TIME justice

FedEx Indicted for Role in Distributing Prescription Drugs

Prosecutors claim the federal government warned FedEx about drug distribution at least six times

A federal grand jury indicted shipping company FedEx Thursday on charges of shipping prescription drugs for illegal online pharmacies.

Prosecutors say that Congress, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies warned FedEx for nearly a decade that their shipping services were being used to illegally distribute drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone. However, prosecutors say, the largest cargo company in the world ignored the notices.

FedEx allegedly “departed from its usual business practices” to allow the drug trade to continue. FexEx, according to the indictment, was aware of two major illegal online pharmacies—the Chhabra-Smoley organization and Superior Drugs. Top managers at FedEx allegedly approved these practices.

“The advent of Internet pharmacies allowed the cheap and easy distribution of massive amounts of illegal prescription drugs to every corner of the United States, while allowing perpetrators to conceal their identities through the anonymity the Internet provides,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in a statement Thursday. “This indictment highlights the importance of holding corporations that knowingly enable illegal activity responsible for their role in aiding criminal behavior.”

FedEx said they would fight the charges.

“FedEx is innocent of the charges brought today by the Department of Justice,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, FedEx’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, in a statement. “We will plead not guilty. We will defend against this attack on the integrity and good name of FedEx and its employees.”

TIME justice

Dutch Supreme Court Blocks Extradition of Al-Qaeda Suspect to U.S.

NETHERLANDS-PAKISTAN-USA-JUSTICE
The lawyer of Dutch-Pakistani national Sabir Khan, Andre Seebregts (L), arrives in the courtroom of The Hague, on February 12, 2013. Robin Utrecht—AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. wanted to put Sabir Khan on trial in New York for supporting terrorist attacks against Americans in Afghanistan

In a setback for the Obama administration’s use of law enforcement to fight al-Qaeda, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands on Friday blocked the extradition to the U.S. of Sabir Ali Khan, a Dutch-Pakistani man wanted in New York for conspiracy to commit murder and support of al-Qaeda.

The U.S. believes Khan was involved in Taliban and al-Qaeda attacks against Americans in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province in 2010, according to U.S. court documents obtained by TIME. Khan was arrested by Pakistani forces in Sept. 2010, allegedly at the request of the U.S., and held at a secret prison where he says he was tortured.

Khan, whose mother was Dutch, has citizenship in the Netherlands and was eventually released to Dutch authorities and flown to Holland, where he was arrested. His Dutch lawyer argued that the government should determine whether Khan was arrested at the U.S. behest, and whether he would face a threat of further torture if he were extradited.

The Dutch Supreme Court Friday ruled that the extradition could not proceed because the Dutch Government had declined to look into the alleged U.S. role in Khan’s arrest. The Court, which did not address the threat of torture by the U.S., concluded “the Dutch State should have done some research in this matter,” says Dutch Supreme Court Spokeperson Mireille Beentjes. In blocking the extradition, the court stressed “the large interest of combatting torture worldwide,” Beentjes said, quoting from the court’s opinion.

Robert Nardoza, spokesman for the Eastern District of New York, where Khan was indicted on five counts in 2010, said, “We’re going to review the ruling by the Dutch Supreme Court and consider our options.”

Khan, who is in his late 20s, declined to comment when reached by telephone Friday. He remains free and living in the Netherlands. In January, he told TIME that while he suspects he is under constant surveillance, “Officially I have no restrictions on me.”

The case shows how the U.S. must increasingly rely on other states’ legal systems in countering terrorism as Washington attempts to wind down extraordinary powers granted to the president after 9/11. Those states are sometimes more or less aggressive than the U.S. would like, and counterterrorism officials are having to adjust as a result.

 

TIME justice

Police Say They Won’t Take Explicit Photos of Teen in Sexting Case

Following a wave of backlash.

Police in Virginia have backed away from a controversial plan to take sexually explicit photos of a 17-year-old to corroborate the images with evidence in a sexting case, the Associated Press reports.

The teen in question faces two felony charges in juvenile court for manufacturing and distributing child pornography after exchanging sexts with his then-15-year-old girlfriend. Police and prosecutors received a warrant to take the sexually explicit photos to compare against photos he allegedly sent.

But amid a wave of backlash, Manassas Police Lt. Brian Larkin told the AP Thursday that his department would not move forward with the plan and will let the search warrant expire. He did not give a specific reason.

A day earlier, the Manassas Police Department issued a statement saying it was not their policy to “authorize invasive search procedures of suspects in cases of this nature.” That statement did not elaborate on whether the images would be taken.

[AP]

TIME justice

Virginia Police Issued Search Warrant For Photos of Sexting Teen’s Genitals, Lawyer Says

For evidence in a sexting investigation

Local police have issued a search warrant for explicit photos of a Virginia teenager accused of sexting his former girlfriend, lawyers for the teen said.

The Manassas City Police and Prince William County prosecutor are seeking pictures of the teen’s genitals, lawyer Jessica H. Foster told the Washington Post.

The teen faces two felony charges for manufacturing and distributing child pornography after exchanging sexts with his then-15-year-old girlfriend, whose mother filed the initial complaint with authorities. The case was dismissed in juvenile court in June, because prosecutors neglected to certify the teen’s juvenile status, the Post reports, but new charges were filed by the police.

The teen’s aunt told NBC Washington last week that local officers have already taken photos of her nephew’s genitals, but now want photos of an erection, too, to compare with evidence. The police reportedly told the teen that, if necessary, they would take him to a hospital for an injection that induces an erection.

“The prosecutor’s job is to seek justice,” Foster told the Post. “What is just about this? How does this advance the interest of the Commonwealth?”

If charged, the teen could face incarceration and would be forced to register as a sex offender.

Foster added, “I don’t mind trying the case. My goal is to stop the search warrant. I don’t want him to go through that. Taking him down to the hospital so he can get an erection in front of all those cops, that’s traumatizing.”

Carlos Flores Laboy, the teen’s appointed guardian ad litem told the Post that he found authorities’ desire to create more sexually explicit photos of a teenager, in the name of an investigation into child pornography allegations, both ironic and troubling.

“They’re using a statute that was designed to protect children from being exploited in a sexual manner to take a picture of this young man in a sexually explicit manner, said Flores Laboy. “The irony is incredible.”

He added, “As a parent myself, I was floored. It’s child abuse. We’re wasting thousands of dollars and resources and man hours on a sexting case. That’s what we’re doing.”

Calls to the Manassas City Police Department and the Prince William County prosecutor’s office were not immediately returned to TIME.

[Washington Post]

TIME justice

Insane Clown Posse Appeals Dismissal of Gang Lawsuit

Joseph Bruce, Violent J, Joseph Utsler, Shaggy 2 Dope
Joseph Bruce, aka Violent J, left, and Joseph Utsler, aka Shaggy 2 Dope, members of the Insane Clown Posse, address the media in Detroit, Jan. 8, 2014. The U.S. Justice Department is asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit by Insane Clown Posse, which objects to a report that describes its fans as a dangerous gang. Carlos Osorio—AP

ACLU lawsuit says FBI violated band's free speech when it labeled their "Juggalo" fanbase a "hybrid gang"

The music group Insane Clown Posse Tuesday appealed the dismissal of a lawsuit it filed against the Justice Department over a 2011 FBI report that designated the rap duo’s fans, known as “Juggalos,” as a gang.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan in January filed a lawsuit on behalf of the group alleging their free speech and due process rights, and those of their fans, were violated when the FBI labeled juggalos a “loosely organized hybrid gang.” ICP and Juggalos say they’ve been unfairly targeted by police because of the report.

U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland ruled last week that the Justice Department is not responsible for how other groups use their recommendations and that the report “does not recommend any particular course of action for local law enforcement to follow, and instead operates as a descriptive, rather than a prescriptive, assessment of nationwide gang trends.” The ACLU has appealed the decision to dismiss the suit.

In a statement, Tuesday, ICP member known as Violent J, also known as Joseph Bruce, said “This is not the end—we’ll keep fighting to clear the Juggalo family name.”

“Juggalos are not an organized fan club,” the ACLU says in its statement, “but a group of people who bond over the music and a philosophy of life, much like “Deadheads” bonded around the Grateful Dead.”

Juggalos, according to the FBI report, have been responsible for assaults and vandalism and a “small number” for more serious crimes. They were not included in the FBI’s most recent report.

TIME Bizarre

A Boy Got Booted from a Restaurant Because He Had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shirt

Is nothing sacred?

A four-year-old boy was kicked out of a restaurant in Georgia for sporting a sleeveless Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt deemed in violation of the “Gentlemen’s Dress Code.”

Lewis Roberts—the reptile ninja in training—chose the outfit for lunch out with the family at the Tavern at Phipps in Atlanta, local news station 11 Alive reports.

The family was told Roberts’ shirt violated dress code and when they protested to the manager that the wee ninja was only four, the manager said the dress code applies to “gentlemen of all ages.”

After being contacted by local media, a spokesman for the restaurant issued a statement clarifying that the “Rule does not apply for children and ladies—for gentleman (sic) only. It was an embarrassing misunderstanding on our part. She’s a manager in training who had a gross misunderstanding of our policy. We apologize and are reaching out to the family.”

The Roberts family was happy to accept the apology and said they’ll dine at the restaurant again.

Turtle power.

[11 Alive]

TIME southeast asia

A Young Girl Kept as a Slave for 5 Years in Thailand Wins Landmark Damages

Illegal Myanmar Immigrants Make Living In Rubbish Field in Thailand
An illegal-immigrant boy from Burma works at mountains of rubbish in Mae Sot, Thailand, on July 18, 2013 The Asahi Shimbun—Getty Images

Sold as a 7-year-old, she keeps the spotlight on the dangers faced by the estimated 4 million migrant workers in Thailand

A 13-year-old Burmese girl who was tortured for five years by a Thai couple who treated her as a slave has finally been awarded $143,000 in compensation by a local court, ending one nightmare but throwing the spotlight on the plight of countless other vulnerable migrants who suffer similar abuse.

The victim, who was just 7 years old when she was sold into slavery, must live with horrendous scars over half her body after she was regularly drenched with pots of boiling water for perceived disobedience. (The extent of her disfigurement can be seen on this Thai news report, but be warned — the images are distressing.)

The girl, an ethnic Karen known as Air, says she was kidnapped while her illegal-migrant parents were working in sugarcane fields in northwest Thailand. She was then sold to a Thai couple who made her work as a maid and sleep in a dog kennel. Air says she escaped once and summoned the police, only to be returned to her abusers, who allegedly cut off the tip of her ear as punishment. The girl eventually escaped successfully on Jan. 31 last year.

“The couple is still at large, but lawyers will investigate all of the employers’ properties to compensate her,” Preeda Tongchumnum, the assistant to the secretary general of the Bangkok-based Human Rights and Development Foundation, told the Irrawaddy. “She cannot make a 100% recovery, but the doctor will help her to move her body like any other person.”

Although Monday’s award must be deemed a victory of sorts, the uncomfortable truth remains that the girl’s plight mirrors that of many of the estimated 4 million migrant workers in Thailand, who toil with virtually no legal safeguards and are often exploited by venal officials.

Compounding matters, the couple accused of torturing Air — identified as Nathee Taengorn, 36, and Rattanakorn Piyavoratharm, 34 — skipped town after they were inexplicably released on police bail despite facing seven serious charges. Local media reports alleged the pair had “influential” connections. The police have yet to offer an explanation for Air’s claim that they returned her to her captors after her first escape bid.

Such official indifference to the plight of migrant labor has contributed to the U.S. State Department’s decision last month to relegate Thailand to the lowest rank of its Trafficking in Persons report — putting the self-styled “Land of Smiles” on par with North Korea for its inability or unwillingness to protect workers from abuse.

“There cannot be impunity for those who traffic in human beings,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to mark the report’s release. “Whether it is a young girl trapped in a brothel or a woman enslaved as a domestic worker or a boy forced to sell himself on the street or a man abused on a fishing boat, the victims of these crimes all have names, all had families.”

Sadly, all four of the examples citied by Kerry are commonplace in Thailand, which has long been a hub for migrant laborers fleeing war, poverty or political persecution in less affluent neighboring countries. The Thai fishing industry has come into particular scrutiny recently.

This already dire situation has been further complicated by Thailand’s military coup on May 22. Fears of a crackdown prompted an exodus of more than 250,000 mainly Cambodian workers, although the junta insists that by requiring all companies to “submit comprehensive name lists of their employees” it is now working to prevent “illegal activity, drugs, crime, unfair employment and bodily harm.”

Such assurances have not convinced human-rights activists, though. “Migrant workers make huge contributions to Thailand’s economy, but their daily life is unsafe and uncertain, and they face abuses from many quarters,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, calling for the junta to “reverse this [exodus] disaster by quickly putting into place genuine reforms that would protect migrant workers’ rights, not threaten them.”

TIME justice

From Big House to White House: Ex-Convicts To Be Honored By Obama Administration

Fortune HIV AIDS
In this May 29, 2014 photo, Stan Richards, right, an executive with the Fortune Society, listens as Melissa Carter, left, speaks during an interview in New York. Bebeto Matthews—AP

The White House will honor 14 champions for change on prisoner reentry Monday

Stanley Richards is living proof that giving ex-offenders a second chance can pay off.

Richards grew up amid the drug and gang epidemic that terrorized black communities in early 1980s New York, and spent more time on the streets than in school. After bouncing in and out of jail as a teen, he eventually caught a charge that stuck and was sentenced to nine years in prison for robbery. After serving his time, and collecting a GED an associates degree while behind bars, he wanted to turn his life around. “I began to believe life could be different for me,” Richards says. “Just maybe, through education, things could get better.”

Upon his release, he sought employment at several community organizations but kept getting doors slammed in his face due to his lack of experience. Eventually, the Fortune Society, a Bronx-based non-profit that supports successful reentry, was the exception; it hired Richards as a counselor. And after 23 years of employment and several promotions, Richards will be one of 14 honored by the White House on Monday as a Champion of Change for prisoner reentry.

Richards will be joined at the White House by state lawmakers, business leaders and others, who are gathering to discuss how to reduce recidivism by offering more opportunities for the ex-offender population.

The Obama Administration has been rolling out prison reform policies over the past year in an effort to cut America’s prison budget and save the toughest penalties for the worst criminals. The Administration is also working to provide retroactive relief to some criminals impacted by harsh federal drug laws that have since been reformed. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in April that some prisoners could be eligible for a shortened sentence as a result; the Department of Justice is expecting thousands of applications for clemency this year.

The statistics, as they now stand, are not encouraging. Nearly 68% of released prisoners return to prison within three years. After five years, 76.6% of prisoners are back behind bars, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

There are solutions, however, and states have been leading the way in implementing them. In fact, the Council of State Governments’s “State Pathways to Prosperity” initiative, which is working to smarten states’ approach to criminal justice across all branches of government, was a driving inspiration behind Monday’s White House panel.

The states that are making progress have focused on finding employment and stable housing for ex-convicts when they are released. In Pennsylvania, an overhaul of halfway houses and other corrections facilities has already led to a 24% reduction in recidivism among those who pass through facilities with state contracts. “We’re trying to transform the system by looking at the needs of the community and the needs of offenders,” says John Wetzel, the Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, who will be a part of a White House panel Monday to discuss best practices.

Rhode Island Department of Corrections is ramping up its partnership with the state’s Department of Labor to employ offenders upon their release. The director of corrections in Rhode Island, A.T. Wall, has been working in corrections for 38 years, and calls employment and housing the “twin pillars of effective reintegration.” “I have an opportunity to spend a lot of time in our institutions, talking to inmates shortly before release,” Wall says. “When I ask them ‘what do you need,’ the overwhelming majority say ‘I need a job.'”

While the need for ex-offender employment and housing opportunities is obvious to corrections officers, and increasingly lawmakers, private employers and landlords still have to buy in to the idea for it work. And many have been reluctant. “Some employers say it would be wreck less to hire ex-offenders, but wouldn’t it be just as wreck less to say no to employing someone just because they were in state prison?” Wetzel says. “One thing we’ve recognized is that when you have a good outcome in corrections and you can place someone in a job–that’s grassroots crime reduction.”

The Johns Hopkins Hospital system, which will be recognized as a Champion of Change Monday, has been leading the way in employing those with criminal histories. Of the 5,000 people they hired last year, 5% had criminal records. The key, says Pamela Paulk, senior Vice President of Human Resources at Johns Hopkins, is the screening and thoughtful placement of all hires. Recruiters work with the security team, head up by a former Secret Service agent, to make sure potential hires would be a good match for a certain job, depending on what crime they committed.

“We’re not going to put someone with a drug history in the pharmacy department,” Paulk says. The hospitals hiring guidelines also prohibit employing people who have committed violent crimes; those with sex-related histories do not work near patients.

Paulk says she hopes Monday’s event will increase dialogue among hiring managers. “We need more employers willing to expand hiring opportunities,” she says. “Jobs are what ‘s going to help with reducing the recidivism rate.”

For, Richards, who plans to bring his wife, youngest son, and nine-year-old grandson on Monday, it’s a bit more personal. “I’m from the big house to the White House,” Richards says. “That’s pretty powerful.”

TIME justice

Oklahoma Death Row Inmates Sue to Stop Executions

Clayton Lockett, who was scheduled to be executed on March 20, 2014 in the 1999 shooting death of Stephanie Nieman.
Clayton Lockett, who was scheduled to be executed on March 20, 2014 in the 1999 shooting death of Stephanie Nieman. Oklahoma Department of Corrections/AP

After the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April

A group of death row inmates in Oklahoma sued state officials in federal court Wednesday over what they called “unsound procedures” in the state’s execution process.

Citing the botched execution of Clayton Locket and other incidents, more than 20 plaintiffs filed suit claiming Oklahoma’s current method of execution violates the constitutional rights of the condemned. The lawsuit names several corrections officials as defendants, as well as unnamed people such as “Doctor X” and “Paramedic Y” to identify officials that take part in executions.

The plaintiffs assert that the state uses unsound procedures to administer executions and unsound drugs, adding up to a violation of the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. under the 8th Amendment.

“We look forward to the full airing of the important issues raised in this case through the discovery process,” Dale Baich, an attorney for one of the death row prisoners, said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections declined to comment on the matter, telling TIME: “We don’t comment on pending lawsuits.”

States around the country, including Oklahoma, have faced scrutiny in recent years as a shortage of the drugs used in lethal injections has forced officials to look to alternative sources to secure the cocktail of chemicals meant to painlessly kill a convict.

In the 25 minutes it took him to die, Lockett was observed mumbling and rolling his head side to side, apparently in agony. His seemingly agonizing death in April sparked a national outcry about capital punishment.

In January, another man, Michael Wilson, said “I feel my whole body burning,” during the procedure. Anti-death penalty activists have pointed to these examples as evidence that the punishment cannot be carried out humanely. For a time in the wake of Lockett’s death, a de facto moratorium on executions across the country was in place, as officials scrambled to ensure the botched procedure was not repeated. Georgia, Florida and Missouri were the first states to end the unofficial moratorium earlier this month.

TIME Congress

Democrats Prod GOP on Change to Voting Rights Law

A push to respond to a Supreme Court ruling

Congress finally debated an amendment to the Voting Rights Act on Wednesday, six months after it was introduced and exactly one year after the Supreme Court knocked down a key provision of the landmark civil rights law.

“I was hopeful that Senate Republicans would join me in supporting this important bill,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said during a committee hearing Wednesday. “Despite repeated efforts, I am troubled to report that as of this hearing, not a single Senate Republican has stepped up to the plate.”

The Voting Rights Act Amendment of 2014 was introduced in response to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision striking down a section of the VRA that required certain states and localities to get permission from the Department of Justice before changing voting rules because of their history of voter discrimination. While the landmark law had been renewed with bipartisan support for years, Democrats are struggling to bring Republicans on board to give the law new strength after the Supreme Court ruling—something that became abundantly clear minutes into Wednesday’s hearing.

While Leahy recalled how he felt when the Supreme Court “gutted” the Voting Rights Act, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee’s ranking GOP member, said the court’s decision was justified.

“All it did,” Grassley said Wednesday, “was strike down a formula, some 50 years old.”

Grassley, and other Republicans on the committee noted that other sections of the Voting Rights Act still stand and are currently being enforced in several states—including in Texas, where the Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against the state under Section 2, which bans voting practices that impact people based on their race, color, or language.

Senators from southern states mocked the idea of continuing to require some states to get permission from the Justice Department, known as “pre-clearance,” just because of voting discrimination that took place in the past.

“What justifies singling out a select number of states for some sort of special treatment?” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked, noting that in his home state, black voter turnout was higher than white turnout during the 2012 election. Cruz said the turnout was proof that Texas, along with many other southern states with a history of racial discrimination, has evolved.

But Democrats say discrimination still exists and that voters still need the protection provided by the pre-clearance provision, known as Section 5. Ten of the 15 states that were covered by the now-defunct section have introduced restrictive voting legislation since the ruling, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Some states moved to put previously rejected laws in place shortly after the Supreme Court decision.

Under the proposed Voting Rights Amendment Act, any state that has committed five or more voting violations in the past 15 years would be subject to pre-clearance. Texas and Louisiana are among the states that would be subjected to pre-clearance if the bill passed in its current form.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, sought to drive home the fact that under the bill any state—from Vermont to California—could be subject to pre-clearance. She said 2012 minority voter turnout should push Congress to act, not convince members that America has overcome its troubled racial history.

“It shows the determination of minority voters to turn out and participate despite the obstacles,” Ifill said. “It should inspire Congress to pass this bill.”

Despite Wednesday’s hearing, the fate of the legislation is bleak. No Republican Senators have signed on to sponsor the bill. But civil rights organizations have not lost hope. And Democrats in the House and Senate plan to continue pressuring their Republican colleagues on the issue.

“I don’t understand the difference today other than partisan politics rearing its head,” Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who attended the Senate hearing, told TIME. “I think we should follow in tradition of our predecessors, Republicans and Democrats, and pass this legislation that speaks to right of people to vote.”

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