15 black men exonerated after #GoodCop is caught framing them

CHICAGO (AP) —A Cook County judge on Thursday threw out the felony drug convictions of 15 black men who all say they were locked up for no other reason except that they refused to pay former Chicago police sergeant Ronald Watts.

 One by one, the men told the same story: A Chicago police officer would demand money from them. And if they didn’t pay, they would find themselves in handcuffs with drugs stuffed in their pockets.

It was the largest mass exoneration in memory in Chicago. And even in a city where it has become almost routine for police misconduct to lead to overturned convictions, the courthouse had never seen anything like the order issued in front of more than a dozen men whose lives were changed forever by the former sergeant.

The men described how it was common for blacks in the city’s poorest communities to be shaken down.

“Everyone knew if you’re not going to pay Watts, you were going to jail. That’s just the way it was going,” said Leonard Gipson, 36, who had two convictions tossed out.

“Watts always told me, ‘If you’re not going to pay me, I’m going to get you.’ And every time I ran into him, he put drugs on me,” he said. “I went to prison and did 24 months for Watts, and I came back home and he put another case on me.”

“I had to, I had a baby due,” said 33-year-old Marcus Watts, who pleaded guilty to drug charges in exchange for a six-month sentence and a second set of drug charges in exchange for a seven-month sentence. “The way I looked at it was if they put the cuffs on you, you already lost.”

He and others said there was nothing anyone could do about it. They watched Watts and his crew continue to extort residents, a practice that lasted for years, despite complaints to the police department and statements made during court hearings.

Finally, in 2013, Watts and another officer pleaded guilty to stealing money from an FBI informant, but Watts’ sentence of 22 months was shorter than those being handed out to the men he framed.

Thirteen of the 15 men were out of custody before Thursday’s hearing, with the other two still behind bars on unrelated charges. Their sentences ranged from nearly a decade to probation. Some said the only reason they were out of custody is that they agreed to plead guilty in exchange for shorter sentences than the drugs planted on them might have produced.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Joshua Tepfer, the lead attorney for the 15 men, praised the “unprecedented” action by Foxx’s office but said the cases were “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to cases tainted by Watts.

“It’s a remarkable effort by the state’s attorney’s office to recognize the significance of this horrendous injustice and to do their part to start correcting it,” Tepfer said. “But there are still more than 400 convictions (by Watts’ team) that are unaccounted for … it’s no doubt the tip of the iceberg.”

Prosecutors asked the judge to act after the conviction-integrity unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office reviewed the cases.

“In all good conscience we could not let these convictions stand,” said Mark Rotert, who heads the unit.

The office’s agreement to throw out the sentences was part of a larger effort to regain public trust, he said.

In the last two years, the city has seen an officer charged in the 2014 shooting death of black teenager Laquan McDonald. Jason Van Dyke is the first Chicago officer in decades to be charged with first-degree murder in an on-duty killing.

Just this week, prosecutors announced they would not retry two men who have long maintained their innocence. One man spent 29 years in prison for a double murder he insists he did not commit. The other spent 27 years in prison in another double murder case involving an officer who has had several convictions overturned amid allegations that he beat suspects and coerced witnesses.

Police said late Thursday that seven police officers who were once part of Watts’ crew have been removed from street duties while their conduct years ago is investigated.

When asked earlier about the status of the officers tied to Watts, Superintendent Eddie Johnson noted none had been convicted of a crime and their jobs couldn’t be taken from them arbitrarily.

The University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project is examining another 12 to 24 cases, but the problem is much larger because Watts was involved in about 1,000 cases and perhaps 500 convictions over eight years, said Joshua Tepfer, a defense attorney with the project.

State’s attorney spokesman Robert Foley said prosecutors are investigating dozens of other cases and identified a pattern suggesting “corrupt activity” involving Watts and “members of his crew.”

Chicago has paid more than a half billion dollars to settle police misconduct cases in a little more than a decade.

Tepfer would not discuss what the men might do next, but it is almost a certainty that at least some of them will sue the city and the police department. He offered a hint about what those lawsuits might contend.

“These convictions stick with you,” he said. “You can’t get back the time you served. It affects your ability to get jobs, housing. You get thrown off of public aid with a felony conviction.”

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Trump administration suggests hunting elephants will save them from extinction 

The Trump administration said it will allow the importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport, contending that encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill them will aid the vulnerable species.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service said in a written notice issued Thursday that permitting elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back as trophies will raise money for conservation programs. A licensed two-week African elephant hunt can cost more than $50,000 per person, not including airfare, according to advertised rates.

In the Friday notice, FWS said it had determined that Zimbabwe’s conservation efforts for elephants are sufficient to protect the population and that hunting fees benefit conservation, both necessary factors in allowing trophy imports.

“The Service is able to make a determination that the killing of trophy animals in Zimbabwe, on or after January 21, 2016, and on or before December 31, 2018, will enhance the survival of the African elephant,” the agency wrote.

“With the information currently available, applications to import trophies hunted during this time period will be considered to have met this requirement unless we issue a new finding based on available information.”
The Trump administration also lifted the Obama administration’s ban on African elephant trophies from Zambia. But officials are not obligated to publish a Federal Register notice on that.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied Thursday that the policies had been made final.

“There hasn’t been an announcement that’s been finalized on this front,” she told reporters. “Until that’s done, I wouldn’t consider anything final.”

But Interior Department spokesman Russell Newell, whose agency includes FWS, confirmed Friday that both the Zimbabwe and Zambia elephant decisions are now final.

African elephants are considered both by FWS and by international conservation officials to be threatened species.

“By lifting the import ban on elephant trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia the Trump Administration underscored, once again, the importance of sound scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting to the survival and enhancement of game species in this country and worldwide,” Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s advocacy arm, said in a statement.

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Keystone pipeline leak spills 200,000 gallons of oil 

TransCanada, the company that owns and operates the Keystone Pipeline, says that an estimated 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil have spilled near the small town of Amherst, S.D.
The cause of the leak is under investigation, according to the company’s website. TransCanada crews detected a drop in pressure at about 6 a.m. CT Thursday morning and shut down the pipeline, which runs from Hardesty, Alberta, to Cushing, Okla., and Wood River/Patoka, Ill.

Amherst is about 200 miles north of Sioux Falls, S.D., and about 25 miles from the state’s border with North Dakota.

The conduit is not the controversial and long-delayed Keystone XL Pipeline that TransCanada is still shepherding through the approval process.

“TransCanada cannot be trusted,” said Jane Kleeb, head of the Nebraska Democratic Party and a longtime activist opposed to Keystone XL, as quoted by the Washington Post.

“I have full confidence that the Nebraska Public Service Commission is going to side with Nebraskans, not a foreign oil company,” she added.

Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist manager at the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the company was aware of the spill at about 5:30 a.m. CT. But his agency wasn’t alerted until about 10:30 a.m. CT.

“There is a time lag there and I expect that that will be some of the questions we need to answer over the coming months,” he told Jeff.

In its statement, TransCanada said, “The section of pipe along a right-of-way approximately 35 miles (56 kilometres) south of the Ludden pump station in Marshall County, South Dakota was completely isolated with 15 minutes and emergency procedures were activated.”

The spill occurred about 3 miles southeast of Amherst on private land, which Walsh described as a “flat, grassy area for grazing.” The company tweeted a picture of the site late Thursday.

The company says that it is providing state and federal regulators “with accurate and confirmed information on an ongoing basis.”

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Man rapes his 12 year old daughter, manages to avoid prison 

Martin Blake, a 40-year-old Montana man, has pleaded guilty to one count of felony incest after he was caught raping his 12-year-old daughter. Initially, prosecutors in the case charged Blake with several counts of incest rape against the young girl, but as part of the Montana man’s plea agreement decided to allow Blake to admit guilt to a single charge

Blake agreed, as part of his plea deal, to a 100-year prison sentence for his horrendous crimes, with 75 years of that sentence suspended. In total, the admitted child sex offender agreed to a sentence that would have kept him imprisoned and off the streets for 25 years. However, at his sentencing hearing on Friday at Valley District Court, the public was shocked and stunned by the judge’s actions in court.

During the hearing, Judge John C. McKeon opted not to sentence Martin Blake to a single night in prison. Rather, he sentenced the Montana man to a nothing more than probation for the next three decades. 

The Glasgow, Montana community is so furious over the admitted child sex offender’s sentence that a petition has been created to have the judge that presided over Martin Blake’s case removed from the bench. The Petition To Impeach Judge John McKeon has already gathered nearly 10,000 signatures.

NBC Montana also reports that the judge in the Martin Blake case has spoken publicly in his own defense. According to McKeon, the Montana man’s own family sent letters to the court begging for leniency in the case.

Additionally, the judge who handed down the prison-free sentence for Montana man Martin Blake added that nobody in the family spoke on the behalf of or in defense of the 12-year-old rape victim during the sentencing hearing.

The mother of the victim, reportedly walked in on Martin Blake sexually assaulting her daughter gave a statement to the court begging for her daughter’s rapist to be treated, not imprisoned.

Likewise, the victim’s grandmother also spoke out on behalf of the Blake. According to the victim’s grandmother, Martin Blake’s young sons would have been harmed and “devastated” if their father was imprisoned for two-and-a-half decades.

Reportedly, an evaluation by the court indicated that Martin Blake could be successfully and safely treated and monitored within the local community.

In addition to his 30 years of probation, Montana man Martin Blake was also sentenced to 60 days in jail, but given credit for 17 days that he’d already served. He is also going to be required to undergo “sex offender treatment.” According to the judge in the case, Blake’s sentence was “quite restrictive and quite rigorous.” Judge McKeon is reportedly due to retire next month.

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White man tries to make “weapon of mass destruction” because he hates the government 

Volusia County, FL. — Authorities say they’ve arrested a man who was creating a weapon of mass destruction in his home in DeBary, Florida, CBS Orlando affiliate WKMG-TV reports.
Police discovered explosive devices and about 200 containers inside the home. They contained unknown powders and acids — including nitric acid, sulfuric acid, sulfur — and other materials. 

Sheriff Michael Chitwood said the chemicals were similar to items used in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Police responded to a domestic disturbance call Sunday after 31-year-old Christopher Langer told his parents he placed an explosive substance inside a grenade, officials said.

Langer was intoxicated and initially denied having a grenade, but then admitted he threw it outside and offered to lead investigators to it. A deputy found a pineapple-like grenade with a paperclip that prevented it from detonating, police said. Langer had allegedly purchased it at a supply store.

Police evacuated the home when they discovered the bomb-making materials inside. Police  told reporters he believed Langer was working on a delivery system and building a bomb. A SpongeBob SquarePants lunch box was found that appeared to be “booby-trapped” for an explosive device.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives worked through the night to secure the scene, and at least 79 containers were placed in a containment area.

“That domestic violence call probably saved us from making national and international news,” Chitwood told WKMG-TV. “He has all the components in there to make a weapon of mass destruction.”

Chitwood said Langer was an anti-government heroin addict who wanted to “get even” by harming first responders. He said authorities were recently called to his home to revive him after he overdosed on heroin.

“Two weeks ago, we saved your goddamn life, and now we’re here, two weeks later, and you’re talking about how you want to blow us all up,” Chitwood said.

Langer’s parents told police that they were unaware of their son’s bomb-making materials, Chitwood said, adding that it was illegal for him to possess the items.

Langer was charged with making and possessing a destructive device. He’s being held at the Volusia County Branch Jail on a $5,000 bond. Police said additional charges are possible.

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Man brings drugs… to drug court

EAGLE, CO. (AP) — Authorities say a man who was in a Colorado court for violating his bond on a drug charge is in even more trouble after a wad of cocaine fell from his hat while he was in front of the judge. is back.

The Vail Daily reported Wednesday that 43-year-old Juan Jose Vidrio Bibriesca was in court for violating his bond on a drug charge when he removed his hat and held it behind his back. when he took his hat off and a square of folded paper fell out. A police officer watched the paper filled with cocaine fall to the floor, and after reviewing surveillance footage, authorities determined it fell from Bibriesca’s hat.

Bibriesca was then walked to the county jail. He was charged with narcotics possession and another bond violation.

Booking documents don’t indicate if he has hired an attorney.

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German newspaper prints names of 33,293 refugees who died trying to get to Europe

A German newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel, has  listed names of 33,293 people it says died while trying to immigrate to Europe between 1993 and May of this year. The piece includes 46 pages of victims’ names, ages and countries of origin, as well as causes and dates of death. 

One entry is a 15-year-old boy who drowned on 15 November 2016 when a rubber dinghy he was on with 23 others sank while trying to travel from Libya to Europe.

Another tells of Iraqi migrant Talat Abdulhamid, 36, who froze to death on 6 January after walking for 48 hours through the mountains on the Turkish-Bulgarian border.

Mamadou Konate, 33, from Mali did manage to make it to Italy — but  died earlier this year in a blaze that consumed a ramshackle camp in San Severo.

The newspaper said it wanted to document “the asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants who died since 1993 as a consequence of the restrictive policies of Europe on the continent’s outer borders or inside Europe”. 

The majority of the people on the newspaper’s list drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

Last year was the deadliest for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean, with at least 5,079 dying or going missing during their journey, according to the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

“While overall numbers of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean by the eastern route were reduced significantly in 2016 by the EU-Turkey deal, death rates have increased to 2.1 per 100 in 2017, relative to 1.2 in 2016,” the IOM said in a September report.

“Part of this rise is due to the greater proportion of migrants now taking the most dangerous route – that across the central Mediterranean – such that 1 in 49 migrants now died on this route in 2016.” According to a spokesperson for the IOM. 

Some of the immigrants who succeeded in reaching Europe later died in violent attacks or killed themselves in custody while waiting to be deported back to their home countries.

A 17-year-old Somali boy died when neo-Nazis in the eastern German town of Schmoellnhe forced him to jump off a tower on Oct 21, 2016. A 30-year-old man from Uganda committed suicide in an immigrant detention center on the coast of southern England while awaiting deportation. 

“We want to honor them” Der Tagesspiegel wrote. “And at the same time we want to show that every line tells a story…and that the list keeps getting longer, day by day.”

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America continues proud tradition of having the highest number of school shootings in the world

RED BLUFF, CA — A gunman killed four people and wounded a number of others at random Tuesday at multiple locations in rural Northern California, including an elementary school, before police shot him dead, authorities said.

Two hospitals said they were treating seven people, including at least three children.

No children were killed, Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said. The shooter, who has not been officially identified, was fatally shot by police after engaging two officers who returned fire at an intersection in the community of Rancho Tehama Reserve, about 130 miles north of Sacramento, Johnston said.

“We really don’t have any idea what his motive was at this time,” Johnston said. The first calls of a shooting came in at around 7:52 a.m. and it was all over in around 45 minutes, he said. During the rampage the gunman fired into an elementary school, he said.

One student was wounded at the school and another child was shot while in a car being driven by a woman, who also was wounded, Johnston said.

“It was very clear at the onset that we had an individual that was randomly picking targets,” Johnston said.

“Essentially, with this individual after the initial shooting, he is reportedly took a vehicle and went on a shooting rampage throughout the community,” Johnston said at an afternoon press conference. At one point the gunman crashed the first vehicle, robbed another person of his vehicle before he was shot by police.

Brian Flint told the Record Searchlight newspaper in the city of Redding that his neighbor, whom he knows only as Kevin, was the gunman and that his roommate was among the victims. He said the shooter also stole his truck.

“The crazy thing is that the neighbor has been shooting a lot of bullets lately, hundreds of rounds, large magazines,” Flint said. “We made it aware that this guy is crazy and he’s been threatening us.”

Authorities have recovered a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns after the shootings in the rural subdivision described on its website as a “quiet private country community” where “the people are friendly and the pace is relaxed.”

Jeanine Quist, an administrative assistant with the Corning Union Elementary School District, said no one was killed at the school with kindergarten through fifth grades.

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Conman convicted of running scam while in prison

Conman Jimmy Sabatino says he can’t keep himself from committing crimes — even when he’s locked up in prison.

Sabatino pleaded guilty to running a $10.4 million fraud from inside his cell at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami earlier this year.

Sabatino will serve his time in the notorious “Supermax” federal prison in Colorado and be banned from having any contact with anyone except his stepmother and his two attorneys. He asked for special restrictions that would prohibit him from having any kind of contact with other prisoners and from calling, exchanging letters or speaking to anyone else.

The judge sentenced him to the maximum punishment of 20 years in prison and recommended he be locked up essentially in solitary confinement at “Supermax.” She also imposed the special, and extremely unusual, limitations on his ability to communicate with the outside — or inside — world “until such time as the defendant demonstrates that his communications no longer pose any kind of threat.”

Sabatino, who is associated with the Gambino organized crime family, is also prohibited from communicating with any member or associate of the Mafia.

“I don’t apologize to nobody,” Sabatino, 41, told Senior U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard when she asked if he had anything to say before sentencing. “As far as the government is concerned, they allowed this case to happen … they should be embarrassed,” he said.

Sabatino, who has spent most of his life since age 19 in prison, persuaded two federal corrections officers at the detention center to provide him with a total of five cellphones, one Samsung and four iPhones. The officers lost their jobs but have not been criminally charged.

Sabatino then used the phones  in a scam in which he duped luxury retailers into sending expensive jewelry, watches and other items to his associates. The retailers were told the items were on loan and would be featured in music videos and promotional videos that were being shot in Miami. The items were never returned and instead were sold and pawned by Sabatino’s allies, who sent some of the money to his prison commissary account. Some of the money went to the mob,while some went to the co-defendants, investigators said.

Sabatino, who ran the fraud with the Gambino family associates, another inmate, two women who lived in Broward County and some other helpers, obtained close to $10.4 million worth of items, as well as accommodation and other services from luxury hotels, according to his plea agreement.

Sabatino admitted he used the phones in his cell to call and send texts and emails posing as employees of Sony Music Entertainment and RocNation, which was founded by Jay Z. His associates hired limousines and stayed at luxury hotels in Fort Lauderdale, South Beach and Atlanta, according to court records. Sabatino was ordered to pay full restitution to more than a dozen businesses, including Van Cleef & Arpels jewelers, Piaget watches, Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik.

After Sabatino was caught, investigators said he threatened to kill some of the people that he suspected had cooperated against him. On Monday, he complained in court that the people who informed on him — he called them “all my rats” — were sentenced to less than half the amount of time he will serve in prison.

In one note that investigators found in his cell, Sabatino wrote instructions to one of the corrections officers who had helped him “to take certain steps to conceal evidence of the fraud, including an explicit command to move fraud proceeds out of the officer’s house. The defendant stated that he was ‘trying to clip’ a government witness’s family, and further directed the officer to ‘take care of’ government witnesses on the defendant’s behalf,” according to court records.

The “Supermax” facility in Florence, Colorado where he will be held houses the most notorious federal inmates, including the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and dozens of other high-profile inmates convicted of international and domestic terrorism and other serious crimes.

Sabatino, who grew up in Staten Island, New York, spent a lot of time in South Florida. His stepmother, with whom he is allowed to communicate, lives in Broward County.

His criminal history dates back to the 1990s when he called the FBI from an English prison and threatened to kill then-President Bill Clinton. He was sent back to the U.S. to face that charge and operated several other scams.

Just a few years ago, he underwent surgery to fix his “lazy eye” at taxpayer expense after managing to convince Miami-Dade corrections officials that he had suffered a stroke.

His latest crimes were committed after he was sent back to the Federal Detention Center in 2014 to face allegations he had violated the terms of his supervised release by committing other crimes.

Sabatino’s attorneys, Joe Rosenbaum and Kimberly Acevedo, said Sabatino has told them he wants to change his criminal ways but has been unable to do so.

“He can’t control himself,” Rosenbaum told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “He said he does it because it’s fun, because he can do it, because he beat the system.”

Sabatino hopes his charm and intellectual brilliance won’t work on guards at the Colorado prison, they said.

“He’s going to sit in a cell, alone, with a television,” Rosenbaum told the Sun Sentinel. “He can have reading materials but he’ll be sitting in Colorado for the next 20 years without ever seeing a mountain.”

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