June 19, 2014
By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Tuesday June 10 that the Justice Department supports a proposal to allow some people serving time in federal prison for nonviolent drug offenses to be eligible for reduced sentences.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission approved a proposal in April to significantly lower the base offense associated with various drug quantities involved in drug trafficking crimes. The Justice Department wants the revised sentencing guidelines to be retroactive for convicts without significant criminal histories and whose offenses did not include aggravating factors, such as the possession of a dangerous weapon or the use of violence.
“Under the department’s proposal, if your offense was nonviolent, did not involve a weapon, and you do not have a significant criminal history, you would be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence in accordance with the new rules approved by the commission in April,” Holder said. “Not everyone in prison for a drug-related offense would be eligible. Nor would everyone who is eligible be guaranteed a reduced sentence.”
The commission will vote next month on whether the change, which is estimated to reduce the average sentence by 23 months, should be applied retroactively to those currently incarcerated.
Holder said a retroactive change “strikes the best balance between protecting public safety and addressing the overcrowding of our prison system that has been exacerbated by unnecessarily long sentences.”
June 12, 2014
City News Service
With jurors declaring themselves hopelessly deadlocked, a judge declared a mistrial this week in a young man’s lawsuit alleging Los Angeles County personnel at a youth detention camp in Malibu ignored signs of racial unrest prior to an outbreak of fighting that left him with brain injuries. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos issued her decision Monday June 9, after about two days of deliberations by the jury. The judge scheduled a final status conference for a retrial on Sept. 3. The plaintiff, Nathaniel Marshall, 24, will need lifelong care as a result of the injuries he suffered in a brawl involving Latinos and Blacks at Camp Miller, his lawyer, Michael Goldstein, told the jury May 14.
Marshall, who is Black, sued the county in February 2010, claiming he was pulled from his bunk at the camp and beaten on Nov. 1, 2008.
“This was a systematic breakdown that amounted to deliberate indifference,” Goldstein said. “These kids at that camp were entitled to be protected.”
Attorney Tomas Guterres, representing the county, told jurors that fights in detention camps cannot be eliminated. Such incidents “will occur,” Guterres said.
“We can’t eliminate all fights. It’s the nature of the population.”
Goldstein said staffers and his client warned camp personnel that a riot was about to break out, but no action was taken to prevent it. The complaint alleges the county failed to properly train and supervise the staff to make sure they reacted properly to the warnings. According to Goldstein, many of the probation officers at the camp blamed the outbreak of violence on a failure to properly discipline youths for fighting by sending them to court for violating their probation.
Goldstein said that in October 2007, the county changed the policy that previously allowed supervising probation officers to fill out forms on their own to send youths to court for fighting. The new procedure called for the filings to be approved by the director of Camp Miller, Goldstein said. The director, however, believed the policy change was meant to discourage camp personnel from sending youths to court for probation violations, Goldstein said. Additionally, camp managers wanted to use incentives rather than punishment to get youths to cooperate, Goldstein said.
Guterres said the Juvenile Court wanted the county to start disciplining wards on an individual basis.
“The only way to modify behavior is to adapt your response to that juvenile,” Guterres said.
Goldstein used a diagram to show how Marshall, then 18, suffered an injury to the back of his neck. He said his client suffered strokes from the attack and today has an assortment of health issues, including epilepsy.
“He needs special care for the rest of his life and it’s not inexpensive,” Goldstein said.
June 12, 2014
By DAVID PORTER
A truck driver’s lack of sleep is being blamed for the highway crash that injured Tracy Morgan and killed another comedian in New Jersey.
As Morgan recovered in a hospital, authorities said Monday that the truck driver who triggered the weekend crash hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours before the accident.
Wal-Mart trucker Kevin Roper was expected to appear in state court Wednesday. It was unclear if Roper, of Jonesboro, Georgia, had retained an attorney. He remained free after posting $50,000 bond.
State police on June 10 released audio recordings from three 911 calls made after the accident. In one, a woman tells the dispatcher: “It’s a terrible accident. The car flipped. It’s on its side. It’s two vehicles and a Wal-Mart truck.”
Authorities said Roper apparently failed to slow for traffic ahead early on Saturday June 7 in Cranbury Township and then swerved to avoid a crash. Instead, they said, his big rig smashed into the back of Morgan’s chauffeured limo bus, killing Morgan’s close friend and fellow comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair and injuring Morgan and three other people.
Roper has been charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. Under New Jersey law, a person can be charged with assault by auto if he or she causes injury after knowingly operating a vehicle after being awake for more than 24 hours.
According to the criminal complaint, Roper operated the truck “without having slept for a period in excess of 24 hours resulting in a motor vehicle accident.” It doesn’t specify the basis for that assertion.
The accident occurred in a chronically congested area of the New Jersey Turnpike where a five-year widening project is expected to be finished this year. A turnpike authority spokesman said two of three northbound lanes had been closed about a mile ahead of the accident for road work, which likely slowed traffic.
Spokesman Tom Feeney said turnpike officials haven't seen an increase in fatal accidents in the construction area, which stretches about 35 miles.
Morgan, a former “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” cast member, was in critical but stable condition by June 9. His spokesman, Lewis Kay, said he faces an “arduous” recovery after surgery on his broken leg.
Morgan suffered a broken femur, a broken nose and several broken ribs and is expected to remain hospitalized for weeks, Kay said. Morgan’s fiancee was with him at the hospital, he said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. President Bill Simon said the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company “will take full responsibility” if authorities determine its truck caused the accident.
Wal-Mart trucks have been involved in 380 crashes in the past two years, federal data show. The crashes have caused nine deaths and 129 injuries. The company has 6,200 trucks and 7,200 drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and they drove 667 million miles last year.
Roper’s truck was equipped with a system designed to slow its speed and notify him of stopped traffic ahead, a company spokeswoman said. It’s unknown if the system was working.
The National Transportation Safety Board is working with state police to look at any issues in the crash related to commercial trucking and limousine safety.
Federal regulations permit truck drivers to work up to 14 hours a day, with a maximum of 11 hours behind the wheel. Drivers must have at least 10 hours off between work shifts to sleep.
“Safety is the absolute highest priority for Walmart,” it said in an emailed statement.
Safety advocates said they hope the accident will help their case.
“This is part of a systemic problem of having tired people driving at night and driving large trucks,” said Henry Jasny, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
But Dave Osiecki, vice president of the American Trucking Association, said no regulations can prevent a driver from making “bad choices.”
Morgan, a New York City native, was returning from a standup performance at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino in Delaware when the crash occurred. Six vehicles were involved in the pileup, but no one from the other cars was injured.
Associated Press writers Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C., and Dee Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this report.
June 12, 2014
By SEAN MURPHY
The body of an Oklahoma inmate who died after a botched execution of what corrections officials have said was an apparent heart attack was returned from an independent autopsy without the heart or larynx, a state medical official said on June 9.
The Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office, which is conducting an independent autopsy on the body of inmate Clayton Lockett, retained the body parts, a practice that is not uncommon, said Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office.
“Oklahoma law reads that the Office of the State Medical Examiner can retain any kind of tissue or samples indefinitely,” Elliott said. “And my understanding is it can be the same in Texas.”
David Autry, Lockett’s attorney, said a private doctor is working to complete a second autopsy and has asked Dallas County to preserve all evidence in the case, including the heart and larynx.
“I assume they retained those for additional testing, but we’ve asked them to preserve all the evidence,” Autry said.
Lockett’s body has been returned to his family and cremated, Autry said.
Dr. Amy Gruszecki, the medical director of American Forensics, a Dallas facility that conducts independent autopsies, said doctors conducting the autopsy likely found something specific with the heart and larynx that they wanted to further document.
“It’s not completely unusual,” Gruszecki said. “They might want to do some additional investigation or saw something that was very important to the diagnosis.”
Lockett died after his April 29 execution was halted when prison officials noted the lethal injection drugs weren’t being administered properly. The doctor inside the death chamber reported a single IV in Lockett’s groin became dislodged and the lethal drugs went into his tissue or leaked out of his body.
Oklahoma was using a new three-drug method for the first time, and Lockett writhed on the gurney, gritted his teeth and attempted to lift his head several times before the state’s prison director halted the execution. Lockett died anyway, about 43 minutes from what prison officials have said was an apparent heart attack.
Gov. Mary Fallin has ordered an investigation into Lockett’s death, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a six-month stay of execution for a second inmate who was scheduled to die on the same night as Lockett.
The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office will release the official cause and manner of Lockett’s death after it receives the results of the autopsy from Dallas County, Elliott said.
Lockett, a four-time felon, was convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Nieman with a sawed-off shotgun and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999 after Nieman and a friend arrived at a home the men were robbing.