TIME Civil Rights

Feds Clear Ferguson Cop Darren Wilson of Civil Rights Violations

Prosecutors cannot disprove that the officer who shot Michael Brown "feared for his safety”

The Department of Justice has cleared Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., of committing civil rights violations in the August confrontation that sparked sometimes violent local and national protests.

A separate report from the Justice Department did find, however, that the Ferguson Police Department was in frequent violation of several provisions of the Constitution.

The report, one of two released on Wednesday, broadly corroborates Wilson’s account of what happened in the St. Louis suburb on Aug.9. The officer said he spotted Brown and a friend walking in the middle of the street. Wilson told prosecutors and investigators he suspected the pair in the theft of cigarillos from a nearby convenience store, and called for backup before pulling to a stop near them.

The officer and some witnesses said Brown reached into Wilson’s police car to punch and grab him. Even though other witnesses stated that Wilson had reached out of his vehicle to grab Brown by the neck, prosecutors said their accounts were “inconsistent with physical and forensic evidence.”

Wilson said he took out his weapon while still in his vehicle and shot Brown in the hand as the teenager attempted to gain control of the gun. The report found “no credible evidence to disprove Wilson’s account” of what happened inside the vehicle.

Brown then ran away and Wilson gave chase, the report said. Autopsy results found that Brown had not been shot in the back as he was running away, as some witnesses reported. Instead, the report found, Brown was approaching Wilson in a manner that “appeared to pose a physical threat” when he was shot. The shooting death led to weeks of often-violent protests in the city.

Witnesses said that “Wilson fired at Brown in what appeared to be self-defense and stopped firing once Brown fell to the ground.” Though a number of witnesses claimed Brown held his hands up in a surrender position before Wilson fired, the report found that they were not credible.

“Some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witnesses’ own prior statements with no explanation,” the Wilson report concluded. A state grand jury declined to indict Wilson in November; he resigned from the Ferguson Police Department that same month.

A separate Justice Department investigation opened after Brown’s shooting has found routine patterns and practices of racism in Ferguson, including the excessive use of force and unjustified arrests.

“Our investigation showed that Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement accompanying the release of the reports. “Now that our investigation has reached its conclusion, it is time for Ferguson’s leaders to take immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action.”

Brown’s parents said they were “saddened” by the decision to clear Wilson, but said they were encouraged by the DOJ’s findings about the Ferguson police. “It is our hope that through this action, true change will come not only in Ferguson, but around the country,” Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. said in a statement. “If that change happens, our son’s death will not have been in vain.”

TIME Australia

Australian DJs Whose Prank Call Led to Nurse’s Death Broke the Law, Says Court

People gather in the foyer of the building that houses the 2Day FM radio station in Sydney December 6, 2012.
Daniel Munoz—Reuters People gather in the foyer of the building that houses the 2Day FM radio station in Sydney December 6, 2012.

2Day FM could potentially have its broadcast license suspended

The High Court of Australia has ruled that two Sydney radio presenters broke the law when they phoned a London hospital posing as the Queen and Prince Charles in a prank that eventually led a nurse to take her own life.

In 2012, DJs Michael Christian and Mel Greig from 2Day FM phoned the hospital that was treating the Duchess of Cambridge for morning sickness to try to obtain details of her condition, reports ABC.

Nurse Jacintha Saldhana answered the call and following a media storm later killed herself.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) had originally ruled the station had breached New South Wales surveillance and broadcast law as they did not seek permission from hospital staff before the call.

But 2Day FM successfully appealed, saying the media watchdog had no power to determine whether they had committed a criminal offense.

On Wednesday, the High Court overturned the appeal, ruling the ACMA did in fact have the power to judge criminal actions of broadcasters.

The radio station faces serious penalties and could potentially have its broadcast license suspended.

[ABC]

TIME Law

Tamir Rice’s Family Says Cleveland’s Response to Lawsuit Is ‘Very Disrespectful’

The city's response blamed the boy's death partly on his failure to avoid injury

The family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy fatally shot by a Cleveland police officer in November, said Tuesday they felt disrespected by the city’s response to a lawsuit over his death.

The city’s response, filed on Friday, had blamed the boy’s death partly on his own actions, stating it had been caused “by the failure … to exercise due care to avoid injury.”

“The city’s answer was very disrespectful to my son, Tamir,” Samaria Rice, the boy’s mother, said at a news conference alongside attorneys, according to Cleveland.com. “I have yet not received an apology from the police department or the city of Cleveland in regards to the killing of my son. And it hurts.”

The family’s attorney, Walter Madison, said the response as written places an adult-like responsibility on children. Cleveland officials have remained mostly silent about the lawsuit, aside from Mayor Frank Jackson, who on Monday apologized for the way the response’s phrasing made it seem like the boy was at fault over his own death.

Rice was killed Nov. 22 after officers responded to reports of someone in a park with a gun, shooting him less than two seconds after their arrival. The boy was later found to have been holding a pellet gun.

[Cleveland.com]

TIME

L.A. Police Say Homeless Man Tried to Grab Gun Before Fatal Shooting

Charlie Beck
Damian Dovarganes—AP Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck comments on the shooting of a homeless man on Skid Row of Los Angeles, at a news conference at police headquarters on March 2, 2015.

But a bystander who caught the incident on video says otherwise

Los Angeles’ police chief said Monday there was evidence that a homeless man shot and killed by officers on Sunday had struggled over one of their guns, but a bystander who captured a viral video of the deadly incident says he never saw the man reach for a weapon.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said during a news conference that the slide of the weapon had been “partially engaged,” which is “indicative of a struggle over a weapon,” according to the Los Angeles Times, which has reviewed a second video of the deadly altercation.

Police were responding to a suspected robbery call and pursued a man known by some as “Africa” in the Skid Row area, home to one of the largest populations of homeless people in the country. After officers made contact, the department said in a statement, the man apparently began to fight back and resist being taken into custody.

“The officers attempted to use a Taser to subdue him but the suspect continued to fight and resist the officers and fell to the ground,” the statement continues. “While on the ground, the suspect and officers struggled over one of the officer’s handguns and then an officer-involved shooting occurred.”

Sunday’s encounter was recorded by at least one officer’s body camera and caught on a video that was circulated widely on Facebook. The bystander who recorded the footage, Anthony Blackburn, told CNN on Monday that he hadn’t seen the man reach for a weapon.

Beck said the officers involved in the shooting had received training about working with mentally ill people. The man reportedly spent the past few months living in a tent after previously residing at a mental-health facility.

Police said the shooting is being investigated by a number of law-enforcement offices, including the Office of Inspector General and Los Angeles Country District Attorney’s Justice System, to determine if the man’s death was another case of excessive force by police, as some witnesses and local activists claim.

TIME Canada

Canadian City To Overturn Ban on Sledding

Hamilton lawmakers say they will legalize tobogganing

A city in Canada that banned sledding after it was sued more than three decades ago plans to scrap the ban and take its chances.

“You can’t take the fun out of winter,” said Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, CBC reports. “In a perfect world, I would love it if people didn’t sue the city, but we can’t stop anyone from suing us for whatever reason. We can’t shut down our entire city.”

The City Council voted Wednesday to look into establishing designated tobogganing areas as well as other options to legalize the pastime, according to CBC.

Currently, violators are liable to face up to a $1,600 fine thanks to a bylaw first established in the 1970s after someone sued the city following a tobogganing accident. Another suit forced the city to pay more than $700,000 in 2004.

[CBC]

MONEY Law

How Being a Juror Is Worse Than Working at McDonald’s

Jury
Image Source—Getty Images

Performing your civic duty as a juror on a lengthy high-profile case could earn you less than minimum wage.

At the start of this year, two high-profile mass-killing trials began selecting their juries. Neither has a complete set of jurors and alternates yet.

In Boston, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is standing trial for assisting his brother in planning and executing the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and in the suburbs of Denver, James Holmes is being tried for the killing of 12 people in a 2012 shooting spree in an Aurora movie theater.

Both trials present a difficult task for the judges and lawyers involved: finding an impartial jury. In Boston, more than 1,300 people have been called, while in Colorado, a record-setting 9,000 have been summoned.

Even with such a large pool, the federal judge overseeing the trial in Boston has found only 61 of the 70 people needed for a suitable jury. That success rate is a large part of Tsarnaev’s attorneys’ last-ditch attempt to move the trial to a more neutral city, such as Washington, D.C.

But impartiality is not the only hard screening tool in large-scale jury selections. Money can be just as big a problem.

Jurors who are selected for these high-profile trials will devote nearly half of the year to deciding the fate of the defendants, all while being paid near-poverty wages.

Boston’s federal court pays jurors $40 for a seven-hour day—or about $23 less than Massachusetts’ minimum wage would get them for the same workday—and reimburses them 56 cents per mile for travel expenses.

Considering that the average Massachusetts worker earns $21 an hour and works eight hours a day, a juror would lose $128 for each day served, assuming he or she does not get paid for work after jury hours, reports MassLive.com.

In Colorado, employers are required by law to pay employees at least $50 for up to three days of jury service. If the trial goes longer, the state then pays jurors $50 per day. That works out to an annual salary of $11,700, or $30 above the federal poverty line for a one-person household, The Denver Post found.

Yet those rates are generous in comparison to the little as $4 a day you could earn as a juror in Illinois, or the $6 a day you could earn in Missouri. (Check your state’s rate at the National Center for State Courts.)

Even serving on a federal jury won’t boost your paycheck: Federal petit jurors earn $40 a day, then $50 a day after serving 10 days. Grand jurors don’t get bumped to $50 a day until after their 45th day.

At rates like that it’s not just jurors on months-long trials who could suffer financial hardships for doing their civic duty. Even a trial lasting more than a week could cause some families to tap their emergency fund if they have to rely just on wages from the court.

While federal law prohibits an employer from firing an employee for serving on a jury, it does not require an employer to pay an employee for the time they spend on that jury.

Many companies do continue to pay employees their typical wages while they are serving; 62% of workers reported that they had paid jury leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unsurprisingly, full time workers, high-salary earners, and employees of companies with 500 or more workers were the most likely to receive this compensation.

Only about a quarter of the lowest-income workers reported having paid jury leave, vs. 87% of the highest earners. And less than a third of part-time employees got this benefit, compared with 72% of full-timers. So low-wage workers, part-timers, and the self-employed are among those most likely to face a severe financial crunch if they serve.

Judges, of course, will excuse any juror who faces “undue hardship,” though interpreting that is up to each individual judge. Any worker who doesn’t receive compensation from her employer can try to claim this excuse. The longer the case, the more powerful the hardship claim becomes, since judges know most people can’t afford to live for long off the pay the court offers.

Some states have attempted to address this problem by creating “lengthy trial fund” programs to help jurors recover lost wages. By using other court fees to generate the revenue for the fund, Oklahoma can pay its jurors up to $200 a day after the tenth day, and Arizona can pay up to $300 a day after the fifth day.

If more states created such funds, juries for long trials could include a broader and more diverse range of citizens. And given the career and emotional tolls serving on high-profile cases like the ones in Boston and Colorado will take on a juror, shouldn’t our government compensate them at least somewhat fairly for the job?

TIME Supreme Court

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Upends the Notion of the Silent Justice

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court Justice Young Photos
Steve Petteway—Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States Official portrait of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Supreme Court Justice isn't just writing opinions, she's sharing them in interviews.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg appears to be on a book tour with no book. The oldest Supreme Court Justice has been on a media tear recently, making headlines with interviews about everything from feminism to her workout routine, even slyly revealing that she was “not 100 percent sober” during the State of the Union.

In the last year, Ginsburg has given interviews to Elle, the Associated Press, the National Journal, The New Republic, Yahoo! News, Bloomberg and MSNBC. She’s done a live event at the 92nd Street Y, performed a monologue in a D.C. play about the Civil War and given her blessing to the Notorious RBG Tumblr page, a fan website in her honor. Only Ginsburg’s opera-buddy Antonin Scalia, who gave a much-discussed 2013 interview to New York magazine, and Sonia Sotomayor, who made the rounds promoting her memoir, come close to rivaling Ginsburg’s recent publicity tour.

Some longtime court watchers think Ginsburg and her colleagues may be reshaping the way the traditionally cloistered justices interact with the public.

“That is a lot, and the frequency of it breaks the pattern,” says Lyle Denniston, a contributor to SCOTUSblog who has been covering the courts for 57 years. “This is a much more open age, with the Internet, and the justices are simply players in the modern drama of greater public exposure. It is pattern-setting, and it is unusual.”

Like many things at the Supreme Court, there may be an unspoken political angle too.

Leading up to the 2012 and 2014 elections, some liberals had argued that Ginsburg should retire, given her age (at 81, she’s the oldest sitting Justice), her history with pancreatic cancer and the possibility that Republicans could retake the White House and/or the Senate.

“If Ginsburg and Breyer abjure retirement and Obama wins, the justices’ subsequent departures will be relatively harmless,” wrote Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy in the New Republic in 2011. “On the other hand, if Obama loses, they will have contributed to a disaster.”

A brief visit to the hospital over Thanksgiving renewed those fears for liberal court-watchers, giving Ginsburg all the more reason to dispel any concerns about her health. In all her interviews, she’s noted that she’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

“I’ve said many times: once I sense that I am slipping, I will step down,” she told MSNBC earlier this week. “This is a very intense job. It’s the best and the hardest job I’ve ever had. It takes a lot of energy and staying power to do it right. I will step down when I feel I can no longer do the job full steam.”

Ginsburg’s interviews have touched on some other common themes. She discusses what it was like to be one of few women in law school, to have no job offers after graduating at the top of her class at Columbia Law and how her egalitarian relationship with her husband Martin Ginsburg shaped her career. She recalls her time working for the ACLU, fighting laws that discriminated against women. She notes that while Roe v. Wade is unlikely to be overturned, restrictions on abortion rights affect poor women far more than affluent ones. And, inevitably, she calls on the generation of young American women to avoid complacency.

One thing that concerns me is that today’s young women don’t seem to care that we have a fundamental instrument of government that makes no express statement about the equal citizenship stature of men and women,” she told The New Republic last year. “They know there are no closed doors anymore, and they may take for granted the rights that they have.”

Not everyone agrees that Ginsburg’s increased public exposure is a good thing, especially when Ginsburg discussed the upcoming gay marriage case, sparking calls from some conservatives for her to recuse herself.

“Justices are generally more cautious than Justice Ginsburg has been lately in discussing pending issues,” says Denniston. “If they were discussing a tax case or a labor case, nobody would notice, but if you’re discussing the most controversial issues, people do pay very close attention. And they do take offense when a member of the court seems to be forecasting where the court’s going to go.”

But Ginsburg seems secure in her decision to speak out about her opinions, whether in a written dissent or not. She told MSNBC that she’d like to be remembered as “someone who used whatever talents she had to do her work to the very best of her ability and to help repair tears in her society.”

For this Supreme Court Justice, that means more than just writing opinions in a quiet legal chamber. It also means getting out there before the public. And that decision may end up as much a part of her legacy as any of her legal ones.

Read next: Oregon’s Kate Brown Becomes First Openly Bisexual U.S. Governor

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Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of years that Lyle Denniston has covered courts.

TIME Law

Alabama’s Governor Apologizes to India After a Man Was Injured in a Police Encounter

The 57-year-old man was left partially paralyzed after being wrestled to the pavement near his son's home

The governor of Alabama has tendered an apology to the government of India for the actions of two police officers in the city of Madison last week that resulted in serious injuries to an Indian man.

“I deeply regret the unfortunate use of excessive force by the Madison Police Department on Sureshbhai Patel and for the injuries sustained by Mr. Patel,” reads a letter from Governor Robert Bentley to Ajit Kumar, the Indian Consul General in Atlanta.

Patel, 57, was left partially paralyzed after being thrown on the ground by two police officers who stopped him on the sidewalk near his son’s home on Feb 6. Patel had come from India to help take care of his 17-month-old grandson.

“I sincerely hope that Mr. Patel continues to improve and that he will regain full use of his legs,” Bentley’s letter reads.

Bentley said he has also initiated an investigation into the incident by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, parallel to the one being conducted by the FBI.

Eric Parker, the 26-year-old policeman who turned himself in following the release of dashcam footage of the incident, and who was subsequently fired, has pleaded not guilty to assault charges leveled against him.

TIME States

Kentucky Mulls Statewide Smoking Ban

146242512
Shui Ta Shan—Flickr RF/Getty Images

But measure unlikely to become law

Kentucky lawmakers voted Friday to ban smoking in all public buildings and workplaces, but the measure faces a steep uphill battle to become law.

The vote was seen as a landmark move in Kentucky, which ranks among the states with highest tobacco yield. The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Susan Westrom, said secondhand smoke kills about 950 Kentuckians each year.

The bill passed 51-46 in the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives, WLWT reports, but will face harsher odds in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

[WLWT]

TIME Law

Montana Lawmaker Wants to Ban Yoga Pants

Woman Practicing Yoga in Park
Getty Images

And not even for fashion reasons

A Montana representative is introducing a bill to strengthen the state’s indecent exposure laws after a group of naked bicyclists pedaled through the city of Missoula in August.

Rep. David Moore’s proposal would tighten indecent exposure laws to include any nipple exposure—including men’s—and any clothing hat “gives the appearance or simulates” a person’s buttocks, genitals, pelvic area or female nipple, the Associated Press reports.

Tight-fitting clothing—like yoga pants, for example—could also be considered indecent exposure under the law, the Republican lawmaker said. “Yoga pants should be illegal in public anyway,” Moore said after the hearing.

Under current laws in Montana, a person convicted of indecent exposure three times could get a life sentence in jail. Moore’s bill lessens that sentence to a maximum of five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

State prohibitions on public nudity are constitutional, according to a 1991 Supreme Court case, as nudity itself is not considered an expression of free speech according to the court’s interpretation of the constitution.

Moore drafted the bill after the Bare as you Dare nude bicycling event rode through Missoula last summer, angering residents.

[AP]

Read next: Adhesive Bras: The Fashion Trend That Never Quite Stuck

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