TIME Crime

Trooper Who Arrested Sandra Bland Was Previously Warned About ‘Unprofessional Conduct’

His personnel file was just released

(DALLAS) — The Texas trooper who arrested Sandra Bland after a confrontation that began with a traffic stop was once cautioned about “unprofessional conduct” in a 2014 incident while he was still a probationary trooper, according to his personnel file.

Bland, a 28-year-old Chicago-area woman, was found dead in her Waller County jail cell in Hempstead, about 200 miles south of Dallas, on July 13, three days after her arrest. Officials say she used a plastic bag to hang herself, a finding her family has questioned. Bland’s family and others also have criticized Trooper Brian Encinia, who stopped Bland for failing to signal a lane change.

The Associated Press obtained Encinia’s personnel file Friday from the Texas Department of Public Safety through a Freedom of Information Act request. Encinia had been with the department for a little over a year. For the most part, his file was unremarkable. He received “competent” ratings in all of the evaluations that were released.

However, in an evaluation that covered September and October 2014, his supervisor noted that Encinia “was given a written counseling for unprofessional conduct … for an incident occurring while at a school in Austin.” The documents provided no additional details and a Department of Public Safety official did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday night.

The evaluation goes on to say, “In the future, Trooper Encinia should conduct himself at all times in a manner that will reflect well upon himself, the Department, and the State of Texas. This supervisor will ensure that this is done by meeting periodically with Trooper Encinia.”

Under the category of “Stress Tolerance” in the same evaluation, his supervisor remarked that Encinia “performed effectively and rationally while involved in a pursuit resulting in a firearms discharge during the reporting period.” The document did not provide additional details about that incident.

The documents also did not include any information about Encinia’s interaction with Bland. That is still under investigation, though the director of the Department of Public Safety, Steve McCraw, has said Encinia violated internal policies of professionalism and courtesy.

Dashcam video shows the confrontation between Bland and Encinia swiftly escalated after she objected to being told to put out her cigarette. Encinia at one point is seen holding a stun gun as he says, “I will light you up!” after Bland refuses to get out of her car. Bland, who was black, eventually was arrested for allegedly assaulting the white trooper.

Bland’s death came after nearly a year of heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects, especially those who have been killed by officers or die in police custody.

According to his personnel file, Encinia was selected for the Trooper Trainee Academy in December 2013, joined the Department of Public Safety in June 2014 as a probationary trooper and completed his probation in June 2015, becoming a Highway Patrol trooper.

Encinia’s most recent performance evaluation was for November and December 2014. Among the remarks were that Encinia “appears to operate effectively under stress,” ”continues to use good problem solving skills and judgment while working patrol” and “appears to treat others in a respectful manner.”

Before applying for trooper training, Encinia was a volunteer firefighter in Brenham, where he was a supervisor at Blue Bell Creameries. Brenham Fire Chief Ricky Boeker remembered Encinia as a “stand-up kind of guy” popular with the people he worked with.

Encinia, a 2008 graduate of Texas A&M University, was elected as a district chief, Boeker said.

“He was a smart individual, very detail-oriented and he was just well liked by all of our members,” he said.

TIME Courts

Customer Says He Found Meth in a Milkshake From In-N-Out Burger

The customer says he found two capsules at the bottom of his cup

A customer has sued In-N-Out Burger because he says he got sick from meth he found in his milkshake.

In a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, the customer, Fred Maldonado, states that he bought a burger and a milkshake from In-N-Out in Downey, Calif. in March of 2014. He brought the food back to his motel room and ate it. The next morning, the suit states, he woke up and found a napkin and two capsules in the bottom of his milkshake cup. When he went back to the restaurant to complain, the manager apologized and gave him a free burger.

According to the suit, later testing revealed that the capsules contained methamphetamine. Maldano claims to have felt nausea and mental distress as a result of consuming the beverage.

“At In-N-Out Burger, we have always served the freshest, highest quality burgers, fries, and drinks and customer safety is one of our highest priorities,” In-N-Out Burger executive vice president Arnie Wensinger told City News Service.“We will vigorously defend these baseless claims.”

TIME Crime

Cecil the Lion’s Killer Contacts Federal Authorities

The dentist, Dr. Walter Palmer, has not been charged with a crime

The American dentist who killed a lion that was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe has contacted U.S. federal wildlife authorities.

On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement said they had been voluntarily contacted by a representative of the Minnesota dentist. Before he reached out to the service on Thursday, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe urged him to contact authorities over Twitter.

Authorities in Zimbabwe are calling for the extradition of the dentist, Dr. Walter Palmer, who killed a lion named Cecil that was beloved in Zimbabwe on July 1. Palmer’s guides face fines and jail time. The penalty for poaching in Zimbabwe is a $20,000 fine and imprisonment for up to 10 years, according to NBC News. Palmer has not been charged with a crime.

On Friday, U.S. State Department officials told the Associated Press that, as far as the department knows, the U.S. has not extradited anyone to Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe has not extradited anyone in the U.S. since the extradition treaty took effect in 2000.

Palmer has been the subject of public outcry over the past several days, as angry comments have flooded the Yelp page of his dental practice.

TIME natural disaster

Hundreds Flee California Wildfires as Governor Declares State of Emergency

A firefighter was killed in the fires

(LOWER LAKE, Calif.)—Blazes raging in forests and woodlands across California have taken the life of a firefighter and forced hundreds of people to flee their homes as an army of firefighters continue to battle them from the air and the ground.

Twenty-three large fires, many sparked by lightning strikes, were burning across Northern California on Saturday, said state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant. Some 8,000 firefighters were attempting to subdue them, something made incredibly difficult by several years of drought that have dried out California.

“The conditions and fire behavior we’re seeing at 10 in the morning is typically what we’d see in late afternoon in late August and September,” said Nick Schuler, a division chief with the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “But because of the dry conditions, because of the drought-stricken vegetation accompanied by the steep terrain and winds, we’re seeing fire activity that’s abnormal for this time of year.”

In the Modoc National Forest, about a hundred miles south of Oregon, David Ruhl, an engine captain from South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest, was killed fighting a fast-moving blaze. He had vanished Thursday while fighting the 800-acre fire and his body wasn’t recovered until Friday.

The biggest fire was in the Lower Lake area north of San Francisco where firefighters had to wade through thick smoke and flying embers to turn loose horses, goats and other livestock in rural neighborhoods as their owners fled to safety. The fast-moving fire had burned three homes by Friday and was threatening 450 other structures. Only 5 percent contained, it had spread across 28 square miles and was growing quickly.

The fires prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for California on Friday. As part of the order, he activated the California National Guard to help with disaster recovery.

Berlant said firefighters were hoping cooler weather might help them this weekend, but there was also the threat that lingering thunderstorms could bring more lightning strikes like those that ignited several of the fires.

__

BURNING HILLS

The fast-spreading wildfire near Lower Lake north of San Francisco has torched three homes and is threatening more than 450 structures.

At least 650 residents have been evacuated from their homes as the blaze raged in hills covered in dense brush and oak trees and dotted with ranch homes. It has charred 28 square miles near Lower Lake, south of Clear Lake, a popular summer recreation spot.

Only 5 percent contained, it was moving southwest toward Lower Lake and Clear Lake.

“We saw it behind our house. We saw the smoke pouring over. So we just started collecting stuff and we left, to find out later that everyone was evacuated out here,” said resident Julie Flannery.

When they returned Friday they found their two horses and one mule were gone. They hoped firefighters turned them loose so they could make their way to safety.

“The rest of this is just material stuff,” she said. “The animals and the family is the most important.”

___

FIRE LINES HOLDING

Crews battling a fire east of Napa Valley held their ground Friday, more than a week after it started.

The blaze has charred more than 12 square miles in Solano County. The fire is about 45 miles east of Napa’s wine county, and vineyards are not threatened.

At least 136 structures are threatened, but evacuation orders have been lifted. It is mostly contained, and crews expect to have it fully corralled by Monday.

___

FOOTHILLS FIRES

A woman was arrested in connection with a small fire near Groveland, a stop-off point for travelers headed to Yosemite National Park.

The 200-acre fire, about 20 miles from the park’s entrance, was 45 percent contained Friday. About two dozen homes are threatened and voluntary evacuations are in place.

Lisa Ann Vilmur was arrested Thursday night for recklessly causing a fire and jailed on $100,000 bail. It was not known Friday if she has an attorney.

In a separate foothills blaze northeast of Sacramento, evacuation orders have been lifted for residents of 50 homes. The fire, which ignited Saturday, burned through more than 3 1/2 square miles and is almost fully contained.

___

BASS LAKE BLAZE

Residents of 200 homes in the central California community of Cascadel Woods were ordered to evacuate Thursday.

A wildfire burning near Bass Lake for several days spread to more than 6 square miles and is partially contained.

Authorities say a boy acknowledged starting the fire by playing with a lighter to burn pine needles in the dry Sierra Nevada. They say the boy faces criminal charges but is not in custody because he and his family are cooperating.

___

MODOC NATIONAL FOREST FIRE

Engine Captain David Ruhl of South Dakota was killed battling the fire that broke out Thursday in the Modoc National Forest about 100 miles south of Oregon.

The firefighter had vanished Thursday and his body wasn’t found until Friday. U.S. Forest Service officials didn’t immediately reveal the cause of death.

Ruhl, who was assigned to a Black Hills National Forest firefighting team, had been helping California firefighters since June.

The fire broke out southeast of Lava Camp and rapidly grew to consume 800 acres. No containment figure was immediately given.

TIME Florida

Coast Guard Suspends Search for Missing Teen Fishermen

Perry Cohen (L) and Austin Stephanos, both 14 years old.
U.S. Coast Guard—AP Perry Cohen (L) and Austin Stephanos, both 14 years old.

The families will press ahead with a private search

(OPA-LOCKA, Fla.)—After hundreds of rescue workers fanned out across a massive swath of the Atlantic for a full week, the Coast Guard’s search for two teenage fishermen ended Friday, a heart-rending decision for families so convinced the boys could be alive they’re pressing on with their own hunt.

The agency said it ended the search at sunset, as it had announced earlier in the day. The Coast Guard searched waters from South Florida up through South Carolina without success.

Even as officials announced at noon that the formal search-and-rescue effort would end at sundown, private planes and boats were preparing to keep scouring the water hoping for clues on what happened to the 14-year-old neighbors, Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos.

Capt. Mark Fedor called the decision to suspend the search “excruciating and gut-wrenching.” He suggested what long had been feared by observers — that the boys had surpassed any reasonable period of survivability — with his offering of “heartfelt condolences.”

“I know no statistics will ease the pain,” he said in recounting the seven-day, nearly 50,000-square-nautical-mile search. “We were desperate to find Austin and Perry.”

With volunteers ready to keep searching all along the coastline and about $340,000 in search-fund donations by Friday evening, the families promised to keep looking for their sons.

Nick Korniloff, the stepfather of Perry, addressed a horde of media outside his home on a quiet street in Tequesta, Florida, saying air searches led by private pilots would go on alongside new efforts led by former members of the military and others with special training.

“We know there’s a window here and we think there’s an opportunity,” he said, “and we will do everything we can to bring these boys home.”

Those who have met with the families believe the private search could go on at least for weeks.

“How could you go back to normal?” said Tequesta Police Chief Christopher Elg, who has stayed in regular contact with the families. “They may very well devote a large portion of the next few weeks, months, maybe even years just toward hope and doing what they can to bring themselves a sense of peace.”

The Coast Guard had dispatched crews night and day to scan the Atlantic for signs of the boys. They chased repeated reports of objects sighted in the water, and at times had the help of the Navy and other local agencies. But after the boys’ boat was found overturned Sunday, no useful clues turned up.

The families had held out hope that items believed to have been on the boat, including a large cooler, might be spotted, or that the teens might even have clung to something buoyant in their struggle to stay alive. Even as hope dimmed, experts on survival said finding the teens alive was still possible. The Coast Guard said it would keep on searching until officials no longer thought the boys could be rescued.

The saga began July 24, when the boys took Austin’s 19-foot boat on what their families said was expected to be a fishing trip within the nearby Loxahatchee River and Intracoastal Waterway, where they were allowed to cruise without supervision. The boys fueled up at a local marina around 1:30 p.m. and set off, and later calls to Austin’s cellphone went unanswered. When a line of summer storms moved through and the boys still couldn’t be reached, police were called and the Coast Guard search began.

The boys grew up on the water, constantly boated and fished, worked at a tackle shop together and immersed themselves in life on the ocean. Their families said they could swim before they could walk. They clung to faith in their boys’ knowledge of the sea, even speculating they might have fashioned a raft and spear to keep them afloat and fed while adrift.

“It is a mother’s prayer that you will be safe and sound in our arms today,” Austin’s mother, Pamela Cohen, tweeted Friday. “Missing you both more than you could ever imagine.”

Many unknowns about the boys’ status persisted throughout the ordeal, including whether they were wearing life jackets and whether they had food or water. The Coast Guard said it tried to err toward optimism in deciding how long to press on.

Along the way, some suggested the teens shouldn’t have been allowed to boat on their own. Many others, though, voiced support, saying voyages with set boundaries are normal among boating families, and that the parents had no control over what ultimately happened.

Locals turned out night after night for vigils, poured money into the private search fund, used their own boats and planes and walked the coastline in pursuit of any little clue that might make a break. The efforts got an early boost from a high-profile neighbor of the families, NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath, who helped garner publicity for the story.

TIME Military

New F-35 Fighter Jets Are Ready for Combat

The Joint Strike Fighter F-35 is undergoing flight tests and evaluations at Naval Air Station  Patuxent River, Md
Jonathan Newton—The Washington Post/Getty Images U.S. Marine Corps test pilot Maj. Richard Rusnok goes over his pre-flight check list in the cockpit of the F-35B Lightning II aircraft BF-4p prior to a test flight at Naval Air Station Patuxent River on March 7, 2013 in Patuxent, MD

Years of delay and cost overruns overshadow announcement

The U.S. Marine Corps declared a new squadron of F-35 fighter jets ready for deployment on Friday, yielding the first shipment from a controversial $400 billion fighter program that has struggled through years of costly delays.

A squadron of 10 F-35B Lightning II aircraft passed a final round of inspections on July 18, according to a statement by the U.S. Marine Corps.

“The F-35B’s ability to conduct operations from expeditionary airstrips or sea-based carriers provides our Nation with its first 5th generation strike fighter, which will transform the way we fight and win,” Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford said in a public statement. More than 50 pilots and 500 maintenance crew members have been trained on the newest variant of F-35 fighter jet.

TIME Crime

Baltimore Sees the Highest Number of Homicides in 43 Years

Baltimore Homicide Spike
Patrick Semansky—AP In this July 30, 2015 picture, a member of the Baltimore Police Department removes crime scene tape from a corner where a victim of a shooting was discovered in Baltimore.

The city reported 45 homicides in July

(BALTIMORE) — Baltimore reached a grim milestone on Friday, three months after riots erupted in response to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody: With 45 homicides in July, the city has seen more bloodshed in a single month than it has in 43 years.

Police reported three deaths — two men shot Thursday and one on Friday. The men died at local hospitals.

With their deaths, this year’s homicides reached 189, far outpacing the 119 killings by July’s end in 2014. Nonfatal shootings have soared to 366, compared to 200 by the same date last year. July’s total was the worst since the city recorded 45 killings in August 1972, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The seemingly Sisyphean task of containing the city’s violence prompted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to fire her police commissioner, Anthony Batts, on July 8.

“Too many continue to die on our streets,” Rawlings-Blake said then. “Families are tired of dealing with this pain, and so am I. Recent events have placed an intense focus on our police leadership, distracting many from what needs to be our main focus: the fight against crime.”

But the killings have not abated under Interim Commissioner Kevin Davis since then.

Baltimore is not unique in its suffering; crimes are spiking in big cities around the country.

But while the city’s police are closing cases— Davis announced arrests in three recent murders several days ago — the violence is outpacing their efforts. Davis said Tuesday the “clearance rate” is at 36.6 percent, far lower than the department’s mid-40s average.

Crime experts and residents of Baltimore’s most dangerous neighborhoods cite a confluence of factors: mistrust of the police; generalized anger and hopelessness over a lack of opportunities for young black men; and competition among dealers of illegal drugs, bolstered by the looting of prescription pills from pharmacies during the riot.

Federal drug enforcement agents said gangs targeted 32 pharmacies in the city, taking roughly 300,000 doses of opiates, as the riots caused $9 million in property damage in the city.

Perched on a friend’s stoop, Sherry Moore, 55, said she knew “mostly all” of the young men killed recently in West Baltimore, including an 18-year-old fatally shot a half-block away. Moore said many more pills are on the street since the riot, making people wilder than usual.

“The ones doing the violence, the shootings, they’re eating Percocet like candy and they’re not thinking about consequences. They have no discipline, they have no respect — they think this is a game. How many can I put down on the East side? How many can I put down on the West side?”

The tally of 42 homicides in May included Gray, who died in April after his neck was broken in police custody. The July tally likewise includes a previous death — a baby whose death in June was ruled a homicide in July.

Shawn Ellerman, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Baltimore division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said May’s homicide spike was probably related to the stolen prescription drugs, a supply that is likely exhausted by now. But the drug trade is inherently violent, and turf wars tend to prompt retaliatory killings.

“You can’t attribute every murder to narcotics, but I would think a good number” of them are, he said. “You could say it’s retaliation from drug trafficking, it’s retaliation from gangs moving in from other territories. But there have been drug markets in Baltimore for years.”

Across West Baltimore, residents complain that drug addiction and crime are part of a cycle that begins with despair among children who lack educational and recreational opportunities, and extends when people can’t find work.

“We need jobs! We need jobs!” a man riding around on a bicycle shouted to anyone who’d listen after four people were shot, three of them fatally, on a street corner in July.

More community engagement, progressive policing policies and opportunities for young people in poverty could help, community activist Munir Bahar said.

“People are focusing on enforcement, not preventing violence. Police enforce a code, a law. Our job as the community is to prevent the violence, and we’ve failed,” said Bahar, who leads the annual 300 Men March against violence in West Baltimore.

“We need anti-violence organizations, we need mentorship programs, we need a long-term solution. But we also need immediate relief,” Bahar added. “When we’re in something so deep, we have to stop it before you can analyze what the root is.”

Strained relationships between police and the public also play a role, according to Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Arrests plummeted and violence soared after six officers were indicted in Gray’s death. Residents accused police of abandoning their posts for fear of facing criminal charges for making arrests, and said emboldened criminals were settling scores with little risk of being caught.

The department denied these claims, and police cars have been evident patrolling West Baltimore’s central thoroughfares recently.

But O’Donnell said the perception of lawlessness is just as powerful than the reality.

“We have a national issue where the police feel they are the Public Enemy No. 1,” he said, making some officers stand down and criminals become more brazen.

“There’s a rhythm to the streets,” he added. “And when people get away with gun violence, it has a long-term emboldening effect. And the good people in the neighborhood think, ‘Who has the upper hand?'”

TIME Sports

164 Skydivers Set a World Record While Hurtling Headfirst Toward the Ground

They dove headfirst

Skydiving is tricky enough on its own, but trying to form a shape with 163 other people nearly 20,000 ft. in the sky is even tougher. The daunting nature of the task didn’t dissuade the group of skilled skydivers who jumped out of seven different airplanes at precise moments in an effort to set a new world record for a vertical skydiving formation.

The group succeeded, creating a formation that resembled a giant flower over central Illinois on Friday, while hurtling headfirst toward the ground at speeds of up to 240 m.p.h. It took the team, which was selected from training camps in the U.S., Spain and Australia, 13 attempts to get it right, but they ultimately broke the old record of 138 divers, set in 2012.

“It’s awesome, man,” said Rock Nelson, one of the organizers. “It just goes to show that if you can get the right group of people together and the right support team and good conditions, anything is possible … even on attempt number 13.”

The team was also accompanied by four skydiving videographers who chronicled the journey to the ground.

[AP]

 

TIME Crime

No Charges Against University of Cincinnati Cops Who Were at Scene of Fatal Shooting

Phillip Kidd and David Lindenschmidt were at the scene just after the shooting

(CINCINNATI)—Two University of Cincinnati police officers who were at the scene just after a fellow officer fatally shot a driver are not being charged, a prosecutor said Friday.

The Hamilton County grand jury did not return indictments against Phillip Kidd and David Lindenschmidt. The announcement that they wouldn’t be charged came a day after former Officer Ray Tensing pleaded not guilty to murder and voluntary manslaughter in the July 19 shooting of Samuel DuBose.

Kidd and Lindenschmidt were put on administrative leave this week during a university investigation. The officers haven’t responded to messages left at the school’s police department and at a possible home number for Lindenschmidt. No home number could be found for Kidd.

A police report and body camera video from the two officers showed they were on the scene just after the shooting. Footage showed Tensing getting up from the ground after DuBose had been shot.

Tensing’s attorney has said Tensing fired at DuBose because he thought he was going to be dragged under the motorist’s car.

Kidd can be heard on body camera video saying “yes” to another officer’s question on whether he saw Tensing dragged. Prosecutors have said Tensing was not dragged and Tensing’s own body camera video doesn’t show any dragging.

County Prosecutor Joe Deters says Kidd and Lindenschmidt arrived as Tensing reached into DuBose’s car. Their official statements about what happened matched what was shown on Tensing’s body camera, and neither officer said in official interviews that he saw Tensing being dragged, according to Deters.

Both officers made comments at the scene but later were interviewed in depth by Cincinnati police about what they had witnessed, according to Deters.

“These officers have been truthful and honest about what happened and no charges are warranted,” Deters said.

DuBose’s family had asked prosecutors to investigate the other officers. The family’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, said in email Friday that they are “still concerned with the initial rendition of facts given by the officers,” but he said the family respects the grand jury’s decision.

Also Friday, the county coroner released preliminary autopsy findings showing that DuBose died of a single gunshot wound to the head.

Meanwhile, Tensing is trying to get his job back. He was fired shortly after his indictment Wednesday and released on bail Thursday.

The executive director of the FOP Ohio Labor Council, a division of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, said Friday that the union filed a grievance on Tensing’s behalf Wednesday to try to get him reinstated. The union said the university violated Tensing’s employment contract by not giving him a pre-disciplinary conference and a copy of the formal charges, executive director Catherine Brockman said.

University spokeswoman Michele Ralston said it stands by its decision to terminate Tensing.

TIME Education

Venomous Spiders Shut Down a Pennsylvania School

Recluse spider or Brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa), Sicariidae.
Rebecca Hardy—De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images Recluse spider or Brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa), Sicariidae.

Brown recluse spiders were found in the school for the third time

(MERCERSBURG, Pa.)—A Pennsylvania school district has closed one of its elementary schools due to an infestation of venomous spiders.

WHTM-TV reports this is the third time brown recluse spiders were found at Montgomery Elementary School in Mercersburg.

The Tuscarora School District made the decision to close the school Tuesday after officials met with the district’s pest control management company. The company found five to six spiders in the school’s library in mid-July. They were also found last year at different times in the lunchroom kitchen and the boiler room.

Superintendent Dr. Charles Prijatelj says crews are spraying pesticides outside the school and the district plans to fog the entire building. Staff have already sealed cracks in the school’s walls

Steve Miller, of Home Paramount Pest Control, says the spider bites are usually painless but it produces an ulcer. The spider is not native to the region.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com