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3 wounded in Colorado mass shooting sue theater owner
by the CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) -- Three people wounded in the July mass shooting at a Colorado multiplex are suing the theater owner, claiming that security was lax the night a gunman opened fire and killed 12 people.
Two lawsuits filed Friday against Cinemark USA Inc., owner of Century Aurora 16, allege negligence on the part of the corporation because the theater lacked adequate security or sufficient alarm systems.
"Although the theater was showing a midnight premier of the movie and was expecting large crowds of people to attend the midnight showing, no security personnel were present for that showing," according to both lawsuits, which were filed by the same law firm.
"The exterior doors to the theater were lacking in any alarm system, interlocking security systems, or any other security or alarm features."
James Holmes, 24, is accused of opening fire on a crowded theater during the July 20 midnight showing of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises."
Fifty-eight people were wounded in the attack.
The lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado on behalf of Joshua Nowlan, Denise Traynom and Brandon Axelrod.
Iraq war veteran Nowlan, 31, and newlyweds Axelrod, 30, and Traynom, 24, were at the theater together when the shooting occurred.
"Josh helped me protect my wife, and he got shot. It wasn't expected. But I'm glad he was there with us because the three of us together, we piled on each other and we kept each other safe. And you know, luck or faith, whatever you want to call it, kept us alive," Axelrod told CNN in an interview shortly after the shooting.
"Josh, while we were hugging each other in the aisle, got hit in the arm. And at some point, because he's so tall and lanky, he got hit in the leg, as well."
The Denver law firm of Keating, Wagner, Polidori & Free, filed the lawsuits: One on behalf of Nowlan, the other on behalf of Traynom and Axelrod.
According to the lawsuits, the gunman was able to go in and out of the theater several times undetected to retrieve a "virtual arsenal of weapons, including, but not limited to, one or more fully loaded shotguns, an AR-15 assault rifle, one or more fully loaded, automatic Glock handguns, and several tear gas canisters."
Nowlan's right arm was nearly severed by a bullet, Traynom was shot in the buttocks and Axelrod injured his knee and ankle, according to the lawsuits.
The lawsuits also allege that the theater's security guards were given the night off, even though there had been several previous criminal incidents.
The lawsuits are seeking "amount which will fully and fairly compensate each of them for damages, losses and injuries" on behalf of the three victims.
The lawsuits were filed the same day that Cinemark officials announced a plan to reconfigure the movie theater and reopen it by the beginning of next year.
Facebook posts by Pa. hostage-taking suspect, responses from family and friends concern police
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh police said they had serious concerns when an armed man took a business owner hostage in a downtown high-rise office building — and not just because he had a knife.
The suspect, 22-year-old Klein Michael Thaxton, made Facebook posts during the five-hour ordeal Friday, authorities said, and they feared that responses from friends, family and others might goad him into violence.
In the end, police say, Thaxton surrendered peacefully and released businessman Charles Breitsman.
Now police believe that Thaxton might have chosen Breitsman because he spotted a smartphone and computer in his office and saw a high-profile opportunity to express himself on the social networking site, Chief Nathan Harper said.
Thaxton was arraigned early Saturday on felony charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and making terroristic threats. He remains jailed on $1 million bail.
Harper said authorities might never know the reason Thaxton decided to take a hostage.
“We will leave that to the mental professionals to figure that out and get the man some help,” Harper said. Thaxton will automatically receive a mental health review because of the charges.
Thaxton told police he left a halfway house about 3 a.m. Friday carrying a kitchen knife, hammer, cellphone and charger. After meandering through various neighborhoods, Thaxton arrived downtown at about 7 a.m. and briefly considered attacking two separate traffic officers with the hammer so he could steal their guns, police said.
“It makes me feel powerful when I have a gun,” Harper said Thaxton told police.
Deciding he might get shot in the process, Thaxton instead sat and munched on a candy bar and noticed women streaming into a 24-story high-rise, police said. Without any particular goal, Thaxton took an elevator to two upper floors, found he couldn't get around without an electric key card and went down to the 16th floor.
That's where Thaxton saw the financial firm CW Breitsman Associates and the owner's name on the door. He also saw a smartphone, TV and computer and “felt this was the office where he needed to be,” Harper said.
Except for the electronics, Thaxton's choosing the office was “totally random,” Harper said, noting Thaxton didn't know Breitsman or his firm, which handles union pensions and insurance funds.
Police initially believed Thaxton had a gun because he told police negotiators he was going to shoot the victim. Instead, he threatened Breitsman with the knife, sat across a table from him breathing threats and, otherwise, used Breitsman's phone and computer to post mostly forlorn Facebook messages, police said.
“i cant take it no more im done bro,” said one post.
“this life im livin rite now i dnt want anymore,” another post said. “ive lost everything and I aint gettin it back.”
Thaxton has been in legal trouble in recent months, pleading guilty in January to robbery for a carjacking last year. That crime was apparently on his mind, Harper said, because his carjacking victim was a woman and Thaxton told police the only other reason he picked Breitsman was that “he didn't want to victimize another female.”
Thaxton was sentenced to six to 12 months in jail by the county's newly established court to help veterans with mental health and substance abuse issues. It wasn't immediately clear how Thaxton's service record contributed — if at all — to his mental health problems because he never saw active duty.
Instead, records show Thaxton served as a private in the U.S. Army from December 2008 to June 2010. The Army said he trained at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri before being assigned to Fort Riley in Kansas.
Whatever the motivation, Thaxton felt a need to call attention to his feelings through Facebook and told police he watched coverage of the hostage situation on his victim's TV.
Initially, police wanted the Facebook page kept open, hoping to gain useful information, but they later asked Facebook to take it down so that Thaxton could focus on conversations with police negotiators.
Most of the 700 or so responses to Thaxton's posts were from friends or family expressing their love. But a few were “ridiculous” and others were “outright distasteful,” Harper said. Police were still sifting through them Friday, but Harper said any posters who authorities determine urged Thaxton to harm Breitsman or himself could eventually face charges, too.
Thaxton eventually told police negotiators he wanted to speak with an ex-girlfriend whom he hadn't seen since 2008. After shutting down the Facebook page and getting the woman on the phone to speak with Thaxton, he surrendered peacefully.
Breitsman was interviewed by detectives at police headquarters but left through a back door to avoid the media. He didn't return calls to his home Friday. Harper said the man was doing fine though “quite shaken.”
Facebook didn't comment on the hostage-taking but referred reporters to a Web page that says it sometimes shares information with law enforcement if necessary to “prevent imminent bodily harm” to someone.
Some of the social network's nearly 1 billion users boast about their criminal exploits on Facebook, making it easier for law enforcement to catch them. Just last month, a woman charged with posing as a nurse and kidnapping a newborn at a Pittsburgh hospital was tracked down using messages she posted about her faked pregnancy on Facebook.
In Thaxton's case, Facebook didn't completely explain his actions nor would he as he was led past reporters at police headquarters.
Instead he grinned and ignored their questions saying, “I can't hear you, bro.”
Holyoke police to drive all over Paper City to connect with people in high-crime neighborhoods
by Patricia Cahill
HOLYOKE – An innovative program to link citizens and police for more effective crime-fighting was announced Friday by Holyoke Police Chief James M. Neiswanger and Mayor Alex B. Morse at the Holyoke Police Station.
Mobile Community Policing, as it's called, is a police-station-on wheels, involving a truck and a couple of pop-up canopies.
“The traditional policing model is not enough,” said Neiswanger, “and that has led us to a change in strategy.”
“We're ushering in a new aspect of community policing,” said Morse.
Mobile Community Policing officers will set up camp in “hot spots” of the city, such as the Flats, said Neiswanger. They will put up their tents and put out their literature, talk with people on the street, get feedback, knock on doors and hand out flyers.
“If someone wants to talk in private, we can go into the truck and shut the door,” said Captain David Pratt, whom Neiswanger credits for developing the program with Lieutenant Manuel Febo.
Also on the team are officers Patrick Leahy, Victor Heredia and Dorothy Bennett, who said her earlier career in family services was good training for community policing.
Neiswanger said the new program didn't cost much more than “a little bit of signage and ingenuity,” since it uses a former SWAT truck that was almost retired. It served as a command post for such infrequent events as the Holyoke St. Patrick's parade and the Fourth of July fireworks.
The truck includes comfortable seats, storage areas, radios and a message board. Its exterior is painted with the words “Mobile Community Policing” and “to serve and protect.”
Some years ago the Holyoke police won a grant to finance a community policing program, said the chief, but grants run out and can't be counted on to keep a program going.
So he decided to “carve it out of my police force.” He admits that the project is labor-intensive, and that he will probably have to ask for more officers to staff it.
“I haven't seen community policing like this before,” he said.
The Holyoke police also opened a substation in December on Maple Street in the Churchill neighborhood.