Review Category : National News

Two Juveniles Charged With Aggravated Arson in Deadly Tennessee Wildfires

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Two juveniles have been charged with aggravated arson in connection with the deadly Tennessee wildfires that have killed 14 people and destroyed or damaged more than 1,700 buildings, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The teens were taken into custody this morning and are being held at the Sevier County juvenile detention center, said Sevier County District Attorney Jimmy Dunn. Authorities are looking to see if more charges are possible, Dunn said.

They are entitled to have a detention hearing in the next 72 hours, Dunn said. A juvenile court judge will decide if they will be held with bond or without bond. Transferring the teens to adult court is also under consideration, Dunn said.

The juveniles’ identities were not released. They are not from Sevier County but are residents of Tennessee, Dunn said.

Mark Gwyn, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, offered his condolences to the victims and said the agency is “committed to making sure justice is served with this case.”

Great Smoky Mountain Superintendent Cassius Cash thanked those who responded to the tip line, saying the “information was critical.”

More than 130 people have been injured as a direct result of the fires, according to officials.

Parts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the most popular of America’s national parks, has been devastated by the fires. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam called the mountains a “special place” to Tennesseans during a press conference last Friday.

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One Officer Dead, One Injured After Shooting Near College in Georgia

iStock/Thinkstock(AMERICUS, Ga.) — One police officer is dead and another officer is in critical condition after a shooting near Georgia Southwestern State University Wednesday.

The officers — one with the local police department and one with the school — were called to a domestic dispute off campus at 9:30 a.m. when they encountered the suspect, said Americus Police Chief Mark Scott. Both officers were shot on the scene.

The officer who died is with the Americus Police Department, police said. A Georgia Southwestern State University public safety officer was in critical condition.

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Winter Storm Slams North Dakota

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Residents in North Dakota are still digging themselves out of their homes after a severe blizzard swept through the state earlier this week.

Authorities in Minot, North Dakota, issued a travel advisory to community members because of the treacherous weather conditions. The Minot International Airport reopened Wednesday morning after closing for nearly 12 hours because of snow and strong winds, the airport’s director Rick Feltner told ABC News.

Videos of the airport’s runway conditions were posted on Facebook.

“We had a blizzard warning in effect starting Sunday night … and this was on top of about 17 inches of snow we got last week. While the storm didn’t produce a great deal of new snow, the temperatures plummeted and the wind picked up 30-35 miles per hour. In those conditions, visibility is greatly reduced,” said Feltner.

“It was an unusual situation for us to close the airport. We’re usually pretty good at keeping things open here but it was more than we could keep up with this time,” he added.

Roommates Lauren Otradovec and Natasha Harvey live 20 miles north of Minot in Glenburn. On Tuesday morning, they opened the front door to their house to find a second door … of snow.

“I honestly felt claustrophobic. I didn’t want to feel like there was no way out,” Harvey told ABC News. So she attempted to shovel her way out.

“We shoveled our side door and within an hour all the snow had blown back in. We’re at the same point today,” she added.

“There are hardly any trees here and we live in a really small town so the wind is pushing everything to our direction. The first layer on our house is pretty much ice and the snow that keeps blowing is just freezing to that,” she explained.

Harvey hasn’t been able to make it to work for the past two days. “I’m used to this weather but this is crazy,” Harvey said.

The National Weather Service’s wind chill advisory is in effect for most of western North Dakota. The temperature in some areas is expected to feel like 30 degrees below zero with the wind chill.

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Search for Victims in Oakland Warehouse Fire Concludes

ABC News(OAKLAND, Calif.) — The rigorous search for bodies in the rubble of a fatal warehouse fire in Oakland, California, concluded Wednesday, with the death toll remaining at 36, police said.

Authorities will begin reopening the street on which the charred structure is located around 3:30 p.m. local time, according to the Oakland Police Department.

Officials found 36 victims inside the large warehouse and most were in their 20s and 30s. So far, 35 of them have been identified and 30 families have been notified. A 17-year-old’s name will not be released, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Bureau.

Although crews have finished their search for victims, investigators are still working to find the cause of the horrific blaze that broke out on Dec. 2. An official briefed on the investigation told ABC News that a refrigerator is being eyed as the “possible” point of origin.

Investigators are also working to determine if there was criminal liability for the fire and, if so, who was responsible, according to Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.

As many as 100 people were at the warehouse for a concert party when what authorities described as an “electrical fire” broke out just before midnight on Nov. 2. The venue, known as the “Ghost Ship,” ultimately became a grave for dozens of the young party-goers.

The Oakland Fire Department first responded to reports of a structure fire at the warehouse on 31st Avenue in the East Bay area at around 11:32 p.m. Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said the warehouse appeared to function as a residential building that hosted a makeshift artists’ studio, as well as parties like the one that took place that night. Most of the bodies were found on the second floor, which was accessible by a makeshift stairwell assembled with various materials, according to Reed.

Darin Ranelletti, the interim director of the city’s planning and building department, told reporters that the party at the Ghost Ship required a permit, which he said was not obtained. The property is under investigation to determine whether it was used to house people illegally, Ranelletti said.

The power went out inside the building when the fire started and the flames blocked the building’s only exit, making it difficult for people inside to escape, an official briefed on the ongoing investigation told ABC News.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said some of those trapped upstairs had just enough time to send final text messages to loved ones. Some of these messages read “I’m going to die” and “I love you,” Kelly said.

Survivors of the inferno who spoke to ABC News recalled waking up to “smoke and an entire wall of fire” that was so powerful it opened a window, letting in oxygen that apparently intensified the flames.

The Ghost Ship is purportedly run by a married couple, Derick Ion Almena and Micah Allison, but the building is owned by Chor Nar Siu Ng, a woman who appeared to have little involvement with its use for artists’ studios and as a performance space for musicians.

“They’re my children. They’re my friends. They’re my family. They’re my loves. They’re my future. What else do I have to say?” Almena told ABC affiliate KGO on Sunday.

Almena also appeared to address the fire in a Facebook post early Saturday morning by saying that what he worked for was destroyed, but he failed to elaborate on what work he put into the warehouse prior to the tragedy.

“Confirmed. Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound … it’s as if I have awoken from a dream filled with opulence and hope … to be standing now in poverty of self worth,” Almena wrote.

On Tuesday night, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf declared a local state of emergency to facilitate state and federal aid. City officials also released records on the building’s reported complaints.

The most recent city record on the property is dated just days before the deadly fire. The Nov. 14 notice shows an “investigation pending” for “illegal interior building structure,” an apparent reference to the illegal living spaces constructed inside the warehouse. A day prior to that, the building’s owner was notified of a code violation. The records say “a ton of garbage [is] piling up on the property,” including “hazardous” trash.

Oakland police said that they have responded to numerous calls about the warehouse in the past, but it is unclear how many. It is also unknown whether authorities will hold Almena, Allison or Ng accountable for the deaths in the fire.

The last permitted use of the building was as a warehouse, according to a press release from the City of Oakland. The city said it received complaints of blight and unpermitted interior construction at the building this year on Nov. 13. Days later, a city building inspector visited the property on Nov. 17 and verified the blight complaint, but could not gain access to the building to confirm the other complaint regarding unpermitted construction.

The investigation is ongoing, the city said.

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NC Governor-Elect Faces Uphill Battle to Repeal HB2

iStock/Thinkstock(RALEIGH, N.C.) — North Carolina’s Democratic governor-elect, Roy Cooper, may be powerless to repeal a controversial law that restricted the right of transgender people in the state to use a public bathroom of their choosing even though he called for scrapping the law during his campaign, according to some experts who spoke with ABC News.

The state’s outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed the measure, known as House Bill 2, into law. On Monday, McCrory conceded the gubernatorial race to Cooper, the state’s attorney general.

Cooper has called House Bill 2 “one of the most discriminatory laws in the country.”

In exit poll results from Election Day, a vast majority of North Carolina voters — 66 percent — said they opposed the bathroom law, while 29 percent supported it.

But legal experts told ABC News repealing the law could be difficult for the incoming governor.

Cooper’s Hands May Be Tied

Republicans still hold a majority in the state’s General Assembly after this November’s election, and they are unlikely to introduce legislation to repeal it, said Bill Marshall, a professor of law at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

“I think the voters sent a pretty clear message in North Carolina that they were dissatisfied with HB2, but we have yet to see if the legislature will understand what the votes of this past election mean,” Marshall told ABC News in an interview last month.

“They certainly haven’t shown any sign that they are willing to do this thus far,” University of North Carolina law professor Maxine Eichner said in an interview with ABC News.

Shannon Gilreath, a professor of law at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, agreed.

“Even though Cooper has been a vocal opponent of this law, its repeal still requires the Republican-dominated legislature to acquiesce,” Gilreath told ABC News in an interview last month. The governor, he added, “does not have the power to override the legislative process.”

Cooper’s Options

A repeal proposal seems unlikely unless “Cooper is able to put enough pressure on the legislature,” according to Gilreath.

Cooper “could try to appeal to the public by talking about how much HB2 has cost the state,” he said. “We’ve lost millions of dollars in potential revenue because of business we’ve lost over the bill.”

“I expect there are ways that Governor-elect Cooper could use political appointments and other executive orders to send a message more welcoming to the LGBT community, but he can’t do that in a way that violates HB2,” Eichner said.

Where Does Trump Stand?

On Election Day, North Carolina voted for Donald Trump.

When Trump was campaigning for president, he initially voiced his opposition to the “bathroom” bill in an interview with NBC, pointing to the “economic punishment” the state has faced for implementing the bill. McCrory signed the bill in March.

“Leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go. They use the bathroom they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble,” Trump said on NBC’s Today show in April.

But in an interview with The News & Observer in July, Trump said he spoke with McCrory and he was “going with the state.”

“The state, they know what’s going on, they see what’s happening, and generally speaking I’m with the state on things like this. I’ve spoken with your governor, I’ve spoken with a lot of different people, and I’m going with the state,” Trump said at the time.

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Experts: Jurors Reluctant to Convict Police in Cases of Officer-Involved Deaths

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A mistrial was declared Monday in the murder trial of a former South Carolina police officer who was accused in the shooting death of an unarmed black man — the latest in a string of officer-involved deaths that did not result in convictions.

The reason for lack of convictions in office-involved deaths could lie with the jurors, who are often reluctant to convict police officers, according to experts interviewed by ABC News.

“What we see time and time again is that jurors are very reluctant to second-guess the split-second life-or-death decisions that a police officer makes,” said Philip Stinson, a former police officer and criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University who researches police-involved incidents and crimes.

Jurors are “unwilling to conclude that an on-duty police officer could be a murderer,” Stinson said.

The law is “pretty clear” that police officers are to be judged by “different standards,” said Sunny Hostin, senior legal correspondent and analyst for ABC News. Officers are judged, not in hindsight, but by “what a reasonable officer at the scene would have done,” she said.

“I think [the jurors] sometimes give that police officer the benefit of the doubt” because they are “trained to shoot if they are in danger,” Hostin said.

“Jurors understand that police officers have a very difficult job,” she said. “They put their lives on the line every day to protect us. They have a hard time convicting someone whose job is to protect and serve.”

Somewhere between 900 and 1,100 people are shot and killed by an on-duty police officer every year, Stinson said, and additional people are killed in a manner not involving a gun.

“The vast majority of office-involved deaths are done by shooting,” most of which are found to be legally justified, which means that “the officer had a reasonable apprehension of an imminent threat of serious or bodily injury or deadly force being used against the officer or someone else,” Stinson said.

Since 2005, when Stinson began studying police-involved incidents, a total of 78 state and local police officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from an on-duty shooting, he said. Of those cases, 27 officers have been convicted to date — 14 by jury trial and 13 by guilty plea, Stinson said. Of those convictions, only one officer was convicted of murder: James Ashby of the Rocky Ford (Colorado) Police Department, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

There has also been a recent uptick in police being charged in officer-involved deaths due to the abundance of video evidence provided by cellphone, surveillance and police dash-cam and body-cam, Stinson said. In 2015, 18 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from an on-duty shooting. In 2016 so far, 12 officers have been charged. In comparison, in the decade preceding 2015, from 2005 to 2014, 48 officers were charged — an average of fewer than five officers a year.

“Many, if not all of those officers would not have been charged had it not been for the video evidence,” Stinson said.

“In the past, police have owned the narrative in these cases,” he added. “What they say happened is what gets put into the official record. What we’re seeing with video evidence is the initial statement is inconsistent with the video evidence. Either their recollections are faulty or they’re lying.”

But even the most compelling video evidence often isn’t enough to convict the officer.

“Although those cases being brought are on the upswing, in large part due to ubiquitous cellphone video, we’re still not getting a significant conviction rate as prosecutors,” Hostin said.

Police officers are “entitled to receive the same due process and the same presumption of innocence that any other American citizen enjoys,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “The right to a fair trial is an integral piece of that equation.”

“Every case is judged on its own merits and is unique in and of itself,” Pasco said.

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Prosecutor: Accused Charleston Church Shooter Stood over Victims Shooting Repeatedly

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — As the federal death penalty trial got underway this morning for 22-year-old Dylann Roof, who authorities say is responsible for killing nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church in June 2015, the prosecution said in its opening statements that Roof stood over his victims, shooting them over and over again, according to ABC television affiliate WCIV in Charleston.

As the victims ran for cover, one parishioner tried to protect Rev. Clementa Pinckney — a church pastor and a member of the South Carolina Senate — said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson, but Roof continued to shoot, killing Pinckney, WCIV reported.

Roof, who is white, is accused of fatally shooting nine black parishioners during a Bible study at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. Roof, who was 21 at the time, entered the Emanuel AME Church armed and “with the intent of killing African-Americans engaged in the exercise of their religious beliefs,” according to the federal indictment against him. The parishioners welcomed Roof into their Bible study group, according to the indictment, after which Roof drew his pistol and opened fire, killing nine and wounding three.

Richardson said Wednesday morning that when the 12 parishioners stood to pray, Roof started shooting victim after victim, WCIV reported.

Richardson said that survivor Polly Sheppard later recounted seeing Roof’s boots move closer and closer to her, and when Roof found her praying aloud, he told her to shut up and asked if she was wounded, WCIV reported.

She said she wasn’t, and Roof allegedly told her she would live so she could tell what happened, Richardson said, according to WCIV.

Victim Tywanza Sanders stood up to Roof when he was wounded, Richardson said, allegedly telling Roof, “We mean you no harm,” WCIV reported.

Richardson said Roof allegedly said, “Y’all are raping our white women. Y’all are taking over the world,” WCIV reported. Then Roof shot Sanders repeatedly, Richardson said, according to WCIV.

Survivor Felicia Sanders and her granddaughter were not hit but played dead “on the blood-soaked floor,” Richardson said, according to WCIV. Once the rampage was over, Roof walked out of the church, got in his car and drove away, Richardson said, WCIV reported.

In the months before the shooting, Roof “decided to attack African-Americans because of their race,” and he selected black worshippers at a predominantly black church “to make his attack more notorious,” according to the federal indictment.

Roof hoped the attack would “increase racial tensions across the Nation” and bring “retribution for perceived wrongs he believed African-Americans had committed against white people,” the indictment states.

According to the indictment, Roof maintained a website on which he posted “a manuscript and photographs expressing his racist beliefs.” In the manuscript, he used racial slurs and decried integration, the indictment states. The photos include one of Roof holding a confederate flag, according to the indictment.

The 33 federal counts against him include hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death.

Roof has pleaded not guilty.

He also faces a state trial, set for early next year, in which he may also face the death penalty.

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Obama Remembers Lives Lost at Pearl Harbor 75 Years After Attack

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Obama ordered flags at the White House to be lowered to half-staff on Wednesday, the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The attack at the naval base happened on Dec. 7, 1941, when the U.S. Navy came under attack by Japan. The sudden strike that catapulted the United States into WWII.

In all, more than 2,400 American lives were lost, along with numerous battleships and aircraft.

“Today, Michelle and I join the American people in remembering those who gave their lives at Pearl Harbor—many of them not much older than boys—and in honoring their families—spouses, siblings, sons and daughters who still carry the memories of their loved ones in their hearts,” the president said in a statement Wednesday.

“We give thanks to the veterans and survivors of Pearl Harbor who faced down fear itself, met infamy with intrepidity, freed captive peoples from fascism and whose example inspires us still,” he added.

You can read Obama’s full statement here.

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Hundreds Protest White Nationalist at Texas A&M University

Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images(COLLEGE STATION, Texas) — Hundreds of protesters turned up at an appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer at Texas A&M University on Tuesday.

Spencer, who leads a white nationalist organization, came to national attention when video surfaced of him at a Washington, D.C. conference in November shouting “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” as some members of the crowd raised their hands in a Nazi salute.

Hundreds gathered outside the Texas A&M union where Spencer appeared on Tuesday, according to ABC affiliate WFAA.

The university did not invite Spencer, who appeared in an event space on the campus reserved by a former student.

The demonstrators held signs and some attempted to drown out Spencer’s speech with chants and jeers.

At one point during the event, a physical struggle broke out between a black female and a white man, who snatched a microphone from her hands by force.

The night ended with police in riot gear pushing people out of the building where Spencer spoke.

Texas A&M spokesperson Amy B. Smith said last month in a statement to The Battalion, the university’s student newspaper, that Spencer’s views were not shared by the university, but added that there was little it could do to stop him from speaking on campus.

“Private citizens are permitted to reserve space available to the public as we are a public university,” Smith said.

In an interview with WFAA ahead of Tuesday’s event, Spencer said that the controversial video of people doing Nazi salutes at his speech was taken out of context.

“Those people were being funny,” he said. They were being ironic, I got the joke and I think most young people got the joke.”

Max Glauben, a Holocaust survivor who drove from Dallas to attend the Texas A&M rally, doesn’t see the humor.

“What we need to do right now is when you see a bad thing done then you do something about it or say something. Don’t allow it,” he told WFAA.

A&M alum Shannon Taylor-Kerne, who also attended the protest rally, said, “Most people here tonight are not against something. They are for all people and they are for the values of respect.”

Students wrote messages on a makeshift “unity wall” on the campus that included “Aggies against hate,” “Love & Respect,” and “United We Stand,” according to WFAA.

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Trial to Begin for Charleston Church Shooting Suspect Dylann Roof

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — The federal death penalty trial is set to begin for 22-year-old Dylann Roof, who authorities say is responsible for killing nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church last year.

Roof, who is white, is accused of fatally shooting nine black parishioners during a Bible study at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. One of the nine victims killed was Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a church pastor and a member of the South Carolina Senate.

Roof, who was 21 at the time, was arrested the day after the shooting in Shelby, North Carolina, about 250 miles north of Charleston.

Opening arguments in the federal case against Roof are expected to take place Wednesday.

According to the federal indictment, Roof maintained a website on which he posted “a manuscript and photographs expressing his racist beliefs.” In the manuscript, he used racial slurs and decried integration, the indictment states. The photos include one of Roof holding a confederate flag, according to the indictment.

In the months before the shooting, Roof “decided to attack African-Americans because of their race,” and he selected black worshipers at a predominantly black church “to make his attack more notorious,” according to the indictment.

On June 17, 2015, Roof entered the Emanuel AME Church armed and “with the intent of killing African-Americans engaged in the exercise of their religious beliefs,” the indictment states.

The parishioners welcomed Roof into their Bible study group, according to the indictment, after which Roof drew his pistol and opened fire, killing nine and wounding three.

Roof hoped the attack would “increase racial tensions across the Nation” and bring “retribution for perceived wrongs he believed African-Americans had committed against white people,” the indictment states.

At Roof’s first court appearance the day after his capture, several of the shooting victims’ family members expressed forgiveness for Roof amid their grief.

“I forgive you,” the daughter of victim Ethel Lance said through tears to Roof, who appeared at the bond hearing via video conferencing from jail. “You took something very precious from me and I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

Roof was originally granted permission to represent himself in court on Nov. 28 after requesting to move forward without his counsel, according to ABC affiliate WCIV in Charleston. However, Roof then sent a letter to the judge on Sunday asking that his lawyers be rehired until a verdict is reached and that he would then represent himself in the penalty phase. The judge has agreed to this new request.

There are 33 counts against Roof in the federal trial: counts 1-9, hate crime act resulting in death; counts 10-12, hate crime act involving an attempt to kill; counts 13-21, obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death; counts 22-24, obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon; counts 25-33, use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Roof is also facing a state trial, in which he may also face the death penalty. The state trial is set for early next year.

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