Review Category : Top Stories

New York Students Learn About Gun Violence by Visiting Morgue

WABC-TV(NEW YORK) — Some 50 Brooklyn, New York, high school and middle school students visited the Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center on Wednesday in what organizers are calling a last-ditch effort to drive the message home that guns and gangs can lead to a one-way trip underground.

“The gun violence rate is so high in East New York and we needed to make a change,” Nicole Favours of Brookdale’s public affairs department told ABC News. “What [the students have] been asked to do now is make a change.”

The Brooklyn hospital receives a gunshot victim every 36 hours, according to hospital president Mark Toney.

Organizers are hoping this new initiative will have a lasting impact on the visiting teenagers.

“Seeing that body, it just made me realize that life is precious,” Shane Magloire, 17, told ABC-owned station WABC-TV. “And just thinking, like, ‘What if one of my friends or myself was dead?'”

The group heard chilling stories from emergency room doctors and were shown videos and photos of gunshot victims.

“You guys have a decision to make,” Khari Edwards, also of Brookdale’s public affairs department, told the group. “You can make a decision to do great things, or you can make a decision to go the wrong way, and usually, wrong ways end you up here.”

Favours says the plan, moving forward, is to bring students to the morgue every three months.

“It’s not to scare them,” Favours said, “but it’s to inform them that this is the part you don’t see.”

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Security Guard Allegedly Assaulted Trans Woman for Using Women’s Bathroom

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — A security guard at a Giant Food grocery store in Washington, D.C., has been charged with simple assault for allegedly pushing a transgender woman out of the store after trying to use the women’s restroom, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

The incident happened around noon on Wednesday when Ebony Belcher — who identified herself as a trans woman to ABC affiliate WJLA — went to use the women’s bathroom at a Giant grocery store in the city, according to a statement by Metropolitan Police Officer Tisha Grant filed with the Superior Court for the District of Columbia.

A security guard — identified to ABC News by a police spokeswoman as 45-year-old Francine Jones — then approached Belcher and told her “she could not use the [women’s] bathroom,” the statement said. A verbal altercation ensued, during which Jones used a homophobic slur and told Belcher, “(you) need to get out of here,” the statement continued.

Belcher then left the bathroom and proceeded to walk to the main area of the store, but Jones then blocked her and pushed her out the door, according to the statement.

Once outside, Belcher called 911, the statement said. Jones was then “arrested for Simple Assault and transported to the First District Police Station for processing,” according to the statement.

The police incident report for the arrest, obtained by ABC News Thursday, indicated that there was an anti-LGBT “hate bias/motivation” for the crime.

Jones’ attorney, Joel R. Davidson, did not immediately return ABC News’ request for comment, and a District of Columbia Courts spokeswoman told ABC News Thursday that it appeared Jones had not yet entered a plea to the charge against her as of this afternoon.

Belcher said she was emotionally hurt from the incident, WJLA reported on Wednesday.

“It’s terrible…. I’m distraught,” she told WJLA. “People should not be discriminated based on their gender identity.”

Ahold USA, the parent company of Giant, told ABC News in a statement today that “Giant has a longstanding commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive environment in which all associates and all customers are treated fairly and with respect at all times.”

“We view the choice of restroom as a personal matter, and if any customer feels uncomfortable at any point shopping in our stores for any reason, we encourage them to speak to a member of store management, who have both the experience and the discretion to address all issues,” Ahold USA said. “Clearly, in this case, a third-party security guard appears to have acted inappropriately, and we apologize unreservedly.”

A spokesperson for Ahold USA added that the security guard involved in the alleged incident was employed by Wolf Professional Security, a private security firm based in Baltimore.

Wolf Professional Security referred ABC News’ request for comment to its attorney, Ned Kodeck, who declined to comment to ABC News Thursday.

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Protests Over Drowned Florida Teens Called “Criminal” by Sheriffs

iStock/Thinkstock(ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.) — Two months after three teen girls drove to their deaths in a St. Petersburg, Florida pond following a police chase, activists are picketing outside the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to protest the department’s comments about the deceased girls.

“What really disturbed us the most is how the girls were characterized after their deaths,” Devan Cheaves, a spokesperson for the event organizers, Bay Area Dream Defenders, told ABC News. “We want to redirect the narrative, that they are kids and not criminals.”

Some 30 activists, along with the attorney representing the girls’ families, Michelle Whitfield, dressed in black and held signs that said “Black Girls Matter” and “#SayHerName.”

The rally organizers, Dream Defenders, are a Florida-based group of young social activists who call themselves “an uprising of communities in struggle.” They tied this protest to the upcoming “National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls” on May 21, to call attention to women who they say have been victims of police brutality. They use the hashtag #SayHerName in social media.

Chanting the names of the girls, the group briefly blocked a section of Ulmerton Road by forming a human chain before sheriffs ordered them to clear the road, according to reports.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

“I was there [today] with my client to bring awareness,” Whitfield told ABC News.

Whitfield maintains that the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office refuses to be held accountable for their actions leading up to, during, and after, the March 31 incident.

After the teens drowned in March, the Sheriff’s Office said the 15- and 16-year-olds were driving a stolen car when they led police on a high speed chase. Officials then described their juvenile records.

“They’ve been arrested seven times in the last year on just auto theft charges,” Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told ABC News last month. “These are not good kids. These are kids who are heavily engaged in criminal activity.”

“My daughter was not perfect,” Natasha Winkler, the mother of Laniya Miller, one of the girls who drowned, told ABC’s Tampa Bay affiliate WFTS last month. “What 15-year-old is?”

The families and Whitfield believe the officers chose not to help the screaming girls after the allegedly stolen car plunged into a deep pond at the Royal Palm Cemetery.

The Sheriff’s Office has since released dash-cam footage and a more-than-100-page report of the incident, but Whitfield says more questions than answers remain.

“I don’t see anyone wet. I don’t see anyone drenched,” Whitfield said last month. “No one said, ‘Hey, I’m going in there to help these girls.’ I find it hard to believe that they actually went in.”

Gualtieri said that, although no rescue effort was captured on video, the officers involved in the chase did enter the pond, described in the police report as “heavily vegetative” and “approximately 15 feet deep.”

“The officers got in the pond and just because it’s not on cam doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” Gualtieri said.

The Sheriff’s Office says they are awaiting toxicology reports from the girls’ autopsies.

“What do the toxicology reports have to do with if they did or did not follow their own procedures?,” Whitfield asked. “What does it have to do with if they did or did not attempt to rescue these girls?”

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Judge Questions If Crime Was Committed in Freddie Gray Officer Case

iStock/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) — The judge in the case of one of the officers who arrested Freddie Gray grilled prosecutors during closing arguments Thursday — questioning whether a crime was in fact committed.

“So, every time there’s an arrest without probable justification – it is a crime?” Baltimore Judge Barry Williams asked incredulously. “I’m trying to make sure it was a criminal assault. Touching Freddie Gray is assault?”

“We believe that the search and arrest without justification are assault, your honor,” Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe said in the case of Officer Edward Nero. “There’s no question about that.”

They later clarified that they were arguing that the behavior of the officer was “unreasonable” in Nero’s case, for allegedly putting Gray in the back of a police van handcuffed and without safety restraints and for the arrest and detention in the first place.

Williams is set to issue a verdict next Monday.

Nero, 30, is the second of six Baltimore officers to stand trial for the death of Gray, who died in April 2015 while in police custody. Gray broke his neck while riding unsecured in the back of a police van and his death sparked outrage.

Nero, who is white, is charged with assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office for his involvement in Gray’s arrest and injury that later led to his death. He has pleaded not guilty, but faces 10 years in prison if convicted on the assault charge.

Defense attorney Marc Zayon said that his clients’ actions were completely legal and protected by the law, and that the state’s case against Nero is “nonsensical.”

“I can’t believe I even have to argue this,” he said. “The detention is OK, the cuffing is OK, the moving is OK,” he said. “Being detained is a horrible thing, being cuffed is a horrible thing…but the law allows it.”

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Cop Charged After Allegedly Punching Woman During Traffic Stop

iStock/Thinkstock(READING, Pa.) — A police officer in Pennsylvania has been criminally charged after he was caught on video appearing to punch a woman during a traffic stop last month.

The incident happened this past April 5, when Officer Jesus Santiago-DeJesus with the Reading Police Department pulled over Marcelina Cintron-Garcia, after he “falsely implicated” that she “did not use a proper right turn signal when pulling into a parking space,” according to a news release on Wednesday from the Berks County District Attorney’s Office.

Cintron-Garcia’s car’s front lights did have the right turn signal on at the time, according to surveillance video from the incident obtained by ABC News Thursday.

After Cintron-Garcia and her boyfriend, Joel Rodriguez — who was in the passenger seat of her car — exited the vehicle, they both “began to video record Officer Santiago-DeJesus with their cellular telephones,” the DA’s office said. A “verbal disagreement” over the traffic stop soon “became argumentative.”

The officer ordered Cintron-Garcia to hand over her cell phone, but she refused, according to the DA’s office. Santiago-DeJesus later “forcibly wrestled” Clinton-Garcia’s cellphone from her hand and “slammed it down on the sidewalk,” the DA’s office said.

The officer then, on surveillance video, appears to punch Clinton-Garcia before arresting her and her boyfriend.

Cintron-Garcia was later “transported to the Reading Hospital for treatment for injuries she sustained during the arrest,” the DA’s office said.

Though Cintron-Garcia and Rodriquez both faced multiple charges after the arrest, all charges against them have since been withdrawn by the DA’s office, it said.

“This interaction between police and citizen was escalated by the police behavior,” said Berks County District Attorney John Adams at a news conference on Wednesday.

Detectives with the DA’s office have now charged Santiago-DeJesus with official oppression, criminal mischief, criminal attempt to tamper with or fabricate physical evidence, false reports to law enforcement authorities and unsworn falsification to authorities, according to the DA’s office and online court records for Berks County.

Santiago-DeJesus, a four-year veteran of the Reading Police Department, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an independent internal department investigation, a police spokesman told ABC News Thursday.

Santiago-DeJesus’ attorney, Allan Sodomsky, told ABC News Thursday that his client turned himself in Thursday for booking, and he was released on unsecured bail. The lawyer added that Santiago-DeJesus has not yet entered a plea to the charges against him.

“We have fully complied with the DA’s office since they began their investigation into this incident,” Sodomsky said. “Until we see all the evidence the DA’s office has, we believe that Officer Santiago was not the one who escalated the incident.”

Sodomsky claimed the DA’s office has five surveillance videos of the incident but that it “only publicly released one of the videos best supporting their argument.”

“That video they showed only shows the vehicle from the front,” he said. “You can’t see the turn signal from behind, which is what Officer would have been looking at. We don’t know if that back light was out, broken or if there was even a light there. We never get his vantage point.”

Sodomsky added that “nothing has been shown yet showing how Officer Santiago received an injury he got to the face” during the arrest.

“This woman hit him,” he said. “Officer Santiago responded to get the situation under control by striking the individual that hit him. There’s been press about the punch thrown by Santiago, but how come we aren’t seeing anything of her hitting him? And it’s of note because the DA’s office did not accuse or charge him with assault, meaning they acknowledged he was responding appropriately.”

The DA’s office did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for additional comment, and ABC News was not immediately successful in reaching Cintron-Garcia and Rodriquez for comment.

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Kesha Will Perform at Billboard Music Awards Sunday

Jason LaVeris / Contributor(LAS VEGAS) — It looks like Kesha will be performing at this weekend’s Billboard Music Awards after all. This, as her ongoing legal battle with her producer, Dr. Luke, and her record label continues.

Her recording label, the Sony-owned Kemosabe Records, released a statement this afternoon saying, “Kesha’s performance on the Billboard Music Awards was always approved, in good faith. Approval was only suspended when Kemosabe learned Kesha was to use the performance as a platform to discuss the litigation. Now that Kemosabe has obtained assurances, that it is relying upon, from Kesha, her representatives and Dick Clark Productions that neither Kesha nor her supporters will use the performance as such a platform, the approval has been restored.”

Dick Clark Productions also released a statement Thursday saying, “We are pleased that Kesha and Kemosabe Records have reached an agreement and very much look forward to having Kesha perform on the Billboard Music Awards this Sunday night on ABC.”

Kesha’s performance was in doubt earlier in the week when Dick Clark Productions released a statement saying she would not be performing at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards on May 22 as originally planned after Kemosabe rescinded permission allowing her to sing.
The announcement set off a firestorm among her fans, who have been following Kesha’s legal battle with her record producer, Dr. Luke, and his Kemosabe label.

In 2014, Kesha, 29, accused Dr. Luke of being physically, emotionally and sexually abusive toward her. As a result, she sought to be released from her contract with Sony.

The producer, whose given name is Lukasz Gottwald, has denied all allegations of wrongdoing, and earlier this year, a judge ruled against the singer, holding her to her contract with Sony. Kesha appealed, but that appeal was denied last month.

On Wednesday, her mother, Pebe Sebert, took to Twitter to express her outrage over Kesha’s being barred from performing at the Billboard Awards.

So are Keshas constitutional rights being violated now, judge Lady?Does every adult woman need a mans permission to do what she loves?

— keshas mom (@grannywrapper) May 18, 2016

Does Kesha have the right to pursue her happiness? Or did they only mean that for rich men?

— keshas mom (@grannywrapper) May 18, 2016

Sebert called on other artists to stand with her daughter and refuse to perform at the awards show.

Wouldn’t it be nice if other artists stood with Kesha and refused to preform if she is not allowed to sing!

— keshas mom (@grannywrapper) May 18, 2016

As for the singer herself, Kesha wrote on Instagram Tuesday that she had planned to perform Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe” at the Billboard Music Awards, adding that the performance, “was about me honoring one of my favorite songwriters of all time and has never had anything at all to do with Dr. Luke.”

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NAACP Sues Michigan Officials Over Flint Water Crisis

iStock/Thinkstock(FLINT, Mich.) — The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has filed a federal class action lawsuit over the Flint water crisis, according to a press release published on the NAACP website yesterday.

Both Flint residents and members of the local branch of the NAACP in Flint, Michigan are plaintiffs, according to the news release, and they are “property damages, pain and suffering damages, emotional distress damages, medical monitoring, and other injunctive relief for affected city residents and businesses to be determined by the court.”

According to the press release, the complaint alleges that “the officials and companies supervising the water system failed to properly treat the water supply for salt and other chemicals, which caused lead to leech from corroded pipes into the drinking water for years. Officials repeatedly denied and dismissed reports of poor water quality and pipe corrosion before acknowledging widespread failures to act.”

Gov. Rick Snyder is named as an individual defendant, along with six former officials with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and three men who were emergency managers at the time of the crisis, according to the news release. Two engineering firms hired to evaluate water quality are named as well.

“The people of Flint have been harmed through the failure of state officials to provide professional and accountable basic services mandated by federal law and expected by any person living in a major city,” Cornell William Brooks, the national president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement.

“Our organization stands with the citizens of Flint to demand a clear timeline, deadline and price tag for fixing this crisis as well as effective remedies for the harms that have already occurred and complete compensation for each and every victim of this unimaginable tragedy,” Brooks continued.

Gov. Snyder did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Three of the named defendants include Michael Prysby, Michael Glasgow and Stephen Busch, the three officials who were criminally charged in connection with the Flint water crisis. Prysby’s lawyer did not offer a comment on the NAACP case and Busch’s lawyer could not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment. Both have pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges against them.

Glasgow’s lawyer, Robert Harrison, told ABC News Thursday that his client is cooperating with authorities in the criminal case with the understanding that the case against him will be dismissed.

As to his client being named as a defendant in the NAACP class action lawsuit, Harrison says, “I can’t comment on the substance of the allegations because I have not seen the lawsuit nor have I discussed it with Mr. Glasgow, but I do have what I think is a very complete understanding of what I think occurred in this case and what Mr. Glasgow did or didn’t do, and I am convinced that not only did he do nothing wrong, and that actually hopefully not overstating it, he was heroic in his actions and I think that once the plaintiffs come to the understanding of the case, that they will voluntarily dismiss the case against him.”

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5 Years and Waiting: Rikers Inmate Says ‘I Just Want My Day in Court’

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — At 50, Greg Ferguson is one of the old-timers at Rikers Island, residing at the New York City jail since 2011.

Felony cases in the Bronx can take years before they go to trial. In May 2011, Ferguson was arrested for attempted murder, and after four years at Rikers, he was convicted last April. He has spent the past year awaiting sentencing.

Ferguson was representing himself until recently. He said he still has a motion pending on his case and that since his incarceration, he’s encountered nine different judges and 23 different assistant district attorneys on his case.

“Every time I go to court, I get a court date for three months, four months down the road and then come back and nothing happens,” he told ABC News. “I just want my day in court. That’s it.”

Rikers is a place where the wheels of justice can seem stuck in place and time can stand still.

“I’ve been in this building from the good, the bad, the ugly,” he said.

But even over the span of five years, Ferguson says he has seen significant changes here with the jail itself. It is hard to believe that it’s the same jail, he said.

Last September, some of the inmates moved into newly renovated units. There are now 12 restarted housing units with approximately 400 inmates in the George R. Vierno Center (GRVC). Ferguson noticed a positive change immediately.

“[Since] we’ve been here since last year,” he said. “No fights, no cuttings, no slashings, no stabbings.”

There is a fresh coat of paint, doors with the inmates’ names on them, washer, dryers and a surprisingly effective innovation — inmates can now watch television through headsets, which brings the noise level down, along with the ever-present conflict of not being able to hear.

They have programs too: certificate courses, job training, and lessons on computer skills. A higher staff-to-inmate ratio also exists – two staffers per 36 inmates. In the old units, there was an average of one staff member per 35 inmates.

In his cell, vestiges of Ferguson’s life on the outside are on display. It’s his statement of pride, self-worth, and humanity.

“These are my books,” he says. “I do a lot of studying, I’m learning Italian. This is my mental intuition book. This is my Anthony Bourdain book. I love cooking. I’m like a chef.”

Ferguson welcomes the solitude. “I stay to myself basically,” he says. “Nobody else does yoga, nobody else meditates, nobody listens to classical music. To them, they think it’s weird. To me, it just keeps my sanity.”

And peppered among the cookbooks and the rented sound equipment, there are folders filled with trial transcripts, and law books piled on the floor. “These, I just recently received them. These are my trial transcripts,” he said. “The wheels of justice turn very slow in the Bronx, so my motion still hasn’t been decided and the longer that I’m here, it’s like more issues, you know, come about.”

Ferguson’s next court date is on June 25. The Bronx District Attorney’s office has not responded to requests for comment.

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California Senate to Vote on Comprehensive New Gun Control Legislation

Photodisc/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — The Senate in California is voting Thursday on a series of new legislation aimed at curbing gun violence.

The Senate will vote on a package of bills all aimed at tightening gun restrictions in the state that already has some of the strictest gun control in the country. One of the central aspects of the voting Thursday is the issue of the “bullet button loophole.”

“This loophole enables a firearm owner to use a bullet or other pointed object to quickly detach and replace a weapon’s ammunition magazine, converting a semi-automatic rifle into an assault weapon. An individual can switch magazines on a gun with a bullet button within seconds, making them especially deadly in a mass shooting situation,” State Assemblymember David Chiu of California’s 17th District explained in a press release.

Sen. Isadore Hall, III — who co-authored Senate Bill 880, one of the bills being voted on Thursday — said that the bill “closes the ‘bullet button loophole’ by redefining assault weapons to include military-style semi-automatic firearms with the capacity to accept a detachable magazine, requiring such weapons to be registered with the Department of Justice and prohibiting the future sale, purchase or possession of such weapons in California.”

“For years, gun owners have been able to circumvent California’s assault weapon laws by using a small tool to quickly eject and reload ammunition magazines. These types of modifications have no legitimate use for sport hunters or competitive shooters. They are designed only to facilitate the maximum destruction of human life,” Hall continued. “Such weapons have been used in a number of recent gun attacks including the recent terrorist attack in San Bernardino that left 14 Californians dead and 21 injured.”

The legislation has been endorsed by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, who said in a statement Thursday, “An epidemic of gun violence has cost too many Californians their lives and jeopardized public safety for too long. As California’s chief law enforcement officer, I see the urgent need to pass sensible gun safety legislation that aims to keep our streets and communities safe.”

Pro-gun groups, including the NRA-ILA and the Firearms Policy Coalition, see this new legislation as an attack on Second Amendment rights and have urged gun owners to contact their local politicians.

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How Much Loose Change the TSA Collected at Airports Last Year

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The Transportation Security Administration has been taking a lot of heat lately from travelers who feel like they’re giving a bit too much of their time waiting in interminable lines at TSA checkpoints. But it turns out we’re also getting nickel and dimed by the agency — quite literally.

In an inadvertent form of crowdfunding, the TSA collected $765,759.15 in fiscal year 2015 in unclaimed money left behind at airport security checkpoints, according to an agency report.

That’s enough to buy a house in New York City, where the median home price is $616,100, according to real estate website Zillow, and still have a lot of change left over to scatter in coin baskets at TSA checkpoints.

Most of the cash collected in fiscal year 2015 comes from loose change that people emptied out of their pockets before going through the metal detectors, according to the report, which was sent to Congress in March but is gaining renewed attention as lawmakers, travelers and airlines are pressuring the TSA to up its game ahead of the summer traveling season, which is expected to be the busiest in history.

“Unclaimed money is money that passengers inadvertently leave behind at airport screening checkpoints. In most cases, this consists of coins that passengers remove from their pockets so that metal detectors do not sound,” the report states.

The biggest donors to the TSA last year were passengers at Los Angeles International Airport, who left behind $55,086.39 in change. Folks at Miami International Airport left $50,955.58 and at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport left behind $43,715.81. Approximately $9,265.25 of the total funds left behind and collected by the TSA was foreign currency.

The TSA keeps the change, which will be used to fund civil aviation security, according to the report. The funds collected during fiscal year 2015 will be used this year to expand and support the TSA “Pre-Check” program.

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