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
California Department of Correction/AP 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.

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
Allan Baxter—Getty Images White House at midday

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
Brad Barket—Getty Images 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.

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
Kiichiro Sato—Associated Press 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.

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
Julie Jacobson—AP 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.

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]

TIME justice

U.S. Set to Revise Bush-Era Policy on Prisoner Treatment

As a signatory on a ban against "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" in "any territory under its jurisdiction"

The United States is expected to tell the United Nations it will revise its interpretation of a treaty ban on prisoner cruelty to include some overseas locations, amending a widely criticized Bush-era interpretation formulated in the years after 9/11, according to a report Wednesday.

A signatory on a key U.N. torture treaty that bans “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” in “any territory under its jurisdiction,” the U.S. will lay out the Obama administration’s position to the U.N. Committee Against Torture in Geneva, the New York Times reports, citing unnamed sources. The administration under former President George W. Bush had argued the ban did not go beyond domestic soil.

The revision would apply the cruelty ban to wherever the U.S. exercises governmental authority, including Guantanamo Bay and American-flagged ships and aircraft in international waters and airspace. But the Obama administration has stopped short, however, of arguing that the ban unequivocally obligates American officials everywhere they have a prisoner in their custody, as human rights advocates have urged.

[NYT]

TIME Crime

$2.5 Million Settlement for Hot Jail Cell Death on Rikers Island

The temperature in Jerome Murdough's cell on New York City's Rikers Island is said to have exceeded 100 degrees when he was found dead in February

The family of a New York City prisoner who died in an overheated jail cell will receive $2.5 million to settle a wrongful-death suit, the city comptroller’s office announced Friday.

“A mother lost a son, the City lost a citizen. It is my hope that this settlement provides some small measure of closure for the family of Mr. Murdough,” said city comptroller Scott M. Stringer in a statement, referring to the deceased inmate.

The Rikers Island prison complex, where Jerome Murdough was found dead this past February in a cell where the temperature exceeded 100 degrees, has been the subject of frequent criticism for the poor treatment of prisoners in recent months. In this particular case, jail officials had received reports of high temperatures but had not fixed acted to solve the problem.

At the time of his death, the 56-year-old prisoner was awaiting trial for trespassing. Murdough, who is said to have suffered from mental illness, was arrested a week prior to his death as he sought shelter from the cold in a public housing building.

“This is a very awful thing I’m going through, and I hope that no one else will have to ever go through anything like this,” said the inmate’s mother Alma Murdough, at a Friday press conference.

TIME justice

Philadelphia Cops Offer Safe Space for Craigslist Exchanges

Man handing woman US dollar banknotes, close-up
PM Images/Getty Images

Residents of the suburb of Conshohocken can swap their used futons for cash in the safe surroundings of their local police station

A police department in the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken is offering its lobby and parking lot as a venue to buy and sell items from Craigslist and other online marketplaces. The location is well-lit and has 24-hour surveillance so that you can feel safe exchanging your used futon for money.

“I figured there’s got to be a better place for people who don’t know each other to complete these transactions,”Conshohocken Police officer Steve Vallone said, the AP reports. “Why not allow people to complete their online transactions from here? It seems like the perfect match.”

The offer came shortly after an alleged rapist was charged with killing a local man he met through Craigslist, according to NBC News in Philadelphia.

Similar measures have been taken in Hillsborough County in Florida, where residents can visit four of the police station’s parking lots to engage in cash transactions.

[NBC]

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