Review Category : National News

West, Texas Fertilizer Plant Blast Ruled ‘Criminal Act’

File photo. Zoonar/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) — The cause of the 2013 West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion has been ruled to be incendiary, according to The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

“This means this fire was a criminal act,” ATF Special Agent in Charge Rob Elder said at a news conference.

Federal and local officials announced the findings at the conference Friday. No arrests have been made in the case. ATF announced a reward of $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone responsible for the fire, which led to the explosion.

The blast, which killed 15 and injured more than 260, happened at 7:51 pm, some 20 minutes after signs of a fire were reported to the local 911 dispatch center. Several local fire departments responded to the blaze. A dozen emergency responders were killed when the when fertilizer at the facility exploded.

The site stored between 40 and 60 tons of the ammonium nitrate fertilizer. In comparison, an estimated 4,800 pounds of that same chemical fertilizer was used to construct the truck bomb which destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.

The explosion left a crater nearly 93 feet wide and 12 feet deep. Material from the plant was found more than two and a half miles away.

The insurance-related losses from the blast were estimated to be around $230 million dollars, according to a report on the incident by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

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Bull Leads Police on Slow-Mooving Chase for Four Hours

iStock/Thinkstock(ARLINGTON, Texas) — This bull should’ve been charged with a slow-mooooving violation.

The lost animal led police on a nearly four-hour, slow-speed chase through Arlington, Texas, Monday, according to the Arlington Police Department. Police responded to the scene around 4:45 p.m., but the bull wasn’t caught until 8:38 p.m., police said.

Dashcam video showed police cars slowly inching behind the bull, who was leisurely strolling down several residential streets in the city.

“The bull never appeared aggressive and officers were able to warn traffic and pedestrians as the bull roamed the streets,” police said.

The bull was finally caught nearly four hours later by a Dalworthington Gardens ranch owner, who “grabbed his horse and “ended up ‘lasson-ing’ the bull,” police said in a statement.

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FBI Tracking Nearly 800 ISIS-Related Cases Across US, FBI Director Says

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Of the nearly 1,000 FBI cases across the country looking at people who may have been radicalized at various levels, about 80 percent of them are tied to ISIS, FBI Director James Comey told reporters Wednesday.

And while the number of Americans looking to travel to Syria or Iraq to join the terrorist group has diminished, online propaganda reaching followers around the world remains a serious threat, Comey said.

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Ex-Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager Indicted in Shooting Death of Walter Scott

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, N.C.) — A federal grand jury has indicted ex-North Charleston police officer Michael Slager on three counts for fatally shooting Walter Scott, an unarmed black man.

Slager has been charged with “deprivation of rights under color of law” — in essence saying Slager violated Scott’s constitutionally protected civil rights by shooting him — use of a weapon during commission of a crime of violence, and obstruction of justice.

The indictment comes just over a year after Slager pulled over Scott for a broken tail light, and a subsequent encounter caught on cell phone video appeared to show Slager shooting Scott in the back, sparking outrage nationwide at a time when the use of force by police became a heated topic of debate.

In state court, a grand jury indicted Slager on a murder charge that carries between 30 years and life in prison. His trial is set for Oct. 31.

An arraignment is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in U.S. District Court in downtown Charleston.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Dining Off-Duty Cop Stops Fatal Stabbing Rampage in Massachusetts Mall

iStock/Thinkstock(TAUNTON, Mass.) — A stabbing rampage that left two victims dead and several others injured ended when an off-duty police officer fatally shot the suspect.

Plymouth County Sheriff’s Deputy Jimmy Creed was off-duty “with his bride, just having dinner,” when the chaos unfolded, police sources told ABC News.

They were dining at Bertucci’s Italian restaurant in the Galleria Mall in Taunton, about 40 miles south of Boston.

Suspect Arthur DaRosa had walked into the restaurant and “armed himself with a knife and stabbed two people,” District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III said in a statement released early Wednesday morning.

The statement says that the officer “intervened and shot” DaRosa, 28.

“It appears that but for the actions of the deputy sheriff, there may very well have been other victims,” Quinn said in the statement.

Creed unlikely knew that Bertucci’s was the third stop in DaRosa’s alleged spree that night. The violence reportedly began after he was involved in a car crash at around 7:00 p.m.

DaRosa left his vehicle and “gained access” to a nearby home, where he allegedly stabbed two women who were inside.

He then drove to the Silver City Galleria Mall and crashed into the front door of Macy’s. DaRosa assaulted “multiple” people inside the store and then moved on to Bertucci’s, police said.

One of the two women from the home, an 80-year-old whose identity has not been released, died at a hospital and the second woman “is being treated for life-threatening injuries.”

The other fatality was a 56-year-old man who was eating dinner with his family at the Italian restaurant when DaRosa stabbed him, police sources told ABC News.

A pregnant woman left the same restaurant indicating that she had been wounded, police sources say, but no further details about her condition have been confirmed.

Police are still searching for the motive and investigators are combing through the multiple crime scenes.

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Fugitive Mom Accused of Leading Police Chase With Child in Minivan

Springdale Police(NEW YORK) — A fugitive mom is still on the run as Ohio authorities released video showing her allegedly leading police on a wild chase in a minivan with her child in tow.

Authorities in Springdale, Ohio, say Erica Barreiro-Rapp, 33, is wanted on several felony warrants in Kentucky, including alleged concealed weapons violations and drug use.

Officers said they began pursuing her in a brown Honda Odyssey after she fled a Springdale courthouse parking lot last Wednesday. She had appeared in the Ohio court on minor charges, before authorities discovered felony warrants filed against her in Kentucky that included alleged concealed weapons violations and drug use. After officers confronted her in the parking lot, she locked herself in the vehicle, refused to release her child and then took off, authorities say.

Police said the chase spanned a mile and a half and was caught on dashboard cameras as Barreiro-Rapp tried to elude them by allegedly speeding the wrong way against traffic, running through red lights — nearly colliding with a school bus — and barreling over a concrete barrier on a highway.

Authorities say she was driving with a suspended license.

The video also appears to show Barreiro-Rapp’s minivan drive backwards on suburban streets, maneuvering around patrol cars and speeding through several neighborhood lawns.

Police said they terminated the chase after confirming a child was in the vehicle.

Later that day, officers discovered her minivan in a hotel parking lot, where a guest at the hotel told authorities Barreiro-Rapp had entered his room and jumped out the first-story window with her child.

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What’s Next for North Carolina’s Controversial ‘Bathroom Bill’

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — North Carolina lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Justice filed dueling lawsuits this week, going up against each other over House Bill 2, the state’s controversial “bathroom bill.”

NC Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the bill into law in March, said Monday he filed the suit along with Frank Perry, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, to gain “clarity” on federal anti-discrimination laws. “We believe a court, rather than a federal agency, should tell our state, our nation and employers throughout the nation, what the law requires,” he said.

Meanwhile, DOJ came out swinging yesterday, with Attorney General Loretta Lynch saying that North Carolina has “created state-sponsored discrimination against transgender individuals.”

Here’s what you need to know about the future of the law:

How We Got Here

The state’s suit was filed in response to letters that DOJ sent last week warning North Carolina that federal funding could be withheld from the state because it says the law violates a number of federal statutes, including Violence Against Women Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX, which impacts public universities.

HB2 directs all public schools, government agencies and public college campuses to require that multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities, such as locker rooms, be designated for use only by people based on their “biological sex” stated on their birth certificates. Transgender people can use the bathrooms and changing facilities that correspond to their gender identity only if they get the biological sex on their birth certificate changed.

The law also declares that state law overrides all local ordinances concerning wages, employment and public accommodations.

Since the bill was signed into law, activists, lawyers, companies and entertainers have accused the law of being anti-LGBT. Some businesses have halted planned expansions in the state, a number of states and cities have banned government-sponsored travel there, and celebrity entertainers, such as Bruce Springsteen, have cancelled appearances.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought its own lawsuit in March challenging the North Carolina law on behalf of two transgender North Carolinians, Joaquín Carcaño, a UNC-Chapel Hill employee, and Payton McGarry, a UNC-Greensboro student, as well as Angela Gilmore, a lesbian and North Carolina Central University law professor.

“We’re challenging this extreme and discriminatory measure in order to ensure that everyone who lives in and visits North Carolina is protected under the law,” Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a statement.

Republican state lawmakers have held firm, accusing the federal government of exercising an “overbearing abuse of executive authority.”

What Happens Now

On Tuesday, Democrats in North Carolina’s General Assembly introduced the “Equality for All Act” to counter HB2.

The bill says it’s designed to “protect all North Carolinians against discrimination in all walks of life.”

“We have always known, and come to understand even more urgently during the HB2 debate, the incredible need for non-discrimination protections for LGBT and other North Carolinians,” said Representative Chris Sgro, one of the sponsors of the legislation, in a statement. “This bill, along with the repeal of HB2, is the important next step that this General Assembly and Governor McCrory must take in order to make North Carolina a true state of equality and help heal our national reputation.”

However, there isn’t much chance of the legislation passing, according to Maxine Eichner, professor of law at UNC. “The leadership of the General Assembly certainly has not shown any willingness on ending this controversy by protecting gender identity and sexual orientation,” she said. Republicans control the state’s General Assembly.

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors held a special closed-door meeting today to discuss where to go next.

University President Margaret Spellings previously said in a statement that the university is “truly caught in the middle.”

“The University takes its obligation to comply with federal non-discrimination laws very seriously. We also must adhere to laws duly enacted by the State’s General Assembly and Governor, however. HB2 remains the law of the State, and the University has no independent power to change that legal reality,” she wrote.

Where Things Go From Here

The dueling lawsuits were filed in different federal districts, but may end up being consolidated.

Eventually the cases will likely end up before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and potentially the Supreme Court.

“These are the kinds of things that the Supreme Court ultimately tries to settle,” said Katherine Bartlett, professor of law at Duke.

If these lawsuits end up before the Supreme Court, the justices may make a significant ruling about whether the existing civil rights laws protect transgender people from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

The looming presidential election is significant as well. The Obama administration has taken the position that the existing civil rights laws extend to gender identity discrimination, but it’s possible that a future administration could take a different view, according to Kate Shaw, ABC News’ Supreme Court consultant.

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Man Shot, Killed by Off-Duty Officer After Fatally Stabbing 2 and Driving Car Into Macy’s

iStock/Thinkstock(TAUNTON, Mass.) — A 28-year-old man was shot and killed at a Massachusetts shopping mall Tuesday evening, after he stabbed four people — two of them fatally, Massachusetts State Police said Tuesday evening.

Two individuals were stabbed at Bertucci’s Italian restaurant in Silver City Galleria Mall in Taunton, and two were stabbed at a nearby home, police said. Taunton is located about 40 miles south of Boston. One victim at the mall died, as did one victim at the home.

The assailant was identified as Arthur Darosa, by Bristol County district attorney Thomas Quinn III.

Darosa was shot at the mall by an off-duty deputy sheriff, Quinn said.

According to Quinn, the deadly set of events kicked off after Darosa was involved in a motor vehicle accident on Myrick Street in Taunton. Then, for reasons unknown, at a home on that street, Darosa stabbed two women: One of the victims, an 80-year-old woman, died. Another woman has life-threatening injuries.

Quinn said Darosa then got into a vehicle, drove to the shopping mall, drove through the front door of Macy’s, exited the vehicle, assaulted three people inside Macy’s, then went to Bertucci’s, where he stabbed two people. One of the victims, a 56-year-old man, died.

Tom Hoye, city’s mayor, said “Tragedy has hit the city of Taunton hard tonight.”

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West Point Decides No Punitive Action for Female Cadets in Raised-Fists Photo

iStock/Thinkstock(WEST POINT, N.Y.) — West Point has decided that no punitive action will be taken against 16 black female cadets who posed in a photo with raised fists.

The photo had been criticized by some who said it violated rules against political expression while in uniform, but the U.S. Military Academy concluded that no Army or Defense Department regulations were violated by the cadets who posed in the graduation picture. The raised fist, which has long been a symbol of unity for African Americans, is also associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The U.S. Military Academy announced today that no punitive action will be taken after an inquiry concluded that 16 cadets who appeared in a photograph with raised fists did not violate Department of Defense or Army regulations,” said a school statement issued late Tuesday night.

“The inquiry concluded that the photo was among several taken in the spur-of-the-moment,” said the statement. “It was intended to demonstrate ‘unity’ and ‘pride,’ according to the findings of the inquiry.

The statement adds, “that based upon available evidence none of the participants, through their actions, intended to show support for a political movement.”

“As members of the Profession of Arms, we are held to a high standard, where our actions are constantly observed and scrutinized in the public domain,” said Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr., academy superintendent, wrote in a letter to cadets. “We all must understand that a symbol or gesture that one group of people may find harmless may offend others. As Army officers, we are not afforded the luxury of a lack of awareness of how we are perceived.”

The school had launched an investigation into the photo after it drew criticism that it violated rules against political expression in uniform.

The photo in question is known as an “Old Corps” photograph.

“There’s a tradition at West Point for seniors where they pose and they have a very stoic look on their face intended to be a throwback to the old days,” Anthony Lombardo, editor of the Army Times told ABC News. “What makes this photo different is everyone is kind of doing the pose but then there is the clenched fist in the air. If these men and women are in uniform, and they’re making a political statement, they could afoul of the Defense Department regulation, and they could be in serious trouble for that.”

The New York Times reported that the 16 cadets in the photo represented all but one of the black women in West Point’s 2016 graduating class of about 1,000.

Defending the young cadets is Brenda Sue Fulton, a 1980 West Point graduate, former Army captain, and chairwoman of the U.S. Military Academy’s Board of Visitors.

“When I spent time with these cadets and heard them tell their stories and laugh and joke with each other, there’s no doubt in my mind how much they love West Point, they love the Army and they support each other,” Fulton told the Army Times.

She tweeted out a different photo of the women without raised fists with the caption, “THIS. Fearless, flawless, fierce. Ready.” That tweet was then retweeted by Patrick Murphy, acting secretary of the U.S. Army.

THIS. Fearless, flawless, fierce. Ready. @WestPoint_USMA #Classof2016 @PatrickMurphyPA @AditiHardikar @MHarrisPerry pic.twitter.com/rTf1XHIHdM

— Sue Fulton (@suefulton) April 27, 2016

“I would not have re-tweeted the raised-fist photo because I am well aware that our culture views a black fist very differently from a white fist,” she said. “I knew it was their expression of pride and unity, but I am old enough to know that it would be interpreted negatively by many white observers. Unfortunately, in their youth and exuberance, it appears they didn’t stop to think that it might have any political context, or any meaning other than their own feeling of triumph.”

Graduation for the West Point class of 2016 will take place on May 21.

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NC Democrats Draft Anti-Discrimination Bill in Response to Controversial HB2

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) — Democrats in North Carolina have introduced an LGBT nondiscrimination bill in response to House Bill 2, which critics have widely considered to be anti-LGBT due to stipulations in its bathroom laws.

The Equality for All Act, filed Tuesday, will protect “all North Carolinians against discrimination in all walks of life,” the bill states.

“Protected status” is defined by a “person’s race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, sex, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military or veteran status, or genetic information.”

The Equality for All Act would protect citizens from discrimination in real estate transactions or housing practices, employment, places of public accommodation, credit lenders, insurance and education.

The bill will also create a “human relations” commission that will promote equality of opportunity for all citizens, promote understanding, respect and goodwill for all citizens and provide channels of communication among races.

North Carolina’s House Bill 2 has been facing criticism since it was passed in late March. The law declares that state law overrides all local ordinances concerning wages, employement and public accommodations. It also directs all public schools, government agencies and public college campuses to require that multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities, such as locker rooms, be designated for use only by people based on the “biological sex” stated on their birth certificates.

House Bill 2 has been characterized by critics as “the most anti-LGBT bill in the county.”

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