New York Police Want Authority to Take Down Drones

Illegal drone use in New York City has surged from three incidents in 2013 to 550 in 2017. Authorities fear drones could be used in a terror attack.

The New York Police Department, concerned about propaganda showing that drones can be used for terror attacks, wants the authority to take down drones it deems a threat, reports the Wall Street Journal. Congress last year authorizing federal law-enforcement officials to disable a drone, including shooting it down. It would take additional federal legislation to give local law-enforcement agencies the same right. “We are a unique city,” said the police department’s Terence Monahan. “We have so many areas we need to protect.”

At London’s Gatwick Airport, hundreds of flights were canceled as a result of drone sightings in December. On Friday, Dubai International Airport briefly grounded flights because of the suspected illicit drone operations. In August, explosives carried by drones detonated near Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in an apparent assassination attemp. A drone spotted in New Jersey in January forced Newark Liberty International Airport to halt all arrivals for 30 minutes. “When you take technology and the tactics of terrorism, those are two things that move very fast,” said John Miller, NYPD deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism. “When you take legislation and law-enforcement capabilities in this regard—those are things that are moving way too slow.” The Police Executive Research Forum is holding a conference in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday and Thursday to hear concerns regarding drones from local law-enforcement agencies. Illegal drone use in New York City has surged from three incidents in 2013 to 550 in 2017. There were 333 incidents of illegal drone use throughout the first six months of 2018.


75 Scholars Call Book on Pot’s Dangers ‘Alarmism’

In a new book, “Tell Your Children,” Alex Berenson, says marijuana’s active compound, THD, is linked with schizoprenia and violence. Critics in an open letter call Berenson’s work “flawed pop science.”

A group of 75 scholars and medical professionals criticized a controversial new book about the purported dangers of marijuana, calling it an example of “alarmism” designed to stir up public fear “based on a deeply inaccurate misreading of science,” The Guardian reports. “Tell Your Children,” by Alex Berenson, has reignited debate about the drug in a social and political climate rapidly trending towards the legalization of recreational use. Berenson argues that proponents of marijuana use have ignored evidence that the drug’s active compound, THC, may precipitate the onset of schizophrenia and provoke acts of violence in individuals who experience a psychotic “break.” On Friday, 75 scholars and clinicians signed an open letter, joining a chorus of disagreement with Berenson by arguing that “establishing marijuana as a causal link to violence at the individual level is both theoretically and empirically problematic”.

The signatories include academics from New York University, Harvard Medical School and Columbia University and care providers including addiction medicine doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. “We urge policymakers and the public to rely on scientific evidence,” they wrote, “not flawed pop science and ideological polemics, in formulating their opinions about marijuana legalization.” Berenson dismissed the letter, arguing that it “attracted only a handful of signatures from MDs, and almost no psychiatrists, who are on the front lines of treating psychosis and severe mental illness.”. The correlation between chronic mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, and marijuana use is widely accepted in scientific literature. Where the agreement ends is on the issue of causality. Most research falls well short of Berenson’s certainty, which he primarily bases on two studies.


Drug Money Plays Big Role in South Texas Economy

The El Chapo trial showed the hold that drug traffickers and their money have on police and politicians in Mexico. Drug profits also have a big influence in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

The much-watched trial of the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo shed light on the hold that drug traffickers and their money have on police and politicians in Mexico. Corruption and drug money flow on the U.S. side of the border as well. More than 100 local, state and federal law enforcement officials have been indicted on drug-related corruption charges on the U.S. southwest border since the 1990s. In the Border Patrol alone, 77 employees were arrested or indicted on corruption charges in the fiscal years from 2005 to 2017, the New York Times reports. “The money can be an extremely tempting thing,” said Kenneth Magidson, the U.S. Attorney in Houston from 2011 to 2017. “It’s hard to say no.”

In the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, drug money has an undeniable presence. It is evident not just in the corruption scandals but in everyday life, as the illicit profits of the drug trade fuel both legitimate commerce and the underground economy. Drug dealers and their relatives and associates come to the Valley to buy luxury vehicles, build heavily secured mansions, enjoy the night life in McAllen and Brownsville and gamble for cash in the popular but illegal slot-machine casinos. W. F. Strong, a professor of communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, called drug money the WD-40 of the Valley. “It’s the oil that makes the machinery work, in all kinds of ways that we don’t fully understand,” Strong said. No one knows exactly how much of that oil is lubricating the economy. “There is an underground economy that’s fueled by drug proceeds,” said Will Glaspy of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Houston division. “You see drug money that’s being utilized to start businesses, prop businesses up. You have legitimate businesses that are unknowingly being supported by illegal drug money.”


Trump Accuses McCabe of ‘Treasonous’ Behavior

The president criticized former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe in a tweet after McCabe told “60 Minutes” that a “crime may have been committed” by Trump.

President Trump is suggesting that key officials involved in the Russia probe were engaged in “treasonous” behavior, the Associated Press reports. Trump lashed out on Twitter at former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, whose new book details his concerns about potential foreign influence over the president, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who initiated special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Trump says McCabe and Rosenstein “look like they were planning a very illegal act, and got caught.”

In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” McCabe, who was fired last year, described Rosenstein as having raised the prospect of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Trump tweeted, “This was the illegal and treasonous ‘insurance policy’ in full action!” McCabe told “60 Minutes” that a “crime may have been committed” when fired the FBI director James Comey and tried to undermine an investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. McCabe said the FBI had good reason to open a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump was in league with Russia, and therefore a possible national security threat. “And the idea is, if the president committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the of the FBI to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia’s malign activity and possibly in support of his campaign, as a counterintelligence investigator you have to ask yourself, ‘Why would a president of the United States do that?’ ”  McCabe said.


Praised Houston Cop May Be Charged With Crime

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo called officer Gerald Goines “tough as nails” after he was involved in a raid in which two civilians were killed. Now the chief says Goines could face criminal charges if he can’t justify a no-knock warrant.

Before a drug raid left two civilians dead, Houston police 0fficer Gerald Goines had a troubling history of allegations against him. The undercover agent in the Jan. 28 raid had been involved in multiple shootings, racked up written reprimands, faced several lawsuits and is currently accused of fabricating a drug deal then lying about it in court to win a conviction against a man who maintains he’s innocent, the Houston Chronicle reports. Through it all, the longtime narcotics officer racked up glowing reviews and praise from supervisors who called his work “impressive” and wrote that he set a “good example for new officers in the squad.” As Goines lay in the hospital after the gun battle, Chief Art Acevedo praised his courage, describing the 54-year-old sergeant as “strong as an ox” and “tough as nails.”

On Friday, Acevedo offered a very different narrative. Now, he said, the veteran officer — who’s still in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound to the neck — could face criminal charges after investigators realized they couldn’t find the informant reportedly behind the undercover buy used to justify the no-knock warrant. Law enforcement experts say that’s indicative of a unit without sufficient oversight, where repeated complaints and lawsuits don’t lead to an internal review. “The number and type of incidents should be a red flag for any police organization to go back and look at exactly what happened in any and all of the incidents,” said Larry Karson, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Houston-Downtown. Previous allegations surfaced about Goines in at least two drug buys, with the officer accused of lying under oath and mishandling drug evidence, and questions arising about his use of a confidential informant.


‘First Amendment Auditor’ Shot by Guard in L.A.

An armed security guard shot a YouTube personality outside a Los Angeles synagogue as the confrontation was live-streamed to thousands of followers. “First Amendment auditing” has morphed into a YouTube subculture.

An armed security guard shot a YouTube personality outside a Los Angeles synagogue last week as the confrontation was live-streamed to thousands of followers. Zhoie Perez,  “Furry Potato” on YouTube, was filming the guard in a “First Amendment audit,” reports the Washington Post. A video shows the guard standing behind a gate with his weapon drawn for several minutes, before he tells Perez to “get away” and fires his gun. “First Amendment auditing” and “copwatching” dates from at least the mid-2000s. The practice has morphed into a YouTube subculture, with self-styled “auditors” seeing how police react to a camera lens. Photographers say they are testing their constitutional rights. “This is not only an example of the paranoia …among cops and security guards when it comes to citizens with cameras but an example of the dangers of placing armed security guards and cops in schools,” said Carlos Miller, whose website Photography Is Not a Crime writes about auditors.

An auditor may stand in a public space and refuse to put the camera down, explain or identify herself or himself when an officer approaches. “It’s not only about shining a light on the crooked bad cops but shining an even brighter light on the good cops,” Perez said. “You put yourself in places where you know chances are the cops are going to be called. Are they going to … uphold the law … or break the law?” On Thursday, Perez filmed outside the Etz Jacob Congregation and Ohel Chana High School in Los Angeles’ Fairfax neighborhood. “It turned into an impromptu First Amendment audit because the security guard almost immediately was getting really aggressive with the filming and putting the hand on the gun,” Perez said. She said she did not realize the building housed a school.


More Than 1,000 in Mexico Seeking U.S. Asylum Give Up

Many asylum seekers accept an offer by Mexico to be returned home to Honduras or elsewhere. That shows some harsh policies of the Trump administration are achieving their intended effects.

After enduring prolonged waits in dangerous and squalid conditions in Northern Mexico, thousands of caravan members waiting to seek asylum in the U.S. appear to have given up, say Mexican officials. About 6,000 asylum seekers traveled en masse to Northern Mexico in late November as part of a caravan that originated in Honduras. Since then, more than 1,000 have accepted an offer by Mexico to be returned home, the New York Times reports. Another 1,000 have stayed in Mexico, accepting work permits. Trump  declared a national emergency on Friday after he failed to secure funding from Congress for a border wall that he said would block migrants from entering the U.S. The data from Mexican officials suggested that harsh policies he has introduced to crack down on asylum seekers may already be achieving some of their intended effects.

Added to policies bearing down on asylum seekers, including tight limits on the number of people who can apply for the status each day and a heightened standard of proof to qualify, was the extension of a rule that certain asylum seekers must wait in Mexico for the full duration of their legal cases, which can take years. The requirement originally applied only to adults; the Department of Homeland Security expanded it to include families with children. Mexican officials said the data on people who deferred or gave up their quest for asylum in the U.S. reinforced Trump’s claim that many caravan members are not truly desperate for protection. “What happened is that many people came on an adventure, trying their luck,” said Cesar Palencia, Tijuana’s chief of migrant services. “When they realized that it was hard to cross and the conditions in Mexico were also difficult, among many factors, they decided to return home.”


LA Prisons, Jails Hold Inmates Beyond Release Dates

Every week over the last decade, Louisiana’s prison staff found at least one person who had been kept in jail or prison longer than a sentence required. One state inmate was imprisoned 960 days, almost three years, past his official release date. Civil rights lawyers have filed lawsuits over the overdetentions.

Louisiana’s prison system and local jails routinely keep people locked up for weeks, months, some even years, after they are supposed to be released, according to a state auditor’s report, defense attorneys and former inmates, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. Hundreds, and possibly thousands of people, have been affected. Every week over the last decade, prison staff found at least one person who had been kept in jail or prison longer than their sentence required. One state inmate was imprisoned 960 days, almost three years, past his official release date. Civil rights lawyers have filed lawsuits against the Louisiana Department of Corrections or the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, several of which resulted in hefty settlements paid by tax dollars.

Criminal justice experts said state and local authorities should improve coordination. What officials appear to have done, instead, is blame each other. The end result is a decades-old problem that damages lives and costs taxpayers millions of dollars. “The criminal justice system is based on the idea that if you do a crime you serve your time and then you go free. And that going free part is not being carried out correctly in Louisiana,” said civil rights attorney William Most, who has filed suit over the alleged overdetention of five clients. Such cases hinge on a single legal question: does the sheriff’s office or the Department of Corrections have the right to keep someone imprisoned past a scheduled release date and if so, how long?


Judge Issues Gag Order in Roger Stone Case

Roger Stone opposed a gag order, saying he makes much of his living as a commentator. He is charged with lying to Congress about the Trump presidential campaign and WikiLeaks.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson imposed a gag order in the case of Republican political consultant Roger Stone. Jackson ordered lawyers and others in the case not to talk about it publicly in ways that “pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice” and specifically they must not use the area outside court in Washington, D.C., as a venue for those kinds of statements, NPR reports. Stone faces seven criminal counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding, witness tampering and making false statements. Prosecutors say he lied to Congress about the role he may have played in the 2016 election as a conduit between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and WikiLeaks, which released embarrassing material stolen by Russian intelligence officers.

Stone says he did nothing wrong. All he did in 2016, he has argued, was hype public information that was available to everyone else at the time. Stone opposed a gag order. As someone who makes much of his living as a commentator and by making media appearances, he said he feared being required to keep silent. Stone has spared no criticism of the Justice Department. He complained that he was treated worse than Osama bin Laden, and he and supporters have questioned how CNN was able to position cameras to capture the FBI’s arrival at his Florida home. The cable network says it  noticed grand jury activity in Washington that led editors and producers to guess that an indictment might be coming.


TX Prisoner Transport Firm Closes After Suspect Escapes

Texas Prisoner Transportation Services went out of business after a double-murder suspect escaped from one of its vans near Houston.

Authorities have not determined how Texas double-murder suspect Cedric Marks escaped from a private prisoner transport van north of Houston despite being shackled, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The company that was ferrying him to central Texas, Texas Prisoner Transportation Services, went out of business last week. It was one of an unknown number of for-profit companies offering to ferry prisoners. No license is required to perform the service and the niche industry faces little federal oversight. Law enforcement agencies rely on private companies to move prisoners because it’s usually cheaper than using their own personnel to make long treks.

Texas Prisoner Transportation Services moved its prisoners at $1 each per mile. “We found that was an efficient way to do business that saves the taxpayers money,” said Travis County sheriff’s Maj. Wes Priddy. “They’ll swing by because they’ll have several different agencies they contract with. They rely on doing volume, trying to get that cab as full as possible to make the most money as possible. If we send someone to pick someone up, we don’t always have someone else along the route to maximize the use of fuel and money.” The only guidelines are outlined in the U.S. Justice Department’s Interstate Transportation of Dangerous Criminals Act, also known as Jeanna’s Act, enacted in 2000 after an 11-year-old girl was killed by a man who escaped a private prisoner transport. The act dictates employee background checks, how many hours employees can be on duty for a given period, the number of guards required for each violent prisoner and how much training is required for agents. The companies are governed largely by their contracts with individual law enforcement agencies.