December 20, 2012

By JULIE PACE 

Associated Press

 

Declaring the time for action overdue, President Barack Obama promised on Wednesday to send Congress broad proposals in January for tightening gun laws and curbing violence after last week’s schoolhouse massacre in Connecticut.

Even before those proposals are drafted, Obama pressed lawmakers to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, close loopholes that allow gun buyers to skirt background checks and restrict high-capacity ammunition clips.

“The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing,” Obama said in his most detailed comments on guns since the December 14 killing of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn. “The fact that we can’t prevent every act of violence doesn’t mean we can’t steadily reduce the violence.”

Gun control measures have faced fierce resistance in Congress for years but that may be changing now because of last week’s violence. Since then, Obama has signaled for the first time in his presidency that he’s willing to spend political capital on the issue and some prominent gun-rights advocates on Capitol Hill — Democrats and Repub­licans alike — have expressed willingness to consider new measures.

Still, given the long history of opposition to tighter gun laws, there is no certainty the legislation Obama backed Wednesday or the proposals he will send to Congress next month will become law.

Obama tasked Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime gun control advocate, with overseeing the administration-wide process to create those proposals. Beyond firearms’ restrictions, officials will also look for ways to increase mental health resources and consider steps to keep society from glamorizing guns and violence.

Obama’s January deadline underscores the desire among White House officials to respond swiftly to the Newtown shooting. Obama aides worry that as the shock of the shooting fades, so, too, will the prospects that pro-gun lawmakers will work with the White House to tighten restrictions.

“I would hope that our memories aren’t so short that what we saw in Newtown isn’t lingering with us, that we don’t remain passionate about it only a month later,” said Obama. He pledged to talk about gun violence in his State of the Union address.

Emphasizing the need to take action, Obama said eight people have been killed by guns across the U.S. since the Newtown shooting. Among them were a 4-year-old boy and three law enforcement officers.

The president has called for a national dialogue on gun violence before, after other mass shootings during his presidency. But his rhetoric has not been backed up with concrete action. And some of the gun measures Obama has signed lessened restrictions on guns, allowing people to carry ­concealed weapons in national parks and in checked bags on Amtrak trains

The president bristled at suggestions that he had been silent on gun issues during his four years in office. But he acknowledged that the Newtown shooting had been “a wake-up call for all of us.”

The shooting appears to have had a similar impact on several longtime gun backers on Capitol Hill. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat and avid hunter, has said “everything should be on the table” as Washington looks to prevent another tragedy, as has 10-term House Republican Jack Kingston of Georgia

There was little response from Republicans Wednesday following Obama’s statements. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who has been sharply critical of the president’s lack of action on gun issues, called the effort a step in the right direction.

Obama, seeking to ease the fears of gun owners, reiterated his support for the Second Amendment. And he said no effort to reduce gun violence would be successful without their participation.

“I am also betting that the majority, the vast majority, of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war,” he said.

He also challenged the National Rifle Association to do “some self-reflection.” The gun lobby is a powerful political force, particularly in Repub­lican primaries, and previously has worked to unseat lawmakers who back gun control measures.

The NRA, in its first statements since the shooting, pledged Tuesday to offer “meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”

The Biden-led task force will also explore ways to improve mental health resources and address ways to create a culture that doesn’t promote violence. The departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, along with outside groups and lawmakers, will all be part of the process.

Biden will start his discussions Thursday when he meets with law enforcement officers from around the country. He’ll be joined by Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Biden’s prominent role could be an asset for the White House in getting gun legislation through Congress. The vice president spent decades in the Senate and has been called on by Obama before to use his long-standing relationships with lawmakers to build support for White House measures.

The vice president also brings to the effort a long history of working on gun control issues, having chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and leading the original effort to ban assault weapons. The ban expired in 2004, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says she plans to bring it back for a vote early next year.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

December 20, 2012

By DON BABWIN and MICHAEL TARM  Associated Press

 

Two convicted bank robbers who pulled off a daring overnight escape from a high-rise Chicago jail had changed from their prison garb by the time they hopped into a cab near the lock-up, investigators said Wednesday as they expanded their manhunt for the men.

Authorities were raiding houses and combing through records looking for anybody with ties to the inmates who climbed out a jail window and descended 20 stories using a makeshift rope.

The FBI said surveillance footage from a camera near the Metropolitan Correctional Center shows Kenneth Conley and Joseph Banks getting into a cab at about 2:45 a.m. Tuesday — about two hours before guards were supposed to do a bed check and four hours before workers spotted the rope dangling from the federal jail. The pair had changed from their orange jail-issued jumpsuits into light-colored pants and shirts, the FBI said.

"We don't know if they fashioned their own clothes, or what," said Special Agent Frank Bochte.

The FBI was offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of Conley and Banks, with the manhunt focused mainly on Chicago and its suburbs.

Law enforcement officials said at least three homes in the suburbs south of Chicago where one of the inmates once lived were searched Tuesday, and a suburban strip club where Conley once worked confirmed that investigators had visited.

Investigators believe the men had been at a home in Tinley Park, 25 miles southwest of Chicago, just hours before police SWAT teams stormed it. A law enforcement official said the home was that of Conley's mother and that after the woman refused to let the escapees in, the men used a rock to break a window.

The person, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation so would speak only on condition of anonymity, said authorities also searched the home of a former girlfriend of Conley in nearby New Lenox, where the escapees had eaten breakfast.

In Orland Park, which borders Tinley Park, police Chief Timothy McCarthy said records revealed Conley had been arrested several years ago on a robbery charge.

"We looked at our own files and came up with a former colleague, a past associate," he said.

Orland Park officers helped search a house where the associate lives or once lived, he said, but there was no evidence the escaped inmates had been there.

But the chain of events illustrates just the kind of thing investigators are doing: looking through records, arrest reports and even traffic tickets in the hopes of finding where the men went.

Authorities have not said exactly how many people are involved with the search. But the entire 35-member staff of the U.S. Marshals Service's Chicago office was involved, a show of force that spokeswoman Belkis Cantor said "was rare."

Many questions remained about how the two managed to pull off such an escape from the federal prison in the heart of downtown Chicago. At the top of the list is how they could have smashed a gaping hole into the wall at the bottom of a 6-inch wide window without being heard or seen by correctional officers.

Another question is why, in the federal facility that houses some 700 inmates, the correctional officers didn't notice the men were missing between a 10 p.m. headcount and one at 5 a.m.

A guidebook for jail inmates indicates there would have been headcounts at midnight and 3 a.m. But inmates aren't required to stand for those headcounts, only for ones at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. It's unclear if guards may have been fooled by items the FBI said the men stuffed under their beds to make it appear they were there.

It's also unclear what happened between when authorities have said guards first realized the men were missing and when the rope was spotted at 7 a.m.

Authorities also have not said how the two men managed to collect 200 feet of bed sheet or how they broke through the wall.

The escape bore a striking resemblance to one at the same jail in 1985. In that case, convicted murderer Bernard Welch and an accomplice, Hugh Colomb, smashed through a window with a bar from a weight set and used bed sheets and an electrical cord attached to a floor buffer to descend six stories to the ground.

William Rollins, a Washington, D.C., police detective at the time who was brought in by the U.S. Marshals Service to investigate, said the noise of breaking the wall would have been deafening. But he thinks other inmates would have gladly made a lot of noise to drown out the sound.

"They will lure a guard into the laundry room and have all the dryers going," said Rollins, now retired, whose investigation is included in a book about Welch by Jack Burch and James B. King called "Ghost Burglar."

Not only that, but he said his investigation revealed that inmates had hidden hacksaw blades in ceiling tiles and drill bits in bed frames.

"And they used a vacuum cleaner motor to power the drill bit," he said. "These guys are really creative."

Rollins said it's likely Conley and Banks are still in the area. The vast majority of escapees don't stray too far, he said.

"They stay where they feel comfortable in that environment," he said.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

December 20, 2012

By LOLITA C. BALDOR Associated Press

 

Reported sexual assaults at the nation’s three military academies jumped by 23 percent overall this year, but the data signaled a continued reluctance by victims to seek criminal investigations.

According to a report obtained by The Associated Press, the number of assaults rose from 65 in the 2011 academic year to 80 in 2012. However, nearly half the assaults involved victims who sought confidential medical or other care and did not trigger an investigation. There were 41 assaults reported in 2010.

Reported sexual assaults have climbed steadily since the 2009 academic year. The Defense Department has urged the academies to take steps to encourage cadets and midshipmen at the Army, Navy and Air Force academies to report sexual harassment and assaults in order to get care to everyone and hold aggressors accountable. The number of assaults reported by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., increased, while reports at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., declined.

In addition to the sexual assault report, the military also is releasing the results of its biannual anonymous survey of academy students, which showed that 12 percent of the women said they experienced “unwanted sexual contact” and 51 percent said they were sexually harassed. Of the men, 2 percent experienced unwanted contact and 10 percent said they were sexually harassed.

Officials are concerned whenever the number of reported sexual assaults goes down while the anonymous survey suggests that unwanted sexual contact goes up or stays the same. That's because military officials want victims to feel comfortable going to their superiors to report incidents.

The report divides the assaults into two categories, restricted and unrestricted. Unrestricted reports rose slightly from 38 last year to 42 this year, and those are provided to either law enforcement or military commanders for an investigation. Restrict­ed reports jumped from 27 last year to 38 this year, and in those cases victims sought medical care and advocacy services but did not seek an official investigation.

According to the report, all three academies are now meeting department policies and requirements for training and the appointment of sexual assault response coordinators.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

December 20, 2012

By Brian W. Carter

LAWT Staff Writer

 

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has ruled in favor of Pasadena police officers, Jeffrey Newlen and Mathew Griffin, in the shooting of 19-year old Kendrec McDade. It has been determined that the police officers responded with necessary force when they fatally shot the unarmed teenager.

A letter, received Monday, from the district attorney's Justice System Integrity Division stated an investigation concluded the officers acted in lawful self-defense and in defense of others.

On March 24, McDade was shot after a false 911 call from Oscar Carillo who claimed assailants had robbed him at gunpoint. It was stated that McDade was seen reaching for his waistband during a pursuit. Prosecutors stated that McDade was shot twice, one officer having wounded him, the second from the other officer believing Mcdade had opened fire.

Carillo, an undocumented worker, stated in the 911 call eight times that the men who robbed him were armed. It was later revealed that he admitted to having lied about the suspects being armed to garner a quicker response. Carillo was arrested on manslaughter charges but prosecutors declined to charge him.

Caree Harper, attorney for McDade’s father Kenneth McDade, has stated she didn’t agree with the D.A.’s ruling, especially concerning Carillo.

“You can’t have both, either (Carrillo) is responsible or he’s not, you can’t have it both ways,” said Harper.

“You can’t slice the story, cut and splice it the way you like it; you argue out of both sides of your mouth. Either he is responsible for making a false report and he should be held accountable and officers should have responded code three with cameras activated, or they didn’t believe the false report.”

The McDade shooting happened after the controversial Trayvon Martin shooting, which raised even more ire earlier this year.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

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