Archive for February, 2010

Former police officer pleads guilty to Danziger Bridge shooting cover-up of stunning breadth

February 25, 2010

By Times-Picayune Staff

February 24, 2010, 8:53PM

Laura Maggi and Brendan McCarthy wrote this story

danziger-letten.JPGJohn McCusker / The Times-PicayunePolice must be held to the law, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said on the steps of the federal courthouse Wednesday.

Admitting a cover-up of shocking breadth, a former New Orleans police supervisor pleaded guilty to a federal obstruction charge on Wednesday, confessing that he participated in a conspiracy to justify the shooting of six unarmed people after Hurricane Katrina that was hatched not long after police stopped firing their weapons.

The guilty plea of Lt. Michael Lohman, who retired from the department earlier this month, contains explosive details of the alleged cover-up and ramps up the legal pressure on police officers involved in the shooting and subsequent investigation. It’s unclear when Lohman’s cooperation with federal authorities began, but he presumably is prepared to testify against the officers he says helped him lie about the circumstances of a shooting he immediately deemed a “bad shoot.” 

Read the original documents
 

Bill of information charging Lt. Michael Lohman

Facts that Michael Lohman admitted to

Lohman, who pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to obstruct justice, admits he failed to order the collection of evidence or canvassing of witnesses, helped craft police reports riddled with false information, participated in a plan to plant a gun under the bridge and lied to investigators who questioned police actions.

A spokesman for NOPD Superintendent Warren Riley said the chief did not have a comment about the guilty plea. Bob Young said Riley stands by the quote he made Tuesday, as news of the guilty plea broke. “We hope that justice is served,” he said then.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Ray Nagin did not respond to a request for comment.

In a news conference after Lohman’s plea, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said police must be held to the law.

“Police officers are there to protect us, and to protect the most vulnerable among us,” he said. “Their jobs are to help individuals and protect us, not to hurt us. Sadly, sadly, we come across in the course of our work here…officers who violate their oaths of office, who occasionally violate their duties, violate their commitment to serve the public. And we take actions against those individuals wherever they violate federal law. We will continue to do that.”

In the wake of the startling developments, defense attorneys for some of the six police officers and one former officer involved in the shooting maintained their clients’ innocence.
 

The Times-Picayune first questioned NOPD investigation into Danziger Bridge shootings in 2007. Read that story here.
 

All seven men were indicted by a state grand jury in December 2006 on murder and attempted-murder charges, but that case collapsed in court in the summer of 2008. Six weeks later, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division agreed to take over the case.

Frank DeSalvo, an attorney for Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, one of two sergeants to fire his gun at the scene, said Lohman’s guilty plea does not change his client’s position.

“We are not concerned about it,” DeSalvo said. “The government gave a story here that is not correct….It looks to me that they alleged superficial stuff that is not true. We can prove that some of this stuff is not true.”

A widely respected supervisor within the NOPD, Lohman served on the force from 1988 until his retirement early this month. After the storm, he moved from the 7th District in eastern New Orleans to the Central City-based 6th District, along with Major Robert Bardy, his longtime commander.

As a lieutenant in the 7th District, he was a ranking officer over many of the officers involved in the shooting. He was a direct supervisor to Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, a homicide detective who Lohman ordered to investigate the case.

The incident on the morning of Sept. 4, 2005, spanned nearly the entire length of the Danziger Bridge, which crosses the Industrial Canal in eastern New Orleans. Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, was shot to death outside a motel on the Gentilly side of the bridge.

James Brissette, 19, was killed on the eastern side of the bridge, while four people walking with him with were seriously wounded. Susan Bartholomew lost part of her arm in the shooting and her husband, Leonard Bartholomew III, was shot in the head. Their daughter, Leisha Bartholomew and a nephew, Jose Holmes, suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Leonard Bartholomew IV, a teenage son, was uninjured.

After the shooting, police arrested Lance Madison, a longtime FedEx employee who had been taking care of his brother after the storm. Madison was accused of shooting at officers and booked with attempted murder. That was a “false arrest,” according to the bill of information, the charging document that lays out the laws Lohman allegedly broke.

The cover-up of what Lohman immediately judged an unjustified shooting began just after supervisors arrived, according to the bill. While police attorneys and police reports have asserted that officers were fired upon by the victims before shooting their weapons, the bill maintains that the victims were unarmed.

The factual basis, which outlines the facts Lohman is admitting, said the sergeants involved in the shooting told him that civilians shot at police, justifying the officers’ actions.

michael lohman.JPGFormer Lt. Michael Lohman retired from the New Orleans Police Department earlier this month.”When defendant Lohman asked them where all the civilians’ guns had gone, the sergeants did not have a good explanation,” the document states. At that point, Lohman directed his subordinates to talk to the other officers, hoping they would devise a story to match the physical evidence.

At the scene, Lohman assigned a detective to conduct an investigation. While not named in the document, that detective was Kaufman, who tells him an NOPD probe will not be necessary becauseNOPD Superintendent Eddie Compass had said no reports were necessary in the aftermath of Katrina.
 

“21 NAT, Babe, we don’t have to do anything,” said Kaufman, according to the factual basis, which refers to him as “Investigator.” In NOPD shorthand, “NAT” means “necessary action taken,” while a “21” report is a “miscellaneous incident,” not a crime. 

But Lohman apparently told Kaufman the Danziger case would require a report.

The court documents describe Lohman consulting with various shooting officers to confect a plausible cover-up. But the documents do not identify by name the other officers involved in the alleged conspiracy, though they are described clearly. 

The bill, for example, defines three officers as “co-conspirators”: a sergeant, referred to as “Investigator” and “the sergeants involved in the shooting.” The Investigator is Kaufman, who wrote the initial police report and co-wrote the supplemental investigative report. The two sergeants who participated in the shooting were Sgts. Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius, both supervisors in the 7th District. They are identified in the documents as “Sergeant A” and “Sergeant B.”

Attorneys for Kaufman and Gisevius have acknowledged they received target letters earlier this year. They have maintained their clients’ innocence.
Kaufman’s attorney said “that bill of information is not specific enough to indicate that my client is involved.”

“If it did, he categorically denies being involved in anything listed in that bill of information,” said Stephen London.

Eric Hessler, who represents Gisevius, said the court documents simply lay out allegations. “I certainly don’t consider them indisputable facts,” he said.
The documents say Kaufman lied when he gave a voluntary statement to FBI agents on Jan. 22, 2009. Shortly afterward, Lohman talked to Kaufman, who said “everything was ‘cool,'” the bill says. It also states that Lohman gave an interview to FBI agents on May 27, in which he “concealed that he and his co-conspirators were involved in a cover-up.”

Lohman’s cooperation seems to date to sometime after that May 27 meeting. The span of the conspiracy in the bill dates from the day of the shooting until that date in May, suggesting that Lohman changed his story soon afterward.
In pleading guilty, Lohman admits to encouraging Bowen and Gisevius — the “involved sergeants” — to devise a story justifying the shootings. Lohman talked to more of the officers involved in the shooting and “discussed the statements they should give,” the bill stated.

Lohman also knew that “the Investigator” planned to put a planted gun under the bridge. Kaufman logged into police evidence a gun he described as belonging to Lance Madison. 

While discussing that scheme, Lohman asked Kaufman whether “the gun was ‘clean,’ meaning that it could not be traced back to another crime,” according to the bill.

The federal paperwork describes Bowen, who joined the force in 1997 and rose to sergeant, as a major figure in creating continuously changing stories to provide a legal foundation for the shootings. While working for the NOPD, Bowen earned a law degree from Loyola University.

The statements attributed to by “Sergeant A” match statements made by Bowen in a 54-page supplemental police report written by Kaufman and Sgt. Gerard Dugue. 

DeSalvo, Bowen’s attorney, would not address whether Bowen fits the description of Sergeant A. His client has not received a target letter, he said.
But the documents describe Sergeant A alleging that Lance Madison threw a gun into the Industrial Canal — an allegation made by Bowen in the supplemental report. 

The documents also describe Sergeant A initially saying that he kicked two guns belonging to the shooting victims off the bridge. The same sergeant also described running under the bridge after a suspect. That story was later changed, the documents say, after Lohman and others agreed it was implausible. 

However, Bowen does describe kicking the guns and running under the bridge in the supplemental report. 

In October 2005, Lohman frequently talked to Kaufman about how to make the report he was working on “more plausible,” the bill stated. At one point, he became so impatient with the draft report that he personally wrote a 17-page report that Kaufman was supposed to use instead. 

Although the documents say this report was signed and “submitted,” it did not remain in the official record. It was eventually replaced by a seven-page report, which NOPD has distributed as the initial incident report. 

In Lohman’s 17-page report he made significant changes that would have bolstered the police case. Instead of Bowen alone spotting Madison tossing the gun, Gisevius and three other officers attested that they, too, saw it. Lohman thought “the cover-up story would be stronger and more logical if four officers said they saw Madison throw the gun,” the bill stated.

In a supplemental report, Susan and Leonard Bartholomew are described as saying their nephew, Jose Holmes, had shot at police. The federal documents state that the Bartholomews did not make such a statement. 

In Lohman’s report, he “further falsified” the Bartholomews’ stories, saying Susan Bartholomew told police that the Madisons were walking with their family across the bridge and Ronald and two other people fired a gun at police. The Madisons did not know the Bartholomews and were not walking with them, according to the bill and victim accounts. 

Kaufman showed each of the officers who fired their guns the report and all signed off on the document, the bill states. At that point, the document was filed, with both Kaufman and Lohman’s name on the front cover page.
But, at some point, Kaufman “switched out” the reports, replacing the 17-page one with a seven-page document. He used the cover page from the 17-page report, the bill stated.

Kaufman in 2006 told Lohman that he “had switched out the report because he had written another report to match the shooters’ audiotaped statements,” according to the bill. 

While the federal documents focus largely on Lohman’s dealings with Kaufman and the two sergeants who were part of the shooting group, his allegations will likely have implications for other officers. 

For example, the documents state that Lohman talked with the officer who shot and killed Ronald Madison, asking “leading questions” to ensure answers that would justify the shooting. Former Officer Robert Faulcon, who quit the NOPD after the storm, is identified in police documents as having shot Madison.

“I’m not in a position at this point in time, to concede that (Lohman) ever spoke with my client,” said Franz Zibilich, who represents Faulcon, who he added has not received a target letter.

Faulcon had “nothing to do with authorizing or writing a police report” and partaking in a cover-up, Zibilich said. “It’s been his position all along that the shooting is justified,” he said.

The other officers involved in the shooting were Michael Hunter, Ignatius Hills, Robert Barrios and Anthony Villavaso. Their attorneys did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. 

Last summer, FBI agents raided the NOPD’s homicide bureau, where Kaufman worked. They took not only his files and computer hard drive, but also those of Dugue, who worked with him on the supplemental investigation.

An attorney for Dugue declined to comment on Wednesday’s developments.

At the end of Lohman’s court proceeding, after accepting the guilty plea, U.S. Judge Ivan Lemelle decried media reports from Tuesday night that said Lohman was expected to plead guilty the next day.

Lemelle said he “would ask and direct” the federal government to conduct a criminal investigation into the leaks and find a person or persons who “violated the seal order.”

Lemelle said he “would expect” federal investigators to pursue the matter “with vigor,” regardless of the source. 

He noted that a leak could be considered obstruction of justice.

At a news conference after the hearing, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said “we will do whatever we have to do to learn where that came from.” He asserted that nobody from his office, the FBI or Justice Department leaked information.

A TIMELINE OF THE CASE

  • Sept. 4, 2005: New Orleans police, responding to a call of gunfire on the Danziger Bridge, shoot six civilians, two of them fatally. Lt. Michael Lohman assigns the investigation of the incident to Sgt. Arthur Kaufman.
  • October 2005: Kaufman submits a first draft of his investigation for Lohman’s review.
  • August 2006: Families of the Danziger shooting victims file a series of federal civil lawsuits against NOPD.
  • Dec. 28, 2006: A state grand jury indicts seven New Orleans police officers on charges of murder and attempted murder.
  • Feb. 8, 2007: A Times-Picayune story notes profound flaws in the police investigation into the bridge incident.
  • Aug. 13, 2008: Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Raymond Bigelow tosses out the state’s case against the “Dangizer Seven,” saying the case was tainted by a prosecutor.
  • Sept. 30, 2008: U.S. Attorney Jim Letten announces that federal authorities will examine the Danziger case for possible civil-rights violations.
  • Jan. 22, 2009: Kaufman meets with FBI.
  • May 27, 2009: Lohman meets with FBI.
  • Aug. 5, 2009: FBI seizes files from NOPD homicide division, including files belonging to Kaufman and Sgt. Gerard Dugue, who helped with the investigation of the Danziger incident.
  • Sept. 26, 2009: FBI shuts down Danziger Bridge for a day in order to reconstruct the scene from the day of the shootings.
  • Feb. 1, 2010: Lohman retires from NOPD after 21 years on the force.
  • Feb. 3, 2010: Prosecutors file under seal a bill of information charging Lohman with conspiracy.
Advertisements

Former officer’s plea in Danziger Bridge case spells trouble for other cops, analysts say

February 25, 2010

By Gordon Russell, The Times-Picayune

February 24, 2010, 7:47PM

danziger-fbi-probe.JPGTimes-Picayune archiveAn FBI vehicle with a 360-degree camera takes pictures of the Danziger Bridge during a re-creation of the September, 2005, shooting.


Lt. Michael Lohman’s guilty plea
on Wednesday signals a huge break for federal prosecutors and a potentially devastating blow to the other New Orleans police officers involved in the shootings on the Danziger Bridge and the subsequent internal inquiry into those shootings, lawyers following developments in the case say.

In admitting he conspired to obstruct justice, Lohman acknowledged helping concoct a cover story for police shootings that left two New Orleanians dead and four injured in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina. Among other things, the government says Lohman participated in a scheme to plant a gun at the scene, and helped rewrite police reports and witness statements to make a fabricated version of events seem more plausible.

Making civil rights cases against police officers is very difficult, in large part because police in such cases often stick together, presenting a story that is internally consistent even if it is at odds with what the government believes is the truth. Lohman’s plea changes all that.

Read the original documents
 

Bill of information charging Lt. Michael Lohman

Facts that Michael Lohman admitted to

“They’ve broken the blue code, the wall of silence,” said former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg. “It takes a lot to break through that strong allegiance among law enforcement officers. But now they’ve got not just a cooperating witness but one who wore a badge and is admitting he was part and parcel of the effort to cover up what went on.”

“The code of silence thing is bullshit,” said longtime police attorney Frank DeSalvo, who represents Sgt. Kenneth Bowen in the Danziger case. “It’s for television and movies. I’ve taken tons of them under cross-examination over the last 30 years. There is no such thing as the code of silence.”

Getting witnesses to “flip” is crucial in many federal prosecutions. But it’s never more important than in cases in which police officers are defendants, said Dane Ciolino, a defense lawyer and professor at Loyola Law School.

“Nothing makes a civil rights case stick like another police officer testifying” against fellow officers, Ciolino said. “Typically, the people complaining (of police misbehavior) are criminals or alleged criminals. So the only way to make an effective case is with video or a cooperating police officer.

“In this case, we now know they’ve got a cooperating police officer, and they very well may have some video or audio surveillance. The news couldn’t be much worse for them — it’s bad, and it could get even worse.”

Ciolino and Rosenberg both noted that it’s been several weeks, at minimum, since Lohman agreed to cooperate, and his cooperation could date back as far as May. It’s thus plausible that he agreed to have his conversations with other officers recorded, though both lawyers said it’s impossible to tell from the documents filed thus far.

Ciolino noted that cover-ups often require some tending “because you have to keep them covered up.” That can provide opportunities to record damning conversations after the fact, as the various players involved assure one another that the circle will remain unbroken.

There’s a hint of such a conversation in the court documents filed Wednesday. Twice, the documents quote statements allegedly made by Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, the lead investigator, to Lohman, in January 2009. The bill of information says Kaufman told Lohman that he had spoken with the FBI and that everything was “cool.” The factual basis, a document signed by Lohman, says Kaufman assured Lohman in January 2009 that “It’s all cool, Babe.”

Those direct quotes, Ciolino said, “likely confirm that there was covert surveillance of some sort.”

As big a victory as Wednesday’s news was for federal prosecutors, Rosenberg cautioned that Lohman’s plea does not mean the broader probe is a done deal.

“It’s still not a slam dunk because all this is taking place in the aftermath of Katrina, and I don’t know if everyone has full appreciation of the climate down here” at the time, he said. “But the statements Lohman is subscribing to are going to be pretty damning to the other officers.”

Prosecutors have already sent target letters to at least two other officers involved in the Danziger incident — Sgt. Robert Gisevius, who was among the officers who fired their weapons on Sept. 4, 2005 on the bridge that spans the Industrial Canal, and Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, who led the investigation into the matter.

The bill of information charging Lohman makes clear that charges against other officers will be forthcoming.

Rosenberg said he suspects the government will proceed with other indictments shortly, but will first offer potential defendants a brief window of time in which to absorb the news of Lohman’s guilty plea and consider making deals of their own.

“I think the government is trying to send a message to the other officers that they may want to consider coming into the fold sooner rather than later,” he said. “I think they send out the target letters, announce Lohman is cooperating and then see if other people start knocking on the door.”

Gordon Russell can be reached at grussell@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3347.

Police supervisor pleads guilty in Danziger Bridge Probe; Plea Deal Blows Case Wide Open

February 25, 2010

By Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune

February 24, 2010, 7:36PM

 

Letten.jpgJohn McCusker / The Times-PicayuneU.S. Attorney Jim Letten talks to reporters Wednesday after retired New Orleans police Lt. Michael Lohman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Danziger Bridge shootings after Hurrican Katrina.

Retired New Orleans police Lt. Michael Lohman has pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Danziger Bridge shootings, which left two people dead and four others injured after police fired on a group of civilians trapped in the submerged city days after Hurricane Katrina.

Read the original documents

Bill of information charging Lt. Michael Lohman

Facts that Michael Lohman admitted to
 Two men — Ronald Madison, 40, who was mentally challenged, and James Brissette, 19 — were killed. The survivors included a husband and wife, their two teenage children and a nephew.

Lohman, who helped orchestrate an elaborate cover-up of the crime, supervised the investigation and was at the scene on Sept. 4, 2005, according to an 11-page bill of information unsealed today.

According to the document, Lohman was aware that a subordinate planted a gun at the scene. He also wrote a 17-page police report full of lies about the incident and encouraged officers at the scene to remove shell casings.

He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, plus possible restitution. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 26.

A factual basis presented in court by prosecutors details what the government could have  proved had the case against Lohman went to trial. Lohman admitted to the facts presented as part of his plea deal. 

A press release from Letten’s office summarizes the chronology of events this way:

According to court documents unsealed today, the incident involved at least seven NOPD officers who drove to the Danziger Bridge in a rental truck in response to a call for police assistance.

On the east side of the bridge, the officers encountered six civilians (five members of the B Family, and J. B., a friend of the B Family), who were walking across the bridge to get food and supplies from a supermarket. The officers fired at the group of civilians, killing J. B. and seriously wounding four members of the B Family.

Officers then traveled to the west side of the bridge, where they encountered Lance and Ronald Madison, who were crossing the bridge to visit the dentistry office of one of their other brothers. An officer shot and killed Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old severely disabled man.

When Lohman arrived on the scene shortly after the shootings, he noticed that there were no guns on or near the dead and wounded civilians. After determining that the involved officers could not come up with any evidence to justify the shooting, he concluded that they had been involved in a “bad shoot.”

Lohman admitted today that, in the wake of the shooting, he participated in a conspiracy that involved, among other things, writing false reports about the incident, planting a gun and making up false witness statements.

Lohman also admitted that he intended for the officers involved in the shooting to come up with a plausible story that would allow Lohman and other supervisors to conclude that the shooting was justified. According to his testimony, the officers then provided “false stories,” which “evolved” over time.

According to the factual basis produced at the time of the plea, Lohman personally drafted a 17-page report, which he knew to be false, and provided that report to an investigator to submit as the official incident report.

That same investigator had previously informed Lohman that he had a gun that he planned to “put under the bridge,” and that the gun was “clean,” meaning that it could not be linked to any other crime.

Lohman understood that the investigator was going to use the gun as evidence to justify the shooting of the civilians, and he went along with that plan to plant evidence.

Lohman admitted in court today that he knew that the civilians on the bridge had not actually possessed guns, and he knew that the investigator had also falsified statements by the civilians. Lohman also admitted that in May 2009, he provided false information to an FBI agent investigating this case.

Mother of Murdered Child Out of Jail on Bond

February 25, 2010

  From www.news14.com

RALEIGH – The mother of murdered 5-year-old Shaniya Davis was released from jail Wednesday. Cumberland County sheriff’s officials said Antoinette Davis posted a $51,000 secured bond and deputies went to Raleigh to get her from Central Prison where she was being held.

Antoinette Davis is charged with human trafficking, felony child abuse, prostitution and filing a false police report in the murder of her daughter. She is expected to appear in court April 15.

Mario McNeill is charged with kidnapping, raping and murdering Shaniya Davis. His next court date is slated for March 17.

Parents concerned about safety after school bus assaults

February 24, 2010

by TONY BURBECK / NewsChannel 36
E-mail Tony: TBurbeck@WCNC.com

 Posted on February 4, 2010 at 6:11 PM

 Related:

“It’s not widespread,” said Principal Ayinde Rudolph about the allegations.

The school has over 1,300 students. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials confirm five boys are involved in three alleged sexual assault incidents on buses leaving James Martin Middle School in the last three months.

School officials admit “incidents” can mean more than one victim. So the question is: How many girls might have been fondled?

NewsChannel 36 spoke to one victim’s mother, who said her daughter and daughter’s friends were molested multiple times on the same bus.

“I believe that’s part of the ongoing investigation — to find out whether or not there’s any validity to it happening to multiple girls,” Rudolph said.

Parents want to know if their children are safe on the buses.

“They understand we are doing everything in our power,” Rudolph said.

CMS has more than 1,100 buses in its fleet. Only 170 are equipped with video cameras. That means police often have to rely on witness statements instead of visual proof.

The buses where the alleged assaults occurred did not have cameras.

School board members say bus safety is an issue with the assault allegations — plus, the district is planning to consolidate bus routes.

Board members say the schools must communicate problems. Rudolph says the school notified parents.

“We sent out Ed-Connect messages after each incident,” he said.

Rudolph says a school assembly about bus behavior gave a 13-year-old enough confidence to report the assaults.

“We should really be reassured that the girl was willing to come forward,” he said.

Still, some parents say because of the recent incidents they do not think their children are safe on CMS buses.

A police officer who works that area says CMS has a few problem schools and James Martin Middle School is one of them.

CMS says it is talking students and parents should as well to make sure they understand good behavior and report bad behavior.

Another alleged assault reported at James Martin Middle

February 24, 2010

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A 14-year-old girl says a student inappropriately touched her during class at James Martin Middle School.

It’s the fourth allegation of sexual assault involving the school in recent months.

This latest incident occurred in a classroom full of students on Monday near the end of the school day.

“He ran (his hand) across her breast and squeezed it and said, ‘Oh, they’re fake.’ She immediately told him, ‘Stop. Don’t do that,'” said the victim’s mother, who did not want to be identified.

She said she is not pleased by the way the school handled the situation. The boy remains in school and has allegedly taunted her daughter.

“It could happen again. This happened the 22nd and I have not yet got a phone call,” the mother said.

School board member Kay McGarry said the board needs more information about all criminal incidents on school campuses.

“We get incident reports but not like we used to get, and to hear it from the media — I need to hear about it so we know what is happening and when red flags should start to come up,” McGarry said.

The Classroom Teachers Association believes that it’s time for the district to come up with an alternative for problem students.

“Perhaps, it’s time for the Board of Education to appoint a commission to talk about what we’re going to do with those problem students. Every school has them,” said Joe Ledford with the CTA.

The 14-year-old’s mother says it’s time for those students to go.

“The school has no control over those kids,” she said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials confirmed earlier this year that five boys are involved in three alleged sexual assault incidents on school buses leaving James Martin Middle.

After the bus incidents, the school system changed seating assignments on the buses, making boys sit on one side and girls on the other.

Homeland Security Reports Losing Guns

February 24, 2010
By Thomas Frank, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The nation’s Homeland Security officers lost nearly 200 guns in bowling alleys, public restrooms, unlocked cars and other unsecure areas, with some ending up in the hands of felons. The problem, outlined in a new federal report, has prompted disciplinary actions and extra training.Most of the misplaced weapons — including handguns, shotguns and military rifles — were never found. “Most losses occurred because officers did not properly secure firearms,” says the Homeland Security inspector general report.

WHERE GUNS WERE LOST

Spots where Homeland Security workers lost guns from 2006 through 2008:

  • A fast-food restaurant bathroom
  • A car idling in a convenience-store lot
  • A bowling alley
  • A toolbox in a truck bed
  • On a car bumper

Source: Homeland Security Department inspector general

 At least 15 of the guns ended up in the hands of gang members, criminals, drug users and teenagers, inspector general Richard Skinner found. His report documented 289 missing firearms from fiscal year 2006 through 2008, although not all were lost because of negligence. Some were lost in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and others were stolen from safes.

 The report is the first accounting of guns lost by Homeland Security’s 185,000 workers.

 Homeland Security “took immediate action” to correct problems, department spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said Wednesday. Workers are getting extra training and officials are improving tracking and inspection of guns, Kudwa said.

 “The department is strongly committed to ensuring that weapons … are kept secure,” Kudwa said.

 Although the number of guns lost is only a small fraction of Homeland Security’s 190,000 firearms, any lost weapon “is a very serious matter,” said Hubert Williams, president of the Police Foundation, a think tank on law-enforcement issues. “It reflects the competence of the officer.”

 The report does not say if any of the guns were used in crimes.

 Homeland Security said employees have been fired and suspended for losing guns. Guns are carried by many Customs, Border Patrol and Immigration agents.

 A 2008 report found 76 guns lost by the 4,800 agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in a five-year period ending in 2007.

Vandal spray paints statue of Andy Griffith in Mount Airy

February 24, 2010

02/24/2010 08:03 AM

By: News 14 Carolina Staff

 MOUNT AIRY, N.C. – Vandals spray painted the face of the Andy Griffith statue, which serves as a symbol for the small town of Mount Airy where Griffith once called home.

The statue was a gift from the TV Land network in 2004.

Residents of Mount Airy say they’re shocked that someone would damage something that means so much to the community.

“This is not just important to fans of the Andy Griffith Show. It’s important to the local economy because as we have lost our textile mills, furniture and tobacco, we’re swinging in a direction of tourism being a much more important part of our local economy,” Tanya Jones said.

The Surry County Arts Council says TV Land is sending someone to take a look at the damage. In the meantime, surveillance cameras have been added near the statue, and there is a cash reward for anyone with information leading to an arrest.

You can call Mount Airy police at (336) 786-3535.

Cops: Fla. Thieves Overheard After Misdialing 911

February 24, 2010

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Police say two Florida teenagers are facing charges after 911 dispatchers heard them talking about breaking into cars when one teen’s cell phone accidentally called 911 during the heist.

Daytona Beach police say 19-year-old Stefanie Vargas and a 13-year-old are charged with burglary to a conveyance.

Police spokesman Jimmie Flynt says dispatchers listened as the pair discussed what was worth taking while rummaging though a vehicle parked near a Daytona Beach nightclub early Sunday.

Officers went to the area and spotted the 13-year-old inside a vehicle. A police report says the teen tried to flee in a sport utility vehicle driven by Vargas. The report says both admitted to the robbery.

It’s unclear how the number got dialed

Todd Sides Files for Sheriff

February 24, 2010

By Jessie Burchette

jburchette@salisburypost.com

Todd Sides says he wants law enforcement — not politics — to be the focus of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.

Sides

A Salisbury police officer for 10 years, Sides says it is time the sheriff’s department joined other law enforcement agencies across the county and welcome a new leader.

“New police chiefs have taken over in Landis and China Grove this year. In the coming months, we will be getting new chiefs in Salisbury and Spencer, as well as an elected sheriff in November,” Sides said. “Now is the time to mend fences and start anew. It is time for law enforcement to really do some good here in Rowan County.”

Sides is one of four Democrats to file so far for sheriff in the May 4 primary.

Sides said he plans to base his campaign on what the sheriff’s job should be about, rather than how to get elected and stay in office.

“Law enforcement — not politics” is more than a campaign slogan, he says.

“I want those employed at the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office to do their job without fear of political repercussions. I want the deputies out there doing what is the best for the county and its citizens, not what is going to get the sheriff re-elected,” Sides said.

For too long, he argues, deputies and detention officers have had to worry about their political affiliation and who they donate money to. Sides said no one should ever be forced to support or vote for anyone.

“Once elected, I believe that if I do my job to the best of my abilities, then the deputies and detention center officers will support me,” Sides said.

As sheriff, he would focus on the growing problem of gangs in the county.

A gang investigator for the Salisbury Police Department, Sides wants to add a gang unit to the sheriff’s department to educate the community and gather intelligence on area gangs.

Sides also said the Sheriff’s Office should:

– Better connect with community.

– Be more accessible, open 24 hours a day if possible.

– Have community meetings; “People out in the county have good information, good ideas.”

– Get more training for officers, particularly those in the detention center.

Sides said he expects the public to hold him to a high standard and pledged to hold supervisors accountable.

He also said he has no plans to replace current Sheriff’s Office staff with Salisbury police officers.

“The sheriff’s department has a lot of good, hard-working employees,” he said.

The filing period continues through noon on Friday.

Other Democratic candidates include Thomas J. “Jack” Eller, M.W. “Sonny” Safrit and John Noble