Archive for November, 2011

Man Accused of Swinging Knife at Gastonia, NC Officers

November 30, 2011

From The Charlotte Observer of November 30, 2011 By April Bethea

A 54-year-old man remains in jail today after he allegedly swung a pocket knife at two Gastonia police officers.

Alfred Mitchell Barnett faces two felony charges of assaulting a government official with a deadly weapon and a misdemeanor charge of resisting a public officer.

Alfred Mitchell Barnett

Alfred Mitchell Barnett

The incident began around 3 a.m. Monday on South Street in Gastonia.

According to a police report, an officer says he was trying to make contact with Barnett when the man began running toward his patrol car in an “aggressive manner” and with his fists raised.

The man reportedly didn’t listen to officer commands, and pulled out a knife when an officer tried to arrest him, police say. The man then made “aggressive moves” toward the two officers and attempted to cut them, according to the report.

The Gaston Gazette, citing an arrest warrant, said police believe the man is homeless.

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Mexican Trucker Gets 16 Years for Drug Tunnels

November 29, 2011

From The Associated Press By ELLIOT SPAGAT, November 28, 2011

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Mexican trucker was sentenced Monday to nearly 16 years in prison for his role in two major drug tunnels along the U.S.-Mexico border, marking the end of one of the most prominent cases since the secret passages began turning up about a decade ago.

Daniel Navarro, 45, apologized in a soft voice to his family and a federal judge for his role in tunnels that linked warehouses in San Diego and Tijuana and resulted in seizures of a combined 52 tons of marijuana. The long passages raided in November 2010 were lit, ventilated and equipped with rail cars.

“This defendant is a significant, significant player,” said Sherri Hobson, an assistant U.S. attorney. “This defendant is right in the middle of it.”

Navarro, who pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to distribute marijuana, knew where the tunnels were and had keys to one warehouse, Hobson said. He was in frequent contact with one driver who was caught with nearly 10 tons of marijuana in his truck and told authorities that he previously worked with Navarro on large loads. Navarro led another driver on the freeway who was arrested with 14 tons of marijuana in his truck.

Holding the warehouse keys shows Navarro was a “trusted, trusted person” in the tunnel operations, said Hobson, who sought a 30-year prison sentence.

Defense attorney Victor Sherman acknowledged Navarro had a part in both tunnels but sought to play down his role. He asked for a 10-year sentence.

“There’s no evidence that he’s a manager or supervisor of anybody,” he said.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns sentenced the Mexicali native to 15 years and eight months in prison. He said Navarro was “up to his hips” in smuggling the huge marijuana loads, but the sentence was barely half the length that prosecutors wanted.

Navarro became a legal U.S. resident in 1999 and worked as a trucker in Southern California, his attorney said. He worked construction briefly in Tulsa, Okla., last year.

As U.S. authorities have tightened their noose on land over the last decade, tunnels have emerged as a major tack to smuggle marijuana.

More than 70 passageways have been found on the border since October 2008, surpassing the number of discoveries in the previous six years. Many are clustered around San Diego, California’s Imperial Valley and Nogales, Ariz.

Mexican Police Shoot It Out with 4 Teen Car Thieves

November 29, 2011

From The Associated Press, November 28, 2011

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) — A band of heavily armed teenage car thieves shot it out with officers during a high-speed chase Monday, before crashing their stolen car in the northern industrial city of Monterrey, police said.

Nuevo Leon state police said one young man escaped by running to a nearby university and stealing another car at gunpoint from a student. Two 13-year-old boys and a 15-year-old girl are in custody.

The youths were brandishing rifles at other motorists while driving the original stolen vehicle Monday, authorities said.

When police gave chase, the youths began shooting and officers fired back. The pursuit ended when the car smashed into a house.

Drug gangs fighting in Monterrey are known for recruiting children.

Also Monday, soldiers killed five suspected drug gang members in a gunbattle on the outskirts of Monterrey, authorities said.

The federal Attorney General’s Office said the troops came under fire when they went to a ranch to investigate reports that criminals were torturing and burning victims to death in large cans at the site.

Lawyers: Bullet Was Switched at Sirhan’s Trial

November 29, 2011

By LINDA DEUTSCH, Associated Press Writer, November 29, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lawyers representing convicted assassin Sirhan Sirhan argue in newly filed court documents that a bullet was switched in evidence at his trial and new forensic details show he is innocent of the 1968 killing of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Sirhan Sirhan, now 66, convicted of assassinating Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968

In the latest of many appeals filed on behalf of Sirhan, the attorneys are seeking to overturn his conviction. They repeated a previous assertion and presented reports from experts who said Sirhan was programmed through hypnosis to fire shots as a diversion for the real killer.

Prosecutors had no comment, said Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for the California attorney general’s office, which is handling the appeal.

The lawyers, William F. Pepper and Laurie Dusek, also said sophisticated audio tests recently conducted on recordings from the assassination night show 13 shots from multiple guns were fired — five more than Sirhan could have fired from his small pistol.

Authorities have claimed eight bullets were fired, with three hitting Kennedy and the rest flying wildly around the kitchen and striking five other victims who survived.

Paul Schrade, who was struck by gunfire, refused to comment on the new filing, saying he is working on his own new analysis of the assassination.

Pepper and Dusek argue that before Sirhan’s trial, someone switched a bullet before it was placed in evidence because the bullet taken from Kennedy’s neck did not match Sirhan’s gun. The lawyers suggest a second gun was involved in the assassination, but they do not know who fired it.

Pepper said the new evidence outlined in a 62-page federal court brief filed in Los Angeles is sufficient to prove Sirhan is innocent under the law.

“They put fabricated evidence into court before the judge and jury” Pepper told The Associated Press. “We are satisfied that for the first time in 43 years of this case we think we have the evidence to set this conviction aside,”

The motion was filed last week in federal court in Los Angeles

Whether it has any chance of success is questionable, said leading appellate lawyer Dennis Fischer of Santa Monica.

“It’s a longshot in the longest way,” he said, “but they certainly are raising intriguing questions.”

He said the passage of time weighs against defense appeals, with courts tending to ask what took so long to raise the issues. However, he said federal courts frequently are willing to take a closer look at cases in which governmental misconduct is alleged, even if it is long after the fact.

“The current thinking by the U.S. Supreme Court is these things need to end,” said Fischer. But he added in case with such historical importance, “No one will ever be satisfied.”

Sirhan, now 67, a Palestinian immigrant, was denied parole after a hearing last March where he denied any memory of shooting Kennedy on June 5, 1968, moments after he claimed victory in the California presidential primary.

Parole officials said he doesn’t understand the enormity of his crime that changed U.S. history.

Pepper and Dusek are the latest attorneys to take up Sirhan’s case after his conviction and argue on his behalf before parole boards and courts.. All of his appeals have been turned down. Pepper, who has taken on other unpopular cases including that of Martin Luther King assassin James Earl Ray, stepped in after Sirhan’s previous lawyer died.

At trial, Sirhan took the witness stand and said he had killed Kennedy “with 20 years of malice aforethought.” He later recanted the confession. Prosecutors introduced in evidence handwritten diaries in which he wrote: “RFK must die.”

The latest filing by Pepper and Dusek relies heavily on a report by audio analyst Philip Van Praag who did tests on an audio recording made by a news reporter during the shooting. The expert concluded that 13 shots were fired and that none of the sounds on the recording were echoes or other anomalies.

The report also claims that the sounds of gunfire were not isolated to one spot in the room but came from different directions.

The lawyers also contend that Sirhan did not have adequate assistance of counsel at trial, noting that his chief attorney, Grant Cooper, decided Sirhan was guilty at the outset and never pursued available defenses.

The Sirhan defense team settled on a claim of diminished capacity and never denied that Sirhan was the shooter of Kennedy, the brief noted.

“Defense counsel did not pursue the issue of a possible substitution of another bullet,” the brief said.

Acknowledging “the difficulty of retrying a case of this vintage,” the lawyers asked that the sentence be set aside and Sirhan set free.

“Petitioner fully understands that he is likely to be deported to Jordan where he would hope to quietly live out the rest of his life with family and friends, but at long last he would, at least, have received long delayed justice,” the filing states.

As an alternative, they asked that the judge set an evidentiary hearing to reexamine the case.

NYPD Officer Intervenes in Scuffle on JetBlue Flight

November 28, 2011

From The Associated Press, November 28, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — An off-duty New York City police officer subdued and handcuffed an intoxicated passenger who attacked a flight attendant Sunday during a scuffle aboard a JetBlue plane.

Officer Anibal Mercado intervened after Antonio Ynoa of Brooklyn punched a flight attendant in the face early Sunday on JetBlue Flight 832 from the Dominican Republic to John F. Kennedy International Airport, the NYPD said.

About a half hour before the plane was scheduled to land at about 12:30 a.m., the flight attendant approached Ynoa and told him to stop drinking duty-free alcohol, police said. Ynoa became angry and punched the attendant in the face, police said.

Mercado, a patrol cop in the Bronx, told reporters that he felt compelled to intervene.

“Everybody was very alarmed,” Mercado said. “I could see the fear in the passengers’ faces.”

Mercado told Ynoa that he was a police officer, then wrestled him to the ground and restrained him with a pair of plastic handcuffs stored on the aircraft, police said.

“He struck me a few times in the face as I was trying to restrain him,” said Mercado, who is an 18-year veteran of the police force. “He was still yelling profanities. I was just telling him to calm down.”

A JetBlue spokesman said the plane landed safely. When the flight landed, Ynoa was escorted off the plane by the FBI. The FBI says Ynoa, 22, will be arraigned Monday in federal court in Brooklyn on charges of assault and interference with a flight crew.

Charlotte, NC Rules Limit Use of Pepper Spray

November 26, 2011

Police policy: It’s OK if threat’s ‘imminent,’ not in nonviolent protests

From The Charlotte Observer of November 25, 2011 By Tim Funk

If Charlotte-Mecklenburg police follow their rules, they won’t resort to pepper spray if confronted with nonviolent protesters at next year’s Democratic National Convention.

CMPD “directives,” or rules that guide police behavior, also say that OC spray – short for oleoresin capsicum, the formal name for pepper spray – should not be used unless there’s “an imminent threat” to the officer or to someone’s safety.

When police should and should not use this aerosol irritant, which can cause temporary blindness, coughing and a restriction in breathing, has become the subject of national debate with the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement – and law enforcement’s reaction to it.

Police in New York, Denver, Seattle and Portland, Ore., have been widely criticized for trying to control Occupy crowds by using the spray, which gets its power from an inflammatory agent found naturally in cayenne and many other kinds of pepper.

But the incident that caused the most outrage – and disciplinary action against the officers involved – happened Nov. 18 on the campus of the University of California-Davis. As captured on video now watched by millions on the Internet, campus police Lt. John Pike doused a group of Occupy protesters – all of them seated, with arms linked – with a bright orange pepper spray compound.

In Charlotte, City Council member Patrick Cannon, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, said he had two reactions when he saw the video: Disbelief at what he was watching, and relief that, if the rules are followed, it won’t happen in Charlotte.

“Our policy is written as such that we do not deploy (pepper spray) on passive demonstrators,” said Cannon, a Democrat.

But what does “passive” mean?

CMPD Capt. Jeff Estes said the directives would also prohibit spraying demonstrators even if they refused, nonviolently, to follow orders to disperse.

Their refusal would have to include “violence or riotous behavior,” Estes said. Anything short of that “would be a trespassing issue” that would not call for using pepper spray, he said.

When 35,000 people – including protesters – converge on Charlotte next September for the convention, a host of police officers from other cities’ forces will also be in town to assist CMPD.

All of these guest officers “will be bound by all the rules of engagement and use of force” that govern the CMPD, Estes said.

Any chance that those rules will be changed before the Democrats meet?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police wouldn’t comment, but it’s doubtful, given all the legal ramifications.

Along with all the delegates and protesters in town for the convention, there will be up to 15,000 representatives of the news media, who could quickly turn any local police misconduct into an international story with a Charlotte dateline.

Also keeping an eye on police treatment of protesters next year will be the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We’re going to be watching very closely to make sure the First Amendment rights of protesters are protected,” said Mike Meno, spokesman for ACLU in North Carolina.

Police in Tampa – site of the Republican National Convention – will also get closer-than-normal scrutiny as protesters gather and march.

Tampa police policy on use of pepper spray is similar to CMPD’s. There, police can spray demonstrators only as a defensive weapon.

Pepper spray, the Tampa policy says, “shall not be used to disperse or control crowds.”

Developed into weapons-grade material by the FBI in the 1980s, pepper spray is now widely used by hikers to deter bears and women to foil would-be attackers.

But it’s police use of the spray that has provoked the most comment – some of it satirical.

After the UC-David video of Lt. Pike spraying the protesters went viral, many created their own digital versions, with “Pike,” for example, spraying the stone face of Thomas Jefferson atop Mount Rushmore.

“This is a new generation of subduing people,” Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University told The New York Times. “And while the decision to use it may not be right, we are in the age of pepper spray, not the age of bullets.”

In 2008, police at both national political conventions – in St. Paul, Minn., and Denver, Colo. – used pepper spray, according to news reports.

During the GOP convention in St. Paul, CNN reported, police arrested 283 people after firing projectiles, pepper spray and tear gas to disperse a crowd demonstrating near the convention site.

And in Denver, where the Democrats met, a Jefferson County, Colo., deputy unleashed pepper spray on the first night of the convention, the Denver Post reported. Only later did the deputy discover that the “protesters” he was spraying were actually undercover Denver police officers. The New York Times and the St. Petersburg Times contributed.

CMPD: When to Use – and Not Use – Pepper Spray

Friday, Nov. 25, 2011

Here’s what CMPD directives say about the use of pepper spray, also called OC spray.

“The use of OC spray or any other physical force will not be immediately deployed where a person or a group of persons are participating in a passive, nonviolent protest unless there is an imminent threat to the officer or another person’s safety.”

“OC spray will normally be used when the officer is confronted with defensive resistance, (including when) the use is a reasonably necessary progressive step in the use of force to effect the arrest, to secure an arrestee, or to provide for the safety of the officer or others; and physical restraint of person is not reasonable to bring the person under control without risk of injury to the person or the officer.”

“OC spray may be used to discourage an attack by an animal.”

NC Sheriff Takes Leave, Citing Bipolar Disorder

November 25, 2011

From The  Associated Press, November 24, 2011

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. Henderson County Sheriff Rick Davis is taking an indefinite leave from his job, saying he’s been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Davis said in a statement Wednesday that after increasingly erratic behavior, he sought advice from doctors who diagnosed him with manic bipolar disorder.

Davis says he believes he’s had the illness for years, but recent pressures on the job have brought it to the surface. He says he’s recently been having mood swings, making strange decisions and shouting at people.

Davis says he’ll use sick leave to seek treatment, but doesn’t know how long that might last. He intends to return to his duties as sheriff, but says that’s a decision that will ultimately rest with his doctors.

Body Found Hanging From I-40 Billboard in Arizona

November 24, 2011

From The Arizona Republic of November 21, 2011 by Kelsey Pfeffer

The body of a man who was reported missing in Coconino County was found hanging from a billboard on the side of a highway on Monday. Detectives say there is a strong possibility that his death was suicide.

Sheriff’s officials said the body of Stephen Dale Sterling, 39, who was the subject of a missing person’s search, was found by a motorist driving west on Interstate 40 near Buffalo Ranch Road. The driver called police after seeing a person hanging from a billboard on the north side of the highway.

Stephen Dale Sterling

Coconino County Sheriff’s Office

Stephen Dale Sterling

Sheriff’s detectives who were in the field searching for the missing man identified the body as Sterling’s. The Medical Examiner’s Office said the body appeared to have been hanging for hours.

Sterling had last been seen at a campsite near Winona.

The investigation of Sterling’s death continues. Detectives say that there is a strong possibility that he took his own life.

Arizona Can Now Build Border Fence

November 24, 2011

New law OKs construction through private donations, landowner consent

From The Arizona Republic by Alia Beard Rau

Supporters of increased border enforcement now can help Arizona build its own fence along the Mexico border.

A new law went into effect today that allows the state to build the fence, as long as it can raise enough private donations and persuade public and private landowners to let it be done on their property. A new website for the effort, www.buildtheborderfence.com, was set to go online at midnight.

No other state has tried such a tactic.

border fence

Michael Schennum/The Arizona Republic

Construction workers replace the old border fence with a higher see-through fence in Nogales.

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, who sponsored the legislation, hopes to raise at least $50 million from donors across the nation.

“Donate to the country’s security,” Smith said. “This is an American problem, not an Arizona problem.”

State lawmakers who supported the law have said they want a consistent fence along the entire border that is solid, has multiple layers and is tall enough to keep out pedestrians. Smith said the effort also could include more high-tech security efforts.

The state’s southern border is about 370 miles long. About a third of that, mostly in the western part of the state between Yuma and Nogales, has the type of fence lawmakers want. The rest either has no fencing or has fencing designed to keep out vehicles. In that part of the state, the fence is only a few feet tall and is made of barbed wire or wooden posts. Smith said most illegal immigrants cross into the eastern part of Arizona over that more porous border.

According to a 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office report, it has cost the federal government about $3 million a mile to build the type of fence that would keep pedestrians out.

Smith said Arizona’s final cost would depend on what kind of a fence is constructed and whether the state can get private companies to donate some of the construction supplies. State lawmakers have said they could save money by using inmate labor to build the fence.

The effort doesn’t have official non-profit status for tax purposes, but Smith said the website has a letter from the state consular general stating that there is precedent in Arizona that donations to a state or political subdivision are tax deductible.

“We aren’t taking an official position on that, but consult your tax professional,” Smith said. “Take that letter to your accountant.”

The Legislature’s Joint Border Security Advisory Committee, on which Smith serves, will determine what type of fence will be built and then manage construction.

Getting permission from landowners will determine where the fence can be built.

Much of the Arizona border is on federal land or Indian reservations, with small portions belonging to private landowners. Smith said the easiest solution would be for the federal government to give permission to build the fence within its 60-foot easement along the border.

“Let’s hope the federal government will allow us to do it,” Smith said. “But if they say no, we have a contingency.”

Smith said he already has begun talking to private landowners and has support from several to build on their property, even if it means the fence has to go miles north of the border.

“We’ve identified three highly trafficked areas that are notorious that we have pretty good access to,” he said. “And as we continue to raise awareness and funds, I hope the federal government says, ‘Go ahead and build whatever you want to build.'”

The Sierra Club opposes the law. It says Arizona already has more border walls than any other state and that the walls have caused flooding in some areas and have blocked wildlife in other areas.

“Arizona has been slammed by federally imposed, ineffective walls that cost taxpayers millions per mile,” said Dan Millis, program coordinator for the Sierra Club borderlands campaign, in a media release. “Donations toward more border walls will not provide much bang for the buck.”

Sticky Goo on Pennsylvania Turnpike Disables Over 100 Cars

November 24, 2011

From The Associated Press, November 23, 2011

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A flood of gooey muck dropped from a tanker truck disabled more than 100 cars and damaged an unknown number of other vehicles along a nearly 40-mile stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, officials said.

 A leaking valve on a tanker spread driveway sealant over the eastbound lanes of a long stretch of the Turnpike between New Castle and the Oakmont Service Plaza on Tuesday night, Turnpike spokesman Bill Capone said.

Turnpike operations officials on Wednesday said 150 or more cars were disabled when the sticky goo covered their tires and wheels. Some state police and turnpike maintenance vehicles had to be towed away after getting stuck in the tar-like substance, according to the turnpike operations center.

Traffic was moving normally by Wednesday morning, but the sticky mess hindered the travel plans of some motorists traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Laura Frick told WTAE-TV she was traveling from Cleveland to New Jersey for the holiday.

“Now we have to turn around and go back home,” Frick said. “It’s horrible.”

Retired firefighter Bob King told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the experience was the most harrowing of his life.

“It caught us off guard,” said King, who now lives near Chicago. “It didn’t seem like anyone knew what it was or what to do. It had to be an incredible amount of tar. It’s still piled on my tires.”

Cpl. Mike Corna, with the state police barracks that patrol the pike near Pittsburgh, said Wednesday the driver will be cited for not properly securing his load, though the specific tickets to be issued were still being determined. Police have yet to trace the origin of the load. The tank was filled somewhere in Ohio.

Maintenance crews got out quickly, dumping sand on the pooled goop and using snow plows to push it on to the shoulder, turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said. The mess was mostly confined to the right lane and the roadway didn’t have to be shut down while workers tried to clean it up.

Turnpike officials urged motorists whose cars were damaged to call its operations center at (800) 331-3414. DeFebo said a number of callers have already been in touch with turnpike operations, which is still trying to determine how many motorists were affected.