TIME Crime

Baltimore Sees the Highest Number of Homicides in 43 Years

Baltimore Homicide Spike
Patrick Semansky—AP In this July 30, 2015 picture, a member of the Baltimore Police Department removes crime scene tape from a corner where a victim of a shooting was discovered in Baltimore.

The city reported 45 homicides in July

(BALTIMORE) — Baltimore reached a grim milestone on Friday, three months after riots erupted in response to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody: With 45 homicides in July, the city has seen more bloodshed in a single month than it has in 43 years.

Police reported three deaths — two men shot Thursday and one on Friday. The men died at local hospitals.

With their deaths, this year’s homicides reached 189, far outpacing the 119 killings by July’s end in 2014. Nonfatal shootings have soared to 366, compared to 200 by the same date last year. July’s total was the worst since the city recorded 45 killings in August 1972, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The seemingly Sisyphean task of containing the city’s violence prompted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to fire her police commissioner, Anthony Batts, on July 8.

“Too many continue to die on our streets,” Rawlings-Blake said then. “Families are tired of dealing with this pain, and so am I. Recent events have placed an intense focus on our police leadership, distracting many from what needs to be our main focus: the fight against crime.”

But the killings have not abated under Interim Commissioner Kevin Davis since then.

Baltimore is not unique in its suffering; crimes are spiking in big cities around the country.

But while the city’s police are closing cases— Davis announced arrests in three recent murders several days ago — the violence is outpacing their efforts. Davis said Tuesday the “clearance rate” is at 36.6 percent, far lower than the department’s mid-40s average.

Crime experts and residents of Baltimore’s most dangerous neighborhoods cite a confluence of factors: mistrust of the police; generalized anger and hopelessness over a lack of opportunities for young black men; and competition among dealers of illegal drugs, bolstered by the looting of prescription pills from pharmacies during the riot.

Federal drug enforcement agents said gangs targeted 32 pharmacies in the city, taking roughly 300,000 doses of opiates, as the riots caused $9 million in property damage in the city.

Perched on a friend’s stoop, Sherry Moore, 55, said she knew “mostly all” of the young men killed recently in West Baltimore, including an 18-year-old fatally shot a half-block away. Moore said many more pills are on the street since the riot, making people wilder than usual.

“The ones doing the violence, the shootings, they’re eating Percocet like candy and they’re not thinking about consequences. They have no discipline, they have no respect — they think this is a game. How many can I put down on the East side? How many can I put down on the West side?”

The tally of 42 homicides in May included Gray, who died in April after his neck was broken in police custody. The July tally likewise includes a previous death — a baby whose death in June was ruled a homicide in July.

Shawn Ellerman, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Baltimore division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said May’s homicide spike was probably related to the stolen prescription drugs, a supply that is likely exhausted by now. But the drug trade is inherently violent, and turf wars tend to prompt retaliatory killings.

“You can’t attribute every murder to narcotics, but I would think a good number” of them are, he said. “You could say it’s retaliation from drug trafficking, it’s retaliation from gangs moving in from other territories. But there have been drug markets in Baltimore for years.”

Across West Baltimore, residents complain that drug addiction and crime are part of a cycle that begins with despair among children who lack educational and recreational opportunities, and extends when people can’t find work.

“We need jobs! We need jobs!” a man riding around on a bicycle shouted to anyone who’d listen after four people were shot, three of them fatally, on a street corner in July.

More community engagement, progressive policing policies and opportunities for young people in poverty could help, community activist Munir Bahar said.

“People are focusing on enforcement, not preventing violence. Police enforce a code, a law. Our job as the community is to prevent the violence, and we’ve failed,” said Bahar, who leads the annual 300 Men March against violence in West Baltimore.

“We need anti-violence organizations, we need mentorship programs, we need a long-term solution. But we also need immediate relief,” Bahar added. “When we’re in something so deep, we have to stop it before you can analyze what the root is.”

Strained relationships between police and the public also play a role, according to Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Arrests plummeted and violence soared after six officers were indicted in Gray’s death. Residents accused police of abandoning their posts for fear of facing criminal charges for making arrests, and said emboldened criminals were settling scores with little risk of being caught.

The department denied these claims, and police cars have been evident patrolling West Baltimore’s central thoroughfares recently.

But O’Donnell said the perception of lawlessness is just as powerful than the reality.

“We have a national issue where the police feel they are the Public Enemy No. 1,” he said, making some officers stand down and criminals become more brazen.

“There’s a rhythm to the streets,” he added. “And when people get away with gun violence, it has a long-term emboldening effect. And the good people in the neighborhood think, ‘Who has the upper hand?'”

TIME Crime

No Charges Against University of Cincinnati Cops Who Were at Scene of Fatal Shooting

Phillip Kidd and David Lindenschmidt were at the scene just after the shooting

(CINCINNATI)—Two University of Cincinnati police officers who were at the scene just after a fellow officer fatally shot a driver are not being charged, a prosecutor said Friday.

The Hamilton County grand jury did not return indictments against Phillip Kidd and David Lindenschmidt. The announcement that they wouldn’t be charged came a day after former Officer Ray Tensing pleaded not guilty to murder and voluntary manslaughter in the July 19 shooting of Samuel DuBose.

Kidd and Lindenschmidt were put on administrative leave this week during a university investigation. The officers haven’t responded to messages left at the school’s police department and at a possible home number for Lindenschmidt. No home number could be found for Kidd.

A police report and body camera video from the two officers showed they were on the scene just after the shooting. Footage showed Tensing getting up from the ground after DuBose had been shot.

Tensing’s attorney has said Tensing fired at DuBose because he thought he was going to be dragged under the motorist’s car.

Kidd can be heard on body camera video saying “yes” to another officer’s question on whether he saw Tensing dragged. Prosecutors have said Tensing was not dragged and Tensing’s own body camera video doesn’t show any dragging.

County Prosecutor Joe Deters says Kidd and Lindenschmidt arrived as Tensing reached into DuBose’s car. Their official statements about what happened matched what was shown on Tensing’s body camera, and neither officer said in official interviews that he saw Tensing being dragged, according to Deters.

Both officers made comments at the scene but later were interviewed in depth by Cincinnati police about what they had witnessed, according to Deters.

“These officers have been truthful and honest about what happened and no charges are warranted,” Deters said.

DuBose’s family had asked prosecutors to investigate the other officers. The family’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, said in email Friday that they are “still concerned with the initial rendition of facts given by the officers,” but he said the family respects the grand jury’s decision.

Also Friday, the county coroner released preliminary autopsy findings showing that DuBose died of a single gunshot wound to the head.

Meanwhile, Tensing is trying to get his job back. He was fired shortly after his indictment Wednesday and released on bail Thursday.

The executive director of the FOP Ohio Labor Council, a division of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, said Friday that the union filed a grievance on Tensing’s behalf Wednesday to try to get him reinstated. The union said the university violated Tensing’s employment contract by not giving him a pre-disciplinary conference and a copy of the formal charges, executive director Catherine Brockman said.

University spokeswoman Michele Ralston said it stands by its decision to terminate Tensing.

TIME Education

Venomous Spiders Shut Down a Pennsylvania School

Recluse spider or Brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa), Sicariidae.
Rebecca Hardy—De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images Recluse spider or Brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa), Sicariidae.

Brown recluse spiders were found in the school for the third time

(MERCERSBURG, Pa.)—A Pennsylvania school district has closed one of its elementary schools due to an infestation of venomous spiders.

WHTM-TV reports this is the third time brown recluse spiders were found at Montgomery Elementary School in Mercersburg.

The Tuscarora School District made the decision to close the school Tuesday after officials met with the district’s pest control management company. The company found five to six spiders in the school’s library in mid-July. They were also found last year at different times in the lunchroom kitchen and the boiler room.

Superintendent Dr. Charles Prijatelj says crews are spraying pesticides outside the school and the district plans to fog the entire building. Staff have already sealed cracks in the school’s walls

Steve Miller, of Home Paramount Pest Control, says the spider bites are usually painless but it produces an ulcer. The spider is not native to the region.

TIME Crime

Church Shooting Suspect Pleads Not Guilty

Dylan Roof Charleston Shooting
Charleston County Sheriff's Office/Getty Images Dylann Storm Roof after he was apprehended as the main suspect in the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that killed nine people on June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina.

Dylann Roof wants to plead guilty, but his lawyer is waiting to see if prosecutors will seek the death penalty

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The white man accused of gunning down nine parishioners at a black church in Charleston wants to plead guilty to 33 federal charges, but his lawyer said in court Friday that he wouldn’t do so until prosecutors say whether they’ll seek the death penalty.

During a brief arraignment in federal court, defense attorney David Bruck said that he couldn’t advise his client, Dylann Roof, to enter a guilty plea without knowing the government’s intentions.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant then entered a not guilty plea for Roof, 21, who faces federal charges including hate crimes, weapons charges and obstructing the practice of religion. Appearing in court in a gray striped prison jumpsuit, his hands in shackles, Roof answered yes several times in response to the judge’s questions but otherwise didn’t speak.

Marchant also heard briefly from family members of victims of the June 17 attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston. Several church representatives also spoke.

Roof also faces numerous state charges, including nine counts of murder. Prosecutors in that case also have not said whether they’ll seek the death penalty.

No future hearings are scheduled in Roof’s case, although the judge did tell attorneys they have several weeks to file pre-trial motions.

TIME States

Coast Guard to Suspend Search at Sunset for Missing Florida Teens

Petty Officer 1st Class Mike Crosby (R) scans the surface of the Atlantic Ocean while searching for Florida teens Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos on July 28, 2015.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Sarah B. Foster—U.S. Coast Guard via AP Petty Officer 1st Class Mike Crosby (R) scans the surface of the Atlantic Ocean while searching for Florida teens Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos on July 28, 2015.

The teens' families will continue a private search

(MIAMI) — The Coast Guard says it’s suspending its search at sunset for two teenage fishermen who’ve been missing for a week.

Capt. Mark Fedor says the search continues in the meantime and has been a ‘true all hands on deck effort’.

The 14-year-old boys, Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, went missing last Friday and their capsized boat was found Sunday. The Coast Guard has searched waters from South Florida up through South Carolina without success.

The boys’ families say they plan to continue a private search even after the Coast Guard’s efforts end.

The boys are described as consummate seamen who grew up on the water and spent much of their free time boating and fishing.

___

A Florida congressman who represents the community where two teenage fishermen went missing at sea is urging the U.S. Coast Guard to keep searching Friday.

Rep. Patrick E. Murphy issued a statement with a simple plea: “Keep looking.”

Fourteen-year-olds Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos of Tequesta have been missing since they set out on a fishing trip a week ago. Their capsized boat was found Sunday.

The Coast Guard has said it will keep searching until it believes there’s no reasonable chance the boys could still be found alive. The agency has scheduled a noon news conference on the search.

Murphy, a Democrat, said noted that the water temperatures are warm and the two teens “know the water well.”

TIME United Kingdom

U.K. Government Grants Ai Weiwei 6-Month Visa

GERMANY- CHINA-RIGHTS-ART-AI
Christof Stache–AFP/Getty Images Chinese artist Ai Weiwei leaves the Franz-Josef-Strauss airport in Munich, southern Germany, after his arrival from China on July 30, 2015.

The British government reportedly apologized to Ai in writing "for the inconvenience caused"

(LONDON) — Britain says it is granting dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei a six-month visa, apologizing for rejecting his application over an alleged criminal conviction.

On Thursday Ai disclosed that the British embassy in Beijing had turned down his request for a business visa, saying he had failed to disclose a criminal conviction. It gave him a visit for 20 days instead.

Ai was jailed for almost three months in 2011 amid a crackdown on dissent. His company was later accused of tax evasion and ordered to pay $2.4 million. Ai’s lawyer said that was not a criminal case.

Britain’s Home Office said Friday that Home Secretary Theresa May had told officials to grant the six-month visa. It said it had written to Ai “apologizing for the inconvenience caused.”

TIME justice

Report Says St. Louis Court Treats Blacks Unfairly

gavel-sounder
Getty Images

Ferguson, where the fatal shooting of Michael Brown took place last year, is a St. Louis County town

ST. LOUIS — The U.S. Department of Justice has released a report critical of the St. Louis County Family Court, alleging that black youths are treated more harshly than whites, and juveniles are often deprived of constitutional rights.

The investigation was initiated in 2013, addressing issues that drew increased scrutiny last year after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black, by a white police officer in Ferguson, a St. Louis County town. The new report was issued just over a week before the anniversary of Brown’s death, Aug. 9.

Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta calls the findings “serious and compelling.”

The report says the Justice Department could pursue litigation but will seek mutual agreement to resolve violations. Messages seeking comment from St. Louis County officials were not immediately returned.

TIME District of Columbia

Vehicle Hits Barricade Near U.S. Capitol

US Capitol Barricade Struck
Alan Fram—AP A car is is moved after crashing into a barrier on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 31, 2015.

The incident is currently under investigation

(WASHINGTON) — Police say a person is in custody after a vehicle struck a barricade near the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. Capitol Police said in a statement Friday morning that they’re investigating after a vehicle hit the south barricade at the entrance to the Capitol grounds. Police say the vehicle has been cleared of hazards.

Police say the driver, the only person in the vehicle, was taken into custody and is being processed at headquarters.

Police say the D.C. Fire Department responded to the scene and some streets in the area are closed temporarily.

Photos tweeted by people in the area show a maroon sedan with a crumpled hood that had apparently crashed head-on into the barricade.

TIME Military

U.S. Intelligence: ISIS is No Weaker Than a Year Ago

ISIS Airstrike Kobani
Halil Fidan—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Smoke rises from the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following the US-led coalition airstrikes against ISIS targets on Jan. 16, 2015.

Despite the bombings, the group has expanded to other countries

WASHINGTON — After billions of dollars spent and more than 10,000 extremist fighters killed, the Islamic State group is fundamentally no weaker than it was when the U.S.-led bombing campaign began a year ago, American intelligence agencies have concluded.

The military campaign has prevented Iraq’s collapse and put the Islamic State under increasing pressure in northern Syria, particularly squeezing its self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa. But intelligence analysts see the overall situation as a strategic stalemate: The Islamic State remains a well-funded extremist army able to replenish its ranks with foreign jihadis as quickly as the U.S. can eliminate them. Meanwhile, the group has expanded to other countries, including Libya, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Afghanistan.

The assessments by the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and others appear to contradict the optimistic line taken by the Obama administration’s special envoy, retired Gen. John Allen, who told a forum in Aspen, Colorado, last week that “ISIS is losing” in Iraq and Syria. The intelligence was described by officials who would not be named because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

“We’ve seen no meaningful degradation in their numbers,” a defense official said, citing intelligence estimates that put the group’s total strength at between 20,000 and 30,000, the same estimate as last August when the airstrikes began.

The Islamic State’s staying power also raises questions about the administration’s approach to the threat that the group poses to the U.S. and its allies. Although officials do not believe it is planning complex attacks on the West from its territory, the group’s call to Western Muslims to kill at home has become a serious problem, FBI Director James Comey and other officials say.

Yet under the Obama administration’s campaign of bombing and training, which prohibits American troops from accompanying fighters into combat or directing air strikes from the ground, it could take a decade to drive the Islamic State from its safe havens, analysts say. The administration is adamant that it will commit no U.S. ground troops to the fight despite calls from some in Congress to do so.

The U.S.-led coalition and its Syrian and Kurdish allies on the ground have made some inroads. The Islamic State has lost 9.4 percent of its territory in the first six months of 2015, according to an analysis by the conflict monitoring group IHS. And the military campaign has arrested the sense of momentum and inevitability created by the group’s stunning advances last year, leaving the combination of Sunni religious extremists and former Saddam Hussein loyalists unable to grow its forces or continue its surge.

“In Raqqa, they are being slowly strangled,” said an activist who fled Raqqa earlier this year and spoke on condition of anonymity to protect relatives and friends who remain there. “There is no longer a feeling that Raqqa is a safe haven for the group.”

A Delta Force raid in Syria that killed Islamic State financier Abu Sayyaf in May also has resulted in a well of intelligence about the group’s structure and finances, U.S. officials say. His wife, held in Iraq, has been cooperating with interrogators.

Syrian Kurdish fighters and their allies have wrested most of the northern Syria border from the Islamic State group. In June, the U.S.-backed alliance captured the border town of Tal Abyad, which for more than a year had been the militants’ most vital direct supply route from Turkey. The Kurds also took the town of Ein Issa, a hub for IS movements and supply lines only 35 miles north of Raqqa.

As a result, the militants have had to take a more circuitous smuggling path through a stretch of about 60 miles they still control along the Turkish border. A plan announced this week for a U.S.-Turkish “safe zone” envisages driving the Islamic State group out of those areas as well, using Syrian rebels backed by airstrikes.

In Raqqa, U.S. coalition bombs pound the group’s positions and target its leaders with increasing regularity. The militants’ movements have been hampered by strikes against bridges, and some fighters are sending their families away to safer ground.

In early July, a wave of strikes in 24 hours destroyed 18 overpasses and a number of roads used by the group in and around Raqqa.

Reflecting IS unease, the group has taken exceptional measures against residents of Raqqa the past two weeks, activists say. It has moved to shut down private Internet access for residents, arrested suspected spies and set up security cameras in the streets. Patrols by its “morals police” have decreased because fighters are needed on the front lines, the activists say.

But American intelligence officials and other experts say that in the big picture, the Islamic State is hanging tough.

“The pressure on Raqqa is significant, and it’s an important thing to watch, but looking at the overall picture, ISIS is mostly in the same place,” said Harleen Gambhir, a counterterrorism analyst at Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank. “Overall ISIS still retains the ability to plan and execute phased conventional military campaigns and terrorist attacks.”

In Iraq, the Islamic State’s seizure of the strategically important provincial capital of Ramadi has so far stood. Although U.S. officials have said it is crucial that the government in Baghdad win back disaffected Sunnis, there is little sign of that happening. American-led efforts to train Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State have produced a grand total of 60 vetted fighters.

The group has adjusted its tactics to thwart a U.S. bombing campaign that tries to avoid civilian casualties, officials say. Fighters no longer move around in easily targeted armored columns; they embed themselves among women and children, and they communicate through couriers to thwart eavesdropping and geolocation, the defense official said.

Oil continues to be a major revenue source. By one estimate, the Islamic State is clearing $500 million per year from oil sales, said Daniel Glaser, assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department. That’s on top of as much as $1 billion in cash the group seized from banks in its territory.

Although the U.S. has been bombing oil infrastructure, the militants have been adept at rebuilding oil refining, drilling and trading capacity, the defense official said.

“ISIL has plenty of money,” Glaser said last week, more than enough to meet a payroll he estimated at a high of $360 million a year.

Glaser said the U.S. was gradually squeezing the group’s finances through sanctions, military strikes and other means, but he acknowledged it would take time.

Ahmad al-Ahmad, a Syrian journalist in Hama province who heads an opposition media outfit called Syrian Press Center, said he did not expect recent setbacks to seriously alter the group’s fortunes.

“IS moves with a very intelligent strategy which its fighters call the lizard strategy,” he said. “They emerge in one place, then they disappear and pop up in another place.”

TIME ebola

Experimental Ebola Vaccine Could Stop Virus in West Africa

It has been called "a game-changer"

LONDON (AP) — An experimental Ebola vaccine tested on thousands of people in Guinea seems to work and might help shut down the waning epidemic in West Africa, according to interim results from a study published Friday.

There is currently no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola, which has so far killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa since the world’s biggest outbreak began in the forest region of Guinea last year. Cases have dropped dramatically in recent months in the other two hard-hit countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“If proven effective, this is going to be a game-changer,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, which sponsored the study. “It will change the management of the current outbreak and future outbreaks.”

Scientists have struggled for years to develop Ebola treatments and vaccines but have faced numerous hurdles, including the sporadic nature of outbreaks and funding shortages. Many past attempts have failed, including a recently abandoned drug being tested in West Africa by Tekmira Pharmaceuticals.

For the study, researchers gave one dose of the new vaccine to more than 4,000 health care workers and other people within 10 days of their close contact with a sick Ebola patient. Another group of 3,500 people got the shot more than 10 days after their exposure to the infectious virus. In the group that received the vaccine immediately, there were no Ebola cases versus 16 cases in people who got delayed vaccination.

The vaccine, developed by the Canadian government, has since been licensed to Merck & Co. but has not yet been approved by regulators. The study results were published online Friday in the journal Lancet.

At the moment, officials think the vaccine would only be used once an outbreak starts, to protect those at high-risk; there are no plans to introduce mass vaccination campaigns like those for measles or polio or to create huge stockpiles of the shots.

Merck, based in Kenilworth, New Jersey, noted its vaccine is in what is normally the final round of human testing in Sierra Leone, and in mid-stage testing in Liberia.

Merck will manufacture the vaccine if it’s approved for use outside patient studies. In late-morning trading in the U.S., Merck shares were up 62 cents, or 1.1 percent, at $59.13.

Last December, Gavi, the vaccine alliance, said it would spend up to $300 million buying approved Ebola vaccines. The private-public partnership, which often buys immunizations for poor countries, said Friday that it “stands ready to support the implementation of a WHO-recommended Ebola vaccine.”

An expert group monitoring the study’s data and safety recommended the trial be stopped on July 26 so that everyone exposed to Ebola in Guinea could be immunized.

The vaccine uses an Ebola protein to prompt the body’s immune system to attack the virus.

“It looks to be about as safe as a flu vaccine,” said Ben Neuman, a virologist at the University of Reading who was not part of the trial. Researchers are still assessing possible side effects; the most serious seemed to be fever and the stress experienced by patients who believe such symptoms were due to Ebola.

“This (vaccine) could be the key that we’ve been missing to end the outbreak,” Neuman said. “I don’t see any reason on humanitarian grounds why it should not be used immediately.” He said further tests would be necessary to see if the vaccine might also protect pregnant women, children and adolescents; those trials are already under way. It’s also uncertain how long protection might last.

WHO vaccines expert Marie-Paule Kieny said having an effective vaccine might avert future disasters but added it would still take months to get the shot approved by regulators.

“Using a tool like this vaccine, we would be able to stop the epidemic from going really wild and spreading further,” she told reporters, noting that stamping out future outbreaks still depends on early detection. WHO first identified Ebola in Guinea last March but did not declare the epidemic to be a global emergency until August, when the virus had killed nearly 1,000 people.

Other Ebola vaccines are being studied elsewhere but the declining caseload is complicating efforts to finish the trials.

___

AP Business Writer Linda A. Johnson in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.

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