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Crime news and blog articles from The Huffington Post
  • Apr 22, 2017 3:43:24 AM

    LOS ANGELES ― The debate about whether the Orange County Sheriff’s Department is operating a jailhouse informant program is over.

    According to Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, it’s over. According to the 4th District Court of Appeal, which affirmed Goethals’ findings last year, it’s over. Despite years of denials, the Orange County district attorney’s office now says it’s over.

    But there’s one agency that’s still in denial: the sheriff’s department. Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary ― a mountain that got much bigger in court Friday ― it’s not over yet. 

    Goethals unsealed a bombshell brief from Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders that summarizes his review of more than 5,600 internal sheriff’s department documents about the jail informant program. It’s the clearest evidence yet that this Southern California sheriff’s department managed and promoted a robust informant program within county jails and has produced well over a thousand informants over the course of decades.

    Goethals blasted Sheriff Sandra Hutchens from the bench for continuing to deny the existence of the jail informant program. “We know what happened. The debate over what has been going on in the jails is over.” 

    “The sheriff can say what she wants,” Goethals added. “She can ignore the facts, if she thinks that’s politically beneficial.”

    Countless memos on the “cultivation” and “management” of informants.

    “The deputies in the jail are not conducting investigations ... we don’t have our folks working informants,” Sheriff Hutchens has said in denying the existence of the program.

    But, according to an email Sanders obtained, which he says was once posted on the wall of the “Special Handling” department, which had overseen inmates and jail informants, the third item on the list of duties is “Cultivate/manage Confidential Informants.” 

    The email was sent to Lt. Lane Lagaret, now the department’s public information officer and formerly a supervisor of sheriff’s deputies in the Special Handling unit. 

    Lagaret told The Huffington Post he “won’t be making a statement on the brief” Sanders filed.

    Multiple other internal sheriff’s department memos in the cache Sanders reviewed also emphasize the importance of cultivating, encouraging and using informants.

    Memo after memo references “CI’s,” or confidential informants. They describe the development of informants, how deputies can work them for information, what can motivate an inmate to turn snitch.

    They also discuss the “extreme” reliance on informant information from deputies, classes for deputies to brush up on informant skills and how the Special Handling team at one jail, Theo Lacy, “possesses an excellent expertise in the cultivation and management of informants” ― expertise “recognized by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office as well as numerous law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California.”

    Nearly a decade ago, OCSD admitted it had cultivated “hundreds of confidential informants.”

    In a 2008 memo from deputies to members of the department’s command staff, they reminded top brass of the enormous value of the Special Handling unit. At the time, the department was apparently discussing replacing deputies with correctional officers in the jails.

    “The concept of replacing Deputies with Correctional Officers has serious negative ramifications throughout the entire Corrections system, especially Classification / Special Handling. Every facet of our job, as described above, would be adversely affected,” the memo begins. “It also includes thousands and thousands of interviews with inmates, thousands of hour’s worth of training, attendance at hundreds of intelligence gathering meetings, and cultivation of hundreds of confidential informants.”

    A 2007 memo detailing deputy efforts to gather “intel” regarding a possible attack on a deputy in the jail says that there were “in excess of 40 [informants] throughout the facility.” 

    The identification of the informant population at this point led Sanders to conclude that it’s likely “well over a thousand jail informants ― not hundreds ― have worked under the supervision of jail staff” over the decades.

    Special Handling deputies supervise inmates and informants.

    In a 2015 ruling, Goethals called out two Special Handling deputies ― Seth Tunstall and Ben Garcia ― for having “either intentionally lied or willfully withheld information” during their testimony in the case of Scott Dekraai, a man who pleaded guilty to killing his ex-wife and seven other people at a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011. The case, which led to the investigation of the jailhouse informant program, is now one of hundreds in the county tainted by the scandal. 

    Tunstall’s and Garcia’s testimony, and that of Deputy William Grover, denied that Special Handling deputies even worked with inmates or informants. But a letter about one informant tank stresses that the unit’s deputies are the primary handlers. The letter also emphasizes the importance of running an informant tank like any other jailhouse tank for it to be effective:

    An undated OCSD slideshow that Sanders reviewed clearly outlines the role of Special Handling: The deputies are required to take responsibility for maintaining all jailhouse informants. “Special Handling will maintain all Confidential Informants,” a slide titled “Confidential Informants” states.

    The slideshow also emphasizes that Special Handling “prepares and maintains files” on each inmate it manages, including “confidential informants.”

    But Special Handling deputies aren’t the only ones cultivating and developing informants in the jail. An internal letter from Special Handling praises the work of deputies in another “module” in cultivating informants:

    Other internal documents reviewed by Sanders reveal that one of the main duties of deputies who work with inmates and informants in the jails is to recruit more informants. An internal memo titled “Protective Custody Debrief” includes a script of questions for deputies to use to determine if an inmate will become an informant. Notably, one question is explicitly seeking help with securing convictions, not simply providing intelligence about goings-on within the jail to help deputies with security: 

    The term “informants” became “sources of information” in order to mislead, Sanders says.

    The new document trove, along with OCSD policy manuals Sanders had obtained, reveal that the sheriff’s department changed official vernacular to try to “create cover for false testimony [by their deputies] about the use of informants,” Sanders argues.

    Sanders says deputies were ordered to stop calling informants “informants” and instead call them “sources of information.” Sanders argues the agency later changed its policy manuals to suggest that “informants” and “sources of information” were two different categories of inmates.

    The switch, Sanders says, allowed deputies to escape perjury by denying a jailhouse informant program existed during the Dekraai hearings because technically informants were no longer called “informants.”

    “Gents, I need to ask a favor,” Deputy Grover begins his email. “As some of you may know OC has been in the media recently for its Inmate Informants. OCJ no longer labels these inmates “Informants” we now call them ‘Sources of Information.’”

    The D.A. delayed the release of more deputy logs in order to ensure a death sentence, Sanders contends.

    In June, after years of denials, the Orange County district attorney’s office acknowledged that an informant program does indeed exist and that sheriff’s deputies actively “recruited and utilized” informants and rewarded them for information.

    The admission followed the discovery of a 1,000-page Special Handling log that shed new light on the scope of the informant program inside county jails.  

    But a series of emails discovered in the new document cache indicates that the D.A.’s office took possession of still more deputies’ logs from another jail, the Theo Lacy Facility, in June 2016, but decided to delay their release to the court until December 2016. Theo Lacy, the county’s largest jail, is where Sanders’ client Dekraai continues to be housed.

    Sanders argues that a deeply troubling but “likely” explanation for the delay was related to the timing of the sentencing in a double-murder case ― that of Daniel Wozniak, whom Sanders also represents. According to Sanders, the existence of these logs would have impeached testimony in hearings held earlier in the Wozniak case, which was also linked to a jail informant.

    By withholding the log until after Wozniak’s case ended in September 2016, it helped to “ensure that a death sentence ... would be imposed” without the issue emerging or the case being delayed, Sanders says. Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner, who was the lead prosecutor in the Dekraai hearings and whose emails are referenced in the brief, is the head of the D.A.’s office homicide unit and was the prosecutor during a portion of the Wozniak case.

    The emails refer to a set of “additional logs” as a “TL Log” (TL likely stands for Theo Lacy). Wagner says in an August 2016 email exchange that he’s going to compile the logs into a “single document” and submit them to the court for an “upcoming” review in the Dekraai case. If Wagner had disclosed the “additional logs” as he indicated in his emails, Sanders says, he would have had the logs and the impeachment evidence well before Wozniak was sentenced to death. Wozniak, a former actor, is in San Quentin State Prison.

    With new hearings coming, the death penalty may be removed from the Scott Dekraai mass murder case.

    Despite the misconduct that has tainted the Dekraai case, and allegations of more, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced last month that his office would continue to pursue the death penalty against Dekraai. The state attorney general’s office inherited the prosecution when the entire Orange County district attorney’s office was ejected from the case in 2015 over misconduct stemming from its failure to turn over evidence on the jail informant system.

    But in court Friday, Judge Goethals said he was considering employing what he called the “nuclear option”: the removal of the death penalty from Dekraai’s sentencing hearings. Goethals said that this option was once “completely unthinkable,” but because of the “extensive” allegations of misconduct, it has entered into the realm of possibility.

    If Goethals were to dismiss the death penalty, he would instead sentence Dekraai to life in prison without the possibility of parole, he said in court. 

    Upcoming evidentiary hearings, he hopes, will better inform his decision on the matter. Goethals said he wants to get to the bottom of what appear to be “ongoing significant failures of compliance” with “legitimate orders made by this court over the last four years.”

    The new evidentiary hearings are set to begin in May.

    The Justice Department announced in December that it was investigating allegations that the informant program used by the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices had violated defendants’ rights. 

    Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has maintained that no one in his office intentionally behaved inappropriately in relation to the jailhouse informant program. The sheriff’s department echoes those arguments and adds that it has taken steps to create more robust ways of documenting and managing inmates.

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

  • Apr 21, 2017 10:27:17 PM

    UPDATE: 6:33 p.m. ― Tennessee tech mogul Mark Giannini was found not guilty on Friday of raping a woman who had applied for a housekeeping job at his Memphis mansion.


    A 28-year-old mother of four says a wealthy Tennessee tech mogul raped and choked her during a 2014 job interview at his Memphis mansion.

    The millionaire’s lawyer says she wasn’t raped — she’s a woman and “women can be especially good at lying.”

    “There’s always a reason behind a lie,” defense attorney Steve Farese said Thursday during closing arguments in the trial of 51-year-old Mark Giannini, who is accused of raping the woman for several hours in June 2014. “People can be very good at lying. Women can be especially good at it because they’re the weaker sex and we ... want to protect them and not have anybody take advantage of them.”

    Fatima Goss Graves, president-elect of the National Women’s Law Center, told HuffPost Farese’s remarks are “shocking” and “outrageous” and should result in punishment to “make it clear to all attorneys that this sort of conduct will not be tolerated.”

    The lawyer’s comments “have no place in a courtroom or anywhere else,” Graves said. “These sorts of ideas and myths about rape are precisely what makes it hard for a woman to come forward and report a rape in the first place.”

    According to The Commercial Appeal, Farese went beyond calling the woman a liar. He accused her of showing up in court dressed like an “Amish person” and of having the ability to cry “on cue.” He pointed to a prior arrest for drug smuggling, and said the prosecution declined to admit her halter top into evidence because it was “sexy,” The Commercial Appeal reported.

    Jessica Banti, the Shelby County assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, acknowledged the woman’s past, and suggested Giannini felt that made him untouchable.

    “No one was going to believe her over him,” Banti said.

    The woman told sheriff’s investigators she was raped after she allowed Giannini to drive her to his home on June 19, 2014, for an overview of a housecleaning job, according to court documents. She said Giannini gave her a drink containing an unknown substance and began kissing her aggressively and pulling her hair.

    The victim alleges Giannini performed several sexual acts on her, and at some point “put his hands around her throat and she blacked out,” Banti said in court. “She woke up in the hospital.”

    Detectives who went to Giannini’s gated home on June 23, 2014, said he refused to allow them onto the property. When he later presented himself to investigators, he was “perspiring profusely and had fresh cuts and scratches on his legs,” according to a detective’s sworn statement.

    A search of Giannini’s mansion turned up more than $16,000 in cash, 24 firearms, and various pills, including Viagra, Xanax and hydrocodone, police said. Detectives said they also found baskets of women’s panties, a sheriff’s badge, sex toys and nipple clamps.

    Two women who used to work for Giannini also have accused him of rape, and he awaits trial in those cases. 

    Farese suggested during Giannini’s three-day trial that sex between his client and the woman was consensual ― and possibly prearranged.

    “The man is not guilty,” Farese said. “Has he done things that are immoral, yes, you cannot legislate morality. It’s the oldest profession in the book. Am I calling [her] a bad name because she was engaged in the oldest profession in the book out of desperation? No.”

    The woman’s motive for accusing Giannini is rooted in money, Farese said. Giannini, who earned the bulk of his fortune from the sale of a technology company, is worth an estimated $8 million. The woman, according to Farese, is seeking $6 million in a civil lawsuit against Giannini.

    Farese told jurors to “follow the money.”

    Jurors began deliberating the case Friday morning. 

    Even if Giannini is acquitted, he faces a string of legal battles. In addition to the civil suit, he faces trial on two more rape charges, WMC Action News reported. He’s accused of raping a 23-year-old employee in his home in September 2013, and of raping a 19-year-old employee at gunpoint in 2011. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

    Giannini will likely remain behind bars for the time being. His $3 million bond was revoked in January, after he was indicted on charges of bribery and coercion of a witness stemming from allegations he paid someone to bribe a woman he is accused of raping.

    David Lohr covers crime and missing persons. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow him on Twitter.

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    Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

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  • Apr 21, 2017 9:26:26 PM

    Justice Neil Gorsuch made a difference Thursday in his first 5-4 vote on the Supreme Court, siding with his fellow conservatives to deny a petition from eight Arkansas inmates who sought to stop back-to-back-to-back executions.

    Gorsuch’s vote on one of several 11th-hour petitions, in effect, allowed the state of Arkansas to carry out its first execution in nearly 12 years.

    Ledell Lee was killed just before midnight Thursday, despite his legal team’s herculean effort to persuade the high court to put off his execution so that he could pursue a potential innocence claim and demonstrate that he was intellectually disabled. Lee was still waging these legal battles because of what one lawyer described as the “abysmal representation” he’d received throughout most of the post-conviction process.

    The execution was Arkansas’ first victory, if one can call it that, following a chaotic week of legal moves during which the inmates and several pharmaceutical companies tried to put a stop to the state’s plan. But Arkansas was determined to keep to its killing schedule because some of its supply of lethal injection drugs is close to expiring.

    “Arkansas set out to execute eight people over the course of 11 days. Why these eight? Why now?” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer, dissenting from his colleagues’ decision to let the state go forward. Breyer would have agreed to halt the executions  and add the case to the Supreme Court’s docket to explore whether the “compressed execution schedule” constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

    In a separate dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned the court’s 2015 decision in Glossip v. Gross, in which the conservative majority essentially required death row prisoners to pick their own poison when challenging a lethal injection cocktail.

    “I continue to harbor significant doubts about the wisdom of imposing the perverse requirement that inmates offer alternative methods for their own executions,” Sotomayor wrote.

    Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan also would have halted all eight executions.

    Gorsuch didn’t individually express his views in any of the long string of orders against Lee and the other inmates that the Supreme Court issued late Thursday and after midnight on Friday. But his vote at least suggests that he’s solidly conservative when it comes to the death penalty. On his first opportunity, he also chose not to cast a “courtesy” fifth vote ― something that other justices have occasionally done when four of their colleagues believe that a capital case is so egregious that it merits more attention.

    There’s a lot we don’t know about Gorsuch’s views on the death penalty, as The Intercept’s Liliana Segura noted. Much of it remained unexplored during his confirmation hearings. But the subject is generally a tough one for the justices.

    The last time the Supreme Court gave a full hearing to a death penalty dispute in Glossip, sparks flew during oral arguments. And when the court announced its ruling, four justices spoke about the case from the bench. The late Justice Antonin Scalia held nothing back, delivering a bizarre screed against Breyer.

    Over time, the failings and arbitrariness of the capital punishment system come to weigh heavily on the justices, until some give up on it entirely. Others, like Breyer, begin to look for cases that would allow a deeper dive into the death penalty’s dysfunctions and even call into question its constitutionality.

    Still other justices hold firm that the death penalty is constitutional and that courts should defer to states on the nitty-gritty of executing people. If Thursday’s rebuff of the Arkansas inmates is any indication, that’s where Gorsuch falls.

    Harvard law professor Ronald Sullivan filed an amicus brief on Thursday urging the Supreme Court to halt Lee’s execution and go the extra step of ending the “failed experiment” of capital punishment once and for all. In a later statement to The Huffington Post, he deplored the justices’ failure to act in the face of Arkansas’ brazenness.

    “The Court’s role is to vigorously police overzealous exercises of government power,” Sullivan said. “When execution after execution involves not the most culpable people, but those with the most severe impairments and the worst lawyers, the failure to intervene to affirm the basic human dignity that every person deserves becomes culpable.”

    Arkansas’ execution schedule resumes Monday with two planned executions. Four other inmates have won temporary reprieves in state and federal court.

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

  • Apr 21, 2017 9:24:16 PM

    The U.S.-Israeli dual citizen accused of making dozens of threats to Jewish community centers was slapped with several federal charges, the Justice Department announced Friday.

    Michael Ron David Kadar, 18, was charged with making threats, conveying false information to police and cyberstalking, according to a DOJ press release.

    He was arrested in Israel in March after a joint investigation by the FBI and Israeli police. It wasn’t immediately clear which country he was in as of Friday, and, if he were still in Israel, whether he’d be extradited to the U.S. The DOJ declined to comment.

    Since the new year, more than 80 Jewish community centers in the U.S. and Canada and 10 Jewish day schools received more than 120 threats. The Anti-Defamation League was also targeted. The threats, spread across dozens of states and several countries, prompted many evacuations, but none resulted in an attack.

    Interestingly, Kadar was charged with “multiple threats” made only in Florida, despite the FBI noting in March that the suspect in custody had made the “bulk of the calls.” It’s unclear whether that means the DOJ could only provide enough evidence to pin the Florida calls on him at the moment, or if there’s another suspect still on the loose. The DOJ and FBI both declined to comment further. The press release states that an investigation continues, as well as a probe into possible hate crime charges.

    “Today’s charges into these violent threats to Jewish Community Centers and others represent this department’s commitment to fighting all forms of violent crime,”  Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “These threats of violence instilled terror in Jewish and other communities across this country and our investigation into these acts as possible hate crimes continues.” 

    A large chunk of the threats made in the U.S. since January came in waves, and many of the calls came from a similar robotic voice. Authorities said the caller was using technology to disguise his voice, and Israeli police reportedly found computers, an antenna and other equipment in Kadar’s home that would allow him to make calls that are difficult to detect. 

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

  • Apr 21, 2017 8:56:11 PM

    An Oregon man has been charged with attempted murder after he allegedly set another man on fire at a Denny’s restaurant in the city of Happy Valley.

    According to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, Deshaun James Swanger walked into the restaurant Wednesday night and sat down in a booth. 

    The 24-year-old suspect then allegedly poured gasoline on a man sitting in a booth near him, then lit matches that he threw at the victim, according to KGW.

    Officials said unreleased surveillance video shows Swanger running out of the restaurant after a large flash near the victim, who was later identified as 69-year-old Scott Ranstrom. Authorities say Swanger and Ranstrom did not know each other.

    The victim was taken to a nearby hospital where he is being treated for critical injuries, according to his sister, Leslie Kurtz.

    “I went to see him and I thought, ‘It wouldn’t be that bad, could it?’ No, it’s worse,” she told KOIN TV. “He’s in critical condition… it’s horrible. Whoever did this is horrible.”

    A GoFundMe account has been set up to help pay for Ranstrom’s medical bills.

    Denny’s released this statement about the incident:

    “We are deeply disturbed by the senseless, random act of violence that took place at our franchised-owned Happy Valley restaurant, and our thoughts and prayers are with our guest that was seriously injured.”

    Sheriff’s Office spokesman Brian Jensen told The Oregonian that the attack appears to have been random and not a hate crime.

    However, detectives are investigating whether there is a connection between the Denny’s attack and a similar one that happened Sunday night at a local movie theater during a showing of “The Fate of the Furious.”  

    Swanger was arrested Thursday night at a transitional home a few blocks away from the restaurant, according to KGW.

    A neighbor who used to live at the home with Swanger saw surveillance video of the suspect in the Denny’s parking lot and believed it was his former roommate. He then called in a tip to the sheriff’s office.

    The neighbor also told KGW he was surprised by the allegations.

    “He was really quiet...he stayed to himself,” he said.

    Swanger is currently in the Clackamas County Jail without bail. His previous criminal history includes charges of robbery, burglary and assault.

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

  • Apr 21, 2017 7:42:36 PM

    A new study explores the phenomenon of “stealthing” ― the purposefully nonconsensual removal of condoms during sex ― and how those who fall victim to the practice can move forward. 

    The study, written by Alexandra Brodsky for the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, features interviews with victims of stealthing. Brodsky also does a deep dive into the online world of men who feel entitled to “bareback” sex without their partner’s consent, regardless of that partner’s gender. 

    Ultimately, Brodsky argues, stealthing is an act of gender-based violence that may violate a number of civil and criminal laws.

    Brodsky told The Huffington Post that she wanted to study the phenomenon because, as she entered law school in the fall of 2013, she realized how many of her women friends were “struggling with forms of mistreatment by sexual partners that weren’t considered part of the recognized repertoire of gender based violence ― but that seemed rooted in the same misogyny and lack of respect.”

    Brodsky, who now serves as a Legal Fellow for National Women’s Law Center (but wrote this article outside of her role for the organization), told HuffPost that what she found in her research was a group of victims who knew that something about being stealthed felt incredibly violating, but they “didn’t have the vocabulary” to process it.

    She opens the study with the story of one woman, Rebecca, who had been stealthed herself, and who worked on a sexual violence crisis hotline. She found that many women were calling the hotline to try to suss out their experiences of having been stealthed.

    “Their stories often start the same way,” Rebecca said. “’I’m not sure if this is rape, but...’”

    Victims are confronted with not only the potential repercussions of condom-less sex ― pregnancy, STIs, HIV and AIDS ― but similar feelings of confusion and shame to those who have been victims of other kinds of sexual violence. After all, women who have been stealthed have been forced into a sexual act to which they have not consented. One victim in the study called the act of stealthing “rape-adjacent.” Another shared how the experience left her feeling violated and “freaked out.”

    “Obviously the part that really freaked me out...was that it was such a blatant violation of what we’d agreed to,” she said. “I set a boundary. I was very explicit.” (It’s also worth noting that, earlier this year, a man in Switzerland was convicted of rape for this very act.)

    In the study, Brodsky writes, “Survivors [of stealthing] describe nonconsensual condom removal as a threat to their bodily agency and as a dignitary harm. ‘You have no right to make your own sexual decisions,’ they are told. ‘You are not worthy of my consideration.’”

    One can note that proponents of 'stealthing' root their support in an ideology of male supremacy in which violence is a man's natural right.
    Alexandra Brodsky

    Brodsky highlights the online communities who defend stealthing as a male “right,” particularly a right of every man to “spread his seed” ― regardless of if said man is engaging in straight or gay penetrative sex. The study quotes from comment threads and forums in which men “train” other men about stealthing best practices, and offer support and advice in their pursuit of nonconsensual condom removal during sex.

    “One can note,” Brodsky writes, “that proponents of ‘stealthing’ root their support in an ideology of male supremacy in which violence is a man’s natural right.” (The Huffington Post attempted to reach out to two publicly vocal and proud stealthers for this story but did not hear back.)

    Because of the connection between stealthing and sexual assault, and the fact that both acts are rooted in beliefs of male dominance and supremacy, Brodsky believes there is reason for victims to pursue justice.  

    In the study, she highlights the preexisting tools in the legal system, should victims of stealthing wish to pursue any kind of legal recourse (none of the victims featured in the study did). 

    “Survivors experience real harms ― emotional, financial, and physical ― to which the law might provide remedy through compensation or simply an opportunity to be heard and validated,” she writes.

    But Brodsky also acknowledges that the systems in place to support sexual violence survivors often do the opposite.

    “We know that the law doesn’t work for gender violence survivors,” she told HuffPost. “Many of the myths and assumptions and forms of skepticism that we see from judges approaching rape victims and other kinds of sexual assault victims are likely to be present in stealthing cases.”

    Which is why, in the study, she concludes that a new statute might be the best way to go ―  not just because victims might want to press charges or pursue a case against the person who stealths them, but because having the vocabulary and means to discuss more forms of gender violence will be helpful in both preventing the acts and recovering from them. 

    “The law isn’t the answer for everyone, and it can’t fix every problem every time,” Brodsky said. “One of my goals with the article, and in proposing a new statute, is to provide a vocabulary and create ways for people to talk about what is a really common experience that just is too often dismissed as just ‘bad sex’ instead of ‘violence.’”

    Head over to the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law for the whole study. 

    Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 77054 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline.

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  • Apr 21, 2017 6:16:32 PM

    Aramis Ayala is no stranger to hate.

    As the first African-American elected to state attorney in Florida and a controversial prosecutor ― known for her refusal to seek the death penalty in an aggressive capital punishment state ― she’s had to field plenty of racist and ugly rhetoric from her neighbors.

    But Ayala, who serves Osceola and Orange counties, doesn’t back down when she’s the victim of a crime. In March, she received two racist letters over two weeks, one of which contained a noose made of twine, her office confirmed to The Huffington Post.

    Calling the package a hate crime, Ayala forwarded the letters to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which launched an investigation, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

    An incident report obtained by the paper stated that Ayala “believes the hangman’s noose was meant as a threat to her as a public official.”

    Deputies are reportedly working with the U.S. Postal Service to find a suspect. A spokesperson in Ayala’s office said the author of the letters didn’t leave a name.

    She should pick cotton for the rest of her life and be whipped.
    Letter sent to Aramis Ayala

    Ayala has received both praise and backlash for her decision last month to forgo seeking the death penalty altogether. The decision meant she wouldn’t seek death for Markeith Loyd, who is accused of killing both his pregnant ex-girlfriend and Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton in 2016.

    She also filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month after Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a series of executive orders that kicked her off of 23 murder cases in which she wouldn’t be seeking the death penalty.

    Her office says she now regularly receives hate mail, likely due to her decision not to seek the death penalty and her battle with the governor. A spokesperson sent Huffington Post three racist and threatening correspondence she received, one of which was a racist, expletive-laced tirade left in the comments section of her YouTube page:

    “Fucking n***rs. n***rs everywhere. the black woman is sticking up for a convicted COP killer. She should be on trial for her job and fired and thrown to the streets. She should pick cotton for the rest of her life and be whipped.”

    Another two were Facebook posts, embedded below. None of these three are part of the investigation, but give a clear picture of what Ayala is dealing with. HuffPost has withheld their identities because they are not a part of a criminal investigation.

    She’s not completely alone, however. Some groups continue to support her, including members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, the Sentinel reports. 

    Ayala won election in 2016 in a race that, like all but three state judicial circuit races, was uncontested. 

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  • Apr 21, 2017 6:14:05 PM

    Women who have been sexually assaulted in the U.S. often bear some costs for testing and other medical treatment when they report the rape to authorities, according to a new study.

    Victims with private insurance pay on average $950, or 14 percent, of the cost of medical services, and the insurance providers pay about $5,789, researchers found.

    “With other violent crimes, victims are not responsible for paying for the damage that results from the crime,” lead author Ashley Tennessee told Reuters Health. “Many people know sexual assault is an issue, but they’re often unaware that victims have to pay for associated medical charges,” said Tennessee, of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

    In 2013, insurance providers and victims paid more than $9 million for medical services related to sexual assault, the study authors write in the American Journal of Public Health. The average cost was $6,737 per case.

    The Violence Against Women Act, passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2013, requires states to pay for sexual assault forensic exams, known as “rape kits.” However, hospital billing procedures often include more services than those associated with the rape kit alone, and forensic costs also vary by state.

    Tennessee and colleagues looked at hospital billing records for privately insured women in the U.S. who were victims of rape in 2013. They identified 1,355 assaults, with 98 percent of victims not admitted to the hospital. The 32 patients who were admitted to the hospital paid an average of $788 for their inpatient stay. The others paid an average of $316 for outpatient costs.

    Of the group, about 7 percent filled a prescription for pain medication, antibiotics, HIV prevention drugs, emergency contraceptives or sleep or anxiety medication. These 214 victims spent an average of $48 to fill prescriptions.

    Overall, about 88 percent of the 1,355 victims incurred charges on the day they visited the hospital, and 27 percent paid more than 25 percent of those costs. About 7 percent paid more than 50 percent of the cost. After visiting the hospital, about 63 percent of the patients incurred more charges up to a month after the incident, including prescriptions, further medical care and mental health services.

    “This financial burden adds to the emotional burden of sexual assault,” Tennessee said. “This is an area that society has missed, and we have a moral right to help victims.”

    A limitation of the study is that the data didn’t include men or LGBTQ victims of sexual assault. It also doesn’t account for publicly insured victims or homeless women who may face a greater risk for assault due to environmental and social factors related to poverty, the authors note.

    “Follow-up studies must look at the prevalence in these groups,” Tennessee said. “We want victims to know they’re not alone in this journey and recovery process, and that includes studying and informing all groups about their access to funding resources.”

    “We encourage all victims of sexual assault to get a medical exam following the incident. Anything that is a barrier to ensuring victims are physically OK is bad for them and the community,” said Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) in Washington, D.C. told Reuters Health.

    “Congressional attention has been focused on making sure victims aren’t charged for the rape kit and forensic evidence, and there hasn’t been as much attention paid to making sure they aren’t charged for the other medical costs that result,” he told Reuters Health by email.

    Tennessee and Berkowitz suggest emergency room personnel and hospital workers inform victims about charity funds that hospitals and states offer to reimburse those out-of-pocket costs. The Violence Against Women Act will be reauthorized next year, and RAINN and other sexual assault groups are urging lawmakers to update the funding definitions and mechanisms to cover additional costs.

    “There are still too many barriers for victims and too many ways we discourage them from coming forward and reporting to police,” Berkowitz said. “Receiving a rape kit exam at a hospital is an important first step in reporting incidents to police.” 

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  • Apr 21, 2017 3:36:25 PM

    When Utah passed a resolution last year declaring pornography a public health crisis, critics were dumbfounded that such a deceitful measure could sail through the legislature.

    The resolution used laughably bad science and outright lies in an attempt to prove that porn is bad for you. Still, nobody freaked out too much. Surely it was a hollow declaration with no influence on the law. Right?

    Wrong. Lobbyists and lawmakers in other states are now using the resolution as proof that potentially unconstitutional pieces of legislation are viable.

    The model legislation, called the Human Trafficking Prevention Act, would slap a pornography filter on cell phones, laptops and tablets until users pay a $20 fee. Device manufacturers would be required to put a label on material deemed “obscene” and you’d be blocked from seeing it until you paid what is essentially a tax on porn.  

    The American Civil Liberties Union was quick to call this a violation of the First Amendment, saying that pornography is a free speech issue.

    “This is definitely an attempt to infringe on people’s rights,” said Vera Eidelman, an attorney at ACLU. She called the model legislation “crazy,” noting that lobbyists would like to have a government-managed list of people who had paid to access porn. 

    And yet such measures are making some headway. Chris Sevier ― the mastermind behind the act and an avid anti-gay marriage lobbyist who thinks his past conviction on an assault charge is “fake news” ― has already managed to convince lawmakers in 13 states to draft legislation. 

    This is definitely an attempt to infringe on people’s rights.
    Vera Eidelman, ACLU attorney

    The Human Trafficking Prevention Act has problems at every level.

    First of all, it’s based on the same “science” behind Utah’s resolution declaring porn a public health crisis. The Huffington Post has previously reported that the resolution drafted by state Sen. Todd Weiler (R-Salt Lake) is full of complete fabrications and cites poorly executed studies penned by anti-pornography groups, none of which prove a causal relationship between pornography and psychological harm.

    But the Human Trafficking Prevention Act relies on the resolution to declare that “it’s a matter of science” that “pornography is really bad.”

    That’s not true. The American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors & Therapists can’t find empirical evidence that sex or porn addiction are mental health issues. The group recommends that therapists and educators don’t tell people that “urges” related to porn are mental problems. Experts acknowledge that pornography triggers reward centers in your brain, but comparing it to alcohol or cigarettes is downright misleading. They say it should be compared to something more like dessert. 

    “An addiction has to meet certain requirements ― one of the requirements is that it’s rewarding, and pornography does meet that, as do cake and pictures of babies,” said Dr. Nicole Prause, a sexual psychophysiologist who has more than a decade of research in addiction, sexual desire, erectile dysfunction and sexual problems. “But it fails the addiction requirements in a number of ways, and there’s just no evidence that porn is the same thing as, say, cocaine.”

    Yet the flawed characterization of porn as a public health crisis is being used to trick lawmakers. Even the Human Trafficking Prevention Act’s title is misleading because it equates pornography with sex trafficking, and implies that the latter wouldn’t exist without the former.

    “It’s scary to frame this as a solution to human trafficking,” Eidelman said. “The only way it relates to human trafficking is the chosen title.”

    And what lawmaker is going to stand up for pornography?

    We’re an easy mark,” said Adam Grayson, chief financial officer of porn production company Evil Angel. “But this kind of ridiculous legislation has come before, and it’ll come again. If this passes anywhere, what happens is our trade organization has to go file suit in federal court, and cost taxpayers a bunch of money while that state defends its statute. Basically, we end up where we started, which is that there’s no tax. And you just can’t tax speech.”

    Critics say lawmakers are overlooking the constitutionality of the bill and sponsoring it because the porn tax would help fund groups that fight human trafficking and domestic violence.

    Republican state Reps. Bill Chumley and Mike Burns co-sponsored the Human Trafficking Prevention Act in South Carolina, and Burns told the Daily Beast that he’s “behind the premise of the bill.” Chumley said he helped introduce the bill because human trafficking is an issue that he’s “really concerned with.” 

    It’s unclear whether any of these measures will pass. Wyoming and North Dakota have already shot down the versions that have been introduced to their state legislatures. 

    But Sevier has said he plans to introduce the porn tax at the federal level this month. He’s armed with draft legislation in states across the country, a handful of supportive congressmen and the measure that got him here: a state resolution that was passed despite bad science and an air of lies.

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  • Apr 21, 2017 2:02:42 PM

    In Dallas, three exonerated men have become detectives of sorts.

    Rebuilding their lives following wrongful imprisonment, Christopher Scott, Steven Phillips and Johnnie Lindsey are devoted to freeing innocent inmates whom the justice system has failed. And now they’re the subjects of the documentary “True Conviction,” premiering at the ongoing Tribeca Film Festival. The Huffington Post has an exclusive clip showing the freed men taking on a new case involving someone who has sat in jail for 35 years. 

    Directed by Jamie Meltzer, “True Conviction” will air on PBS. 

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  • Apr 21, 2017 12:27:01 AM

    The top Arkansas court allowed the state on Thursday to use a drug that is part of its chemical mix for lethal injections, hours before the state planned its first execution in 12 years.

    The decision from the Arkansas Supreme Court came about three hours before the state planned to execute convicted murderer Ledell Lee at 7 p.m. local time (0000 GMT) at its Cummins Unit in Grady, which houses the state’s death chamber.

    The southeastern state had planned to execute eight inmates in 11 days, the most of any state in as short a period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

    Courts have halted four of those executions. The state’s plan prompted an unprecedented flurry of legal filings and raised questions about U.S. death chamber protocols and lethal injection drug mixes. Back-to-back executions set for Monday were indefinitely halted.

    It was unclear if Lee’s execution would go ahead on Thursday night. The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on three petitions from Arkansas death row inmates to halt the proceedings. Lee’s lawyer also made an emergency filing with a U.S. court in Little Rock about an hour before his scheduled execution.

    The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday denied Lee’s request to halt his execution. Lee was convicted and sentenced to death for beating Debra Reese to death with a tire iron in 1993.

    In ruling on the state’s lethal injection drug, the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with the state that it did nothing illegal in acquiring the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs used in its lethal injections, and lifted an order by a state circuit judge on Wednesday that blocked its use.

    U.S. pharmaceutical wholesaler McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc accused the state of obtaining the drug under false pretences.

    Arkansas had also planned to execute convicted murderer Stacey Johnson on Thursday. But the Arkansas Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a halt to Johnson’s execution after he requested DNA testing he said could prove his innocence.

    The attorney general’s office said on Thursday it would not appeal the decision, meaning his planned execution was off. Johnson was convicted of the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Carol Heath.

    Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson set the execution schedule because another of the three drugs used in Arkansas executions, the sedative midazolam, expires at month’s end. The state’s protocol calls for use of midazolam to render the inmate unconscious, vecuronium bromide to stop breathing and a third chemical that causes cardiac arrest.

    (Reporting by Steve Barnes in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; writing by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman)

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  • Apr 20, 2017 11:53:12 PM

    Humor is a subjective thing, especially if the subject is something that could get you arrested ― like marijuana.

    The weed is illegal in Minnesota, which is why some people aren’t high on this 4/20 tweet from the police department in the town of Wyoming.

    Yes, the tweet was meant to be funny, and many people took it that way. It has been retweeted more than 126,000 times, and liked more than 228,000 times.

    Not everyone, however, saw the humor, considering that many people in Minnesota still get arrested for marijuana possession every day, even though medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, recreational use of pot is allowed in eight states and the District of Columbia, and 61 percent of Americans support legalization.

    Others mocked the cops for engaging in stoner stereotypes.

    Police spokesman Paul Hoppe told HuffPost the tweet wasn’t meant to entrap people, but “to bring awareness to substance abuse, which extends beyond marijuana and includes everything from alcohol, opioid, prescription narcotic abuse, meth, and heroin.”

    A few hours after the first tweet, the police department posted this follow-up.

    Outrageous tweets are nothing new for the Wyoming Police Department. 

    On Super Bowl Sunday, the department sent out a tweet threatening to show Justin Bieber’s T-Mobile ad to people suspected of drunk driving.

    Wyoming police also sent out a 4/20 tweet last year.

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  • Apr 20, 2017 9:58:45 PM

    Florida’s state Supreme Court on Thursday approved language for a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would restore voting rights to felons after they complete their sentences.

    More than 1.6 million Floridians can’t vote because the state strips felons of their voting rights unless they receive clemency and have their rights restored by the governor. With the state Supreme Court’s approval, activists will now have to work toward getting nearly 700,000 signatures on a petition in order to get the measure on the 2018 ballot.

    If the amendment gets the approval of 60 percent of Florida voters, felons would be able to vote after completing their sentences, probation or parole. Individuals who committed murder or sexual offenses would still permanently lose their right to vote.

    “We are very pleased that the Florida Supreme Court has approved the language for this important constitutional amendment,” Kirk Bailey, political director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said in a statement. “The language approved today reflects the belief that those who have committed crimes should be punished, but once they have fulfilled the terms of that punishment, they should be restored to full citizenship.”

    “Florida is one of only three states with a lifetime ban on voting,” Bailey went on. “This amendment modernizes Florida’s criminal justice rules by bringing our state in line with others nationwide.”

    Twenty-one percent of Florida’s African-American voting population can’t vote because of the law. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has made it more difficult for felons to get their rights restored.

    “People with past convictions are living and working in Florida’s communities just like their neighbors,” Kwame Akosah, an equal justice fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, said in a statement. “They should have a second chance to participate in their democracy and make their voice heard.”

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  • Apr 20, 2017 9:56:59 PM

    A city council candidate in Arlington, Texas, has been charged with sending obscene and threatening Twitter messages to a state representative’s wife.

    Matthew James Powers, 35, was arrested on one misdemeanor count of harassment in the case, which took authorities more than a year to investigate. The arrest was first reported by The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

    Powers, who is running for a seat on Arlington City Council, sent “harassing, obscene, threatening” Twitter messages to Bethany Tinderholt on Valentine’s Day 2016, according to the arrest affidavit. Tinderholt is married to state Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R).

    The messages, sent via the Twitter screenname @CzarofSwag, propositioned Bethany Tinderholt for sex acts and offered her $1 and $5. Other messages included:

    “Also I hope one of your kids gets raped by a pedophile or killed by someone texting. You can thank your husband for that.”

    “BTW I find your house wall on Park Manor easy to jump and your locks are crap. Picked them right open. Better get new ones.”

    “And I wish you wouldn’t keep your blinds closed so much. Makes it harder to watch.”

    Bethany Tinderholt reported the messages to police the day after they were sent. Tinderholt, who was pregnant at the time, told investigators she found the rape reference “extremely alarming and offensive.”

    Tinderholt and her husband contacted police again days later to report receiving a disturbing handwritten letter in the mail. The letter read, in part:

    “I do love watching you Beth. I would hate to see something happen to you. See you again soon.”

    Police said the letter included “various numbers and symbols,” which had no meaning to the Tinderholts.

    A neighbor’s surveillance video showed a man on a black motorcycle depositing the letter in a mailbox, but the quality was too poor for police to see the license number. 

    Authorities said an internet search of the @CzarofSwag user name yielded a social media profile linking Powers to the Twitter handle.

    Powers denied creating the account when investigators questioned him. Pressed further, Powers “requested an attorney, advising he no longer wished to speak,” the arrest affidavit says.

    A black Honda motorcycle was parked in Powers’ driveway when police interviewed him, and it belonged to Powers, police said.

    Investigators said it took them until January to link Powers to the @CzarofSwag Twitter account. The account has since been removed from Twitter.

    Authorities have not speculated on a motive. Powers was unavailable for comment. A Facebook page devoted to his political campaign was no longer available Thursday. 

    If convicted, Powers faces up to 180 days in jail.

    David Lohr covers crime and missing persons. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow him on Twitter.

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  • Apr 20, 2017 8:15:45 PM

    Weed is in the air this 4/20, and not just literally. Sixty-one percent of Americans are now in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use, according to a CBS News poll released Thursday.

    That’s the highest mark this particular poll has ever found, and it’s not an outlier. Similar surveys taken over the past year have shown that public support for legal cannabis is higher now than it has ever been before.

    Widespread acceptance of legalization ― itself a rejection of the longstanding federal prohibition on marijuana ― is a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. The nation first reached majority support for legalizing weed in 2013, when polls showed slightly more than 50 percent of Americans favoring the move. Although approval fluctuated somewhat after that, a number of surveys conducted over the past year have shown support for legal recreational marijuana crossing the 60 percent threshold, with fewer and fewer Americans expressing opposition.

    Just 33 percent of respondents oppose legalizing marijuana, according to the most recent CBS poll. Support for legal medical marijuana was overwhelming, with 88 percent of respondents expressing approval.

    There continues to be a significant generational divide in support for legalization. Thirty-seven percent of respondents over age 65 support legal marijuana, compared to at least 60 percent of respondents from all other age groups.

    Although the issue of legalization continues to split along partisan lines, the poll found that 46 percent of Republicans support the move and that 49 percent oppose it. Sixty-eight percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents support legal weed.

    The growing acceptance of legal marijuana comes as states continue to challenge the federal government’s insistence that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no therapeutic value and a high potential for abuse. Eight states and Washington, D.C., have now approved cannabis for recreational use, although sales remain banned in the nation’s capitol. A total of 29 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, with the latest addition coming this week in West Virginia.

    It’s not clear if the government is getting the message. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ― who has stated his personal opposition to weed ― has worried some marijuana advocates with ominous comments about the supposed dangers of loosening restrictions on the nation’s favorite illicit substance.

    Sessions likely won’t have much public support if he pushes back against state marijuana laws, however. According to the CBS poll, 71 percent of Americans would oppose the government taking action to try to stop the sale and use of marijuana in these states.

    CBS surveyed 1,011 adults between April 11 and April 15, using live interviewers to reach both landlines and cell phones.

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