TIME Crime

NYC Rapper Pleads Not Guilty to Gun, Drug Charges

RB/Bauer-Griffin

(NEW YORK) — An up-and-coming rapper pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges he moonlighted as a gun-toting member of a New York City street gang responsible for several shootings during turf wars over drug trafficking.

Ackquille Pollard, who performs under the name Bobby Shmurda, was ordered held on $2 million bail at a hearing in state Supreme Court in Manhattan. His attorney, Howard Greenberg, failed to convince a judge that his client should be released without bail because he was framed and had no reason to run.

“He is a legitimate entertainer,” Greenberg said. “He is rich. He is busy. He is always on tour.”

The Brooklyn-born Pollard is best known for the hit song “Hot Boy.” He also put out a music video that popularized a dance craze called the “Shmoney dance,” and reportedly signed a lucrative record deal with Epic Records.

Greenberg claimed Epic had agreed to help Pollard make bail. A spokesman for the label declined to comment.

Police arrested Pollard on conspiracy, reckless endangerment and gun possession on Wednesday after he left a recording studio near Radio City Music Hall. Police found two handguns and a small amount of crack cocaine in a car in which he was riding, authorities said.

An indictment naming Pollard charges more than 15 defendants with a variety of crimes including murder, attempted murder, assault and drug dealing. The gang’s gun play left one rival dead, injured an innocent bystander sitting on folding chair outside a Brooklyn home and caused pandemonium outside a nightclub in Miami Beach, Florida, authorities said.

Police seized 21 guns during the investigation, 10 of them while making arrests on Wednesday.

The case carries some “deeply disturbing themes: The gang members’ enthrallment with guns, and a cavalier disregard for human life,” Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said at a news conference.

The hip-hop artist’s songs and videos were “almost like a real-life document of what they were doing on the street,” added James Essig, head of a New York Police Department unit that made the arrests.

The court papers allege that Pollard fired a gun toward a crowd of people outside a barbershop in Brooklyn earlier this year. They also say he was present last year during a confrontation between rival drug gangs outside a Brooklyn courthouse where shots were fired.

The evidence includes several recorded phone conversations, including some between Pollard and gang members serving time on Rikers Island, the indictment says. The gang used code words, referring to firearms as “tone,” ”socks” or “CDs,” narcotics as “crills,” and shootings as “sun tans,” it says.

During a conversation on April 28, Pollard bragged, “I am two socks Bobby right now,” the indictment says. Another defendant commented, “Bobby out here with two CDs on him like in the wild wild west or something.”

A “Hot Boy” video posted on YouTube in August has been viewed tens of millions of times, and Pollard performed the song for a national television audience this month on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

“My music is straight facts,” Pollard recently told New York Magazine. “There are a lot of gangsters in my ‘hood.”

Pollard’s criminal history included two arrests for gun and drug possession, authorities said. If convicted of conspiracy, he faces a maximum sentence of 8 to 25 years in prison.

___

Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.

TIME Courts

Lawsuits Claim SXSW Organizers Negligent in Deadly Crash

Barricades stand near the scene of a deadly car accident at the South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival on March 13, 2014 in Austin.
Barricades stand near the scene of a deadly car accident at the South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival on March 13, 2014 in Austin. Michael Loccisano—Getty Images

4 killed, 20 injured as driver fled police in March

The first wave of lawsuits stemming from a March accident in Austin, Texas, when a driver fleeing police killed four people and injured 20 others, claim that the organizers of a music festival in the city were negligent.

All of the lawsuits, filed by eight victims who include the families of three who died from injuries, name the festival organizers, driver and a local engineering company that conceived South by Southwest’s traffic management plan as responsible parties, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The suits, which seek unspecified damages, allege that organizers should have considered the event might put pedestrians in danger as the city is known for a culture, of sorts, of public celebration.

The driver, Rashad Owens, was fleeing police March 13 when he crashed through a traffic barrier at a high speed and ran over pedestrians. Owens has already been charged with multiple counts of murder and aggravated assault.

[Austin American-Statesman]

TIME Sports

Road Racing Champion Receives 4-Year Doping Ban

Mo Trafeh will have to forfeit three of his U.S. championships

(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) — Road racing champion Mo Trafeh has received a four-year doping ban for using EPO and will have to forfeit three of his U.S. championships.

The Moroccan-born U.S. citizen announced his retirement earlier this year, saying he had purchased blood-boosting EPO but had never used it.

An investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency concluded Trafeh had used the drug and had also evaded sample collectors. An independent arbitrator upheld the USADA ruling, meaning Trafeh will give up his 2012 national title and his 2013 titles in the half marathon and 25K.

The arbitrators called for the start of the four-year suspension to date retroactively, to January 2012. USADA is considering an appeal to make the official start date Dec. 2, 2014 — the day the arbitration panel issued the decision.

TIME Football

FCC Rejects Claim That the Word ‘Redskins’ Is Obscene

Washington Redskins helmets lay on the ground during a game against the Oakland Raiders
Washington Redskins helmets lay on the ground during a game against the Oakland Raiders Ezra Shaw—Getty Images

Denies a law professor’s attempt to strip a radio station of its license because of repeated use of the word

The Federal Communications Commission denied a Washington area law professor’s petition to strip a radio station of its license because of repeated use of the word “redskins” when talking about the football team.

George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf believes the Washington Redskins name is offensive to Native Americans, and should be banned. On Thursday, however, the FCC denied his petition to reject a license renewal by Buckland, Va.-based sports broadcaster, WWXX-FM on the grounds that they use obscene or profane language. The broadcasting licensee’s parent company is part owned by Daniel Snyder, who is also the team’s general manager.

The FCC said the word isn’t obscene, citing a Supreme Court ruling defining obscene material as something sexual in nature. Banzhaf’s petition was one of several to be considered by the FCC.

There has been a growing coalition of groups, politicians, and broadcasters speaking out against the use of “Redskin” as part of the Washington football team name. Last May, 50 U.S. Senators asked Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to change the name, and at least one federal agency has deemed it too racist to stand. Over the summer, the U.S. patent office canceled the team’s trademark license. The team, however, has appealed that ruling.

TIME Sports

Obama Says LeBron ‘Did the Right Thing’ for Wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Shirt

Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James in Brooklyn, New York on Dec. 8, 2014. Jason Szenes—EPA

The President tells 'PEOPLE' that more athletes should use their influence to address social issues

President Barack Obama applauded LeBron James in a new interview for wearing a shirt dedicated to Eric Garner during a recent game and said more sports stars should use their influence to address social issues.

James sported a shirt with the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” instead of his jersey on Dec. 8 in a show of support for Garner, the Staten Island man who was killed in an altercation with police in July, during which the officer used an apparent chokehold.

“You know, I think LeBron did the right thing,” Obama told PEOPLE. “We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness.”

James’ decision to wear the shirt came as athletes on a number of other teams did similarly in the wake of the grand jury announcement that the officer involved in the fatal incident would not be indicted, setting off a string of protests against police brutality.

“We went through a long stretch there where [with] well-paid athletes the notion was: just be quiet and get your endorsements and don’t make waves,” Obama said. “LeBron is an example of a young man who has, in his own way and in a respectful way, tried to say, ‘I’m part of this society, too’ and focus attention.”

The President added that he would “like to see” more athletes do that, “not just around this issue, but around a range of issues.”

Read more at PEOPLE

TIME Immigration

Young Immigrants in Arizona Allowed to Get Driver’s Licenses

The preliminary injunction bars the state from enforcing Gov. Jan Brewer's policy of denying the licenses to about 20,000 immigrants

(PHOENIX) — A judge cleared the way Thursday for thousands of young immigrants in Arizona who are protected from deportation under an Obama administration policy to get driver’s licenses.

The preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge David Campbell bars the state from enforcing Gov. Jan Brewer’s policy of denying the licenses to about 20,000 immigrants.

The injunction that takes effect on Monday was a formality that carries out instructions issued in July by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Nora Preciado, one of the attorneys who pressed the challenge of the state policy, said the injunction eliminates the rule change that made it difficult or impossible for young immigrants to do essential things such as go to school and stores, and find and hold a job.

“This has been a terrible harm to them and has really stunted their ability to contribute to Arizona and their communities,” Preciado said.

The governor’s office had no immediate comment on the injunction.

The move in Arizona to deny the licenses was a reaction to steps taken by the Obama administration in June 2012 to shield thousands of immigrants from deportation.

Brewer’s move marked the nation’s most visible challenge to the Obama policy. The governor is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review her appeal of the 9th Circuit decision.

Nebraska is the only other state to have made similar denials, and a federal judge this year dismissed a lawsuit contesting that state’s policy.

The move by Obama applied to people younger than 30 who came to the U.S. before turning 16; have been in the country for at least five continuous years; are enrolled in or have graduated from a high school or GED program; or have served in the military. Applicants also were allowed to pursue a two-year renewable work permit.

Brewer issued her executive order in August 2012 directing state agencies to deny driver’s licenses and other public benefits to immigrants who get work authorization under the deferred-action program.

Brewer’s attorneys argued the move grew from liability concerns and the desire to reduce the risk of the licenses being used to improperly access public benefits.

In July, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded there was no legitimate state interest in treating the immigrants differently from other noncitizens who could apply for driver’s licenses. Instead, the court suggested Brewer’s order was intended to express hostility toward the immigrants, in part because of the federal government’s policy toward them.

Last month, Obama issued a broader executive order on immigration that lifts the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

A group of 24 states, including Arizona, joined in a federal lawsuit alleging Obama overstepped his constitutional powers in a way that will only worsen the humanitarian problems along the southern U.S. border.

TIME Courts

Oklahoma Prisons Lawyer Says He Felt Pressured

Lawyer says he felt pressured to make sure executions happened on schedule

(OKLAHOMA CITY) — A longtime lawyer for Oklahoma’s prison system says he felt pressured by the governor’s and attorney general’s offices to make sure executions last spring happened on schedule, despite the lack of an execution method.

Corrections Department lawyer Michael Oakley said during a federal court hearing Thursday that he felt pressured “to get it done.”

Inmate Clayton Lockett was executed under new protocols last April, but mumbled and struggled against his restraints as he died. Remaining death row inmates contend that Oklahoma is experimenting on them and say they don’t want executions to resume next month.

Prison officials say guidelines adopted after Lockett’s death will ensure future executions go smoothly.

The inmates say the sedative used in Lockett’s execution isn’t appropriate. It was implicated in botched executions in Arizona and Ohio.

TIME Canada

Canadian Driver Who Stopped Car to Rescue Ducklings Gets Jail Time

Emma Czornobaj
Emma Czornobaj, shown here in this June 3, 2014, file photo at the Montreal Courthouse in Canada, was found guilty in the deaths of two motorcyclists who collided with her car after she stopped for ducks on a Montreal-area highway. On Thursday, a judge sentenced her to 90 days in jail. Graham Hughes—AP

Motorcyclist and his daughter died after crashing into Emma Czornobaj's stationary vehicle

A Canadian woman who stopped her car on the highway to rescue ducklings, inadvertently causing the deaths of a motorcyclist and his daughter, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and banned from driving for 10 years on Thursday.

Emma Czornobaj, a 26-year-old woman from the Montreal suburb of Chateauguay, was sentenced Thursday to serve three months of jail time on the weekends, CBC reports. She was convicted in July on two counts of criminal negligence in the deaths of Andre Roy, 50, and his 16-year-old daughter Jessie, and had faced a possible life sentence.

In June 2010, Czornobaj parked her Honda Civic in the left lane of a highway in a Montreal suburb after seeing seven ducklings in the road. She said she was trying to gather the ducks and take them home. As she left her parked car to round up the ducklings, Roy crashed his motorcycle into the back of the stationary vehicle.

The incident has been divisive in Canada. A petition on Change.org signed by thousands of people pushed for the country’s legal system to be lenient on a woman who they believe only had the best of intentions in saving the ducks. The victim’s family members, however, have expressed frustration with Czornobaj over the fact that she hasn’t reached out to them.

[CBC]

TIME Courts

Wisconsin Judge Rules Girl Competent for ‘Slender Man’ Trial

Waukesha County Court
Judge Michael Bohren during a court proceeding for the two girls accused of stabbing another girl in Waukesha, Wis. related to the slenderman online horror story on Aug. 1, 2014. Michael Sears—AP

One of two girls accused of stabbing a classmate to please a fantasy character known as Slender Man

(WAUKESHA, Wis.) — One of two girls accused of stabbing a classmate in a southeastern Wisconsin park to please a fantasy character known as Slender Man is competent to stand trial for attempted homicide, a judge ruled Thursday.

A state psychiatrist determined that the girl would be able to assist in her defense, but her attorney disputed the finding, saying he had a report from another doctor who disagreed. Both reports are sealed.

Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren, who ruled at the end of a three-and-a-hour hearing, said that by all accounts, the girl is highly intelligent.

“I’m satisfied that the issues of age and maturity do not override her competency,” the judge said. “She’s competent to make the decisions that have to be made.”

The decision keeps the case moving in adult court. Bohren scheduled a preliminary hearing, at which point he would have to decide whether there’s enough evidence to warrant a trial, for Feb. 18 and Feb. 19.

Two psychologists, Anthony Jurek and Michael Caldwell, testified for the defense that they interviewed the girl several times. They said although she is clearly intelligent, the girl has trouble making decisions when she’s bombarded with information and lacks an understanding of the nuances of the criminal justice system, including the ramifications of accepting a plea bargain.

Another psychologist, Robert Rawski, testified for the state that he found the girl to be highly capable. And Ted Szczupakiewicz, an assistant district attorney, said it appears the girl answered the defense experts’ questions about the legal system correctly.

“She does understand she … would be an important source of information for a defense attorney,” Szczupakiewicz said.

Bohren scheduled a Thursday afternoon hearing to decide whether the other defendant is competent to stand trial.

Prosecutors have charged both girls with attempted first-degree intentional homicide in the attack in May in Waukesha, a city of 71,000 about 15 miles west of Milwaukee. They say the girls plotted for months to kill classmate Payton Leutner, luring her to a wooded park after a sleepover and stabbing her 19 times. After her attackers left, Leutner crawled through the woods to a sidewalk where a bicyclist found her and called 911.

The two girls charged in the case were found walking toward a national forest where they said they believed Slender Man lived in a mansion. They told investigators they believed killing Leutner would curry favor with the figure.

All three girls were 12 at the time of the attack. The girl whose competency was in question has since turned 13.

Wisconsin law requires suspects in severe crimes to be charged as adults if they are at least 10 years old. The Associated Press is not naming the girls because their attorneys have said they may still try to move their cases into juvenile court, where proceedings are closed to the public.

TIME justice

Lawyer Says Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect to Seek Trial Delay

File photo of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is pictured in this undated FBI handout photo. Reuters

Boston Marathon bombing suspect returned to court for the first time Thursday

(BOSTON) — Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev returned to court Thursday for the first time since he was arraigned in July 2013, and he received a shout of encouragement from the mother-in-law of a man who was shot and killed while being questioned by law enforcement after the bombings.

Security was tight at the federal courthouse in Boston for Tsarnaev’s final pretrial conference.

Even before the hearing began, tensions ran high. Outside the courthouse, a man who lost his right leg in the bombings had a testy exchange with a small group of protesters holding signs supporting Tsarnaev and questioning whether authorities have proof that he is responsible for the bombings.

Marc Fucarile held up his prosthetic leg and moved it back and forth toward the demonstrators, saying: “That’s proof right there.”

One of the demonstrators said to Fucarile: “You should care that they get the right guy.”

Fucarile replied: “Get a life, lady. Go to work.”

Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the April 2013 marathon. Tsarnaev, who has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges, faces the possibility of the death penalty if he is convicted.

During the brief court hearing, U.S. District Court George O’Toole Jr. made no rulings, saying he would rule in writing on pending motions, including the defense’s latest push to move the trial out of Boston.

David Bruck, one of Tsarnaev’s lawyers, told the judge that the defense plans to file a motion to delay the trial, which is now scheduled to begin on Jan. 5 with jury selection. Bruck did not say how long of a delay the defense will seek.

The mother-in-law of Ibragim Todashev called out to Tsarnaev in Russian in the courtroom. Elena Teyer said she told him: “We pray for you. Be strong, my son. We know you are innocent.”

Later, in English, she yelled to the law enforcement officers escorting her out of the room: “Stop killing innocent people. Stop killing innocent boys.”

Tsarnaev never flinched or acknowledged the shouts.

Tsarnaev, 21, wore a black sweater and gray trousers and had a scruffy beard and a mop top hairstyle similar to the one seen in his mug shot. He smiled to his attorneys and one patted him on the arm.

The courtroom was packed with FBI agents, police who worked on the case and more than a dozen survivors and family members.

At his last court appearance 17 months ago, Tsarnaev still bore signs of the bloody standoff with police that led to his capture and the death of his older brother, Tamerlan. His left arm was in a cast, his face was swollen and he appeared to have a jaw injury. In court Thursday, he had no visible injuries.

Tsarnaev’s trial is expected to last several months, and seating a jury alone could take several weeks to a month.

Judge O’Toole questioned Tsarnaev about whether he had waived his right to appear at previous hearings. Tsarnaev answered in a clear voice: “Yes, sir.”

Asked by the judge if he believes his lawyers had acted in his best interests, he said: “Very much.”

Earlier this month, Tsarnaev’s lawyers argued anew that “emotionally charged” media coverage and the widespread impact of the attacks have made it impossible for him to get a fair trial in Massachusetts.

O’Toole had rejected Tsarnaev’s first request in September to move the trial, ruling that defense lawyers had failed to show that extensive pretrial media coverage of the bombings had prejudiced the jury pool to the point that an impartial jury could not be chosen in Boston.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers previously said the trial should be moved to Washington, D.C.

O’Toole also rejected a defense request that prosecutors turn over evidence about his older brother’s possible participation in a 2011 triple killing in suburban Waltham.

In May 2013, the FBI and Massachusetts State Police were questioning Todashev about that killing when an FBI agent shot and killed the 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter inside his Orlando, Florida, home.

Officials initially said Todashev had lunged at a state trooper with a knife but later said it was a pole. Todashev’s family has disputed that account.

Prosecutors have said Todashev told authorities Tamerlan Tsarnaev participated in the Waltham triple slaying in which the victims’ bodies were found with their throats slit and their bodies sprinkled with marijuana.

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