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Gym mat death: New evidence points to foul play, expert says
Oct-09-2013 460 0


For the local sheriff's department, the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson is a closed book: A tragedy, but an accident.

State medical examiners concluded that Johnson suffocated in January after getting stuck in a rolled-up gym mat while reaching for a sneaker. That's a finding his family has never accepted, and one challenged by the findings of a second autopsy they commissioned.

Now, death scene imagery obtained by CNN has led a former FBI agent to question how the three-sport athlete died.

"I don't believe this was an accident. I think this young man met with foul play," said Harold Copus, now an Atlanta private investigator.

And Johnson's father, Kenneth Johnson, said he believes authorities aren't leveling with his family.

What happened to Kendrick Johnson?
"They know something happened in that gym, and they don't want it to come out," he said.

'Accidental' death challenged by new autopsy

A 15-minute video and nearly 700 photos taken by sheriff's investigators in Lowndes County documented the horrific scene. Johnson's body, clad in jeans and and layered orange and white T-shirts, was found wedged into a rolled-up wrestling mat in January. His face was bloated with pooled blood, some of which had poured out of his body, soaking his dreadlocks and spilling onto the floor.

There were more streaks of blood on a nearby wall -- but it wasn't Johnson's, according to investigators. Meanwhile, Copus said there appeared to be no blood on a sneaker that the teen supposedly was attempting to reach, located inches beneath him.

A pair of orange-and-black gym shoes found a few yards from the body had a substance that looked like blood on them, but investigators told CNN the stains weren't blood -- and so the shoes weren't collected as potential evidence. The same went for a hooded sweatshirt found a few feet away from the teen.

Copus said he can't explain how investigators handled items found around the gym.

"If you're running a crime scene, then you're going to say 'That's potential evidence. Obviously, we're going to check this out and find out who does it belong to,' " he said.

Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine refused to discuss the case with CNN, saying, "Our case is closed." But in June, an independent pathologist who conducted a second autopsy for the Johnson family found the teen suffered a blow to the right side of his neck that was "consistent with inflicted injury."

In May, sheriff's Lt. Stryde Jones told CNN that investigators tested the bloodstains on the nearby wall, "and it was not the blood of Kendrick Johnson." Investigators haven't determined whose blood it was, "but it doesn't appear to be involved in our crime in any way," he said.

"In the opinion of our crime scene personnel, after looking at it closely, the blood appeared as if it'd been there for an extended period of time. It didn't appear to be very fresh," Jones said.

But Copus said it's difficult to believe that old bloodstains weren't cleaned up.

"There is no way that they would allow whoever was supposed to clean this gym to leave that blood on that wall," he said.

In September, the Justice Department said it wouldn't open a civil rights investigation into Johnson's death. But federal prosecutors in south Georgia are reviewing the imagery to determine whether a separate investigation is necessary, the U.S. attorney's office in Macon told CNN.

For Johnson's father, the evidence is clear.

"Someone murdered him," he said. "They should be in jail."

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Rebecca Lopez Jul-29-2014 71 0
For three-and-a-half minutes, Joe Wesson can be heard screaming and groaning in pain in a recording of his arrest.

The video was shot by a passerby who saw Wesson being arrested in June 2014.

You can hear the passerby commenting on the tape, “Damn, that is unnecessary."

Wesson is pictured already handcuffed and not resisting arrest. Officer Jesus Martinez stays on top of him and yanks Wesson's arm over his head several times.

"He actually was kneeing me in my back and pulled both my arms in the air like he was trying to break both of them," Wesson said.

According to an arrest affidavit, Martinez said Wesson was panhandling, and resisted arrest by swinging at the officer with closed fists and grabbing the officer's uniform, causing it to rip.

The officer said he had to use pepper spray but that was not captured on video, and Wesson disputes the account.

"I am 57 years old. I'm not thinking that it's that serious for a cop to really take that much force on one guy," Wesson said.

The officer did radio for assistance, but remained on top of Wesson even after other officers arrived. He eventually left Wesson lying on the concrete.

"Clearly, we have an issue here in the City of Dallas, and something needs to be addressed," said Daryl Kevin Washington, Wesson’s attorney.

Wesson was charged with resisting arrest.

The Dallas Police Department declined comment, saying there are ongoing internal and criminal investigations into the officer's actions.

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Jul-29-2014 78 0
The parents of a south Georgia teenager found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat at school have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against school administrators.

The parents of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson of Valdosta sued Monday in Superior Court. Their lawsuit blames the Lowndes County school board for allowing Johnson to die "at the hands of one or more students" while at his high school during school hours.

Classmates found Johnson's body inside a rolled-up mat propped in a corner of the gym Jan. 10, 2013.

Sheriff's investigators concluded that he died in a freak accident, having fallen into the mat and gotten stuck upside down.

Johnson's parents insist that someone killed him.

The school board's attorney, Warren Turner, did not immediately return a call Tuesday from The Associated Press.

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Jul-29-2014 144 0
A Liberian government official who succumbed to the Ebola virus had family living in Minnesota and was set to return to the U.S. next month, his grieving kin said.

Patrick Sawyer died Friday after suffering extreme bouts of vomiting and diarrhea on a flight from Liberia to Nigeria, leading to fears he may have spread the virus to fellow passengers.

Health workers were scrambling to track down any passengers or flight crew who may have been in contact with the 40-year-old as he flew from Liberia to Ghana to Togo before arriving in Lagos, where he was quarantined and eventually died.

His wife, Decontee Sawyer, said her husband had planned to return to their Coon Rapids home in August to attend two of his three daughters' birthdays, Minnesota's KSTP-TV reported.

The grieving widow said she hoped her husband's death served as a wake-up call about the global threat of the virus, which has already killed more than 670 people in West Africa.

"It's a global problem because Patrick could've easily come home with Ebola," Decontee Sawyer told the station.

"It's close, it's at our front door. It knocked down my front door."

Health experts said it was unlikely Sawyer infected others because Ebola spreads through body fluids such as urine, blood or saliva. Unlike the flu, it does not travel through the air.

So far, Nigerian authorities identified 59 people who came into contact with him, including airline employees and health workers, and tested 20 of them. None of them were positive, The Associated Press reported.

Still, the fact that he was able to board a plane while ill — coupled with the fact his sister recently died from Ebola — raised questions about passenger screening and the risk of the disease spreading through air travel, officials said.

Two other American aid workers in Liberia have fallen ill with the disease and were being cared for by doctors there.

Dr. Kent Brantly, 33, and his colleague Nancy Writebol spent months fighting Ebola in that country before becoming sick themselves.

Brantly's wife and two young children lived with him in Liberia until recently, when they left to attend a wedding in the U.S.

They are now in Abilene, Tex., and were being monitored for signs of the disease, officials said.

Sawyer lived in Minnesota for about a decade before returning to Liberia in 2008 to work as a finance minister, KSTP-TV reported.

His wife said he was beloved in their local Liberian community. They planned to honor him with a memorial in September.

Liberian health workers in protective gear on the way to bury a woman who died of the virus in Foya, Lofa County, earlier this month. More than 670 people have died from the disease since its outbreak in February.

Decontee Sawyer said she was left cold by the thought of another family losing their loved one to the disease and hoped African health officials were doing all they can to fight the outbreak.

"I have three girls who will never get to know their father," she told KSTP-TV.

"This can't happen anymore," she added. "I don't want any more families going through what I'm going through.

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Jul-29-2014 146 0
Police are investigating whether a cop put a seven-months-pregnant woman in a chokehold while busting her for illegal grilling in Brooklyn — an incident caught on film.

Photos released Monday by an East New York advocacy group show Rosan Miller, 27, struggling with a cop who appears to have his arm around her neck.

Officers went to the home over the weekend because Miller was grilling on a public sidewalk in violation of local law, cops said. But a melee broke out that ended with her, her brother and husband all in handcuffs.

The brother, John Miller, was charged with harassment and obstruction of justice. Her husband, Moses Miller, 34, was charged with resisting arrest and obstruction. Rosan Miller got a summons for disorderly conduct.

When former city councilman Charles Barron heard, he called cops to complain and "expedite" the Millers' release, he said.

"This was all over a grill," Barron said. "This is about grilling in front of her house."

Former city councilman Charles Barron points out the woman's daughter can be seen watching her mother's arrest.

The seven-months-pregnant Rosan Miller struggles over the weekend.

The advocacy group, People Organizing and Working for Empowerment and Respect, released the photos.

Barron pointed out that the woman's daughter can be seen in the photo watching her mother being arrested.

Barron said one of the cops, a lieutenant, went to the building at 594 Bradford St. Thursday about a domestic incident involving another resident, returned on Saturday and encountered the grilling.

A case in which a man died while in an apparent chokehold has led to outcry in the city recently. Eric Garner, 43, of Staten Island, died July 17 after a confrontation with cops who were arresting him for selling loose cigarettes.

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Joel Landau Jul-29-2014 137 0
Police are searching for an overprotective father who assaulted a man for looking at his daughter.

The Upper Darby Police Department in suburban Philadelphia has released a picture of the man and his daughter who were in a Wawa convenience store Sunday when police said the man did not approve of how another male was looking at his child.

The suspect, dressed in a red polo shirt, punched the man in the face, police said. He then left the store.

The victim suffered serious injuries from the assault, police said.

Police did not release any additional information regarding the victim or suspect.

This guy's not an overprotective father ... That's just his excuse for thumping the guy.

"If somebody's looking at your daughter, why don't you confront him instead of punching him?" Upper Darby police Superintendent Michael Chitwood told Philly.com. "This guy's not an overprotective father ... That's just his excuse for thumping the guy."

Anyone with information can call 610-734-7693.


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Jul-28-2014 192 0
The night before 8-year-old M.L. Lloyd III was taken to River Parishes Hospital, his stepfather, Errol Victor Jr., along with three other children, whipped and punched the child for stealing ice cream, according to a recorded statement that one of M.L.'s brothers gave to investigators. That recording is expected to be shown in court Monday as the second-degree murder trial of Victor and his wife resumes in Edgard.

The brother, who is scheduled to testify later in the trial, told an interviewer in 2008 that Errol Victor made him and another child hold down M.L. by the arms while the beating was administered. The jurors in St. John the Baptist Parish's 40th Judicial District Court were shown several video recordings on Saturday, and later they requested transcripts and asked that the volume be adjusted because it was difficult to hear.

Errol and Tonya Victor are charged with killing M.L., Tonya Victor's biological son, on April 1, 2008. The couple had a total of 13 sons living at their house in Reserve, where authorities say the beating took place. When they met, Tonya Victor had five sons from previous relationships, and Errol Victor had six sons. The couple later had two sons together.

The recordings were played in court during a 2009 bond hearing. At the time, Tonya and Errol Victor disputed the child's testimony, calling him troubled and a "perverted liar."

Now, however, the use of those recordings comes on the heels of several days of testimony from doctors, one of whom is a considered an expert in child abuse pediatrics. They say M.L.'s death resulted from a beating -- not asthma, as the defendants have suggested. Jurors also have heard from an emergency room nurse, who said Errol Victor told him that the child had been whipped from stealing.

Prosecutors maintain that M.L. was severely whipped and beaten before his parents took him to the LaPlace hospital, where he was pronounced dead. They are focusing their case on second-degree murder as it relates to cruelty to a juvenile, in which there doesn't have to be an intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm.

The Victors are representing themselves in court, although neither has any formal legal training. They have vigorously denied the prosecution's account and say that the boy died as the result of a severe asthma attack. If convicted they face life in prison.

The Victors have produced medical records that show M.L. was diagnosed with asthma as an infant and was treated at the emergency room several times for respiratory problems while he lived in Hammond with Tonya Victor and his biological father, M.L. Lloyd, Jr.

Judge Mary Hotard Becnel, who is presiding over the trial, has said she expects the proceedings to last seven to 12 days. The jury of nine women and three men, with four alternates, began hearing testimony Thursday.

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Jul-28-2014 199 0
It has the fewest people of any borough in the city, but it has big problems between police and the citizens they’re sworn to protect.

Staten Island, where Eric Garner died after a cop apparently placed him in a prohibited chokehold maneuver, tops the city as home to the highest number of officers on the most-sued list, a Daily News review has found.

Seven of the city’s top 10 most-sued officers — and 14 of the city’s top 50 most-sued officers — are assigned to a Staten Island narcotics unit working in the territory of the 120th Precinct, records show.

The precinct covers neighborhoods on the North Shore of the island, including the area near Tompkinsville Park where Garner, 43, died after a confrontation with Officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17.

The News’ review is based on a list of cases filed against officers who have been sued 10 or more times between 2003 and 2013, obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request, and an exhaustive review of court databases. The News found 606 active and closed cases. At least 129 of those cases — or 21% — name one or more officers assigned to the Staten Island narcotics unit, totaling $6 million in payouts.

The unit has racked up the staggering amount of lawsuits despite being the smallest narcotics bureau in the city. With just 40 officers and supervisors, it’s roughly one-fifth the size of Brooklyn North Narcotics.

Nearly all of the cases cite false arrest for charges that ended up getting tossed or sealed — ranging from people collared for their own prescription drugs, to haphazard raids that allegedly swept up innocents and ruined lives.

“There’s a culture in Staten Island, and particularly this precinct, where you break the rules and serve your own interest and don’t have to worry about getting into any kind of trouble,” said lawyer Brett Klein, who’s filed dozens of lawsuits against officers in the borough. “A lot of officers live there, and they’re more isolated from the other boroughs and more off the radar.”

The 120th Precinct also has the highest crime rate in the borough, the most use of the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk tactics in the borough, and is a leader in the number of substantiated police misconduct allegations to the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

The precinct is tied for 11th place in substantiated complaints that occurred between 2009 and 2013, even though it ranks 33rd in population citywide, city records show. And of the 137 cases substantiated citywide this year, at least eight were against officers assigned to Staten Island, and three were against officers assigned to the 120th Precinct.

All of the most-sued officers from the borough were assigned to the Staten Island narcotics unit, which, like the anti-crime unit Pantaleo was assigned to, is involved in aggressive, proactive policing.

Amelia Moore and her teenage son are among those who scored a financial settlement against Staten Island narcotics cops.

Moore, 32, said she lost her nursing home job, then had to pull her sons out of the St. Sylvester Catholic school because she couldn’t afford the tuition, after a band of narcotics officers burst into her home at 5 a.m. and arrested them for a few prescription pills the cops claimed were in her purse.

“They knocked the door down, guns drawn,” said Moore. “They handcuffed him,” she said of her son, who was 13 at the time. “I kept quiet because I was so angry.”

The drug charge against her son was dropped, and he later got a $15,000 settlement from the city. The charges against Moore were sealed after she pleaded to disorderly conduct, a noncriminal violation.

The supervising officer on her arrest was Andrew Hillery , 43, who has 19 lawsuits against him, resulting in more than $700,000 in payouts.

A series of News articles over the past year showed how the city had been turning a blind eye to potential problem officers by ignoring the evidence of police misconduct contained in the suits, leading the NYPD to create two programs to track and analyze lawsuits, and a new tracking system by city Controller Scott Stringer’s office called “ClaimStat.”

The first ClaimStat report identified Staten Island’s North Shore as a “hot spot” for personal injury complaints against police. Last year, there were 98 lawsuits filed over incidents that happened in the 120th and 121st precincts — a rate of four personal injury claims per 100 crimes.

“Commanding officers should use this data to identify problems within their units and take concrete steps to reduce claims,” said Stringer’s spokesman.

Meanwhile, two programs the NYPD created — the Civil Lawsuit Monitoring Program and Risk Assessment Unit — have reviewed claims against 37 officers, most of whom were signed to narcotics duty.

As a result of the analysis, a committee “has directed that retraining be provided to these members, ranging from the use of force (and) employing tactical communication skills,” said NYPD spokeswoman Kim Royster. She did not say how many of those officers are assigned to the Staten Island narcotics unit.

One Staten Island narcotics sergeant, David Courtien, was sued 16 times before he was promoted to lieutenant in 2012.

Asked at his home earlier this year about the cases, Detective Vincent Orsini, the second-most-sued NYPD officer, named in 21 lawsuits, responded, “I’m not gonna go into it, but you can sue anybody.”

NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis said the amount of times an officer has been sued doesn’t necessarily mean the officer has been accused of any wrongdoing.

He pointed out lawsuits will often name every officer involved in the encounter, regardless of their level of involvement. He said Orsini was often the one wielding the battering ram in narcotics raids, and that in a dozen cases, his role was limited to that.

“Only in nine cases was he actively involved in the investigation,” said Davis.



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Ron Howell Jul-27-2014 134 0
For millions of black Americans, Barack Obama's legacy is not going to be Obamacare, nor his decision to move troops out of Iraq, nor what he does about immigration.

No, it will be the image of him as a black father - of him, for example, standing at the White House and declaring, after the 2012 racially charged killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin, "this could have been my son."

For all the accusations that Obama waffles and wavers when it comes to controversial issues affecting African Americans, there is a widespread perception of him as the model of black fatherhood. It is a view of him that I share, and it means a lot to me, because I know in personal ways the difference that the presence, or absence, of a dad can make in a young black man's life.

So much of my writing over the years has been about the disrespect and even viciousness with which police officers treat black and Latino men. The brutality against Eric Garner, who died 10 days ago after a white officer placed him in what seems to have been a chokehold, is just the latest case.

But I have to say - and this isn't easy, because tough love never is - that our collective shortcomings as African-American fathers also cause me great distress. Unlike the beatings, chokings and shootings our black youngsters are too frequently victims of - from the police, yes, but often from other black males - the pain of paternal abandonment is a dull ache in the heart that, in the end, can do as much damage as a bullet.

Just this past Monday, Obama met with dozens of young males at a public school in Washington, D.C. - black ones but also others of color - and spoke with them about the value of fatherhood and its responsibilities.

"If you're African American, there's about a one-in-two chance you grow up without a father in your house - one in two," the President said with somber plaintiveness.

As for me, I don't need data to convince me of the importance of black fatherhood. I have my own family story.

In 1997, I wrote an article for Essence Magazine titled "A Father's Longing," reflecting on the death of my father, a gifted and educated man who fell victim to alcohol and left me and my mother when I was a child, and mom was crippled with polio.

Later in his life, thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous, dad gave up the bottle and, though I never lived with him, we developed a late-in-life father-son relationship, and I shared its joys and pains with readers of Essence.

The reaction was extraordinary, with many black people recognizing me from the photo accompanying the article, and engaging me about the topic.

But the truly stunning result was a phone call I received a year later from a woman in Detroit who identified herself as Linda, the wife of my father's brother, my Uncle Charles, who in the early 1960s had abandoned New York City and his 11 children. We had thought he was dead.

Linda told me that Uncle Charles had died the night before, and that she had known of my relationship to him because she had read the article and had made astute deductions about the familial relationship. But, deferring to Uncle Charles's desires, she had put off calling me until his death.

Now here are the details that rush to the core the story: Of the 11 children (from two households) that Uncle Charles left behind, two were boys - my only male first cousins on my father's side.

The older one, Charles III, nicknamed Tibby, was beaten to death 30 years ago on the streets of Brownsville by a person or persons never identified. His sisters and mother were of course devastated by the unsolved crime, which only intensified the excruciating hurt caused by their father's disappearance decades previously.

Uncle Charles's younger son, Henri, became addicted to heroin, and his whereabouts, if indeed he is alive, are not known to me or any other family members with whom I was able to speak. I had long conversations about ten years ago with Henri's mother, who told me in painful detail how the absconding of the father had devastated Henri in ways that were as emotionally crushing as they were immediate, although the girls were largely able to put themselves on track to productive, professional lives.

Tibby's oldest sister, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Howell Greggs, 70, said she has come to understand profoundly the importance of fatherhood to young men in Brownsville, a community in which she was raised and in which she still lives.

Boys need fathers as role models, said Lizzie, who until her retirement earlier this month had spent 40 years teaching kids in the Brownsville Police Athletic League's Head Start program. "There's so much anger," Lizzie said of young men living around her. She added that the pitiful delinquency of her own dad made her more committed to helping young men understand the importance of being involved in the lives of their offspring. As for her home life, she speaks fondly of her deceased husband, a career military man, and is proud of their four adult children. One of them, a son, I've had conversations with and he is a hard-working and disciplined young man, a role model.

Let's not mince words. The crisis of New York City, and to a large extent of America, is the crisis of the black male. You see it in our schools, on our streets, in our economy, in our prisons.

Obama seems determined to strengthen his male-focused My Brother's Keeper Initiative, and on Monday he announced further investments of millions of dollars. My Brother's Keeper is patterned on New York City's Young Men's Initiative, which was organized three years ago by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (Yes, the same Michael Bloomberg who allowed police to stop and frisk hundreds of thousands of innocent black and Latino males annually.)

We should all be grateful for these efforts. Taken together, they suggest a philosophy once articulated by Hillary Clinton - that "it takes a village to raise a child," that if young men of color are to be able to (quite literally) survive, various sectors of society (educators, social service administrators and even entrepreneurs) will have to play respective roles.

As an educator myself, I should be in a special position to help. But consider this: In my five years of teaching journalism at Brooklyn College, I don't believe I've had more than 10 black males among the several hundred students in my classes.

I noted this paucity even at predominantly black Medgar Evers College, where 15 years ago I taught a writing workshop. There were about a dozen students in the class. All were black. But only one was a male. According to U.S. News & World Report's latest college report, the gender breakdown at Medgar Evers College is 73% female and 27% male.

For black males, there is a stark tie-in between the education and criminal justice systems, both of which have been failing them miserably. Speaking to MSNBC on Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who grew up in Queens, said that having a father saved him from the horrid fates that befall so many young men of color.

"I grew up in a lower middle class neighborhood in Queens, New York, and I think of all the advantages I had by having a dad there," Holder said. He noted the vast difference in outcomes between him and other young men who did not have it so good. Other "guys who grew up with me on the block" ended up "in fundamentally different places . . . Drug problems. Time in jail," Holder added.

As for me, I survived and accomplished all that I have - Ivy League degrees, comfort in three languages, prize-winning news articles - not because of talents far beyond those of others.

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Jul-26-2014 192 0
A Brooklyn cop was put on modified assignment Friday after allegedly stomping on a shackled suspect’s head, authorities said.

NYPD Officer Joel Edouard, 36, had subdued Jahmiel Cuffee on suspicion of marijuana possession on Malcolm X Blvd. in Bedford-Stuyvesant at 8 p.m. Wednesday — and then he booted the man as he lay on the ground, officials said.

The move stunned onlookers videotaping it.

“What is wrong with this officer?” one man screamed. “Look at your officer! You see that?”

Cops saw Cuffee, 32, roll a joint on the street and stopped him, police sources said.

Officer Joel Edouard had subdued Jahmiel Cuffee on suspicion of marijuana possession on Malcolm X Blvd. in Bedford-Stuyvesant at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and the cop then allegedly stomped on the suspect's head as he lay on the ground.

He was taken to a hospital with neck and head injuries and charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and pot possession, cops said.

Edouard is the second NYPD cop in July to get modified assignment. He was placed on desk duty and ordered to surrender his gun and shield.

Daniel Pantaleo was similarly reassigned after putting Eric Garner, 43, of Staten Island in a chokehold on July 17.


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