TIME Crime

Florida Man Gets Life in Prison for Killing Teen Over Loud Music

Defendant Michael Dunn walks back into the courtroom after a short afternoon break during his trial in the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, Fla. on Sept. 27, 2014.
Defendant Michael Dunn walks back into the courtroom after a short afternoon break during his trial in the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, Fla. on Sept. 27, 2014. Bob Mack—AP

He shot at unarmed black teens 10 times

A Florida man has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the killing of an unarmed Florida teen after an altercation over the teen’s loud music, the Associated Press reports.

Michael Dunn, 47, was convicted of first-degree murder after a September trial. Earlier this year, a jury in February couldn’t agree on whether to accept Dunn’s claim that he acted in self defense when he fired his gun 10 times at a vehicle carrying 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed in the altercation. The jury in February did convict Dunn on three accounts of attempted murder, one for each of the passengers riding in the vehicle with Davis.

The racially-tinged case — Dunn is White and Davis was black — has drawn comparison to the shooting of other unarmed black teens like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

In practical terms, Friday’s decision changes little for Duncan, who already faced a 60-year conviction for the attempted murder convictions. The prosecution did not seek the death penalty.

[AP]

TIME justice

Suspicious Prison Deaths Put a Spotlight on Florida

Latandra Ellington Florida Department of Corrections

Several deaths while in prison custody are under investigation

On Oct. 1, Latandra Ellington was found dead inside the Lowell Correction Institution in Ocala, Fla., apparently from repeated blows to her stomach. About a week and a half before, the 36-year-old inmate had written a letter to her aunt, saying she was concerned for her safety in prison and claimed that an officer named “Sgt. Q” was threatening to kill her.

According to attorneys representing Ellington’s family, an independent autopsy shows blunt force trauma and hemorrhaging to her body from what appeared to be punches or kicks. The attorneys, along with several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International, are calling for a federal investigation into her death.

The Ellington case is one of several suspicious deaths in state prisons that have made headlines in Florida, including a deadly incident in 2010 involving Randall Jordan-Aparo, who reportedly died while being gassed in his cell, and Darren Rainey, who died in 2012 after being forced to take a scalding hot shower that caused his skin to separate from his body.

Ellington’s death is the third fatality in custody at Lowell this year. Two others at the prison are under review by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

While the inmate mortality rate in Florida and across the country has remained relatively steady over the last decade, Florida outpaces most states in terms of mortality rate per 100,000 inmates, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Florida Department of Corrections. In 2001, 182 prisoners died in Florida compared with 297 in 2011, but the population also grew at a similar rate over that same time period. The mortality rate per 100,000 prisoners slightly increased from 253 in 2001 to 294 in 2011.

Part of that may be due to the rapidly aging prison population in Florida, which mirrors the state’s population generally. From 2001 to 2008, the number of Florida inmates who were 55 and older increased by 161%, says Bill Bales, a criminology professor at Florida State University. And the number of federal and state prisoners in the U.S. who were 55 and older increased 94% in the same time period, according to Pew Research.

Overall and nationwide, the largest share of prisoner deaths—almost 90%—are due to illness. But the share of state prisoner deaths due to homicide—which includes homicide committed by other inmates, prison staff or those resulting from assaults prior to incarceration—have increased from 1.4% in 2001 to 2.1% in 2011 around the country, according to BJS.

This year in Florida, there have been three homicides and one suicide in state prisons. Investigations into 99 other deaths are currently pending.

Dan Mears, a criminal justice professor at the University of Florida, says prisons with increases in suspicious inmate deaths often have problems that start at the top and work their way down. Florida’s Department of Corrections, for example, has gone through four leadership changes in the last five years.

“At the end of the day, when you’re asking why some prisons have higher rates of suicide or higher rates of suspicious deaths and why they increase over time, it’s often because they’re being poorly administered—and oftentimes they’ve hired new officers who aren’t as highly trained,” Mears says. “That could potentially fuel those deaths.”

Mears adds that badly run prisons often have inadequate training for officers and don’t properly teach them how to handle conflicts with inmates, which can often lead to fatal consequences.

In September, the Florida DOC fired dozens of employees, many of whom have been involved in deaths that are currently under investigation, including that of Jordan-Aparo, who was gassed in his cell. Their dismissal letters said they were fired for participating “in a force incident that resulted in the death of an inmate.”

A Lowell prison official, Sgt. Patrick Quercioli, is now being investigated in Ellington’s death, according to the Miami Herald, and has been arrested twice while tallying 22 use-of-force filings while working for the DOC.

“Our department should be held to the highest standards, and I have zero tolerance for anything,” DOC Secretary Michael Crews said in a statement.

As the state reviews the case, attorneys for Ellington’s family, who also represent the family of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen shot and killed by George Zimmerman in February 2012, are calling for the Department of Justice to investigate.

“She was not sentenced to the death sentence,” said civil rights attorney Daryl Parks, according to the Herald. “The Department of Corrections certainly owed her far greater protection.”

TIME Crime

WATCH: Florida Police Officer Tasers Unarmed 62-Year-Old Woman in Back

He has been put on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation

A Florida police officer is under investigation after he was caught on camera firing a Taser into the back of a 62-year-old woman.

Terry Mahan of the Tallahassee Police Department was with colleagues responding to reports of brazen narcotics sales on Tuesday afternoon when the incident occurred.

Three people were arrested at the scene, after which a woman, Viola Young, approached the squad car apparently to inquire about one of the detainees.

She was advised to stay back, according to a police statement Wednesday, and an altercation ensued. At one point Mahan yanked Young’s arm and then fired the Taser as she attempted to walk away.

Tallahassee Police chief Michael DeLeo said that the video was strong enough evidence to put Mahan on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation.

“We will conduct a thorough investigation into this incident,” he said. “We want to be transparent with the community by sharing what we can at this point, including the video.”

Neither Young nor the three others arrested have been charged with any drugs offenses.

TIME Crime

Florida Man Guilty of Murdering Teen in Fight Over Loud Music

Defendant Michael Dunn walks back into the courtroom after a short afternoon break during his trial in the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, Fla. on Sept. 27, 2014.
Defendant Michael Dunn walks back into the courtroom after a short afternoon break during his trial in the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, Fla. on Sept. 27, 2014. Bob Mack—AP

Dunn was already likely to spend the rest of his life in prison after being convicted of attempted murder, but could now be sentenced to life without parole

A Florida man was convicted of first-degree murder Wednesday in the 2012 death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who the man shot and killed following an argument over loud music.

Michael Dunn, 47, had previously been found guilty on four counts in Davis’ murder, including attempted second-degree murder, during his trial this past February. His original jury, however, was unable to come to a decision on the first-degree-murder charge. The Florida jury finally reached a verdict of guilty after several hours of deliberations Wednesday following a retrial.

Dunn, who could now face life in prison, showed no emotion when his verdict was read, according to local news reports.

During his trials, Dunn argued he shot Davis out of self-defense, claiming he saw the teen flash a weapon before opening fire. CNN reports detectives did not find a weapon matching Dunn’s description on Davis’ body or in his car.

[CNN]

TIME politics

This Is the Most Sexist Republican Ad of the Year

The College Republicans National Committee ad aimed at women describes Florida Governor Rick Scott as the perfect wedding dress

Updated October 2, 11:45 a.m. EST

In case there is any debate about whether 1) Republicans really want young women on board for the midterms and 2) they’re confused about how to do it, the College Republican National Committee ad for Rick Scott (produced, ironically, by women) will settle the question once and for all.

The ad features Brittany, a young undecided voter, who appears to be shopping for a wedding dress, but she’s actually shopping for candidates for the Florida Governor’s race, get it? Because women don’t like dirty old politics, women like wedding dresses!

She has her heart set on the “Rick Scott” wedding dress, because “Rick Scott is becoming a trusted brand — he has new ideas that don’t break your budget.” But then, frumpy old mom chimes in with some Democratic drivel and tries to get her to buy an ugly dress with sleeves called “Charlie Crist.” The ugly dress comes with “additional costs” like “$2 billion in taxes, $3.6 billion in debt, and 15% tuition increases” which are represented, of course, by an ugly veil, ugly sash, and ugly necklace. Because veils are easier to understand than debt, obviously.

There’s also an identical ad running in Illinois, to endorse Bruce Rauner for Governor.

And we wonder why women think Republicans don’t get them.

 

TIME Education

What Happens When You Stop Testing and Start Teaching

187480282
Jonathan Kirn—Getty Images

Darlena Cunha is a Florida-based contributor to The Washington Post and TIME among dozens of other publications.

While Florida wasted students' time with computer testing, my kindergarteners weren't learning how to write the alphabet

Last year, as I watched a trial run of an online test my five-year-old was taking, the decades-old earphones slipped down her head. She fumbled at the mouse in front of the computer, then clicked the button and liked the sound it made. So she clicked it again. She skipped a screen by accident. And once you skip a screen, you’re not allowed to go back.

The instructor went over to her and tried to explain that we could not just randomly click our mouse buttons, no matter how fun it was. We had to answer the questions. We had to get through the test.

My kindergartener looked at her blankly. Then came up with an answer she deemed a trump card.

“But it’s so shiny!” she exclaimed. The teacher sighed. She nodded slightly, but was called to help another student before she could re-explain the objective.

The FAIR test (Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading) is given to students grades K-2. It is supposed to take 35 minutes per student, but often takes up to an hour. It is given during class time at the beginning of the year and then twice more throughout the year. Each class has 18 students in it, and this year the teacher is required to sit with each one, devoting that hour to the individual student while another teacher, who has her own class to attend to, wrangles all the other students. This means the total time for test administration is 13 hours for one class plus 13 hours for the other class (as they’ve combined teachers). During that time, little to no actual instruction can take place. The assessment period, therefore, takes the first two weeks of school.

From a parental standpoint, it was a nightmare. Why should my kids miss out on instruction to take a rote test that doesn’t seem to measure anything?

This year, teacher Susan Bowles of Chiles-Lawton Elementary School in Gainesville put her job on the line by refusing to give the test to her students. Parents around the county gave her a metaphorical standing ovation.

“I know I may be in breach of my contract by not administering this test,” she wrote in a Facebook note to parents of her class. “I cannot in good conscience submit to administering this test three times a year, losing six weeks of instruction. There is a good possibility I will be fired.”

Letters of support came pouring in to the Superintendent’s office for Bowles, who had made it clear the issue was not with school officials, but with the government mandates for testing here in Florida.

On Sept. 11 of this year, I received an email from Owen Roberts, Superintendent of Alachua County Schools, in which he stated his support for Bowles, but asked parents to go to their local legislators to enact the change we all wish to see in regard to standardized testing.

“I have met personally with Mrs. Bowles,” he wrote, “and the district has heard from parents praising her as an excellent teacher. I certainly appreciate her concerns regarding FAIR testing. I have said clearly and publicly that I believe there is too much standardized testing here in Florida, and that much of it doesn’t offer a significant educational benefit for children.

“However, Florida law requires that all kindergarten students take the FAIR test during the first 30 days of school. Until the law changes, the district is obligated to administer the test.”

But the problems remain. Bowles stated in her note that the testing requirements have been increasing each year, yet the school budgets have not been given a boost to accommodate the changes. Teachers are expected to give the tests with no support. And things get lost. Important things.

Last weekend, I taught my twins, now in first grade, how to write a “g”. It’s not that they weren’t writing them at all, but because so much teaching time has been lost to testing, the kids are left to their own devices to build the basic blocks of learning, so that the teachers can keep up with the rigorous curriculum. My children, being adaptive and wily, devised their own ways to write the letters of the alphabet without formal instruction (other than what I’d taught them when they were four, the summer before school.) To write a “g”, my kids would draw a straight line down, then draw a little circle on top of the line, then make a tiny curve at the bottom of the line. It seems like no big deal, but when that is multiplied by every letter they have to write for every assignment, it ends up taking at least three times as long. My children were not finishing their work.

My kids work hard. I promise you, Florida, they do. And if we can’t trust our teachers to do their jobs, and to assess our kids given their expertise and experience in the field—if we ask them to give up their vocation to instead administer online tests and teach babies to bubble in the dots so that some machine can spit out a statistic to tell our state if we’re smart enough to get money to get smarter—we are doing a disservice to our children. We are no longer teaching them at all.

The good news is that Bowles’ stand, though a shot in the dark, helped to push an already growing unrest to its boiling point. Instead of losing her job, or having the state push the event under the rug, on Sept. 15 I received this email relaying a message from Florida’s Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart.

“…in light of the technical difficulties schools and teachers here in Alachua County and throughout the state have experienced with the FAIR test, the test will not be required for kindergarten screening within the first 30 days of school for this school year. In fact, FAIR testing will not continue for any students in grades K-2.”

We won. Susan Bowles won. Our students won. If this David-and-Goliath story doesn’t light the hearts of parents and teachers around the nation, and solidify efforts to teach our children, not test them, I don’t know what will. Alachua County has shown that we can make a difference. We just have to try.

Darlena Cunha is a Florida-based contributor to The Washington Post and TIME among dozens of other publications. You can find her on Twitter @parentwin or on her blog at http://parentwin.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Crime

George Zimmerman Threats Investigated by Police

George Zimmerman Appears Before Judge On Recent Aggravated Assault Charges
George Zimmerman, the acquitted shooter in the death of Trayvon Martin, faces a Seminole circuit judge during a first-appearance hearing on charges including aggravated assault stemming from a fight with his girlfriend, Nov. 19, 2013 in Sanford, Florida. Getty Images

Zimmerman allegedly threatened to kill another driver

Florida police are investigating a report that George Zimmerman stalked a Florida man and threatened to kill him this week after a road altercation, according to police reports.

Records suggest that the first exchange occurred Tuesday when Zimmerman, who was cleared of murder charges in the 2013 shooting of Trayvon Martin, pulled alongside a driver in Lake Mary, Fla. and tried to get his attention.

“What’s your problem? Why are you shaking your finger?” Zimmerman reportedly asked the other driver. Eventually, Zimmerman allegedly threatened to shoot and kill the other driver, prompting him to call the police.

The driver claims Zimmerman waited nearby the driver’s work place the following day, leading to another 911 call.

“It seems this guy is just waiting on me,” the other driver told a 911 dispatcher.

Zimmerman has grabbed media attention on several occasions since his trial last year, including several run-ins with the law. Police arrested Zimmerman after a fight with his girlfriend in November, but dropped the assault and battery charges after his girlfriend decided not to pursue the matter. In another instance, he was pulled over for speeding.

During his trial, Zimmerman raised more than $200,000 from the public to mount his legal defense. He has found various ways to continue to raise funds since his acquittal. He sold a painting of an American flag for more than $100,000 on eBay in January, and signed up to fight Rapper DMX in a celebrity boxing match the following month.

TIME Infectious Disease

Potential Ebola Case in Miami Tests Negative for Disease

The CDC says the patient was "low-risk" from the start

A patient being treated in a Miami-area hospital for possible Ebola has tested negative for the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed in a press conference Monday that a low-risk patient was tested for possible Ebola by a Florida state laboratory response network, and the test came back negative. The CDC will also be testing the specimen for a second confirmation.

So far, the only patients with confirmed Ebola to be treated in the United States are three health care workers who were infected with the disease in West Africa and were evacuated back to the U.S. Currently, Dr. Richard A Sacra, a physician working with the aid group SIM USA, is being treated for Ebola in a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. In August, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol survived Ebola while being treated for their disease at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

The CDC says it will disclose further information after it tests the specimen of the Miami patient.

TIME Basketball

Shaquille O’Neal Applies to Join Reserve Police Force in Florida

Shaquille O'Neal
Television personality and former professional basketball player Shaquille O'Neal leaves the Sirius XM Studios in New York City on Aug. 11, 2014. Ray Tamarra—GC Images/Getty Images

Would-be criminals, prepare for the Shaq Attack

Retired NBA star and very tall man-about-town Shaquille O’Neal has applied to be a reserve police officer in Doral, Fla.

O’Neal, who is 7 ft. 1 in., will now have to clear a background check, as well as pass Florida’s officer-certification exam, before joining the department in Doral, about 13 miles west of Miami. The test will assess the three-time All-Star Game MVP’s physical and psychological fitness, city spokeswoman Christina Baguer told the Miami Herald.

The doorframe-filling O’Neal will “have to do everything else to be certified by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, just like any of our other officers, reserve or not reserve,” said Baguer.

The tests are unlikely to pose a problem, even though “Manny Shaq-iaou” once told the New York Times that “I don’t need to work out.”

In fact, the 42-year-old — who has played for the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers, among others — has passed the exam before, doing a stint as a reserve police officer in Miami Beach.

O’Neal wrote on his previous August 2004 application that his special skills included “laptop computer, binnochulars, master of surveillance.” He also denied having any “savings or checking accounts, any investments, or an automobile,” according to a 2011 feature in the Miami New Times.

In 2011, O’Neal also told the New York Times that he was considering a formal police career and “running for undersheriff in Lake County, Fla.” That is until local journalists pointed out that the job is appointed, not elected.

TIME animals

Florida Man Says He Ate 15 Threatened Tortoises and Planned to Eat 11 More

A gopher tortoise. Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute—Reuters

An officer found him in the woods, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Wildlife authorities say a Florida man confessed to killing gopher tortoises, a threatened species, for their meat.

On Facebook, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wrote that a member of the public tipped them off to tortoise shells that were being dumped in the woods in Citrus County, north of Tampa. Officer Thomas Reid went to the woods and found a container with 11 live tortoises. He stayed there until the man showed up, confronting him when he started to move the reptiles into a truck.

“The man told Reid that he had killed 15 gopher tortoises and dumped the shells in the woods and that he had caught the 11 that were in the container and was planning on eating them,” according to the Facebook post.

The officer freed the 11 reptiles. No word on whether the man was making turtle soup.

(h/t Reuters via WFTS Tampa Bay)

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