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Al Sharpton on ‘High Alert’ About Ferguson Decision

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 by

Posted in National News

Win McNamee/Getty Images(FERGUSON, Mo.) — Al Sharpton said on Wednesday that he is “on high alert” for the grand jury decision in the case of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

Sharpton said that his civil rights group, the National Action Network, have been planning for “vigils and non-violent demonstrations” when the Ferguson grand jury hands down its ruling, which is expected to come any day.

“I have pledged to the mother and father of Michael Brown that I will be there with them when the decision is announced,” Sharpton said at a press conference Wednesday.

Sharpton said he is also waiting for a grand jury ruling on the death of Eric Garner, a black man who died while being held in a choke hold by a New York City police officer. That incident was caught on videotape.

He said both grand juries appear to be going beyond the usual protocol of hearing enough evidence to determine whether there should be a trial.

“It is very suspect to us that the grand juries in both cases appear to be improperly expanded to where it is about to prove or disprove the accused rather than seeing if there is probable cause to go to trial,” Sharpton said.

“That is not the proper use” of a grand jury, he said. Such tribunals are generally used to deem whether or not there is enough probable cause for a criminal case, while guilt or innocence should not be their focus.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


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US Faces Epidemic of Phony Debt Collectors: Prosecutor

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 by

Posted in National News

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The United States is facing an epidemic of unscrupulous debt collectors who pose as law enforcement, threatening their victims with jail time unless they pay bills for things they never bought, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Tuesday as he announced the arrests of seven people who worked for a Georgia-based company.

A criminal complaint was filed Tuesday against employees at Williams Scott & Associates LLC, based in Norcross, Georgia. The alleged thieves posed as debt collectors and local law enforcement, conning 6,000 people of out more than $4 million in recent years, authorities said.

Victims were tricked into believing they’d committed a crime such as fraud then bullied into paying up bogus debts or going to jail, authorities said.

“I don’t care if you’re nine months pregnant, I have a job to do here,” a phony collector said on one of the calls, which was recorded.

In another recorded call, a person was threatened with legal backlash. “I will have no choice but to forward it to Los Angeles County. However, Los Angeles County will issue you a warrant for your arrest,” a recorded caller said.

Experts warned that more fraudsters are on the loose and that federal authorities are cracking down.

“There are lots of companies that do this and victimized not just 6,000 people, but I think tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people all over the country,” Bharara said.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


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Biting Cold All over US and Record Snowfalls Too

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 by

Posted in National News

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The official start of winter is still more than a month away but every state in the nation registered below freezing temperatures Tuesday.

That includes Hawaii’s highest volcanoes, which is not related to the arctic air mass that has enveloped the lower 48.

The same arctic air in the Gulf Coast and the Northeast produced temperatures as low as 20 degrees below average.

Meanwhile, half the United States is already covered in snow with parts of Western New York reporting more than six feet of accumulation Tuesday due to the lake effect that struck areas of south Buffalo, Lancaster and West Seneca.

The 76 inches of snow in some Buffalo suburbs was the most ever recorded in a 24-hour period anywhere in the U.S. The National Guard was also activated while a 100-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway was closed.

Local authorities also reported six storm-related deaths in Western New York Tuesday. Three people suffered heart attacks from shoveling, as a county highway employee died while snow blowing in the area. Another person was killed trying to push a car out of the snow, and a sixth death occurred when a person became pinned between cars.


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Police Officers Not Required to Disclose When Recording with New Body Cams

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 by

Posted in National News

ABC News(NEW YORK) — In Celina, Texas, dash-cam footage taken from the hood of a police cruiser seems to show an arrest gone horribly wrong. The officer orders the suspect to “put your hands behind your back,” then suddenly seems to tackle him and wrestle him to the ground face down.

The officer’s reaction escalates for no obvious reason, at least from the dash cam perspective.

The footage taken from the tiny body camera the officer was wearing that day tells an entirely different story.

From the body camera view, the footage shows the suspect compliant at first. Then he appears to sucker punch the officer, provoking the tackle. The dash-cam footage doesn’t show the punch, just the sudden overpowering response.

Two cameras. Same scene. Two very different versions of events.

Camera footage, especially from citizen cell phones, has shined a harsh spotlight on police tactics, making for some uncomfortable questions for police in recent years.

This past July, a Staten Island man named Eric Garner was killed when an officer held him in a choke hold for selling illegal cigarettes. A bystander’s cell phone captured Garner repeatedly screaming, “I can’t breathe,” before he died.

Sometimes there is no footage to prove what happened either way. That’s part of the issue in Ferguson, Missouri, where police have been hard pressed to refute allegations that Officer Darren Wilson used excessive force when he shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Was Brown trying to surrender with his hands in the air, as some eyewitnesses say, or did Brown attack Wilson, justifying the use of deadly force? It’s impossible to know because there’s no firsthand video of the scene.

A grand jury is wrestling with those questions now and the Missouri governor has declared a state of emergency in anticipation that the outcome of the jury’s decision could spark violence.

The desire to have clear evidence of what takes place in an encounter between law enforcement and the general public is why police departments across the country are now investing in body cameras.

The Los Angeles Police Department has started a pilot program with body camera devices, which are about the size of a pack of cigarettes and worn, like a police radio, on the officer’s shirtfront.

The LAPD is still haunted by one of the most notorious police beatings ever caught on camera, the assault on Rodney King, which resulted in ferocious riots more than 20 years ago. It’s a big reason why LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who wears his body camera on his chest, is eager for his department to embrace this technology.

He believes in a few more years, body cameras will be standard issue for police officers.

“In a couple of decades…every public safety employee, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, everybody will have them,” he said. “I think it improves behavior on both sides of the camera, which is our goal.”

While having an incident caught on camera has its obvious benefits, Peter Bibring, the director of police practices for the ACLU, said having police officers wear body cameras also raises concerns about privacy.

“People behave better. Officers are less likely to initiate uses of force and apparently to initiate conduct that might draw up complaints if they’re wearing body cameras,” Bibring said. “But we do think that they’re privacy concerns that need to be addressed through strong policies…if you don’t have strict policies in place to prevent videos from getting out, they will get out.”

For instance, could a police officer pull over a celebrity and then sell the footage from their body camera to the media? Beck said such actions would be a “violation of our policy because that’s not the intent” But Bibring said it was a concern.

Another issue is police don’t have to say they are filming before they start recording.

Case in point when ABC’s Nightline went on a ride-along with the LAPD while they were testing their new body cameras and police responded to a traffic accident at an intersection. An officer spoke to witnesses and the two people involved in the accident with his camera rolling, but didn’t mention he was filming. At the time, one of the people involved in the accident denied he had run a red light.

After that person gave his report of the accident to police, Nightline told him the officer had been recording him the whole time. When asked if that bothered him, the man said, “It bothers me in the sense that I didn’t realize I ran a red light. But I’m also a human being, and I know that kind of stuff jumps out and people say it. I don’t remember running a red light.”

“It’s hard to change your story when it’s all captured on video,” said Deputy Joel Anzuras, who is part of the LAPD’s body camera pilot program. “So I feel it’s a valuable tool.”


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


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Panel Will Study Conditions in Ferguson That Spurred Angry Protests

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 by

Posted in National News

Scott Olson/Getty Images(ST. LOUIS) — Missouri Governor Jay Nixon appointed a commission Tuesday to study the outrage that resulted from the shooting of an 18-year-old black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last August 9.

The 16-person panel with both white and black members will be chaired by businessman Rich McClure and the Rev. Starsky Wilson, who was involved in some of the demonstrations that followed the shooting.

Nixon’s move comes as a grand jury is preparing a decision on whether to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown following a brief altercation. A coroner’s report says Brown, who was unarmed, was shot six times, including once in the head.

Earlier this week, Nixon declared a state of emergency to prepare law enforcement officials for the possibility of civil unrest, regardless if Wilson is indicted or not.

When he announced plans in October to form a commission, the governor stated that he wanted a thorough and wide-reaching review of the conditions in the Ferguson community that spurred anger leading to confrontations between police and protesters.


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Nugget of Knowldege

NY National Guard Deployed to Buffalo After Snowstorm

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 by

Posted in National News

ABC News(BUFFALO, N.Y.) — New York’s National Guard was deployed to Buffalo after a massive snowstorm on Tuesday.

In the past 15 hours, communities in the area have been covered with three to four feet of snow, according to ABC News’ Buffalo affiliate WKBW.

In some places, snow has been falling at a rate of 4 to 5 inches every hour, a phenomenon known as lake effect snow — when moisture-rich air blowing off the Great Lakes dumps precipitation when it reaches land.

Buffalo residents said this is the worst storm in recent memory.

And the storm shows little signs of easing. A snow advisory has been issued for the rest of the week. The area is forecast to get 70 inches of snow.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


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Book Reignites Mystery Over Model’s Suicide, Sect

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 by

Posted in National News

Jamie Tregidgo/WireImage(NEW YORK) — A Russian model who committed suicide in 2008 after joining a sect ended her days angry, confused and struggling to cope, journalist Peter Pomerantsev says in a new book.

Ruslana Korshunova, who leaped off a Manhattan building to her death one summer day, had joined a group called Rose of the World while living in Russia, wrote Pomerantsev, who spent years researching what happened to the model for a 2011 documentary. Now his findings are detailed in his book, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, out this month.

Korshunova’s friends and family struggled to understand what made the successful beauty, only 20 when she died, take her own life.

“Nothing quite adds up,” Pomerantsev told ABC News. “Everyone keeps on saying she was such a normal girl. But to be honest, that’s not unusual for suicides. It’s a horribly tragic story, very depressing.”

At the time she turned to the group, Korshunova’s modeling career appeared to be in decline. Pomerantsev said she joined the group in part to confront her problems with relationships and was sucked in to a world of “life trainers.” The apparent goal is to for sect members to “perfect” themselves and be more “effective” people, according to the book.

But it appeared to take over Korshunova’s life, friends told Pomerantsev, to the point where they noticed alarming changes in her behavior.

Korshunova became angry, depressed and frustrated with her love life before she died, he said, despite having lived the high life in Manhattan, even becoming the face of a Nina Ricci perfume campaign.

According to Pomerantsev, Rose of the World claims breakdowns are part of a healing process.

“That’s normal,” a senior member of Rose of the World named Volodya told Pomerantsev, according to his book. “We call it a rollback. Ruslana had one. She would cry at night. Would wander about town, not knowing where she was going. You have to go through that to grow.”

Pomerantsev said Rose of the World, which is active in Russia, has since changed its name.

A Russian group called Novgorodtsev Education confirmed to ABC News it used to be called Rose of the World, but director Denis Vasijiev said he has never heard of Pomerantsev’s book or documentary, and declined to comment to ABC News on Korshunova.

However, Korshunova’s reported “life coach” spoke to the New York Daily News after her death in 2008 and suggested the sect was helping her address romantic and money troubles.

“I saw her and heard her stories, stories that no one else has heard,” Vladislav Novgorodtsev told the Daily News. “The most important thing about her and her internal world was that she was lonely. There was no one who was really dear to her, except for her mother.”

Police ruled Korshunova’s death a suicide, but some friends and family members still buy into conspiracy theories or blame the group, Pomerantsev said.

“Suicide is a very, very complex thing,” he said. “To say it was just because of this or this or this is probably naive. It doesn’t work that way.”


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


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What May Happen to Officer Darren Wilson After Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 by

Posted in National News

Scott Olson/Getty Images(FERGUSON, Mo.) — The Ferguson police officer under investigation for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown will soon learn if he will be indicted in the unarmed teen’s death.

As the world awaits the decision from a grand jury, there are many scenarios that could play out for the officer, Darren Wilson, who has been on paid administrative leave from the police department since the shooting in August.

If Wilson is cleared of criminal charges in Brown’s death, legally he would be able to continue working as a cop in Ferguson, but many people can’t imagine Wilson would ever return to that police force. Wilson may also face an internal investigation that could result in disciplinary action by the police department.

Experts agreed there are two possibly competing interests at play — the letter of the law and the court of public opinion.

“If there’s no prosecution and he’s not convicted of any crime, I don’t see any bar to him returning to his employment as a police officer, or any other employment,” said Robert Herman, an attorney in St. Louis. “Whether he would want to is another story.”

Steven Gottlieb, a former police officer who now runs crime and intelligence training, agreed that the scenario could play out in many ways.

“It could be uncomfortable for him to return to the police department; it might be uncomfortable for the department to take him back,” Gottlieb said. “But if he is indeed acquitted, the law gives him the privilege of returning. If he feels his effectiveness there is diminished, he may choose to go to another police department. Or, he may choose to quit the profession.”

It’s also a possibility Wilson could be relegated to desk work as opposed to being on the street, he added.

If Wilson is indicted, Wilson will likely turn himself in within a day or two at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Missouri. State law requires that a grand jury indictment remain under seal until the accused is in custody. Unless news of an indictment leaks to the press or public, Wilson would likely have surrendered, been booked and possibly released on bond before a public announcement is even made.

The charges Wilson could face range from involuntary manslaughter to murder in the first degree, according to the prosecutor’s office.

If indicted, his first court appearance would be an arraignment, though many defendants waive their arraignment, opting instead to have their lawyers appear and enter a plea on their behalf. A judge will then be assigned the case and a bond hearing could be held, but only if Wilson is jailed or wishes to contest the conditions of his pre-trial release.

Neither Wilson nor his attorneys have commented publicly about whether he intends to remain in law enforcement if cleared of criminal charges.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


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Daughter Graduates from FDNY Academy 13 Years After Dad Died on 9/11

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 by

Posted in National News

Kami Dimitrova/ABC News(NEW YORK) — The daughter of a New York City firefighter who was killed on 9/11 graduated Tuesday from the Fire Academy, carrying on a family tradition.

Kevin Smith, 47, of Long Island, N.Y., was stationed at Hazmat Co. 1 in Manhattan and rushed with his unit to the World Trade Center, where he and many of his comrades were killed.

“He’d be so proud,” said Josephine Smith, 34. “He’d be absolutely proud. He’d be worried. Being a firefighter himself, he knows what goes with the job, but he knows I’d be able to handle it — how strong I am, mentally and physically.”

Smith said she has always wanted to be a firefighter. After first trying to take the entry test in 2007, she took the test again in 2012.

“Training was tough — really tough,” she said. “I thought about him when I was tired and wanted to stop. I thought about what he’d say: ‘Keep going, keep going, keep pushing.’”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio honored Smith’s father and his sacrifice at the beginning of Tuesday’s ceremony.

The new firefighter said she had dreamed about graduating but was “nervous” about “walking across the stage, shaking the mayor’s hand and getting my plaque.”

The thought of her father and “working with my dad everyday” has comforted her, she said.

“I believe my dad was sitting in the front, front of everybody,” she said. “It feels amazing. I accomplished something so big that I wanted to accomplish.”


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Crusin In Cruces

First Pilot to Fire Missile from Predator Drone Breaks Silence

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 by

Posted in National News

File photo. Staff Sgt. John Bainter/U.S. Air Force(NEW YORK) — A year before he was the first airman to ever unleash a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone in combat, airman Scott Swanson said he was at the controls of another Predator back in 2000 when Osama bin Laden was directly in his crosshairs.

“As I orbited out Predator over Tarnak Farms, a dusty jumble of buildings in a mud-walled compound just outside Kandahar, Afghanistan, we spotted a strikingly tall man in white robes being treated deferentially by a group of men,” Swanson writes in Breaking Defense Tuesday, his first public comments on the September 2000 incident, a year before the 9/11 attacks. “[Sensor operator Master Sgt.] Jeff [Guay] and I immediately knew we had bin Laden in our sights. The U.S. had been searching for OBL for years and now here he was, exquisitely framed on our screen.”

One major problem: At the time, Predator drones were for reconnaissance only and didn’t carry missiles. Bin Laden escaped from Tarnak and evaded American forces until he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs a decade later in May 2011.

It wasn’t until a little more than a year after spotting bin Laden, and a month after the 9/11 attacks killed nearly 3,000 Americans, that a Predator fired its first missile in combat at a different militant target on Oct. 7, 2001. Swanson said he pulled the trigger.

“We had spent many hours preparing for this moment, but a palpable sense of apprehension hung in the air,” Swanson writes. “The Predator system was by no means mature; it was little more than a prototype…I pulled the trigger, called ‘weapons away’ and flew straight and level.”

“The time until impact seemed an eternity; then, in an instant, the screen was filled by a bright white bloom of light. As the bloom dissipated, we saw an object move quickly across the screen, flailing like a ragdoll tossed in the air. It was a body, twisting and contorting and glowing from the heat of the blast. Nearly a decade-and-a-half after that first-ever intercontinental air strike by UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle], that fleeting image remains burned in to my memory,” he writes.

Swanson, who was previously identified in a history of the Predator written by veteran former Pentagon reporter Richard Whittle, said that he was breaking his silence publicly to combat the idea that flying drones is akin to playing videogames — that he “cringes” when he hears the mocking term for UAV program officials, “Chair Force.”

“[T]o all of us who fly or have flown armed UAVs, one thing is as clear as the sharpest video image: war is not now, nor will it ever be, a game,” he writes.

The Air Force’s struggle with the “stigma” surrounding the drone program was the subject of an ABC News investigation in April, in which the service admitted that when compared to manned aircraft like fighter jets, the drone program is made up of “less skilled” pilots and “less competent” officers.

“Let’s be honest, when people dream of flying…People in this generation didn’t grow up and say, ‘I want to fly an RPA [remotely piloted aircraft],’” Air Force spokesperson Jennifer Cassidy said at the time. “They were the ones that watched re-runs of ‘Top Gun’ and said, ‘I want to be a fighter pilot.’ …So in fact the people that were lower ranking [in flight school], I guess you could say, are the folks that went to RPAs.”

“It doesn’t mean they’re bad pilots, or bad officers, it just meant you got to have some at the top and some at the bottom. That’s how that worked,” she said.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


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