Focus on School Safety, Not Guns, in Santa Fe

No one in the Texas city where 10 died in a school shooting last Friday agree to meet with a gun control advocate. Gov. Greg Abbott holds a roundtable Tuesday on school security.

Days after a gunman killed 17 people in Parkland, Fl., gun control advocate Sandy Phillips traveled to the city and was encouraged when student survivors wanted to discuss the shooting and push measures to prevent similar incidents. The scene in Santa Fe, Tx., has been far different since she arrived Friday, reports USA Today. Phillips, whose daughter Jessica was killed in the Aurora, Co., theater shooting six years ago, said no one has agreed to meet with her. Few want to talk about the deadly rampage inside the Texas school that left 10 people dead and 13 injured, much less discuss ways to prevent shootings. “This has been starkly different from Parkland in so many ways,” said Phillips, who has visited nine mass shooting scenes in six years, offering support to survivors and victims’ families. “It’s almost jarring.”

The Santa Fe shooting has delivered a much more muted response to the gun debate. Gov. Greg Abbott will host roundtable discussions, beginning Tuesday, to find solutions to improve security at Texas schools, which will include parents, teachers, mass shooting survivors, legislators and groups that advocate for and against further gun regulations. “What law can you pass that stops someone who ignores the law?” said Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, the county’s top administrator. “We need to focus a lot more attention on mental health.” Police said shooter Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, used a pump-action shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver that he got from his father. The fact that the guns were commonly owned weapons in Texas has made it trickier for gun control advocates to point to stricter gun laws to prevent shootings. Texas has some of the nation’s most gun-friendly laws, including the right to openly carry handguns in some places for law-abiding residents and no background checks required for private firearms sales.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DOJ to Brief Congress on 2016 Campaign Informant

Under pressure from President Trump, Justice Department officials agreed to review highly classified information with congressional leaders connected to the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, The announcement was made after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray met with the president.

Under pressure from President Trump, Justice Department officials agreed to review highly classified information with congressional leaders connected to the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Politico reports. The decision to share the information came after Trump met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray and asked them to turn over to Congress and his legal team all of the memos they have about an FBI informant who made contact with his 2016 campaign. “Based on the meeting with the President, the Department of Justice has asked the Inspector General to expand its current investigation to include any irregularities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s or the Department of Justice’s tactics concerning the Trump Campaign,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Sanders added that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will confer with national security leaders and Congress “to review highly classified and other information they have requested.” The breadth of the agreement — and what information, exactly, might be provided — was not immediately clear. The Justice Department had previously indicated that sharing details about its informant could risk lives and endanger national security. It’s also unclear who will be permitted to view the documents. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said the documents requested by Trump will “indicate what the informant found.” Trump’s lawyers also want to interview the FBI officials who made the decision to connect the informant with the campaign. “It’s the FBI who has the onus for having invaded the campaign,” Giuliani said.  He predicted the Justice Department would place redactions on some parts of the material.

from https://thecrimereport.org

White House Continues to Cite MS-13 ‘Animals’

Amid criticism of President Trump’s description of some undocumented immigrants as “animals,” the White House issued a release calling MS-13 memberfs “animals” 10 times. The release was issued in advance of a roundtable on immigration this week.

Amid criticism over President Trump’s description of some undocumented immigrants as “animals,” the White House is doubling down on the phrase, reports Politico. The press office issued a 488-word release Monday titled “What You Need To Know About the Violent Animals of MS-13” that described members of the predominantly Salvadoran gang as “animals” 10 times. “Too many innocent Americans have fallen victim to the unthinkable violence of MS-13’s animals,” the release said. “President Trump’s entire Administration is working tirelessly to bring these violent animals to justice.” Trump last week declared in a meeting on immigration that some people being deported “aren’t people – they’re animals.” The comment came in response to a comment about MS-13.

“It’s just something between the White House and the media,” said Rick Tyler, the former communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign and an administration critic. “And their base loves it. They love sticking it to the media.” The language in the press release was in line with Trump’s frequent characterization of undocumented immigrants as criminal or subhuman, starting with his June 2015 speech declaring his presidential candidacy. “Fake News Media had me calling Immigrants, or Illegal Immigrants, ‘Animals.’ Wrong! They were begrudgingly forced to withdraw their stories. I referred to MS 13 Gang Members as ‘Animals,’ a big difference – and so true. Fake News got it purposely wrong, as usual!” Trump wrote on Twitter. Monday’s release indicates the administration’s eagerness to keep the story in the headlines ahead of a planned roundtable on immigration later this week.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Millions Lose Driver’s Licenses Over Court Debts

More than 7 million people nationwide may have had their driver’s licenses suspended for failure to pay court or administrative debt, a practice that advocates say unfairly punishes the poor, the Washington Post calculates from public records requests. Some states are trying to reduce the number of suspensions.

More than 7 million people nationwide may have had their driver’s licenses suspended for failure to pay court or administrative debt, a practice that advocates say unfairly punishes the poor, the Washington Post reports. The total number could be much higher based on the population of states that did not or could not provide data. At least 41 states and Washington, D.C., suspend or revoke driver’s licenses after drivers fail to pay traffic tickets or appear in court to respond to such tickets. Driver’s license suspensions were criticized by anti-poverty advocates after a 2015 federal investigation focused on Ferguson, Mo., showed that law enforcement used fines to raise revenue for state and local governments.

Suspensions can keep unsafe drivers off the road but also can prevent people who haven’t committed serious crimes from working, getting their children to school and getting out of debt, according to advocates for the poor. The Post sought records from 49 states and D.C. (Louisiana wouldn’t release the information without a records request that cost hundreds of dollars). Some states are trying to reduce their numbers of debt-related license suspensions. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law in June to prevent people from losing licenses because of unpaid traffic fines. Then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a bill in May last year that made it easier for drivers with suspended licenses to establish payment plans. The D.C. Council is considering a bill that would prevent residents who earn less than $39,000 a year from losing their licenses for not paying court debt. Ariel Levinson-Waldman of Tzedek DC, a nonprofit that represents low-income D.C. residents, said the city was “on the front end of a wave” of a national effort to restructure suspension policies after the Ferguson report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ex-DOJ Criminal Division Leaders Praise Trump Nominee

Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats oppose Brian Benczkowski because he represented a Russian bank that has been investigated by the FBI. His nomination has been pending for a year.

Five Democrats and Republicans who have led the Justice Department’s criminal division are asking Congress to approve the Trump administration’s nominee for the post, Brian Benczkowski, NPR reports. The former officials praise Benczkowski, for his “professional experience, temperament and integrity.” They say Benczkowski respects the Justice Department and “will work hard to protect the independence and integrity of this important institution.” Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats have urged the White House to back away from the nominee after expressing concern about Benczkowski’s work in private practice for Alfa Bank, a Russian institution that had come under scrutiny from FBI investigators.

At his confirmation hearing last year, Benczkowski said he had performed only a few billable hours worth of work for the bank at the behest of one of his law partners at Kirkland & Ellis. Alfa Bank had come onto the radar of the FBI after experts suggested its computer server had pinged a Trump Organization server. The committee approved his nomination along party lines, 11-9, but the nomination has stalled. Benczkowski, 48, previously worked in senior management roles at the Justice Department. The letter of support was signed by former criminal division chiefs Lanny Breuer, Leslie Caldwell, Michael Chertoff, Alice Fisher, and Mythili Raman. On Monday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pointed out only two of seven litigating units in the Justice Department have Senate-confirmed nominees. Some nominees, including Benczkowski, have waited for an entire year for a floor vote. “It is an odd way to run a government,” Rosenstein said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DOJ Inspector General to Check on Trump Allegations

The Justice Department’s inspector general will examine if there was any impropriety in the counterintelligence investigation of President Trump’s 2016 campaign. The president demanded such a probe after reports that a federal informant approached Trump campaign aides.

The Justice Department asked its internal watchdog to examine if there was any impropriety in the counterintelligence investigation of President Trump’s 2016 campaign, after the president demanded that DOJ investigate the motives behind the inquiry, the Wall Street Journal reports. In a tweet, Trump referred to a man who approached at least two Trump campaign aides in 2016 in connection with the counterintelligence investigation into the campaign. The suspected informant is Stefan Halper, an American who was a foreign policy scholar at the University of Cambridge until 2015. Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said the agency had asked the inspector general to expand a probe into how the FBI and federal prosecutors obtained warrants from the nation’s secret spy court to surveil a onetime Trump campaign aide. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said, If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.”

Trump has railed against the investigation regularly in the year since it began and has stepped up his attacks in recent days. He and his lawyers have seized on reports about the informant as evidence in their view that the probe isn’t about Russia’s efforts to influence the election but rather a partisan attack leveled by a Democratic administration. Former law-enforcement officials said informants in a probe involving a presidential campaign should only be used for law-enforcement or foreign-intelligence purposes, not for political ends. The president’s latest attacks come as his lawyers try to negotiate the terms of a possible interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who already has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 19 individuals on charges including lying to investigators and tax and bank fraud.

from https://thecrimereport.org

More Women on Drug Charges are Filling Jails

Addiction is driving skyrocketing rates of incarcerated women, tearing apart families while squeezing communities that lack money, treatment programs and solutions to close the revolving door. The number of women in local jails jumped from 13,258 in 1980 to 102,300 in 2016.

The Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tn., in a remote corner of Appalachia, offers an agonizing glimpse into how the tidal wave of opioids and methamphetamines has ravaged the nation, the Associated Press reports. Addiction is driving skyrocketing rates of incarcerated women, tearing apart families while squeezing communities that lack money, treatment programs and permanent solutions to close the revolving door. More than a decade ago, there were rarely more than 10 women in the jail. Now the total is around 60. Most who end up there were arrested on a drug charge and confined to a cell 23 hours a day. Many of their bunkmates also are addicts. They receive no counseling. Then weeks, months or years later, they’re released into the same community where friends — and in some cases, family — are using drugs. Soon they are again, too. See also: Treat Women Prisoners With Dignity, Texas report says

The cycle begins anew: Another arrest, another booking photo, another pink uniform and off to a cell. Campbell County faces formidable odds. In 2015, it had the third-highest amount of opioids prescribed per person of all U.S. counties. There were enough opioids to medicate every single resident around-the-clock for 15 weeks. Mayor E.L. Morton blames the drug industry and doctors. Two lawsuits against opioid makers are pending on behalf of the county and its 40,000 residents. “If you were fighting the Mafia, you’d be aiming for the head of the organization,” he says. “Well, the top of this organization is fully legal, and we have the most respected profession that is doing it to us.” As much as 90 percent of the crime in a five-county district is connected to drugs. Women are often the culprits. Women in jail are the fastest-growing correctional population. Their numbers rose from 13,258 in 1980 to 102,300 in 2016, with the biggest jump in smaller counties, says the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Podcast ‘Aftermath’ Focuses on Shooting Victims

The podcast by the USA Today Network and The Trace explores the long-term effects – both physical and mental – of gun violence. Nearly 85,000 people are estimated to have survived gun injuries in 2015.

A Kentucky boy, 14, is shot in a prayer circle at school. A Washington, D.C., girl, 17, is shot while chatting outside with a group of friends. A 23-year-old woman, working her first job in Seattle, is shot by an intruder upset with tensions in the Middle East. “Aftermath,” a new podcast, examines these survival stories to explore the long-term effects – both physical and mental – of gun violence, reports USA Today. The project is the work of USA Today Network journalists, in collaboration with the newsroom The Trace, and debuts Tuesday. Every day on average in the U.S., about 96 people are shot and killed by firearms. Vastly more survive. Of the nearly 85,000 people estimated to have survived gun injuries in 2015, close to three-fourths were due to assault, 17,300 were unintentional shootings, 3,800 survived suicide attempts, and about 900 were shot by law-enforcement agents, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Aftermath’s creators also produced Accused, a hit true-crime podcast exploring unsolved murder cases in the Cincinnati region. That podcast, which debuted in September 2016, has more than 15 million listens so far. Aftermath takes a different approach to crime reporting. Instead of focusing on one local case, each episode examines the lingering aftereffects of gunshot violence. The goal is to shed light on the struggles of the growing population of shooting survivors.  “In any situation like this, there’s a person who’s injured, and then everyone around them also suffers in different ways,” said Layla Bush, 35, who was shot at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle  in 2006. She is one of eight survivors featured in Aftermath. Most were innocent bystanders caught in gunfire, but not all. In some of the cases, the people shot had themselves gunned down others at various points in their lives – decisions that, at times, seem to show how violence is borne from trauma.

from https://thecrimereport.org

MA Gov Wants to Restrict Prison ‘Compassionate Release’

Massachusetts is one of the last states to allow the release of sick inmates who are no longer a safety risk. Gov. Charlie Baker wants to bar freeing 375 serving life-without-parole terms, which a critic calls “lunacy.”

Massachusetts, which has one of the oldest U.S. prison populations, is looking to reduce the number of incapacitated or terminally ill inmates, potentially saving taxpayers millions of dollars, reports the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation last month that will allow some of the state’s sickest inmates to be released if they can prove they are no longer a safety risk. Massachusetts is one of the last states to offer what is often called “compassionate release.” The new law may not serve as a significant release valve to offset the rise in elderly and ailing inmates. Baker has proposed legislation to bar the release of inmates who are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder, a category that includes 375 elderly inmates.

A spokesman says the governor wants to make sure prisoners convicted of first-degree murder “serve sentences that match the heinous crimes they committed and are not eligible for medical parole.” Joel Thompson of Boston-based Prisoners’ Legal Services said most states’ compassionate release laws are too slow and underutilized. “The legislature got it right and should leave it the way it is,’’ he said. Ben Forman of the think tank MassINC, called Baker’s proposal “lunacy.” He added, “If they have served 40 years in prison, let them out already and don’t bear the burden of the expensive end-of-life care.” While the state prison population dropped from 11,723 in 2012 to 9,207 as of January, the number of inmates 55 and older rose 18 percent. There were about 1,580 such inmates last year. At 17 percent, Massachusetts’ proportion of inmates 55 and older is considerably higher than the national average of 11 percent. The cost to house a maximum-security inmate averages $64,211 a year, while the state spends $283,749 per year to care for each sick prisoner.

from https://thecrimereport.org

AZ Prosecutor Seeks to Control Police Record Release

The chief prosecutor in Phoenix, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, says he will control whether police records are released to the public or withheld. He warns of financial consequences for police departments that don’t comply. 

The chief prosecutor in Phoenix, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, says he will control whether police records are released to the public or withheld. He warns of financial consequences for police departments that don’t comply, the Arizona Republic reports. A letter from Montgomery to police agencies makes no direct mention that long-standing Arizona law and court rulings hold police records to be presumed public. It spells out a process to limit release of video evidence only for law-enforcement purposes, and describes how prosecutors will pursue protective orders from judges to help keep records private. State law allows anyone who is denied access to a public record to challenge the decision in court. Montgomery promises police agencies that if they are sued over withholding records, he will “indemnify” them.

“The desires of the public and media to view firsthand evidence of criminal conduct, particularly video evidence, will remain unabated,” Montgomery wrote. “Equally so is our continuing duty to protect the rights of the accused, any victim, and the integrity of a criminal investigation and prosecution. Our criminal justice system deserves no less to maintain our community’s trust and confidence.” “The public at large should be worried,” said Tom Irvine, an attorney who has previously represented the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. “If you can’t get information about what’s happening on criminal matters in your community, or know if police are acting improperly, then you have a big problem.” Glendale Police Chief Rick St. John said,  “I think Mr. Montgomery knows that at the end of the day, chiefs of police have the right to release information to the public that we’re not bound to protect under rules of the court. He has a different set of rules that he’s playing by.”

from https://thecrimereport.org