U.S. gun crime plunges, though most Americans think it has risen
by Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON — Gun-related homicides and other crimes involving guns have fallen sharply over the last two decades in the United States, but most Americans believe firearms crime is higher now than 20 years ago, according to an analysis and a separate poll released on Tuesday.
Some 11,101 gun-related homicides were reported in the United States in 2011, a figure that is down 39 percent from the 1993 peak, the Justice Department reported. Nonfatal firearm crimes declined by 69 percent to 467,300 in the same period.
Amid an intense national debate about gun control - which flared anew in the wake of a December shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 26 people dead - some 56 percent of Americans believe that gun crime is higher now than it was 20 years ago, the Pew Research Center said its poll showed.
Only 12 percent of Americans realize that gun crimes have fallen, the center said in a statement. The Pew survey was based on a March 14-17 survey of 924 adults and had a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.
The drop in gun crime mirrors a general fall in U.S. violent crime. The Justice Department study found that for fatal and nonfatal firearm crimes, most of the decline occurred from 1993 to 2002.
In 2011, about 70 percent of homicides and 8 percent of nonfatal violent crimes, such as rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault, were committed with a firearm, mainly a handgun.
From 2007 to 2011, about 1 percent of victims in nonfatal violent crimes reported using a firearm to defend themselves.
The Justice Department findings were based on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System.
LAUSD, attorney dispute reporting of 2009 sex-abuse complaints
by Barbara Jones and Christina Villacorte
Los Angeles Unified officials failed in 2009 to report sex-abuse allegations against a Wilmington elementary school teacher who is now charged with molesting a dozen girls, an attorney claimed Tuesday - statements that were immediately disputed by the district.
During a press conference outside LAUSD headquarters, attorney Luis Carrillo said officials learned of alleged misconduct by teacher Robert Pimentel on Oct. 12, 2009, during a demonstration by angry parents outside of what is now De La Torre Elementary.
He based his comments on a confidential internal memo written by Holly Priebe-Diaz, a social worker with the district's Office of Human Relations, Diversity and Equity. The memo recaps interviews with parents who told her that Pimentel had been fondling female students. Parents also said they'd reported their suspicions to the school's principal, but she was "protecting" the teacher.
Carrillo said that no one at LAUSD reported the allegations to authorities - as required by state law - which allowed Pimentel to continue harming young girls.
"It's a tragedy that the LAUSD fails to protect children from child predators," said Carrillo, who represents three alleged victims in a lawsuit against the district. "And it's a bigger tragedy that the LAUSD covers up when instances of child sexual molestation occur."
But LAUSD officials said Priebe-Diaz notified the Los Angeles Police Department and the county child-welfare agency after that October meeting.
"We can say with certainty that any allegations of misconduct were promptly reported to the appropriate authorities," General Counsel David Holmquist said in a statement.
Carrillo questioned whether district officials were telling the truth and challenged them to release a redacted copy of Priebe-Dias' complaint to authorities. An LAUSD spokesman said the district has no such document.
Neither the LAPD nor the Department of Children and Family Services could immediately confirm the district's account or say whether the report was investigated.
According to the memo - which Carrillo said was leaked to him by someone outside the district - Priebe-Diaz intervened in a noisy demonstration of about 40 parents demanding the removal of the school's principal, Irene Hinojosa.
"Parents stated that there is a male teacher named Pimentel (Robert Pimentel) who has been known to touch female students inappropriately," she wrote. "The parents reported that he caresses the girls, gives them candy and photographs them without parent permission.
"Further, there was a parent who was too afraid to give the name of her niece who was inappropriately touched by this teacher. One parent stated that during culmination last year, [Pimentel] rubbed a students back several times, stroking her bra strap. The parents reported this behavior to the principal without any response. The parents stated that Ms. Hinajosa [sic] is friends with this teacher from their last school and this is why she is protecting him."
District records show that Hinojosa and Pimentel worked together at Dominguez Elementary from 2001-02, and that he joined her at De La Torre in 2007.
In early 2012, parents complained to the LAPD about Pimentel, who was immediately pulled from his fourth-grade classroom at De La Torre. He was arrested in January on charges of molesting a dozen girls - 11 in 2011-12 and one from 2002-04.
Pimentel, 57, remains jailed on $12 million bail, pending a preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday. He has pleaded not guilty.
Superintendent John Deasy has said that when the LAPD contacted the district about Pimentel in 2012, he determined that Hinojosa had known about misconduct allegations made in 2002 and 2008 but failed to report them.
He was in the process of firing both Hinojosa and Pimentel last year when they retired.
On Tuesday, Deasy said he received "extensive documentation" in February about Pimentel and immediately turned it over to the LAPD.
"It showed that at least one employee did report the allegations to both the LAPD and child welfare," in 2009, said Deasy, who refused to say what else was in the paperwork.
He also said the district also has retained the international law firm Sedgwick to investigate who else may have known about the allegations, and whether or not they reported them.
On April 19, Deasy placed four administrators on paid leave in connection with the case. They include Linda Del Cueto, the instructional chief for the San Fernando Valley, Adult Education Director Michael Romero, and Principals David Kooper and Valerie Moses.
In 2009, Del Cueto was superintendent for the local district that included Wilmington, and Romero and Moses worked in her office. Kooper was chief of staff to school board member Richard Vladovic, who represents the South Bay.
Pentagon reports sharp rise in military sexual assaults
The 35% increase in unreported incidents over two years underscores a growing problem despite repeated initiatives to combat rape and assaults.
by David S. Cloud
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon estimated that 26,000 members of the military were sexually assaulted in unreported incidents last year — 35% more than in 2010 — a severe trend that senior officials warned could threaten recruiting and retention of women in uniform.
President Obama, reacting to the startling figures Tuesday, said he had "no tolerance" for sexual crimes in the ranks and pledged to crack down on commanders who ignored the problem. Obama said he had spoken to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and ordered that officers "up and down the food chain" get the message.
"I expect consequences," Obama told reporters at the White House. "If we find out that somebody's engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable — prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged, period. It's not acceptable."
The worsening statistics are a blow to the Pentagon's military and civilian leadership, who have announced repeated initiatives to combat rape and sexual assaults, only to see the problem grow.
The increase in both reported and suspected sex crimes — and evidence that many in the military still fear retaliation if they report an assault to a superior officer — comes as the military faces far-reaching social changes, including opening up combat jobs to women and lifting the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly.
It also comes two days after police in Arlington, Va., arrested the chief of the Air Force sexual assault prevention branch for allegedly groping a woman outside a bar near the Pentagon, the latest sexual scandal to hit the headlines. Officials said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was removed from his post after the arrest.
"This department may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out" the military's mission, Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference.
Hagel outlined steps he had ordered, including holding commanders accountable for preventing sexual assaults, expanding programs to help victims, and screening recruiters and training instructors. An investigation that began in 2011 at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas has turned up 59 cases of sexual assault of military recruits by drill instructors.
In testimony Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Air Force's top commander, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, appeared to blame broader society, noting that 20% of women report they had been sexually assaulted "before they came into the military."
"So they come in from a society where this occurs," he said. "Some of it is the hookup mentality of junior high even and high school students now, which my children can tell you about from watching their friends and being frustrated by it."
Reported sexual assaults of both men and women in the military rose to 3,374 last year, up from 3,192 a year earlier, according to the Pentagon. About 1 in 4 of those who were assaulted and received medical care declined to press charges, however, an indicator of the victims' fear of retribution, officials said.
But the annual Defense Department report says about 6% of women surveyed, as well as 1% of male soldiers, declared they had been sexually assaulted but did not report the incidents up the chain of command. Extrapolating those percentages across the military, the report estimates 26,000 sexual assaults occurred, up from 19,300 in 2010.
Lawmakers and experts say many victims are reluctant to come forward because they lack faith in the military justice system and fear their careers could suffer if they try to bring criminal charges, particularly against higher-ranking officers.
In two cases since early 2012, Air Force generals overturned convictions of male officers under their command who had been found guilty of sexual assault. The cases have prompted a push in Congress to overhaul the Uniform Code of Military Justice to make it more difficult for commanders to intervene in such cases.
Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, who heads the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said the 5.7% increase in reported sexual assaults indicated that more people are willing to come forward. But he acknowledged that the 35% rise in unreported cases showed "it's very clear we got some work to do."
Advocates for victims criticized the Pentagon for doing too little to reverse the problem.
Kate Weber, a former Army soldier who now counsels military sexual assault victims in Sonoma County, Calif., said in a telephone interview that she was raped by a senior officer while stationed in Germany in 1993. She said her superiors rebuffed her attempt to lodge a complaint.
The authority to prosecute "needs to be taken out of the chain of command, so a victim can report rape to an independent, uninterested party," she said.
Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, a victims group, said "the problems are so longstanding and pervasive that, at a minimum, it constitutes gross negligence on the part of the leadership and actually reflects … countenancing of a culture of violent abuse."
Pentagon officials have talked publicly for years about holding officers accountable who tolerate or cover up for male subordinates accused of sex crimes. But when asked whether any officers had been disciplined for mishandling sexual assault cases, Patton offered no examples.
In April 2012, then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta ordered that only colonels or higher-ranking officers could decide whether to prosecute a sex crime. The reform was aimed at blocking lower-level officers from protecting colleagues.
But this year, Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander at Aviano Air Base in Italy, overturned the sexual assault conviction of a lieutenant colonel, threw out his one-year prison sentence and reinstated him to duty. Franklin said he had doubts about the accuser's credibility.
In response, Hagel announced last month that he would urge Congress to limit a commander's ability to overturn court-martial verdicts. But several lawmakers say that was insufficient.
Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) plan to introduce legislation to amend the military code so that military prosecutors are put in control of all legal decisions on sexual assaults and other major crimes, eliminating the possibility that commanders can intervene.
Boxer called the increase in sexual assaults "horrifying" and vowed to change how the military "investigates and prosecutes these heinous crimes."
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said Tuesday that she was blocking the nomination of Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, whom Obama had nominated to be vice commander of Air Force Space Command. McCaskill said she was opposing the promotion because Helms last year overturned the conviction of Capt. Matthew S. Herrera, who was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a female lieutenant at Vandenburg Air Force Base.
"That is the crux of the problem here, because if a victim does not believe that the system is capable of believing her, there's no point to risking your entire career," McCaskill said at a Senate hearing with Air Force officials.
In response, the Air Force released a memo written by Helms in which she expressed doubts about the victim's testimony that she was asleep and did not consent to sex. Instead of sexual assault, Helms found Herrera guilty of committing "an indecent act," a lesser offense. He was involuntarily discharged in December.