L.A. man arrested, accused of setting homeless woman on fire as she slept on Van Nuys bus bench
Staff and Wire Services A 24-year-old man was booked early Thursday on suspicion of attempted murder after a homeless woman was set on fire as she slept on a bus bench in Van Nuys, officials said.
Dennis Petillo, 24, of Los Angeles was arrested shortly after the attack, which was reported at 12:51 a.m. at Van Nuys Boulevard and Sherman Way, officials said. He was jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail.
Witness Erickson Ipina of North Hollywood told a camera crew he saw the suspect go into a nearby Walgreens and buy what appeared to be rubbing alcohol.
"He just poured it all over the old lady, then he threw a match on her, and then started running," Ipina said.
"I was following him and then I pulled out my cellphone. I called 911 and he just turned back on me and pulled out a knife, and he told me, `Stop following me or I will cut you,"'
An ambulance and engine company from Fire Station 81 responded and transported the 67-year-old woman to a local hospital in critical condition, with burns all over her body, officials said.
Her identity was being withheld by authorities. However, people in the neighborhood know her as Violet and said she'd been a regular at a local church.
`We've tried to get her off the bench for years, and she absolutely refuses. It was her home." neighbor Robert Wyneken told KABC (Channel 7). "The people around here know her, and admire her, and love her."
Authorities would not release information about whether Petillo had prior arrests or convictions, but public records indicated a man with the same name and birthdate had been arrested at least twice in recent years.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, a 24-year-old named Dennis Petillo was arrested about 8 p.m. Dec. 22 by transit deputies patrolling the region's rail lines. A spokesman said Petillo had been booked on a misdemeanor count of blocking free movement, but he could not provide any details about that incident.
And in December 2009, a suspect with Petillo's name and birthdate was arrested on suspicion of grand theft auto, records show. He pleaded guilty to joyriding and was sentenced to two years in prison.
The attack early Thursday was being investigated by the fire department and detectives from the LAPD's elite Robbery Homicide Division, officials said.
The incident occurred eight days after a 55-year-old homeless man was set ablaze as he slept outside of a doughnut shop in Norwalk, officials said. He remains in serious condition at an area burn unit, officials said.
No suspect has been identified in that attack.
Iowa stance on immigrant driver's licenses criticized
The decision could affect almost 5,000 young Iowa immigrants who have been allowed to stay and work in the U.S. under Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
by William Petroski
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Immigrant advocates are criticizing Thursday's decision by the Iowa Department of Transportation to deny driver's licenses to young people whom the Obama administration has allowed to stay and work in this country.
However, state officials say the decision — which could affect almost 5,000 Iowa immigrants — is simply intended to comply with state law and federal guidelines. In addition, key leaders in the Iowa Legislature say they have no plans to enact measures requiring DOT officials to issue driver's licenses to such workers.
The decision is bad news for Omar Del Jesus Mex Valle, 24, of Denison, who is participating in a new federal program that lets him temporarily remain in the U.S. He's a native of Campeche on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula who came to Iowa when he was 15 years old to join his mother and father, who immigrated here illegally. He told The Des Moines Register on Thursday that the agency issued him an Iowa DOT driver's license in October after he passed a written exam and a behind-the-wheel test.
Now he faces the imminent loss of his driver's license.
"Oh, my gosh! I already have it," he said. "I hope they don't take it from me. I need it to go to my job, and to do stuff for my family."
The Iowa DOT's decision applies to young people — many of whom were brought here illegally as children by their parents — participating in a federal initiative known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. President Barack Obama unveiled the program in June, saying it would allow some of those young adults to seek a two-year permit allowing them to live, work and study here without fear of deportation.
About 1.7 million people under age 30 nationwide are expected to meet the policy's age, education and clean criminal history conditions, according to data from the American Immigration Council in Washington, D.C. There are an estimated 11 million immigrants illegally residing in the U.S.
Iowa DOT Director Paul Trombino III said Thursday that his agency's decision means the DOT will not provide Iowa driver's licenses or state identification cards to those granted deferred action status by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He said the determination was based on guidelines described by U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in a memorandum issued June 15.
Trombino said Iowa law says that a driver's license or non-operator ID card shall be issued to a foreign national only if he is authorized to be present in the United States. The Iowa DOT does not have the legal authority to issue those items to people granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, he said.
Trombino said he was aware of only one driver's license and one state ID card that were issued by the DOT to illegal immigrants participating in the federal program, although he acknowledged there might be others. In each case, DOT staff will contact the individual and inform him that his license or state ID card is not valid, he added.
The DOT's decision came in response to a letter sent in October by the Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union that asked whether the state would grant driver's licenses to immigrants granted deferred action status. Federal Homeland Security officials have said each state can determine whether to issue licenses or extend other benefits to young immigrants who qualify for the deferred status.
Randall Wilson, the Iowa ACLU's legal director, said Thursday that he was surprised by the Iowa's decision. The ACLU maintains that state officials should be granting driver's licenses and state ID cards to such immigrants.
"It seems to me they are arguing about angels dancing on the head of a pin here. These people have been granted status to stay in the United States for a period of time, and whether you want to call it illegal, legal or indeterminate, it doesn't matter. They are here, so this issue needs to be addressed, either legislatively or in the courts," Wilson said.
The ACLU and others have already filed lawsuits in Michigan and Arizona challenging decisions in those states to deny driver's licenses to those allowed to work and stay in the country under the federal program.
Sandra Sanchez, a U.S. citizen and native of Mexico who heads an immigrant advocacy program for the American Friends Services Committee in Des Moines, also was sharply critical of the decision, calling it misguided.
"In my opinion, this was either plain ignorance or plain politics, and it is not fair to play politics with these kinds of people," Sanchez said. "We have already invested in their education. Why not give them the opportunity to fully integrate into our community so they can contribute back? You need a car to go to school, to go to work in Iowa. What are they thinking?"
Loris Chesser, a Des Moines immigration lawyer, believes DOT officials were wrong in their legal interpretation.
"How am I not authorized to be present if I turn myself in to the federal government? They have given me a work permission; they will let me travel and then come back. I don't see how you can say that is not authorized to be present," Chesser said.
Tim Albrecht, Branstad's spokesman, said the governor believes state officials should always follow Iowa law. "Should the Legislature wish to make changes, the governor will review their proposals and would carefully consider any legislation that arrived at his desk," Albrecht said.
But Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said Thursday that he didn't expect his chamber to consider such legislation when the 2013 session convenes in January.
"I don't see any scenario where we give driver's licenses to people who are here illegally," Paulsen said.
Two Iowa Republicans, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and U.S. Rep. Steve King, have each blasted Obama's program as a serious overreach of executive authority.
According to Stateline, a news service of the Pew Center on the States, illegal immigrants who qualify for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program can qualify for driver's licenses in 17 states. Officials have announced they are not eligible in six states.
Three states — Washington, New Mexico and Utah — allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses because their laws do not require proof of citizenship or legal residence.
Former LA Police Chief Hired To Help Oakland Reduce Crime
OAKLAND (CBS/AP) – Besieged by spikes in murders and violent crime, Oakland city officials said Thursday they have hired former New York City police commissioner and Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton as a consultant.
Police Chief Howard Jordan said Bratton, regarded as an international expert on reducing crime, combating gang violence and improving police-community relations, will help develop strategies to reduce the violence in one of America's most dangerous cities.
Bratton will be joining noted police strategist Bob Wasserman, head of the Boston-based Strategic Policy Partnership, who also has consulted many of the nation's biggest cities on policing.
They will report to Jordan, Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana. Wasserman, who began in September, is conducting a “top-to-bottom” review of the department, Jordan said. Bratton is expected to join early next year. “They will give us recommendations, and it is up to me to make sure they're implemented,” Jordan said at a news conference. “Because at the end of the day, it's my responsibility to ensure that policing is done at a lawful and constitutional manner that is also effective and efficient to reduce violent crime.”
There have been 127 homicides in Oakland this year, up from 110 from last year. Violent crime is up 23 percent from 2011.
The city will pay $350,000 for the services of Bratton and Wasserman's group. It has spent about $1 million this year on police consultants, mainly to help reduce a backlog of internal affairs investigations.
Bratton was New York's police commissioner from 1994 to 1996 and the Los Angeles police chief from 2002 to 2009. He's widely credited with significantly reducing crime in both cities by double-digit percentages. In Los Angeles, he focused on community policing and worked to resolve tensions between officers and minority communities.
He is credited with co-creating Compstat, the innovative crime-mapping system used in Oakland that uses computer data to direct police to specific high-crime areas. Police in neighboring San Francisco credit the system with helping that city reach near-record-low crime levels.
“We want to see how we can strengthen or improve it based on his experience,” Jordan said about Oakland. “He will have access to community members, there will be focus group meetings within the department, outside the department and with elected officials.”
City Council President Larry Reid said he is excited to have Bratton onboard.
“If you want someone helping you, he's the one to get,” Reid said. “His record speaks for itself.”
Bratton's hiring in Oakland comes after a federal judge earlier this month signed off an agreement between the city and two civil rights lawyers to have a court-appointed director oversee the beleaguered police department instead of it being taken over by the federal government.
One of those lawyers, John Burris, said he will take a “wait and see approach” to Bratton's involvement. Burris noted that in New York, Bratton helped implement the city's controversial stop-and-frisk policy that experts say helped overall crime dropped dramatically.
The practice allows police to stop, question and pat down anyone who appears suspicious. Critics say it can lead to racial profiling and civil rights violations.
“We're not going to have that policy here in Oakland, and we will fight that tooth and nail if it comes down to it,” Burris said.
Jordan said Thursday that he thinks Bratton will have some interaction with the soon-to-be-hired compliance director. The director will report to a federal judge and will have the power to overrule major department decisions and seek the dismissal of the police chief and his command staff.
Burris said the city has the right to hire any consultant it chooses, yet he will remain cautiously optimistic.
“Our concern is about the compliance director and any perceived or actual interference with (the director's) authority,” Burris said. “This is the last best chance we have to get the department in compliance, and we don't want to have any more cooks in the kitchen, if you will.”
Lower Providence Police Getting a Bit more ‘Social'
Lower Providence residents are liking that they can they can see local crime alerts, safety tips and directly interact with their local police department through its new Facebook page.
by Gerry Dungan
As of Dec. 27, the Lower Providence Police Department's Facebook page has 390 likes, which is a happy surprise to some members of the department, as the page is just over a month old.
“It's very impressive and exciting,” Lower Providence Police detective Michael Jackson said. “It's great because people want to help and it's interesting content.”
Lower Providence Police Department (LPPD) joined Facebook Nov. 23.
It has since grown its page likes and fan interaction through the posting of hyper-local crime alerts and safety tips straight from the police department to residents' fingertips.
Updating the Community Policing Philosophy
Jackson, who joined the Lower Providence Police Department in 2001, is credited for bringing up the idea of putting the LPPD on Facebook. In turn, he credits his wife for introducing him to the social media outlet three years ago.
“I'm not computer savvy, but it was very user-friendly,” Jackson said.
Jackson found that he was able to reconnect with family and friends, such as those whom he had served with in the United States Marine Corps. He was able to see photos, videos and, of course, the most up-to-date updates.
The immediacy of personal interaction made an impression on Jackson, who would eventually think of using the social media tool as yet another way for the police department to partner with township residents, otherwise known as “Community Policing.”
“I just wanted to get the community involved and let them know what's happening in their neighborhoods,” Jackson said.
He explained that the department wanted to come up with different ways in reaching residents, passing on information that would be both useful and important, but most of all, interactive.
“It's an easy way to put information out and to get feedback from your residents,” Jackson said.
According to Jackson, within days of pitching the idea and going up the chain of command to the chief of police, LPPD had its first Facebook post on Nov. 23, which reads, in part:
“Welcome to our Facebook Page! In the near future we will be posting interesting things on this page, e.g., crime alerts, wanted person information, Law Enforcement tips, lost and found, etc. Please recommend our page to your friends so that we can increase our involvement in the community we serve.”
Prior to Facebook, Jackson said that the police department would rely on its and the township's press releases, as well as news media reports on department activity to disseminate information.
“You can do so much more with Facebook,” Jackson said.
According to Jackson, LPPD Facebook content is based off of other municipal police department's Facebook pages, such as Limerick's (over 1,200 likes) and Bensalem's (nearly 6,000 likes).
Among the page's content are crime alerts, including the recent Dec. 23 post, in which Lower Providence Police relayed information about their response to an attempted burglary on the 100 block of Evansburg Road; followed by a request from the community to contact the LPPD at 610-539-5901 with any related information.
“So, if your neighborhood is getting hit with theft from vehicles or burglaries, we want the residents to know to be on the look out,” Jackson said. “And, if you can help us stop it, we would appreciate it.”
Other crime alerts are posted as linkouts to local news media with crime and police stories.
In addition to crime alerts, other useful posts include safety tips, such as links to news stories or websites warning against online identity theft.
The LPPD will also use its facebook page to promote awards and recognitions of the department (check out the Dec. 12 post), as well as events and activities of the township.
Most of all, the LPPD would like to see posts from township residents.
“We encourage people to post comments,” Jackson said. “We really want that.”
He emphasized that residents can directly interact with the department, as well as their neighbors, such as asking if they've seen a lost pet; or give tips to help solve crimes or even provide feedback on police performance.
Skimming through the LPPD facebook page, it's apparent that much of that feedback has been immediate and consitantly positive.
Jackson said it's a great feeling to have the opportunity for such immediate interaction that only the way social media could provide.
“It's nice to see people appreciate what you do,” Jackson said. “And, it's nice to be a part of a community that respects their community and police department, and has a vested interest in the future of their community."
For more information, visit the Lower Providence Township Police Department Facebook page .
Traumatized Newtown Cops Unable to Work & at Risk of Losing Paychecks
by Jenny Erikson
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre , a few Newton cops are suffering from severe emotional distress and are unable to return to work. About 15 police officers have been “critically affected” by the horror they witnessed as first responders, and a handful of them have been taking sick leave to try to recover from the trauma.
That sick leave is about to run out though, and the officers will be left without a paycheck. The union, Council 15 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is advocating for lawmakers for expanded workers' compensation benefits for witnesses of horrific crime scenes. Currently, employees are only covered for mental impairment “as the result of using or being subjected to deadly force -- but not for those who witness crime scenes with mass casualties.”
On December 14, Adam Lanza walked into two first grade classrooms and repeatedly shot and killed 20 children and six adults, before turning the gun on himself. The children were shot between two and eleven times each, and most died on scene. There is no known motivation for shooting.
This is probably the worst crime scene that a cop will ever walk into. By the time the first responders got there, it was over. There was no adrenaline of walking into a live gunfight to distract from the dead children and the terrified faces of the survivors. There's no sense, no reason, and nothing to be done but sweep the area and notify families. 20 families that each have to be told that their precious child has been murdered by a mad man.
I don't blame the cops for not wanting to jump back into work after witnessing that kind of slaughter. When the names and ages of the victims were released, I felt sick to my stomach just seeing the letters and numbers in print -- I can't imagine what those officers felt when they walked into Sandy Hook and saw what they saw.
Eric Brown , an attorney for the union, says that outside agencies have been providing counseling services , but officers taking time off to recover could use up their sick leave by early January. Providing an emotional trauma benefit provision for the cops would allow them to take more time to recover.
The issue will probably be debated and discussed in the next legislative session, when lawmakers will weigh the cost and potential for abuse against the need for such a measure in extreme cases. State Rep. Stephen Dargan , Democrat and co-chairman of the legislature's public safety committee says, “We don't want it to be used in an abusive way, but the circumstances are so horrific in Newtown. We need to protect those first-responders and give them all the help we can give them.”
Human trafficking and other causes: Donate wisely during the holidays
by Holly Smith
RICHMOND, VA December 27, 2012 ? ‘Tis the season for baking cookies and shopping, singing carols and gift-wrapping; for spending time with family, calling on friends, and spreading holiday cheer to those we know and love. 'Tis also the season for donating time, money, and gifts in-kind to worthy causes and charitable organizations.
As our nation struggles to recover from an economic recession, charitable organizations are faced not only with budget cuts, but also with a greater demand for their services. As a result, nonprofits have a growing need for private donations just when their resources are at an ebb. As a columnist and speaker, I often encourage my audiences to support their local charities, especially youth-based organizations. While I urge you to donate generously to any charity, I also warn you to be wise about your investment.
Human trafficking is an issue which has gained a wildfire of attention recently; and in turn, scores of anti-trafficking organizations and campaigns have cropped up across the country. The increased attention to this heinous crime and its victims is positive; however, the list of nonprofits is growing so rapidly that it's nearly impossible to keep up with it. Many of these groups aren't yet listed with reputable watchdog organizations like Charity Navigator or GuideStar. If you choose to support an innovative, local anti-human trafficking group, then the responsibility of vetting falls on you, the donor.
CharityWatch offers ten tips for “ Giving Wisely,” the first of which is to “know your charity.” CharityWatch recommends that you request detailed information including a list of the board of directors, financial statements, and a mission statement. I encourage you to take your time in reading the mission statement. If the organization's mission is unclear to you, then it's likely unclear to the organization as well. While it may change over time, the mission statement must have a clear baseline. Without this, neither you nor the organization can understand its goals or boundaries.
In the nonprofit world of anti-human trafficking, an organization's services may be geared towards raising awareness, implementing methods of prevention, advocating for stronger laws, providing services to victims or victims' families, or any combination of these and more. All of these agendas are important, but you should pick and choose which agenda fits with your interests and the needs of your community. If you want to support an organization that offers services to victims, be sure you aren't donating to a nonprofit that concentrates its funding towards raising awareness or prevention, and vice versa.
Then, I encourage you to ask questions in order to ensure that the organization has a viable plan in place to achieve its goals. For example, if the organization claims to be currently providing services to victims, then inquire about the services. How many children or adults is the organization currently serving? What services are provided, and how are they provided? Is it a group home or do they manage case work involving service providers within the community? Who are the service providers? An honest organization will be transparent and welcome an open discourse on its inner workings, except when it compromises the safety of its clients.
If the organization is raising money in order to provide future services, then ask for a timeline. When can donors see the results of their donations? By results , I don't mean restored victims of human trafficking- I mean a group home, or a solid network of outreach service providers. If the organization is implementing methods of prevention within the community, then ask for details. With whom are they working? Ask to participate in one of their programs or to visit their facilities. Heed the advice from CharityWatch: know your charity of choice.
Be wary of organizations which evoke emotion via documentaries, films, picture images of abuse, or survivor accounts of trauma, and then ask for your money “to combat slavery in your own backyard.” Set aside your emotion and ask questions: How do they plan to fight human trafficking and other forms of exploitation? To whom are they giving the money? Are they keeping the money? If so, what specific services are they offering “to combat slavery” within your community? Are they offering services to victims? Are they donating portions of the raised funds to other organizations that provide services to victims? If yes, then ask who these other organizations are and confirm with them directly.
As in all causes, there are those organizations which mean well and those which are looking to exploit a cause and a donor's generosity. There are also those organizations led by passionate but misdirected advocates who unintentionally spend donations on fruitless efforts. I encourage you to reach out to others in the community for reviews on the organization you wish to support. Check with your State Attorneys General Office, your local and state police departments, your local Better Business Bureau, local survivor advocates, the National Survivor Network, and other established charities in your community.
If you are proactive in vetting your local anti-human trafficking organizations, then you will strengthen your community's response to a growing issue and a hidden epidemic. Otherwise, you risk loss of your time and money while trafficking continues uncurbed. For more tips on giving wisely this holiday season, see CharityWatch and Charity Navigator.
Holly Austin Smith is a survivor advocate, author, and speaker. She invites you to join her on Facebook or Twitter and to follow her personal blog.