TIME Accident

Alligator Kills Texas Man Who Went for a Late-Night Swim

The 28-year-old was attacked in a private marina

A 28-year-old Texas man was fatally attacked by an alligator early Friday morning.

Tommie Woodward had gone for a late-night swim in a private marina near the Louisiana border when the alligator struck, severely injuring one of his limbs, the Associated Press reported. Officials said he had been swimming with a woman, though by one account she only entered the water after he cried for help; she is reportedly unharmed.

Police found Woodward’s body two hours after the attack.

The marina’s owners had earlier posted a warning sign about the alligator, which they had spotted in the water and estimated to be more than 11 ft. long.

[AP]

TIME national secrurity

Officials Ramp Up Security for Fourth of July After Warning of Terror Threat

People are urged to report suspicious activity

The governor of New York put his state’s emergency operations center on higher alert Friday because of warnings by the federal government about a greater threat of terrorist attacks over the July Fourth holiday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said additional staff would be in place at the center. He also ordered state authorities to enhance monitoring of holiday celebrations.

He urged people to “not only remember the freedoms that we hold dear, but also remain cautious of their surroundings and learn to recognize and report suspicious activity.”

Federal intelligence agencies issued a bulletin to local law enforcement in May reminding them…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Crime

Prison Escapee Sent Letter to Daughter Right Before Breakout, Report Says

Convicted Murderers Escape From New York State Prison
Handout—Getty Images In this handout from New York State Police, convicted murderer Richard Matt (R) is shown.

"I always promised you I would see you on the outside"

The prison escapee who was shot and killed by police reportedly sent his daughter a letter shortly before breaking out of Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

The Buffalo News, citing unnamed law enforcement officials, reported that Richard Matt wrote to his daughter, “I always promised you I would see you on the outside. I’m a man of my word.” The letter was postmarked before June 6, the day Matt and fellow prisoner David Sweat were discovered missing, and the letter reached its destination on June 9.

For her protection, Matt’s daughter has not been identified. The prisoners’ alleged conspirator, prison employee Joyce Mitchell, texted the daughter several times before the breakout with updates about how Matt was doing in prison, according to reports. The daughter was unaware of the escape plans.

[Buffalo News]

TIME California

This California Town Conserved So Much Water It Had to Dump 550,000 Gallons Of It

"Hopefully, this will be a learning experience," one resident said

California is going through one of the worst droughts in its history, with residents around the state being asked to conserve as much water as possible. But the town of Poway did such a good job, officials had to dump more than half a million gallons.

According to Poway’s Mayor, Steve Vaus, the water sat in the overheated Blue Crystal Reservoir for so long, that a chemical imbalance of chloramine developed, rendering it unsafe to drink, ABC10 News reports.

“It was a perfect storm of conservation and heat,” Vaus told ABC10 News.

The amount that was dumped could have supplied four households for a year, the station says.

Vaus said that the water couldn’t be released back into the town’s lake, as it would’ve been too expensive to transport it there from the reservoir. Instead, it was released into a nearby canyon.

“Hopefully, this will be a learning experience,” Poway resident Susan Killen told ABC10 News.

The city is trying to come up with a plan to prevent this kind of situation from happening again, but is facing monetary restrictions — a standalone recycling system would cost over $1 million.

[ABC10 News]

TIME People

A Retired 9/11 First Responder Just Won $5 Million in the New York Lottery

"Everything is beautiful now," Carmelo Mercado says

A retired firefighter with a serious lung ailment has won $5 million in the New York lottery.

Carmelo Mercado, 63, won the top prize in the Cash X100 scratch-off lottery ticket, according to CNN. “Everything is beautiful now,” he said.

Mercado retired from Battalion 49 in Queens after serving at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks. A doctor advised him to give up firefighting in 2004 because of the serious damage that work had done to his lungs.

Since then, he’s dedicated his life to his four children and plays the New York lottery regularly.

Mercado wasn’t so lucky the first time he tried Cash X100. But when he noticed that the next ticket was No. 25, the inverse of his birth year, he thought he’d give the scratch-card game another shot, CNN reports.

“I went down three rows and I thought it said 5,000,” he said, describing the moment he began scratching the winning lottery card. “And then there was another comma and then I saw the other three [zeros]. I said, Holy mackerel! That looks like $5 million!”

He says he plans to purchase a vacation home at Disney, CNN says. At the same time, Mercado told reporters, “I’m just pacing myself. I’m still in shock.”

[CNN]

TIME Race

The Black-Church Fires in Southern States Are Not Connected, Authorities Say

Fire crews try to control a blaze at the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina in this handout photo
Clarendon County Fire Department/Reuters Fire crews try to control a blaze at the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, S.C., on the night of June 30, 2015

At least seven black churches have burned in the past two weeks

Federal law-enforcement agencies have concluded that recent fires in black churches in the southeastern U.S. are unrelated.

“To date the investigations have not revealed any potential links between the fires,” Justice Department spokeswoman Melanie Newman told Reuters.

The wave of fires began on June 21 with a fire at College Hill Seventh Day Adventist in Knoxville, Tenn., and continued across at least four states in the southeastern and central U.S. Three fires have been officially declared arson and at least two were deemed to have been the result of natural causes.

The most recent fire, at Mount Zion AME church in Greeleyville, S.C., on June 30, is among the latter. Investigators said they found no accelerants, one of the most common signs of arson, at the scene. A lightning-strike forensics report by CNN meteorologists shows four strikes close to the church, around 7 p.m.

“Investigators found no indicator of criminal intent,” State Law Enforcement Department spokesperson Kathryn Richardson said in a statement. “The investigation is complete.”

Mount Zion has burned down before, set aflame by the KKK in 1995 as part of a string of 30 suspicious fires at black churches across the south. This kind of fraught history is the foundation of continuing suspicions regarding the church fires, activist-writer David Love told CNN.

“It may not be arson now,” he said, “but people look at the cases where it actually did happen and feel, ‘It could happen again.'”

[Reuters]

TIME Crime

Scientist Who Faked HIV Vaccine Research Sentenced to Prison

Dong-Pyou Han AIDS research
Charlie Neibergall—AP In this July 1, 2014 file photo, former Iowa State University researcher Dong-Pyou Han leaves the federal courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa.

He was sentenced to more than 4 ½ years in prison

(DES MOINES, Iowa)—A former Iowa State University scientist who altered blood samples to make it appear he had achieved a breakthrough toward a potential vaccine against HIV was sentenced Wednesday to more than 4 ½ years in prison for making false statements in research reports.

Dong-Pyou Han, 58, also must pay $7.2 million to a federal government agency that funded the research. He entered a plea agreement in February admitting guilt to two counts of making false statements.

Government prosecutors said Han’s misconduct dates to 2008 when he worked at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland under professor Michael Cho, who was leading a team testing an experimental HIV vaccine on rabbits. Cho’s team began receiving NIH funding, and he soon reported the vaccine was causing rabbits to develop antibodies to HIV, which was considered a major breakthrough. Han said he initially accidentally mixed human blood with rabbit blood making the potential vaccine appear to increase an immune defense against HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS. Han continued to spike the results to avoid disappointing Cho, his mentor, after the scientific community became excited that the team could be on the verge of a vaccine.

Iowa State recruited Cho in 2009, and his team — including Han — continue the research with NIH funding. A group of researchers at Harvard University found in January 2013 the promising results had been achieved with rabbit blood spiked with human antibodies.

Han’s attorney Joseph Herrold, a federal public defender, asked for probation instead of prison.

“Here, there is little reason to believe that Dr. Han has not already been deterred from any future criminal conduct. His conduct is aberrational in an otherwise admirable life,” Herrold wrote in a sentencing report filed Monday. “He regrets the hurt he has caused to his friends and colleagues, the damage he has caused to government funded scientific research, and the pain he has caused any members of the public who had high hopes based on his falsehood.”

Herrold said Han has lost the ability to work in his field of choice and is likely to be deported by immigration officials “and possibly never permitted to return,” separating him from his wife and two adult children who are U.S. citizens. Han, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, is a lawful permanent U.S. resident.

Government prosecutors sought prison time to serve as a deterrent to Han and others who might consider research fraud.

“It is important that we stand up not just for punishing the fraud committed against the United States government, but for the research that should be legitimately taking place on this devastating disease,” U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Klinefeldt said in a statement.

Judge James Gritzner sentenced Han to 57 months in prison and three years of supervision upon release. Han must repay the National Institutes of Health $7.2 million.

Cho’s team continues to work on the vaccine at ISU and has subsequently obtained funding.

TIME Courts

Kentucky Clerk Sued for Not Issuing Gay-Marriage Licenses

Gay Marriage Clerks kentucky lawsuit
Timothy D. Easley—AP Beth Barnes-Bass waves the United States flag, and the Rainbow flag, during a protest of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis on the lawn of the Rowan County Judicial Center on June 30, 2015, in Morehead, Ky.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of four couples

(LOUISVILLE, Ky.)—Four Kentucky couples are suing a clerk who is refusing to issue gay-marriage licenses — or any marriage licenses at all — following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that same-sex couples have a legal right to marry.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky filed a federal lawsuit against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis on Thursday afternoon on behalf of two homosexual and two heterosexual couples, all of whom were turned away when they tried to get marriage licenses from Davis’ office this week.

Davis had told The Associated Press that her Christian beliefs prevented her from complying with the Supreme Court decision, so she decided to issue no more marriage licenses to any couple, gay or straight. She is among a handful of judges and clerks across the South who have defied the high court’s order, maintaining that the right to “religious freedom” protects them from having to comply.

Hours after the Supreme Court’s ruling last Friday, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear ordered all clerks to fall in line. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway followed up with a warning that failing to do so might open them up to civil liability.

Officials have also warned that the defiant clerks could be risking criminal charges. Warren County Attorney Ann Milliken, president of the Kentucky County Attorneys Association, said clerks could be charged with official misconduct, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Some Kentucky clerks who at first resisted issuing same-sex marriage licenses changed course this week and agreed to sign them. But a few, Davis included, stood firm, despite the dozens of protesters outside her office in Morehead earlier this week.

She pledged to never issue a marriage license to a gay couple.

“It’s a deep-rooted conviction; my conscience won’t allow me to do that,” Davis said Tuesday. “It goes against everything I hold dear, everything sacred in my life.”

David could not be reached Thursday after the lawsuit was filed. Her office was already closed and she did not respond to an email.

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Ashland, Kentucky, requests an injunction ordering Davis to begin issuing licenses. It alleges that her policy is unconstitutional and asks for punitive damages for violating the four couples’ rights.

April Miller and Karen Roberts, a couple for 11 years who live in Morehead, told The Associated Press that they asked for a license Tuesday and were told to try another county.

Another gay couple, L. Aaron Skaggs and Barry Spartman, called the Rowan County clerk’s office Tuesday and asked to apply for a license. An employee on the phone said, “Don’t bother coming down here,” according to the lawsuit, and told them the clerk was refusing to issue licenses.

Two opposite-sex couples also tried to get licenses and were told by staff that none would be issued, the lawsuit alleges.

The clerks have argued that if they issue a license to no one, they cannot be accused of discrimination. Kentucky state law allows adult couples seeking marriage licenses to get them from any county. If a marriage involves minors, however, they must get their license in the county where they live.

The four couples who filed suit say that because they live, work, vote and pay taxes in Rowan County, they have a right to file for a marriage license there.

In the lawsuit, ACLU legal director William Sharp wrote that Davis’ religious conviction “is not a compelling, important or legitimate government interest.”

One of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, Laura Landenwich, wrote Davis “has the absolute right to believe whatever she wants about God, faith, and religion, but as a government official who swore an oath to uphold the law, she cannot pick and choose who she is going to serve, or which duties her office will perform based on her religious beliefs.”

TIME Military

Women in the Navy, Marine Corps Get More Maternity Leave

Ray Mabus navy maternity leave
Molly Riley—AP Navy Secretary Ray Mabus testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 10, 2015.

Women now have triple the amount of time they were provided before July 2

Women in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Navy can now take 18 weeks of maternity leave, triple the amount of time they were provided prior to July 2.

Women are not required to take all of the leave at once, but they must take it within the first year of their child’s life.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Thursday allowing women to take more time off will be beneficial to both their families and their service.

“We have incredibly talented women who want to serve, and they also want to be mothers and have the time to fulfill that important role the right way. We can do that for them,” Mabus said in a statement. “Meaningful maternity leave when it matters most is one of the best ways that we can support the women who serve our county. This flexibility is an investment in our people and our Services, and a safeguard against losing skilled service members.”

The new policy is effective immediately and applies to women who took leave after Jan. 1, 2015.

TIME new orleans

Essence Festival Day of Service Offers Snapshot of New Orleans Recovery

The annual Essence Festival kicked off with a day of community service

Thursday morning was bittersweet for Shanti Taylor.

The 34-year-old had returned to the old Frederick Douglass High School building in New Orleans’ Upper Ninth Ward, where she was a student in the mid-’90s. As she walked through the building at 3820 St. Claude Avenue, she recalled the artwork that once lined the hallways, including images of the school’s Bobcats mascot.

“It was a little dated, but we liked it,” she said. “It was fun.”

But Taylor hadn’t just returned to reminisce—she was part of a team of volunteers carrying in stacks of chairs and sorting books in the library, getting the building ready for KIPP Renaissance High School to move in next month.

The school was one of a handful of locations the Essence Festival chose as host sites for its day of community service on Thursday. The annual festival, thrown by Essence Magazine, which is also owned by TIME’s parent company Time Inc., devoted a day to giving back to the local community ahead of the weekend’s entertainment.

The day of service at KIPP Renaissance High school was like a snapshot of the work that has taken place across New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In the 10 years since the levees broke and flooded 80% of the city, 94% of metro New Orleans’ 2000 population has returned. The economy is on the rebound with big businesses and startups popping up all across the area, though poverty remains pervasive in pockets of the city. The city’s all-charter school system has been held up by local officials as a potential model for the rest of the country, though reports from Mother Jones and Think Progress have found there is cause for concern in some areas, namely standardized test scores. Ask anyone—from the Mayor to Thursday’s volunteers—and they’ll acknowledge how far the city has left to go, but they can’t help but note how far it has come.

“There’s a lot to be proud of,” Ericka McConduit-Diggs, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, told TIME via telephone. “The city has made tremendous progress, but [the] reality is communities of color face real inequities.”

“I don’t think there’s any city in America that has suffered as much as we have suffered and as broadly,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu told TIME last week, naming storms including Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav, the national recession and the BP oil spill among the disasters the city has faced. “It has been amazing, the resilience that the people of this city have shown and how much they’ve built back and how fast they’ve built back.”

That recovery is due in large part to the individuals and community groups who put the city back together piece by piece. That work was on full display Thursday in a steamy stairwell in Renaissance where an assembly line of folks in sweat-stained powder blue T-shirts carried desks to the second and third floors of the building. As that team worked, older volunteers lent a hand by sorting books in the school library. At every turn, there was movement. Some volunteers, like Efua Darley of Washington, D.C., had come to help out ahead of the weekend’s more lively festivities. Others, like Taylor and her mother Linda Fernandez, 58, felt compelled to give back given their past connection to the school.

Kyle Jones, dean of operations at KIPP Renaissance High School, said Thursday that it was important to have the community’s help in getting the school ready.

“Obviously, as a school we give education, but we want to make sure we give more than just educating somebody’s children,” Jones told TIME. “I’m hoping to become more of a part of the community.”

Jones, a New Orleans native, now works down the street from where his mom Jocelyn Jones spent a part of her 34-year career as an educator. He’s seen a lot of change in the city over the years, which he said can be difficult even as some of the changes are positive.

“It’s always bittersweet, but it’s always great to see new traditions and new growth happen in a city that hasn’t always had new growth,” Jones said. “And to see people come and embrace it is great too.”

One of those changes is KIPP, a nationwide network of charter schools aimed at helping kids in underserved communities succeed, which took over the old Frederick Douglass school after it suffered academically. KIPP Renaissance opened in the Frederick Douglass building in 2010 but moved elsewhere for the past several years as part of a school reshuffling. The program is now returning home to its original spot.

For Taylor, KIPP Renaissance will represent a new tradition for her family as her 14-year-old daughter Breon will start ninth grade at Renaissance when school begins on Aug. 3.

Breon was on hand Thursday, sporting the same powder-blue shirt as the other volunteers, and helping carry desks and chairs to the classrooms she’ll soon occupy.

“It’s going to be her school,” said Fernandez, who brought three of her five grandchildren to Thursday’s service event. “She should be here to help get the school together.”

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