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Friday, April 29, 2016

San Francisco chief releases racist texts, orders training

San Francisco chief releases racist texts, orders training

AP Photo
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr makes his way to a podium before the start of a news conference Friday, April 29, 2016, in San Francisco. Suhr ordered that all officers attend an anti-harassment class, as he released more transcripts of a former lieutenant and two former officers exchanging racist text messages.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- San Francisco's police chief said Friday that he has ordered that all officers finish an anti-harassment class within the next month amid a racist texting scandal that has rocked the department already dogged by fatal shootings of unarmed minority suspects.

Flanked by religious and minority community leaders at a San Francisco press conference, Chief Greg Suhr also released more transcripts of racist and homophobic text messages first made available to The Associated Press along with inflammatory and inappropriate images found on former officers' cellphones.

It's the second texting scandal since 2014 in a department that is attempting to diversify its officers to reflect the San Francisco culture and population. The department of 2,100 was led by an Asian-American woman and a black man before Suhr took over five years ago.

About half the officers are white, roughly reflecting the white population in San Francisco. Asians make up a third of the city population, but account for about 16 percent of the officers. Close to 9 percent of its officers are black, exceeding a city population of 6 percent, Suhr says he has no plans to resign and Mayor Ed Lee says he supports the chief.

Lee sent an email letter to the entire department of nearly 2,100 officers Thursday night calling on them to report colleagues who display intolerant behavior.

Suhr said Friday that two officers turned in by colleagues for suspected overtime abuse and unauthorized access of driving records are being investigated by the district attorney for possible criminal charges.

"I support Chief Suhr," said the Rev. Amos Brown, president of San Francisco's NAACP chapter.
Investigators say they found the text messages on the personal phones of the officers during criminal probes of former officer Jason Lai and retired Lt. Curtis Liu.

"The vast majority of police officers are shaken," Suhr said in an interview with The AP Wednesday night. "The expectations have never been higher, so when officers do something like this, the disappointment can't be greater."

The names of those involved in the racist and homophobic conversations Suhr provided were redacted. Suhr said that Lai, Liu and an unidentified third former officer sent and received many of the messages. He also said several civilians were involved in the conversations.

Lai resigned earlier this month and Liu retired last year. Both are Chinese Americans, according to Suhr. The unidentified officer, who is white, also resigned. Suhr declined to identify a fourth officer implicated in the texting scandal who is facing dismissal before the city's Police Commission.

The newly provided transcripts denigrate minority suspects with racial slurs and insult colleagues perceived to be gay. The texts ridicule blacks in Ferguson, Missouri, where police shot and killed an unarmed black man.

They discuss a shootout among black men and the shooting of an armed suspect by police. In doing so, they appear to ridicule the shooting death by police in 2014 of a mentally ill man carrying a stun gun officers mistook for a handgun.

They also exchanged photographs with racist captions.

One photo depicts a white man playfully spraying a young black child with a garden hose. The caption calls the boy a racial slur.

There's a photo of smoke rising above San Francisco and guesses are exchanged about the origins of the fire.

"Must be Korean BBQ," quips one.

"I heard was a slave ship!!" quips another.

Liu's attorney Tony Brass said that the texts investigators turned over to him show Liu only on the receiving end. Brass said he may not be privy to all Liu's texts, only the ones that pertain to his criminal case.

"But I can say that there (has) not been a single allegation that Curtis Liu has ever displayed any racist behavior," Brass said.

Lai's attorney Don Nobles didn't return a call.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Jury convicts ex-Oklahoma reserve deputy in suspect's death

Jury convicts ex-Oklahoma reserve deputy in suspect's death

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- A former Oklahoma volunteer sheriff's deputy who said he mistook his handgun for his stun gun when he fatally shot an unarmed suspect last year was convicted of second-degree manslaughter on Wednesday.

Jurors handed down the verdict in the case of 74-year-old Robert Bates, a wealthy insurance executive accused of fatally shooting Eric Harris while working with Tulsa County sheriff's deputies last year during an illegal gun sales sting. Harris, who had run from deputies, was restrained and unarmed when he was shot.

The shooting - which was caught on video - sparked several investigations that, among other things, revealed an internal 2009 memo questioning Bates' qualifications as a volunteer deputy and showed that Bates, a close friend of the sheriff's, had donated thousands of dollars in cash, vehicles and equipment to the agency.

The jury recommended a four-year prison term, the maximum, and Bates was handcuffed and taken into custody pending formal sentencing at a later date.

Bates' defense attorneys argued at trial that methamphetamine found in Harris' system, along with his cardiac health, caused his death. Defense attorneys called the killing an "excusable homicide."

But prosecutors told jurors that Bates was guilty of culpable negligence when he shot Harris. One deputy testified that Bates apparently dozed off minutes before Harris fled from deputies.

Following the shooting, an outside consultant hired to review the sheriff's office determined that it suffered from a "system-wide failure of leadership and supervision" and had been in a "perceptible decline" for more than a decade. The reserve deputy program was later suspended.

Weeks after Harris was killed, an internal sheriff's office memo from 2009 was released by an attorney for Harris' family that alleged superiors knew Bates didn't have enough training but pressured others to look the other way because of his relationship with the sheriff and the agency.

A grand jury also investigated the agency and indicted the longtime sheriff, Stanley Glanz, in September, accusing him of failing to release the 2009 memo. He resigned on Nov. 1.

The new sheriff, who was sworn into office earlier this month, has detailed plans to reform and revive the reserve deputy program.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Details of sex abuse could mean prison time for Hastert

Details of sex abuse could mean prison time for Hastert

AP Photo
FILE - In this June 9, 2015 file photo, former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives at the federal courthouse in Chicago for his arraignment on federal charges in his hush-money case in Chicago. Hastert is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday, April 27, 2016.
CHICAGO (AP) -- When Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty last year to breaking banking laws, sentencing guidelines suggested that the former House speaker would probably serve no more than six months in prison for making illegal withdrawals to conceal a dark secret from his past.

But after prosecutors lifted a veil of secrecy from the case, the judge made comments that suggested he might impose a longer sentence, potentially putting Hastert behind bars for several years, because of allegations that he molested at least four student athletes when he was a high school wrestling coach.

Word that one of the accusers will speak at the sentencing hearing is sure to turn up the pressure on Judge Thomas M. Durkin to reject defense calls for probation and send the 74-year-old Republican to prison.

If that happens, Hastert, who was second in the line of succession to the presidency after the vice president and the nation's longest-serving GOP speaker, would become one of the highest ranking politicians in American history ever to be incarcerated.

Prosecutors have said they would have preferred to charge Hastert with a sex crime. But because the statute of limitations on sexual abuse ran out decades ago, they settled for banking violations. Hastert admitted evading financial regulations when he began withdrawing money to pay another victim $3.5 million to ensure his silence.

Authorities have made it clear they intend to treat the sex-abuse allegations, not the banking violations, as their focus at sentencing. Court practices generally allow discussion of a defendant's personal history and character, especially if some bad behavior is related to the crime.
Punishments available to the judge range from probation and home confinement to a maximum of five years in prison. Until this month, it was hard to gauge what Durkin might be thinking. But at a recent hearing, he let his dismay show for the first time.

The judge repeatedly singled out how Hastert in a 2015 interview with federal agents sought to deflect blame by falsely accusing Individual A of extorting him with a bogus sex-abuse claim. That lie happened last year, the judge said. And unlike the abuse allegations, it was not distant history.

The lie would factor into the sentencing calculations, Durkin added: "That's a big one."

Hastert's plea deal set the sentencing range from zero to six months in prison. But guidelines in federal court are just that: guides. Judges have huge discretion, so Durkin could impose a prison term of more than a year or two.

The defense asked for probation, citing Hastert's failing health and the price they say he's already paid in public humiliation. Prosecutors did not recommend a specific sentence, but their reference to sexual abuse on nearly every page of their 26-page sentencing memo strongly suggests they want notable prison time for Hastert.
Prosecutors did not confirm until recently that Hastert's case had anything to do with sexual abuse. When they finally did confirm it, they went into graphic detail, including how Hastert would sit in a recliner chair in the locker room with a direct view of the showers.

It was Individual D, the one who plans to testify Wednesday, who provided the detail about the chair. Individual D was 17 when Hastert abused him in a locker room after offering the teen a massage, according to court documents filed by the government. Hastert, it said, "removed Individual D's pants and told Individual D to turn over on his back. Defendant then performed a sexual act on Individual D."

The victims, prosecutors said, were between 14 and 17. Hastert was in his 20s and 30s. The abuse occurred in a motel and the locker room at Yorkville High School outside Chicago and included "touching of minors' groin area and genitals or oral sex with a minor," prosecutors said.

In court documents, the accusers, all males, are designated only by letters A through D. Only Stephan Reinboldt, who died in 1995, is named. His sister, Jolene Burdge, is the only other person scheduled to make a victim statement. She spoke previously to The Associated Press and other media organizations, saying that her brother told her about Hastert's conduct before his death.
It isn't clear whether Hastert will make a statement at the sentencing or whether any statement would include an apology.

Hastert has not personally apologized in any forum to date. In arguing for probation, defense attorneys described Hastert as apologetic, saying their client "is deeply sorry and apologizes for his misconduct that occurred decades ago and the resulting harm he caused to others."

Conspicuously absent was any mention of sexual abuse.

His lawyers may have risked raising the judge's ire in another related filing, in which they questioned whether what Hastert did to Individual A - including touching his genitals during a massage - legally constituted sexual abuse.

Prosecutors hit back at that defense notion in their sentencing memo: "There is no ambiguity; defendant sexually abused Individual A."

Monday, April 25, 2016

Cleveland settles lawsuit over Tamir Rice shooting for $6M

Cleveland settles lawsuit over Tamir Rice shooting for $6M

AP Photo
FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2014, file photo, demonstrators block Public Square in Cleveland, during a protest over the police shooting of Tamir Rice. The city of Cleveland has reached a settlement Monday, April 25, 2016, in a lawsuit over the death of Rice, a black boy shot by a white police officer while playing with a pellet gun.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- The city on Monday reached a $6 million settlement in a lawsuit over the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy shot by a white police officer while playing with a pellet gun outside a recreation center.

An order filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland said the city will pay out $3 million this year and $3 million the next. There was no admission of wrongdoing in the settlement.

Family attorney Subodh Chandra called the settlement historic but added: "The resolution is nothing to celebrate because a 12-year-old child needlessly lost his life."

The wrongful death suit filed by his family and estate against the city and officers and dispatchers who were involved alleged police acted recklessly when they confronted the boy on Nov. 22, 2014.

Video of the encounter shows a cruiser skidding to a stop and rookie patrolman Timothy Loehmann firing within two seconds of opening the car door. Tamir wasn't given first aid until about four minutes later, when an FBI agent trained as a paramedic arrived. The boy died the next day.

Tamir's death has fueled the Black Lives Matter movement that firmly took root in 2014 after Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City died at the hands of police. Grand juries declined to indict officers in those two deaths and in the shooting of Tamir.

A trial is pending for a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Brown's family. Garner's family received a $5.9 million in a settlement with New York City last year.

In the Rice family lawsuit, Samaria Rice had alleged that police failed to immediately provide first aid for her son and caused intentional infliction of emotional distress in how they treated her and her daughter after the shooting.

The officers had asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. Loehmann's attorney has said he bears a heavy burden and must live with what happened.

Tamir's estate has been assigned $5.5 million of the settlement. A Cuyahoga County probate judge will decide how the amount will be divided. Samaria Rice, Tamir's mother, will receive $250,000. Claims against Tamir's estate account for the remaining $250,000. Tamir's father, Leonard Warner, was dismissed in February as a party to the lawsuit.

Chandra said the Rice family remains in mourning over Tamir's death.

"The state criminal justice process cheated them out of true justice," Chandra said.

A somber Mayor Frank Jackson said at a news conference Monday that "there is no price you can put on the life of a 12-year-old child." He said the shooting "should not have happened" but didn't elaborate.

Jackson said a use-of-force committee is examining the circumstances of the shooting to determine if Loehmann and his training officer, Frank Garmback, should be disciplined.

The officers had responded to a 911 call in which a man drinking a beer and waiting for a bus outside Cudell Recreation Center reported that a man was waving a gun and pointing it at people. The man told the call taker that the person holding the gun was likely a juvenile and the weapon probably wasn't real, but the call taker never passed that information to the dispatcher who gave Loehmann and Garmback the high-priority call.

Tamir was carrying a plastic airsoft gun that shoots nonlethal plastic pellets. He'd borrowed it that morning from a friend who warned him to be careful because the gun looked real. It was missing its telltale orange tip.

The settlement comes two years after the city settled another lawsuit connected to the killings of two unarmed black people in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire at the end of a 2012 car chase. Cleveland settled a lawsuit brought by the families of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams for $3 million.

The fatal shootings of Russell and Williams were cited by the U.S. Justice Department in an investigation into excessive use of force by Cleveland police and helped lead to a court-monitored consent decree aimed at reforming the department.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Black Lives Matter gave him fame, but Baltimore isn't biting

Black Lives Matter gave him fame, but Baltimore isn't biting
AP Photo
In this March 26, 2016 photo, Baltimore mayoral candidate DeRay Mckesson chats with campaign volunteers before canvassing in Baltimore. Mckesson is known on the national stage for his role in Black Lives Matter, but he's struggling as he campaigns for mayor in his hometown.
BALTIMORE (AP) -- DeRay Mckesson, the Black Lives Matter activist turned mayoral candidate, is door-knocking on the streets of Charles Village. This is not the Baltimore of "The Wire," but rather a tidy neighborhood of pastel townhomes in the shadow of Johns Hopkins University.

For two blocks, nobody answers a rap. Then Ralph Moore, himself an activist and a lifelong resident, rushes up to Mckesson to shake his hand - and to break the bad news: Moore is voting for Sheila Dixon, the former mayor who resigned amid ethics charges and is running again. She's one of the front-runners in polls ahead of Tuesday's Democratic primary - the de facto election in this majority African-American city.

"The problem is people don't know you here," Moore tells Mckesson, who has held court with President Barack Obama, been endorsed by actress Susan Sarandon and has 365,000-plus Twitter followers, including Beyonce. "I saw you in Stephen Colbert's chair when I was channel surfing, but I don't know you."
Mckesson is one of the most recognizable faces to emerge from the Black Lives Matter movement - a former educator who built a national following after he left his then-home and job in Minneapolis in August 2014 for Ferguson, Missouri, to document the rising anger over race relations after the police shooting of Michael Brown.

But before Black Lives Matter birthed @DeRay, he was a self-proclaimed "son of Baltimore," born and raised in this city still striving to move past its own racial strife a year after Freddie Gray died from an injury suffered in police custody and riots erupted.

The path from activist to politician is one many black leaders have navigated successfully, but Mckesson is struggling. He entered the mayoral race late, he's deep down in the polls, his skeptics are plentiful, and observers have been left asking: What, then, is the next step for him, and for the movement that helped launch him?

"He's seeking his next big stage, and he's not going to be the only one doing it," said Lester Spence, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins and a Baltimore resident.

Mckesson's campaign comes as both Baltimore and the Black Lives Matter movement wrestle with growing pains.

Gray's death further inflamed the movement, an amorphous and decidedly leaderless undertaking born out of a series of deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police officers. The crusade took off on social media as a hashtag and spurred street demonstrations, and has remained in the spotlight this presidential election season, with activists disrupting candidate rallies, demanding to be seen and heard.

Yet some within the movement have shunned more traditional paths to change. One Black Lives Matter activist turned down an invitation to meet at the White House with Obama and other civil rights leaders, condemning the gathering as a photo opportunity. Mckesson attended.

Kayla Reed, a 26-year-old activist in St. Louis who emerged from the protests in Ferguson, said organizers are becoming more open to conventional tactics - and Mckesson's campaign reflects that.

"A lot of times, we're not seeing justice because of the way the laws are written, so it only makes sense to go after the lawmakers as part of the larger strategy," she said.

The movement has already seen victories on the policy front. Using social media, campaign events, voter registration drives, fundraisers, and neighborhood canvassing, Black Lives Matter activists worked to bring about change in several high-profile races. Among them: the election of black city council members in Ferguson, the ouster of the Illinois district attorney who waited more than a year to bring charges against a white Chicago police officer who shot a black teenager 16 times, and the primary loss for the Ohio prosecutor who declined to charge the officer who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

"Municipal elections matter," Reed said. "To achieve long-term change, you need policy and protest."

It's that kind of thinking that drove Mckesson to seek office. As he said to one potential voter in a Facebook chat recently: "I want to be in a position to do work that will change people's lives. What we did in the last 18 months was help change the conversation around the country, knowing that conversation change leads to actual change."

Mckesson's candidacy is in line with a tradition of black organizers who transitioned to politics. Martin Luther King Jr. lieutenants Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson and John Lewis went on to become mayor, run for president, and get elected to Congress after the civil rights movement. Barack Obama was a community organizer on Chicago's Southside before running for public office, first as a state senator, then a U.S. senator before his historic presidential election eight years ago.

Mckesson was born to drug-addicted parents in West Baltimore, a story he readily shares while campaigning. His father got clean and moved him to Catonsville, a small, predominantly white suburb. After high school, Mckesson left for Bowdoin College, a liberal arts school in Maine. He was elected president of the student body, and graduated with a degree in government and legal studies. Even then, he recognized the need to step up to help create change.

"The people who could do the most and could be the most influential just don't get involved," he told the college paper.

But instead of pursuing government, Mckesson went into education. He taught sixth grade in Brooklyn through Teach for America, which places college graduates in poor districts for two-year commitments. He later returned to Baltimore and launched an after-school program before joining the public school system in an administrative job. He left again in 2013, this time for the top human resources job with the Minneapolis school system. When Brown was shot, Mckesson drove 500 miles to Ferguson to join the protest.

Being on the streets, he said, "woke me up." And so Mckesson returned to Baltimore, with the promise of a spare room at a family friend's home and a plan to run for mayor. Hours before the Feb. 3 deadline, Mckesson filed his paperwork, the last of 13 Democrats to declare his candidacy.

On his agenda: plans to establish a system of community first-responders to de-escalate violence, and hire people who have been affected by police brutality to train officers on racism and community engagement.

"People want hope. They want transparency ... a mayor who has a plan, who understands the issues deeply," Mckesson said in an interview.

On the ground, however, his efforts have met with resistance and more than a little skepticism, especially from some of Baltimore's longtime activists, who had been organizing around social justice issues for years before Black Lives Matter rose into the national consciousness. They criticize him for not engaging with them, and question whether his campaign is merely a ploy to grow his "brand."

"Who sent you and who will you serve?" Jamye Wooten, founder and publisher of an online forum linking social justice issues and faith communities, asked in a blog post. "Here you earn your stripes by serving and being in the community when there are no cameras."

Spence, of Johns Hopkins, said that in a city like Baltimore, with its deep roots and personal connections, you don't "earn your stripes on Twitter or on the protest line."

Mckesson has worked to shed his star status during the race. On the trail, he's rarely talked about Black Lives Matter or his role as a protester except when explaining his social justice awakening.

At one recent house party, a dozen people gathered in a tidy sun-filled living room to meet Mckesson. The event was streamed live on Facebook, too. Among the first questions to pop up on the site: Why do you think you've gotten so much pushback about your candidacy?

"There are people who believe that because I haven't done the work the way you've done the work that the work isn't valuable, and I just don't believe that," he responded. "And there are people who are frustrated that I wasn't focused on police violence before Mike Brown's death. I simply didn't know."

Later that day, Mckesson headed for a second party in a neighborhood where leafy trees dot the streets and the homes are large and lawns pristine. He'd been invited by an old friend - the man who recruited him to Bowdoin years ago. This crowd was older and almost entirely white. Bottles of sparkling water and individually wrapped chocolates sat on a coffee table. A framed antique map of Maryland hung on the wall of a den.

Mckesson spoke for nearly two hours. Leo Horrigan, who works for a Johns Hopkins program focused on food systems, said Mckesson seemed sincere, with great ideas - but he's not sure that's enough.

"It's obviously not a frivolous campaign," said Horrigan, who remained undecided. "I do believe the old guard can be overthrown, but it's a long-term project."

Indeed, most in this city know Mckesson won't win the primary, save for some miracle come-behind victory. And the candidate himself prefers not to comment on his prospects. He is just as evasive about his future beyond the race, leaving both admirers and skeptics to wonder about his end goal.

After listening to Mckesson at the second house party, business owner Carol Siems said she hopes "if he doesn't win, that he stays in Baltimore and does something great."

University of Maryland sociology professor Rashawn Ray said candidates like Mckesson don't always enter competitive races to win, but to gain traction for future political roles.

"I would be surprised if DeRay got into the race thinking he would win," Ray said. "Sometimes, the people who lose garner a lot of support - and the people who win think about how to incorporate them."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Andrew Jackson: populist war hero and no fan of paper money

Andrew Jackson: populist war hero and no fan of paper money

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- After nearly a century as the face of the $20 bill, President Andrew Jackson is being replaced by abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who helped free slaves from the Southern landowners he defended. What should Americans recall about his legacy?


America's seventh president campaigned as the champion of the common man against the rich and powerful. Preceding him in office were four Virginia plantation owners and two Harvard-educated Massachusetts lawyers. Jackson, by contrast, was born to Irish immigrants near Lancaster, South Carolina, on March 15, 1767, and was orphaned by 14, a year after he volunteered to fight the British in the Revolutionary War. At 17, he became an apprentice to several lawyers, and moved to the frontier outpost of Nashville after earning his license.

"Andrew Jackson came from nowhere. He had no family, few advantages, little education," Feller said.

"Old Hickory" was a bona-fide Washington outsider, and the enthusiasm of his supporters was evident at his raucous first inauguration, which was overrun by drunken well-wishers who were only persuaded to leave when the alcohol-laced punch was moved onto the lawn. Jackson himself had to escape from a window.


Jackson is often remembered today for pushing through the infamous Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced tribes from their land in the Southeast and pushed them into an uncertain future in Oklahoma and beyond, along what became known as the Trail of Tears. But at the time, he also was considered "the greatest war hero since George Washington. The Battle of New Orleans was one of the greatest battles in the history of modern warfare," Feller said.


Jackson founded the Democratic Party and championed the union, helping to resolve the Nullification Crisis after South Carolina rejected a federal tariff and threatened to break apart the young nation. "Disunion by armed force is treason," he admonished, outflanking his vice president John Calhoun, who claimed states had a constitutional right to nullify any federal law and to secede.

Jackson also made an unprecedented use of his veto power, which many members of Congress criticized as exceeding his authority. That didn't help him during the Petticoat Affair, a social catastrophe that led to the dissolution of nearly his entire cabinet.


In Jackson's day there was no single national currency, said historian Daniel Feller, director of the Papers of Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee. Paper money was printed by individual banks, and their value could fluctuate greatly. Some of it was worthless, and Jackson felt bankers were abusing the citizenry.

"Jackson thought that paper money wasn't real money," Feller said. "Real money was gold and silver."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Judge approves deal between Ferguson, Justice Department

Judge approves deal between Ferguson, Justice Department

AP Photo
FILE - In this March 15, 2016 file photo, people watch and hold signs as members of the Ferguson City Council meet in Ferguson, Mo. St. Louis-area residents were sounding off Tuesday, April 19, 2016 in the last public hearing on the U.S. Department of Justice's settlement that calls for sweeping changes in Ferguson, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer.
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A federal judge approved an agreement Tuesday between Ferguson and the U.S. Justice Department that calls for sweeping changes in the Missouri city where 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry issued her ruling after a public hearing of several hours in St. Louis, where nearly three dozen people spoke, and many others had submitted written comments. Perry said the settlement is a "reasonable resolution" that avoids an extensive court battle.

"I think it's in everyone's best interest and I think it's in the interest of justice," she said.

The settlement calls for diversity training for police; the purchase of software and the hiring of staff to analyze records on arrests, use of force and other police matters; outfitting all officers and jail workers with body cameras; the hiring of a team to monitor progress; significant municipal court reforms; and other changes.

Mayor James Knowles III said after the hearing that the city has already implemented many reforms, and will act swiftly on others to "move into compliance as soon as possible." During the hearing, Knowles told Perry the agreement "is an important step in bringing this community together and moving us forward."

Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a statement that the agency looks forward to working with the city "as it implements the decree and continues the essential work to create a police department that the Constitution requires and that residents deserve."

Ferguson has been under scrutiny since Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by white police officer Darren Wilson in 2014. Brown's death was a catalyst in the national Black Lives Matter movement. A grand jury and the Justice Department cleared Wilson, who resigned from the police force in November 2014, but the shooting led to a Justice Department investigation.

That inquiry found alarming patterns of racial bias in policing and a municipal court system that generated revenue largely on the backs of poor and minority residents. The Justice Department's critical report in March 2015 prompted the resignations of Ferguson's city manager, police chief and municipal judge. All three were white men who have since been replaced by black men.

Ferguson leaders and Justice Department officials spent months negotiating the settlement. But in February, after a series of public hearings, the City Council rejected it, mostly over concerns the cost could bankrupt Ferguson. The Justice Department sued the next day. In March, after receiving some assurance that the cost wouldn't be as high as feared, the City Council approved the deal, expected to cost about $2.3 million over three years.

Christy Lopez of the Justice Department said the agreement isn't perfect, but it will help Ferguson residents.
"We want Ferguson to be known for how it responded to this crisis," Lopez said. "How it came back stronger than ever."

The agreement calls for changes to start happening soon. Within 30 days, the city is required to adopt amendments reforming the municipal code and eliminating laws deemed unnecessary, such as one governing how to walk in a crosswalk. The city has 60 days to develop and implement policies for the use of police body and car cameras. Also within 60 days, the finance director must be removed from the role of municipal court oversight, and new efforts must be implemented to help low-income residents pay court fines and fees.

New screening policies for police hires must be in place within 90 days, and the hiring of a monitor team is due. The city has 180 days to develop policies for "critical incidents" involving police, and to come up with a plan on attracting and retaining a diverse police force.

Felicia Pulliam, a black Ferguson resident, said at the hearing that city officials have continually denied that Ferguson has a race problem, leaving her to wonder if they will take the agreement seriously.

"They can't be trusted," Pulliam said. "They never, ever, tell the truth."

John Powell, a white Ferguson resident, told the judge that "stubborn and pervasive racism" exists in the St. Louis suburb.

Debra Kennedy, who is black, said she doubted the settlement would do any good and wondered why police supervisors "who have been ignoring our community's complaints for decades are suddenly going to start abiding by their policy manuals simply because the Department of Justice says they will."

But others said the Justice Department investigation was biased in favor of protesters while overlooking reforms the city already made.

"I think the DOJ wanted to wipe Ferguson off the map," resident Jean Boettcher said. "This should be a warning to the rest of the United States."

Others said the federal government shouldn't meddle in Ferguson's business. Kelly Schlereth, who has lived in Ferguson for more than two decades, wrote that the Justice Department is trying to make up for not finding cause to criminally charge Wilson.

"The DOJ has consistently been biased in their investigation into the practices of the Ferguson police department," Schlereth wrote.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Report: Chicago police have 'no regard' for minority lives

Report: Chicago police have 'no regard' for minority lives

AP Photo
Chicago's new police superintendent Eddie Johnson, left, shakes hands with other officers after being sworn in by Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a city council meeting Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Chicago. Johnson who has 27 years on the force, was Emanuel's hand-picked choice to take the top police job. The City Council confirmed the appointment Wednesday in a 50-0 vote.

CHICAGO (AP) -- Police in Chicago have "no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color" and have alienated blacks and Hispanics for decades by using excessive force and honoring a code of silence, a task force declared Wednesday in a report that seeks sweeping changes to the nation's third-largest police force.

The panel, established by Mayor Rahm Emanuel late last year in response to an outcry over police shootings, found that the department does little to weed out problem officers and routine encounters unnecessarily turn deadly.

The group concluded that fear and lack of trust in law enforcement among minorities is justified, citing data that show 74 percent of the hundreds of people shot by officers in recent years were African-Americans, even though blacks account for 33 percent of the city's population.

"Reform is possible if there is a will and a commitment," the report said. But change must start with an acknowledgement of Chicago policing's "sad history."

The task force pointed to examples that spanned generations, including the 1969 killing of Black Panther Fred Hampton, allegations of torture from the 1970s to the 1990s under former commander Jon Burge and controversial stop-and-frisk practices in the early 2000s.

The report "raises consciousness," activist Greg Livingston said. "It shines a light into the darkness."

The city's new police chief said the department welcomed "a fresh set of eyes" but was not waiting for recommendations from the task force or from a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Justice Department before making changes. Eddie Johnson, an African-American with 27 years on the force, was Emanuel's hand-picked choice to take the top job. The City Council confirmed the appointment Wednesday in a 50-0 vote.

"We have racism in America. We have racism in Chicago. So it stands to reason we would have some racism within our agency. My goal is to root that out," Johnson told reporters after he was sworn in.

In a summary of the report, the Task Force on Police Accountability recommended replacing the "badly broken" independent review authority that currently investigates misconduct with a "new and fully transparent and accountable Civilian Police Investigative Agency." It also suggested creating the post of deputy chief of diversity and inclusion.

Emanuel did not rule out doing away with the existing body known as the Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA.

"There's no doubt we have a lot of work to do," the mayor said, adding that "people have to have confidence" in whatever agency reviews police behavior.

"Whether it's IPRA or not, the function needs to be there," he said.

The mayor declined to talk about specifics in the report, saying he had not been briefed by the task force or seen the whole report.

The task force also called out police unions, saying that the collective bargaining agreements between the city and the unions have "essentially turned the code of silence into official policy." The code refers to the reflex of some officers not to report colleagues for misconduct.

Officers, for example, can wait 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting, giving them enough time to get their stories straight with fellow officers. And not only are anonymous complaints prohibited, the task force found that accused officers must be given the names of people who filed complaints.

The head of the police sergeants' union insisted that union contracts "provide due process in disciplinary procedures, nothing more." Union President Sgt. Jim Ade said the idea that the contracts make it easy for officers to lie was "ridiculous."

Among other problems described in the report: Some officers in charge of training are teaching while they themselves are under investigation for a range of alleged offenses. And there is a disturbing lack of legal counsel for those in custody. Last year, for example, only 6 out of every 1,000 people arrested had an attorney at any point while in police custody.

"Stopped without justification, verbally and physically abused, and in some instances arrested, and then detained without counsel - that is what we heard about over and over again," the report said.

The task force chairwoman, Lori Lightfoot, called the four-month review a "blueprint for change" and urged city officials and police to forge a better relationship with the citizens they serve.

"The pain and the anger and the frustration that people across this city have articulated to us ... is something that has to be understood, has to be respected. And it has to be embraced if we are ever to move forward," she said at a news conference.

The group conducted more than 100 interviews with community groups, police officers and outside experts and consistently found a department lacking a "culture of accountability," Lightfoot said.

The report was released just two days after the fatal shooting of a black 16-year-old. Police say he was armed, though his mother says he did not have a gun. Around 100 people gathered for a vigil on Tuesday and some marched through streets, blocking traffic.

Emanuel, a Democrat, announced the creation of the task force at the same time he fired police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in the wake of public protests over the 2014 shooting by a white police officer of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was black. A video of the shooting, released last year, contradicted police accounts that McDonald was threatening officers before he was shot.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Prosecutor: Despite video, officer's shooting was tough case

Prosecutor: Despite video, officer's shooting was tough case

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Prosecutors in the Carolinas have charged at least five white officers recently with felonies after on-duty shootings of black men, but they're finding that getting jurors to send them to prison can be a far more difficult challenge.

Solicitor Donnie Myers still believes officer Justin Craven committed a felony when he ran up to Ernest Satterwhite's car and fired repeatedly through his window as the 68-year-old drunken-driver sat in his driveway after leading officers on a 13-mile chase.

But when he tried to indict Craven for voluntary manslaughter, the grand jury refused, returning a misdemeanor misconduct charge instead. Myers told The Associated Press that he decided then that the only way to get any justice for the dead driver was to offer a plea deal to this lesser charge.

After all, if a grand jury, with its rules favoring prosecutors, couldn't be convinced of the seriousness of Craven's actions, getting a unanimous verdict from a regular jury would be even more difficult, Myers said.

"We've got to convince all 12. All the defense has to do is convince one," Myers said.

Craven was sentenced to three years' probation and 80 hours of community service after pleading guilty on Monday. The indictment accused him of "using excessive force and failing to follow and use proper procedures."

It's a challenge for prosecutors as more police officers are charged with on-duty crimes: Unless there is evidence of obvious bad intentions, jurors are often wary of second-guessing an officer's judgment call, said Tom Nolan, a professor of criminology at Merrimack College in Massachusetts.

"People have been conditioned by what they see on television to think that police officers face dangerous situations all the time," said Nolan, who was a Boston police officer for 27 years. "They give leeway, thinking these extreme situations happen frequently."

Craven's dashboard camera from February 2014 shows him charging up to Satterwhite's open window, gun in hand, and reaching inside with both arms. A struggle ensues inside the car, beyond the camera's view.

Craven said Satterwhite tried to grab his gun. The video shows him stepping back from the car before firing.

The video has no audio to tell what was being said because the battery on Craven's body microphone had gone dead, State Law Enforcement Division spokesman Thom Berry said.

Craven is the third white officer in the past year to avoid any time behind bars after being accused of felonies for killing a black man in the Carolinas.

Another officer, North Charleston's Michael Slager, is under house arrest waiting for his murder trial for fatally shooting a fleeing black motorist. And former state Trooper Sean Groubert is in jail facing up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in March to aggravated assault and battery for shooting a black man who was reaching for his driver's license at the officer's request.

Prosecutors charged former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs with murder for shooting a man trying to leave a police station, saying he escalated the confrontation. But after two hung juries, prosecutor David Pascoe agreed to a misdemeanor misconduct in office conviction and a year of home detention. Pascoe said he doubted he could ever get a unanimous verdict in that case, the most polarizing of his 20-year career.

North Carolina prosecutors dropped a voluntary manslaughter charge against Charlotte police officer Randall Kerrick after a jury voted 8-4 to acquit him in the shooting of a black motorist who had knocked on a door seeking help after a car wreck.

In Craven's case, the officer's defense team rejected the plea offer for more than a year, even after Myers persuaded a different grand jury to indict him on the felony charge of firing into an occupied vehicle, carrying up to 10 years in prison.

Craven finally took the deal as his trial loomed this week, and Myers said he couldn't rescind the offer at that point.

"I couldn't back up on that. It had been offered," Myers said. Besides: "It would have been a tough trial. Based on the chase - it would have been a tough matter."

Satterwhite's relatives accepted a nearly $1.2 million settlement from the city of North Augusta in April 2015 after suing the police department, and the criminal conviction could make it difficult for the 27-year-old Craven to serve again in law enforcement. He currently works as a building inspector for the city.

Defense lawyer Jack Swerling said it was a mistake in judgment to rush up to the driver, but said Craven's concern was justified because the 13-minute chase, also captured on dashcam video, showed him swerving into oncoming traffic and off the side of the road, and hitting at least two other cars.

State police later said Satterwhite's blood-alcohol content was 0.15 percent, nearly twice the legal limit. Court records show the car mechanic had more than a dozen traffic violations, including at least three times when he refused to stop for police. The same records also showed that he was never violent toward officers.

Elected prosecutors face pressure from voters who want them to be fair, but not too tough on the people protecting them, Nolan said.

In Myers' case, getting re-elected is no longer a concern. After 40 years as an elected prosecutor, he decided last month not to run again after his own arrest in February on a charge of driving under the influence.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

1 year after Freddie Gray, police work to heal city's wounds

1 year after Freddie Gray, police work to heal city's wounds

AP Photo
In this April 8, 2016 photo, Rosa Brown, right, hugs Baltimore Police Department Officer Ken Hurst in Baltimore, after a resident directed Hurst to Brown when she expressed suicidal thoughts following the recent death of her son. Hurst is part of a foot patrol program aimed at getting officers out of their cars and onto the streets of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods, not to make arrests but to make friends.
BALTIMORE (AP) -- A year after the death of Freddie Gray, a small part of his legacy can be seen at a southwest Baltimore recreation center, where the pounding of basketballs and squeak of sneakers echo off the walls as young black men in shorts and sweats face off.

Ken Hurst, a white policeman, watches from the side, a bum knee the only thing that keeps him from playing. He visits the game each week, not to make arrests but to make friends. "I need them to realize I'm not out here to lock everyone up," he says. "I'm here to rebuild trust."

Seldom in the city's history has that trust been so tenuous: Gray, a 25-year-old black man from West Baltimore, died after his neck was broken April 12 in the back of a police van. Protests erupted and long-simmering tensions between the police and residents exploded into the worst riots and looting in more than four decades. The U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation into allegations of unlawful arrests and excessive force.

In Baltimore and beyond, Gray's name became a rallying cry, representative of black men's mistreatment by police officers, and of the Baltimore department's own failings.

Police commissioner Anthony Batts was fired. His deputy - and replacement - Kevin Davis - promised to repair a relationship with the community that was so strained some say it's safer to run from police than take a chance on interacting with them. While some in the community remain skeptical, other say there has been progress.

Davis has implemented a mandatory, 40-hour community patrol class that teaches officers in training - and eventually, all officers - how to engage residents. Davis said he has also begun honoring officers each week for demonstrating "guardianship" - for forging strong bonds with residents, rather than making arrests.

"That's how far we've come this year," he says. "Would that have happened before Freddie Gray? Probably not.

"We can no longer just go occupy a geography, a poor minority neighborhood, and stop 300 people in the hopes of catching 10 bad guys," Davis said. "We're also looking at who we're hiring ... Are we hiring people with a service mind set, or people who watch too many cops and robbers television shows?"

Another initiative, the one that brought Hurst to the rec center, aims to get more officers out of their cars and walking the streets of Baltimore's most crime-ridden neighborhoods as full-time patrol officers.

Howard Hood is a 22-year-old black man who was born and raised in the neighborhood Hurst patrols, and he shows up to the rec center every Tuesday night.

"Not all cops want to see us dead or in jail. We need more officers to come out and feel comfortable being around us," he says.

An hour earlier, Hurst, blue-eyed with tanned skin and an easy smile, was walking along a commercial strip in the Irvington neighborhood, dotted with corner stores, liquor stores, cheap restaurants and a massive thrift shop. Spotting a group of young men loitering near a bus shelter, he gently but firmly told them to move along.

As he strolled down the block, a car stopped in the middle of the road and a young man popped his head out of the passenger window.

"Whassup Hurst?" he shouts, his smiling lips parted to reveal teeth plated with gold veneers.

As part of his routine, Hurst walks to a cellphone store to check in on the manager. On the way, 45-year-old Keith Hopkins, who sat in a wheelchair, a hand-rolled cigarette between his fingers, stopped the officer to chat.

"Hurst don't need a gun or a badge around here," he says. "He's one of the good ones."

In 2015, the city experienced the most violent year in its history, and the Southwestern District, Hurst's post, saw 51 killings - the most of any precinct except the Western District, where Gray was arrested.

"Police officers, a lot of them think that every guy standing on the corner is dealing drugs, which isn't true," Hurst said. "And the community, a lot of them out here think every police officer coming up to them is going to make them sit on the ground and cuss at them and treat them badly."

Community mistrust of police in Baltimore dates back decades. Former Gov. Martin O'Malley, mayor from 1999-2006, instituted a "zero tolerance" crime-fighting strategy that advocated "stop and frisk" practices and cracking down on lower-level crimes such as public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. In 2005, more than 100,000 people were arrested - roughly one sixth of the city's population- and a Baltimore grand jury found excessive arrests in poor black neighborhoods.

The city paid $870,000 to settle a lawsuit by people who said they were illegally arrested, and O'Malley's successors have moved away from zero-tolerance policing. The police commissioner says those days are over, but the hangover lingers.

Dorothy Cunningham, 58, the president of the Irvington Community Association, was instrumental in getting Hurst assigned to her district. Hurst, an eight-year veteran, is beloved in the neighborhood, and has already helped residents feel safer, she says.

"Maybe the police learned something from the unrest in the spring," Cunningham says.

Other officers struggle to blend into the communities they patrol, where residents are still fearful of police and critical of the department.

Across town, Jordan Distance, a black officer, walks a commercial strip surrounded by blocks dotted with abandoned buildings and vacant homes. The day before, five people were shot, one fatally, on his beat. The police had yet to identify a suspect.

"The shooting last night, there's so many vacants and alleys and nobody's going to tell me what he looks like," he says.

"There's that disconnect between us and the people. I don't know if it's because they're scared or what."

For Hurst, policing is only one aspect of the job. He hands out flyers advertising jobs and is helping transform a vacant property into a community center, complete with a computer lab, a police substation and workshop space.

"There's a guy who said, I'll come and teach them carpentry. Another guy in the neighborhood said he'd come in and help them with their homework," Hurst says.

"We'll put in a garden and when the vegetables are ripe we'll pick them and pass them out. We're trying," he says, "we're trying our best."

Friday, April 8, 2016

Teen suspect faces murder charge in Austin student's killing

Teen suspect faces murder charge in Austin student's killing

AP Photo
University of Texas students embrace during a gathering for fellow student Haruka Weiser on campus, Thursday, April 7, 2016, in Austin, Texas. Weiser, a first-year theater and dance student from Oregon, was found dead on campus after she was reporter missing earlier this week.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- A homeless 17-year-old has been arrested, and police said Friday he'll be charged with murder in the killing of a University of Texas dance major whose body was recovered in the heart of the bustling campus - unnerving one of the country's best-known schools.

Meechaiel Criner wasn't believed to be a university student and hadn't been living in Austin long. Police Chief Art Acevedo said Criner could face additional charges in the slaying of 18-year-old Oregon-native Haruka Weiser.

"We are very certain that the subject we have in custody ... is responsible for the death of this beautiful young woman," Acevedo said at a campus news conference.

Weiser was last seen leaving the campus drama building Sunday night. Her body was found Tuesday in a creek near the alumni center and UT's iconic football stadium, an area that hums with activity day and night.
The slaying shook a campus of about 50,000 students. University President Greg Fenves called it "horrifying and incomprehensible."

"It was unsettling," said 20-year-old Jasmine Chavez, who was on UT's central mall area Friday but hails from Houston. "I feel better now that they've caught the guy."

Police released surveillance video that showed a man they said was a suspect walking a women's bicycle. Firefighters recognized the man on the video as Criner, whom they had spoken to in connection with a trash fire near the UT campus on Monday. An Austin resident who reported the fire also called police when she saw the surveillance video, Acevedo said.

Criner wasn't arrested for the fire but was instead taken to a shelter. Police found him there Thursday and took him into custody without incident. His arrest affidavit said his clothing matched that of the man on the surveillance video and that he was in possession of a women's bike, as well as Weiser's duffel bag and some of her other belongings, including her laptop.

Weiser's autopsy showed she had been assaulted, but police have refused to release further details about how she died, except to say that the route she took from her dorm to the drama building often passed Waller Creek, where her body was found. Criner's affidavit says Weiser's body showed "obvious trauma."

It also says campus surveillance video not made public showed the suspect watching a female thought to be Weiser as she walked in the direction of her dorm with her head down, looking at her cellphone.

As she passed, the affidavit says, the suspect produced "what appeared to be a shiny rigid object" and followed her. The pair dropped from view as they reached the creek bank, though, and the suspect wasn't seen on video again for two-plus hours.

Police said they hadn't recovered a crime scene weapon, though, and Acevedo wouldn't speculate on motive.

Texas Department of Family Protective Services spokeswoman Julie Moody said Criner "had been in Child 
Protective Services care" but that she couldn't elaborate on where, for how long, or provide any further details, citing privacy rules and the ongoing criminal investigation.

Police have not released much about Criner's background, though a person with the same name and birthdate as the suspect is listed in driver's license records as having lived in Texarkana, about 350 miles northeast of Austin.

A 2014 article in a Texarkana high school publication featured a Meecchaiel Criner who described being bullied and difficulties in foster care as a child, saying, "What I want to leave behind is my name - I want them to know who Meechaiel Criner is."

Fenves said increased police patrols on campus, which have included state troopers in cars, on bikes and on horseback, would continue for the time being. The Department of Public Safety also is conducting a security review on campus, including checking video monitoring, lighting and building security systems.

"We will honor Haruka's life and what she stood for," Fenves said. "We will take this as an occasion to do as Haruka's parents asked us to do, learn from this and make this a better community and a safer community for everyone."

The university said that Weiser's was the first on-campus homicide since former Marine Charles Whitman climbed to the top of UT's bell tower on Aug. 1, 1966, and opened fire, killing 14 people and wounding scores of others. Authorities later determined Whitman also killed his wife and mother in the hours before he went to the tower. A 17th death would be attributed to Whitman in 2001 when a Fort Worth man died of injuries from the shooting.

Weiser's family said she had planned to take on a second, pre-med major soon and to travel to Japan this summer to see relatives. In a statement Friday, it said "we are relieved to hear" an arrest had been made.

"We remain steadfast in our desire to honor Haruka's memory through kindness and love," the family said "not violence."

Thursday, April 7, 2016

IS militants abduct 300 cement workers near Syrian capital

IS militants abduct 300 cement workers near Syrian capital

BEIRUT (AP) -- In a brazen assault near the Syrian capital, Islamic State militants on Thursday abducted 300 cement workers and contractors in an area northeast of Damascus, Syrian state TV reported as fighting elsewhere in the country also worsened.

Meanwhile, the U.N. special envoy for Syria said the next round of peace talks in Geneva was expected to start next week, around April 13. Staffan de Mistura said the new round should focus on a political process that he hoped would lead to a "concrete or real beginning of a political transition."

State TV said Thursday's mass abduction of workers from the al-Badia Cement Company took place in Dumeir, an area where militants launched a surprise attack against government forces earlier this week. State-run news agency SANA quoted a source in the company as saying that there has been no success in efforts to establish contact with any of the workers.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syria conflict, said earlier in the day that contact was lost with dozens of workers in Dumeir.

No further details of the abduction were immediately known and there has been no claim of responsibility. Mass abductions have taken place on occasion in Syria during the country's devastating civil war, now in its sixth year, most often of religious minorities such as Christians.

The abduction came as fighting with IS militants raged in northern Syria on Thursday. Syrian opposition fighters have advanced on strongholds of the Islamic State group, including the IS-held town of al-Rai in northern Aleppo along the border with Turkey.

De Mistura told reporters in Geneva that he is also embarking on a tour that will take him to Damascus and the Iranian capital of Tehran and possibly also the Jordanian capital, Amman, in search of an understanding about what could be a framework of a political transition.

Two rounds of "proximity talks" involving Syrian opposition and government representatives in Geneva have ended without any progress on ways to end the war in Syria, now in its sixth year.

Earlier Thursday, Jan Egeland, de Mistura's humanitarian aid adviser, said he is "disappointed" with recent efforts to get aid convoys into hard-to-reach and besieged areas, and called on the government to "live up to its promises."

Also speaking in Geneva, Egeland told reporters that "April was supposed to be our best month" but that aid delivery is "not getting better and better, it's actually slowing down."

Humanitarian assistance to Syria's people is part of an international response to the country's crisis that also includes a U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire that has largely held over the last month.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

WHO: Diabetes rises fourfold over last quarter-century

WHO: Diabetes rises fourfold over last quarter-century

AP Photo
FILE - In this file photo dated Wednesday, March 23, 2016, World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan delivers her speech during a conference in Lyon, central France. Chan said Wednesday April 6, 2016, that excessive weight, aging and population growth have recently driven a huge increase in worldwide cases of diabetes and called for stepped-up measures to reduce risk factors as well as improve treatment and care.
GENEVA (AP) -- Excessive weight, obesity, aging and population growth drove a nearly four-fold increase in worldwide cases of diabetes over the last quarter-century, affecting 422 million people in 2014, the World Health Organization reported Wednesday.

In a new report on diabetes, the U.N. health agency called for stepped-up measures to reduce risk factors for diabetes and improve treatment and care that has ballooned in recent years alongside an increase in obesity rates. WHO said 8.5 percent of the world population had diabetes two years ago, up from 108 million, or 4.7 percent, in 1980.

On Wednesday, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said:

"We need to rethink our daily lives: to eat healthily, be physically active and avoid excessive weight gain."

The Geneva-based agency blamed growing consumption of food and beverages high in sugar. Diabetes increased around the world but affects lower- and middle-income people more often than wealthier populations. The rates rose most in Africa, the Middle East and Asia - with the "Eastern Mediterranean" region more than doubling its prevalence to 13.7 percent of the population, the only world region with a double-digit percentage.

Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body either does not make enough insulin to break down the sugar in foods or uses insulin inefficiently. It can cause early death or serious complications like blindness, stroke, kidney disease or heart disease.

In the "Global Report on Diabetes" released Wednesday, WHO says diabetes caused 1.5 million deaths in 2012, and another 2.2 million deaths were caused by higher-than-optimal blood glucose levels, by increasing the risks of cardiovascular and other diseases.

The report does not distinguish between Type 1 diabetes, which involves deficient insulin production in the body and requires daily insulin injections for survival, and Type 2, in which the body uses insulin ineffectively and is more often associated with obesity and relatively sedentary lifestyles.

The increase has coincided with growing rates of obesity: In Western countries like the U.S and Britain, two-thirds of people are now overweight or obese. The WHO report stopped short of any drastic new recommendations, suggesting for example that countries build political support and allocate resources for 
diabetes prevention, and "prioritize actions to prevent people becoming overweight and obese."

The report said WHO is updating its guidelines on fat and carbohydrate intake, but said adults can reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes through regular, adequate physical activity and "healthy diets that include sufficient consumption of dietary fiber, and replacing saturated fatty acids with polyunsaturated fatty acids."

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