Review Category : National News

Van Ride at Center of Mystery Surrounding Freddie Grey Arrest in Baltimore

Courtesy Murphy, Falcon & Murphy(BALTIMORE) — Four days after the unexplained death of Freddie Grey, questions still surround what happened while the 25-year-old was in Baltimore police custody.

Police have not clarified why Grey was arrested or how he became injured, but perhaps the most mysterious part of the incident is what exactly happened during Grey’s approximately 30 minutes inside a Baltimore police van.

“I know that when Mr. Grey was placed inside that van, he was able to talk and he was upset,” Baltimore Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said at a news conference Monday. “And when Mr. Grey was taken out of that van, he could not talk and he could not breathe.”

“I am deeply troubled by this,” Rodriguez added.

Here is what has been reported:

Before the van:

A lawyer for the family said Grey was “chased” by police the morning of April 12 “without any evidence he had committed a crime.” According to authorities, a police van was requested at 8:42 a.m. to transport him, and Grey asked for an inhaler.

Cellphone video taken at one point appears to capture Grey screaming as officers drag him to the police van.

In the van:

At 8:46 a.m., after Grey was in the van, the driver believed Grey was acting “irate,” police said. An officer asked the van to stop so paperwork could be completed, police said, and Grey was taken out of the vehicle, placed in leg irons and then put back in the van.

At 8:59 a.m., the van driver requested that an additional “unit” check on Grey, police said.

Police union officials don’t believe Grey was wearing a seat belt in the van, they said at a press conference Wednesday.

Who else was in the van?

A second person was inside the prisoner transport wagon with Grey, police said Wednesday. He is considered a witness in a criminal investigation so his name will not be released, police said.

Grey’s condition:

At 9:23 a.m., medical services directed a technician to respond for an injured patient, as heard on a recording of the call that was publicly released.

At 9:24 a.m., the police requested paramedics take Grey to an area hospital. In a subsequent charging document, police said, “During transport to Western District via wagon transport the Defendant suffered a medical emergency and was immediately transported to Shock Trauma.”

At 9:37 a.m., medical responders said Grey was not breathing, according to EMS reports.

Family lawyer William Murphy Jr. said, “While in police custody, his spine was 80 percent severed at his neck. He lapsed into a coma, died, was resuscitated, stayed in a coma and last Monday, underwent extensive surgery at Shock Trauma to save his life.”

The Baltimore police agree that Grey suffered a spinal injury, but the department is still investigating how and when.

The police union put forth its theory Wednesday.

“Our position is something happened inside that van,” said Michael E. Davey, an attorney for the Baltimore police union said at a news conference Wednesday. “We need to figure out what happened.”

The Department of Justice is looking into whether a “prosecutable civil rights violation occurred,” a Justice Department official said Tuesday.

According to Baltimore police, the investigation into Grey’s death will be turned over to the state attorney’s office on May 1.

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Trans Teen to Get Apology from SC DMV for Forcing Her to Remove Makeup

Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund(COLUMBIA, S.C.) — Chase Culpepper, a transgender girl, is now getting an apology from the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles after she was forced to remove her makeup when trying to take a photo for her first driver’s license in March of last year.

DMV employees told Culpepper, 17, she needed to “look male” in her license photo and refused to provide her with her driver’s license until she removed the makeup she was wearing, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) told ABC News Thursday in a statement. The TLDEF was the legal group that filed a federal lawsuit against the South Carolina DMV on Chase’s behalf.

A settlement was made Monday, according to court documents, which said the South Carolina DMV agreed to change its photo policy, implement training on the treatment of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, allow Culpepper to return to the DMV and get her license photograph taken wearing makeup, and apologize to Culpepper for how she was treated.

“I am thrilled with the outcome of my lawsuit,” Culpepper said. “My clothing and makeup reflect who I am. From day one, all I wanted was to get a driver’s license that looks like me. Now I will be able to do that. It was hurtful to be singled out for being transgender and made to feel that somehow I wasn’t good enough. With this settlement, the DMV can no longer force transgender people to look like someone they’re not.”

Culpepper, who was assigned male sex at birth, originally identified as gender nonconforming last year, but has since begun identifying as a girl, the TLEDF said.

DMV officials asked Culpepper to remove her makeup after passing her driving test last year because of a policy banning license photos when “someone is purposefully altering his or her appearance,” according to court documents.

Culpepper’s mom, Teresa Culpepper, said she was proud of her daughter for “having the courage to stand up to the discrimination she faced at the DMV” and that her “victory will make the DMV experience much better for transgender and gender nonconforming people in the future.”

TLDEF Staff Attorney Ethan Rice added that the settlement sends a strong message about equal rights.

“Transgender and gender nonconforming people are entitled to be themselves without interference from the DMV,” he said. “It is not the role of the DMV or its employees to decide how men and women should look. People should be able to get a driver’s license without being subjected to sex discrimination. The policy changes and training that the DMV will implement in response to Chase’s lawsuit will help all transgender and gender nonconforming South Carolina residents in the future.”

The South Carolina DMV’s lead attorneys did not immediately respond to ABC News’ emails requesting additional comment. Additionally, the South Carolina DMV’s website was down Thursday afternoon.

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Oklahoma Admits Oil and Gas Industry Responsible for Dramatic Rise in Earthquakes

iStock/Thinkstock(NORMAN, Okla.) — For the first time in the state’s history, Oklahoma’s state government officially recognized the long held scientific consensus linking the disposal of oil and gas wastewater with the record number of earthquakes plaguing it in recent years.

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Geological Survey released a statement declaring it was “very likely that the majority of recent earthquakes, particularly those in central and north-central Oklahoma, are triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells.”

The statement coincided with the launch of a website produced by Oklahoma’s Energy and Environment Cabinet, featuring an interactive map and links to expert studies detailing the scientific evidence behind the link between Oklahoma’s earthquakes and the disposal of oil and gas waste water. The website represents the first time Oklahoma lawmakers have recognized the link, after years of official skepticism.

Hydraulic fracturing, a controversial gas extraction process involving the injection of waste water into deep underground wells, has boomed in Oklahoma. In 2009, the state’s landscape featured more than 32,000 oil wells, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Before Oklahoma’s recent oil and gas boom, which began in the mid 2000s, the state experienced only about one and a half earthquakes exceeding magnitutde 3.0 (the level at which most humans can detect an earthquake without scientific instruments) in an average year, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Last year, the state recorded 585 quakes of 3.0 or larger, about 600 times greater than the background seismic rate, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Another recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey claimed that the 5.6 magnitude quake that struck Prague, Oklahoma, in 2011, resulting in several injuries and damage to more than a dozen homes, appears to have been “waste water disposal induced.”

“There may be a link between earthquakes and disposal wells,” Chad Warmington, President of Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association, said in a statement released Monday, “but we — industry, regulators, researchers, lawmakers or state residents — still don’t know enough about how waste water injection impacts Oklahoma’s underground faults.”

But William Leith, senior science advisor for earthquake hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey, claims that evidence for waste water induced earthquakes is “well established in theory, laboratory and field experiments.”

“The earthquake rate in Oklahoma has increased so significantly that it raises the risk of a larger damaging earthquake,” said Leith, who also warned that “Oklahomans should be concerned about this increased risk.”

“Oklahoma state agencies are already taking action to address this issue and protect homeowners,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement released on Tuesday, referring to her efforts to assemble the Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity last year.

But critics were quick to point out that the Governor’s announcement came late and does not impose any measures to curtail the injection of waste water.

“The word finally popped across my head,” said Cory Williams, a Democract and State Representative who has been an outspoken advocate for a moratorium on waste water injection and often points to scientific evidence of waste water induced earthquakes that he says has been available for years.

“I have been frustrated,” Williams said. “We have a lot of bills that are all very much pro-industry, oil and gas related, yet we don’t have a single bill in the process in regard to induced seismicity and oil and gas operations. I think that’s a failure to act and a failure to protect our constituents.”

Oklahoma isn’t the only state experiencing a dramatic rise in earthquakes as vast swaths of central and eastern parts of the country have recorded an uptick in seismic activity during their region’s oil and gas boom.

Between the years 1973-2008 there was an average of 21 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or larger in the central and eastern United States per year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Last year, there were 659 quakes of 3.0 or larger.

The increase in seismicity has been found to coincide with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells in states including Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Ohio, and Oklahoma, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Exclusive: Baggage Handler Says He Expected to Die After Waking Inside Cargo Hold

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Willa Junior, the baggage handler who fell asleep inside the cargo hold of an Alaska Airlines flight, said he didn’t expect to survive.

“In my mind I said, ‘This is not happening. This is just a joke,'” he said in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

The baggage handler said he woke up during the April 13 flight after a piece of luggage fell on his head.

Junior said he called his company, Menzies Aviation, and next called 911, but the call was cut after 44 seconds. So he started banging at the ceiling — so loud, that the plane’s passengers and crew could hear him.

“I was yelling, ‘Help me, somebody’s down here,’” he said.

Junior later texted his mother, expressing his worry and telling her that he loved her.

The plane, which was headed to Los Angeles, returned to Seattle after 14 minutes in the air.

At this point, Junior is still employed as a ramp agent with Menzies Aviation, which contracts with airlines to handle baggage. But Alaska Airlines permanently banned him from working on the airline’s flights.

Junior said he’s sorry for all the trouble he caused, especially for passengers whose plane was forced to turn around.

He said he learned a lesson, too.

“Don’t sleep on planes, or don’t doze off on a plane,” he said, “even though the job is hard, you know, stressful. Learn from my mistake.”

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Exclusive: Baggage Handler Says He Expected to Die After Waking Inside Cargo Hold

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Willa Junior, the baggage handler who fell asleep inside the cargo hold of an Alaska Airlines flight, said he didn’t expect to survive.

“In my mind I said, ‘This is not happening. This is just a joke,'” he said in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

The baggage handler said he woke up during the April 13 flight after a piece of luggage fell on his head.

Junior said he called his company, Menzies Aviation, and next called 911, but the call was cut after 44 seconds. So he started banging at the ceiling — so loud, that the plane’s passengers and crew could hear him.

“I was yelling, ‘Help me, somebody’s down here,’” he said.

Junior later texted his mother, expressing his worry and telling her that he loved her.

The plane, which was headed to Los Angeles, returned to Seattle after 14 minutes in the air.

At this point, Junior is still employed as a ramp agent with Menzies Aviation, which contracts with airlines to handle baggage. But Alaska Airlines permanently banned him from working on the airline’s flights.

Junior said he’s sorry for all the trouble he caused, especially for passengers whose plane was forced to turn around.

He said he learned a lesson, too.

“Don’t sleep on planes, or don’t doze off on a plane,” he said, “even though the job is hard, you know, stressful. Learn from my mistake.”

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Coyote Escapes NYC Dragnet

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — It’s getting to be coyote ugly in New York City and neighboring northern New Jersey.

Authorities on the West Side of Manhattan went looking for a coyote that was reportedly spotted Wednesday morning. But despite a two-hour search beginning in Riverside Park that eventually involved a helicopter, five cruisers and cops on foot, the wily animal managed to slip away.

It was the fourth coyote sighting in New York City in recent months.

In the New Jersey borough of Norwood, wildlife officials spotted two dens near a school.

Wildlife and animal control officials are helping with the situation, with traps set and extra patrols assigned to the area, Norwood police said.

According to wildlife experts, coyotes are more visible this time of year because it’s the start of their mating season, and they have been known to move closer to towns to find water and food.

Wildlife experts say some of the best ways to reduce the likelihood of a coyote encounter are keeping pets and pet food indoors at night; clearing out dense brush where they can hide; and, if you encounter a coyote, making loud noises or throwing something to scare it off.

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Coyote Escapes NYC Dragnet

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — It’s getting to be coyote ugly in New York City and neighboring northern New Jersey.

Authorities on the West Side of Manhattan went looking for a coyote that was reportedly spotted Wednesday morning. But despite a two-hour search beginning in Riverside Park that eventually involved a helicopter, five cruisers and cops on foot, the wily animal managed to slip away.

It was the fourth coyote sighting in New York City in recent months.

In the New Jersey borough of Norwood, wildlife officials spotted two dens near a school.

Wildlife and animal control officials are helping with the situation, with traps set and extra patrols assigned to the area, Norwood police said.

According to wildlife experts, coyotes are more visible this time of year because it’s the start of their mating season, and they have been known to move closer to towns to find water and food.

Wildlife experts say some of the best ways to reduce the likelihood of a coyote encounter are keeping pets and pet food indoors at night; clearing out dense brush where they can hide; and, if you encounter a coyote, making loud noises or throwing something to scare it off.

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Three Passengers on SkyWest Airlines Flight Lose Consciousness

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(HARTFORD, Conn.) — Three passengers on a Wednesday SkyWest Airlines flight reported a loss of consciousness, the airline reported.

SkyWest Airlines Flight 5622 — operating as United Express — made an unscheduled landing in Buffalo due to the passengers losing consciousness. The passengers were evaluated after the plane landed, and the flight later arrived at its intended destination of Hartford, Connecticut.

The passengers who reported a loss of consciousness were not hospitalized, the airline said in a press release.

SkyWest Airlines is continuing to investigate the matter — but the airline says there are no indications of a pressurization problem on the plane.

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Federal Judge Considering Whether to Expand Freedom of Would-Be Reagan Assassin John Hinckley, Jr.

AFP/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — A federal judge will consider whether or not to give more freedom to John Hinckley, Jr., the man who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental hospital in the shooting that injured Reagan, his press secretary James Brady and a Metropolitan Police Department officer. For the last year and a half, Hinckley has been permitted to spend 17 days per month at his mother’s Williamsburg, Va., home.

Hinckley’s attorneys have argued that he should be able to live at his mother’s residence full-time. U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman will decide whether to allow him to spend more time at his mother’s home.

The hearing is expected to last through at least Friday, and it could take days or weeks for Friedman to make a ruling.

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Five of Six Baltimore Officers Involved in Freddie Gray Arrest Interviewed

Alex_Schmidt/iStock/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) — Five of the six officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray, who died of an unexplained spinal injury seven days after he was apprehended, have been interviewed by officials, the Baltimore police union said Wednesday as protests continued in the city.

Gray died Sunday, after being hospitalized for seven days. A lawyer for the family said Gray was “chased” by police April 12 “without any evidence he had committed a crime.” Police have not clarified why Gray, 25, was arrested or how he suffered the injury that his family says occurred in police custody and resulted in his death a week later.

The union’s lawyer said Wednesday that Gray was not wearing a seat belt and that he likely suffered the severe spinal injury not during his arrest, but as he traveled in the van. The union says cellphone video that appeared to capture Gray screaming as officers dragged him to a police van did not explain the spinal injury.

“Our position is something happened inside that van,” said Michael E. Davey, an attorney for the union, who spoke during a news conference Wednesday alongside Lt. Kenneth Butler and Gene Ryan, the president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police. “We just don’t know what….We need to figure out what happened.”

Baltimore police said Gray was trying to flee from officers and was apprehended after a brief foot chase.

“I know that when Mr. Gray was placed inside that van, he was able to talk and he was upset,” Baltimore Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said during a news conference Monday. “And when Mr. Gray was taken out of that van, he could not talk and he could not breathe.”

Davey, the union attorney, confirmed to ABC News that five officers involved in Gray’s arrest had given voluntary, recorded statements the night of the incident. The sixth officer elected, under his constitutional right, not to give a statement. The officer who chose not to give a statement was not the arresting officer.

Citizens continued to pour into the streets in protest Wednesday, nearly 1,000 demonstrating, so far peacefully. Tension between the Baltimore police and the black community is nothing new, according to the Baltimore Sun, which reported that in the past four years, nearly $6 million has been paid out to settle about 100 cases of police conduct.

The federal government is investigating Gray’s death but, since the winter, federal agents have been looking into the entire department at the request of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

“We have been in the trenches doing this work,” she told ABC News. “I have a very serious concern about getting to the bottom of what happened with Mr. Gray.”

Davey confirmed that on Monday Police Commissioner Anthony Batts met with the group of all six officers involved after the news conference. Batts didn’t ask them any questions, but told them the investigation is ongoing and that it will be unbiased and independent.

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