TIME justice

Anxieties Mount as Ferguson Waits on Grand Jury

Protestors march in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo on Nov. 23, 2014.
Protestors march in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo on Nov. 23, 2014. Samuel Corum—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

(FERGUSON, Mo.) — Despite preparations for a weekend decision in the Ferguson shooting case, the grand jurors apparently need more time to deliberate, and the uncertainty just seemed to feed the anxiety and speculation Sunday in a city already on edge.

More than 3½ months have passed since police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, killed unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown after a confrontation in the middle of a street in the St. Louis suburb. The shooting triggered riots and looting, and police responded with armored vehicles and tear gas.

Many in the area thought a grand jury decision on whether to charge Wilson with a crime would be announced Sunday, based partly on a stepped-up police presence in the preceding days, including the setting up of barricades around the building where the panel was meeting.

The grand jurors met Friday but apparently didn’t reach a decision, and they were widely expected to reconvene on Monday, though there was no official confirmation of that.

During church services Sunday, some pastors encouraged their flocks not to fret.

A choir sang, “We need you Lord right now” at the predominantly black Greater Grace Church in Ferguson. The pastor, Bishop L.O. Jones, referred to the pending grand jury decision briefly.

“Everybody stand to your feet and tell somebody, ‘Don’t be afraid. God is still in control,'” Jones said as church members repeated after him.

The Rev. Freddy Clark of Shalom Church in nearby Florissant told the mostly black interdenominational congregation that “justice will be served” whichever way the decision goes, because God will take care of it.

“None of us are pleased about what happened,” said parishioner James Tatum. “Whatever the verdict is, we have to understand that’s the verdict.”

As they wait, some people have continued daily protests, while speculation has grown that the delays are intentional.

“People feel like it’s been engineered, so that the results wouldn’t come out until after the election and until the weather got cold, and it would be more difficult to protest,” said Susan McGraugh, supervisor of the Criminal Defense Clinic at the Saint Louis University School of Law. “It’s really adding fuel to the fire.”

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch had said he expected a grand jury decision by mid-to-late November. But that’s not ultimately in his control.

The 12-person grand jury deliberates in secret, without McCulloch, and sets its own schedule depending upon when the members are available.

It’s not uncommon for deliberations to take a while in complex cases when, such as in the Brown shooting, self-defense is alleged or there are two widely conflicting versions of events, said Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson, who is not involved in the Ferguson case.

Downtown STL Inc., a St. Louis civic group that promotes downtown businesses, told members in an email Saturday that the grand jury will reconvene Monday to continue deliberating. The email did not explain how the group knew that, and McCulloch’s office has not commented on the grand jury’s schedule.

If jurors meet Monday, there is no guarantee they will reach a decision that day, or even this week.

“In the course of their deliberations, if one grand juror convinces the others that ‘Look, we need to hear from an additional witness,’ and they all agree, the prosecutor’s got a duty to bring that witness in,” Richardson said.

When the panel reaches a decision, it will be up to McCulloch to publicize it.

Sunday would have been an opportune time to minimize disruptions from protests, since schools and governments are planning on only a partial work week because of Thanksgiving, said Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He said Monday or Tuesday would still make sense.

But “my belief is that with the holiday, releasing it on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday would produce a negative reaction,” Joy said.

TIME justice

FBI Sends 100 Agents to Ferguson Ahead of Grand Jury Decision

Arrests have already been made for firearm charges

The FBI has sent some 100 agents to the St. Louis area to prepare for the grand jury decision on whether to indict the police officer who shot the unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

A decision by the grand jury is expected within days, and there are signs that unrest is brewing. The FBI arrested two men earlier this week near Ferguson on firearms charges as part of the increased law enforcement presence in the St. Louis suburb, CBS reports.

The 100 FBI agents were ordered to mobilize and arrive in Ferguson Friday, and additional personnel have been put on alert so they can be called in as a second emergency wave, ABC reports.

President Obama, Brown’s family, and Attorney General Eric Holder have urged protestors to remain peaceful.

[ABC]

TIME justice

Obama Tells Ferguson to ‘Keep Protests Peaceful’

Woman stops to visit the memorial set up where Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson
A woman stops to visit the memorial set up where Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 22, 2014. Jim Young—Reuters

"Using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law, contrary to who we are"

President Barack Obama urged protestors in Ferguson to remain peaceful as they await the grand jury’s decision in this summer’s fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man.

“I think first and foremost, keep protests peaceful,” Obama said in an interview, the Associated Press reports. “This is a country that allows everybody to express their views, allows them to peacefully assemble, to protest actions that they think are unjust. But using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law, contrary to who we are.”

A grand jury decision on whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 death of 18-year-old Michael Brown is due any day now, and police are preparing for further unrest in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.

Michael Brown senior, the victim’s father said “Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain.”

[AP]

TIME justice

Michael Brown Sr. Appeals for Calm Ahead of Grand Jury Decision

"I do not want my son's death to be in vain"

The father of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. this summer, released a video Thursday asking people not to “hurt others” or “destroy property” ahead of a grand jury decision into whether the officer will be indicted in the killing.

“No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain,” Michael Brown, Sr. said in the video. “I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region for everyone…Let’s work together to create change for all people regardless of race.”

The shooting of Brown by Officer Darren Wilson sparked sometimes violent protests in Ferguson this August, exposing simmering racial tensions in the St. Louis suburb.

Protestors gathered again in below freezing temperatures outside the courthouse to await the grand jury’s return on the case in the past week. They have been met by officers in riot gear. Police have already arrested five people and are bracing for the verdict.

TIME justice

Officer Darren Wilson Can Remain a Ferguson Cop if Not Indicted

The grand jury decision is expected as early as this weekend

The cop who fatally shot unarmed teen Michael Brown can return to active duty if he isn’t indicted by a grand jury, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said.

Jackson said that Officer Darren Wilson would likely be fired if the grand jury does return an indictment, NBC reported Friday. Wilson is now on paid leave.

It’s unclear whether Wilson would want to return to the police force if he avoids an indictment, Chief Jackson said.

After Brown was killed on August 9, violence flared in periodic skirmishes between protestors and police, who deployed smoke bombs, tear gas and even armored tanks. The unrest sparked a national debate about racism and excessive police force.

[NBC News]

TIME Crime

School District: Student Is Partly to Blame for Sex with Teacher

Teacher-Sexual Consent Elkis Hermida
This undated photo provided by the California Department of Correction shows Los Angeles school district teacher Elkis Hermida, who was sentenced in 2011 to three years in prison for lewd acts against a child. California Department of Correction/AP

A 14-year-old's sexual past and willingness to engage in sex with a 28-year-old teacher was fair game in a Los Angeles civil trial

Correction appended, Nov. 17, 2014

An underage girl can consent to sex with a teacher and her sexual history is relevant when considering who is liable for damages in such a case. That’s the argument a lawyer for the Los Angeles Unified School District made in court after the family of a 14-year-old girl sued the district after it was revealed that a teacher had sex with her.

The teacher, Elkis Hermida, was sentenced in criminal court in 2011 to three years in state prison for lewd acts against a child. Hermida, a middle-school math teacher, had sex with the underage girl for a period of six months. But in civil court, where the lawsuit was brought and decided in the district’s favor in late 2013, responsibility for sex between a teacher and an underage student is less clear, the school district argued.

The district said that the underage girl knew it was wrong to have sex with her teacher and the district had no knowledge of what occurred and was therefore not liable, according to public radio station KPCC, which reported details of the trial for the first time on Nov 12. The district also said, according to KPCC, that the girl was partially responsible for the sexual relationship, even though she was younger than 18, the age of legal consent in California. Liability in the case hinged on whether the district knew anything about the teacher or his relationship with the student that made it negligent in the case. A jury found the district was not negligent, but the legal strategy of placing blame on the underage girl has rocked Los Angeles and victims’ advocates who say it could set a dangerous precedent.

“The blame the victim strategy that they adopted is very dangerous for the public at large,” says John Dion, an attorney and deputy executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. “It creates a real chilling effect of people coming forward. When they don’t come forward, child sex abuse is allowed to continue. This is a crime that flourishes in secrecy.” In criminal cases in California, defendants are typically not allowed to bring up the sexual pasts of alleged victims, but in the civil case involving the district, the girl’s sexual history was revealed at the trial.

“She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher…She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?” attorney Keith Wyatt, who represented the L.A. school district in the civil trial, told KPCC in an interview. After KPCC aired its interview with Wyatt, he apologized in a statement, saying his remarks were “ill thought out and poorly articulated.”

Still, Cynthia Godsoe, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School who specializes in children and the law, says the legal strategy itself is shocking. “Given that the state legislature has said people below 18 years old are not mature enough to consent, I think for an attorney representing a public entity to argue that it’s her fault is not ok,” says Godsoe. “He’s arguing flat out that she’s not a victim and there’s already been a finding in criminal court that she is. I find it kind of amazing.”

The girl’s family is appealing the court ruling. Holly Boyer, the attorney now representing the girl, said she expects to file an opening brief with the appeals court within a month.

Correction: The original version of this article misstated the name of Cynthia Godsoe’s employer. It is Brooklyn Law School.

TIME Government

Report Details Secret Service Mishaps in White House Breach

White House at midday
White House at midday Allan Baxter—Getty Images

One of several blunders, according to a Homeland Security report

An intruder was able to climb the White House fence and enter the premises in September because of a number of mishaps, like faulty alarm systems and officers not even spotting him, according to a summary of a Homeland Security report Thursday.

Members of Congress were briefed on the report Thursday, according to the New York Times, which obtained its executive summary. The report is said to detail the security lapses that allowed Omar Gonzalez, who is charged in the Sept. 19 breach, to enter the White House. Among them, an officer who was stationed with an attack dog on the North Lawn was busy talking on a personal cell phone in a van and had not seen the man climb the fence.

Julia Pierson, who was the Secret Service director at the time of the incident, later resigned.

Read more at the New York Times

TIME justice

Ex-Wife of Oil Magnate to Appeal $1 Billion Divorce Award

7th Annual Heath Corps Grassroots Garden Gala
Harold Hamm ,CEO of Continental Resources, attends the 7th Annual Heath Corps Grassroots Garden Gala at Gotham Hall on April 17, 2013 in New York City. Brad Barket—Getty Images

This high-stakes divorce case isn't over yet

The ex-wife of an oil magnate will appeal the divorce award of over $1 billion in cash and assets that she was handed this week, in one of the largest divorce cases in U.S. History, her lawyers said Thursday.

Attorneys for Sue Ann Hamm said the $995 million sum that her ex-husband, Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm (worth an estimated $12.6 billion), was ordered to pay her was “not equitable,” according to Reuters. She was also allowed to keep additional assets, including homes in California and Oklahoma that are worth tens of millions of dollars.

Hamm, a lawyer and an economist, worked at Continental during parts of their 26-year marriage.

Continental Resources’ shares have fallen since the divorce proceedings began. Harold Hamm holds more than 68% of the company’s stock, a stake valued at around $13.5 billion today, but was worth $18 billion nine and a half weeks ago since the trial began. The appeals process could take months or even years.

[Reuters]

TIME justice

Ohio Looks to Shield Lethal Injection Drugmakers

Death Penalty Obese Inmate
Ohio legislators are looking to shield the identity of drugmakers for lethal injections, which are performed in the execution chamber in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. Kiichiro Sato—Associated Press

Bill would keep the source of lethal injection drugs anonymous

Ohio lawmakers introduced legislation this week that would keep the source of lethal injection drugs anonymous.

The House bill, which was introduced on Monday and had its first hearing Wednesday, would protect individuals and pharmaceutical companies that manufacture, compound or supply drugs for executions while keeping those involved in administering the drugs, like physicians, anonymous.

Shielding the identity of drugmakers has become a common tactic by states that have had trouble obtaining execution drugs. Many drugmakers, especially compounding pharmacies—which are not under federal oversight but have been frequently used by prison systems and departments of corrections—don’t want it publicly known that they’re working with states to carry out lethal injections, fearing backlash from consumers and anti-death penalty advocates. Several states, including Arizona, Georgia and Missouri, have secrecy laws protecting drugmakers’ identities.

In October, Ohio’s attorney general said it was unlikely that the state would perform another lethal injection without action from legislators keeping the source of the state’s drugs anonymous. That statement indicated Ohio was likely out of lethal drugs altogether, and needed the ability to reassure compounding pharmacies that their identities would remain protected if the state sought drugs from them.

In August, a U.S. district judge extended a moratorium on lethal injections in the state until January 15, 2015. The order came after the execution of Dennis McGuire, who reportedly snored and snorted on the execution table in January in a prolonged lethal injection widely considered botched.

TIME justice

DNA Tests Will Finally Be Performed in Up to 70,000 Rape Cases

Rape Kit Backlog
Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. talks about the $35 million he is pledging in funding to eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits in New York City, the state and across the country during a news conference,Nov. 12, 2014, in New York. Julie Jacobson—AP

Tests have been neglected, in some cases for decades, because of the high cost

Manhattan District Attorney Cryus R. Vance Jr. has pledged $35 million to fund DNA testing in as many as 70,000 rape cases nationwide.

Many swabs, painstakingly collected, have been left untested because of the high cost of conducting DNA tests — up to $1,000 in each case — the Associated Press reports. Tests in some cases have not been done for decades.

Fresh funding for the DNA tests could finally help bring justice to thousands of women who have been raped or sexually assaulted but whose attackers were never caught.

“We want them to know that we, as a nation, are doing everything in our power to bring justice to them,” said Vance during a news conference Wednesday.

The money to fund the tests comes from the District Attorney’s share of an $8.8 billion settlement with BNP Paribas over allegations the French bank violated U.S. sanctions.

[AP]

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