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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pope's upcoming visit inspires anxiety in Philadelphia

Pope's upcoming visit inspires anxiety in Philadelphia 

AP Photo
Viewed from the Embassy Suites hotel traffic moves along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Thursday, July 30, 2015, in Philadelphia. On the parkway Pope Francis is scheduled to visit The World Meeting of Families' festival and celebrate a Mass during his visit to the United States.
  
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Pregnant women are calling up the mayor, concerned they won't be able to get to the delivery room. Some businesses say they've been told to close for a three-day weekend. Others are bringing in cots for workers to sleep. Taxi drivers, fearing onerous checkpoints and distant drop-off locations, are planning to stay home.

With official information scant just eight weeks before Pope Francis makes Philadelphia the centerpiece of his U.S. trip, rumors are swirling about massive security fencing and miles of street closures. Residents and visitors alike fear long walks to and from papal events, too-few bathrooms, and a dearth of food and other amenities in areas where delivery trucks could be restricted.

The lack of clear information is breeding confusion and consternation in the City of Brotherly Love and contempt for the people who run it - particularly around the downtown parkway where Francis is expected to attend an outdoor concert and celebrate Mass before more than 1 million people.

"There are serious logistical problems for residents and visitors alike," said Barbara Epstein, who lives three blocks from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. "It would be nice if the powers that be could reassure us that our lives aren't going to be disrupted in an irreconcilable way."

City officials are blaming the Secret Service, which has declared Francis' Sept. 26-27 visit a National Special Security Event. The agency said it would release road closure and security checkpoint information about three weeks before he lands - leaving the city and visit organizers vulnerable to rumors.

"Security plans are fluid and continue to evolve," Secret Service spokesman Robert Hoback said Thursday. "As soon as the plans have been settled on by all of the many partners involved in the planning process, we will jointly share the final plans."

The agency said late Thursday that it is not forcing any businesses to close that weekend but instead has agents reaching out to local business owners and residents within the security zone.

Mayor Michael Nutter this week repudiated maps that popped up showing purported security and vehicle-free zones covering most of downtown, saying they were unofficial and premature. He blamed "little people who have little pieces of information" and speculative reporting for misleading the public.

Nutter, who mentioned the calls from the expectant mothers at a news conference this week, said the city would start providing updates next week. Organizers of the World Meeting of Families - the triennial Roman Catholic conference that is attracting Francis to Philadelphia - said it will post a "Papal Visit Playbook" for residents to its website next month.

"We're all eager to put the rumors to rest and put the information out there," said World Meeting Executive Director Donna Crilley Farrell. "But as the mayor said, it has to be the correct information."

Officials have confirmed there will be some type of security fencing - commonly used at big events like presidential inaugurations and Philadelphia's annual Made in America concert - but the size and scope have not been disclosed.

They have also said there will certainly be street and highway closures, particularly when the pope is in transit, but would not confirm a planning consultant's claim that the Benjamin Franklin Bridge - a vital link to Philadelphia's New Jersey suburbs across the Delaware River - would close. The consultant, who also requested that Interstate 95 be closed for the duration of Francis' visit, has since been dismissed from the papal planning process.

With dozens of agencies involved in the planning and so many details to work out - from accommodations for visiting clergy to the number of portable toilets on the parkway - some stakeholders are feeling left out.

"We haven't heard anything concrete yet," said Ron Blount, the president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania. "We're asking every day."

The clearest details on logistics so far have come from Philadelphia's regional transit agencies - and even those haven't instilled confidence.

Commuter and subway train service will be limited, with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority limiting the number of commuter-train tickets each day to 175,000 to ease overcrowding; normal daily ridership is about 130,000. After a computer system crashed last week, the agency said it would sell the passes only through an online lottery. Regular tickets won't be accepted.

The number of subway riders won't be limited, but trains won't make all their regular stops.

"I don't think they are at all considering the lives of their regular riders who must still work, volunteer or just go about their daily lives in spite of the Pope's visit," said Steve Flemming, a Philadelphia teacher.

Francis is expected to stay at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary just outside the city limits in Lower Merion Township. The police chief there said residents should prepare "as if it's a big snowstorm," encouraging them to fill their cars with gas and stock up on milk, bread and other staples.

The reward of seeing Francis in person is worth the potential hurdles, Farrell said, comparing the visit to a recent feat from a now-traded Phillies pitcher.

"I say, it's awesome to watch Cole Hamels throw that no-hitter on television," she said, "but wouldn't you rather say you were in the ballpark?"

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Prosecutors charge teen with murder in death of 8-year-old

Prosecutors charge teen with murder in death of 8-year-old 
 

AP Photo
FILE This undated photo provided by the Santa Cruz Police Department shows Madyson "Maddy" Middleton, from Santa Cruz, Calif. Prosecutors charged Adrian Jerry Gonzalez, 15, with murder, kidnapping and sexual assault Wednesday, July 29, 2015 in the death of the 8-year-old girl in an artists complex in a California beach town. Police say Gonzalez lured Middleton from a courtyard where she had been riding her scooter over the weekend into his family's apartment where he attacked and killed her.
  

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) -- Prosecutors charged a 15-year-old boy with murder, kidnapping and rape 
Wednesday in the death of an 8-year-old girl in an artists complex in a California beach town.

Police say Adrian Jerry Gonzalez lured Madyson Middleton into his family's apartment from a courtyard where she had been riding her scooter over the weekend. Once inside, he tied her up, sexually assaulted and killed her, according a charging document.

Gonzalez remains in custody at the Santa Cruz County juvenile detention center, where he has been held since the girl's body was found in a recycling bin Monday evening.

"Unfortunately, the search for Maddy ended in the worst way possible," Santa Cruz District Attorney Jeffrey Rosell said.

He said Gonzalez will be charged as an adult and added that in his two decades in Santa Cruz, he's never seen a 15-year-old charged with murder.

The charges could send Gonzalez to prison for the rest of his life.

Larry Biggam of the Santa Cruz public defender's office said he expects to be appointed as the teen's lawyer at the arraignment Thursday, but he declined to comment on the case.

Authorities haven't been able to establish a motive in the killing. "People do things for lots of reasons, sometimes we understand it, sometimes we don't," Rosell said.

Neighbors at the Tannery Arts Center where both the suspect and Madyson lived said they were stunned by the death. The center is a public-private nonprofit that includes 100 affordable loft apartments for artists and their families. About 250 people live in the complex, including about 50 children.

"It's a great community because it's a bit unusual," Geoffrey Nelson, a photographer and Tannery resident, said. "You share the joys of people, their children growing up. Their art shows, their recitals. But you also share the sorrows."

Nelson said he's known Gonzalez for several years and described him as shy, though they often chatted. "He was a yo-yo-expert, so he was oftentimes showing you tricks," Nelson said.

Residents have been heartbroken to learn that he is suspected in the death, he said.

"It wasn't somebody from the outside," Nelson said. "It was somebody we all knew. It was someone we all knew and liked."

Setorro Garcia, a Tannery resident who knew both the victim and suspect, said Gonzalez had been curious about the investigation.

"He kept asking, `Any updates?'" Garcia said.

Another resident, Kirby Scudder, described Madyson as a typical 8-year-old, alternately shy and gregarious.

"She was very smart, and I thought she was going to be an engineer," he said. "She had a great sense of humor."

Madyson was headed for fourth grade in the fall.

She had a little, black dog named "Lucy" and tearful children at the Tannery Wednesday placed pictures and notes on a growing memorial overflowing with bouquets, stuffed animals, balloons and candles.

"It was nice how you were so perky," wrote one.

"We all miss you," wrote another, next to a picture of the slain girl with wings and a halo.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Obama delivers frank words about Africa's problems

Obama delivers frank words about Africa's problems 

AP Photo
African Union Commission chairperson, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, right, stands with U.S. President Barack Obama as he looks up at the crowd before delivering a speech to the African Union, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. On the final day of his African trip, Obama is focusing on economic opportunities and African security.
  
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- President Barack Obama arrived in East Africa with no big American aid packages, no ramped up U.S. military resources for fighting terror groups and no new initiatives with billions in government backing.

Instead, he brought a frank message on democracy, corruption and security that could perhaps be delivered only by a Western leader viewed in Africa as a local son.

"The future of Africa is up to Africans," Obama said during a trip to Kenya and Ethiopia that concluded Tuesday. "For too long, I think that many looked to the outside for salvation and focused on somebody else being at fault for the problems of the continent."

The president's advisers reject the notion that Obama's policy toward Africa is all talk, pointing to the long-term potential of initiatives to boost power access and food security for millions on the continent. They stress the importance of America's first black president, one with a sprawling family still living in Kenya, capitalizing on his ability to speak not as a lecturing Westerner, but as someone with a personal stake in the continent's success.

"He is someone who is broadly respected by not just the leaders, but the peoples of these countries, especially young populations who make up an increasing percentage of these countries," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. "So, for that reason, I think people pay close attention to what he has to say."

"That doesn't mean that they're going to agree with everything he says, but I think he can lay out a direction that he thinks the U.S.-African partnership can go in," Rhodes added.

Indeed, Obama closed his East Africa swing with a blunt accounting of the risks facing the fast-growing continent. He compared Africa's large youth population to the Middle East, warning that without jobs and prospects for the future, young Africans are more likely to be drawn to terrorism. He warned of the "cancer of corruption" that runs rampant through some African governments, a problem he said only the continent's leaders could solve.

And with high-level African officials in the audience for his remarks at African Union headquarters, he launched a blistering and sometimes sarcastic takedown of leaders who refuse to leave office when their terms end.

"Let me be honest with you - I just don't understand this," he said, drawing cheers from many in the crowd. 

"I actually think I'm a pretty good president. I think if I ran, I could win. But I can't."

While those remarks drew cheers from many in the crowd, some African activists greeted his comment one day earlier that Ethiopia has a democratically elected government with scorn and concern. Obama's remarks came during a news conference with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia, whose ruling party won every seat in parliament in May elections.

Obama's predecessors have also pushed for good governance and respect for human rights in Africa. But none had the instant credibility African leaders confer on Obama, whose visit was heralded as a homecoming.

"It would have been different of course if he was from a different background," said Amadou Sy, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution. "But he's also one of us."

Obama barely knew his father, who was born and is buried in Kenya. The younger Obama wouldn't visit the nation of his father's birth until he was in his 20s, yet his political rise has been cheered enthusiastically throughout the continent.

Obama's connections to Africa garnered oversized expectations for what his tenure as U.S. president would mean for the continent. While he's made four trips to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office - more than any other U.S. president - his foreign policy focus has often been on boosting ties with the Asia-Pacific region and confronting crises in the Middle East.

Obama also faces frequent comparisons to his predecessor George W. Bush, who launched a $15 billion initiative for combating HIV/AIDS in Africa.

"I am really proud of the work that previous administrations did here in Africa, and I've done everything I could to build on those successes," Obama said during a news conference in Kenya Saturday. "This isn't a beauty contest between presidents."

At the heart of Obama's approach to Africa is a belief that the U.S. and other developed nations can no long view the continent simply as a receptacle for billions in international aid. In an era of budget cuts, the president has looked to jumpstart programs that rely heavily on private financing and could eventually be run by African governments or businesses, including his Feed The Future food security program and Power Africa electricity initiative.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Prosecutor: Bland's autopsy revealed no evidence of homicide

Prosecutor: Bland's autopsy revealed no evidence of homicide 
 

AP Photo
Sharon Cooper, sister of Sharon Bland, addresses the media during a news conference at Dupage African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday, July 22, 2015, in Lisle, Ill. Bland was arrested and taken to the Waller County jail, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Houston on July 10 and found dead July 13. Officials say Bland hanged herself with a plastic garbage bag in her jail cell, a contention her family and supporters dispute.
  
HEMPSTEAD, Texas (AP) -- The autopsy of a black woman who was found dead in a Texas jail revealed no injuries that would suggest she was killed by someone else, authorities said Thursday.

Waller County prosecutor Warren Diepraam said the autopsy showed that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had no defensive injuries on her hands that would typically indicate a struggle.

Some lacerations or abrasions were found on her wrists. Those were consistent with a struggle while being handcuffed. The marks around Bland's neck were consistent with a suicide by hanging, Diepraam said.
Bland also had about 30 small cuts on her wrist that were probably self-inflicted within the last few weeks, he added.

She was arrested in a traffic stop three days before she was found in her cell on July 13. Her family and friends dispute the official finding that she killed herself using a noose fashioned from a plastic garbage bag.

Texas Rangers and the FBI are investigating.

Also Thursday, the woman's sister confirmed that Bland had taken prescription medication for seizures in the past.

Booking documents filled out for Bland after her arrest indicate she told staff at the jail that she had epilepsy and was taking medication for it. The forms identify the drug as Keppra.

Other forms, however, say she was not taking medication.

Company information on Keppra, which is sold in regular and extended-release forms, says that "antiepileptic drugs, including Keppra and Keppra XR, may cause suicidal thoughts or actions in a very small number of people, about 1 in 500."

Sharon Cooper told The Associated Press that her sister suffered from seizures about a decade ago but had not had any in recent years and was not on medication.

The medication was not the only inconsistency in the jail-intake papers. One questionnaire said Bland took pills in 2015 in an attempt to kill herself after losing a baby. A separate form filled out by another jail employee said the suicide attempt occurred in 2014.

Cooper said her sister had a miscarriage in May 2014, but got through it. Cooper also said she was not aware of any suicide attempt.

Asked if her sister could have been getting treatment without relatives knowing, Cooper said the family's five sisters were "above board" with each other and, if anything, "overshared."
"If it was happening, I would have known," she said.

Preliminary results of an independent autopsy arranged by the family showed bruising to deep muscle tissue in Bland's back, consistent with the officer having his knee there, Cooper said.

She would not say if there were other findings. Full results will not be in for a couple of weeks.

A woman who occupied a jail cell next to Bland said the Chicago-area woman was emotional and wept often during her three days in jail.

Alexandria Pyle told Houston television station KTRK that Bland was "sort of distraught" that a friend had not come to bail her out of jail. She said Bland told her she "was not equipped" for incarceration and thought she was the victim of an injustice.

Pyle said she heard no signs of a struggle in the cell.

Preliminary results of the Texas autopsy also showed that Bland had marijuana in her system. The drug-test results are worth noting because they could be "relevant to her state of mind," Diepraam said.

Authorities said any contradictions in the jail documents were the result of Bland's inconsistent answers to 
jailers' questions.

Bland's death comes after nearly a year of heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects, especially those who have been killed by officers or die in police custody. It has resonated on social media, with posts questioning the official account and featuring the hashtags (hash)JusticeForSandy and (hash)WhatHappenedToSandyBland.

Bland's family has said she was not despondent and was looking forward to starting a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.

However, Bland posted a video to her Facebook page in March, saying she was suffering from "a little bit of depression as well as PTSD," or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cooper said that "everyone has peaks and valleys" and that the Facebook video might indicate her sister was just having a bad day or a bad few days.

A video of her arrest taken from the officer's dashcam shows state trooper Brian Encinia drawing a stun gun and threatening Bland when she refuses to follow his orders.

The episode began when the trooper stopped Bland for failing to signal a lane change.

The conversation turned hostile after the officer asked Bland to put out her cigarette and she asked why she can't smoke in her own car. The trooper then ordered Bland to get out of the vehicle. She refused, and he told her she was under arrest.

The roadside encounter swiftly escalated into a shouting confrontation, with the officer threatening to drag her out of the car. At one point, he warned Bland, "I will light you up."

The trooper, who has been on the force for just over a year, has been placed on administrative leave for violating unspecified police procedures and the department's courtesy policy.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Greek banks reopen but cash limits remain and taxes soar

Greek banks reopen but cash limits remain and taxes soar 
 

AP Photo
An elderly man leaves a branch of the National Bank of Greece in Athens, Monday, July 20, 2015. Greek banks reopen on Monday morning, but many restrictions on transactions, including cash withdrawals, will remain. Also, many goods and services will become more expensive as a result of a rise in Value Added Tax approved by Parliament last Thursday, among the first batch of austerity measures demanded by Greece's creditors.
  
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greek banks reopened Monday for the first time in three weeks, but strict limits on cash withdrawals and higher taxes on everything from coffee to diapers meant the economic outlook for the recession-battered country was far from back to normal.

There were hopeful developments: The cash-strapped nation got a short-term loan from European creditors to pay more than 6 billion euros ($6.5 billion) owed to the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. Non-payment of either would have derailed Greece's latest bailout request.

But for most Greeks, already buffeted by six years of recession, Monday was all about rising prices as tax hikes demanded by creditors took effect.

Dimitris Chronis, who has run a small kebab shop in central Athens for 20 years, said the higher tax rates could push his business over the edge.

"I can't put up my prices because I'll have no customers at all," lamented Chronis, who said sales have already slid by around 80 percent since banking restrictions were imposed on June 29.

"We used to deliver to offices nearby, but most of them have closed. People would order a lot and buy food for their colleagues on special occasions. That era is over."

There are few parts of the Greek economy left untouched by the steep increase in the sales tax from 13 to 23 percent. The new rates have been imposed on basic goods, from cooking oil to condoms, as well as to popular services, such as taxi rides, eating out at restaurants and ferry transport to the Greek islands.

The tax hikes are part of a package of austerity measures that also include pension cuts and other reforms that the Greek government had to introduce for negotiations to begin on a crucial third bailout.

In response to last week's parliamentary vote backing the austerity measures, the ECB raised the amount of liquidity assistance on offer to Greek banks, paving the way for them to reopen Monday. But strict controls on cash flows, including a ban on check-cashing and payments abroad as well as limits on cash withdrawals, remained in effect.

The European Union also sent a three-month loan to Athens, enabling the government to repay a 4.2 billion euro debt to the ECB on Monday and to clear its arrears of about 2 billion euros with the IMF.

Both institutions confirmed they had been repaid.

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said the Fund "stands ready to continue assisting Greece in its efforts to return to financial stability and growth."

The IMF is not directly involved in Greece's request for a third bailout as its previous rescue runs until early next year. But it has expressed doubts over the austerity measures that Greece's European creditors are demanding unless they also include significant debt relief.

Greece has relied on bailout loans totaling 240 billion euros since 2010 after it was locked out of international money markets. In return for the cash, successive governments have had to enact harsh austerity measures to try to get public finances into shape.

Though the annual deficit has been reduced dramatically, the country's debt burden has actually risen to around 180 percent of Greece's annual GDP as the country's economy contracted around 25 percent.

The higher taxes formed a key plank of last week's bailout agreement between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and European creditors. Following months of growing distrust, Greece's partners in the 19-country eurozone wanted to see measures enacted before bailout talks could begin.

The green light to the opening of discussions, which are expected to last around a month, was given Friday. They will include economic targets and other reforms deemed necessary in return for an anticipated 85 billion euros ($93 billion) over three years.

Though the potential bailout has eased fears of a Greek exit from the euro, capital controls are expected to remain in place for months if not years. The controls were introduced because negotiations with creditors had reached an impasse, fueling anxiety about a Greek exit from the euro and a bank run.

On Monday, the first easing saw banks open their doors for limited services that allowed customers to move money from one account to another, but barred them from opening new ones. The daily cash withdrawal limit stayed at 60 euros, or about $65, but new rules permitting the withdrawal of up to 420 euros a week meant that Greeks won't have to trudge to the ATM every day.

Since the Greek parliament passed the austerity measures, creditors have relieved the pressure on the country, though its acute difficulties were evident in the fact that the Athens Stock Exchange remains closed until further notice.

Further relief for Greece may come if lawmakers back another set of creditor-demanded measures on Wednesday. A repeat of last week's rebellion by lawmakers in Tsipras' left-wing Syriza party is unlikely given the non-controversial nature of the reforms: revamping the civil law code to streamline legal proceedings and adopting EU regulations on guaranteeing bank deposits and strengthening banks.

The thornier issues of scrapping early retirement and hiking taxation on farmers - opposed by both government and opposition lawmakers alike - are not among the reforms Greece has to approve this week and will be addressed later, government officials said.

Cabinet-level dissenters were replaced Friday, but even their replacements have denounced the austerity measures demanded by Greece's creditors.

"The government was obliged to make a tactical retreat to save the country," new Labor Minister Giorgos Katrougalos said Monday. "This was the result of a soft, post-modern financial coup."


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Chattanooga shattered: A single gunshot, silence, and terror

Chattanooga shattered: A single gunshot, silence, and terror 
 
AP Photo
Members of Teen Challenge, gather for a memorial service at River Park Saturday, July 18, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn., for the victims of the Tennessee shootings. Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, of Hixson, Tenn., attacked two military facilities on Thursday, in a shooting rampage that killed four Marines and one U.S. Navy sailor.
  
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) -- A single "pop" cut through the quiet morning. Those who heard it had a moment to ponder the noise.

On this ordinary Thursday, some thought a car had backfired, or maybe a tire had blown. Sgt. 1st Class Robert Dodge looked up from his computer in an Army recruiting office in a strip mall, more curious than alarmed.

Then a young man in a rented convertible re-aimed his rifle and unleashed a frenzy of bullets. These were the opening shots in a single-handed rampage against the military that seized this city for hours and reignited American fears about radicalization and homegrown terror. The shooter's motive remains a mystery.

Glass shattered, televisions exploded, bullets whizzed past the heads of servicemen at their desks and rooted in the walls behind them. In nearby restaurants and hair salons and shops, people dived for cover or stood paralyzed by fear.

Inside the five side-by-side recruiting offices, one for each branch of the military and the National Guard, no one panicked.

"They were being soldiers," said Keith Wheatley, the property manager, a Marine himself, who arrived moments after the attack. "That's part of their job description. They know that any given time they could take fire, that's what they do. They weren't crying or upset. They were just trying to figure out what to do next."

Dodge had taken command of the recruiting office near Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport barely a month before. But after four tours in Iraq, he knew the drill. As the bullets rocketed by, he hustled the others in his office to a secure closet.

They emerged when the firing subsided, amazed to find just one person shot in the leg, unaware that the worst was far from over. They would soon learn from arriving police officers that the man in the silver Mustang had made his way across town to a Navy and Marine Reserve center and crashed the gate.

Back at the recruiting center, they waited for word outside their shattered storefront, emblazoned with the seal of the U.S. Marine Corps: a bald eagle atop the Earth, clutching a scroll in its beak that reads "Semper Fidelis." Always faithful.

Now seven jagged holes scarred the globe at its feet.
---
Seven miles from the strip mall, Lance Cpl. Skip Wells swapped texts with his girlfriend, Caroline Dove, 400 miles away at her home in Savannah, Georgia. They had not seen each other for months, and she was planning a visit for the following week.

"Can't wait anymore," he typed Thursday morning from the Reserve center, tucked between an industrial park and a leafy riverside park.

"Yes you can honey," she responded.

Around the same time, hordes of Chattanooga police heading for the recruiting offices heard the Mustang had been spotted, and changed course toward the Reserve center.

The car pulled off the highway, snaked around two concrete barriers meant to slow approaching vehicles and punched through the green chain-link gate into the parking lot.

The driver got out.

Officers who had tailed him there "immediately and aggressively" engaged him, Police Chief Fred Fletcher said.

In Savannah, a new message from Wells appeared on Dove's screen: "ACTIVE SHOOTER."
She thought he was joking.
---
The gunman, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, lived with his parents in an all-American suburb, with big houses and tidy lawns. Classmates described the Kuwait-born 24-year-old as an affable young man who made the Red Bank High School wrestling team and once offered a stranded neighbor a ride home in the snow.

Investigators are trying to piece together where along the way he went wrong.

He struggled for years with depression, his family said in a statement Saturday.

"There are no words to describe our shock, horror and grief," they wrote. "The person who committed this horrible crime was not the son we knew and loved."

Court records point to a volatile family life. His mother filed for divorce in 2009 and accused her husband of sexually assaulting her and abusing their children. She later agreed to reconcile.

Abdulazeez, tall and athletic, with an engineering degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, worked for a short time at a nuclear power plant in Ohio. Then a drug test tripped him up, a federal official briefed on the case told The Associated Press, and the company let him go.

He visited relatives in Jordan for several months last year, and when he came back, he resumed attending services at a mosque. He kicked soccer balls on his lawn and kept up with his friends, neighbors said. 

Sometimes, he shot pellet guns off the back deck, aiming at a red target hanging from a tree in the woods.

Friends who saw him in recent weeks told the AP they noticed nothing alarming.

On a Monday morning in April, around 2 a.m., a Chattanooga police officer pulled over a 14-year-old gray Toyota Camry. The driver, Abdulazeez, had been swerving, speeding and stopping at green lights, according to the police report. His eyes were droopy and watering; he slurred his speech and mumbled. He smelled of alcohol and marijuana and had white powder around his nostrils.

Abdulazeez told the officer that he had crushed up caffeine pills and snorted them. His court date was set for July 30.

That night, the police snapped a mug shot of the man with a crooked smile and a bushy beard.
---
Marilyn Hutcheson was working at a glass company across the street from the Reserve facility when, around 11 a.m., she heard a fusillade of gunshots.

"I couldn't even begin to tell you how many," she said. "It was rapid fire, like pow-pow-pow-pow, so quickly. The next thing I knew there were police cars coming from every direction."
 
A gunbattle erupted across the street.

Abdulazeez carried at least three guns, the FBI said. He didn't wear body armor but had on a vest designed to carry extra ammunition.

Investigators described him as a "moving target" and said he fired round after round at police.

Chattanooga police officers swarmed the scene, Fletcher said, each armed with a .45-caliber pistol and an AR-15 rifle. Some police brass rushed from headquarters; officers at home off-duty threw on their uniforms and ran.

One of Abdulazeez's bullets tore into Officer Dennis Pedigo's ankle. His fellow officers dragged the fallen policeman to safety.

It felt as if the firefight raged for 20 minutes, Hutcheson said. Business owners along the industrial corridor threw their doors closed and locked them. They huddled with employees and customers and people passing by who fled for cover. They watched the news and peered out as more police cars screamed down the street.

They couldn't see much from the windows. The Reserve center is set back from the street on the Tennessee River, in a valley and behind a row of trees. Neighbors could only hear chaos.

"We're apprehensive," Hutcheson said into the phone as the store remained locked down. "Not knowing what transpired, if it was a grievance or terroristic, we just don't know."

The area inside the fences is about the size of two football fields, said Lance Cpl. Austin Handle, who transferred from the facility last month. The building sits in the middle, surrounded by a parking lot, with a separate gated lot attached in the back where military vehicles are stored. It's a small complex that draws little attention - the last place Handle imagined ever seeing on the news.

Images showed officers with their weapons drawn crouched behind police cars and running from one car to the next. The area is mostly surrounded by woods, and the officers appeared at times as though they weren't sure where the gunfire was coming from. Along a jogging path that runs near the Navy-Marine Reserve center, a sniper lay on the ground with his rifle, peering through a scope. An officer knelt beside him, also ready to fire.

On the front line, officers advanced as Abdulazeez rained bullets. They returned fire until he was dead.

"It is apparent by looking at the crime scene ... that these officers were under a tremendous amount of gunfire from this individual," FBI agent Ed Reinhold said, "and yet they continued to move forward against this target and engage him and eliminated that threat, saving numerous lives throughout this community."

By the time it was over, four decorated Marines and a sailor - three of whom survived combat missions - and their attacker lay dead or dying.

Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, from Burke County, North Carolina, called Marines his brothers, friends said. The former Boy Scout enlisted in 2004 and was deployed three times, twice to Iraq. Handle described him as a "man's man," always quick with a joke.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, a father of three, was a reservist on active duty in Chattanooga. He died at the hospital two days later.

Sgt. Carson Holmquist enlisted in 2009, months after graduating from high school in tiny Polk County, Wisconsin. He served two tours of duty.

Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, of Hampden, Massachusetts, had served for 18 years, including two tours in Iraq. He was a father figure to the younger men, Handle said, tough but kind. He earned two Purple Hearts. 

His death could earn him a third.

Lance Cpl. Squire Wells, nicknamed Skip, came from a suburban Atlanta military family: His grandfather was in the Air Force, and his grandmother and mother were in the Navy. He loved flag football and American history and hoped to become a drill sergeant. The other Marines made fun of him, Handle said, because he was always so motivated, even during the most excruciating drills.

Dove, Wells' girlfriend, whom he had been texting in the moments before the murders, is on the way to becoming a Marine herself, having signed up just months ago.

"I love you," she texted desperately after news of the attack reached her.

Hours passed. She called and called.

"Hon, I need you to answer me please," she wrote.

Silence.

Black horse-trainer's death raises tensions in Mississippi

Black horse-trainer's death raises tensions in Mississippi
 
AP Photo
Pallbearers bring out the casket containing the body of Stonewall, Miss., resident Jonathan Sanders following his funeral services Saturday, July 18, 2015, at the Family Life Center in Quitman, Miss. Sanders, who had been driving a horse and buggy died after a fight with a Stonewall police officer.
    
STONEWALL, Miss. (AP) -- It's a tiny little memorial in the yard of an aging mobile home in a down-on-its-luck Mississippi mill town. Poster boards with votive candles form hearts, there are silk flowers and red, white and blue balloons. There's a sign demanding "Justice 4 Jonathan."

Here on Artesia Avenue is where Jonathan Sanders died after 10 p.m. on July 8, following a physical encounter with a white police officer for the town of Stonewall. What happened that night when Sanders - a 39-year-old black man riding in a two-wheel buggy pulled by a horse - crossed paths with Kevin Herrington - a 25-year-old part-time officer - is intensely disputed.

Lawyers for the Sanders family and witnesses who live in the mobile home say Herrington engaged in an unprovoked attack on Sanders after the two saw each other at a convenience store about a mile across town. C.J. Lawrence, the lawyer for three witnesses, said Sanders was doing nothing illegal and didn't resist while Herrington choked him to death.

A lawyer for Herrington, though, said the officer found Sanders with what appeared to be illegal drugs. 

Sanders and Herrington struggled in the grass and Sanders grabbed Herrington's gun from his holster, only to drop it in the grass, attorney Bill Ready Jr. said.

Trying to sort out the facts are the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the FBI. Herrington is on unpaid leave and left town on a family trip, Ready said. Sanders' survivors - including a mother, sister and two children - buried him Saturday.

Authorities are asking for calm while they finish investigating. But there were already two protests last weekend attended by hundreds in this town of 1,100 near the Alabama line.

Another protest is planned Sunday, as attorneys for Sanders' family paint his death as part of a larger nationwide struggle over police brutality against black men, and they see it as part of the unfinished civil rights movement in Stonewall, a town named after Confederate general Stonewall Jackson.

Chokwe Antar Lumumba, the Sanders family lawyer, said authorities told relatives that an autopsy found he died from "manual asphyxiation" - strangulation. He said the manner of death was homicide, not accidental.

A spokesman for MBI said the agency doesn't discuss ongoing investigations.

The autopsy finding doesn't necessarily mean Herrington committed a crime and accounts so far leave unanswered questions: What triggered the encounter? Was Herrington using necessary force, or was Sanders the victim of an overly aggressive officer?

And at a time when police departments are under intense scrutiny for treatment of black suspects, did race play a factor?

Stonewall doesn't have cameras in police cars or on officers, putting the focus on witnesses. Clarke County Sheriff Todd Kemp said one witness is Rachel Williams, a jail guard in neighboring Lauderdale County.

Lawrence, the witnesses' attorney, won't confirm her name, or describe the others, except to say they are related and also distantly related to Sanders by marriage. Lawrence said the witnesses sought lawyers because they fear for their safety. Lawrence is a law partner of Lumumba, the Sanders' family attorney.

Also present at the time of the death were Herrington and his wife, Kasey Herrington, who was riding that night in his police car.

The lawyers for the witnesses relayed their accounts to The Associated Press but said they did not want to talk directly with reporters: The witnesses say Herrington drove up behind Sanders and flashed his blue lights, causing the horse to rear. Sanders fell off the buggy and chased the horse, while Herrington ran up and grabbed Sanders by the strap of a headlamp he was wearing that had fallen around his neck. They say Sanders fell to the ground in a fetal position, trying to relieve pressure on his neck but otherwise not resisting, while Herrington lay atop him and put him in a chokehold.

The attorneys said one witness went outside and pleaded with Herrington to release Sanders. He refused until his wife retrieved his gun. Then Herrington directed his wife to radio for backup. When Herrington finally released Sanders, witnesses say he was unconscious and that blood came out of his mouth.

Ready disputes significant parts of that account. He said a struggle began after Herrington found Sanders with drugs and Sanders tried to run.

"It is my understanding that Mr. Sanders fought back and actually grabbed the officer's gun," Ready said.

He also said that Sanders outweighed Herrington, making it hard for the officer to subdue Sanders. He said Herrington did not intend to harm or kill Sanders.

"This was just an unfortunate result of an encounter between him and Mr. Sanders," Ready said.

State investigators have so far only described what happened as a physical "altercation."

Lawrence said his witnesses deny Herrington found drugs, or that Sanders grabbed the officer's gun. He and Lumumba say Kasey Herrington retrieved the gun from her husband's holster while he restrained Sanders.

Sanders has a history of drug troubles. He was convicted in December 2003 for selling cocaine and went to prison until May 2007. He was arrested again in April for allegedly possessing cocaine. A lawyer who was representing Sanders said authorities were trying to seize his Chevy Tahoe and some cash. Ready noted that if Sanders had drugs, his bond on the earlier charge could have been revoked and he would have had to stay in jail until the charges were resolved.

Herrington has been described as both an excellent police officer and a "Rambo" who held a grudge.

He graduated from a police academy in nearby Meridian in December 2013. Until last week, he was working occasional shifts in Stonewall and two nights a week in neighboring Enterprise. Ready said he also has a full time job as industrial worker, but wouldn't be more specific.

Enterprise Police Chief Joey Moulds said Herrington is a conscientious officer who kept on good terms with people - even after he'd written them citations.

Moulds said there were few complaints about Herrington and said he was very non-confrontational.

"I would have to put him at the top of the list. He's the most humble person I know of, extremely humble, extremely responsible," Moulds said.

But Eddie Crosby, who lives near Enterprise, thinks otherwise. Crosby said Herrington pulled him over multiple times this year to the point where Crosby felt Herrington was harassing him. He wrote a complaint to Moulds and the mayor and complained in a letter published in April by a local newspaper. He didn't include Herrington's name - describing the officer only as a "Rambo" type - but confirms he was referring to Herrington.

Afterward, Crosby said Herrington would flash his police lights at him and recently ticketed him for rolling through a stop sign.

"If he got it in for you he was going to have you," Crosby said. "I could understand the first time but you just don't stop somebody and make up an excuse."

Friends of Sanders describe him as a horse-lover who made a living buying, training and selling the animals. 

He lived next to his mother on a wooded side-road. Clifton Follins, the neighbor, said Sanders's two children didn't live with him but frequently visited.

"Ever since he's been big enough, he loved those horses," said Follins, 69.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Holmes will join many other mentally ill inmates in prison

Holmes will join many other mentally ill inmates in prison 

AP Photo
FILE - In this June 4, 2013, file photo, James Holmes, who was convicted on all counts on July 16, 2015, in the 2012 mass murder at a Colorado movie theater, appears in court in Centennial, Colo. Despite having convicted Holmes in the killings, jurors must still determine whether to put Holmes on death row for opening fire in the crowded movie theater. But their rejection of the idea that he was legally insane at the time of the mass shooting ensures that at the very least, he will soon join the thousands of other mentally ill prisoners who receive treatment behind bars.
   
DENVER (AP) -- Whether James Holmes gets life without parole or a death sentence for the Colorado theater shooting, he will spend years behind bars, joining about 6,000 inmates in Colorado and hundreds of thousands of others nationwide who suffer from mental illness.

Experts say prisons are ill-equipped to treat the growing number of inmates with mental illnesses - especially the majority who are not convicted of crimes as violent as Holmes, who was diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia.

A jury on Thursday convicted the 27-year-old former neuroscience graduate student of murder and other charges for his 2012 assault at a midnight screening of a Batman movie that killed 12 and wounded dozens of others.

The same jurors will decide his sentence in the penalty phase of the trial, which starts Wednesday and will take about a month. Even if they decide Holmes should be executed, as prosecutors want, he would spend years in prison as his mandatory appeals play out in court.

Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but jurors rejected the claim after two state-appointed psychiatrists testified he could distinguish right from wrong, Colorado's test for sanity. But the two state psychiatrists and two defense psychiatrists agreed he suffers from mental illness.

If jurors had found Holmes was insane, he would have been committed indefinitely to a state mental hospital. 

Instead, he could end up at the San Carlos Correctional Facility, Colorado's 250-bed prison for inmates with mental illness, where experts agree his treatment will be at a far lower standard than if he were hospitalized.

"In most hospitals, you don't have staff whipping out Tasers and pepper spray and using it on their patients," said Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch, who has studied mental health treatment in prisons and recently wrote a report detailing instances of mentally ill prisoners being beaten or so violently restrained that they die. 

"This kind of treatment isn't just restricted to someone who's committed a horrific crime."

Last year, Colorado's Department of Correction approved a $3 million settlement to resolve a lawsuit from a family of an inmate with a form of schizophrenia who died after being restrained in the San Carlos prison. Staffers were videotaped joking as Christopher Lopez suffered seizures and died. The agency said it fired three people.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections said no one was available to comment Friday on the prison system's mental health care.

People with mental illness sometimes wind up in jail because law officers don't know what else to do with them, said Scott Glaser, executive director of the Colorado chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


And once in the criminal justice system, they find it hard to get out.

"They cannot usually get effective treatment," Glaser said. "It increases recidivism. If someone is dealing with a mental illness that affects their decision-making. It's very easy for them to end up in the system again."

Nationwide, a 2006 federal study estimated that 56 percent of all prisoners in state custody suffered from mental illness and 15 percent suffered from some sort of psychotic disorder. Mental health advocates say their treatment is almost uniformly substandard for a variety of reasons.

Mentally ill people do not fare well in the crowded, loud environment of prisons, the study concluded. They are more likely to have trouble following rules, which makes them more likely to be punished and end up in solitary confinement. The isolation of a solitary cell can vastly aggravate their mental illness. They are also more likely to be victims of sexual abuse, the study said.

Colorado lawmakers banned solitary confinement for inmates with serious mental illness after a prisoner who had been held in solitary for much of his eight-year term was suspected of killing the state prisons chief, Tom Clements, in 2013.

"Prison is a pretty horrific place to be, especially if you have a mental illness," said Laura Usher of the National Alliance on Mental Illness' national office.

The incarceration of mentally ill inmates in jails and prisons has been a persistent national problem since the widespread closure of mental hospitals in the 1970s. The promised local community care system to handle the newly released mentally ill never materialized, and now they often end up behind bars. There the Constitution entitles them to basic medical treatment, said Dr. Renee Binder, president of the American Psychiatric Association, but it's often hard to meet that standard.

The APA and other groups are pushing for more programs to keep the mentally ill out of prison initially - be those special courts or local treatment.

"When someone ends up in jail and prison and has a serious mental illness, it's really a problem with the system," Binder said. "The question needs to be asked: `Could we have prevented this?'"


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Van Stone's Black Men Models


Monday, July 13, 2015

APNewsBreak: Pentagon readying plan to lift transgender ban

APNewsBreak: Pentagon readying plan to lift transgender ban 
 

AP Photo
FILE - In this June 5, 2013, file photo Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, then-Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., after the third day of his court martial. The Associated Press has learned that Pentagon leaders are finalizing plans aimed at lifting the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. Senior U.S. officials say an announcement is expected this week. They say the military would have six months to determine the impact and work out details, with the presumption that they would end one of the last gender- or sexuality-based barriers to military service.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pentagon leaders are finalizing plans aimed at lifting the ban on transgender individuals in the military, with the goal of formally ending one of the last gender- or sexuality-based barriers to military service, senior U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

An announcement is expected this week, and the services would have six months to assess the impact of the change and work out the details, the officials said Monday. Military chiefs wanted time to methodically work through the legal, medical and administrative issues and develop training to ease any transition, and senior leaders believed six months would be sufficient.

The officials said Defense Secretary Ash Carter has asked his personnel undersecretary, Brad Carson, to set up a working group of senior military and civilian leaders to take an objective look at the issue. One senior official said that while the goal is to lift the ban, Carter wants the working group to look at the practical effects, including the costs, and determine whether it would affect readiness or create any insurmountable problems that could derail the plan. The group would also develop uniform guidelines.

During the six months, transgender individuals would still not be able to join the military, but any decisions to force out those already serving would be referred to the Pentagon's acting undersecretary for personnel, the officials said. One senior official said the goal was to avoid forcing any transgender service members to leave during that time.

Several officials familiar with the planning spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the issue publicly before the final details have been worked out.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Carter said, "we must ensure that everyone who's able and willing to serve has the full and equal opportunity to do so. And we must treat all of our people with the dignity and respect they deserve. Going forward the Department of Defense must and will continue to improve how we do both."

Some of the key concerns involved in the repeal of the ban include whether the military would conduct or pay for the medical costs, surgeries and other treatment associated with any gender transition, as well as which physical training or testing standards transgender individuals would be required to meet during different stages of their transition.

Officials said the military also wants time to tackle questions about where transgender troops would be housed, what uniforms they would wear, what berthing they would have on ships, which bathrooms they would use and whether their presence would affect the ability of small units to work well together. The military has dealt with many similar questions as it integrated the ranks by race, gender and sexual orientation.

Transgender people - those who identify with a different gender than they were born with and sometimes take hormone treatments or have surgery to develop the physical characteristics of their preferred gender - are banned from military service. But studies and other surveys have estimated that as many as 15,000 transgender people serve in the active duty military and the reserves, often in secret but in many cases with the knowledge of their unit commander or peers.

"Obviously this isn't finished, but Secretary Carter's clear statement of intent means that transgender service members should and will be treated with the same dignity as other service members," said Allyson Robinson, Army veteran and policy director for an association of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military personnel called Service members, Partners, and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All, or SPARTA.

The move follows several weeks of high level meetings in the Pentagon among top ranking military chiefs, secretaries and Defense Department leaders, including one on Monday involving Carter and the chiefs of the various services.

Military leaders have pointed to the gradual - and ultimately successful - transition after the ban on gays serving openly in the military was lifted in 2011. Although legislation repealing that ban passed Congress in late 2010, the military services spent months conducting training and reviews before the decision actually took effect the following September.

The latest Pentagon move comes just weeks after the Supreme Court upheld the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Officials familiar with the Pentagon meetings said the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force did not express opposition to lifting the ban. Instead, they said the military leaders asked for time to figure out health care, housing and other questions and also to provide information and training to the troops to insure a smooth transition.

Although guidelines require that transgender individuals be dismissed from the military, the services in recent months have required more senior leaders to make the final decisions on those cases, effectively slowing the dismissal process.

The transgender issue came to the fore as the military struggled with how to deal with convicted national security leaker Chelsea Manning's request for hormone therapy and other treatment while she's in prison. Manning, arrested as Bradley Manning, is the first transgender military prisoner to request such treatment, and the Army approved the hormone therapy, under pressure from a lawsuit.

Manning, is serving a 35-year sentence. The former intelligence analyst was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offenses for sending more than 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks while working in Iraq.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mexico: Drug lord 'El Chapo' Guzman escapes; manhunt begins

Mexico: Drug lord 'El Chapo' Guzman escapes; manhunt begins 
 

AP Photo
FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2014 file photo, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines at a navy hanger in Mexico City. Mexico's security commission says top drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman has escaped from a maximum security prison for the second time.
   
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexico mounted an all-out manhunt Sunday for its most powerful drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who escaped from a maximum security prison through a 1.5-kilometer (1 mile) tunnel from a small opening in the shower area of his cell, according to the country's top security official.
The elaborate underground escape route, built allegedly without the detection of authorities, allowed Guzman to do what Mexican officials promised would never happen after his re-capture last year - slip out of one of the country's most secure penitentiaries for the second time.

"This represents without a doubt an affront to the Mexican state," said President Enrique Pena Nieto, speaking during a previously scheduled trip to France. "But I also have confidence in the institutions of the Mexican state ... that they have the strength and determination to recapture this criminal."

If Guzman is not caught immediately, the drug lord will likely be back in full command and control of the Sinaloa Cartel in 48 hours, said Michael S. Vigil, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief of international operations.

"We may never find him again," he said. "All the accolades that Mexico has received in their counterdrug efforts will be erased by this one event."

Thirty employees from various part of the Altiplano prison, 55 miles (90 kilometers) west of Mexico City, have been taken in for questioning, according to the federal Attorney General's Office.

A manhunt began immediately late Saturday for Guzman, whose cartel is believed to control most of the major crossing points for drugs at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Guatemala's Interior Ministry said a special task force of police and soldiers were watching Mexico's southern border for any sign of fugitive drug lord.

To the north, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch issued a statement offering "any assistance that may help support his swift recapture,"

Associated Press journalists near Altiplano saw the roads were being heavily patrolled by federal police, with numerous checkpoints and a Blackhawk helicopter flying overhead. Flights were also suspended at Toluca's international airport near the penitentiary in the State of Mexico, and civil aviation hangars were being searched.

Guzman was last seen about 9 p.m. in the shower area of his cell, according to a statement from the National Security Commission. After a time, he was lost by the prison's security camera surveillance network. Upon checking his cell, authorities found it empty and a 20-by-20-inch (50-by-50 centimeter) hole near the shower.  

Guzman's escape is a major embarrassment to the Pena Nieto administration, which had received plaudits for its aggressive approach to top drug lords. Since the government took office in late 2012, Mexican authorities have nabbed or killed six of them, including Guzman.

Guzman faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. as well as Mexico, and was on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's most-wanted list.

After Guzman was arrested on Feb. 22, 2014, the U.S. said it would file an extradition request, though it's not clear if that happened.

The Mexican government at the time vehemently denied the need to extradite Guzman, even as many expressed fears he would escape as he did in 2001 while serving a 20-year sentence in the country's other top-security prison, Puente Grande, in the western state of Jalisco.

Former Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told the AP earlier this year that the U.S. would get Guzman in "about 300 or 400 years" after he served time for all his crimes in Mexico.
He dismissed concerns that Guzman could escape a second time. That risk "does not exist," Murillo Karam said.

"It wasn't overconfidence; it was Mexican judicial nationalism," said Raul Benitez, a security expert at Mexico's National Autonomous University. "First he had to pay his debt in Mexico and then in the U.S. Now it's very evident that it was a mistake."

It was difficult to believe that such an elaborate structure could have been built without the detection of authorities, though photographs show the corrections facility surrounded by construction, with large open ditches and lots of metal drainage pipes that could have camouflaged such a project.

Guzman dropped by ladder into a hole 10 meters (30 feet) deep that connected with a tunnel about 1.7 meters (5 feet-6 inches) high that was fully ventilated and had lighting, Rubido said.

Authorities also found tools, oxygen tanks and a motorcycle adapted to run on rails that they believe was used to carry dirt out and tools in during the construction.

The tunnel terminated in a half-built house in a farm field, according to radio transmissions among authorities, who cordoned off the structure that sits atop a small rise with a clear view of the prison. They would not confirm the location of the end of the tunnel directly to the AP.

A 74-year-old rancher whose home is about 400 yards (meters) from the cordoned property said he had seen a couple in their 30s start building on the property about a year ago. He did not want to be named for safety reasons. He said they were very friendly and not from the area.

"One day my cows made it over to the house and I didn't see anything strange," said the rancher, whose home sits between the prison and the other property.

Guzman's cartel is known for building elaborate tunnels beneath the Mexico-U.S. border to transport cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana, with ventilation, lighting and even railcars to easily move products.

He was first caught by authorities in Guatemala in 1993, extradited and sentenced to 20 years in prison on drug-trafficking-related charges.

Many accounts say he escaped in 2001 in a laundry cart, although there have been several versions of how he got away. What is clear is that he had help from prison guards, who were prosecuted and convicted.

Guzman was finally re-captured in February 2014 after eluding authorities for days across his home state of Sinaloa.

Born 58 years ago, according to Interpol, he and allies took control of the Sinaloa faction when a larger syndicate began to fall apart in 1989.

During his first stint as a fugitive, Guzman transformed himself into arguably the most powerful drug trafficker in the world. His fortune was estimated at more than $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, which listed him among the "World's Most Powerful People," ranked above the presidents of France and Venezuela.

He finally was tracked down to a modest beachside high-rise in the Pacific Coast resort city of Mazatlan, where he had been hiding with his wife and twin daughters. He was captured in the early morning of Feb. 22, 2014, without a shot fired.

Before they reached him, security forces went on a several-day chase through Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state. They found houses where Guzman supposedly had been staying with steel-enforced doors and the same kind of lighted, ventilated escape tunnels.

Even after his 2014 capture, Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel empire continues to stretch throughout North America and reaches as far as Europe and Australia. The cartel has been heavily involved in the bloody drug war that has torn through parts of Mexico for the last decade, taking an estimated 100,000 lives or more.

Altiplano, considered the most secure of Mexico's federal prisons, also houses Zetas drug cartel leader Miguel Angel Trevino, and Edgar Valdes Villarreal, known as "La Barbie," of the Beltran Leyva cartel.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Pope asks pardon for church's 'crimes' against indigenous

Pope asks pardon for church's 'crimes' against indigenous

AP Photo
Pope Francis talks to Indian leaders and social workers at the second World Meeting of Popular Movements in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Thursday, July 9, 2015. During his speech at the meeting, history's first Latin American pope apologized for the sins and "offenses" committed by the Catholic Church against indigenous peoples during the colonial-era conquest of the Americas.

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Pope Francis apologized Thursday for the sins, offenses and crimes committed by the Catholic Church against indigenous peoples during the colonial-era conquest of the Americas, delivering a powerful mea culpa on the part of the church in the climactic highlight of his South American pilgrimage.

History's first Latin American pope "humbly" begged forgiveness during an encounter in Bolivia with indigenous groups and other activists and in the presence of Bolivia's first-ever indigenous president, Evo Morales.

Francis noted that Latin American church leaders in the past had acknowledged that "grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God." St. John Paul II, for his part, apologized to the continent's indigenous for the "pain and suffering" caused during the 500 years of the church's presence in the Americas during a 1992 visit to the Dominican Republic.

But Francis went farther, and said he was doing so with "regret."

"I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was St. John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America," he said to applause from the crowd.

Then deviating from his prepared script, he added: "I also want for us to remember the thousands and thousands of priests who strongly opposed the logic of the sword with the power of the cross. There was sin, and it was plentiful. But we never apologized, so I now ask for forgiveness. But where there was sin, and there was plenty of sin, there was also an abundant grace increased by the men who defended indigenous peoples."

Francis' apology was met with wild applause from the indigenous and other grass-roots groups gathered for a world summit of popular movements whose fight against injustice and social inequality has been championed by the pope.

"We accept the apologies. What more can we expect from a man like Pope Francis?" said Adolfo Chavez, a leader of a lowlands indigenous group. "It's time to turn the page and pitch in to start anew. We indigenous were never lesser beings."

The apology was significant given the controversy that has erupted in the United States over Francis' planned canonization of the 18th century Spanish priest Junipero Serra, who set up missions across California. Native Americans contend Serra brutally converted indigenous people to Christianity, wiping out villages in the process, and have opposed his canonization. The Vatican insists Serra defended natives from colonial abuses.

Francis' apology was also significant given the controversy that blew up the last time a pope visited the continent. Benedict XVI drew heated criticism when, during a 2007 visit to Brazil, he defended the church's campaign to Christianize indigenous peoples. He said the Indians of Latin America had been "silently longing" to become Christians when Spanish and Portuguese conquerors violently took over their lands.

"In effect, the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture," Benedict told the continent's bishops.
Amid an outcry from indigenous groups, Benedict subsequently acknowledged that "shadows accompanied the work of evangelizing" the continent and said European colonizers inflicted "sufferings and injustices" on indigenous populations. He didn't apologize, however.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that Francis wrote the speech on his own and that the apology for the sins, offenses and crimes of the church was a "particularly important declaration."
Church officials have long insisted Catholic missionaries protected indigenous peoples from the abuses of military colonizers and were often punished by European colonial powers as a result. Francis' own Jesuit order developed missions across the continent, educating the indigenous and turning their communities into 
organized Christian-Indian societies. The Jesuits were expelled in the 17th century.

Mexican Bishop Raul Vera, who attended the summit where Francis made the apology, said the church was essentially a passive participant in allowing natives to become enslaved under the Spanish "encomienda" system, by which the Spanish king granted land in conquered territories to those who settled there. Indians were allowed to live on the haciendas as long as they worked them.

"It's evident that the church did not defend against it with all its efforts. It allowed it to be imposed," Vera told The Associated Press earlier Thursday.

He acknowledged that John Paul had previously asked forgiveness for the church's sins against indigenous. But he said Francis' apology was particularly poignant given the setting.

Campesino leader Amandina Quispe, of Anta, Peru, who attended the grass-roots summit, said the church still holds lands it should give back to Andean natives. The former seat of the Inca empire, conquered by 
Spaniards in the 16th century, is an example.

"The church stole our land and tore down our temples in Cuzco and then it built its own churches - and now it charges admission to visit them," she said.

Francis' apology was not the first. After his 1992 apology, John Paul II issued a sweeping but vague apology for the Catholic Church's sins of the past during the church's 2000 Jubilee. A year later, he apologized specifically for missionary abuses against aborigines in Oceania. He did so in the first ever papal email.

During the speech, the longest and most important of Francis' week-long, three-nation South American trip, the pope touched on some of the key priorities of his pontificate: the need to change an unjust global economic system that excludes the poor and replace it with a "communitarian economy" involving the "fitting distribution" of the Earth's resources.

"Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the Earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It's a moral obligation," he said.

He ended the speech with a fierce condemnation of the world's governments for what he called "cowardice" in defending the Earth. Echoing his environmental encyclical of last month, the pope said the Earth "is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity" while "one international summit after another takes place without any significant result."

He urged the activists present to "keep up your struggle."

It was a message he articulated earlier in the day when he denounced the "throwaway" culture of today's society that discards anyone who is unproductive. He made the comments as he celebrated his first public Mass in Bolivia, South America's poorest country.
The government declared a national holiday so workers and students could attend the Mass, which featured prayers in Guarani and Aimara, two of Bolivia's indigenous languages, and an altar carved from wood by artisans of the Chiquitano people.
In a blending of the native and new, the famously unpretentious pope changed into his vestments for the Mass in a nearby Burger King.

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