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Fatal shooting of Florida teen turned over to state attorney
Vivian Kuo Mar-14-2012 1508 5


A case involving the fatal shooting of an unarmed Florida teen, which has sparked outrage and calls for justice, is in the hands of the state attorney's office.

Police say Trayvon Martin, 17, was returning from the convenience store to the home of his father's fiancee in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, around sunset on February 26.

A neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, 28, saw the teen and called 911 to report a suspicious man, authorities said.

The 911 dispatcher told Zimmerman not to confront Martin, but by the time police arrived, the teenager lay dead with a gunshot wound in the chest, said Bill Lee, the Sanford police chief. He was carrying a small amount of cash, some candy and an iced tea.

Zimmerman told police he shot Martin in self defense, authorities said.

"When you add it up, it just doesn't even make sense," said Ben Crump, the Martin family's attorney. "Trayvon Martin, a kid, has a bag of Skittles. (Zimmerman) had a 9 mm gun. Trayvon Martin didn't approach George Zimmerman, George Zimmerman approached Trayvon Martin. So how can he now assert self defense?"

A gunshot can be heard on the 911 calls recorded that night, police said.

The Martin family has sought to make the tapes available, but State Attorney Norm Wolfinger said Tuesday the calls will not be made public until the investigation is complete.

"Trayvon Martin and his family, interested persons, and the public-at-large are entitled to no less than a through, deliberate and just review of the information provided, along with any other evidence that may or may not be developed in the course of the review process," Wolfinger's office said in a statement. "We intend to honor that commitment."

The shooting has sparked an outrage in the community, with some accusing Zimmerman, who is white, of profiling the black teenager.

Numerous attempts to contact Zimmerman were unsuccessful, and it is unclear whether he has retained an attorney.

Police said they have not charged him because there are no grounds to disprove his story of what happened.

"The evidence and testimony we have so far does not establish that Mr. Zimmerman did not act in self defense. We don't have anything to dispute his claim of self-defense, at this point, with the evidence and testimony that we have," Lee said.

Lee said the 911 directions asking Zimmerman not to confront the teenager are not mandatory instructions.

"That is a call taker making a recommendation to him. He's not under a legal obligation to do that, so that is not something we can charge him with," he said. " But it would have been a good outcome ... if Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman never came in contact with one another."

In a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the NAACP expressed doubt in the Sanford Police Department and asked the Department of Justice to review the case.

"The NAACP has no confidence that, absent federal oversight, the Sanford Police Department will devote the necessary degree of care to its investigation. We therefore call upon you to detail personnel to Sanford immediately to review the facts, ensure that the Sanford Police Department conducts an impartial, thorough and prompt investigation of the circumstances involving the death of this unarmed teen, and ensure that the responsible person is held accountable if a crime was committed," the letter said.

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Fredrick Kunkle Nov-24-2014 100 0
On a radiant fall day, more than 100 people filed into a gloomy auditorium in Boston to see a play about an even gloomier subject: Alzheimer’s disease and how the progressive, brain-killing condition shakes up an African American family.

“I forget things,” the father onstage says angrily while he and his loved ones remain in denial about his descent into dementia. “I’m sick of people asking me how I’m doing.”

The play, “Forget Me Not,” is part of a larger, D.C.-based project designed to reach a community at risk and encourage participation in research.

Studies show that older African Americans are almost twice as likely as whites to develop Alzheimer’s disease for genetic, biological and socioeconomic reasons. Diet and even the stress of experiencing racism can be factors.

Yet relatively few African Americans want to talk about Alzheimer’s, which is the leading cause of dementia. For historical reasons, even fewer want to participate in clinical research trials that could deliver benefits to themselves and future generations.

“You just don’t hear about Alzheimer’s in the black community. There’s some stigma,” said Stephanie Monroe, associate director of the African American network at the D.C.-based nonprofit USAgainstAlzheimer’s, the event’s organizer. The organization was founded in 2010 by George Vradenburg, AOL’s former chief counsel, and his wife, Trish, a writer and former journalist.

The effort to engage African Americans on Alzheimer’s comes as the U.S. population ages and becomes more diverse. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, a number expected to more than triple by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In the D.C. region, the number of people 65 or older with Alzheimer’s is expected to grow by nearly 40 percent to 329,000 in 2025.

Monroe said “Forget Me Not,” which also has toured the District and Philadelphia since launching in September 2013, aims to show African American families what

Alzheimer’s is like and encourage them to seek help for loved ones who may suffer from it. As part of the event, the network attempts to recruit audience members for a huge federally funded clinical trial.

Yet even among those interested enough to attend the play, several expressed reluctance to participate in medical research. All of them agreed, with one word: Tuskegee, and its shameful legacy. That refers to a 1932 medical study for which the federal government enlisted about 400 low-income black men suffering from syphilis without informing them of their options and allowed some to go untreated after penicillin became available.

“I think for very good reasons in minority communities there is distrust of clinical trials,” said Reisa A. Sperling, a Harvard Medical School neurology professor and director of Alzheimer’s research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who encouraged audience members to enroll in her research.

Sperling is the principal investigator of a study involving 60 sites in the United States, Canada and Australia attempting to learn whether regular transfusions of an antibody will stop the cascading series of events that lead to memory loss, cognitive impairment and, eventually, death.

The A4 study, as it’s called, targets beta amyloid, a protein whose buildup is the precursor to Alzheimer’s. Aging adults who have signs of amyloid buildup but no symptoms of cognitive impairment receive infusions of an antibody in the hope of sweeping the deposits from the brain. The study is funded in part by a $36 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, which has stipulated that organizers must work to boost minority representation in the trial.

African Americans are at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease because of a complex mix of factors. For starters, African Americans are about 1.4 times more likely than whites to carry the apolipoprotein E (APOE) e4 gene variant, which consistently has been identified as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. APOE is a key component of high-density lipids (HDL) and plays a central role in transporting cholesterol in the brain.

“We know for a fact that it does catalyze or promote development of the disease and that African Americans have higher occurrence of the gene,” said Thomas O. Obisesan, a physician and researcher at Howard University.

Oddly, the risk of developing disease associated with that gene in African Americans is less than the risk associated with that gene in whites, Obisesan said. But that is perhaps because fewer blacks live long enough to develop Alzheimer’s, often because of other ailments, such as cardiovascular disease, he said.

What’s more, researchers recently identified another gene that appears to raise the Alzheimer’s risk for African Americans, Obisesan said. The gene — ABCA7, which is involved in cholesterol metabolism and acts as a transporter between cellular membranes — was found to raise Alzheimer’s risk in blacks by about 1.8 times.

Other scientists think that African Americans may be at greater risk for Alzheimer’s because they also are at greater risk for diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, which contribute to development of the disease. Socioeconomic factors, such as more limited access to medical care and poor diet, also play a role.

“It’s very clear that these issues are related to poverty,” said Laurie M. Ryan, chief of the Dementias of Aging Branch in the National Institute on Aging’s neuroscience division.

Another possible factor, researchers said, is the stress that comes from enduring discrimination.

Stress has long been known to raise the risk of Alzheimer’s, and Lisa Barnes, a neurology professor at Rush University Medical Center, said that finding has been borne out in her work, an epidemiological study focusing on African Americans since 2004.

“I think the most striking thing is the importance of social factors, such as perceived discrimination, social resources and purpose of life,” Barnes said.

Lower education levels among blacks also heighten risk. Researchers theorize that a limited education fails to create the rich network of connections among brain cells used in memory and cognition. When dementia begins, minor deterioration has a bigger impact. The analogy often used is one of bandwidth: It takes less time to degrade a narrow data-handling network than a large one.

“Early education has a profound effect on our cognitive function throughout your entire life,” said Jennifer Manly, a neurology professor at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center. “And it turns out to have a profound effect on your risk for cognitive decline and developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

Education also impacts African Americans’ perception of Alzheimer’s, as do cultural biases.

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Kimberly Kindy Nov-24-2014 48 0
The revolution, or whatever happens here, most certainly will be televised, but until then, every part of the lead-up will be, too. In recent days, shop owners boarding up stores have found themselves giving impromptu news conferences. Media galleries form to listen in on church sermons. Television trucks hum in the parking lot of a tire shop, a front-row seat across from police headquarters.

The national media has again assembled in Ferguson, but this time, they’ve been drawn here not by something that just happened but something that’s about to, with a grand jury deliberating whether to indict a white police officer who fatally shot a black teen. The any-day-now anticipation, coming with ever-revised cable news speculation, has returned this city of 21,000 to a spotlight it both understands and sometimes bristles at.

Media mega-events come and go. But this one stands out because it has gone on for so long, because it’s so emotionally charged, and because cameras have seized on a place that once considered itself ordinary. Some 3 1/2 months after the death of Michael Brown, nearly everybody in Ferguson has a strong opinion on the shooting — and the way it’s been covered.

Many residents, business owners and elected officials have welcomed the increased scrutiny, saying that a media presence helps expose systemic, race-related problems in the police force and the justice system. But others, particularly those who haven’t taken part in the protests, say news organizations have produced a warped portrait of Ferguson, a small city with middle-class homes and a historic shopping district.

They’re worried, too, that reporters are here to document the next round of violence, if there is one, not the underlying problems. “Riot porn” is what Democratic committee member Patricia Bynes called it, referring to images of young black men with their shirts off, using them to guard their faces from tear gas.

Bynes rejected any characterization of Ferguson as a failed community. “You aren’t seeing this city if you think this is a ghetto,” Bynes said. “And you are missing the story, which is that this could happen anywhere, including the suburbs.”

The grand jury, after a weekend pause, could meet again as early as Monday to discuss the case of Darren Wilson, the officer, who has not spoken publicly since the shooting. CNN anchors Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper both revealed Sunday on Twitter that they had met secretly with Wilson to solicit an exclusive interview. Several other networks and channels are in the running, said CNN’s Brian Stelter, who first reported the off-the-record negotiations.

A Wilson interview would provide a missing version of events that led to the shooting, but the negotiations themselves are noteworthy, given how tightly Wilson’s whereabouts and activities have been kept under wraps.

So, “literally only journalists know where [Wilson] is at?” one Twitter user asked Cooper after the anchor acknowledged “meeting briefly” with Wilson.

No matter what happens after the grand jury decision, many feel the wall-to-wall coverage has overplayed the extent of misbehavior in the aftermath of the shooting. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted rather pointedly this week that the property damage stands at $5 million — one-24th as much as that from a hailstorm two years ago. The newspaper also referred to The Washington Post’s description of Ferguson as a “burned-out symbol of racial and class divisions in America.” But only one building has burned.

“A lot of the press corps is looking for that kind of [violent] action, and that is contributing to the nonstop narrative of expecting violence,” said Mervyn Marcano, a communications strategist who works for several St. Louis grass-roots organizations. “I think that actually undermines the community-building work people are trying to do here.”

Many reporters and Ferguson residents say a complicated relationship has formed since the shooting in August. Some restaurants have benefited financially from the droves of hungry reporters. Other businesses, such as barbershops and dollar stores, say the media presence has at times emboldened protesters to be more violent, forcing owners to board their windows and costing them business.

Barber Thomas Bradley estimates that he has lost 80 percent of his business, in large part because many regulars want to avoid the neighborhood where the shooting occurred until things calm down. The boards covering the windows and the newspeople often hovering outside, he added, don’t necessarily help.

“It’s a Catch-22,” he said. “You want justice, and you want people to have their voices be heard. But I also need to pay my bills.”

Derek Shaeffer, 55, a concrete laborer who has participated in protests, said, “I don’t mind having you guys around.”

Shaeffer explained: “There might be more harassment and beatings if the cameras went away. Our focus should be keeping you guys around. If the cameras had been here initially, Michael Brown wouldn’t be dead.”

Because of the media frenzy in Ferguson, many residents — even those with no direct connection to the shooting — have given multiple interviews. Charles Davis, who bought the Ferguson Burger Bar one day before the shooting, has told some version of his story to The Washington Post, USA Today, CBS, Bloomberg Businessweek, CNN and Al Jazeera America. On a more disturbing note, several days ago, a passenger van nearing a protester-erected barricade was swarmed by cameramen, who turned into a barricade that prevented the van from backing out.

CNN has several dozen reporters and crew members here. The Post has four reporters, one photojournalist and one videographer. Some nights in Ferguson, media employees outnumber protesters. There are 166 reporters and editors on an e-mail list who have asked the St. Louis County prosecutor to notify them directly when the grand jury has reached a decision.

“A media circus,” said David Carson, a Post-Dispatch photographer. “When I was driving down West Florissant the other day, I saw three or four people being interviewed in the span of a half-mile.”

Carson said he has experienced the deep suspicion that the community feels about the media. On Sept. 23, he arrived at the spot where Brown was killed — where a memorial of candles and stuffed animals had been erected — to take pictures of another potential crime scene.

Part of the memorial had caught fire — accidentally or deliberately — opening fresh wounds among residents on Canfield Avenue.

“Some people came at me and told me to delete the pictures on my camera,” Carson said. “.?.?. They said, ‘You guys are just down here being vultures.’ I said, ‘No, I’ve been down here since the first day.’ ”

Carson said some residents and protesters, who had seen him working for weeks to document the community’s response to Brown’s shooting, vouched for him, and the crowd backed off.

David Montgomery contributed to this report.

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Mike DeBonis Nov-24-2014 52 0
In the very first hours after Marion Barry’s death Sunday morning, family and close aides gathered at United Medical Center to mourn his passing.

A 4 a.m. news conference attracted not only those close Barry companions, but also a few with a more distant but still deep bond with the former mayor: He’d given them their first real job.

Humam Abdulmalik, 58, sat quietly in the hospital auditorium as news of Barry’s death was announced. Asked afterward why he felt compelled to come in the predawn hours, he cited that first summer job — in 1979, at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church.

“One of the greatest politicians Washington, D.C., ever had,” Abdulmalik said.

While Barry’s national profile has long been indelibly fixed on his 1990 drug arrest, he won the abiding esteem of a generation of Washingtonians through his Summer Youth Employment Program — which Barry launched in 1979 and continues to this day. The jobs weren’t always much — glorified internships, in most cases. But they were a lot more than many youths could expect to find on their own. With the city picking up the check, many employers have been glad to host the young workers for a few weeks and give them their first exposure to the professional world.

Also at the hospital was Kim Harrison, 51, who recalled getting her first job because of Barry’s program, at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“It was a meaningful work experience, not just a job per se,” said Harrison, who now owns a business.

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Joel Landau Nov-23-2014 115 0
12-year-old Cleveland boy who allegedly had a replica handgun in his waistband died early Sunday after being shot by a police officer, his family said.

An attorney for Tamir Rice said the boy died while being treated at a local hospital.

The child was at the Cudell Recreation Center at 3:30 p.m. Saturday when police responded to a report of the child waving the gun around and scaring people, according to TV station WOIO.

He was listed in critical condition and after undergoing surgery Saturday night, the station reported.

"There's a guy in here with a pistol. It's probably fake, but he's pointing it at everybody," the witness told authorities, according to the 911 call released to the station. "It's probably fake but, you know what? It's scaring the s--- out of everybody."

But police said they could not take the risk that the gun was not an actual threat.

"We have to assume every gun is real," Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association president Jeff Follmer said, according to News One. "When we don't, that's the day we don't go home."

As two officers approached the child they told him to raise his hands, officials told WOIO.

But instead the young man reached for the gun in his waistband and one officer fired his weapon two times. The boy was shot in his torso and taken to a hospital.

It's probably fake but, you know what? It's scaring the s--- out of everybody.

Police said the boy did not threaten officers or point the gun at them.

The weapon reportedly was an airsoft gun that resembles a semi-automatic handgun.

An angry woman at the scene said the actions of the officer were unnecessary.

"Always kill a black kid right?" she said while still at the scene.

Tamir's mother, Samaria Rice, told the station her son did not have access to the weapon and she does not know how he got it. When the incident occurred she ran to the scene but was unable to see her child before he was transported to the hospital.

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office is investigating the case and both officers are being placed on paid leave. A spokesman told the Daily News Sunday they are investigating the incident.

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Nov-23-2014 170 0
TMZ should pay respect to the legacy of Mayor Marion Barry by not referring to him as the "Crack Mayor." He deserves much more respect.

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Nov-23-2014 129 0
Crews erected barricades Saturday around the building where a grand jury has been considering whether to indict the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, even as a grand jury decision seemed unlikely this weekend.

Tension has been mounting in Ferguson and elsewhere in the St. Louis area in recent days, with many speculating that the grand jury's decision would be announced on Sunday. That seemed increasingly unlikely by late Saturday, although there was a noticeable uptick in the preparations being made.

Downtown STL Inc., a St. Louis civic group that promotes downtown businesses, told members in an email Saturday that the grand jury will reconvene Monday to continue deliberating whether charges are warranted against Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Brown.

A man who declined to be identified stands outside a boarded up business Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson and the St. Louis region are on edge in anticipation of the announcement by a grand jury whether to criminally charge Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The Brown family's attorney, Ben Crump, said Saturday that he hadn't heard a decision had been reached and that prosecutors had promised to tell him when that happened.

Wilson is white and Brown, who was unarmed, was black. There have been many demonstrations in the months since Brown's death, including some that were violent. Police arrested three protesters on Friday night — the third straight night of unrest in Ferguson.

Barricades also went up in the shopping center parking lot on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, which was where police set up a makeshift command center in the immediate aftermath of Brown's death.

Several dozen protesters marched in Ferguson on Saturday evening, praying, playing music and chanting slogans including, "No justice, no peace" and "Mike Brown means, we've got to fight back." Cars stopped and drivers honked, slowing traffic.

Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, spoke to protesters through a bullhorn and urged people to be careful.

"Don't agitate them, and don't let them agitate y'all," she said. "I don't want nobody getting hurt. We're all willing to do something, but I don't want nobody getting hurt."

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joe sutton Nov-23-2014 156 0
Former Washington Mayor Marion Barry is dead, a hospital spokeswoman said early Sunday. He was 78.

Barry was elected four times as the city's chief executive and was a council member for Washington's 8th Ward at the time of his death.

His death was disclosed by Natalie Williams, a spokeswoman for United Medical Center, a public hospital in Washington.

"Marion was not just a colleague but also was a friend with whom I shared many fond moments about governing the city," Mayor Vincent C. Gray said in a statement. "He loved the District of Columbia and so many Washingtonians loved him."

Gray ordered flags flown over city buildings flown at half-staff.

Dogged by allegations of cocaine and alcohol abuse during his first three mayoral terms from 1979 to 1991, Barry was arrested in 1990 after a famously televised police surveillance tape showed him smoking crack in a hotel room. He was sentenced to six months in prison after a possession conviction.

More recently, he has had run-ins with the IRS over his failure to file tax returns and pay taxes. In 2006, he was suspected in separate incidents of driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license. He was found not guilty of the DUI charge, and the state said a computer glitch erroneously reported that Barry's license had been suspended.

In 2002, police said they found "apparent" traces of marijuana and cocaine in Barry's car but didn't arrest him, and in 2009, he was arrested on a charge of stalking, which prosecutors later dropped.

He reclaimed his seat in the mayor's office in 1995 and was re-elected to the City Council in 2004.

Over the summer, Barry released his autobiography, "Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr." It's a nod to his longevity in the city politics of the capital.

"In Washington, I have worked hard for the people and I've been loved by the people," Barry said in a July interview on CNN. "I didn't get elected because of my name. I got elected because I work hard for the people."

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Nov-22-2014 299 0
Criminal charges will not be brought up against the two former Jasper officers accused of police brutality.

The grand jury cleared former officers Ricky Grissom and Ryan Cunningham Wednesday morning.
According to 12News file stories, Keyarika Diggles claimed video taken by surveillance cameras inside the Jasper police station show that she is the victim of police brutality. On May 5, Diggles was arrested for an unpaid traffic ticket, and said that's the only thing of which she's guilty. But police charged her with resisting arrest.

Diggles said the arresting officer was pleasant at first, even allowing her to call her mother for money to pay the $150 fine. But after it seemed she was not going to be able to collect the full amount, Diggles claims the officer snapped.

Diggles obtained surveillance video from the Jasper police department.

Jasper County District Attorney Steve Hollis asked the Texas Rangers to investigate the case after the accusation against the officers was made. The Texas rangers completed their investigation then passed the case to the Texas Attorney General's office to present to the grand jury.

Assistant Attorney General David Glickler presented the case to the grand jury Wednesday morning. Members of the grand jury cleared the officers.

Diggles sued the city shortly after the incident happened and eventually reached a $75,000 settlement.

Jasper City Councilman Alton Scott said this confirms the President's statement that law enforcement has declared open season on African Americans in America.

"You have a video that is as plain as day that has been seen nation-wide and the grand jury basically said what they did was ok," said Scott.

Scott even compared the grand jury's decision in Jasper to the grand jury decision currently pending in Ferguson, MO where they will decide whether Officer Darren Wilson will be indicted for the shooting death of Michael Brown.

"For two men to do a woman like that is inexcusable," Scott said. "It sends a message loud and clear I wouldn't be surprised in the Michael Brown case if there was no charges brought against that officer at this point."

Scott also said he thinks Diggles' criminal history could have been a factor in the grand jury's decision.

Diggles has had several run ins with the law both before and after the May 2013 altercation including charges of theft, forgery and failure to appear in court.

Jasper Mayor Mike Lout said he doesn't know what charges the grand jury considered for the former officers but he supports the city's decision to let them go.

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Ben Rooney Nov-22-2014 247 0
It turned out to be anything but: His years as a driver for FedEx Ground ended with him filing for bankruptcy and taking the company to court.

Gray is one of the thousands of FedEx (FDX) drivers who have sued the company for classifying them as contractors, rather than employees. Many, including Gray, have won.

"We all signed up for what we thought was the American dream," said Gray. "We received the exact opposite. It was a really bad deal."

The FedEx Ground division, created in 2000, delivers small packages to homes and businesses nationwide. But its army of 32,500 uniformed drivers, managers and affiliated workers are classified as contractors, a controversial policy that allows FedEx to save on health benefits, unemployment insurance, retirement accounts and overtime pay, among other things.

"This is an intentional policy on the part of FedEx Ground to deny drivers their rights as employees," said Erin Johansson, research director at Jobs with Justice, a labor rights group.

For Gray, it all started when he left his job in 2002 as a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service in Missouri, and signed a contract with FedEx Ground. He thought it would be a great way to start his own independent business with the backing of a major brand.

But Gray quickly realized he wasn't really independent. In fact, FedEx controlled almost all the aspects of his business, even though he had to put up a lot of his own money.

Gray had to purchase his delivery route for $5,000. He bought his own van for $17,000. FedEx later made him to buy another vehicle for $11,000 and hire a second driver when his route got so busy that one van wasn't enough to deliver all the packages. The vehicles needed constant maintenance -- oil changes, brakes, transmission and radiator replacements -- and all came out of his own pocket.

He paid for FedEx uniforms and decals for his vans, company mapping software and also leased a FedEx scanner for the package bar codes. He also had to pay for Department of Transportation inspections and random drug tests the company required.

Gray said FedEx managers in the terminal where he worked hounded him about the condition of the tires on his van and the conduct of a driver he hired to help him with his route.

His supervisors constantly threatened to revoke his contract and docked his pay with inflated "claims" for lost packages. In one case, he said the company charged him $1,600 for a $400 box of vitamins that he failed to deliver.

The debts piled up and Gray was forced to file bankruptcy in 2008. The financial turmoil took a toll on his marriage, which ended in divorce. He almost lost his house.

"This whole ordeal cost me a lot, it really did," said Gray. "Financially, it was a huge, huge hit. And the pressure of that weight was crushing."

The tipping point for Gray came when the IRS reviewed a copy of his contract and told him that he was actually an employee of FedEx, which implied that he was losing out on eligible benefits. He went online and found other drivers in the same situation. After his attempts to work things out with FedEx were unsuccessful, Gray decided to take legal action. (The IRS wouldn't comment on individual cases.)

In 2006, he and a few other drivers filed a lawsuit against FedEx seeking compensation for employee benefits and pay that were denied.

Related: 'My job is super stressful and it pays badly, too'

After several years in court, a jury sided with the drivers this past April. Gray was awarded more than $90,000 in damages.

FedEx drivers have won some significant legal battles recently. Courts in Oregon, California and Kansas have ruled that FedEx Ground drivers fit the legal definition of an employee. The National Labor Relations Board ruled on September 30 that drivers in Connecticut are FedEx employees. A decision is expected soon from the Seventh Circuit court of appeals, which has jurisdiction over cases in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

The company is currently facing 30 more active lawsuits from former contractors in several states.

FedEx points out that the ruling in Gray's case runs counter to more than 100 other cases where courts have upheld its policy of classifying drivers as independent contractors.

However, that's a fraction of the lawsuits former FedEx contractors have filed against the company, said Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel at the National Employment Law Project.

"FedEx actually loses more of these cases than it wins," said Ruckelshaus, who has followed lawsuits against FedEx closely. "But because calling drivers contractors is such a lucrative practice, they keep doing it."

FedEx disputes that it has lost more cases than it has won, and stands by its employment policy.

Under pressure from Attorneys General in several U.S. states, FedEx Ground changed its policy in 2011. The drivers are still not FedEx employees. But the company now contracts with incorporated businesses that agree to treat staff as employees. That way, drivers get basic protections required by law such as workers compensation coverage and unemployment insurance. But again it's the contractor that provides those protections, not FedEx Ground.

FedEx's policy is in stark contrast with its main rival. UPS classifies all of its drivers as employees. As members of the Teamsters Union, UPS (UPS) drivers have significant bargaining power.

FedEx recently started tracking how much cash its contractors generate. The company says the average business with about four drivers each brings in $443,000 a year in revenue.

Before taxes and expenses, Gray said he brought in between $50,000 and $70,000 per year. After paying all his dues, insurance and the other driver, Gray's net income ranged between $25,000 and $35,000 per year. At that rate, Gray was earning roughly minimum wage while putting in 12 to 16 hour days.

The court's decision for Gray has been a hard-won battle, even though it's stuck once more in FedEx appeals limbo.

"The men and women in that terminal made this company millions and millions of dollars," said Gray, 44, who is now back working for the postal service as a letter carrier. "For this company to knowingly and willingly do this to us -- it's wrong."

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