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Former Kentucky jail guard convicted of beating inmate who later died

 

 

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A former Kentucky jail guard was convicted of beating an inmate and leaving him lying with blood on his face, until another jail employee saw the victim and he was rushed to a hospital and pronounced dead, officials said on Friday.

A federal jury deliberated for an hour and a half before returning the verdict late on Thursday against William Howell, a former deputy jailer at Kentucky River Regional Jail in the town of Hazard, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.

The panel found Howell guilty of excessive force and of ignoring the inmate’s injuries and he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each criminal count when he is sentenced on Aug. 16 at a federal court in London, Kentucky.

Howell, 60, and another guard beat inmate Larry Trent, 54, on July 9, 2013, after he was booked on a charge of drunken driving.

It started when the two guards opened Trent’s cell door to remove a sleeping mat. Trent ran out and the jailers punched, kicked and stomped on Trent before taking him back to his cell, where Howell kicked Trent in the head while he lay on the ground, the Department of Justice statement said.

An autopsy found Trent died of a fracture to his pelvis that caused hemorrhaging and from blunt force trauma to his head, chest and limbs.

Damon Hickman, the other guard, pleaded guilty last year to depriving Trent of his legal rights and falsifying records for his role in the beating, according to court records. He has not yet been sentenced for those convictions.

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http://perrycounty.ky.gov/da/Pages/jail.aspx

AG Sessions paves way for stricter sentencing in criminal cases

By Laura Jarrett, CNN

Updated 7:54 AM ET, Fri May 12, 2017

(CNN)Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a new directive for federal prosecutors across the country: charge suspects with the most serious offense you can prove.

Friday’s announcement follows a line of several other significant departures from Obama-era domestic policies at the Justice Department, but this decision crystalized Sessions’ position in the criminal justice realm.

In a brief one-and-a-half-page memo, Sessions outlined his new instructions for charging decisions in federal cases, saying that his new first principle is “that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”

    “The most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences,” Sessions later adds.

    While the federal sentencing guidelines are advisory — and take into account everything from a defendant’s criminal history to cooperation with authorities — some judges have felt handcuffed by mandatory minimums, which provide a statutory sentencing minimum of months below which the judge cannot depart.

    The move was harshly criticized by the New York University School of Law Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute focused on democracy and justice.

    “The Trump administration is returning to archaic and deeply-flawed policies,” Inimai Chettiar, the center’s justice program director, said Friday. “Sessions is leaving little to no room for prosecutors to use their judgment and determine what criminal charges best fit the crime.”

    “That approach is what led to this mess of mass incarceration,” she added. “It exploded the prison population, didn’t help public safety, and cost taxpayers billions in enforcement and incarceration costs.”

    Sessions also formally withdrew a signature part of Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, which sought to target the most serious crimes and reduce the number of defendants charged with non-violent drug offenses that would otherwise trigger mandatory minimum sentences.

    “We must ensure that our most severe mandatory minimum penalties are reserved for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers,” Holder wrote in a 2013 memo. “In some cases, mandatory minimum and recidivist enhancements statutes have resulted in unduly harsh sentences and perceived or actual disparities that do not reflect our Principles of Federal Prosecution.”

    As a result, during the Obama era, federal prosecutors were instructed not to charge someone for a drug crime that would trigger a mandatory minimum sentence if certain specific factors were met: (a) the relevant conduct didn’t involve death, violence, a threat of violence or possession of a weapon; (b) the defendant wasn’t an organizer, leader or manager of others within a criminal organization; (c) there were no ties to large-scale drug trafficking operations; and (d) the defendant didn’t have a “significant” criminal history (i.e., prior convictions).

    All of those charging factors are now gone under Sessions’ reign and not surprising, as he has previously telegraphed his desire to prosecute more federal cases generally.

    The effects of Friday’s decision are likely to be felt most immediately in the narcotics context where federal mandatory minimums established by Congress can be harsh for even first-time offenders because the sentences are dictated based on drug type and quantity.

    CNN’s Eugene Scott contributed to this report.

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    Over 7,000 Bodies May Be Buried Beneath Mississippi University

     

     

     

    George Dvorsky

    Yesterday 1:47pm

    In what sounds like a clichéd horror movie premise, a recent investigation suggests as many as 7,000 bodies are buried across 20 acres at the Mississippi Medical Center Campus—the former site of the state’s first mental institution. Officials at the university now face the grim task of pulling 100-year-old bodies out of the ground for scientific analysis.

    From 1855 to 1935, some 35,000 patients were admitted to the Insane Asylum, as it was called. Many of those who died during their stay were buried at the facility’s cemetery. The Insane Asylum was relocated over 80 years ago, and the grounds that hold the deceased now belong to the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

    Back in 2013, construction workers uncovered 66 coffins on the campus—but this proved to be the tip of the iceberg. When construction began on a parking garage in 2014, ground-penetrating radar revealed the presence of 1,000 coffins. Subsequent surveys revealed a total of 2,000 coffins. Current estimates now place the total number of coffins buried beneath the campus at approximately 7,000.

    “We have inherited these patients. We want to show them care and respectful management.”

    Officials at the university estimate that it’ll cost about $3,000 to exhume and rebury each body, at a total cost of $21 million. The university is now considering an alternative plan in which it’ll do the work in-house, at a cost of $400,000 per year over the course of eight years. The remains of the 66 patients uncovered in 2013 will be reburied following scientific analysis, but the university says it’ll leave the thousands of other bodies where they lie, and find new locations for its development projects. A memorial would be created to commemorate the remains, along with a visitor’s center and a lab where the bodies, clothing, and coffins will be analyzed. Should the science lab be built, it’ll be the first facility of its kind in the United States.

    “It would be a unique resource for Mississippi,” said UM anthropologist Molly Zuckerman in The Clarion Ledger. “It would make Mississippi a national center on historical records relating to health in the pre-modern period, particularly those being institutionalized.”

    To get things started, the university has created the Asylum Hill Research Consortium, a group of experts consisting of anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians. It’s hoped that grants will make it possible for outside researchers to join the study.

    “We have inherited these patients,” said Ralph Didlake, who oversees UMMC’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, in The Clarion Ledger. “We want to show them care and respectful management.”

    A possible research angle would be to extract and study the DNA of all patients exhumed at the Asylum’s cemetery. This would make it possible to identify living family members who may come forward. The university is planning to compile a list of patients and post it online.

    Some scientific work has already begun. Researchers at Mississippi State University’s Cobb Institute have been examining the remains of the 66 patients uncovered in 2013. Using genetic sequencing, the scientists have reconstructed oral bacteria from the remains, which can tell a story about each patient’s overall health. Another study is looking into the skeletons’ tooth enamel, which points to nutritional deprivation and other health markers. A third study is investigating the presence of pellagra, a disease caused by Vitamin B deficiency which was very common in the South during the early 20th century.

    Prior to the founding of Mississippi’s Insane Asylum, people suffering from mental illnesses were simply thrown into jail cells, or banished to attics. The new facility offered a better place for patients, but conditions remained harsh. Between 1855 and 1877, around one in five patients died during their stay. The institute was expanded after the Civil War, and at its height around 6,000 patients were housed at the facility. In 1935, the Insane Asylum was moved to its current location of the State Hospital at Whitfield.

    The discovery of these 7,000-or-so coffins must have come as quite a shock to the university and its students. It’s all very creepy, to be sure, but given the new opportunities for scientific investigation, it might actually be a blessing in disguise.

    [The Clarion Ledger]

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    “…the human species will have to populate a new planet within 100 years if it is to survive,"

    hawking.jpg

    In November, Stephen Hawking and his bulging computer brain gave humanity what we thought was an intimidating deadline for finding a new planet to call home: 1,000 years.

    Ten centuries is a blip in the grand arc of the universe, but in human terms it was the apocalyptic equivalent of getting a few weeks’ notice before our collective landlord (Mother Earth) kicks us to the curb.

    Even so, we took a collective breathe and steeled our nerves.

    Read more

    So what if there’s no interplanetary Craigslist for new astronomical sublets, we told ourselves, we’re human – the Bear Grylls of the natural order. We’ve already survived the ice age, the plague, a bunch of scary volcanoes and earthquakes, and the 2016 election cycle.

    We got this, right? Not so fast.

    Now Hawking, the renowned theoretical physicist turned apocalypse warning system, is back with a revised deadline. In “Expedition New Earth” – a documentary that debuts this summer as part of the BBC’s “Tomorrow’s World” science season – Hawking claims that Mother Earth would greatly appreciate it if we could gather our belongings and get out – not in 1,000 years, but in the next century or so.

    You heard the man – a single human lifetime. Is this nerd serious?

    Thanks, Steve.

    “Professor Stephen Hawking thinks the human species will have to populate a new planet within 100 years if it is to survive,” the BBC said with a notable absence of punctuation marks in a statement posted online. “With climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics and population growth, our own planet is increasingly precarious.”

    “In this landmark series, Expedition New Earth, he enlists engineering expert Danielle George and his own former student, Christophe Galfard, to find out if and how humans can reach for the stars and move to different planets.”

    The BBC program gives Hawking a chance to wade into the evolving science and technology that may become crucial if humans hatch a plan to escape Earth and find a way to survive on another planet – from questions about biology and astronomy to rocket technology and human hibernation, the BBC notes.

    The cosmologist lives with the motor neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. As the disease has progressed, he has become almost entirely paralyzed. And in 1985, after contracting pneumonia, Hawking underwent a tracheotomy that left him unable to speak. He communicates using the assistance of a voice-producing computer.

    In recent months, Hawking has been explicit about humanity’s need to find a “Planet B.” In the past, he has also called for humans to colonize the moon and find a way to settle Mars – a locale he referred to as “the obvious next target” in 2008, according to New Scientist.

    Remaining on Earth any longer, Hawking claims, places humanity at great risk of encountering another mass extinction.

    “We must . . . continue to go into space for the future of humanity,” the 74-year-old Cambridge professor said during a November speech at Oxford University Union, according to the Daily Express.

    “I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet,” he added.

    During the hour-long speech, Hawking told the audience that Earth’s cataclysmic end may be hastened by humankind, which will continue to devour the planet’s resources at unsustainable rates, the Express reported.

    His wide-ranging talk touched upon the origins of the universe and Einstein’s theory of relativity, as well as humanity’s creation myths and God. Hawking also discussed “M-theory,” which Leron Borsten of PhysicsWorld.com explains as “proposal for a unified quantum theory of the fundamental constituents and forces of nature.”

    Though the challenges ahead are immense, Hawking said, it is a “glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics.”

    “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years, and I am happy if I have made a small contribution,” he added.

    Some of Hawking’s most explicit warnings have revolved around the potential threat posed by artificial intelligence. That means – in Hawking’s analysis – humanity’s daunting challenge is twofold: develop the technology that will enable us to leave the planet and start a colony elsewhere, while avoiding the frightening perils that may be unleashed by said technology.

    When it comes to discussing that threat, Hawking is unmistakably blunt.

    “I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” Hawking told the BBC in a 2014 interview that touched upon everything from online privacy to his affinity for his robotic-sounding voice.

    Despite its current usefulness, he cautioned, further developing A.I. could prove a fatal mistake.

    “Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it will take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate,” Hawking warned in recent months. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”

    Thanks again, Steve.

    Washington Post

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    Milwaukee Inmate Died After Being Deprived of Water for 7 Days

    Milwaukee Inmate Died After Being Deprived of Water for 7 Days

    By DANIEL VICTORAPRIL 25, 2017

     

    Terrill Thomas had bipolar disorder, a lawyer for his estate said.

    Inmates, correction officers and investigators are testifying in Milwaukee this week to help determine whether jail employees will be charged with abuse in the dehydration death of an inmate who the authorities say was deprived of water for a week.

    Prosecutors and a lawyer representing the estate of the inmate, Terrill Thomas, say that correction officers turned off the man’s water supply in an isolation cell in April 2016, and that he was unable to ask for help because he was having a mental health crisis. He died on April 24, 2016.

    In March, the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office requested an inquest, a relatively uncommon legal procedure in which a cause of death is examined for possible criminal charges. After a week of testimony, jurors will decide whether to recommend charges against jail employees, though the district attorney is not bound by the recommendation.

    Erik Heipt, the lawyer representing Mr. Thomas’s estate, said in an interview on Monday that Mr. Thomas, 38, had bipolar disorder, and that “he was not operating in a world of reality” when he was jailed.

     

    “He needed mental health treatment, but instead of the jail treating his very serious mental health needs, they responded by punishing him for acting out,” he said. “They treated his mental illness as a behavioral problem and disciplined him.”

    Mr. Thomas was arrested on April 15, 2016, on charges that he shot a man and later fired two gunshots inside the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

    He was placed in a cell at the Milwaukee County Jail with no mattress, blanket or pillow, Mr. Heipt said. There was a toilet, but it wouldn’t flush after the water was turned off, he said.

    Mr. Thomas was not given drinks with his food, which was an unsavory, brick-shaped dish called “Nutraloaf” that some states have banned. He did not eat the meals and lost at least 30 pounds, Mr. Heipt said.

    While other inmates told correction officers that Mr. Thomas needed water, Mr. Thomas could not advocate this himself, Mr. Heipt said. On April 24, Mr. Thomas was found dead on the floor of his cell.

     

    “Inmates are at the mercy of their jailers for basic life-sustaining necessities like water, food and medical care,” a court filing signed by Kurt Benkley, an assistant district attorney, said in March. “When a mentally ill inmate, like Mr. Thomas, is locked in solitary confinement without access to water, his life is totally in his jailers’ hands.”

    The sheriff’s office did not respond to messages on Tuesday seeking comment.

    Mr. Benkley said at the opening of the inquest on Monday that video showed three officers turning off the water in Mr. Thomas’s cell as punishment for flooding another cell, The Journal Sentinel reported. The officers did not notify supervisors or document the cutoff, Mr. Benkley said.

    “This order to shut off Mr. Thomas’s water was highly irregular and contrary to standard operating procedure in the jail,” the assistant district attorney said, according to the newspaper.

    Two correction officers who testified on Monday said they were unaware that the water in Mr. Thomas’s cell had been turned off, according to Fox 6, a Milwaukee television station.

    Mr. Heipt said he planned to file a federal civil rights case on behalf of Mr. Thomas’s estate, and one of Mr. Thomas’s children has filed a separate federal civil suit against Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County and his staff. Mr. Clarke gained national prominence last year as one of President Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters in law enforcement, delivering a speech at the Republican National Convention in which he declared, “Blue lives matter.”

    Mr. Heipt praised the district attorney’s office for “really digging deeply into this,” which he described as unusual for abuse that’s reported behind bars. Families who believe their loved ones were abused often have trouble getting prosecutions, and typically rely more on the civil court system, where they can obtain monetary damages, he said.

    While public interest in police shootings has grown in recent years, abuse in the prison system is more likely to remain hidden from the public, he said. That’s partly because police shootings in public spaces are often captured by videos that go viral and stoke widespread calls for justice, he said.

    “That type of evidence doesn’t always exist in jail-related deaths, and so the people are often not demanding the same level of accountability,” Mr. Heipt said. “These things are often poorly investigated and get swept under the rug, and the citizens don’t even know it’s happening.”

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    Sheriff Who Met DAPL Opponents With Brute Force Now Advising Other Law Enforcement

     

    Nebraska officials are reportedly preparing for what they expect will be massive protests against the Keystone XL pipeline

    by Lauren McCauley, staff writer

    The Morton County Sheriff's Department deployed a tank and sprayed peaceful protesters with a water cannon amid sub-zero temperatures on November 20, 2016. (Photo: Dark Sevier/flickr/cc)

    Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, made infamous for leading his department in brutal confrontations with opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline, is reportedly advising other law enforcement on how to deal with protesters.

    In an interview with the Omaha World-Herald published Tuesday, Kirchmeier predicted that the next flashpoint will come in Nebraska over the pending construction of the Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline.

    Throughout the months-long standoff in North Dakota, the sheriff’s office was repeatedly criticized for acting as a security force for pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners, as well as for routinely employing an excessive use of force against demonstrators. Police in riot gear attacked the water protectors with rubber bullets, water cannons, teargas grenades, and other weapons.

    In addition, military vehicles such as a BearCat and MRAPs were deployed, while protesters were monitored by helicopters and identification check-points.

    Yet, Kirchmeier told the World-Herald “that several other states, including South Dakota, have asked him to relay what he learned from the Standing Rock protests, and said that eventually he expects to talk with those from Nebraska,” the newspaper reported.

    Among the lessons learned, according to reporter Paul Hammel, is how the county and state both “declared emergencies so they could utilize emergency funds to buy riot gear and cover the costs of officers who came from other states, including Nebraska.”

    Further, “Kirchmeier said some tactical lessons were learned in confronting protesters, but he declined to share them,” Hammel wrote.

    Since Trump’s State Department issued a permit last month for the portion of the pipeline that would run from tar sands fields in Alberta, Canada to existing pipelines in Steele City, Nebraska, opponents have been ramping up legal challenges and plans for non-violence resistance.

    And it seems that local law enforcement is also making preparations.

    In Nebraska, Hammel reports:

    Law enforcement and county officials interviewed say there have been some discussions about what might be coming, but they declined to say whether any protest-control training is underway. 

    Taylor Gage, a spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts, said that commenting on such security preparations would “jeopardize” those plans.  The Nebraska State Patrol is well aware of what happened in North Dakota, patrol spokesman Mike Meyer wrote in an email, and regularly trains for “contingencies” such as protests and natural disasters. 

    Meyer said that recent purchases by the patrol of the sort of nonlethal devices used in crowd control—such as impact sponges and rubber-ball blast and pepper spray grenades—were not out of the ordinary, and are part of the agency’s regular equipment purchases.

    Activist Jane Kleeb, who founded the organization Bold Nebraska that helped lead the original movement against KXL under former President Barack Obama, told Hammel that she is hopeful the project will not come to fruition, either because of the pending lawsuits or because it still needs approval from the Nebraskan government.

    Otherwise, she said, “I think you’ll see creative, nonviolent civil disobedience if it comes to that…We’re obviously going to do everything we can to stand with landowners and the Ponca Tribe to protect their land and their legacy.”

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    Kentucky Reaches Settlement in Radioactive Waste Dumping

    Image result for radioactive waste

    Kentucky officials have reached a $168,000 settlement with one of the companies accused of being involved in the dumping of radioactive waste in a landfill.

    | April 14, 2017, at 4:26 p.m.

    FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky officials said Friday they reached a $168,000 settlement with one of the companies accused of being involved in dumping radioactive waste in an Appalachian landfill.

    The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services said it reached the settlement with Fairmont Brine Processing, which operates a wastewater treatment facility in West Virginia.

    Kentucky officials accused Fairmont Brine of arranging to dispose of radioactive waste in an Estill County landfill in eastern Kentucky. The company had appealed its more than $1 million civil penalty order issued by the state cabinet late last year.

    The state said Fairmont Brine contracted with a Kentucky company called Advanced TENORM Services to pick up, transport, treat and dispose of the waste. Some of it ended up in Blue Ridge Landfill in Estill County, the state said.

    Fairmont Brine denied all liability but agreed to pay the $168,000 civil penalty over a 30-month period, the state said.

    “All settlement proceeds will be directed to the Estill County Public Health Department,” cabinet Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson said in a release. “The funds will be used for radiation-related public health issues in Estill County, particularly radon education and detection.”

    Fairmont Brine was one of several companies targeted with civil penalty orders related to disposal of out-of-state radioactive material in Kentucky.

    Fairmont Brine cooperated with Kentucky authorities, the cabinet said.

    The company maintained it did not intend to violate Kentucky laws. When it contracted with Advanced TENORM Services to dispose its waste, Fairmont Brine relied on the other company’s claims that the waste would be safely and legally deposited in Kentucky, the cabinet said.

    Monitoring and testing of areas at Blue Ridge Landfill have shown no evidence the disposal caused radiation or radioactive contamination above federal and state safety limits, the cabinet said.

    When the state announced the penalties in 2016, it was also seeking fines from Advanced TENORM. The company is appealing the penalty order against it, the state said.

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