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Madlin Mekelburg Sep-20-2017 54 0
A Democratic state senator on Tuesday asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to determine under what circumstances footage captured on police body cameras can be withheld from the public.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., chairman of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, said his panel has received questions from “interested parties” on the issue, prompting him to ask about a law enforcement agency’s ability to withhold or release footage.

"I respectfully request a formal opinion from your office to clarify the circumstances under which a law enforcement agency is authorized or required to release, or is prohibited from releasing, certain audio or video recordings from a body worn camera made by a member of a municipal law enforcement agencies,” Lucio, a Democrat, wrote in his request for an attorney general’s opinion.

He asked Paxton to determine whether law enforcement leaders have the ability to withhold footage if they believe that releasing the video could interfere with “the detection, investigation or prosecution of crime."

Opinions from the attorney general are not rulings on law and are not binding. Instead, they serve as interpretations of existing laws or practices.

Lucio said responses from Paxton’s office on these questions could help determine “the need for future legislation in this area.”

Law enforcement agencies in El Paso County, Nueces County, Dallas, Houston, Austin and other Texas cities have rolled out body camera programs for officers.

The cameras have been touted as a way to increase officer accountability in light of concerns about race and officer-involved shootings. Law enforcement agencies in Texas can require their officers to wear cameras and can outline usage requirements for the cameras.

MICHAEL KUNZELMAN Sep-18-2017 126 0
A 23-year-old white man whom police call a "person of interest" in the fatal shootings of two black men in Baton Rouge has been released from jail after his arrest on drug charges over the weekend.

Baton Rouge Police Sgt. Don Coppola, a department spokesman, said Monday that Kenneth Gleason "has not been cleared" and remains a "person of interest" in the shootings.

A homicide detective's report described Gleason as a "suspect" in the case. Sgt. L'Jean McKneely, another department spokesman, has said there was a "strong possibility" that the shootings were racially motivated. On Monday, interim police chief Jonny Dunnam said in a text message that investigators "still don't know for sure what the possible motive is." Gleason was released on $3,500 bond late Sunday.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore said he doesn't know if Gleason had an attorney. Detectives searched Gleason's home on Saturday and found 9 grams of marijuana and vials of human growth hormone at his house, according to the detective's report. After Gleason was read his Miranda rights, he claimed ownership of the drugs, the document said.

McKneely said on Sunday that shell casings from the shootings linked the two slayings and a car belonging to Gleason fit the description of the vehicle police were looking for.

Kenneth Gleason is shown in an undated booking photo provided by the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office. Police believe the slayings of two black men in Baton Rouge were likely racially motivated and said Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, that they have a person of interest — Gleason— in custody. Gleason, was being held on drug charges. Authorities do not yet have enough evidence to charge him with murder, Baton Rouge Sgt. L'Jean McKneely told The Associated Press. (East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office via AP)© The Associated Press Kenneth Gleason is shown in an undated booking photo provided by the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office. Police believe the slayings of two black men in Baton Rouge were likely racially motivated and said Sunday, Sept… He said authorities had collected other circumstantial evidence but he wouldn't say what it was. In both shootings, the gunman fired from his car then walked up to the victims as they were lying on the ground and fired again multiple times, according to McKneely, who said neither victim had any prior relationship with Gleason. The shootings happened about five miles from each other.

The first occurred Tuesday night when 59-year-old Bruce Cofield, who was homeless, was shot to death.

The second happened Thursday night when 49-year-old Donald Smart was gunned down while walking to his job as a dishwasher at a cafe popular with Louisiana State University students, McKneely said. Smart's aunt, Mary Smart, said she was still dealing with the shock of her nephew's death. Smart had a son and two daughters, she said. She declined to comment on police allegations that her nephew might have been shot because of the color of his skin. "I cannot say," she said.

"Only God knows." Terrell Griffin, 49, has a food stand in a parking lot less than a block from where Cofield was shot.

Griffin said he was friends with Cofield and heard the gunshots that killed him. Griffin waited for the gunfire to quiet before he ran over to find his friend lying face-down on the ground. He described Cofield as a smart man and said he thought he was an engineer, but had been homeless for at least a year. "He didn't bother nobody," Griffin said. "It's not right."
Jessica Schladebeck Sep-15-2017 164 0
The brother of a black motorist who was killed following a high-speed chase with law enforcement slammed the judge’s decision to acquit the former St. Louis officer who fatally shot his loved one.

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson on Friday found former police officer Jason Stockley not guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith.

His brother, Antwan Johnson, told Fox 2 he felt the judge shirked his obligations because his time on the bench is almost up. Wilson will have to retire when he turns 70 in December.

“The whole time the trial was going on, the man was falling asleep on the stand,” he told the new station, adding that he believes Wilson’s mind was made up before the trial started last month.

Johnson, who said Stockley jailed him just eight days before the fatal altercation with his brother in December 2011, joined demonstrators Friday afternoon to protest the verdict.

“We’re coming together to shut it down. We all need to come together as people,” he told Fox. “The justice system doesn’t care about us. These laws are not made for us.”

Stockley, who resigned as an officer in 2013, shot Smith following a police chase that reached speeds of nearly 90 mph. The former officer said he and his partner followed him after spotting what they believed was a drug deal in the parking lot of a restaurant.

Stockley pleaded “not guilty” to a first-degree murder charge last year and waived his right to a jury trial — ultimately handing Wilson the power to decide his fate.

“This Court, in conscience, cannot say that the State has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, or that the State has proven beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense,” Wilson wrote in his ruling.

The acquittal sparked protests in St. Louis, with several people attempting to block intersections and disrupt traffic on Interstate 64. Activists promised peaceful demonstrations would unfold should the ex-cop be acquitted.

“We’re not done yet,” Johnson vowed. “Stockley committed a murder and he has to be held accountable for his actions.”
The Score Sep-15-2017 130 0
Floyd Mayweather came to the defense of President Donald Trump, arguing that the crude comments he made about women during a conversation with Billy Bush is a candid reflection of how men speak privately.

Trump's remarks were revealed on a tape obtained by Access Hollywood in October 2016 during the presidential election, where the then-Republican nominee tacitly described acts of sexual assault. Trump apologized and some withdrew their endorsement of him as a candidate, but he emerged victorious in the election.

Mayweather, who has faced battery and harassment charges for acts of violence against women, including his former girlfriend, seemed to revel in Trump's apparent candor.

"People don’t like the truth," Mayweather said in an interview to be released this week with Hollywood Unlocked. "He speak like a real man spoke. Real men speak like, 'Man, she had a fat a--. You see her a--? I had to squeeze her a--. I had to grab that fat a--.' Right? So he talking locker room talk. Locker room talk. 'I’m the man, you know what I’m saying? You know who I am. Yeah, I grabbed her by the p----. And?'"

"I feel people shy away from realness. This man didn’t do nothing. Listen, if y’all didn’t want the man in the White House, y’all should have voted the other way. It ain’t like he went and robbed - he done his homework. He did what he had to do and he got there."

Mayweather previously called Trump a friend after the businessman won the presidential election. Trump attended Mayweather's fight against Manny Pacquiao in May 2015.
Larry Brown Sep-11-2017 357 0
Kevin Sumlin and his family intend to take legal action against the sender of the threatening letter they received last week, his wife said on Twitter Sunday.

Last week, Sumlin’s Texas A&M Aggies blew a 44-10 lead at UCLA in their season opener and lost 45-44. Days later, Sumlin’s wife Charlene posted on Twitter a photo of a letter she says their family received at their home. The letter contained a racist word and threat.

Three days after posting the photo of the letter, Charlene shared a follow-up on Twitter. In her note, which Charlene appears to have originally posted on Facebook, Mrs. Sumlin says part of her mission to posting the letter online was to receive help in trying to track down the sender. She said they contacted local police, but they hit a “dead end,” leading her to post on Twitter. The result was people providing help in how they could track down the sender. She says they want to press charges against the sender to make an example of them.

On the field, Sumlin’s Aggies faced a tougher than expected game and beat Nicholls State 24-14 on Saturday. After the game, the coach commented on the letter, saying the open-ended threat crossed the line.

“The racial (aspect) is one part of it, but the open-ended threat at the end, (sent) to my house … I’ve got to draw the line there,” Sumlin said, via the Houston Chronicle. “(Charlene) didn’t like it, she didn’t feel safe about it, my kids didn’t feel safe about it. Beyond that, I want to thank the Brazos County Sheriff’s Office for what they’re doing right now, and I want to thank all the people who sent me notes and text messages and calls and things like that. That’s important, too.

“When you cross a line like that with people who have nothing to do with decisions that are made when it comes to my job, that’s not OK.”

The Sumlins have received the support of many since publicizing the letter, including from Texas A&M’s president.
John Bowden Sep-10-2017 153 0
President Trump's Chief of Staff Gen. The New York Times reported on Friday that Kelly has created a "no-fly list" of aides who previously wandered into meetings unannounced and uninvited, who no longer have that power. Manigault, the Times reported, is chief among them.

In charge of this list is Kirstjen Nielsen, Kelly's longtime aide, who was recently appointed as an assistant to the president and his principal deputy. Nielsen is described in the article as "brusque" and "no-nonsense," and in charge of wrangling aides on Trump's outer circle.

Manigault has served as Trump's chief advisor on African-American issues in the White House, and earlier this month attacked the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for "showboating" and refusing to meet with Trump.

"Coming to the table over and over again to work through these issues is the only effective way to get where they wanted to go," Manigault told Fox Business Network's Charles Payne.

"And instead, they're showboating and they're actually shorting out their constituents that they committed to represent by not coming to meet with the president," she said in August.
Andy Mai Sep-10-2017 96 0
A man fired one shot at Tytianna Sparks, 19, at about 12:40 p.m. on Dean St. near Howard Ave. in Brownsville before running off.

Medics rushed her in critical condition to Brookdale University Hospital, police said.

"When I came downstairs I heard a lady screaming," said Louis Leak, 64, who knows Sparks from the neighborhood. "She was laying between two cars and she didn't look like she was alive to me. She was already bleeding out."

Yvonne Stevenson, 47, said the woman was seven months pregnant and her mother was planning a baby shower at the end of the month.

Sparks' niece ran over to her after the shot rang out, Stevenson recalled.

"She was kneeling over her trying to help her and hold her. She was in shock as well," she said.

"When they turned her around, you seen blood coming out her face and head."

Man dies after being shot in the head outside Bronx deli

Detrea Issacs, a family friend, also ran outside after hearing two shots.

"This is heavy on the heart. It happened in broad daylight," she lamented. "I just pray she's OK. This is sad.”

AP Sep-06-2017 228 0
Seattle Seahawks player Michael Bennett accused Las Vegas police on Wednesday of racially motivated excessive force, saying he was threatened at gunpoint and handcuffed following a report of gunshots at an after-hours club at a casino-hotel.

Bennett said on a Twitter message titled "Dear World," that police "singled me out and pointed their guns at me for doing nothing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Police later attributed a report of gunfire at Drai's at the Cromwell resort to the sharp sound of velvet rope stands being knocked to a tile floor. It happened a few hours after the Aug. 26 fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor.

Bennett, a 6-foot-4 (193 centimeters) defensive end who has been a leader of the national anthem protests started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick , said he was among several hundred people running away.

He said he was handcuffed face-down on the ground after an officer held a gun to his head saying he would blow his head off if he moved.

"All I could think of was 'I'm going to die for no other reason than I am black and my skin color is somehow a threat,'" he wrote. He said he thought of his wife and children.

Bennett said he was taken to the back of a police car "until they apparently realized I was not a thug, common criminal or ordinary black man but Michael Bennett a famous professional football player." He was released without charges.

Las Vegas police Officer Jacinto Rivera said police were checking for casino and police body camera video and written reports. He said the department couldn't immediately verify Bennett's account or identify the officers involved.

"Without looking at video footage or reading any reports we can't say yet what happened," Rivera said.

A video posted by celebrity news site TMZ shows a view from a balcony as a police officer kneels on the back of a man who looks like Bennett. Protests are heard, including, "I wasn't doing nothing," and, "I was here with my friends. They told us to get out and everybody ran."

Bennett's attorney, John Burris in Oakland, California, confirmed the words were Bennett's. The attorney said he believed the 30-second video clip showed some of how his client was treated.

"We think there was an unlawful detention and the use of excessive force, with a gun put to his head," Burris told The Associated Press. "He was just in the crowd. He doesn't drink or do drugs. He wasn't in a fight. He wasn't resisting. He did nothing more or less than anyone in the crowd."

Burris said Bennett waited to make public his account of the incident until after Burris contacted Las Vegas police last week by letter and email, seeking police records of Bennett's detention.

Bennett's brother, Martellus Bennett, who plays for the Green Bay Packers, posted an Instagram account of a telephone call he said he got from Michael Bennett. He said he heard fear in his brother's voice.

"The emotion and the thought of almost losing you because of the way you look left me in one of the saddest places ever," Martellus Bennett said.

Michael Bennett has been one of the most outspoken pro athletes on numerous social issues. Last month, he held a benefit for the family of a pregnant black woman who was fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers in June. Police said the woman threatened the officers with at least one knife after calling 911 to report that someone had broken into her apartment and stolen video-game consoles.

"For me it's always finding a way to impact the community on every single level; locally, nationally, and globally," Bennett said following the benefit. "To be able to have something happen in your city and to be able to build a bridge between people regardless of color, regardless of gender, and regardless of economic hardships, you want to be able to bring people together and be able to do something for kids."

Advocates on Wednesday cited Bennett's treatment by police as an illustration of troubled race relations in America.

Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter advocacy group, called it "a testament to the police violence targeting black people in the United States."

Cullors endorsed an online petition calling for Las Vegas police to release information about what she called an assault on Bennett.

Jocelyn Benson, chief executive of the nonprofit Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, released a statement crediting Bennett with "courage and leadership in addressing issues of racial injustice in our country."

"The revelation of Michael Bennett's terrifying experience with Las Vegas police officers last month underscores the need to continue fighting against racial profiling and inequality," Benson said.
Tom O'Connor Sep-03-2017 372 0
The White House announced Friday it's switching up the format of an upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and representatives of historically black colleges. The move comes as his administration continues to face deep criticism over its polarizing views on race relations in the U.S.

While the White House statement did not detail what modifications were being made, it did hint that the administration was looking to downsize Trump's meeting with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs). Trump found early success in reaching out to these schools, which were at times critical of his predecessor, but the Republican leader's attacks on their funding, controversial comments following last month's deadly white nationalist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia and his poor approval rating among black communities in general have strained this relationship.

"Responding to suggestions and feedback from many key stakeholders, the White House initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will modify its planned conference to best meet the current needs of HBCUs, their students and the broader HBCU community, " the administration said.

"This more intimate HBCU week will feature a series of strategic meetings for students and leaders to share their perspectives on the opportunities and challenges facing the HBCU community. The events will also focus on how the Administration can best work and support HBCU schools and students," it added.

Just over a month after coming to office earlier this year, Trump signed an executive order designed to boost federal funds for HCBUs. The move was seen as an opportunity for the Trump administration to win support of an influential black organization that often criticized his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for not sufficiently addressing the community's needs, despite him being the first black U.S. president. Trump's support, however, was short-lived.

The administration did not increase funds and actually cut Pel grant reserves and other crucial investment HBCUs had asked for, according to The Washington Post. In May, Trump signed a federal budget that controversially included language at the end suggesting he questioned the constitutionality of funding black colleges in the first place.

Recent national events have also highlighted the president's troubled relationship with a community he once famously tried to court on the campaign trail a year ago by asking "What the hell do you have to lose?"

On August 12, a man with white supremacist sympathies ran over a crowd of counter-protesters who were demonstrating against a massive far-right rally that swept the city of Charlottesville, Virginia. One woman was killed and over a dozen more injured. Trump condemned violence "on both sides" of the rally, remarks that garnered him considerable scorn even from within his own party.

These troubles have followed him to Washington. The Congressional Black Caucus may soon become one of the leading voices on the Hill calling for Trump's removal from office. Democratic Representative and Black Caucus leader Cedric Richmond of Louisiana said last month he was considering joining existing efforts to remove the president due to issues with Trump's "competency and fitness to serve."

He also vowed that the caucus would "keep its foot on the Trump administration’s neck by calling their racist and discriminatory policies what they are."

A poll released earlier this week by The Economist and market research company YouGov revealed that 57 percent of people in the U.S. think Trump doesn't care about the needs of black people. Among black respondents, three out of four said he either didn't care much or "not at all."

MARY ALICE ROBBINS Sep-01-2017 258 0
Former Dallas Cowboys cornerback and Pro Hall of Famer Deoin Sanders isn't likely to be performing one of his famous touchdown dances in the wake of a Fifth Court of Appeals decision on Aug. 29.

A three-judge panel of the Dallas court of appeals ruled in Sanders v. Sanders that the 366th District Court in Collin County erred when it granted Deoin Sanders' motion for partial summary judgment on Pilar Sanders' liability for defamation.

In a defamation suit, Deoin Sanders had alleged that, after their divorce in 2013, Pilar Sanders had made statements on social media, in an online video and on a national television news program that he had physically abused her and their children and had attempted to murder her, according to the Fifth Court's opinion. As noted in the opinion, Deoin Sanders had alleged that the statements damaged his reputation and caused him economic damages.

The trial court had awarded the former NFL star and sports broadcaster $2.2 million in damages and ruled that he could offset the $1 million that the divorce decree required him to pay his ex-wife against the defamation damages award.

The Fifth Court panel reversed the judgment and remanded the case to the trial court, holding that Deoin Sanders failed to establish conclusively his ex-wife's negligence or malice regarding the truthfulness of her statements.

Craig A. Jackson, Pilar Sanders' appellate attorney, said his client argued on appeal that Deoin Sanders is a public figure. If a plaintiff in a defamation suit is a public figure, he must prove actual malice, showing that the defendant made the statement in question with knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard of its truth. But the court did not have to address that issue, said Jackson, a partner in Brewer Jackson & Lang in Grapevine.

"They basically said there was no evidence of negligence or malice," he said.

One of the interesting legal issues in the case, Jackson said, is the fact that Pilar Sanders could not offer an affirmative defense of truth.

"She still maintains the truthfulness of her statements," Jackson said.

Deoin Sanders contended in his brief to the Fifth Court that the trial court resolved the allegations of abuse after a three-day hearing in the couple's divorce case with a finding that neither party committed family violence. That finding was confirmed in the subsequent jury trial on custody in which the jury, after being instructed it could not award custody to a parent who had committed abuse or family violence, recommended that Deoin Sanders should be the sole managing conservator of his two sons and joint managing conservator of his daughter.

David Keltner, a partner in Kelly Hart & Hallman in Fort Worth, is Deoin Sanders' appellate attorney, and Larry R. Boyd, a director and shareholder in Abernathy, Roeder, Boyd & Hullett in McKinney, represented the former football player at trial and on appeal. Neither Keltner nor Boyd returned phone calls seeking comment.
David Boroff Aug-31-2017 141 0
A pregnant mother killed by Seattle police officers earlier this year was shot seven times, according to an autopsy report.

It was also revealed that Charleena Lyles was 14 to 15 weeks pregnant at the time of her death.
Three of the shots fired by officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew hit Lyles in the front of the torso and chest, three struck her in the back of her arm and one struck the side of her ribs.

"Not one shot should have been fired, let alone seven," lawyer Karen Koehler told the Post-Intelligencer.

At least one of the shots struck her uterus, taking the life of the unborn boy. It was to be her fifth child.

"I know the baby is not considered a baby until it is viable under our rules of law, but as a human and a mother, it's so upsetting,” Koehler told the Seattle Times.

"Did they shoot her as she fell to the ground? Was she running away?” cousin Katrina Johnson told the Guardian on Wednesday. "How did she get shot in the back? I still don’t know that and understand that, but any which way, it was excessive force. Seven times for her little pregnant 100-pound self was out of control."

The autopsy report also notes that Lyles did not have drugs or alcohol in her system during the confrontation at her Seattle apartment. The officers fired when Lyles lunged at one of them with one or two knives, according to police.

No one else entered Charleena Lyles' home: Seattle police

"If you have been reading the dialogue you might have assumed she was a poor, single black woman with multiple children who must have been on drugs, and that is a false assumption and a false narrative," Koehler told the Seattle Times.

Some family members, though, were not pleased that the autopsy report was released by Koehler without their consent. Koehler is representing Charles Lyles, Charleena's father.

"In so doing, she placed Charleena's children in a position of possibly having to hear about details of their mother’s killing on the news or at school without any preparation," relatives said in a statement.
The 30-year-old Lyles battled mental health issues and had many interactions with local police, according to the Seattle Times. Just two weeks before she was fatally shot, she threatened cops with shears after they were called on a domestic violence complaint, according to the newspaper.
Seattle cops who fatally shot pregnant mother of four identified

An officer wrote that Lyles "stated that she should have just stabbed me when she had the chance, but then said she could tell I had a good heart, and that it’s unfortunate they 'always send the good ones,'" according to the newspaper. That incident took place on June 5.

On the day she was killed, authorities say Lyles ignored orders by the two officers. "Do it! Do it ... Are you ready? mother f------” she said, according to court documents obtained by the Seattle Times. Lyles had called cops to report a break-in.

"The police narrative is that she had a knife and they were justified in shooting her dead,” Koehler told the newspaper. "They don't want to talk about the fact that they knew she had recent mental-health issues but chose to go in without any game plan."

Earlier this month, Lyles' family filed a claim against the city, a first step toward filing a lawsuit.
KATE BRUMBACK Aug-31-2017 193 0
A police lieutenant in Georgia who was recorded on video during a traffic stop saying "we only shoot black people" is being fired, the police chief said Thursday.

Dashcam video from July 2016 shows a car stopped on the side of a road and a woman can be heard telling Cobb County police Lt. Greg Abbott she was scared to move her hands in order to get her cellphone. Abbott, who is white, interrupts her and says, "But you're not black. Remember, we only shoot black people. Yeah. We only shoot black people, right?"

Announcing his decision to fire Abbott, Police Chief Mike Register remarked that "there's really no place for these types of comments in law enforcement." Speaking at a news conference, Register added, "I feel that no matter what context you try to take those comments in, the statements were inexcusable and inappropriate. They're not indicative of the values that I'm trying to instill within the Cobb County police department and that I believe the county holds."

Register said he learned of the comments after television station WSB-TV obtained the video through an open-records request and made the department aware of it. Abbott, who had been an officer for 28 years, was placed on administrative leave while the department investigated the video.
Abbott's attorney, Lance LoRusso, did not immediately respond to an email Thursday seeking comment on the firing. He had earlier said in a statement that Abbott was cooperating with the investigation, and his comments were meant to "de-escalate a situation involving an uncooperative passenger."

Register said he's worked hard since becoming chief in June to strengthen the relationship between the department and the community.

"It's sad to think that several seconds of video has the potential of tearing that apart, and I hope that is not the case," he said, later adding, "This badge and this uniform should mean that there's justice and fairness for all."

Register said he's known Abbott for many years and has known him to be an honorable man. The report from the internal review indicates that Abbott was trying to be sarcastic and to address the situation as he perceived it, Register said.

"He made a mistake," Register said. "I don't know what's in his heart but I certainly know what came out of his mouth. It's inexcusable."

Black community leaders applauded Register's quick action.

"Although we applaud them for their transparency in this regard, the officer's interjection of race into the stop was particularly troubling and may be systematic, a deeper issue in the department," said Deane Bonner of the Cobb County chapter of the NAACP.

"Police misconduct is not news," said Ben Williams, chairman of the Cobb County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "The real story here, in my opinion, is the behavior of this police chief in Cobb County, Georgia."

"To be here today and to stand with Chief Register as he pulls the shades up and exposes the sunrise here in Cobb County as that pertains to the conduct of the Cobb County Police Department, that's the news," he added.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Debra Cassens Weiss Aug-31-2017 109 0
The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an emergency order allowing out-of-state lawyers to practice in the state temporarily to provide pro bono assistance to Hurricane Harvey victims.

The order allows out-of-state lawyers in good standing to practice in Texas for six months in two situations, the Texas Bar Blog reports.

First, practice is allowed if the out-of-state lawyer is retained by a legal-aid or pro bono program or a bar association that provides services to victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Second, lawyers licensed in other jurisdictions are allowed to practice in Texas if they are displaced from their home jurisdiction due to Hurricane Harvey and they practice in Texas remotely as if located in their home jurisdiction.

The Texas Supreme Court has also issued two other orders in response to Hurricane Harvey. One allows for changes in deadlines and procedures in courts affected by the disaster. The other suspends statutes of limitation in civil cases if claimants can show disastrous conditions from Harvey prevented timely filing.

Saundra Brown, the manager of the disaster response unit at Lone Star Legal Aid, says the need for legal assistance “is going to be huge,” Law.com (sub. req.) reports. Brown spoke with the ABA Journal about her group’s work.

Many lawyers with Lone Star Legal Aid are working remotely, while many senior managers are working in Texarkana. The group’s headquarters in Houston was damaged on Monday in an apparent explosion and fire.

Lawyers will be needed for disaster appeals with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to help people secure temporary housing, to get money for home repairs, and to deal with insurance claims, Brown told the ABA Journal.

Out-of-state lawyers can help with the FEMA appeals, which are administrative in nature, Brown said. The group’s website is here. Additional help for legal aid and volunteer lawyers responding to disaster is at the National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center.

The ABA Young Lawyers Division is running disaster legal aid hotlines for both Texas and Louisiana. The Texas 800 number is (800) 504-7030, and the Louisiana number is (800) 310-7029. The division’s Harvey relief web page has information on volunteer recruitment.

Andrew VanSingel is director of the YLD’s Disaster Legal Services Program, which has operated in some form since the early 1970s. He tells the ABA Journal in the podcast that he has been bombarded with emails from lawyers across the country who want to help Harvey victims.

Texas lawyers who want to volunteer will be referred to the State Bar of Texas, which has links to lawyer information here. Out-of-state lawyers without practice-area expertise or the time to handle cases may want to consider donating money to groups such as Lone Star Legal Aid, Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid and Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, VanSingel said.
Debra Cassens Weiss Aug-24-2017 197 0
Minority law school enrollment recently topped 30 percent, but law firms are not making substantial progress in hiring and promoting minority lawyers, according to a Law360 survey.

Nearly 85 percent of lawyers at more than 300 firms surveyed are white, “a number that has not meaningfully budged over the past three years,” according to a summary of the findings. The Law360 story on the findings is here (sub. req.).

The survey found that only 15.3 percent of lawyers and 8.8 percent of partners identify as a lawyer of color. Among equity partners, 7.9 percent identified as minorities. At every level, minority representation grew by less than a percentage point over the previous year.

Black lawyers are the least represented at every level. Overall, only 3 percent identified as black, while 3.6 percent identified as Hispanic and 6.8 percent identified as Asian-American.

Though Asian-Americans have the largest representation at law firms, they are the least likely minority to be partners. Twenty percent of Asian-American lawyers are partners compared to 28 percent of black lawyers, 33 percent of Hispanic lawyers, and 48 percent of white lawyers.

In a separate story (sub. req.), Law 360 identified the best firms for minorities, based on their percentage of minority lawyers. Above the Law summarized the findings on the best law firms for minority equity partners.

Among law firms with more than 600 lawyers, the best for minority lawyers are Lewis Brisbois and White & Case (tied for first); Wilson Sonsini; Morrison & Foerster; and Paul Hastings.

For firms with 300 to 599 lawyers, the best are: Fenwick & West and Fragomen Del Rey (tied for first); Finnegan; Debevoise & Plimpton; Fish & Richardson; and Shearman & Sterling.

Among firms with 150 to 299 lawyers, the best are: Atkinson Andelson; Procopio Cory; Curtis Mallet-Prevost; Knobbe Martens; and Shutts & Bowen.

For firms with 20 to 149 lawyers, the best are: Bookoff McAndrews; Berry Appleman; Russ August; Linebarger; and Roig Lawyers.
Maya Chung Aug-22-2017 137 0
Community members are banding together to help a North Carolina man accused of leaving his five children home alone while he went to work.

Victor King, 30, told ABCNews that a kind stranger, who saw his story, bailed him out after he was arrested on Tuesday and he is now back at work.

King was charged with child abuse for allegedly leaving the kids, all under age 8, while he went to work to help pay for his sick wife’s medical bills. 

King reportedly told a judge on Wednesday that his wife was recently diagnosed with stage four cancer and that he had to work to support her and his children. King claims he left them in the care of a neighbor, who then left the children alone. He works at a nearby Chipotle, reports said. 

A woman who called 911 to report that the children were home alone for a second day said she had offered King help finding a babysitter and he refused it, according to the station.

The judge kept King’s bail at $25,000 after a prosecutor reportedly cited a prior conviction for child cruelty in 2011.

Many have still donated to a GoFundMe started for the family started by a local teacher. It has raised more than $7,000.

“We just need to help support this man who is working so hard. As a divorced single parent, it's beyond tough managing home and work,” Rikki Hilliard wrote on the fundraiser. “It takes a village to raise a child. Please let this man know that his efforts are not in vain.”

Hilliard told ABCNews in these contentious times it's uplifting to see people from all walks of life reaching out to a family they don't know.

"After Charlottesville, I was really saddened and I felt really bad about the world and I wanted to create some good. And my heart is definitely warmed by the thought of that many people across the country who've been touched by helping this family out," Hilliard said. 
William Douglas Aug-22-2017 209 0
The Congressional Black Caucus, a formidable bloc of lawmakers with a big say in the fate of President Donald Trump and his legislation, Monday sent him a terse, clear message: We don’t think you understand us at all.

The caucus’ chairman Monday urged cancellation of next month’s highly anticipated meeting between White House officials and leaders of the nation’s historically black colleges. And he plans to have the 49-member caucus meet when Congress returns in two weeks to discuss whether to back Democratic-led efforts to impeach Trump.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., the caucus chairman, said the president’s remarks after the deadly Aug. 12 protest in Charlottesville show he has no commitment to the schools or the African American community.

Richmond said the caucus was outraged by Trump’s assertion of “blame on both sides” for the violent rally dominated by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

“You can make an argument based on pure competency and fitness to serve, and that’s the conversation the caucus will have,” Richmond told reporters in a conference call Monday. The caucus includes 46 House Democrats, Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Republican Rep. Mia Love of Utah.

“Am I concerned about high crimes and misdemeanors?” Richmond asked. “Absolutely. Am I concerned about this president’s fitness to serve? Absolutely.”

Republicans control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats, and 240 of the House’s 435 seats, and there’s been no GOP talk of impeachment.

Trump has received heavy criticism both inside and outside of government for not forcefully condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the immediate aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville.

He disbanded two business advisory panels after several of its members, CEOs of top American companies, quit the panels resigned because of Trump’s response to the Charlottesville protest.
Richmond said what does not need to wait for a group discussion is Trump scrap a National HBCU Week Conference that administration officials planned for Sept. 17 to 19 in Washington.

The event is scheduled as a follow-up of sorts to Trump’s HBCU Initiative, a plan he announced with great fanfare in February.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump signed an executive order for the initiative with more than six dozen black college presidents surrounding him. Its chief aim was to move responsibilities for HBCUs out of the Department of Education and into the White House with an executive director in charge.

Six months later, most of the HBCU portfolio remains in the Education Department and an executive director has not been named.

“Not only do I think it should be postponed, it shouldn’t have been happening in the first place,” Richmond said. “This White House isn’t serious about improving our HBCUs. They brought all those HBCU presidents to town, they took a picture in the Oval Office, and then they did nothing.”

Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., was the first lawmaker to call for next month’s meeting to be postponed.
She said last week that because of Trump’s handling of the events in Charlottesville and “zero progress on any of (the HBCUs’) priorities, it would be highly unproductive to ask HBCU presidents to come back to Washington.”

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund, an HBCU advocacy group that has been supportive of Trump’s outreach toward the schools, agreed.

“There is pretty strong consensus that the White House should consider postponing” next month’s meeting, Marshall College Fund President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., wrote in a letter Friday to Omarosa Manigault-Newman, director for communications for the White House’s Office of Public Liaison.

Taylor said the ability of HBCU leaders to engage with representatives from federal agencies could be “overshadowed” by “concerns related to recent national events, ultimately making the conference counterproductive.”

Richmond criticized Manigault-Newman, questioning the value of dealing with the former reality television show celebrity who has served as Trump’s liaison to the African-American community since the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Omarosa is still pretending to have influence with this president,” he said. “I’m just surprised that she’s there as an African-American woman after his latest comments.”

Richmond’s comment reflects the terse relationship between the CBC and Trump. The caucus met with Trump in March. Afterward, Richmond said the CBC and the president shared similar goals but strongly disagreed on “the route to get there.”

The caucus rejected an invitation by Manigault-Newman for a follow-up meeting with Trump in June because “we have seen no evidence that your administration acted on our calls for action, and we have in fact witnessed steps that will affirmatively hurt black communities,” Richmond wrote in a letter.

At least three CBC members, Reps. Al Green, D-Texas., Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Gwen Moore, D-Wis., have called for Trump’s impeachment.

Green said in June that Trump obstructed justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating alleged Russian meddling in last year’s election. Moore last week cited Trump’s response to Charlottesville as proof he’s unfit for the Oval Office.

“For the sake of the soul of our country,” we must come together to restore our national dignity that has been robbed by Donald Trump’s presence in the White House,” she said last week. “My Republican friends, I implore you to work with us within our capacity as elected officials to remove this man as our commander-in-chief and help us move forward from this dark period in our nation’s history.”
Dee Thompson Aug-17-2017 274 0
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals at Dallas ruled that Erykah Badu’s comments on social media about former manager Paul Levatino were protected free speech, however the case is going back to the trial court for further rulings.

Paul Levatino worked for Erykah Badu (real name Erica Wright) for 8 years as the general manager of her business interests. His duties included merchandising, concert and event management, and marketing. He was paid through her company Apple Tree Cafe Touring.

On May 27, 2014, Badu terminated the employment of Levatino. She said on May 29, 2014, on social media that Levatino was never her manager and she had never had a manager, according to the court's opinion. She also alleged he had shut down her Facebook fan page.

In October 2014, Badu received a letter from Levatino’s lawyer Joseph H. Gillespie of Gillespie Sanford LLP stating she had defamed Levatino, and asking for a public retraction and compensation. 

On Oct. 31, 2014, Badu filed a petition seeking a declaratory judgment, saying that Levatino had never been her talent manager and was not owed any compensation. Badu next filed an amendment to the petition alleging fraud, conversion and theft by deception.

In response to the petition, Levatino filed a counterclaim “...asserting Badu’s Facebook and Twitter posts were defamatory and have caused Levatino to suffer actual damages in the form of lost compensation and earning capacity, and non-pecuniary damages.” Additionally, “Levatino asserts Apple Tree is liable for the statements and omissions made by Badu,” according to the court of appeals' Aug. 3 order.

Levatino moved for dismissal of Badu’s claims under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) and asserted that his pre-suit demand letters were protected activity under the TCPA. 
To be considered an exercise of the right of association under the TCPA, communication must happen “between individuals who join together to collectively express, promote, pursue or defend common interests,” according to the court's opinion.

In his petition, Levantino claimed “Attorney-client communications that culminate in a demand letter to opposing counsel expressing the common interests of the attorney and client are protected under the right of association and it was error to hold otherwise.” 

His petition also stated, “The court of appeals decision also contravenes the broadly written and liberally construed purpose of the act because instead of limiting frivolous anti-SLAPP suits, it instead incentivizes such suits by protecting parties that rush to the courthouse to file strategic retaliatory suits in response to pre-suit demand letters.”

The trial court, appellate court and Texas Supreme Court all denied his petition for review.
In its Aug. 3, ruling, the Court of Appeals Fifth District of Texas ruled that the issue of attorney’s fees was remanded back to the trial court to decide. It also ruled that Badu’s comments on social media were exercises of her right of association. 

Additionally, the Court of Appeals 5th District of Texas ruled that because Badu’s comments on social media were damaging to his reputation, and it was commonly known in the music industry that he was her manager, that Levatino presented a prima facie case of defamation. According to the Wex Legal Dictionary, a "prima facie case is a cause of action or defense that is sufficiently established by a party's evidence to justify a verdict in his or her favor, provided such evidence is not rebutted by the other party."

The Court of Appeals Fifth District of Texas concluded that “We reverse, in part, that portion of the trial court’s order awarding Levatino attorney’s fees and cost, and remand the attorney’s fees and cost issue to the trial court to determine whether appellants’ motion was frivolous or solely intended to delay. We otherwise affirm the trial court’s order.”
Thomas Tracy Aug-13-2017 150 0
A deranged Long Island man, left on the street since his mom evicted him, returned home Saturday to execute her, his sister and a third woman in a hammer-swinging bloodbath.

Bobby Vanderhall, 34, was sleeping peacefully inside a parked car when he was arrested about 2 miles away from the Hempstead home where police say he carved a late-night trail of terror.

The hulking Long Island man bashed all three women to death with a framing hammer, wreaking havoc in the suburban two-story home where he lived until Lynn Vanderhall gave her only son the boot.

“He came to kill mom and the sister . . . because his mother had kicked him out,” said Stephen Fitzpatrick, head of the Nassau County Police Homicide Bureau.

The third victim, identified as a friend of his sister, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time — as was a fourth woman who escaped after watching the 6-foot, 234-pound Vanderhall smash his sister Melissa in the head with the oversized hammer.

In addition to Lynn Vanderhall, 59, and daughter Melissa, 29, police identified the other victim as Janel Simpson, 29. Janel and Melissa were best friends since childhood.
Relatives of the dead wept and howled in anguish outside the home at 125 Perry St., where bloody handprints were visible from outside.

“That’s the most beautiful memory of my daughter — her smile, her laugh,” said distraught mom Wendy Simpson. “I’m not saying it should be anybody else’s child. But why me?”

According to police, the slain mother had an order of protection against her mentally-troubled son — who now faces three counts of murder and one of attempted murder.

The order did not bar him from the home, only from harassing his mom.

Neighbor Earl Sykes, 38, was driving home from the movies around 1:20 a.m. when the surviving victim sprinted between cars, barefoot and screaming, to jump on the hood of his vehicle.

“She was covered in blood,” said Sykes, who called 911. “She kept saying, ‘He’s trying to kill us! He’s trying to kill us!’

“She kept saying his whole name. She kept saying over and over again, “Help me please.’ When the officer asked, ‘Did he take his medication?’ she was saying, ‘He was supposed to.’”

The surviving woman, identified as Candace Murray, was in stable condition at a Long Island hospital with a fractured wrist and contusions.

The killing spree started shortly after Bobby returned to the house in the middle of the night, only to find he was locked out.

“The doors were secured and he became enraged,” said Fitzpatrick. “He went to the garage, he obtained a large hammer. . . . With this hammer, he broke through the basement door.”

Once upstairs, he fatally bludgeoned his mother in the living room before heading toward the second floor. He was climbing the stairs when his sister and Murray appeared, rushing down to help Melissa’s mom, police said.

Bobby began bashing his sister as Murray fled for her life. Janel Simpson was by herself in another room, where Bobby Vanderhall killed her last, cops said.

Lynn Vanderhall threw her son out of the house at some point after a March 2017 incident where he was accused of slapping and physically harassing her, police said.

“His behavior became more unruly, more violent,” said Fitzpatrick. “His mother had enough.”

He was twice hospitalized for emotional issues, and had a rap sheet that included a 2003 DWI arrest and 2015 bust for forcibly touching a woman.

Aug-12-2017 456 0
The death of a federal prosecutor whose body was found on Hollywood Beach in May has been ruled a suicide, the Hollywood Police Department said Thursday.

James Beranton Whisenant Jr., a prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to detectives and the medical examiner’s office. The body of the 37-year-old man was discovered on the edge of the water near Magnolia Terrace on May 24, 2017.

"The U.S. Attorney's Office family is deeply saddened by his death. He was a wonderful lawyer and great colleague," the office said in a statement after his death. "We will miss him deeply. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family."

Whisenant's LinkedIn profile said he has been an assistant U.S. attorney since January 2017. He received his law degree from the University of Florida in 2004 and had been a partner at Foley & Mansfield, PLLP, before joining the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Whisenant was also an adjunct instructor at the University of Miami Paralegal Program.

AP Aug-12-2017 444 0
The parents of Kendrick Johnson have been ordered to pay $300,000 in legal fees for the people they accused of killing their son and covering up his death.

The ruling by Lowndes County Superior Court Judge Richard Porter is related to a 2015 wrongful death lawsuit filed by Johnson’s parents against brothers Brian and Branden Bell, who they say murdered their son.

–Kendrick Johnson surveillance video raises questions about whether teen was alone–

Johnson was found dead rolled up in a gym mat in June of 2013, and while investigators concluded that he had died from asphyxiation while reaching for a pair of sneakers, Kenneth and Jackie Johnson insisted that it was no accident.

They claimed that Brian and Branden’s father, FBI agent Rick Bell, along with a school superintendent and former sheriff, had rolled Johnson’s body in the mat and enlisted the superintendent’s daughters to “discover” the body.

“Judge Porter has now put those false accusations to rest and determined that the Johnsons’ and their lawyer’s accusations were substantially frivolous, groundless and vexatious,” said attorney Jim Elliott, who represents former Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine. “All of those who have been falsely accused have been vindicated. Truth prevails. Justice has been done.”

In addition to the Johnsons, their attorney, Chevene King, was also ordered to reimburse the almost two dozen defendants from that initial lawsuit.

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