Review Category : National News

Petraeus on Disgraced Special Forces Legend: People ‘Make Mistakes’

Gen. David Petraeus, second from left, and Maj. Jim Gant, second from right. (Courtesy Chief Petty Officer Joshua Treadwell, U.S. Navy)(WASHINGTON) — After a legendary Special Forces officer was pushed out of the military over a frontline romance with a Washington Post reporter, along with the use of illicit pain pills and booze, Maj. Jim Gant recently found he had a powerful supporter in former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus — a man familiar with the consequences of personal scandal.

“Jim [Gant] was the complete package when you consider what you’re looking for in a Green Beret, [a] Special Forces team leader. He was…the perfect counter-insurgent,” Petraeus told ABC News in a rare on-camera interview. “He was a master.”

“We asked a great deal of this individual. He’d provided a great deal. And frankly to see his career end the way it did was painful to hear about,” Petraeus said.

Maj. Jim Gant was a highly-decorated Green Beret who in 2009 wrote a 45-page pamphlet called “One Tribe at a Time,” a strategy that called on American Special Forces to, as he calls it, “go native” — to dress like, live like, fight like and, if necessary, die like the Afghan villagers he felt were critical to turning the tide against the Taliban.

Petraeus, who took command of American forces in Afghanistan in 2010, agreed with Gant and made sure Gant’s next deployment was in Afghanistan where he could put the strategy to use. And, for a while, it looked like it could be the key to gaining ground in the protracted conflict.

“I never like to use the term winning or losing,” Petraeus said. “I just like the term progress. And we were clearly making progress in his area…I went to see Jim and to spend time with him in his element…I was hugely impressed…He was doing a superb job.”

But as detailed in a recent ABC News investigative report, Gant went too far, leading some to compare him to the mad Col. Kurtz from the Vietnam War film, Apocalypse Now.

He was demoted and then he retired from the military after the brass found out he had been living with a lover — a prominent Washington Post reporter — on the frontlines in Afghanistan for nearly a year. Gant and Ann Scott Tyson, who were both married when they met, were separated from their spouses and later married each other in 2012. Gant also admitted to drinking and taking pain pills while deployed, both against military regulations.

Petraeus said he was “disappointed” to watch Gant’s fall from grace.

“He clearly took actions that were not in keeping with the standards and he paid a very high price,” Petraeus said.

On some level, Petraeus knows that price. After a meteoric rise to the highest levels of the military, Petraeus was tapped to run the CIA in September 2011. But just over a year later, he resigned from the job after publicly admitted he had engaged in an “extramarital affair.” The reserved military man became tabloid fodder.

Since then, Petraeus has for the most part dodged the media spotlight. But he sat in front of ABC News cameras again for Gant.

“He clearly had grit. He had guts. He had intelligence. He was courageous…He is one to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, even recognizing how things ended for him,” Petraeus said. “Folks make mistakes, obviously.”

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Fundraising Suspended for Scarred Girl in KFC ‘Incident’

Tim Boyle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — An online fundraising page for a toddler allegedly asked to leave a KFC restaurant due to her facial scars has been taken down after the restaurant chain said it had not found evidence that the incident ever occurred.

The GoFundMe page, which had raised more than $135,000, was apparently removed Tuesday. A search for the page on Wednesday produces the notice, “Campaign Not Found.” GoFundMe did not respond to a request for comment.

A Facebook page named “Victoria’s Victories” in support of the girl has also been deleted. A member of the girl’s family that operated the page did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

The two online sites were deleted after KFC said an investigation into the allegations did not reveal “any evidence that the incident occurred.”

The grandmother of Victoria Wilcher, 3, claimed she and the girl were asked to leave a KFC restaurant in Mississippi because her scars from a dog attack were frightening customers. The girl was injured in an attack by her grandfather’s pit bull in April.

Wilcher’s grandmother, Kelly Mullins, told WAPT-TV she was driving her granddaughter home from the hospital when they stopped at a KFC on May 15.

“They just told us, ‘We have to ask you to leave because her face is disrupting our customers,’” Mullins told WAPT-TV earlier this month. Wilcher “understood exactly what they said,” Mullins claimed.

In response to Mullins’ allegation, KFC initially said it would contribute $30,000 to Wilcher’s medical care. Rick Maynard, a spokesman for KFC, told ABC News Wednesday that the company remains committed to the $30,000 it will donate toward the child’s medical bills.

The owner of the KFC franchise, Hannon Food Services, told WAPT-TV that hundreds of hours were spent reviewing video surveillance.

“As of today, neither Hannon Food Services nor the outside firm involved in the consultation has found any evidence to verify that the incident took place at our restaurant on Woodrow Wilson Drive. Nevertheless, we’ll continue to exhaust every possible avenue until we’re absolutely sure we have all the facts,” Hannon Food said in a statement.

As details of the report emerged, the girl’s relatives insist the claim was not a hoax.

“I never thought any of this would blow up the way it has,” Teri Rials Bates, who describes herself as Wilcher’s aunt, wrote on a GoFundMe page Tuesday. “The article circling the web calling this a hoax is untrue. The article itself say the investigation is not complete. It is not over until KFC releases a statement…The family has not asked for anything, a attorney is handling all the media publicity for the family pro bono. Please do not believe untrue media.”

Rials Bates and an attorney for the family have not responded to requests by ABC News for comment.

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Hostage Escapes Convicted Killer, Frantic 911 Calls Released

AbleStock.com/Thinkstock(PINE BLUFF, Ark.) — Newly released 911 calls reveal what happened when a convicted killer broke free from an Arkansas jail and kidnapped a woman who lived on prison grounds.

“He has four dogs, a shotgun, ammo and other keys,” the woman can be heard telling the 911 operator. “He can get more weapons. He can get more weapons. He has all our weapons, keys to my dad’s state vehicle, keys to get stuff out of the state vehicle, everything.”

“He’s in my home,” she says in the 911 call.

The man she was referring to was Timothy Buffington, a 47-year-old convicted of murdering his ex-wife in 1998 who escaped from a prison in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Saturday evening.

Buffington, who is still on the loose, confronted the woman at her home in search of weapons and a ride, according to police.

“He attempted to take a woman and get her to drive him off the compound,” said Arkansas Department of Corrections spokeswoman Shea Wilson.

The woman was able to escape from Buffington, she told the 911 operator.

“I was kidnapped and I just got away,” she says in the call. “We need some assistance as soon as possible because he is armed and he will shoot. He has ammo and he has a shotgun.”

Surveillance video from Saturday night shows Buffington next went to another home located two miles away from the jail and knocked on the door while wearing camouflage clothing and holding a shotgun.

Buffington can be seen in the video growing frustrated when no one answered the door and even trying to break in the door.

Authorities believe that Buffington is still in the jail’s vicinity. The National Guard has been called into the search, sending helicopters to search for Buffington by air.

Buffington has been serving a 20-year prison sentence since 1999. He was transferred to the low-to-medium security prison in Pine Bluffs because of good behavior, authorities said.

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Former Death Row Inmate Hopes Double Jeopardy Defense Frees Her

iStock/Thinkstock(PHOENIX) — Debra Milke was back in a Phoenix courtroom Tuesday, facing another legal battle after spending decades behind bars.

Milke, 50, has already spent more than two decades on Arizona’s death row after being convicted of murder in the 1989 death of her son, Christopher, 4.

Prosecutors convinced a jury in 1990 that Milke hired two men to take the boy into the desert and shoot him after telling her son he was going to see Santa Claus. But a federal appeals court overturned her conviction last year and ordered a new trial, ruling that prosecutors withheld evidence of alleged misconduct by now-retired detective Armando Saldate — the key witness in the case.

Saldate claimed that Milke confessed, which she has always denied. Saldate was later found to have lied under oath or violated suspects’ rights during other interrogations, according to the 2013 court ruling.

“This was the witness in this case,” Judge Patricia Norris said at Tuesday’s court hearing.

With the help of her many supporters, Milke made bail and is free. But with the new trial looming, Milke’s attorneys hope to convince a three-judge panel that a second murder trial amounts to double jeopardy, meaning a defendant can’t be tried a second time on the same charges after acquittal or conviction. Her argument failed to persuade a single-judge panel in January.

“The remedy is dismissal; it is to dismiss the charges,” her lawyer, Lori Voepel, said.

Prosecutors disagree, but neither side would elaborate after the hearing. Judges will rule in the coming weeks.

Saldate will be forced to testify again in the new trial.

ABC News Chief Legal Affairs Anchor Dan Abrams said given the skepticism surrounding Saldate’s testimony, the case against Milke has major flaws.

“The defense actually has a very weak argument on double jeopardy,” Abrams said. “It’s not double jeopardy to overturn a case and retry the defendant. The person’s getting a new trial.”

“What the defense seems to be saying here is that the violations by the detective were so egregious that there shouldn’t be another trial,” he added.

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Judge Rules No-Fly List Is Unconstitutional

iStock/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) — An important defense against potential terrorists boarding planes in the U.S. was deemed unconstitutional Tuesday by a federal judge in Seattle.

U.S. District Judge Anna Brown agreed with 13 Muslim Americans that the so-called no-fly list “constitutes a significant deprivation of their liberty interests in international travel.”

Brown added that once someone has been put on the list, they have little recourse to prove they are no threat to other passengers and the airline industry as a whole.

The no-fly list, instituted after the 9/11 attacks, prevents people either with proven or suspected ties to terrorism from flying within the U.S. or outside the country. Thousands have been put on the list since 2003.

The plaintiffs in the case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union said they weren’t aware of their no-fly status until they actually tried to go through security. Four of them were members of the U.S. military.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department, which defended the no-fly list, argued that those who feel they were unjustly singled out can petition a U.S. appeals court.

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Great White Shark Caught Off NYC Beach

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A New York City fisherman made a shocking catch when he reeled in a great white shark off the coast of a popular Queens beach.

Steve Fernandez, 29, and some friends were about a mile off the coast of Rockaway Beach on Sunday when they spotted a baby Jaws — a great white shark about three feet long. Sure enough, another great white, this one about 10 feet long, was swimming near the back of his boat.

“I’ve seen them off shore, never really this close,” Fernandez told DNAinfo. “There’s no magical fence that keeps them off the beach. They swim wherever they want to go.”

At one point, the baby shark was “3 inches from my face,” Fernandez said.

“I love it — I’ll do that every single day,” he said. “I’ve caught bigger sharks, but that was the coolest.”

Fernandez let the shark go, per NOAA regulations.

Shark attacks are expected to rise this summer, experts say. A 22-year-old woman was recently attacked in Florida.

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Seattle Police Investigating Possible Peeping Drone Outside Woman’s Apartment

iStock/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) — Seattle police are investigating a possible case of a peeping drone after a woman reported spotting an unmanned craft with a camera hovering outside her high-rise apartment window, police said Tuesday.

Lisa Pleiss said she was getting dressed Sunday morning when she spotted the drone buzzing about a block away from her living room window on the 26th floor. The drone then flew down toward the street and Pleiss said she quickly lowered her blinds and called her building’s concierge.

“It was surreal. Initially I was kind of like, ‘Wow, what is that thing?’” Pleiss told ABC News Tuesday. “I stared at it for about thirty seconds and once I registered the cameras I felt very vulnerable.”

Pleiss said she managed to snap a photo of the drone.

The concierge reported the incident to the Seattle Police Department and rushed outside in time to catch a glimpse of the two men who were piloting the drone and who were also equipped with a video camera and tripod, Pleiss said. The men swiftly packed their things into a white Mazda and drove away, but not before the concierge was able to snap a picture of them, Pleiss said.

Both Pleiss and the concierge have handed over their photos to investigators, police said.

The building’s management declined to comment on the incident when reached by ABC News.

Recreational drone usage is legal in Washington state but the Seattle Police Department is looking into whether privacy rights may have been violated, Officer Drew Fowler, a spokesman for the department, said.

“It’s certainly ill-mannered at the least and potentially criminal at the worst,” Fowler told ABC News. “This is a new type of thing. Technology just keeps outpacing legislation.”

Coincidentally, Pleiss used to work at Amazon, which has faced some controversy over its proposed drone usage.

The Federal Aviation Administration released a general statement Monday in response to recent drone usage. “Guidance comes after recent incidents involving the reckless use of unmanned model aircraft near airports and involving large crowds of people,” the agency said in its statement.

The statement outlined the “do’s and don’ts” of flying drones but did not address privacy issues.

Early Tuesday morning, a man who identified himself as the man who sent the drone contacted Pleiss and said he was a small business owner from Portland, Oregon, Pleiss said. The man told Pleiss that his crew was taking photographs of the area for a building they are developing 20 minutes east of Pleiss’ apartment, she said.

He provided his name and number and asked that Pleiss contact him, said Pleiss, who had yet to reach out to him.

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DHS Chief Blames ‘Horrible’ Conditions for Child Immigrant Spike

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Deferring action against undocumented immigrants who arrive in the United States as children is not to blame for the mass migration of unaccompanied minors to the U.S. Southwest border, but rather the conditions in their homeland, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Tuesday.

“Conditions in Honduras are horrible,” Johnson said, citing one example on the same day the State Department warned U.S. citizens about “critically high” crime and violence there. “[It's] the murder capital of the world.”

Johnson testified at a House hearing in Washington Tuesday that cartels are telling people they can get a “permiso” that gives them access to the United States, which is “not the case.”

“They [the children] are given a notice to appear in deportation proceeding,” he said. “We are required to give that child to HHS [Health and Human Services] and HHS is required to act in the best interest of the child, [often] placing the child with a parent. But that’s not a free pass.”

Conservative Congress members such as Peter King, R-N.Y., disagreed, telling Johnson, “It is a free pass from their perspective” because they are allowed into the United States at all.

To date, more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico have been apprehended by border patrol, up 99 percent from the same period last year, with the vast majority coming through the Rio Grande Valley sector — the quickest route from Central America. The highest numbers of children who cross come from Honduras and Guatemala.

By law, unaccompanied minors must be transferred to Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours, a timeline officials are failing to meet.

“We are not meeting the 72 hours,” Craig Fugate, administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said during the hearing. “We wanted to get these kids as quickly as we could from a detention facility to a bed…at this point we have not reached the 72-hour [requirement], but reached more capacity. We have increased capacity but the number of children have increased as well and we have not reached the 72-hour mark.”

Once in HHS custody, the child is then transferred to the custody of a parent or guardian, or even foster care.

“I know that just over 50 percent of those unaccompanied children that HHS is placing, is placing with a parent,” Johnson said, referring to last fiscal year’s data.

But there is no available data on how many of the children, once transferred out of HHS custody, actually appear in court or are deported.

When pressed on why Customs and Border Protection can’t just return these children to their homeland, Johnson said the law doesn’t allow him to do so.

“I don’t believe that the law would allow us to send an unaccompanied child home in expedited removal proceeding,” he said. “The law requires that once a child is identified as unaccompanied, CBP has to give them to HHS and they do what’s in the best interest of the child. That is what the law passed by Congress requires.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., asked whether President Obama could simply issue an executive order to supersede the law, to which Johnson replied, “Last I checked, an executive order can’t supersede the law.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced on Tuesday the establishment of a GOP working group to address the border crisis, outlining again the request to send the National Guard to help stem the tide. But while Secretary Johnson said during the hearing he has heard those calls, he’d want to “understand better what the options are for the use of the Guard” and cited concerns about their limitations.

The National Guard “can’t be directly involved in law enforcement,” he said. “And Department of Defense has a lot to say about this as well. It’s their resource, comes out of their budget. Lot of demands on the Guard, particularly in this season, hurricane season.”

The Posse Comitatus Act 1878 (updated in 1981) works to limit the federal government’s use of the military to enforce state laws and, as such, bars it from performing tasks of civilian law enforcement such as arrests or apprehensions.

While there is precedent for sending the Guard, the concern now stems from the fact that children are not evading law enforcement but instead surrendering to, or even running toward, patrol.

“They are essentially coming in an area that is well known by us, well patrolled by us, and they are not evading us,” Ronald D. Vitiello, deputy chief of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said.

Johnson said DHS has been updating members of Congress with conference calls twice a week and are working on a site visit for members and their staff.

As part of their outreach efforts to correct the perception in Central America, Johnson made a public plea to parents of Central American children this weekend, writing an op-ed for Spanish-language outlets, saying: “Sending your child to travel illegally into the United States is not the solution.”

“It is dangerous to send a child on the long journey from Central America to the United States,” he continued. “The criminal smuggling networks that you pay to deliver your child to the United States have no regard for his or her safety and well-being — to them, your child is a commodity to be exchanged for a payment.”

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Robert Morris University Recruits a New Kind of Athlete: Video Gamers

iStock/Thinkstock(AURORA, Ill.) — Playing video games is now considered a college sport at Robert Morris University in Aurora, Illinois.

Starting this fall, the first class of recruits for the college’s e-sports team will be joining the athletic department, alongside their fellow “jocks” who play basketball, football and bowling, among other sports.

“This is a student population that has been under-served. It’s massive for high schoolers. They play this game nonstop,” Kurt Melcher, associate athletic director at Robert Morris University, told ABC News.

Interest has been overwhelming since the scholarship, which is geared toward League of Legends fanatics, was announced last week, he said. More than 1,500 gamers have sent inquiries to the school, Melcher said, and more than 80 people have already filled out applications.

The school has allocated space for 30 varsity gamers who will make up three teams of 10, along with a reserve squad, Melcher said.

Varsity players will receive up to a 50 percent scholarship covering tuition, room and board, he said, while the reserve players are expected to get 25 percent of their education and housing paid for through the e-sport.

The recruits will be treated just like college athletes and will even have to sign letters of intent, Melcher said.

Robert Morris University’s gamers will compete in the Collegiate Star League, a group of 103 institutions, including Arizona State, Harvard and Berkeley.

What is unique, Melcher said, is that instead of making gaming a club, Robert Morris University is placing the players within the athletic department’s purview — and they’re serious about winning.

“Little Rob Morris looking to beat Berkeley on something computer oriented would be a huge feather in our cap,” he said.

Geeks past college age shouldn’t fret about the missed opportunity. Melcher said the school is looking to hire a coach to help sift through applicants’ player metrics and build their dream arsenal of players.

“The gamers are like, ‘We have been vindicated,’” Melcher said. “[We're] giving the option for the best to do something they love in college and [it's] a great opportunity for them.”

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San Francisco Hopes Sexy Ads Will Help Save Water

iStock/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) — There’s no denying that sex sells, but whether it can promote water conservation is being put to the test by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

In a new ad campaign that features a Barry White-style voice-over, the TV commercials are racy, provocative and funny, despite the rather unsexy concept of water use in toilets and sinks.

The ad shows someone washing their hands as a sultry voice says, “Conservation can feel oh so right.”

In another part of the ad, the voice continues, “Efficient fixtures for your kitchens and bathrooms, screw them on, yeah,” as a hand caresses the sink handle.

Although the commercials may prompt a chuckle, the drought that California faces is no laughing matter.

“At the SFPUC, we get excited about water conservation, but at the same time we understand that a lot of people don’t,” said communications manager Charles Sheehan.

Sheehan said his team developed the concept after a successful ad campaign about the San Francisco sewage system, with lines like “your number two is our number one.”

“To create these ads, we ask ourselves how we can get this message across to the general public and to businesses without people rolling their eyes and everyone falling asleep,” said Sheehan.

SFPUC said the city came close to mandatory water rationing, and these new commercials are another means to capture the attention of San Franciscans. The ads were all done in-house, at no extra cost to the government.

“I thought the ads were hilarious,” San Francisco resident Afeef Ahmed told ABC News. “I think they will be effective, for the main reason that people in San Francisco like to be environmentally conscious but probably don’t realize what a severe drought we’re going through. These ads are memorable.”

Along with the TV commercials, the SFPUC launched a print campaign on public buses. One of the bus ads says “shaking the handle won’t fix the leak even if you jiggle it.”

“The name of the game in any advertising campaign is attention,” said resident Owen Boochever. “So I think [the SFPUC] has been pretty successful, especially on that front.”

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