots, hitting Gonzalez at least twice, police said.
David A. Dusenbury, a retired deputy police chief in Long Beach, Calif., who now consults on police tactics, said the officers were probably justified.
If the boy were raising the gun as if to fire at someone, "then it's unfortunate, but the officer certainly would have the right under the law to use deadly force."
A recording of police radio traffic posted on KGBT-TV's website indicates that officers responding to the school believed the teen had a handgun. An officer is heard describing the teen's clothes and appearance, saying he's "holding a handgun, black in color." The officer also said that from the front door, he could see the boy in the school's main office.
Less than two minutes later, someone yells over the radio "shots fired" and emergency crews are asked to respond. About two minutes later, someone asks where the boy was shot, prompting responses that he was shot in the chest and "from the back of the head."
Administrators said the school would be closed Thursday but students would be able to attend classes at a new elementary school that isn't being used.
Superintendent Carl Montoya remembered Gonzalez as "a very positive young man."
"He did music. He worked well with everybody. Just something unfortunately happened today that caused his behavior to go the way it went. So I don't know," he said Wednesday.
Gonzalez Sr. said he had no idea where his son got the gun or why he brought it to school, adding: "We wouldn't give him a gift like that."
He said he last saw his son around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, when the boy said goodbye before leaving to catch the bus to school. And he said nothing seemed amiss the night before when he, his wife and their son went out for nachos then went home and watched a movie.
Gonzalez Sr. was struggling to reconcile the day's events, saying his son seemed to be doing better in school and was always helpful around the neighborhood mowing neighbors' lawns, washing dogs and carrying his toolbox off to fix other kids' bikes.
Two dozen of his son's friends and classmates gathered in the dark street outside the family's home Wednesday night. Jaime's best friend, 16-year-old Star Rodriguez, said her favorite memory was when Jaime came to her party Dec. 29 and they danced and sang together.
"He was like a brother to me," she said.
Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio Wants Facts in Civil Rights Case
January 05, 2012
Fox News Latino
The controversial Arizona sheriff accused of a long list of civil rights violations conditionally agreed Wednesday to discuss with federal officials ways to correct the alleged violations.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said that his office first needs the U.S. Justice Department to provide facts to back up its allegations that his office racially profiles Latinos, bases immigration enforcement on racially charged citizen complaints and punishes Hispanic jail inmates for speaking Spanish.
"I have a suspicion that politics might be involved in this, but we want to resolve (the case)," Arpaio said.
Joseph Popolizio, one of the lawyers representing the sheriff's office, said in a letter to Justice officials that Arpaio was ready to go to court if federal authorities refuse to provide the information to back up their claims.
The self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America has been a national political fixture who has built his reputation on jailing inmates in tents and dressing them in pink underwear, selling himself to voters as unceasingly tough on crime and pushing the bounds of how far local police can go to confront illegal immigration.
The sheriff's office said it doesn't discriminate against Latinos and that Justice Department didn't provide facts to support its allegation that Arpaio's office has a culture of disregard for basic constitutional rights.
Popolizio said in his letter that constructive talks between Washington and the sheriff's office could occur only if the Justice Department backs up its allegations.
"We are merely requesting the opportunity to conduct our own weighing of the reliability of the evidence in your possession," Popolizio said.
The changes in the sheriff's office that Justice officials were seeking include training in constitutional policing and dealing with jail inmates with limited English skills, collecting data on traffic stops and immigration enforcement, and establishing a comprehensive disciplinary system that permits the public to make complaints against officers without fear of retaliation.
Arpaio's lawyers set a Jan. 18 date for the Justice Department to say whether they would provide the information and believe federal officials could provide that information by March 19.
The civil rights allegations have led some Arpaio critics to call for the sheriff's resignation. Arpaio has said he won't resign and intends to seek a sixth term this year.
Separate from the civil rights probe, a federal grand jury has been investigating Arpaio's office on criminal abuse-of-power allegations since at least December 2009. That grand jury is examining the investigative work of the sheriff's anti-public corruption squad.
Snakes (Nearly) on a Plane: TSA Unveils Top ‘Catches' of 2011
Travelers attempted to smuggle firearms, animals and even land mines on board.
For all the ways that NewsFeed called out the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in 2011 — creepy notes , frustrating pat-downs , potentially cancerous body scanners — it seems that the administration did have its successes.
In a recent blog post, the TSA recounted some of its most notable “catches” in 2011, including a stun gun disguised as a cell phone found at LAX (though the TSA did miss a similar contraption found on a plane at Newark airport — just sayin'!); a veritable zoo of animals at various airports; and even inert land mines .
They also intercepted your everyday weapons (knives, firearms, C4 explosives — okay, not quite your usual finds). The big lesson to be learned from the TSA's 2011 haul? Be sure you don't try to bring aboard a science project that looks like an improvised explosive device.
Clarksville police set to open Community Policing Center
by Tavia D. Green
The Clarksville Police Department's goal to gain the community's trust and respect through community policing has reached a milestone, as it prepares to open the New Providence Community Policing Center.
The new center, located at 640 Providence Blvd., has been converted into a community center, with computers and resources to focus on not only combating crime in the area but creating a better environment and helpful resources.
Chief Al Ansley said the new center will house the Operation Defiance program, named for the historical Civil War area.
The community policing center will officially open Thursday. The grand opening will be from noon until 3 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1 p.m.
The renovated gas station is more than a new building. It is an opportunity to make a neighborhood characterized by violent crime and drugs into a productive community.
“We received a grant to go into neighborhoods and the community and focus on violent crime and drugs,” Ansley said. “We had to research our data and see what part of the community met that standard. We looked at all parts of the city where we had pockets of violent crime and drug activity, and our data showed New Providence was where we still had a high rate of violent crimes.
'A lot of progress'
“We made a lot of progress over the years.”
Operation Defiance is somewhat of a reincarnation of the Operation Takeback program.
Operation Takeback was a neighborhood watch-type program in the New Providence area that launched in 2008.
Through Operation Takeback, officers began talking with residents in troubled areas and built relationships with them. They also worked with agencies such as the city's Street Department and Housing Authority to clean up the neighborhoods.
“Operation Takeback was just the Clarksville police. There were no funds provided, but it was the largest community police project we'd ever done,” Ansley said. “By getting out in the community and getting the residents' respect and trust, in my opinion you can get out and do your job a lot better. The community is where we get information and leads. If they respect and trust us we can do our job much better.”
Yet Operation Defiance will get the entire community involved, as the organization offers resources to the residents of New Providence.
Lt. Steve Warren, project manager at the NPCPC, said they will collaborate with Goodwill Industries, Bradford Health Services, the State Probation and Parole, Building and Codes and other government and faith-based agencies.
Access to computers, help on writing resumes, finding jobs, and obtaining a GED are a few of the services offered at the new center. Projects to rid the area of litter and offer homeowners and business owners resources to clean up their buildings through work with government agencies are also part of the Operation Defiance project.
“We can assist residential and business owners with improving their property whether it's buying a bucket of paint or assisting them with labor,” Warren said. “Instead of just trying to make arrests, this grant tries to get people jobs to lessen crime. Then there's intervention to help those with drug and alcohol problems. Historically drugs and alcohol are frequently involved in crimes.”
CPD was awarded a $1.2 million Byrne Justice Assistance Grant from the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs. The grant will last three years. CPD filed an application that included extensive research and data about the needs of the New Providence area.
Clarksville police met with residents from New Providence and handed out questionnaires which identified residents' needs. They also visited other cities such as Murfreesboro, Kingsport, Cleveland and Jackson that had been awarded the grant and created programs for their needs.
HUD awards $2.2M for project renewals
by Texas Homeless Network
Special to The Daily News
January 5, 2012
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $2.2 million in renewals for the Continuum of Care grant to projects in the Texas Balance of State Continuum of Care.
Several Galveston County organizations received renewal funding that will allow their projects to continue providing or furthering housing and supportive services for homeless families and individuals, which include:
|• Woman Inc. Beacon Place Transitional Housing is a two-year transitional housing program for women and children who are survivors of domestic violence.
• Gulf Coast Center Transitional House serves homeless adult men with either mental illness or a co-occurring diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse disorder.
• Gulf Coast Center Permanent Housing III serves people with disabilities who are chronically homeless.
• Gulf Coast Center Homeless Management Information Systems serves agencies in Galveston, Brazoria, Chambers and Liberty counties.
• Gulf Coast Housing Initiative serves homeless families with children and chronically homeless adults in Brazoria and Galveston counties.
• The Children's Center Family Home is a permanent supportive housing project for homeless families with minor children and chronically homeless individuals.
• Gulf Coast Permanent Housing for Disabled Adults serves exclusively people who are chronically homeless.
“These projects that have been awarded renewal funds have been successfully providing services to homeless individuals and families throughout the Balance of State region,” said Eric Samuels, director of Continuum of Care Programs. “We are encouraged by the continued funding and we hope HUD also awards funding to this year's new applicants.”
The Texas Balance of State offers support to communities in the development of comprehensive long-term solutions to address homelessness that affects about 80,000 men, women and children each day in Texas.