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WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Nov. 8, 2018
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Size of state grants spurred investigation that led to convictions in Arkansas corruption scandal
FAYETTEVILLE -- The sheer size of state grants to a small Christian college spurred the investigation that led to the convictions of four former legislators on bribery and corruption charges, U.S. Attorney Duane "Dak" Kees said in an interview Oct. 22.
"There's no proof to this, but if Jon Woods had kept the funds low, like $50,000 a year and where he was getting maybe a $10,000 or $15,000 kickback a year, I don't think we would have ever caught it," Kees said of kickbacks from Ecclesia College in Springdale.
Woods, a former state senator, is serving a sentence of 18 years and four months in federal prison in Fort Worth.
The investigation uncovered a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving Medicaid that has nothing to do with Ecclesia College, said the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. The investigation into that scandal spread to other states, mainly to Missouri, and is not done yet, he said. He gave no details, other than a rough date, regarding coming developments.
Seattle Times: Three years into a state of emergency, what we’ve learned about homelessness
The pleas were unambiguous: Seattle and King County leaders, three years ago, asked the state and federal governments to open their wallets up wide and offer disaster relief for the homelessness crisis, like they would after an earthquake.
That didn’t happen — here, or in other West Coast cities that made similar proclamations — leaving the disaster response mostly a local problem.
Yet three years into the emergency declarations, Seattle and King County have rarely acted as if they were responding to an emergency.
Seattle’s proclamation gave it extraordinary authority to bypass “time-consuming procedures and formalities prescribed by ordinance, statute, rule and regulation,” but the city has used it sparingly, mostly to site tiny-house villages. King County’s Board of Health only recently suggested a typical disaster response — deploying massive tent shelters. The county and city continue to operate separate homelessness bureaucracies.
Friday marked the third anniversary of the emergency declarations, and it coincided with the first anniversary of The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless, a community-funded journalism initiative to explore the ongoing crisis of homelessness.
Houston Chronicle: Out of Control: Walking, cycling in Houston region can be risky
Doug Baysinger remembers everything up to the crash.
One moment he and his wife were about five miles into a long weekend bike ride from their home in Sugar Land west into the Texas prairie. The next moment, he was sliding along the pavement.
"It felt like five minutes, but I'm sure it was just a few seconds," he said.
It was two years ago in July. Baysinger had been vaulted from his bike by a red Toyota Camry, driven by a drowsy woman who drifted into the group of about 10 riders. Bikes and riders flew through the air as she plowed through the rest of the bicyclists and finally stopped.
His pain was excruciating — doctors later discovered he had two fractured vertebrae — but then he saw Joyce, lying face down in the street, blood pooling by her head.
"I thought she was dead," he said. "I thought she'd gotten completely run over by the car."
Baysinger crawled over to his wife.
He saw her chest rising and falling. At least she was breathing.
The Baysingers were among the lucky ones. In the past 16 years, Houston-area drivers have mowed down nearly 2,000 pedestrians and cyclists. That's more than 100 deaths a year, with the number increasing in the past three years to more than 150 fatalities annually and an average of more than 350 serious injuries.
The Tennessean: Nashville police have taken 7,900 guns off the streets since 2015. Here's where they found them.
The two teens ran from the stolen Chevy Lumina and ducked into an apartment in the red-brick public housing project, police say.
Moments later, officers were at the door. They had been searching for the car one Wednesday in April when they got a tip to check the apartment in East Nashville’s James Cayce Homes.
Inside they found four guns, a stash of marijuana and crack cocaine. Two of the guns, black Glock semi-automatic pistols, were loaded with high-capacity magazines that hold about 30 rounds each. Police tagged and bagged the firearms.
The haul added to the growing cache of guns seized by the Metro Nashville Police Department. This year, the department is on track to take more than 2,700 guns off the streets — nearly a third more than in 2017, according to a Tennessean analysis of Metro police data. Officials attribute at least some of the uptick to heightened enforcement by the Juvenile Crimes Task Force, which was formed in February to combat youth violence.
Metro police recovered 7,911 guns from across the city between January 2015 and September 20, 2018, the department data shows.
“You can’t have a violent crime if you don’t have the tools,” said Lt. Blaine Whited, the task force leader. “We’ve really focused on trying to get the tools out of their hands.”
The Tennessean: Martha O'Bryan Center builds school in Nashville's Cayce Homes, but some residents feel forgotten
The Martha O’Bryan Center surprised the East Nashville public housing project that it has served for 70 years in June 2017, when it decided to shutter its longtime preschool and day care program for low-income children.
Citing money problems and facility issues, the Martha O’Bryan Center, located in the heart of the James A. Cayce Homes, pulled the plug on the program with just a few weeks' notice. Parents were left scrambling for a new place to send their children, and workers lost their jobs.
The organization faced more scrutiny when, after making some repairs to the building, it moved the kindergarten class from Explore, its newest charter school, into the former child care center. The new occupants are children from mostly middle-class families who do not live in Cayce.
The changes highlight the rapid evolution of the Martha O’Bryan Center, moving the century-old nonprofit from a community organization gearedprimarily toward providing public housing residents with safety net services to one focused on growing charter schools.
Philadelphia Inquirer and The Boston Globe: America’s Catholic bishops vowed to remove abusive priests in 2002. In the years that followed, they failed to police themselves.
Bishop Robert Finn wasn’t going anywhere.
He never alerted authorities about photos of young girls’ genitals stashed on a pastor’s laptop. He kept parishioners in the dark, letting the priest mingle with children and families. Even after a judge found the bishop guilty of failing to report the priest’s suspected child abuse — and after 200,000 people petitioned for his ouster — he refused to go.
“I got this job from John Paul II. There’s his signature right there,” Finn had told a prospective deacon shortly after the priest’s arrest in 2011, pointing to the late pontiff’s photo. “And that’s who I answer to.”
Sixteen years after the clergy sexual-abuse crisis exploded in Boston, the American Catholic Church is again mired in scandal. This time, the controversy is propelled not so much by priests in the rectories, as by the leadership, bishops across the country who like Finn have enabled sexual misconduct or in some cases committed it themselves.
More than 130 U.S. bishops – or nearly one-third of those still living — have been accused during their careers of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe examination of court records, media reports, and interviews with church officials, victims, and attorneys.
At least 15, including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington who resigned in July, have themselves been accused of committing such abuse or harassment.
Most telling, the analysis shows that the claims against more than 50 bishops center on incidents that occurred after a historic 2002 Dallas gathering of U.S. bishops where they promised that the church’s days of concealment and inaction were over. By an overwhelming though not unanimous vote, church leaders voted to remove any priest who had ever abused a minor and set up civilian review boards to investigate clergy misconduct claims.
Chicago Tribune: 'It’s medically sanctioned violence and torture': Intersex patients call for end to genital surgeries on children
hen Jennifer Pagonis was born in the winter of 1986, her parents brought her home to a wardrobe of pink and white, ruffles and frills.
But three months later, Jennifer’s mother arrived at the pediatrician’s office with what would turn out to be a life-changing question: Did her baby girl’s genitals look swollen?
Jennifer was referred to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where doctors ran blood tests and quickly reached a conclusion: Jennifer was one of a tiny number of babies who are born intersex, or with bodies that don’t fit standard anatomical definitions of male or female. She was genetically male — with XY chromosomes and internal testes, but she also had a small vagina and an enlarged clitoris. Doctors told her stunned parents that she could never have children, but with surgery, she could look entirely female.
And that was how, at age 4, Jennifer was admitted to what is now Lurie Children's Hospital for cosmetic surgery on her genitals. During a two-hour operation, to which her parents consented, a plastic surgeon cut into Jennifer’s clitoris, removing about two centimeters of tissue. In a follow-up operation when Pagonis was 11, doctors enlarged her vagina.
The result of those two operations, according to Pagonis, now 32, was scarring, loss of sensation, emotional trauma and severe sexual impairment.
“No matter what they say, or how they sugarcoat it, it’s medically sanctioned violence and torture,” said Pagonis, who no longer identifies as female and now goes by the first name Pidgeon.
For more than two decades, intersex people have denounced the surgeries performed on their genitals during infancy or childhood as nonconsensual and damaging, citing consequences including pain, loss of sexual sensation and incorrect gender assignment.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, three former U.S. surgeons general and Human Rights Watch are among those who have recently called for the childhood surgeries to stop until research can show a clear benefit, or to end immediately. In August, California became the first state to pass a resolution discouraging the surgeries.
“We want to ‘first do no harm,’” said former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who last year co-authored a report on genital surgeries on intersex children, citing the risk of “severe and irreversible physical harm and emotional distress.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: No help for tenants sickened by mold in their homes
Water poured into Madrika Gray’s apartment from a busted pipe last December, ruining her furniture and puddling onto the worn tiles. Then there was mold, which grew in dark, fine-haired blots on her furniture and made her clothes smell no matter how much she washed them.
Now Gray and her children wake up with piercing headaches. A throat and lung infection forced her to the emergency room. She blames it on mold, which continues to grow inside the drywall and through the paint on her walls, she said, but calls to management of Forest Cove apartments, city of Atlanta code enforcement, and the Fulton County Health Department have failed to fix the problem. Gray, who is visually impaired, earns too little money to move out.
“It put me into a depression stage where I felt like giving up hope,” Gray, 37, said from her apartment in southeast Atlanta’s Thomasville Heights neighborhood. “Nobody would listen.”
Tenants who find mold in their homes have no safety net in metro Atlanta and elsewhere in Georgia, placing them and their children at risk of chronic breathing problems, infections and lost school days. Local and state government agencies lack the legal authority and funding to test the air in Gray’s apartment, much less make it healthy to breathe, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found. And while the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says that housing under its programs, such as Forest Cove, must be free of mold, there are no national public health standards for mold levels.
What’s more, Georgia law gives landlords little incentive to clean up unhealthy conditions. Tenants may not withhold rent under any circumstances — even if their apartments are uninhabitable. They may only complete repairs themselves and deduct the costs from their rent.
AP: 56,800 migrant dead and missing: ‘They are human beings’
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — One by one, five to a grave, the coffins are buried in the red earth of this ill-kept corner of a South African cemetery. The scrawl on the cheap wood attests to their anonymity: “Unknown B/Male.”
These men were migrants from elsewhere in Africa with next to nothing who sought a living in the thriving underground economy of Gauteng province, a name that roughly translates to “land of gold.” Instead of fortune, many found death, their bodies unnamed and unclaimed — more than 4,300 in Gauteng between 2014 and 2017 alone.
Some of those lives ended here at the Olifantsvlei cemetery, in silence, among tufts of grass growing over tiny placards that read: Pauper Block. There are coffins so tiny that they could belong only to children.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Unbroken: A gunman shattered a sacred space, but not a community's spirit
Augie Siriano sat down for tea with Cecil and David Rosenthal in the lobby of the Tree of Life Synagogue before last Saturday morning’s services.
This was a weekly ritual, the longtime building janitor taking tea with two longtime congregants, men he considered brothers, in a place they all loved.
Sometimes, David was there waiting when Mr. Siriano arrived to unlock the synagogue doors, and they’d turn on the lights together before the brothers went to services and Mr. Siriano prepared a meal for everyone to share afterward.
For 20 years, Mr. Siriano shared Saturday mornings with the brothers.
But this morning would be the last.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Nov. 2, 2018
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: A high school dropout and trucker, Robert Bowers left few footprints -- except online
Robert Bowers cut short his time in high school, worked for a small trucking firm, and became enamored of extremist theories circulated online.
He moved through the Pittsburgh area, primarily the South Hills, leaving relatively little impression before he emerged Saturday as the suspect charged in the fatal shooting of 11 people at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill. Mr. Bowers' family has not communicated with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but online resources suggest a troubled early life.
There were recent warning signs, but they may have been invisible, except to those in a remote corner of the social media landscape.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the activities of extremists, on Monday released an analysis of Mr. Bowers’ online social media activity.
Pittsburgh police name officers injured in Tree of Life mass shooting
The center found that, “in the 19 days before Bowers carried out his act of mass murder, he posted or reposted memes and comments at least 68 times.” Many of those reflected “antisemitic conspiracy theories that have long been in circulation among neo-Nazis and white nationalists,” the center found.
The analysis indicated that Mr. Bowers seemed to be influenced by white nationalist fixations on the caravan of Central Americans moving through Mexico, and by fringe “white genocide” theories that Jews and minorities were, in combination, threatening whites with “extinction.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Timeline of terror: A moment-by-moment account of Squirrel Hill mass shooting
Gunshots and terror filled Squirrel Hill for more than an hour Saturday morning at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Wilkins Avenue at the intersection of Shady Avenue when a shooter entered the synagogue and opened fire. He killed 11 people and wounded six others, including four police officers.
The shooter, believed to be 46-year-old Robert Bowers, eventually surrendered after a gunbattle with police on the third floor of the synagogue.
Below is a timeline of the attack, pieced together from police reports, radio dispatches, witness accounts and official statements made on Saturday, Oct. 27:
The Wall Street Journal: At Netflix, Radical Transparency and Blunt Firings Unsettle the Ranks
At a Netflix Inc. corporate retreat in July, Chief Executive Reed Hastings teared up as he addressed some 500 executives.
Mr. Hastings had recently fired his chief communications officer for saying the “N-word” in full form. The executive, who is white, was attempting to make an emphatic point during a meeting about offensive words in comedy programming and said the slur wasn’t directed at anyone.
Sacramento Bee: An ‘F’ in oversight: California fails to police for-profit colleges as feds back down on regulations
Jana Bergevin’s dream was as elusive as it is common: a career in Hollywood. Growing up near Sacramento, she didn’t imagine herself in front of a camera or even behind one. She wanted to be an animator, able to turn her imagination into stories for screens big and small.
Admissions officers at The Art Institute of San Francisco convinced her the for-profit college could all but guarantee her a job in the industry if she graduated from its expensive program. They talked about their connections to studios such as Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks.
She completed her bachelor of arts in 2007 but no entertainment job materialized. Admissions officers stuck to their selling points, persuading her to return for a graduate degree, she said. After seven years at the school, Bergevin said, she had $114,000 in debt and a monthly loan payment of $1,200.
She still did not have the job she expected, nor the help getting one she said The Art Institute assured her it would provide.
Angry at what she describes as fraud by the school – including false promises, poor teaching and job placement statistics that seemed inflated – she filed a complaint in 2016 with California’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, the state agency charged with licensing and regulating for-profit colleges and vocational schools. She wanted its investigators to find out if the school’s marketing materials were fair and accurate, or if she and her classmates had been duped.
“I was like, you need to really look at this school,” she said. “You need to stop what’s going on.”
Years passed with no answers – as with hundreds of other complaints filed with the BPPE.
San Francisco Chronicle: A killer game: Now that we know football can destroy players: What are we going to do about it?
I loved playing football.
The camaraderie. The physical and mental challenge. The sheer speed and chaos of it all.
It wasn’t always fun. I suffered a concussion on my very first play of varsity football as a sophomore. I remember vomiting on the sideline and running right back out there. That’s just what you did.
And I still loved most every minute of it. When the drums began to play on Friday nights, my heart would race in anticipation. I still get amped when I hear that sound.
As I’ve written before, my teammates and I used to joke that football was “sanctioned violence ... with all your friends.”
Sadly, the joke was on us. Thirty years removed from the last time I buckled a chin strap, the true cost of football has come into clear focus.
The sport I loved to play. The sport we love to watch, on Friday nights, on Saturday afternoons, on Sundays and Mondays and Thursdays, too. The sport of football is a killer.
It’s not a matter of much debate anymore, after decades of denial. Scientific evidence has shown a clear connection between repeated head trauma suffered while playing football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain condition that can manifest itself in a slew of awful ways, including depression, aggression, dementia, Parkinson’s disease — and suicide. After seeing generations of its players suffer, the NFL acknowledged the link only in 2016.
The Times-Picayune: For New Orleans gangs, it's kill or be killed, no matter the collateral cost
Taiesha Watkins, a 27-year-old Houston-area mother, stood outside a daiquiri shop during a July girls' trip to New Orleans.
Earnest McKnight, a 63-year-old Central City man, went to his neighborhood corner store in September 2016.
Deshawn Kinard, 7 months old, sat strapped in a car seat in 2013 as his mother steered a Honda toward the Crescent City Connection.
Deborah Cotton, a 48-year-old culture writer, was marching in a second-line on Mother's Day 2013 in the 7th Ward.
None of them could have expected they were about to become victims of New Orleans gang violence. All four were fatally wounded, joining a growing list of collateral damage from the city's gang-related shootings that the New Orleans Police Department superintendent, city officials and relatives of the victims decry as "senseless."
Last year, 585 people were shot in New Orleans, and 153 of them died - staggering levels of gun violence for a city our size. Gangs account for at least 40 percent, and as much as 60 percent, of those shootings, criminologists and law enforcement officials estimate.
The vast majority of shootings have one or two victims, though it's unclear how often uninvolved bystanders are shot. But the frequency of shootings - more than a one a day - chips away at residents' sense of safety, and LSU School of Public Health criminologist Peter Scharf said the wounding or killing of bystanders can strip it completely away.
Read more: https://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2018/10/new_orleans_gang_violence_cult.html
A coalition of governors headed by Gov. Paul LePage that seeks to open most federal waters to oil and gas exploration is staffed by employees of an oil industry lobbying firm, according to records obtained by the Maine Sunday Telegram.
The Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, which LePage joined in 2015 and has chaired for the past two years, outsources all of its day-to-day staffing, research and communications tasks to an advocacy group purporting to represent energy consumers. But a closer look at the group – the Consumer Energy Alliance – reveals that it is funded by energy producers and staffed and run by senior officials of HBW Resources, a Houston energy-focused lobbying and consulting firm.
The coalition – whose five other members are all governors from oil-producing states – has sought to greatly expand the area open to offshore energy development, streamline permitting and increase the share of revenues states receive. The group has relied on HBW officials to organize meetings, draft responses to press inquiries, research and develop its talking points and even design its logo.
“If you want to put the fox in charge of the henhouse, that’s what these governors have done in using CEA to drive their work,” says Sean Mahoney, executive vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, which spearheaded the 1982 moratorium on drilling in New England waters that the Trump administration has proposed overturning. “They’re unabashedly an organization formed and staffed by oil companies and drilling companies with the sole purpose of fostering greater oil exploration both offshore and onshore.”
The Baltimore Sun: Baltimore Sun database of police reports details acts of anti-Semitism in Maryland
Members of the Jewish community in the Baltimore region and across the nation have expressed shock and grief over the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead on Saturday.
They fear anti-Semitic acts that are showing up with other hate crimes with alarming frequency across Maryland.
Last year, Maryland law enforcement agencies received 398 reports of hate or bias — alleged incidents that ranged from vandalism and intimidation to threats and attacks, according to an investigation by The Baltimore Sun.
The reported incidents represented an increase of 35 percent from 2016 — and a pace of more than one report a day.
An investigation by Baltimore Sun reporter Catherine Rentz examined all of the nearly 700 reports filed over two years. The Sun built a database from the reports, which were made to local authorities and collected by the Maryland State Police.
Kansas City Star: Stalk. Murder. Repeat.
A voice cried out in the dark: “Fire!”
It was a witness who saw flames eating up the second-floor apartment where Ying Li, a 52-year-old woman, lived.
Li herself made not a sound.
When Kansas City firefighters rolled into the Northland apartment complex shortly before 6 a.m. that summer morning in 2016, they uncovered a grisly scene.
Fires had been staged in several places inside the apartment. Li’s body lay in the living room, decapitated.
Li had been advertising herself online as a massage worker, police learned — a clue that would link her murder to a series of crimes that began in the 1960s. Homicide detectives suspected the killer was a man long known to police as an incredibly violent predator.
It was not the first time they had connected him to a woman’s death, or a suspicious fire.
Yet, he had remained elusive to them for more than four decades. And as the smoke cleared that morning, he was still a free man.
The story of Robert J. Gross begins in an era before DNA evidence, at the dawn of the FBI’s profiling science. It traverses Kansas City’s heyday of violence, bypasses the modernization of police forensic techniques, and deposits Gross deep in the 21st century with his worst crimes unpunished.
Generations of survivors, victims’ families and flummoxed detectives are familiar with Gross’ bloody trail of death and destruction. Women he encountered a generation ago are still terrified to speak of him. Gross, through an attorney, declined to comment on this story.
For the first time, The Star is revealing Gross’ darkest secrets, presenting a full picture of the longtime serial murder suspect, his victims, and the prodigious efforts of police to catch a killer.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Bills to taxpayers for Greitens prosecutions exceed six figures; some not yet released
ST. LOUIS • Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s decision to prosecute two felony cases against former Gov. Eric Greitens has cost taxpayers at least $115,000 so far, with the office contractually bound to pay at least $10,000 more for related litigation, according to an analysis of expense records obtained by the Post-Dispatch.
Greitens was indicted in February on one felony count of invasion of privacy, accused of taking a photo of a semi-nude woman without her consent during their 2015 affair. Greitens was planning a run for governor but hadn’t made a public announcement at the time. He was later charged with computer tampering for allegedly using a charity donor list for political fundraising.
A day before opening statements in a May 14 trial, Gardner dismissed the case rather than subject herself to questioning under oath about perjury allegations against the private investigator she had hired for the case. Two weeks later, Gardner, a Democrat, announced a deal to drop the computer tampering case in exchange for the Republican governor’s resignation.
“It is time for us to move on,” Gardner said on May 30.
Still outstanding are bills related to Gardner’s battle against the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate perjury allegations. The bulk of the money Gardner’s office spent went to outside consultants and a private investigator, work and testimony that a judge barred from coming into evidence. If the trial had gone forward, the prosecution’s only evidence that Greitens snapped a compromising photo of the woman was her testimony that she had seen a flash and heard the shutter sound an iPhone makes.
Gardner, through her spokeswoman, Susan Ryan, declined an in-person interview. Gardner instead released a statement Friday, after a report about the expenses was posted online.
Democrat & Chronicle: Brighton Reserve: An exclusive Costello community under a cloud
When Ellen and Irwin Solomon moved into their condominium at the Reserve last winter, they thought their days of outdoor chores were behind them. The homeowners association would cut their grass, trim their hedges and plow their driveway.
But a few months ago, Irwin Solomon went out and bought himself a new lawnmower.
The homeowners association, the Solomons had learned, wasn’t doing what it being paid to do, and Anthony J. Costello & Son was at fault.
These are dark times for Costello & Son, the Rochester company that developed the Reserve and several other ambitious, innovative projects.
The Reserve, located on the Erie Canal in Brighton, is half-finished. Million-dollar mansions sit amid vacant lots. Rubble and weeds fill plots where loft apartments were supposed to be.
Staff have been dismissed and the project's finances are in disarray, the Democrat and Chronicle learned in an investigation over recent months. The state Attorney General's Office has stepped in once and is being asked to intervene again. Residents are threatening to sue their own developer.
The News and Observer: Will charging opioid dealers with murder prevent fatal overdoses? NC prosecutors hope so.
In April 2016, Cindy Patane found her son unconscious in his bedroom, needles on the table nearby, beaten by a disease he could not conquer.
After years of struggle to stay clean, including a six-month stay at a halfway house, Matt Eyster ground up and injected Opana, a synthetic opioid so powerful and addictive it is no longer sold by pharmaceutical companies. The drug left him brain dead at 21.
In their last moments together before Matt was taken off life support, Patane pressed her forehead to her son’s face as he breathed through a tube. Then she went to her Eastern North Carolina home, took a shower and started searching through Matt’s phone records, his Facebook account and his deleted texts.
Through those messages, Patane retraced the fatal Opana pill to the moment of the sale. Within six months, the woman who sold the drugs to Matt would be indicted for second-degree murder, largely due to Patane’s investigation. The prison sentence for Melinda Chaulk, now 40, on a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter: four years, 10 months.
Charging opioid suppliers with murder in fatal overdoses is increasingly common in North Carolina. No one keeps track of the total across all 100 counties, but prosecutors have brought at least 20 cases in the last two years as the state’s opioid crisis worsens.
Opinions differ on whether tougher sentences can steer dealers away from drugs with a deadly history, especially the cheap, synthetic opioid fentanyl. Disagreements also abound on whether dealers need longer prison time when many are addicts themselves. But for mothers such as Patane, nothing but a murder charge could fit the crime.
“That’s the only way you can fix it,” said Patane, a second-grade teacher with two other children. “You just want accountability. Somebody did this to my boy. Just because Matt made a bad choice doesn’t make your crime less of a crime. Matt had consequences. She should have consequences as well.”
North Carolina saw 2,323 people die from opioid and other drug overdoses in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated, nearly double the number who died in car crashes. That total rose 14.5 percent from 2016 — one of the most dramatic increases in the country.
Akron Beacon Journal: Summit County prosecutor employees file harassment, discrimination complaints
Several employees in the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office say they have been bullied, denied raises, harassed and brought to tears.
They also say they felt they had to campaign or contribute to longtime Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh’s campaign or face consequences.
“I have worked for three administrations,” Yolanda Richardson, a secretary in the prosecutor’s office for 21 years, wrote in a complaint she recently filed with Summit County. “The Bevan Walsh administration is by far the worst.”
Jennifer Cline, a grand jury coordinator who filed a complaint and later resigned, compared working in Walsh’s office to a real-life “Mean Girls.”
Richardson and Cline are among five current and former prosecutor employees who filed complaints being investigated by Summit County’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office. The complaints allege discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation. They are hoping for the terminations of one or more supervisors in Walsh’s office.
Austin American Statesman: Is the Texas DPS skewing its border security stats - again?
In December 2016, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers arrested a woman on drunken driving charges in the picturesque Hill Country town of Brady. The arrest took place a few blocks from the Heart of Texas Country Music Museum and a few miles from the historical marker on the edge of town delineating the geographic center of Texas.
But the DPS classified this routine police work in the literal heart of Texas — about 200 miles from the Mexico border — as one of the nearly 40,000 border arrests it has made over the past two years, a statistic the department provides in online fact sheets and in testimony to lawmakers when touting its $350 million per year border security effort.
The Brady arrest is not an outlier in DPS statistics. According to an American-Statesman analysis of what the DPS considers border arrests, nearly 30 percent occurred more than 100 miles from the border — in Hill Country cities like Brady and Mason, as well as Panhandle towns like Seminole and Denver City. Included in the numbers are thousands of arrests in the West Texas cities of Odessa, Midland and San Angelo, nearly 200 miles from Mexico. Many of those far-flung arrests lack a nexus to cartel activity or smuggling offenses.
Dallas Morning News: Texas patients lose in the state’s appeals system
he first time doctors prescribed a special breathing device for Zak Farquer, he had just woken from a coma in a Dallas hospital, paralyzed from the neck down. A car had crashed into the 13-year-old as he rode a scooter.
Over the next few years, four other doctors also said he needed the $13,000 machine, which pumps vapor medicine to clear out his lungs and prevent deadly infections. The state health commission agreed, ordering the company it hired to care for him to cover the cost of the equipment he has used every day since he left the hospital.
But the company ignored that order and refused to pay, again and again, according to his medical records. The company denied him other equipment, too. Six times in five years, Farquer had to get a lawyer and file formal appeals and complaints to get coverage for the treatment and devices his doctors prescribed, legal records show.
“I didn’t understand,” said Farquer, now 22. “I need this equipment to keep me alive and healthy.
“Why would you put my life on the line to save money?”
When health care companies hired by the state refuse to cover doctor-ordered medical treatments, patients and their families are supposed to be able to fight back through a so-called “fair hearing.”
In these proceedings, employees of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission weigh testimony from the patient and from the company, typically by phone. Experts say this system is crucial to making sure companies that manage the Medicaid health-care system aren’t boosting their profits by refusing to pay for treatments patients really need.
But in Texas, the system is stacked against patients, a Dallas Morning News investigation found.
Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Sex offenders in Hudson Valley skirt rules on photographs, residency
Ten percent of sex offenders in Westchester who are deemed a high or moderate risk to re-offend have failed to provide updated photographs as required, a review of the state Sex Offender Registry by The Journal News/lohud found.
That figure is even higher in Mount Vernon, despite a state audit four years ago that faulted city police for not acting on notifications from the state when photos were overdue.
And while the Westchester Department of Probation has a policy of keeping all registered sex offenders more than 1,000 feet from schools and playgrounds, lohud found several probationers who were living closer than that to those locations.
"There needs to be very strict rules regarding residency restrictions because otherwise it leaves departments with too much discretion and then the rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction," said Laura Ahearn, the founder and executive director of Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime Victim Center.
The Virginian-Pilot: Virginia Lottery says it will monitor frequent winners after Virginian-Pilot investigation
RICHMOND — In the wake of an investigation by The Virginian-Pilot on frequent winners, the Virginia Lottery has rolled out three policy changes aimed at identifying and stopping potential fraud among its roughly 5,200 retailers.
The most significant step: The state lottery will start regularly analyzing its winner database to identify those frequently claiming tickets, Director Kevin Hall announced Wednesday.
"Going forward, this will identify repeat winners and help us determine if circumstances warrant further investigation," Hall said at one of the lottery's public meetings.
Lottery spokesman John Hagerty confirmed that the agency has started reviewing the state's most frequent winners, as long as they have claimed a winning ticket in the last year. The roughly 40 top players, which The Pilot identified to the agency months ago, had not previously been investigated.
The Pilot's investigation found that between 2008 and 2016, 92 people won at least 50 tickets worth $600 or more apiece, according to data from the Virginia Lottery. Some of these players collected prizes with statistically impossible frequency.
Courier Journal: Kentucky's tech czar enjoyed free housing — until we asked about it
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Charles Grindle, Kentucky’s highly paid chief technology officer, was given 64 nights of free housing in the Old Governor’s Mansion and in a Governor’s Mansion cottage during his first four months on the job in late 2017 and early 2018.
But it wasn’t until Oct. 19 of this year — nearly nine months after he moved out and 31 days after the Courier Journal asked about the arrangement — that Grindle paid the state $6,976 in rent.
Pamela Trautner, spokeswoman for the Finance and Administration Cabinet, said Tuesday that she had no immediate explanation for the payment delay. In an email, she added that "After Mr. Grindle became a state employee, he was invoiced for his lodging at the Old Governor's and New Governor's Mansions, which he paid."
In wake of Khashoggi's killing, Washington Post announces "Press Freedom Partnership"
"Thirty days ago, Jamal Khashoggi was lured into a death trap," Washington Post publisher and CEO Fred Ryan said at the International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Awards tonight in DC on Thursday night.
Ryan, who was there to accept the group's leadership award, dedicated his speech to Khashoggi. "If Saudi Arabia faces no consequences for Jamal’s murder, it sends a powerful message of tolerance, perhaps even encouragement. And every journalist in every country will be at greater risk," Ryan said.
Then he shared an announcement. "To help in this effort, today we announce an important new Washington Post initiative called the Press Freedom Partnership," Ryan said. "Working with the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, Reporters Without Borders, and other interested groups, we are making a major global commitment to increase awareness of the importance of an independent press."
Ryan said the Post would devote "ongoing" resources; deploy its "marketing and advertising capabilities;" and use the reach of the paper's platforms "to champion the journalists who take risks every day to expose the truth."
Associated Press: AP finds guns sold by police were used in new crimes
The Spokane, Washington, City Council is considering a proposal to stop the police department from selling forfeited firearms, following an Associated Press investigation found that guns sold by Washington state law enforcement agencies were later used in new crimes.
Councilwoman Candace Mumm said Thursday that the AP investigation coupled with a review of the proceeds from the gun sales inspired the council to want to end the practice.
“They’re putting assault weapons back into the community,” Mumm said. “I felt the benefit of destroying them outweighed the costs.”
Under state law, police and sheriff’s departments have the option to sell, destroy or trade firearms confiscated in criminal investigations, but the law requires the Washington State Patrol to sell the guns. All sales are conducted through a federally licensed gun dealer.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Oct. 26, 2018
L.A. County firefighters earn massive overtime pay, busting budgets and raising questions
Overtime costs at the Los Angeles County Fire Department surged 36% in the last five years, placing some firefighters among the highest-compensated workers in local government.
The increase comes as the department grapples with staffing shortages and several seasons of extreme wildfires. Yet some county officials and outside experts question whether fire commanders are properly managing their $1-billion payroll.
The county recently launched an audit of the department’s overtime costs and payroll procedures, though it will be months before that is complete. The Times conducted an analysis of the county payroll database, which lists salaries, overtime and fringe benefits received by about 100,000 employees in the last five years.
San Francisco Chronicle: Oakland police applicants asked to disclose whether they were sexually assaulted
The Oakland Police Department, which has long struggled to recruit women, asks all officer applicants to disclose whether they have been sexually assaulted, The Chronicle has learned.
The inquiry does not appear to be common. The Chronicle checked with police departments in the 10 most populous cities in California and could not find another that screens for whether candidates are sexual assault victims.
The practice is “inexcusable,” said retired Portland, Ore., Police Chief Penny Harrington, the first woman to lead a major city police force.
“There’s absolutely no reason to be doing that,” said Harrington, who founded the National Center for Women and Policing. “I can’t imagine why they would need to know that information, except as a way to wash out women.”
Legal experts said the inquiry is odd and potentially problematic, although there is disagreement over whether it’s illegal.
Orlando Sentinel: Orlando airport chairman Frank Kruppenbacher's global travels span 100 days and $100,000
As the appointed, unpaid chairman of Orlando International Airport, Frank Kruppenbacher has traveled globally for more than 100 days in the past six years and cost the public more than $100,000, shows an examination by the Orlando Sentinel of hundreds of pages of his expense reports.
Kruppenbacher went to Shanghai twice, Beijing three times, Tokyo four years in a row and to Buenos Aires, Argentina; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Frankfurt, Germany; Istanbul; Panama City; Santiago, Chile; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Turin, Italy, among other cities. He is currently making his fifth visit to Tokyo.
Kruppenbacher, 66, said his trips on behalf of the nation’s 11th-busiest airport are important to help recruit premier airlines of other countries, a common quest of major airports in the United States.
“As Chairman, it is essential that I participate in discussions where Aviation Authority leadership can add weight to the negotiations or provide the necessary gravitas,” Kruppenbacher said in a written statement for the Orlando Sentinel. “International business is built on establishing relationships and cultivating trust.”
Pensacola News: Stays at Escambia County detention center spike as juvenile arrests increase, law changes
Seven elementary school-aged boys sit around a table at a community center, passing baked chicken and sides. They avoid the green beans as children do, and hold hands as they say grace.
For a few hours inside the small, barred-window building on North Miller Street, they forget that many of them will walk home through unforgiving streets that saw three shootings in as many weeks.
The woman reminding them to sit up straight and wash their hands before they eat is Evelyn Webber, known to them as "Miss Evelyn." Once a guard at a juvenile justice facility in Milton, she now runs programs at Pensacola's Dorrie Miller Community Center to teach neighborhood kids the consequences of their actions, how to mentally process the violence they witness and life skills they aren’t being taught at home.
On this particular day in mid-September, the younger boys are learning mealtime etiquette in the hopes that discipline and manners will build a foundation for a successful future.
But some of the boys don’t go back to homes where families eat meals together.
Even more don’t have a dinner table at all.
Webber’s hope is that inside that small center, she and her volunteers can wrap the children with enough love and support to offset the overwhelming factors that put some of these kids at a very real risk of overburdening juvenile justice facilities and agencies across the state.
Department of Juvenile Justice data shows the Escambia Regional Juvenile Detention Center experienced a huge spike in use in the most recently reported year, 2016-2017, putting it at a 94 percent average utilization rate, compared to 69 percent the year prior. The utilization rate is an average showing how full the detention facility likely was on any given day that year.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Atlanta paid Reed’s former law firm millions for vague flat-fee bills
During former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s last four years in office, the city paid $2.2 million to a global law firm where Reed once worked for services only vaguely described on invoices as “litigation consultation” and “legal research.”
The Paul Hastings LLP bills don’t identify the lawyers who performed the work and offer no detail about the nature of the legal services provided to the city. The bills topped out at $125,000 per month during a run from April through December of 2016.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the past year has reviewed thousands of pages of legal invoices submitted to the city by outside law firms. The “flat rate” bills from Paul Hastings are just a fraction of the $10 million the firm billed during Reed’s two terms as mayor, but could have serious consequences for Atlanta’s airport.
Prompted by the AJC’s reporting, the Federal Aviation Administration in July began investigating if Atlanta improperly used airport revenues to pay outside law firms, including Paul Hastings, for work associated with the federal corruption probe of the Reed administration.
Using airport funds to pay for non-airport services, known as revenue diversion, is against FAA regulations and could jeopardize tens of millions of dollars in future aviation grants if the FAA found the city engaged in it.
Indianapolis Star: 'They lost what they call home': Danger of natural gas explosions lurks just beneath surface
When two loud booms shook their quiet neighborhood last November, residents of Camby, Indiana, rushed outside and received a shocking lesson in gas line safety.
What they saw was far less harsh than the catastrophe that struck three small communities outside Boston in September, where aging iron gas lines and human error caused more than 30 explosions and house fires.
But the incident in Camby shows that Hoosiers are not immune from the worst, despite recent strides in pipeline safety.
About once a year — eight times in eight years — gas line damage led to an explosion in Indiana, a federal pipeline safety agency reports. In the Camby case, neighbors watched a house “crack apart” and a garage door blow out before the “house collapsed inward on itself in a ball of fire.” It was one of more than 20 major incidents since 2010 that injured a total of 11 people, killed one, and ignited buildings across the state.
Business owners share their best advice for cutting costs
Here in Indiana, an IndyStar analysis of records and data reveals, most of the iron pipe blamed for the Boston disaster has been removed. And pressurization is not a problem here, either, as it was there.
Des Moines Register: Confused, anxious and far from home: Dementia patients turned away from many Iowa nursing homes
STORY CITY, Ia. — Gailen Clausen and Tommy Nash are unwelcome in most Iowa nursing homes.
Clausen, 55, and Nash, 47, have severe forms of dementia, caused by a mysterious rotting away of their brains.
The men can become confused and anxious when caregivers they don't recognize try to touch them, their families say. They have sometimes responded by trying to push or slap at staff members or relatives.
Lashing out is a common symptom of Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. It's increasingly a reason for Iowa's 416 nursing homes to turn away patients, especially if they're relatively young, experts say.
“Once they get marked as aggressive, it’s over. It’s like, ‘Oh, we can’t deal with them,’” said Linnea Clausen, Gailen's wife.
That's why Gailen Clausen is living in Story City's Bethany Life nursing home, which is 190 miles from his family's home in the northwest Iowa town of Craig. And it's why Tommy Nash is living in a nursing home in Newton, 125 miles south of his hometown of Osage.
"It's an awful, awful thing that's going on all over the country," said Nash's ex-wife, Deb Scharper of Osage, who has two adult children with him and serves as his legal guardian.
Nursing homes aren't required to report when they turn away potential residents, so there are no solid numbers on how often it happens.
But families and Iowa and national experts say the problem is growing. They say its causes include a shortage of money, increasingly strict regulations and the burgeoning population of relatively young — and strong — adults struck with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Times-Picayune: Everyone saw the French Quarter attack. Few saw the mental health care failures behind it.
As officers placed Dejuan Paul in handcuffs outside of Covenant House, a youth shelter on the edge of New Orleans’ French Quarter, the distraught 21-year-old pleaded with his counselor.
“Miss Foots!” he shouted. “I thought you weren’t going to send me away!”
Cynthia Foots, who has worked at the shelter for more than 10 years, tried to tell Paul everything was going to be OK. “You can come back home, baby,” she said, trying to reassure him. “They’re going to take you to get some help.”
A few minutes earlier, Paul had warned Foots there were voices in his head. They were telling him to kill her.
“I’m losing control. I can’t control them!” Paul had shouted. “I need my medicine!” He then made a “loud squealing noise,” according to a Covenant House critical incident report.
Foots didn’t want to call police. She promised Paul she wouldn’t, that she would stay by his side and help him, no matter what. But he was a danger to himself and others and needed help.
As she watched the patrol car drive off, taking Paul to the behavioral health emergency room at University Medical Center, she assumed he would be committed for several days, possibly weeks, to receive the treatment and medication he so desperately needed. But only 27 hours later, Paul appeared back at Covenant House. The hospital had released him with instructions to follow-up with a mental health care provider.
A week later, on June 24, 2017, Paul and three other young men attacked and robbed two tourists in town for a Unitarian conference, leaving one hospitalized in critical condition.
Today, Paul is an inmate at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, serving an 8-year sentence after pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree armed robbery.
Foots is a product of the Desire and Melpomene public housing developments. There are few things capable of unsettling her. And yet, what she experienced that day, and the events that unfolded over the ensuing months, shocked her conscience, she said.
It wasn’t just the crime itself, captured on dramatic surveillance video that stunned even New Orleans and made headlines across the country. It was also what the crime exposed – widespread failures in a broken Louisiana mental health system that, Foots asserts, is partly responsible for a preventable violent act.
A review of Paul’s UMC medical records by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune raised significant questions. Four hours after he was admitted, a doctor wrote that Paul was “having auditory hallucinations” and that he was “a potential threat to himself and other people as well as gravely disabled.”
Times-Picayune: RTA commissioner resigns amid dubious deals with vendors, then punches back
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s finance committee chairman has resigned following an internal investigation that found evidence suggesting he improperly sold parts to an RTA vendor and sought to circumvent public bidding to benefit a “business partner.”
Al Herrera, the RTA commissioner who resigned Thursday (Oct. 18), says he’s actually the “target of misguided and malicious attacks.” The Kenner businessman pledged in his resignation letter to become a “watchdog” and blow the whistle on other unspecified, alleged transgressions at the RTA.
Herrera’s resignation, first reported by The Advocate, comes after an Oct. 10 report found he had shown “a clear pattern of abuse of office that cannot be ignored.” Signed by the RTA’s interim executive director, Jared Munster, the 67-page report lays out emails and invoices documenting Herrera’s business dealings with the company building the RTA’s new ferry boats, attempts to drum up business with the RTA’s vendor for bus stop shelters and signs and a bidding workaround for a streetcar wheel manufacturer.
“The facts are undeniable that there was notice and clear intent to violate the ethics regulations and state statues prohibiting officials from benefitting from their positions in this matter,” the report, signed by Munster, says.
Baltimore Sun: The Baltimore Sun investigated 2 years of hate incident reports in Maryland. Here's what we found.
Founded as a place of religious freedom, Maryland has seen a sharp increase in reported hate – formal reports that people were harassed, threatened or even attacked because of their religion, race or sexual orientation.
In all, Maryland law enforcement agencies got 398 reports of hate or bias last year — up by more than a third from 2016.
An investigation by Baltimore Sun reporter Catherine Rentz took a close look at all of the nearly 700 reports filed over two years. The Sun built a database from the reports, which were made to local authorities and collected by the Maryland State Police.
The Boston Globe: Lawmakers make most of travel option
In May 2016, Beacon Hill lawmakers gathered inside the Senate chamber to make history: They voted overwhelmingly to bar public discrimination against transgender people in what advocates hailed as a giant leap forward for civil rights.
But Senator Marc R. Pacheco didn’t cast a vote that day.
The Senate’s third-highest-ranking member was 4,000 miles away in Austria, delivering a speech on climate change in the picturesque mountain village of Fresach, his travel costs picked up by Austrian groups. He was the only member of the Senate who missed the chance to move the momentous bill forward.
This was just one of nearly 50 trips — all subsidized by outside groups — that the Taunton Democrat has taken since January 2013. And each was made possible by what one watchdog calls a “galactic-sized loophole” in state ethics regulations, one that Pacheco and scores of lawmakers take advantage of, according to a Globe analysis of more than 600 disclosures filed by legislators.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune: In Minnesota, half of sex assault cases police send to prosecutors never result in charges.
Hannah Traaseth told the deputies things she had been too afraid and ashamed to tell her father.
How she got into the car of a man she had never met before. How he and his friend had taken turns raping her, an experience so violent that she said she later texted a friend, “My body hurts.”
Traaseth was 13. The men were 21.
Investigators in Wisconsin and Maplewood spent the next 8 months working the case, even though Traaseth, afraid for her safety, initially misled them on how she met the men and where the assault occurred. Still, detectives combed through her text messages and social media accounts to identify possible suspects, and Traaseth soon told them everything. Then they obtained warrants for Facebook accounts, arrested and questioned two men and took samples of their DNA, which matched the samples found on the teenager’s underwear.
Police, convinced the evidence was strong enough to charge both men with rape, sent the case to the office of Ramsey County Attorney John Choi in May of 2016.
“We generally don’t send cases over unless we think there’s enough evidence,” said David Kvam, a commander at the Maplewood Police Department.
Choi’s office declined to charge the men, saying in a letter to the family that the teenager’s “conflicting versions” of what happened that night made it unlikely they would win at trial.
“We strongly believe that no responsible prosecutor in the state of Minnesota would charge this case,” Choi told the Star Tribune.
Bradley Traaseth, Hannah’s father, begged Maplewood police to resubmit the case.
They did. Five months later, Choi’s office again declined to press charges, citing the same reasons. In total, Choi’s office would review the case four times, each time electing not to charge either of the men.
Bradley Traaseth is still furious.
“This should be an open-and-shut case,” he said.
But most people accused of sexual assault in Minnesota won’t ever face a reckoning in court.
Kansas City Star: One bishop could lead the way to another bishop being the first charged for sex abuse
The call last year from Pope Francis’ representative in Washington took the Rev. Steven Biegler by surprise.
A priest in South Dakota, Biegler learned he was the choice to become the ninth bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., leading the state’s 55,000 Catholics.
Though sad to leave his parishioners in Rapid City, Biegler was eager to begin ministering to a diocese that encompasses the entire state of Wyoming and covers nearly 100,000 square miles.
Biegler said he was excited to be continuing his journey “of saying yes to the Lord.”
But as it turned out, one of his first major decisions upon arriving in Cheyenne involved saying no.
No to a man who for nearly a quarter century had run the diocese he was now going to lead. A man who spent his first two decades as a beloved priest in Kansas City. And a man who — in large part because of Biegler’s persistence — could become the first Roman Catholic bishop in the country to be prosecuted for sexual abuse of a minor.
Bishop Joseph Hart, 87, stands accused of multiple acts of sexual abuse now deemed credible by both the Missouri and Wyoming dioceses that he served. And though the allegations involve incidents from decades ago, Wyoming stands out from most states when it comes to criminal prosecutions. It has no statute of limitations on criminal cases.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: How Josh Hawley shook up the Missouri attorney general's office — and what happened next
JEFFERSON CITY • In January 2017, Josh Hawley became the first Republican to lead the Missouri attorney general’s office in a quarter century. Hawley was going to take on the federal government. He was going to shake up his office’s organization chart.
His employees were bracing themselves.
Critics say Hawley’s administration bled staffers and dedicated limited resources to firing salvos toward the federal government. They say he carried a lighter load than his predecessors.
Seven lawyers interviewed by the Post-Dispatch described a turbulent transition from Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster to Hawley, triggered in part by his overhaul of the office. Former staffers complain of low morale.
“You don’t come in and shake it up just for the sake of shaking it up,” said Bernard Rhodes, a partner at the Lathrop and Gage law firm who has worked with the agency off and on for 30 years.
Hawley is running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat. In an interview, he said he “streamlined” the chain of command and said that after 25 years without big changes, the office needed a shake-up.
In 2017, Hawley’s first year, 98 employees left the attorney general’s office, according to state data obtained by the Post-Dispatch.
Newark Star-Ledger: In Newark, reporting lapses hide thousands of student suspensions from public view
Newark schools are suspending thousands of students, the majority of them black, according to 2015-16 federal data collected by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
But because of reporting lapses, those suspensions are nowhere to be found in the state's published school report cards, where parents typically turn to seek out such data. Instead, the reports give the false impression that Newark has all but eliminated suspensions.
The flawed reports reveal the district's longtime struggle to track suspensions -- a data challenge that has impeded efforts to stop schools from inappropriately removing students or punishing students of one race more harshly than others.
ProPublica has compiled the federal data, which many people never see, in a new user-friendly portal, allowing the public to explore racial inequities across districts and schools. Using the tool to analyze suspensions in Newark, Chalkbeat found stark disparities between schools and between students of different races -- troubling patterns masked by the inaccurate state reports.
Rochester Democrat: The $100 Million Man: How Cuomo’s campaign war chest became one of the nation’s largest
ALBANY - Halmar International did not have a state construction contract since 1988.
But that soon changed.
The Nanuet, Rockland County-based construction firm started to donate to Andrew Cuomo's election campaigns.
It gave $10,000 just prior to Cuomo's first win in 2010, and $135,000 overall in his eight years in office.
The company has since landed $236 million in state construction projects, plus a multitude of projects through the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, including a 23 percent stake in the massive $1.8 billion Long Island Railroad expansion, state records show.
While Cuomo denies any quid pro quo, similar examples are found throughout state government after he amassed one of the largest campaign funds of any Democratic governor in the nation.
As Cuomo seeks a third term in November, a review of records by the USA TODAY Network's Albany Bureau found Cuomo's campaign coffers are filled with donations from companies with business before the state — and regularly made through a massive loophole in state law.
The influence of money on New York politics is important: Taxpayers are often the ones on the hook for contracts and benefits awarded to donors.
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Despite new DNA results, many rape cases statewide not reopened
CLEVELAND — Testing rape kits may be the law in Ohio. But following up on the results of those tests is not.
Outside of Cleveland, which has logged convictions in 382 rape kit cases, only a few dozen other cases across the state have made it to a courtroom.
A survey of police agencies, conducted by The Plain Dealer and community volunteers, found that in many cases, police departments and sheriff’s office are not reinvestigating thousands of older cases tested in recent years, even when they get DNA results.
Agencies that have followed up cases say victims are often reluctant to have their cases reopened, or recant allegations, if they can locate them at all. When police do have a victim willing to cooperate, prosecutors often decline to file charges or present the case to a grand jury.
The Plain Dealer, with the help of more than 100 community volunteers, attempted to survey all 294 law enforcement agencies that sent in rape kits for testing as part of the Sexual Assault Kit Testing Initiative, which kicked off in late 2011 when Attorney General Mike DeWine issued an “open call” for the more than 800 law enforcement agencies in Ohio to send any kits that had not previously been tested for DNA.
Columbus Dispatch: Audit shows company failed to keep drug costs low for taxpayer-funded Medicaid
The health insurance group that billed Ohio twice the amount of its competitors to deliver medicine to Medicaid patients also fell significantly short of its goal to keep drug costs low.
The revelation is yet another from an audit by HealthPlan Data Solutions that was commissioned by the Ohio Department of Medicaid to determine whether the state is getting fair prices on drugs.
Portions of the audit were at first kept from the public, but a judge recently ordered that they be made public in response to a Dispatch public records request.
Auditors for HealthPlan found that the pharmacy benefit manager Envolve charged too much overall for drugs as compared to what it agreed to in its contract with Buckeye Health Plan. It is unclear how much more Envolve charged for prescription drugs because the number is redacted, or blacked out.
Three sources, including one who helped write the contract, told The Dispatch the overcharge was in the millions.
The finding is significant because Medicaid agrees to pay managed-care plans based on contracts from the previous year. So an underperforming pharmacy benefit manager raises costs. Pharmacy benefit managers are middlemen in the supply chain, and their intended purpose is to keep costs down.
The Oregonian: On Hold: Crime victims, public wait 6 weeks or more for Portland police reports
One February night in Portland, a college student had a seizure while driving and crashed into a tree. No one, not even doctors, could figure out why. But there was hope, the physicians said: Clues to the medical mystery might be in the police report.
So, the 23-year-old went online and made a public records request. It would have been plain to anyone who read the request that it was urgent.
“This will help my doctor in providing me with an accurate diagnosis,” Mia Wait typed into the online form. Descriptions of Wait’s behavior and other facts in the report, Wait wrote, could help doctors piece together a timeline and diagnostic picture.
But Portland police responded to Wait’s request the way they do virtually all requests for public records: slowly. Weeks went by, then months, then half a year.
It took the Portland Police Bureau 10 months to respond.
By then, Wait’s doctors had given up. What’s more, the single page police eventually turned over was useless. The document it took police so long to send appeared to be from the wrong car accident.
Philadephia Inquirer: Acclaimed Philly scholastic chess coach sexually abused boys in 1980s, former pupils say
A nationally acclaimed chess coach who for decades taught math in Philadelphia's public schools sexually abused preteen and teenage boys in his Fairmount home in the 1980s, according to three former pupils who say they either endured or witnessed the abuse.
In independent interviews with the Inquirer and Daily News, the men described how the coach, Stephen Shutt, molested members or former members of his chess team from Frederick Douglass Elementary School in North Philadelphia.
One said he was about 11 when Shutt performed oral sex on him in the shower at Shutt's house; the other two said they saw Shutt do the same in his bed to boys who were in their early to mid-teens.
Shutt, 76, denied the accusations in interviews outside his home Thursday and Friday. "No, that did not happen," he said, speaking softly and at times shaking his head.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Inside the city's polarizing, no-middle-ground war with Trump over sanctuary cities.
A small, impish grin spread across Jeff Sessions' face. It was a sun-drenched June afternoon in Scranton, a northeastern Pennsylvania town a few generations removed from its coal-mining heydays, and the U.S. attorney general was ensconced in a window-lined university hall, preaching to cops, prosecutors, and police cadets about the importance of President Trump's war on illegal immigration. Outside, protesters jeered.
Sanctuary cities, Sessions said, reject the law, reward criminals, and put U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in peril. Then he smiled, and began attacking Jim Kenney, Philadelphia's Democratic mayor.
The Tennessean: Heroes in horror: Mass shootings across America create a celebrity culture around victims
When James Shaw Jr. lunged for a crazed gunman, wrestling an AR-15-style rifle from the man's hands and tossing it behind the counter at a terrorized Waffle House, he unexpectedly launched himself into a role he never could have imagined.
Within hours, Shaw Jr. was being heralded as a hero for his bravery.
His actions catapulted him into the spotlight at a police news conference less than 12 hours after the mass shooting that killed four people, wounded several others and left the city of Nashville in a panic.
Days later, he stood before the Tennessee state legislature, lauded for his altruism. He appeared on CNN and in the New York Times. He shook hands with NBA star Dwyane Wade on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." He had to hire a public relations representative to field all the appearance and interview requests.
He used his newfound celebrity to raise money for victims and start a nonprofit.
"I know you don't want to be called a hero," Wade said to Shaw Jr. on "Ellen" that day, "but I look at you as an American hero."
James Shaw Jr. holds his daughter, Brooklyn Shaw, 4, and cries while speaking during a prayer vigil for those affected by the Waffle House shooting, at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Antioch on April 23.Buy Photo
It is a remarkable story. A regular Nashvillian put on a metaphorical superhero cape and saved lives. And the nation latched on. Why?
The Greenville News: Amid Upstate's opioid epidemic, people with addiction struggle to find safe recovery homes
Taylor Smith fell in love with opioids at age 12.
He remembers suffering a knee injury from playing football and vividly recalls the feeling his first hydrocodone prescription gave him. He craved more.
The next 10 years of his life became nothing short of a nightmare.
After three overdoses, 16 failed rehab programs and a handful of jail visits, Smith became addicted to prescription opiates, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. He was sleeping in an abandoned house in Anderson, stealing anything he could to get his hands on to sell for drugs. He wanted to die.
It took his mother breaking down in tears after spotting him on the side of an Anderson street for him to realize how far he had sunk.
April 9, 2017. That day marked the first day of his sobriety.
“I’m sitting here, 21 years old, in an abandoned house with dirty needles on the floor, maggots on the floor, piss on the floor. I’m thinking, ‘If I’m 21 right now, it’s only going to get worse. I just can’t do it.”
For the next year, he remained clean, benefiting from the living environment at a Greenville County recovery residence called Freedom House.
But like many with an addiction, his story of recovery didn’t end there.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: At-risk kids swell Arkansas truancy rate
Thousands of Arkansas children skip too much school to make academic progress each year, according to recent federal data.
At-risk youths struggle more with attendance, experts say -- especially children in foster care and those sent to juvenile court for truancy.
In 2015, 46 Arkansas school districts reported that at least 1 in 5 students were "chronically absent," according to U.S. Department of Education records.
Thirty schools, including Hot Springs High, Jacksonville High and Little Rock's Hall High, had at least 40 percent chronically-absent -- defined as missing at least 15 days in a school year -- students that year.
Overall, Arkansas' 14 percent chronically-absent rate placed the state just below the national average of 16 percent. Maryland topped the list, with more than 29 percent.
Chronic absenteeism is tied to graduation rates -- even more so than how many students receive free or reduced-price lunches or hold minority status in certain years, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's analysis of the data.
AP analysis: ‘Obamacare’ shapes opioid grant spending
With Republicans and Democrats joining forces again in a bipartisan effort to target the U.S. opioid crisis, an Associated Press analysis of the first wave of emergency money from Congress finds that states are taking very different approaches to spending it.
To a large extent, the differences depend on whether states participated in one of the most divisive issues in recent American politics: the health overhaul known as “Obamacare.”
The AP analysis found states that expanded Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health overhaul reported spending their allocations more slowly than states that didn’t expand the health insurance program to poor, childless adults.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Oct. 18, 2018
Anchorage Daily News: Alaska psychiatric patients being held in jail cells due to hospital staffing shortage
Workplace safety fears and staffing shortages at the state-run psychiatric hospital has the Alaska prison system bracing to house more and more psychiatric patients in jails.
Officials at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage said the facility recently halted admissions amid alarm by a spike in staff injuries over a two-week period from the end of September to early October. Cynthia Montgomery, the acting director of nursing, said administrators decided API could not safely take on more patients without additional staff.At the moment, API is now using only about 50 of its 80 beds. If there isn't room for a patient at API, the next step is placement at another treatment facility, like a local emergency room.
But Anchorage's hospital emergency rooms have been overflowing this year with psychiatric patients, in part because of API staffing shortages. Without hospital beds available, some potential API patients are expected to find themselves held in a mental health unit at a jail, even if they are not accused of a crime.
Los Angeles Times: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s family benefited from U.S. program for minorities based on disputed ancestry
A company owned by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s in-laws won more than $7 million in no-bid and other federal contracts at U.S. military installations and other government properties in California based on a dubious claim of Native American identity by McCarthy’s brother-in-law, a Times investigation has found.
The prime contracts, awarded through a federal program designed to help disadvantaged minorities, were mostly for construction projects at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in McCarthy’s Bakersfield-based district, and the Naval Air Station Lemoore in nearby Kings County.
Vortex Construction, whose principal owner is William Wages, the brother of McCarthy’s wife, Judy, received a total of $7.6 million in no-bid and other prime federal contracts since 2000, The Times found.
The Bakersfield company is co-owned by McCarthy’s mother-in-law and employs his father-in-law and sister-in-law, Wages said. McCarthy’s wife was a partner in Vortex in the early 1990s.
San Francisco Chronicle: Warnings on risks of intensive teen camps led to dismissals, ex-employees say
Former employees of a Bay Area nonprofit that runs intensive retreats for teenagers to encourage empathy say they repeatedly warned their bosses that some of the camps’ methods were dangerously misguided and risked a potential lawsuit.
But the ex-employees of Silicon Valley Faces, including its former executive director, say they were dismissed after raising their concerns, even as thousands of high schoolers continued to attend the remote Camp Everytown retreats.
“The first time I heard of Camp Everytown was when I took over Faces, and as soon as I took over, I thought something is very wrong here,” said the former executive director, Samina Masood, who joined the organization in 2016. “What they do at camp is mental and psychological manipulation. It’s dangerous.”
Masood and two other former Faces employees — former program director Lauren McCabe and former manager Margaret Petros — said they were inspired to speak out after a Chronicle investigation of Camp Everytown and similar overnight retreats held nationwide since the 1950s.
The San Diego Union-Tribune: Meant to help with mental illness, money from tax on millionaires piles up
hile the hepatitis A virus ran unchecked through the streets and homeless camps of San Diego last year, claiming 20 lives and sickening hundreds of others before it was corralled, $170 million in special funding for mentally ill people sat in a county bank account.
So much Mental Health Services Act revenue piled up, San Diego County collected more than $12 million in interest from the unspent cash.
Even today, as the homeless crisis deepens and suicide remains persistently high, critics say too much of the money the county spends from the fund goes to consultants, reports, public relations and pilot projects rather than direct treatment for patients most affected by mental illness.
“They’re not addressing the seriously mentally ill,” said Theresa Bish, who used to serve on the county mental health advisory board. “They have allowed the problem to be on the shoulders of our jails and prisons and hospitals.”
At the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year, the latest period for which data are available, San Diego County had $170.6 million in unspent Mental Health Services Act revenue, including $42 million held in reserve as required by the state.
The amount rose steadily over years, state records show. In 2007, the county had $23 million in unspent cash. By 2009, the bank balance swelled to $58 million and by 2011 it reached $133 million.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Think no one can know how much you have in the bank? Think again
In a shadowy world seemingly ignored by regulators, something’s for sale that most people believe is theirs alone to know: bank account information.
Your account, your neighbor’s, your parents’ — all can be had for a price, and, even at a time of heightened interest in protecting personal privacy, little is being done to stop it.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution examined dozens of websites and Facebook pages in which private investigators and other so-called information brokers boast that they can locate bank accounts and balances.
What the review found was companies seemingly thumbing their noses at long-standing federal regulations and policies put in place by the banks themselves to protect financial privacy.
Give them a name, address and Social Security number and they will find the bank account and how much is in it, down to the last cent.
Indianapolis Star: Migrant workers in Indiana: They harvest our food, but risk labor trafficking
BICKNELL, Ind. — The migrant workers, still soaked with sweat, lumber off an old school bus an hour before midnight and slowly file toward a cluster of mobile homes set back from the highway that cuts through this Knox County farm town.
It is the peak of harvest season, and days filled with picking cantaloupe and watermelon for 12 hours or more in the August heat are routine.
A young man, his feet bare, limps past me carrying a pair of tattered shoes. He grimaces in pain and fatigue.
He nods and then gingerly climbs the steps into a trailer and toward his bunk. Another exhausting day in southwest Indiana's melon fields is done.
Each year, thousands of migrant workers follow the harvest from Florida, Georgia and other parts of the South to Northern states such as Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. They pick and pack asparagus, melons, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables that grace Americans' dinner tables. They settle, sometimes for months, into roadside motels, apartment buildings and mobile home parks in farm towns across the country.
Des Moines Register: Capitol harassment: Lewd, intimidating conduct has created a 'toxic' Statehouse, staffers and lawmakers say
For more than a decade, Iowa legislators and staff members engaged in lewd and sexually aggressive behavior, creating a "toxic" environment and a "culture of secrets" at the state Capitol, according to detailed court depositions reviewed by the Des Moines Register.
The depositions, taken under oath by about two-dozen lawmakers and legislative staffers, comprise more than 1,000 pages of documents previously unreleased to the public. They were part of a landmark sexual harassment case that resulted in the state of Iowa paying a $1.75 million settlement last year.
The depositions detail more than 50 instances of inappropriate behavior that played out over years at the Capitol, including allegations that:
• Multiple staff members watched pornography at work, including male staffers who gathered to view a video of topless women jumping on a trampoline to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”
• Staff members and lawmakers described female co-workers and lobbyists in lewd or sexually derogatory ways. For example, male legislative staffers would “go out in like a little pack,” assessing the physical attributes of female lobbyists. One male legislative employee called women "c----", a vulgar term referring to female genitalia.
• A senator gossiped with a colleague that a female senator was sexually promiscuous, while another senator asked a staff member on the Senate floor about the size of her nipples. The latter senator's drinking problems prompted a Senate leader to bring a breathalyzer to test his colleague before he spoke on the Senate floor.
Times-Picayune: Terrain, broken drains and too much rain: Why New Orleans floods
Like many New Orleans neighborhoods, low-lying Broadmoor dips below sea level. Its wide stretches of pavement and houses leave few options for rain to escape besides the city's drainage system of catch basins, underground pipes, canals and pumps.
When uncommonly heavy rain hits, Broadmoor's streets can flood along with areas surrounding it, including parts of Central City, Audubon, the Lower Garden District and Uptown. That's even if the pumps are all working at full tilt, the underground pipes are in perfect condition and the catch basins are completely unclogged.
Mid-City, the Central Business District, Gentilly, Lakeview and several other neighborhoods would fare little better during a severe storm, according to a key document city officials commissioned in 2010 called the Drainage Master Plan.
While the Sewerage & Water Board's pumps have been the focus of much public attention over the past year, New Orleans remains at risk of flooding from standard seasonal downpours -- not to mention hurricane season threats -- due to a confluence of inadequate and broken underground pipes, geographical dips in the terrain, several square miles of surface concrete and steadily sinking land that compounds all the negative effects.
This portrait is the consistent view of several local experts, drainage assessments and scientific studies that NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune has reviewed.
Kansas City Star: A grocery divide: Why do so many stores east of Troost lack healthy food?
Denise Brunston lives miles east of Troost Avenue, but when she goes grocery shopping she heads west. Far west.
Past the stores that are more convenient to her home and over to the Cosentino’s Price Chopper in Brookside.
“It’s just a part of life,” says Brunston, a chemist who is black. “If you want the best of something, you’ve got to go where the white people are. This includes groceries.”
From the moment shoppers enter that store, like others west of Troost, they are greeted with a vibrant smorgasbord of colorful, fresh produce.
But on Brunston’s side of town, just inside the double doors at the Blue Parkway Sun Fresh Market, tiers of assorted Lay’s potato chips beckon. Across the aisle, boxes of Kool-Aid and gallon jugs of Best Choice fruit punch tower 6 feet high over a few displays of healthier options.
Customers must walk back 100 feet before they encounter the produce section.
“This is our normal,” Brunston says. “It’s frustrating. What does that mean for us, for our kids when our own stores push those kinds of foods?”
In a review of grocery stores east and west of Troost — the city’s historic racial dividing line — The Star found similar disparities in variety and quality.
Albuquerque Journal: Alleged sexual abuse continued after warnings
For more than two decades, parents, victims, nuns and others reported alleged sexual assaults or raised other red flags about Fr. Arthur Perrault to Catholic priests and diocesan officials, including two archbishops. None of those warnings, according to court records, stopped him from preying on children here until he vanished from Albuquerque in 1992.
When Fr. Arthur Perrault ushered the altar boy into his bedroom at Our Lady of Guadalupe rectory and locked the door, the 13-year-old feared what would happen next. Years later, he remembered the cleaning lady knocking at the door three times. The Catholic priest warning him to keep quiet. And how the unwanted fondling of his “privates” resumed when she went away. …
Hours later, his father told him, “I want you to sit down, write out what happened, and I’m going to go to the archbishop, and we’re going to make sure that he doesn’t do this any more.”
The former altar boy, who gave the account in a deposition in the early 1990s, is known as Victim #17 in redacted state court records.
But despite the boy’s letter to then-Archbishop James Peter Davis in December 1971 and the parents’ intervention, Perrault went on to sexually assault at least 21 more children over the next two decades, according to allegations in court records.
The New York Times: Kushner Paid No Federal Income Tax for Years, Documents Suggest
Over the past decade, Jared Kushner’s family company has spent billions of dollars buying real estate. His personal stock investments have soared. His net worth has quintupled to almost $324 million.
And yet, for several years running, Mr. Kushner — President Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser — appears to have paid almost no federal income taxes, according to confidential financial documents reviewed by The New York Times.
His low tax bills are the result of a common tax-minimizing maneuver that, year after year, generated millions of dollars in losses for Mr. Kushner, according to the documents. But the losses were only on paper — Mr. Kushner and his company did not appear to actually lose any money. The losses were driven by depreciation, a tax benefit that lets real estate investors deduct a portion of the cost of their buildings from their taxable income every year.
In 2015, for example, Mr. Kushner took home $1.7 million in salary and investment gains. But those earnings were swamped by $8.3 million of losses, largely because of “significant depreciation” that Mr. Kushner and his company took on their real estate, according to the documents reviewed by The Times.
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Hostile culture, education shortfalls, understaffing hinder 'safe and humane' detention of Cuyahoga County youth, report says
CLEVELAND, Ohio – In 1997, Cuyahoga County’s old 87-bed juvenile detention center was called “one of the most adult-oriented, bleak, depressing, unsafe and psychologically harmful facilities” that a team of national detention experts had ever visited.
More than 20 years later, youth who are awaiting juvenile court appearances are held in the county’s new 180-bed center, part of the stately $189 million Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court complex, referred to by some as the “Taj Mahal.”
In many ways, though, the atmosphere hasn’t changed.
A report obtained by The Plain Dealer last week that was compiled by a six-person team of national juvenile justice experts who visited the center in May and July found:
The majority of youth confined in the center were not receiving legally mandated education or special education services.
Staffing shortages, forced overtime and inadequate training that hindered “safe and humane” supervision of the youth.
The center had a “significant and dangerous dependence” on confining youth in their rooms for long periods of time.
A culture of conflict between the detention officers and the youth.
The 92-page report by The Center for Children’s Law and Policy in Washington, D.C., makes clear that problems in the detention center run deep and appear to stem from an ingrained culture that diverges from the court’s purpose of rehabilitating youth.
The Oregonian: Rampant turnover, low pay: Insiders on Oregon dementia care
Grueling work. Rampant turnover. Elderly people with dementia, abused and neglected for lack of staff.
The Oregonian/OregonLive asked more than 200 current and former memory care employees what they experienced on the job. Their stunning responses shed light on why memory care too often falls short of its promise of specialized support for people with dementia.
The pay that workers reported didn't reflect the responsibility or the stakes. Hourly wages for caregivers equalled those of Oregon dishwashers, motel clerks and parking lot attendants: $11 and change. On average, the caregivers reported taking on 15 memory care residents at a time.
Confirmed cases of abuse and neglect in senior care are rare, state data show. Yet 70 percent of employees who answered the newsroom's call for comments said they witnessed abuse or neglect. Eight in 10 of those people blamed a shortage of staff.
The candid responses from people on the ground offer a unique viewpoint on memory care, which has more than twice as many confirmed cases of abuse per occupied bed as other forms of assisted living, a newsroom analysis found.
The Philadelphia Inquirer: Jim Kenney 1,000 days in: The fine print of the Philly mayor’s promises
Three and a half years ago, Mayor Kenney won the Democratic primary in a historic landslide with an unapologetically progressive platform.
End stop-and-frisk. Implement universal pre-K. Send tens of millions of dollars more to Philadelphia's schools.
Create family-sustaining jobs. Make the city a place where your zip code isn't your destiny. And do this all not by raising property taxes but by selling tax liens, increasing the land assessments of abated real estate, and saving money through "zero-based budgeting."
Since becoming mayor, Kenney has tapped the relationships he's developed throughout his decades-long career in government to pass far-reaching legislation. But some of his biggest achievements, such as signing the first soda tax into law in a major American city, and beginning to overhaul the city's parks system, were never part of his campaign.
Electricians from local 98, Joseph Fareri (left) and Alfio Sorbello hold up photos of Mayor Kenney, in front of Famous 4th Street Deli, in Philadelphia on Nov. 7, 2017. | More photos from Kenney’s first 1,000 days in office
Other bold, flashy promises faded after Kenney was elected. Stop-and-frisk is reformed but not abolished. Pre-K is expanded but not universal. And zero-based budgeting? It's nonexistent.
On his 1,000th day in office, Kenney released a progress report. We ran a fine-tooth comb through it to determine what he's really gotten done. Here's what Kenney has accomplished, where we quibble with his account, and what remains unsaid.
The Tennessean: 3 alarming scripts from a nurse practitioner who was one of Tennessee’s biggest opioid prescribers
The Tennessee Department of Health is attempting to revoke the nursing license of Christina Collins, a nurse practitioner who was once one of the top opioid prescribers in the state.
State officials have said Collins’ prescriptions were so "colossal" that their only reasonable purpose was suicide or drug trafficking. She wrote these prescriptions in 2011 and 2012 while working for Bearden Health Associates, a pain clinic in the Knoxville suburbs.
On Thursday, The Tennessean published a 2,000-word investigation into Collins case, based on a review of more than 4,000 pages of public documents.
Before she won a Nobel Prize, Frances Arnold frustrated her parents and teachers in Pittsburgh
A multi-gifted Frances Arnold spent much of the first half of her life in Pittsburgh and elsewhere maddening her parents, frustrating her teachers and searching for the right scientific field to suit her unconventional nature.
The 1974 Allderdice High School graduate found her place in sunny Southern California over the past three decades, pioneering a bioengineering field and winning multiple prestigious awards that culminated Oct. 3 with a middle-of-the-night call from the Nobel Prize committee.
Among different locations and vocations, there’s a common thread for the first American female to have won a share of the Nobel Prize for chemistry: a fearless, independent streak she’s had since her grade school days in Edgewood.
“I’ve done that my whole life — I’ve taken the way people think and turned it on its head,” Ms. Arnold explained last week in her office at the California Institute of Technology, a small but prestigious university that attracts some students precisely because they want to work under and learn from her.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Oct. 11, 2018
The Journal News: Section 1: Unwritten deal costs taxpayers millions for high school sports
Section 1 has long been a household name for Lower Hudson Valley student athletes, parents and coaches, the driving force behind every scholastic sporting event in the region for decades.
Yet, little is known about the nonprofit's inner workings, its dominance over local school district athletic programs, nor the millions of tax dollars that pay for it all.
Section 1 operates under a murky, unwritten arrangement with Southern Westchester BOCES, a $160 million-a-year public school district that, despite not having its own athletic teams, subsidizes the section with nearly $6 million in tax dollars every year.
Section 1 Executive Director Jennifer Simmons is not officially employed by the section, but is instead paid $172,000 a year as a teacher with Southern Westchester BOCES, an acronym for Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
Rockford Register Star: Less gunfire detected in Rockford despite new ShotSpotter technology
ROCKFORD — The jury is still out on the $310,000 ShotSpotter gunfire detection system deployed six months ago in two areas of Rockford.
Rockford Police Chief Dan O’Shea had expected the new technology to result in the detection of as many as 75 percent more shots fired. But there has so far been a sharp decline in gunfire this year.
Police say ShotSpotter, based in Newark, California, has detected shots fired that may otherwise have gone unreported or were reported more quickly than would have been the case without it, and credited it with assisting Rockford police in making a few arrests.
But with money tight, O’Shea said he will form a committee of police officers, police commanders and crime analysts to review the effectiveness of ShotSpotter in helping police stop gun violence before deciding whether the system is worth the city’s continued investment in 2019.
“We are going to look at it, analyze it and see if we want to stick with it or we don’t,” O’Shea said. “Everything we do, we keep watching, going back, examining — are we doing the right things? I am not afraid, and I don’t want my staff to be ever afraid, ‘Hey, we are doing this — we thought this was going to work. It ain’t working.’ Well, let’s change tactics and go a different way.”
There were 331 shots-fired incidents through August this year in Rockford — 19 percent fewer than the 408 recorded in the same period last year.
The Missoulian: In charting the future of the Clark Fork River, lessons exist on Blackfoot, Bitterroot rivers
TURAH — You can’t see the Clark Fork River from John Carlon’s house, but occasionally it comes to visit.
“A big chunk of the dike broke off this spring because of the high water,” Carlon said of the right-angle bend in the Clark Fork about 10 miles east of Missoula. “The Army Corps (of Engineers) said they were out to protect the houses, but I know they were also taking care of the fiber-optic lines and gas lines and the power lines that go through here, and the Yellowstone (oil) pipeline. The river took out a 50-, 60-foot chunk. If they hadn’t fixed that, it would have made it to my house.”
The 30-year flood of 2018 wasn’t the only change Carlon’s noticed in two decades living along this isolated reach of the Clark Fork River. The number of fly-fishermen boating by has jumped. So has the “tube hatch” of recreational floaters. Billboards along Interstate 90 advertise home-building opportunities for people who work in Missoula but want the rural lifestyle of Turah or Clinton.
The rebirth of the Clark Fork River after a century of neglect and heavy-metal contamination presents a rare chance to think about how to live alongside it.
To focus those conversations, the Missoulian staff and local residents floated more than 60 miles of the Clark Fork, Blackfoot and Bitterroot rivers to get a sense of their distinctive characters. The raft passed ranches dating back to the Homestead Era, wildlife refuges, mansions and golf courses, man-made whitewater parks, super-secret fishing holes, ancient cliff walls and dead-end sloughs that didn’t exist the summer before. It floated over the scarp where Milltown Dam once stood, and along the levy screening thousands of acres of defunct industrial cooling ponds at the old Smurfit-Stone pulp mill.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Despite progress, Sarasota schools achievement gap remains an issue
After three years of focused initiatives, Sarasota County’s minority students are still far under-performing the district’s white students based on state test scores.
The gap between the test scores of white and minority students, dubbed the achievement gap, is actually higher in most instances in Sarasota County, the state’s fourth-highest ranked district, than it is in the state overall.
White students in Sarasota consistently perform significantly higher on state tests than white students in the entire state, while black and Hispanic students often outperform their peers in the state only by a few points. How students perform on these tests can impact whether they graduate from high school, go on to college and achieve success in their career, so school districts focus on the tests as more than just indicators of academic success.
District administrators attribute Sarasota’s wider achievement gap to students’ higher test scores here. If Sarasota County students are scoring significantly higher than the state in most categories, they will naturally have a higher achievement gap, they say.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee’s school turnover thwarts academic progress
A sense of unwavering optimism fills Angie Kaper’s classroom at Carver Academy.
The veteran sixth-grade teacher trains her “honey bunnies” to welcome visitors with a basket of crackers and candy. She coaxes students to try harder at math by insisting her memory is bad and she needs their help. She prods and celebrates and coddles and charms them — and many quickly improve their skills from fall to spring.
Kaper’s room and others at Carver — a low-income, predominantly African-American K-8 school in the Brewers Hill neighborhood — feel like places where students can succeed. A school chant that begins “Where are you going?,” elicits a one-word response in student assemblies: “College!”
Test scores tell another story. Less than 5 percent of students are proficient in English and math on the state exam. The vast majority score “below basic,” the lowest category, in both subjects.
Despite devoted teachers, a spirit of achievement, extra money and five years of attention from Milwaukee’s best minds in business and education as part of an unprecedented turnaround effort, Carver’s students are stuck academically.
The school’s biggest obstacle turned out to be something nobody was even tracking: Student turnover.
The Seattle Times: Attacks on staff surge at Western State Hospital: ‘How bad does it have to get?’
Day after day, the teenage patient at Western State Hospital showed flashes of violence.
On Jan. 29, he hit a fellow patient bending down to fix his shoe, and punched a staff member repeatedly in the face, “inflicting blood injury to the mouth,” according to excerpted chart notes entered into a court record.
He continued to display “physical aggression” on Feb. 8, and assaulted another patient without provocation on Feb. 13. Three days later, he attacked a patient again with “multiples punches to face and body.”
Finally, on Aug. 26 came the attack that profoundly shook staff at the state’s largest psychiatric hospital. The patient, now 19 and 260 pounds, allegedly punched a nurse in the face and repeatedly stomped on her face, leaving her so bloodied that a nursing supervisor thought she was going to die.
She didn’t. But the attack illustrates a sharp increase in patient-on-staff assaults at Western State, despite tens of millions of dollars the state has spent trying to fix problems that have plagued the 850-bed hospital for decades. The issue was thrust into the spotlight again last Sunday when a patient allegedly vaulted over a nurse’s station, started choking her and bit off part of an ear lobe.
After years of declining violence, patients are now attacking staff at the highest rate in a decade, even as reports of attacks on other patients have generally gone down, according to records reviewed by The Seattle Times.
Houston Chronicle: Even after Harvey, Houston keeps adding new homes in flood plains
One in 5 new homes permitted in Houston in the year after Hurricane Harvey is in a flood plain — some on prairie developed for the first time after the storm — even as new rainfall data showed existing flood maps understate the risk posed by strengthening storms.
The city Planning Commission also approved 260 plats in Houston’s flood plains during the same period, signing off on developers’ requests to redraw property lines to create hundreds more parcels awaiting development in flood-prone areas, a Houston Chronicle analysis found.
About 615 of the home construction permits were issued in the 100-year flood plain, the area deemed to have a 1 percent chance of being inundated in any given year, city data show. Another 600 were approved in the 500-year flood plain, the area deemed to have an annual 0.2 percent chance of inundation, according to the Chronicle analysis.
Many of these permits were issued to homeowners razing and elevating their flooded homes; more than 300 of the homes were approved on lots for which a demolition permit was issued after the storm. Others were issued to builders, many of whom tore down existing bungalows and replaced them with clumps of townhomes, packing more families into the flood plain. Still others were issued to developers building brand new subdivisions in areas that previously were open fields.
The Dallas Morning News: 9 Seconds: A cop raised his rifle and an innocent boy died. Inside the quest for justice.
At first, they weren’t sure what they were looking at. The images on the screen were dark and blurry, but the sounds were clear.
Gunfire. Girls screaming. A cop shouting “Stop that f---ing car.” More shots.
It was a sunny Monday afternoon in May 2017, and a half-dozen prosecutors and investigators sat around a mahogany table. At the head was their boss, Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson. They had just received two bodycam videos that were key evidence as they tried to decide whether a crime occurred two days earlier, in America’s latest killing of an unarmed black male by a white police officer.
They knew very little. They had a dead 15-year-old, Jordan Edwards, who’d been a passenger in a car and seemed to be, from what the news was saying, a good kid. They had a police officer, Roy Oliver, 37, who said he fired to save his partner as the car moved toward him.
Swiveling in their black leather chairs, the prosecutors played the videos over and over, trying to distill the flashes of chaos into answers of law and justice.
The whole thing lasted 54 seconds.
“Wow,” a prosecutor said. “Why did he shoot?”
Austin American Statesman: ‘Texas reneging’: State’s expansion of sex-offender laws challenged
When the Beaumont police detective called him in 2014, Curtis wondered what the officer might want. His only run-in with the law had been half a lifetime ago.
In 1985, he had been charged with indecency with a child, his stepdaughter. Curtis, then 34, struck a deal with prosecutors: He would plead guilty — but, if after 10 years he kept out of trouble, the conviction would go away. He paid his fees, performed his community service and attended sex offender counseling. The charge was dismissed in 1996.
Curtis said his crime stayed with him: “It never leaves me; it’s always in front of me.” (The paper is not using his last name, because he is fighting to keep it private and it does not appear in court documents.) He kept a low, steady profile. Over the next three decades, he raised his three boys in the house in which he’s always lived. He worked at a nearby chemical plant until his retirement in 2009.
So, the news from the detective was alarming. Despite the deal he’d cut with the state of Texas 30 years ago, Curtis was dismayed to learn that he now would have to register as a sex offender. His name and photo and details of the crime would appear on the state’s public website. He would need to check in with police regularly. The new rules, the detective informed Curtis, applied for the rest of his life. …
Over the past 20 years, state and federal lawmakers have passed ever-stricter laws for sex offenses that require more people to be listed on public sex offender registries — typically for life. In some cases, the new laws have reached back to include those whose crimes occurred years before the statutes were enacted, and counter the deals they struck with prosecutors.
The U.S. Constitution prohibits new laws that pile additional punishments onto old crimes. In the past, government lawyers have successfully sidestepped that by arguing that retroactively requiring sex offenders to register for decades-old crimes is not really a punishment. Instead, they contended, it is merely a regulation that promotes public safety.
Now, however, at least four older sex offenders in Texas have floated a new argument that has earned early legal victories. They say the deals they agreed to in the past were essentially contracts between them and the state.
The Tennessean: In Tennessee, a gun or threat is reported at school every 3 days
It was a little after 2 p.m. in August 2007 at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis when a young man entered the building, pulled out a handgun and said, “Everybody get on the ground.”
Earlier that day, he’d threatened school officials who escorted him out of the building as a part of his pending expulsion from the school.
Instead of shooting anyone, the young man bolted out a door of the wood shop classroom. He was quickly arrested about a half-mile from the school, according to a police report.
That event received little public attention. A 2017 fight outside a Rutherford County elementary school on orientation day also went largely unnoticed. A student’s mother reportedly pulled a handgun on the student’s father in the school parking lot, but no shots were fired.
Few likely remember in 2001 when a 57-year-old man walked into a psychiatrist’s office at East Tennessee State University armed with two handguns and said his wife was “out to get him.” Police responded after he refused to hand over his weapons to psychiatrists.
Mass killings — generally defined as attacks in which four or more people are killed — at schools are meticulously chronicled. Victims are remembered, motives are studied, new policies or laws are discussed. The horror burrows into the memories of viewers and readers around the world.
Yet near misses — incidents in which a student or adult has a real firearm (as opposed to a BB or toy gun) or other gun at a school but does not carry out a mass attack — happen in Tennessee public schools at far greater rates than most other states, according to a USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee analysis.
The Oregonian: Costly dementia care failing to keep Oregon seniors safe
Janet Annal recalls administrators at Lydia's House telling her not to worry about her mother's Alzheimer's disease.
They could handle even the violent outbursts the 85-year-old had been showing, she said they told her. It was the kind of expertise that separated the Albany-based memory care center from typical senior care homes.
Dementia was their specialty, and the $9,000 monthly fee seemed well worth it. Annal felt reassured.
But months after Joanna Vanderwilt arrived in 2015, she slapped a visitor. Now the retired engineer needed one-on-one attention.
The new monthly fee: about $25,000.
The quality of care didn't match the enormous price tag.
An urgent care doctor examining two sores on Vanderwilt's right ankle found a skin infection so bad that she spent three days in the hospital. State investigators blamed the memory care center for letting her symptoms go untreated.
"One of the biggest sensations was betrayal," said Annal, who also felt that Lydia's House was taking advantage of her family.
"I was gouged."
She's not alone.
The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio taxpayers may be paying twice for the same Medicaid drug services
The team that discovered that Ohio taxpayers were overcharged up to $186 million for Medicaid prescription drugs last year has uncovered an additional $20 million that might have been wasted to fund services for which taxpayers already were paying.
And state Medicaid officials initially did not want that information made public.
Now, however, they concede that the consultant hired by the state after a series of Dispatch stories is justified in questioning the $20 million outlay.
The possible misspending was found deep in the bureaucratic maze through which Ohio's poorest residents get needed drugs.
The Record: No eye rolling, no yelling. How Trump supporters and critics try to find common ground
GETTYSBURG, Pennsylvania — They sat in a circle, Republicans next to Democrats, Trump supporters alongside Trump critics.
No one pointed fingers.
No one yelled at anyone.
When it was over, everyone shook hands.
On a recent rainy evening, 10 people gathered inside a Gettysburg church — not far from the rolling hills where Union and Confederate soldiers fought a climactic battle that turned the tide of the Civil War — and tried to find ways to heal the deep political divisions that have engulfed America in another sort of civil war.
First, however, the group, which calls itself Politics, Facts and Civility, had to agree on a few rules.
“We’re here to be nice to each other,” said Currie Kerr Thompson, a retired Gettysburg College professor and the group’s leader.
Louisville Courier Journal: Elementary school suspensions are soaring and JCPS isn't sure why
The littlest learners in Jefferson County Public Schools were suspended more than 7,600 days last year — the equivalent of 21 years — as the district's use of its harshest punishment on elementary students skyrocketed.
JCPS is doling out suspensions at a higher rate — in one case, at roughly five times the rate — than its peer districts across the country, a Courier Journal investigation has found.
Louisville's black and special-needs elementary students have disproportionately borne the brunt of the surge. More than 1 in 11 black elementary students were kicked off campus last year alone.
Some people are appalled.
"We are criminalizing and dehumanizing kids, and it starts at 4 and 5 years old," said Michelle Pennix, principal of Mill Creek Elementary. "We've got to do better."
The Courier Journal analysis of preliminary JCPS elementary suspension data obtained through Kentucky's public records law found:
The Washington Post: ‘You shouldn’t be doing this’ She was 16. He was 25. Should marrying a child be allowed?
It was the day of the birthday party, and the husband and wife had invited everyone they knew. They’d spent the morning buying food — a sheet cake, jumbo hot dogs, ground beef, soda, chips — and were now standing around a picnic table covered with it all, along a long lake under a cloudless sky, hoping at least some people would show up to eat it.
Today was the first time both sides of their family were supposed to come together, something that hadn’t happened at their wedding four months before. On that day, not a single member of the husband’s family had attended — not his brothers, who’d called him a fool for marrying like this, and not his parents, who’d told him the relationship would only get him into trouble. Just about the only people who’d gone that day, and were here so far on this day, had been the people involved in the wedding itself.
There was Maria Vargas, a shy and brooding girl who looked older than her 16 years, and her husband, Phil Manning, 25, who often acted younger than his. And nearby, smoking a cigarette, was a slight woman with long, narrow features, Michelle Hockenberry, 39, the mother who’d allowed her daughter to marry.
Even in an era when the median age of marrying has climbed higher and higher, unions like Phil and Maria’s remain surprisingly prevalent in the United States. Between 2000 and 2010, an estimated 248,000 children were married, most of whom were girls, some as young as 12, wedding men. Now, under pressure from advocates and amid a nationwide reckoning over gender equality and sexual misconduct, states have begun ending exceptions that have allowed marriages for people younger than 18, the minimum age in most states. Texas last year banned it, except for emancipated minors. Kentucky outlawed it, except for 17-year-olds with parental and judicial approval. Maryland considered increasing the minimum marrying age from 15, but its bill failed to pass in April. Then in May, Delaware abolished the practice under every circumstance, and New Jersey did the same in June. Pennsylvania, which may vote to eliminate all loopholes this autumn, could be next.
The Denver Post: Coloradans pay more as hospital building spree leads to empty beds and profits nearly twice the national average
Colorado hospitals hiked prices by 76 percent over a seven-year stretch as they pushed their profits to among the largest in the nation and built more aggressively than hospitals in all but one other state, according to data the state plans to use to change spending priorities.
Along the way, hospitals doubled their administrative costs from 2009 through 2016 and contributed to residents in the state’s mountainous west region paying the highest insurance rates in the nation, according to the information collected for the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.
The state sought the data to gain clarity into why health care costs are rising so much here. While the Colorado Hospital Association is disputing aspects of the findings, state officials say they expect to finalize the data this fall and eventually release hospital-by-hospital information.
The scrutiny is hitting an industry dominated by nonprofits, which operate about three-fourths of the hospitals in Colorado. That nonprofit status allows them to escape paying income, property and sales taxes and to benefit from other tax advantages that lower their borrowing costs.
The San Diego Union-Tribune: California's carbon-credit market often pays for greenhouse gas reductions that would've happened anyway
squinted under a dusty baseball cap as he explained, over the roar of its natural gas-burning engine, the advantages of installing a methane digester.
He pointed to several football-field-sized ponds of cow manure covered in industrial-strength tarps. The methane coming off the animal waste is trapped, he said, and sucked into a generator that creates more than enough power to run the 4,000-cow operation.
“It’s basically like solar, but we make power all the time, and we don’t have to use five acres of land for panels,” said the 27-year-old diesel mechanic. “Saving money is making money.”
The project also generates revenue by selling carbon-offset credits through California’s cap-and-trade program — part of the state’s ambitious plan to reign in greenhouse gases.
Under the offset program, everyone from dairy farmers trapping methane to timber companies embracing progressive logging practices to nonprofits preserving natural landscapes can sell carbon credits and get paid for their efforts to fight climate change.
Industrial polluters purchase those carbon credits to claim the ton-for-ton reductions in climate-warming emissions as their own. They use the offsets to stay in line with the state’s strict environmental regulations, or voluntarily, to green up their public personas.
However, reporting by the San Diego Union-Tribune has revealed numerous instances where companies and nonprofits selling offsets didn’t shrink their carbon footprint as a result of the program — raising questions about the ability of the program to fight climate change.
Los Angeles Times: L.A. County deputies stopped thousands of innocent Latinos on the 5 Freeway in hopes of their next drug bust
The team of Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies cruises the 5 Freeway, stopping motorists on the Grapevine in search of cars carrying drugs.
They’ve worked the mountain pass in Southern California since 2012 and boast a large haul: more than a ton of methamphetamine, 2 tons of marijuana, 600 pounds of cocaine, millions of dollars in suspected drug money and more than 1,000 arrests.
But behind those impressive numbers are some troubling ones.
More than two-thirds of the drivers pulled over by the Domestic Highway Enforcement Team were Latino, according to a Times analysis of Sheriff’s Department data. And sheriff’s deputies searched the vehicles of more than 3,500 drivers who turned out to have no drugs or other illegal items, the analysis found. The overwhelming majority of those were Latino.
Several of the team’s big drug busts have been dismissed in federal court as the credibility of some deputies came under fire and judges ruled that deputies violated the rights of motorists by conducting unconstitutional searches.
The Times analyzed data from every traffic stop recorded by the team from 2012 through the end of last year — more than 9,000 stops in all — and reviewed records from hundreds of court cases.
CivilBeat.org: Are we ready?
Hawaii was already weary from months of floods and fiery lava flows.
Then in August, it faced the worst-case scenario.
Hurricane Lane bore down on the islands, threatening thousands of aging homes. The state endured menacing storms before — most notably Iniki, which devastated Kauai in 1992. But Lane was different.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Oct. 4, 2018
Montgomery Advertiser: Peer-to-peer: How former addicts help guide others through recovery
Larry Snow's walk to the University of Alabama's commencement stage in May took a little bit longer than most of his classmates'.
The Birmingham native struggled without a support system in his childhood. With a mother addicted to drugs, Snow had to look out for himself, and grew up lacking important “coping skills," falling into a cycle of addiction that was difficult to emerge from.
“I was homeless, I slept on a bench in Birmingham,” Snow said. “But I walked across that stage at Alabama, too.”
He emerged with the help of fellow men in recovery, a community he found in Tuscaloosa as he worked to complete his degree. And now Snow is ready to pay that work forward as the coordinator of Montgomery’s Council on Substance Abuse peer recovery support program, a holistic approach aimed at offering recovering addicts assistance and bridging the gap between everyday life and medical care.
“Research shows that a peer can play a valuable role in recovery by sharing their lived experience with people in recovery,” Snow said. “Counselors and clinicians have their roles, and we don’t replace those therapies. But we complement it. We’ve been through and overcome those barriers that they’re trying to overcome. If they see us living successful and productive lives that we’re proud of, hopefully they can identify. Recovery is all about hope. If there’s no hope for anything better, why would you try?”
Montgomery Advertiser: With spotlight on blight, Montgomery focuses on more than 68K complaints
Overgrown lawns, boarded-up houses, trash in yards and shoddy properties dot the city landscape, angering residents and city officials.
With no perfect solution in site, a small team of Montgomery employees in the Public Works department are tasked with handling the thousands of complaints that roll in each year.
So far this year, there have been more than 13,800 complaints. Over the last five, there have been almost 68,800, and the city has been able to resolve almost 80 percent. Those efforts are one slice of the multifaceted approach that the city is taking to tackle blight, an attack that has seen mixed effects.
Each day, inspectors hit the streets, often first inspecting a property within 48 hours of a complaint, to measure progress on what many consider to be city eyesores.
LA Times: Extra inventory. More sales. Lower prices. How counterfeits benefit Amazon
Jon Fawcett wanted to build a cellphone cable that wouldn’t fray. So he developed a charging cord wrapped in stainless steel sturdy enough to withstand an electric chainsaw.
It was a niche product that turned Fuse Chicken, Fawcett’s company of half-a-dozen employees, into a quick success. Customers raved about Fawcett’s durable designs — until he started selling them on Amazon.
“Really bad quality,” read a description of an iPhone car charger in a review titled, “Broke in a week.”
Fawcett was dumbfounded. Then he found a clue in one of the reviews: a picture of a charger emblazoned with a Fuse Chicken logo that wasn’t quite right.
Over the following months, Fawcett placed numerous Amazon orders for his own merchandise. What he found would become the basis of a lawsuit he filed last year against Amazon.
Mixed in with Amazon’s inventory of authentic merchandise were crude copycats. Some looked like the real thing but didn’t include Fuse Chicken’s name. Others bore the name but weren’t made by his company, Fawcett said in an interview with The Times in his Ohio office.
His experiment suggests there is no way for even the savviest Amazon shopper to avoid the threat of counterfeits. The goods may look real online, but there is no guarantee of authenticity — whether sold by a brand, a third-party seller or Amazon’s direct-sales arm.
Sun-Sentinel: Broward schools give big raises to administrators
The Broward County School District gave 11 district administrators big raises last school year, drawing scrutiny from critics.
While Superintendent Robert Runcie defended most of the increases, he acknowledged one was improper and would be corrected.
The raises ranged from 7 percent to 21 percent, well above the 2.2 percent increases approved for most of the 27,000 district employees. None of the 11 employees received promotions but continued to work in their same jobs. District officials said the raises were given to ensure employees received competitive pay so they would stay in the district.
Orlando Sentinel: In Orlando's restaurant industry, drug and alcohol abuse is 'as common as ketchup'
For restaurant worker Matt Hinckley, booze was everywhere.
Beer was in the kitchen. There was a “shift drink” after the restaurant closed, still a tradition at most eateries. Late nights would turn into late mornings with co-workers at bars because everyone else Hinckley knew was asleep.
“Alcohol is on the menu, and it’s your job to know the menu,” said Hinckley, 45, a former line cook at restaurants in Central Florida, Miami, Alaska, New York and New Zealand.
After watching co-workers collapse on the line next to him and others kill colleagues in drunken driving accidents, Hinckley quit his job, moved back home to Orlando and sobered up.
Restaurant employees and managers say there is an epidemic of alcohol and drug abuse that is only getting worse, a problem rarely shared with those outside cramped kitchens and hot cook lines. Restaurant and hotel workers have the highest rate of substance abuse in the nation, and no area of the country has a higher percentage of restaurant workers than Central Florida.
One in six workers in the restaurant and hotel industries nationwide have reported a problem with substance abuse, according to a 2015 study by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Atlanta Journal Constitution: Georgia maternal death rate, once ranked worst in U.S., worse now
Eight years ago the human rights organization Amnesty International declared a “maternal health care crisis in the U.S.A.” and said worst of all was the state of Georgia.
National health organizations reached out. Shaken Georgia leaders mobilized, passed legislation, and created a task force and pilot projects. And things have changed — but apparently for the worse.
The best estimate of the state’s maternal death rate is now double the one Amnesty International called out.
However, the data are still so bad that no one really knows how high the rate is. They’re just pretty sure what they have is an undercount.
“We know what we don’t know at this point,” said Diane Durrence, the women’s health director in the Maternal and Child Health Section of the state’s Department of Public Health. “Our numbers are higher (than average). Why? We don’t have the answers completely to it.”
As the state of Georgia prepares for the 2019 legislative session, study committees are weighing changes to the state’s health care system, above all in rural health care. In spite of similar efforts in the past, Georgia continues to swim at the bottom of the barrel on several key U.S. health rankings.
The Times-Picayune: What you think you know about gun deaths is probably wrong
When most people think about the number of gun-related deaths in America each year, the first images that likely come to mind are of gang violence or mass shootings. Our national debate on gun control is almost always centered on an active-shooter event or a plea to get guns off the streets.
But while gang activity devastates many neighborhoods and communities, that violence accounts for only 1 out of 5 gun-related deaths nationally. And while mass shootings are horrific in so many ways, they are responsible for less than 1 percent of firearm deaths annual.
The largest number of gun deaths in the United States by far -- 63 percent -- are a result of something rarely even mentioned in the gun control discussion: suicide.
That statistic tends to escape notice because most news organization don't report on suicides the way they do homicides based on studies that show publicity can sometimes lead to more suicides. Details of a suicide, such as the specific method, also are often left out of news reports for the same reason.
The policy is no doubt an example of practicing responsible journalism, but it also masks the understanding of how big a role suicide plays in the annual gun death total and skews the overall debate on firearms toward ownership rights rather than cause of death.
Katrina Brees wants to change that.
The Baltimore Sun: Bringing a dark chapter to light: Maryland confronts its lynching legacy
A bright moon hovered above Westminster, Md., that evening in June 1885, its “still rays lighting up every nook and corner,” The Baltimore Sun reported at the time, when the sounds of “a cavalcade of horses” broke the silence.
Dozens of riders, their faces masked, rode toward the downtown jail.
They overpowered the sheriff on duty and tied him up. They found a key in the jailhouse, yanked open the cell of 21-year-old Townsend Cook, and threw a rope around his neck.
And the mob of about 50 took Cook, a black day laborer accused of assaulting a white woman, to a nearby farm, hanged him from an oak tree, and fired shots into his body as it dangled.
“[The] ghastly corpse, with two bullet wounds in the back of the head, swung with pendulum-like motion in the sweet, morning breeze,” The Sun reported. “Everyone, save the officers of the law, seemed pleased.”
Cruel, harrowing and illegal as it was, the lynching of Townsend Cook was far from unique in Maryland. Mobs in the Old Line State committed dozens of the terror killings in the decades following the Civil War.
While the gruesome practice of lynching is most closely associated with the Southern states of the former Confederacy, hundreds were committed elsewhere in the country — including at least 44 in Maryland.
Boston Globe: Inside our secret courts
Leneeth Suazo, four months pregnant, had tried to ignore her ex-boyfriend’s menacing voice mails, phone calls, and text messages since he kicked her out of his apartment.
Now it was New Year’s Eve and the doorbell wouldn’t stop ringing at the apartment complex where Suazo had taken refuge. She knew it was Jim Phane outside, pressing every buzzer in the building.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the front door. Phane, let in by a neighbor, was standing there, begging Suazo to talk to him.
Fearful that he’d attack her as he had once before, Suazo discreetly pressed record on her cellphone. Phane threatened her, and when he noticed the phone was recording their conversation, he lunged.
“Jim, don’t touch me. Don’t touch my face. I don’t want you to touch me . . . Stop!”
Suazo later told police that he grabbed her jaw, shoved her, and elbowed her belly before fleeing as she screamed. A judge granted a restraining order, based on her application outlining the alleged history of violence, and police sought a felony assault and battery charge against the ex-boyfriend.
But justice would elude her. The case would go into the darkest corner of the Massachusetts criminal justice system, where closed-door hearings are often held in private offices without public notice, where the outcome is up to the discretion of a single court official who may not have a law degree, and where thousands of substantiated criminal cases go to die every year.
Star Tribune: Police overwhelmed and undertrained
Bryan Schafer saw the struggle over and over in the Minneapolis Police Department: Too few investigators for too many rape cases, too many victims never getting justice.
Then he discovered it was not only a big-city problem.
When he became police chief in Hastings five years ago, Schafer learned that most of his officers had little or no training in investigating sexual assaults. Some said they were uncomfortable handling sex crimes and, given a choice, preferred a crime like burglary. An outside review of 86 Hastings sexual assault investigations showed the consequences: Less than one-quarter had resulted in criminal charges.
Schafer was shocked.
“How can we expect our officers to … do justice for the victim if they’re not trained to do so?” he said. “This is not like having your TV stolen.”
Scant or nonexistent training for police officers who investigate sexual assaults is a chronic problem across Minnesota. Most of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies don’t require it. Neither does the state board that oversees the licensing and training of police officers.
Constant turnover and thin ranks compound the problem.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Financial pressures add to the stress as bills pile up after a dementia diagnosis.
Lonni Schicker, 63, sets up her laptop on a small table in the corner of the kitchen of the apartment. The computer is on loan from the Alzheimer's Association. She opens a spreadsheet.
A stack of bills sits between her and her son, Dan Schicker, 32.
“So, what I need, Dan, is the name of the provider, the date of service and the amount due,” Lonni tells him. “And the billing phone number.”
The plan is for him to call each one, ask for discounts and negotiate a payment plan.
When medical bills come in the mail, Dan can't bear to open them. He just adds them to the stack.
The bills are for his mom, whom he's been caring for in their Fenton apartment since memory problems ended her career as a college professor almost five years ago at the age of 59. Her problems have since progressed to dementia.
NJ Advance Media: He's 30, from Mexico and has a job: Meet N.J.'s most typical unauthorized immigrant
New Jersey is a small state, far from the Mexican border. But, the state has long been a magnet for immigrants coming into the U.S. illegally.
By some estimates, there are nearly 500,000 unauthorized immigrants currently living in New Jersey. That is more than 5 percent of the population.
Only Nevada, Texas and California have a higher percentage of unauthorized immigrants in their total population.
But, how much do we know about the immigrants living in New Jersey illegally? The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., has compiled Census data, population surveys and economic data to create a profile of the state’ unauthorized immigrants.
NJ Advance Media used that profile and other available statistics to put together the traits and demographics on the average New Jerseyan living in the country illegally.
The Record: Single mom thought she found the perfect Wayne home. Turns out it's sitting on a sinkhole
Five years ago, Meaghan Kelly found what seemed like the ideal place to call home, Brittany Chase, a housing complex in the Preakness section of Wayne.
After the single mother of three moved in, however, the walls of her three-bedroom town house began to crack.
The home Kelly thought was perfect was literally dropping into a quagmire of tree stumps and other organic debris upon which it was built a quarter-century ago. Little did she know, the foundation was failing, and the retaining wall that she can see outside one of her windows was starting to give.
Soon, Kelly realized her unit, one of 395 condominiums and town homes in the complex, was built on top of a sinkhole. It was a landslide risk — collapsing into the ground, just feet away from the edge of a 50-foot cliff.
Kelly, 53, a neonatal nurse at NYU Langone Medical Center, now finds herself in the middle of a crisis haunting the complex. Her unit, 8017 Brittany Drive, was identified by the condo association as one of two with problem foundations. The other, 8018 Brittany Drive, is vacant.
Because of the "construction defect," owners at the Berdan Avenue complex, including Kelly, are subject to a potential emergency assessment, totaling at least $3 million.
Democrat and Chronicle: Can taxpayers afford to say no to mall developers with their hands out?
If owners of The Mall at Greece Ridge had prevailed in their request for tax breaks to help renovate the nearly 50-year-old retail center, Greece Central School District taxpayers could have taken a hit to their pocketbooks to the tune of about $14 per year.
Call it a mall tax.
But earlier this month, the Greece school board unanimously shot down that request to provide 10 years of taxpayer support to Wilmorite Management Group LLC. The mall owners said the tax break would help insulate the property against prevailing winds of what some industry experts call a "retail apocalypse."
But school officials were uncertain the tax break was worth the cost.
"I do not believe taxpayers should bail out private companies," said board member Michael Valicenti on Sept. 11, voting along with seven other members of the Greece school board to deny the company's request. Had the proposal gone through, the district faced the potential loss of about $620,000 in annual revenue over the next decade — about $6.2 million in total that could otherwise be spent for teachers, for equipment and other district needs.
Philadelphia Inquirer: How could a cop’s use of force land a Philly kid in an institution? When you’re truant, almost anything can
As the SEPTA train hurtles southward along the Broad Street Line, a video camera records a teen acting the way teens sometimes do — which is to say, stupidly — rapping "F— the police," right in front of an officer and making a hand gesture that the officer believed to represent a gun.
In the video, the officer's face wrinkles in annoyance. He speaks up, accusing the kid and his friends of having been in a fight at a different train station the previous week.
That's when the officer gives him a hard shove, knocking him backward, then grabs him by the collar and pushes him around the subway car. In a video of the March 27 incident, the officer can be seen holding the kid by the neck for several tense minutes, before finally hauling him off the train while the boy resists.
The kid, a 17-year-old from North Philadelphia who goes by Yaz, described a frightening moment: "He was choking me." But it was Yaz who was charged and found guilty, of harassment and disorderly conduct, in Philadelphia Family Court.
As for the officer? SEPTA says he did an admirable job managing a tough situation.
Yaz is now locked up in an institutional placement. Advocates call such settings dangerous and detrimental to kids' education, and city leaders acknowledge they're problematic.
The Seattle Times: As facial-recognition technology grows, so does wariness about privacy
As Mike Vance approaches the glass door that leads to RealNetworks’ engineering office, he smiles slightly at a small camera mounted in front of him. Click. The door unlocks, responding to a command from software powering the camera that recognized Vance’s face and confirmed his identity.
Vance, a senior director of product management at the Seattle tech company, leads the team that created Secure, Accurate Facial Recognition — or SAFR, pronounced “safer” — a technology that the company began offering free to K-12 schools this summer.
It took three years, 8 million faces and more than 8 billion data points to develop the technology, which can identify a face with near perfect accuracy. The short-term goal, RealNetworks executives say, is increased school safety.
“There’s a lot of benefit for schools understanding who’s coming and going,” Vance said.
The introduction of the technology has thrust RealNetworks into the center of a field that is growing quickly as software gets better at identifying faces. But growing along with it are privacy concerns and rising calls for regulation — even from the technology companies that are inventing the biometric software.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Investigation: Wisconsin DOT knowingly paid twice on stretch of roadwork for Zoo Interchange
As a percentage of the nearly $200 million budget for rebuilding a chunk of Wisconsin’s busiest freeway, $404,250 might seem insignificant.
But what if the money were paid by Wisconsin taxpayers for work that was never done? And what if the state knew it when the bill was paid?
That’s what happened when contractors for the Milwaukee Zoo Interchange project double billed the state for 15,000 cubic yards of gravel, enough to help pave one lane of highway for five miles.
Although a project engineer with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation discovered the discrepancy in advance, and alerted supervisors, those in charge insisted the contractor be paid the additional money anyway, an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has found.
When regulators at the Federal Highway Administration learned of the payment, the agency made a rare decision to withdraw federal funding that had been allocated for the work, saying justification for the expenditure “seems inconsistent” and “makes no sense,” according to documents obtained by the Journal Sentinel through state and federal open records laws. As a result, state taxpayers had to cover the cost.
AP: Watchdog: EPA asbestos protection for schoolchildren lagging
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency is shifting money away from a congressionally mandated program meant to get harmful asbestos out of schools, even though the threat of contamination remains, the agency's internal watchdog said on Monday.
Asbestos, which builders used for decades as insulation and as a fire-resistant material, can cause lung diseases, cancer and other health problems. Under a 1986 federal act, the EPA remains responsible for monitoring whether local officials are checking for asbestos in schools and cleaning it up, the agency's Office of the Inspector General said.
The watchdog office is an independently funded operation within EPA.
The inspector general's report says half the EPA's regional districts only check for asbestos in a school if they receive a specific complaint.
One EPA regional office — the Dallas-based headquarters for the south-central U.S. — did no asbestos inspections in schools between 2012 and 2016, the inspector general found.
Peoria Journal-Star: Illinois residents pay more taxes than any other state
PEORIA — Harry Canterbury is a native Peorian who’s not happy with what he’s seen happen to the city.
Canterbury, the former owner of Adventure Sports Outdoors, the fishing-hunting publication, recently purchased a home in Port Charlotte, Fla.
“This was a great community. Now it’s overtaxed, suffers from high crime and there’s no place to work. It breaks my heart,” he said.
Canterbury sees taxes as a growing problem here. “They’ve got a hotel tax, sales tax, flush tax and now a rain tax,” he said, referring to Peoria’s new stormwater utility fees.
“We (Peorians) have high property taxes, and they can’t even fix the roads.”
The fact that Illinois residents are heavily taxed isn’t a secret. WalletHub, a national personal finance service, recently ranked Illinois as 51st in the nation in terms of the severity of its overall tax burden — that’s last among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pittsburgh colleagues stunned by Wuerl's turn of fate
More than two decades ago, Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl made a fateful trip to Rome where he challenged the highest court in the Catholic Church over its poorly informed order to lift a suspension on a sexually abusive priest. The trip helped seal his reputation as an early, bold proponent of zero-tolerance toward sexual abusers.
With that reputation now under siege, now-Cardinal Wuerl is making an equally momentous trip to Rome. A photo from the Vatican showed Cardinal Wuerl with the pope on Friday. Cardinal Wuerl previously said he would go to Rome to ask Pope Francis to immediately accept his resignation as archbishop of Washington, D.C.
Cardinal Wuerl says he is stepping down for the good of the church after a Pennsylvania grand jury assailed his record. It cited cases in which known abusers stayed in ministry under his watch and accused the cardinal of presiding over administrative actions that “showed no concern for public safety or the victims of child sexual abuse.”
Now those who worked with Cardinal Wuerl in Pittsburgh when he was bishop here from 1988 to 2006 are processing the shock of the imminent halt to his clerical career.
The New York Times: Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father
President Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help.
But The Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.
Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Sept. 27, 2018
The Journal News: Educators’ salaries rise in New York, but ranks drop again
ALBANY -- Educator salaries in New York rose 11 percent over the past five years, but the total number of employees in its schools fell slightly over the same period, new state records show.
The 1.2 percent drop in employees over the past five years meant that the remaining school workers, including teachers and administrators, earned more.
So the number of educators earning more than $100,000 last school year was up 21 percent compared to five years ago.
The average salary was $66,000 for the 2017-18 school year, compared to $59,450 in the 2013-14 school year, according to the records from the state Teachers' Retirement System obtained by the USA Today Network's Albany Bureau through a Freedom of Information request.
Rockford Register Star: Rockford tax liens worsen neighborhood blight, but may also bring about change
ROCKFORD — Juan Franco has invested about $17,000 in a ramshackle Clifton Avenue house that was vacant and had years of unpaid property taxes before he bought it last year.
He’s made electrical and plumbing repairs and has installed new windows and floors, but for weeks he’s been at a standstill. The city won’t give Franco the permits he needs to make additional repairs until he pays off thousands of dollars worth of liens — money the city spent to clean up trash and cut the grass while the property wallowed in tax delinquency.
Franco said he’s willing to walk away from the house if the city refuses to waive the liens.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Franco said. “Waive the liens and you’ll have a good property owner. I’ll keep fixing up the house, I’ll be mowing the grass and I’ll be paying the taxes. But I shouldn’t have to pay liens for what happened before I bought the house.”
Franco’s experience with the Clifton Avenue house represents a small skirmish in a much larger battle that the city is waging against neighborhood blight. Rockford’s primary target is a decades-old Winnebago County program that aims to return delinquent properties to the tax rolls through an elaborate system of foreclosures, tax sales and property auctions.
The program finds investors to pay delinquent taxes. But there are warped incentives at play that keep hundreds of these properties trapped in blight and cost local governments more than $1 million a year in lost property tax revenue.
USA Today: What states aren't doing to save new mothers' lives
If you were going to try to stop mothers from dying in childbirth, you might try what most states in America have done: assign a panel of experts to review what’s going wrong and offer ideas to fix it.
But that hasn’t worked.
Death rates among pregnant women and new mothers have gotten worse, even as wealthy countries elsewhere improved. Today, the U.S. is the most dangerous place in the developed world to deliver a baby.
Turns out, well-meaning states across the country have been doing it wrong.
At least 30 states have avoided scrutinizing medical care provided to mothers who died, or they haven't been studying deaths at all, a USA TODAY investigation has found.
Instead, many state committees emphasized lifestyle choices and societal ills in their reports on maternal deaths. They weighed in on women smoking too much or getting too fat or on their failure to seek prenatal medical care.
Houston Chronicle: Houston is ‘ground zero’ for drunken and drugged driving
Mishann Childers slowed as the flashing lights came into view.
Telge Road in northwest Harris County was closed. A crash, a sheriff's deputy said. Someone hit a silver Buick.
Her husband, Wayne, drove a silver Buick. He often took that road.
Owen McNett's blood-alcohol content was nearly four times the legal limit when he crashed into Wayne Childers' car, killing him, police said. Five times before, McNett had been arrested for driving drunk, with two lengthy prison stays. That rainy Friday night in February became the sixth. He had a valid Texas driver's license.
Consider the tragedy for the Childers, then multiply it by more than 300 each year. Drivers impaired by booze and drugs are dying — and killing — in the Houston area at a startling rate, an epidemic unchecked by police, prosecutors or public-awareness campaigns.
The nine-county region tallied more fatal drunken-driving crashes during the last 16 years than any other major metropolitan area in the country, a Houston Chronicle analysis of federal highway data shows. Drivers and passengers died in more than 3,000 wrecks caused by drunk or drugged drivers, roughly 1,000 more than Los Angeles, which has about twice the population.
The Dallas Morning News: How Atmos Energy’s natural gas keeps blowing up Texas homes
They were normal Texas families, doing normal things at home: napping on the couch; rinsing off in the shower; flipping on the light.
Then their houses exploded.
More than two dozen homes across North and Central Texas have blown up since 2006 because of leaking natural gas, an investigation by The Dallas Morning News found. Nine people died; at least 22 others were badly injured.
These explosions all happened along a massive network of pipelines owned and operated by Atmos Energy Corp. It’s one of country’s largest natural gas companies, headquartered in a gleaming tower on LBJ Freeway near the Galleria mall. Atmos pipes run under streets and behind homes across Dallas and Fort Worth, north to Sherman and south to College Station.
No single state or federal agency tracks all natural gas accidents, making it hard to get a handle on the destruction. Not all deaths and injuries are reported, and regulatory records are sometimes contradictory or incomplete.
We compiled our tally by searching thousands of regulatory records, lawsuits and news reports. We examined government documents related to pipe corrosion and other safety problems on Atmos Energy’s system.
NJ Advance Media: Dogs are dying after groomings at PetSmart and families are left wondering why
A nationwide investigation by NJ.com documented 47 cases across 14 states since 2008 in which families claim they took their dog to PetSmart, the nation's leading pet retailer, for a grooming only to have it die during or shortly after the visit.
PetSmart, which fiercely defends its safety record, has not admitted wrongdoing in any of the cases.
But the nine-month investigation found such deaths -- once portrayed by company officials as "entirely separate and unrelated" anomalies -- appear to happen far more frequently than customers and the general public know. And grieving families want to know why.
Akron Beacon Journal: Analysis comparing academic performance among Ohio school districts surprises some
Deeper learning and more difficult tests — no longer taken by filling in bubbles with No. 2 pencils — have led to a wholesale resorting of academic performance among Ohio’s 608 school districts.
Though experienced everywhere, the dramatic dip in test scores hit some school districts harder than others. Meanwhile, the state has rolled out new accountability to paint local school systems with a single and consequential letter grade on report cards.
In a first-ever multi-year analysis, the Beacon Journal ranked every Ohio school district based on how students scored on state tests, assigning from highest to lowest a rank of 1 to 608. The analysis covers the past 14 years to look beyond the report cards’ snapshot performance of school districts. Instead, the goal is to uncover models of success and signs of failure as school districts climb or fall multiple rungs on Ohio’s newly built ladder of academic success.
For many, the shift in rank has been the statistical equivalent of taking an elevator up a couple floors, or jumping out a mid-floor window and landing on the porch roof.
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin: Toxic algae is invading our lakes and lack of transparency makes it difficult to track
With 4,300 cows filing into an automated rotating milking parlor — one every few seconds around the clock — Sunnyside Farms is one of the most technologically advanced dairies in New York state.
Many in the industry consider the farm on a hill rising from the east shore of Cayuga Lake one of the most well-run.
But in February 2017, the farm staff emptied about 3 million gallons of liquefied manure — enough to fill nearly five Olympic-sized pools — from a leaking lagoon and injected it into the fields.
In subsequent days, the manure sloughed off and ran down the hill with melting snow, darkening tributaries on its way to Cayuga Lake. That summer, as water temperatures warmed, a pea-green slime, toxic algae, covered parts of the lake. Beaches were closed. Warnings were posted.
Was the Sunnyside manure spill a factor?
An explosion of toxic algal blooms is degrading lakes across the state and country. Although some reports point to agriculture as a leading cause, answers are elusive because of a lack of public records, and reluctance by regulatory officials to specify sources of pollution.
State regulations requiring toxic spills to be logged into a database, for example, do not apply to manure. Rich in phosphorous and nitrogen, manure is perfect toxic algae food. When it washes into water bodies, it supercharges the ecosystem for algae blooms when temperatures rise.
Santa Fe New Mexican: Saving lives, bleeding cash at Santa Fe animal shelter
The Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society was flush with cash at the close of 2012, thanks in large part to millions of dollars received in a bequest from Bert Coughlin, a longtime Canyon Road resident.
The shelter’s audited financial statement showed the nonprofit had $9.6 million in investments in publicly traded and other securities at the end of 2012. It also had nearly $1.5 million in cash.
But five years later, those investments had dwindled to $5.7 million. The shelter also owed $1.2 million on a line of credit at the close of 2017.
The shelter has been drawing down its investment accounts to help cover operating losses. From 2014 through 2017, those losses have totaled about $7.1 million.
Taken together, the numbers raise questions about the financial health of one of Santa Fe’s most beloved and critical institutions.
Can this Cadillac of an animal shelter continue to spend more than other shelters on the animals it takes in? Can it afford to be a place where no animal is turned away and where only those animals with severe medical and behavioral issues are euthanized?
Kansas City Star: Troubled Kansas system for protecting kids was making progress. Then this happened
After months of headlines about missing runaways, foster children sleeping in offices and high-profile deaths, this was the last thing the Kansas Department for Children and Families wanted to see.
A 13-year-old in the state’s custody reportedly was raped inside a child welfare office in Olathe. And the young man charged with the assault earlier this month also was in Kansas’ care. Both were at the KVC Behavioral Healthcare office waiting to be placed in an available foster home or facility.
“It’s tragedies like that that folks have been deeply worried was going to happen,” said Benet Magnuson, executive director of Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit justice center serving vulnerable and excluded Kansans. “It’s one of these moments: if this doesn’t shake us and get us to take action at the deep level that’s needed, I don’t know what will.”
The assault happened in early May, although it didn’t become public until last week after The Star had obtained police calls for service to the KVC office. It occurred just as DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel and her administration were in the midst of making changes and implementing programs that some say are beginning to show success.
The Times-Picayune: In small town Louisiana, where help is scarce, stigma of mental illness can kill
AMITE CITY – Down Bickham Chapel Road, near the church of the same name, is Jyne Williams' childhood home. It looks about the same as when her family lived there 20 years ago, though her mom says the paint is a different shade of blue now.
This five-room house was the site of frequent family parties when Jyne was a child. Her aunts, uncles and cousins -- maybe 50 in all -- spilled out to the lawn, temporarily doubling the neighborhood population those days.
She has more fond memories of that time: Early Sunday mornings spent reading Bible verses before heading to grandfather’s church, ensuring she and her two younger siblings would have their hands raised when he quizzed his congregation. Or that winter after her mom started working for Amtrak, when they went to the train station in Hammond and rode 18 hours to Chicago so the family could see snow.
But signs of problems were just beneath the surface. Dad often came home from work and stayed in his bedroom the rest of the night. He rarely played with his kids or joined those family train trips. Mom cried when she thought no one was watching. No one knew why. But no one really asked either.
Jyne’s family, friends and neighbors didn’t understand mental illness or know how to recognize its symptoms. It wasn’t a topic of discussion, in public or in private. It was viewed not as a medical condition, but as a sign of weakness.
That’s how mental illness grabs hold of families like Jyne’s and tens of thousands of other families who live in one of Louisiana’s 35 rural parishes. It disguises itself as a father’s private side or a mother’s sudden tears. And it spreads, unabated, through countless small towns where churches vastly outnumber clinics and where lawmakers’ decisions to slash health care spending only serve to muffle the suffering of so many.
Des Moines Register: Gone Daddy, Part I: A cheatin’ heart, murder and binding DNA
Alton W. Barron was about 23 the night his young wife caught him with an 18-year-old redhead named Betty Lou.
His wife, Nina Looney, already had two babies to look after when the 22-year-old saw her lanky husband and a waitress out on a winter’s night in downtown Des Moines.
Nina Looney and A. W. "Dub" Barron in an undated photo from the 1940s. Barron married Looney in July of 1945.
The year was 1949. Barron, a larger-than-life charmer who had a rapacious appetite for women, tried to spirit the waitress out of town in his Cadillac. Looney didn't know it, but Betty Lou was pregnant — about 8½ months.
Looney flagged a cab and gave chase. South of Des Moines, the Cadillac ran out of gas.
Looney would later tell others that she bashed out Barron’s windows with a crowbar that night on the side of the highway, leaving the father of her children out in the cold.
But for Barron, leaving and never looking back became a lifestyle, and dodging pregnant women and angry husbands his second nature.
Over the next three decades, the charismatic rake from Tyler, Texas, would carry on dozens of affairs in California, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin while he was married to at least eight women.
Read more: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/investigations/readers-watchdog/2018/09/19/gone-daddy-part-1-alton-dub-barron-cheating-heart-murder-ancestry-dna-infidelity-genealogy-iowa/1190557002/
Miami Herald: The lights are back on, but after $3.2B will Puerto Rico’s grid survive another storm?
The lights are on again in Puerto Rico. The island’s dilapidated electric grid hums with life a year after a meteorological jackhammer named Maria battered the island, toppling its high-tension towers and sending Puerto Ricans into prolonged darkness.
It took a mammoth effort to repair the grid. Thousands of linemen arrived from as far as California, Hawaii and even the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean to stand up power lines and reconnect homes. Twenty massive barges brought 1,000 bucket trucks on loan.
But despite spending as much as $3.2 billion, the federal effort over the past year to restore power to the island didn’t build a better and more resilient system. In fact, the grid is more fragile. A severe new storm would put Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million residents into deep trouble.
“It’s weaker today than before,” said José F. Ortiz, chief executive of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
Ortiz and others involved in getting the lights back on in Puerto Rico offer no apologies for the lack of improvements to the grid. They said that would have been impossible — practically and legally.
“You don’t have the time to design it, get the right material and build it,” said Carlos D. Torres, a retired vice president at Consolidated Edison, the large utility in New York City. Torres was deployed to Puerto Rico by the Edison Electric Institute, then appointed by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló as coordinator for storm restoration.
Stamford Advocate: Job transfer reveals Stamford’s contentious pit
STAMFORD — A city mechanic who photographed the improper dumping of sludge collected from catch basins claims he’s been transferred out of his job as punishment.
James Fasoli filed a complaint against the city saying, “I believe this transfer is retaliatory, harassing and discriminatory because I spoke out about the … reckless dumping and decrepit condition of the storm-drain material sludge dump pit” at the Magee Avenue transfer station.
Dana Sanders, business representative for IUOE Local 30 Operating Engineers, confirmed the union action.
“He did file a grievance that was submitted to Human Resources Thursday,” Sanders said.
According to a Sept. 12 letter from Interim Operations Director Laura Burwick, Fasoli is being moved from the solid waste division, where he says he does light repairs, to the vehicle maintenance division, where the work will be physically demanding.
Los Angeles Times: California police uphold few complaints of officer misconduct and investigations stay secret
Angry that she had been falsely accused of a drug crime, Tatiana Lopez filed a complaint against a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who had arrested her on suspicion of possessing methamphetamine.
But when Lopez met with a sheriff’s lieutenant to discuss her accusation, he urged her to drop her complaint, she said.
After a preliminary investigation, the Sheriff’s Department ruled the deputy had done nothing wrong, without giving her any explanation.
It would take years of legal battles before a judge exonerated Lopez and a new internal investigation led the department to fire the deputy for lying about her arrest.
Lopez is one of nearly 200,000 members of the public who filed a complaint against California law enforcement officers in the last decade. Her initial complaint ended the way most did — with police rejecting it without saying why.
A Times analysis of complaint data reported to the California Department of Justice shows law enforcement agencies across the state upheld 8.4% of complaints filed by members of the public from 2008 to 2017.
In a state with some of the strictest police privacy laws in the country, those who make complaints against officers are entitled to learn little more than whether their allegations were found to be true or not. They are given no other explanation about how a final decision was reached, what was done to investigate their allegation or whether an officer was disciplined.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Little Blue's legacy: As country's biggest coal landfill closes, residents face uncertain future
As FirstEnergy prepares to exit Beaver County, controversial coal ash dump Little Blue Run leaves a complicated legacy for nearby residents.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Sept. 20, 2018
Arizona Republic: In the Phoenix area, rapid evictions leave delinquent renters with almost no options
So much was at stake, but there was nowhere to sit. The courtroom’s wooden pews couldn’t hold them all. So the people called into Country Meadows Justice Court sat in the jury box and pressed themselves against the white walls. A group waited in the hallway outside. They clutched bright green eviction papers and practiced what they would tell the judge.
They were going to lose. They just didn’t know it yet. …
The eviction cycle had reached its peak. It was the third Wednesday in June, one of the busiest times of the year in a Justice Court system that often works more like an eviction mill.
Last year, Maricopa County’s Justice Courts issued 42,460 eviction judgments, one for every 14 rental households in this massive county that's sinking ever-deeper into an affordable-housing crisis.
Once a person is sucked into the system, there’s almost no way to escape. A lawyer can help, but only a minuscule minority of tenants have one. The rest are overpowered by expert attorneys and overwhelmed in courtrooms where more time is spent on a single traffic ticket than a dozen life-altering evictions.
San Francisco Chronicle: Navy’s Hunters Point retesting plan draws on questionable cost-cutting study
The U.S. Navy’s latest promise to clean up radioactive soil and buildings at its former San Francisco shipyard relies on an earlier Navy effort to remove less radioactivity in order to cut costs, The Chronicle has learned.
The perplexing move has complicated the already-troubled project to rid the site of harmful radioactivity, provoking criticism from multiple government agencies that oversee the cleanup, as well as environmental groups. At stake is the city’s dream of one day filling the shipyard’s derelict land with thousands of new homes and businesses — San Francisco’s most ambitious redevelopment project in more than a century.
A 2012 report obtained by The Chronicle details some of the Navy’s reasoning behind its new approach to the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. Back around 2010, the Navy was spending a lot of money to dig up and haul away radioactive waste at the shipyard. It paid a major defense contractor to help it find ways of saving money. The resulting report suggested changes to cleanup rules. These changes would reduce costs by allowing the Navy to declare that more soil at the site does not pose a risk and therefore does not need to be removed.
Hartford Courant: Taxpayers To Pay $5.5M For Democratic Donor's Land At 11 Times Its 2015 Price
A businessman who has donated $20,000 to the state Democratic Party since 2013 would be paid $5.5 million in taxpayer funds for a vacant, 8-acre parcel in the town of Orange — 11 times what he paid for it three years ago — under a deal he’s made with the administration of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Malloy administration officials deny that the political contributions by businessman Edward Crowley had anything to do with their willingness to enter the deal on their way out of office, as Malloy’s term will expire in January when a newly elected governor will take over.
Crowley — the former president/co-owner of Dichello Distributors in Orange who now operates the Stony Creek Brewery that he founded in his hometown of Branford — bought the eight acres adjacent to the Dichello beer wholesaler’s facility in 2015 for $500,000 through his limited liability company, Orange Land Development LLC, records show.
The state has agreed to give the town of Orange a $6.1 million “Urban Grant,” of which $5.5 million would be used for the town’s purchase of the parcel on the Metro-North commuter line that had been proposed as a site for a train station — a proposal that was given the thumbs-down by state transportation officials in late 2017 for budgetary reasons. The remaining grant funds would go toward costs associated with the transaction, such as legal fees and an environmental study.
Indianapolis Star: Two years after Larry Nassar: Challenging culture still deeply rooted in USA Gymnastics
Even as USA Gymnastics fought to contain a broadening sex abuse scandal last year, it allowed an official accused of misconduct to sit on a committee judging his own accuser’s performance, IndyStar has learned.
When it came time to vote on who would attend the World Championships, that official cast his ballot for another athlete. One with a lower score.
Even after USA Gymnastics was confronted about the official's apparent conflict of interest, a hearing panel upheld the selection. And the system that failed to detect and prevent that conflict remains in place today — raising questions about the potential for retaliation and the silencing of abuse survivors.
Two years after IndyStar revealed the first public allegations of sexual abuse against longtime USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, the Indianapolis-based national governing body is still struggling to overhaul the culture that many say enabled Nassar to sexually assault as many as 330 women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.
Some wonder if it can ever regain the trust of the athletes it serves.
And the case of former coach George Drew and gymnast Kristle Lowell offers one narrow glimpse into the complexities of changing a culture that has been a stunning success in competition, yet a miserable failure when it comes to athlete protection.
The Des Moines Register: Iowa tries to help families 'hunting in the dark' for mental health care for children
Carrie Clogg hopes that this time, Iowa leaders will do more than just talk about helping children like her son.
Sam, 11, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He is part of the 20 percent of children who experts estimate will develop mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders. In Iowa, that translates to about 150,000 children.
“It is possible for these kids to live fairly normal lives — but without treatment, it can be a catastrophe,” said Clogg, who lives in Des Moines. Untreated mental illnesses can lead kids to drop out of school, run away from home or even commit suicide.
“None of that has to happen,” she said.
Iowa is critically short of mental health treatment for children, and there is little coordination of the few services that are available, health care leaders say. Parents like Clogg are left to flounder, trying to use Google or the telephone to figure out where their kids should go for help, how long they would have to wait for it and whether their insurance would pay.
A new state children’s mental health committee, appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, started work last month. It is the fourth such committee since 2011. The previous panels disbanded after releasing reports on what should be done. Little changed.
The Times-Picayune: Louisiana is failing families dealing with mental illness
Reggie Seay, a 63-year-old attorney and father from Kenner, wrote legislators a letter June 1 pleading for mental health services to be funded.
"I am writing again to let you know I STRONGLY oppose cuts to mental health care funding in the budget proposals under consideration. The cuts to mental health care funding would have a devastating effect on my son and my family. ... My adult son, Kevin, has schizo-affective disorder and is disabled because of this disease. His health insurance is Medicaid. The services he receives, minimal though they may be, are an absolute necessity. I cannot imagine how he will survive without them. ..."
The Legislature kept in place the funding Mr. Seay and other families dealing with mental illness need. But Louisiana's mental health resources had already been decimated over the past decade. The needs are great: an estimated 634,000 adults in Louisiana have a mental illness or substance abuse disorder.
Over the coming weeks, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune's "A Fragile State" project will show how Louisiana's fragmented and severely underfunded mental health network fails families. The Seay family's experience, told by reporter Katherine Sayre, is the first of these stories.
We will look at the particular difficulties people in rural Louisiana have getting help, the ongoing stigma of mental illness and the dwindling resources for people who are suicidal, among other problems.
The Boston Globe: Stranger in the house
NEW BEDFORD — At first, Sarah Estrella seemed like the answer to Deborah Lesco’s prayers.
An old spinal injury had slowly robbed Lesco of her ability to walk, leaving her lower body racked with pain that only medical marijuana could ease. The 68-year-old former special education teacher got around in a wheelchair and needed help with her daily activities.Luckily, Lesco had found this “nice, sweet girl” on a state-sponsored caregiver website who was happy to take care of it all. “She had experience, she was smart, she was clean, she could lift me up,” said Lesco, who was further reassured because she knew some of Estrella’s relatives.
What could go wrong?
PEOPLE LIKE SARAH ESTRELLA are the stuff of baby boomers’ nightmares as they increasingly rely on an army of nurse’s aides, personal care attendants, and others to help them remain in their homes deep into old age. The category of personal care aide is projected to add more jobs by 2026 than any other occupation in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Many of these aides enter the home as virtual unknowns, undergoing no background check and receiving little, if any, training. Consumers often know more about what aides cost than whether they can be trusted. And with demand for home aides so high, those seeking care are simply relieved to find someone to take the job.
Read more: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/09/15/stranger-worse-house-frail-seem-elderly-people-scarcely-know-many-aides-they-invite-into-their-homes-leaving-them-vulnerable-theft/XJOMrmv46Ruu94B2ZbTZgK/story.html
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Tipping point: St. Louis struggles to keep up with rising tide of broken, abandoned buildings
ST. LOUIS • When Shadiah Thomas steps out the front door of her duplex in the 3900 block of Labadie Avenue, she sees crumbling homes all around her.
To her right are five vacant buildings, including one frequented by drug users and two gutted by fire. To her left, next to an empty lot, is a two-family brick building that’s been empty for at least three years. Across the street, facing her, are more vacants.
“It’s depressing here,” she says.
Thomas and her family have lived in the Greater Ville neighborhood of north St. Louis since 2015, surrounded by long-abandoned houses that serve as magnets for crime and drug use. Those broken buildings — most owned by the city — represent just a fraction of a problem that’s plagued St. Louis for decades but has gotten much worse in recent years.
As is the case in most older, industrial cities in the United States, the number of abandoned properties has festered for decades, a symptom of dramatic postwar population loss, suburbanization, flat regional population growth, older housing stock and a history of racial bias.
In a city of just over 300,000 people now — a big drop from its postwar high of 856,000 — there are about 25,000 abandoned properties, according to a city estimate. More than 7,000 of those are vacant buildings, including about 4,000 that have been condemned.
Providence Journal: Crime in R.I.: A town by town analysis
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Over a two-decade period, crime rates have declined statewide, according to a Providence Journal analysis of statistics compiled by the FBI.
While violent crime declined 31 percent statewide from 1996 to 2016, the latest year for which complete data is available, nearly a quarter of the communities that report data to the FBI saw an increase in that category of crime, including the state’s second-largest city, Cranston, and fourth-largest, Pawtucket. Violent crimes include rape, murder, robbery and aggravated assault.
The state’s property-crime rate declined 47.9 percent from 1996 to 2016, while just two communities, Charlestown and Westerly, saw increases. Property crimes include burglary, car theft and other types of theft. …
The FBI statistics that the newspaper analyzed come from a publication called “Crime in the United States,” which is put out by the agency’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. The FBI has been compiling the statistics since 1930, which are currently produced from data received from more than 18,000 municipal, college, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies, based on crimes that are reported to them.
Honolulu Civil Beat: Hawaii’s Mental Health Care Crisis
When Stephen Kemble closed his Honolulu psychiatry practice last August, he tried to match 500 patients with a new psychiatrist.
It was an impossible task — especially for recipients of Med-QUEST, Hawaii’s version of Medicaid.
Kemble found only two psychiatrists in private practice on Oahu who were willing to treat new patients covered by the state’s public health insurance for low-income people. A few of Kemble’s patients got in with these two psychiatrists — but they had to wait up to three months for an appointment, he said.
“The willingness of psychiatrists to take in new Medicaid patients has dwindled to almost nothing,” Kemble said. “Even if you do get in with someone, the doctor has five minutes to renew your prescription and that’s it. I mean, they’re trying, but the psychiatrists don’t even have time to talk to you — they’re totally overwhelmed.”
New data from the University of Hawaii reveals a health system in crisis. In 2017, Hawaii was short more than 750 physicians across the medical field, according to University of Hawaii professor Kelley Withy, who conducts an annual workforce survey. This calculation accounts for differing needs on neighbor islands and the unique demand for medical specialties like psychiatry.
Experts say filling the void is practically impossible, as it would require that the state increase its physician workforce by about 25 percent. Luring new doctors to Hawaii is complicated by myriad factors, not the least of which is the state’s high cost of living coupled with its relatively low rates for insurance reimbursement.
When it comes to psychiatrists, the UH data reveals a 10 percent statewide shortage. The gravest scarcity is on Kauai and Hawaii islands, which are tied with a whopping 33 percent shortage.
AP: #NotInvisible: Why are Native American women vanishing, dying?
It's a subject that has been largely ignored by the public and mainstream press in the U.S.: the plight of thousands of missing and murdered Native American women across the country.
Albuquerque reporter Mary Hudetz and national enterprise journalists Sharon Cohen and David Goldman teamed up to deliver an impressive all-formats package that illuminated these tragedies, getting play as far away as New Zealand and earning praise from the industry for their efforts.
Cohen spent weeks finding victims' relatives who would talk and agree to be photographed and go on camera. Hudetz, a member of the Crow Tribe and past president of the Native American Journalists Association, sifted through databases and reports with missing person cases and numbers to try to shed light on the volume of cases that the government knows about and has compiled. Cohen and Goldman traveled to the Blackfeet Reservation, where persistence and patience won them the access needed to intimately show and tell this story. At one point, Goldman was invited along on a BBQ and to the room where the main character in the package was staying when she disappeared. Data journalist Angel Kastanis was brought in to help with the numbers, and West region enterprise editor Katie Oyan was instrumental in guiding the project along.
Hudetz sifted through databases and missing person reports to shed light on the number of known cases. Persistence and patience won the access Cohen and Goldman needed to intimately tell this story.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Sept. 13, 2018
Montgomery Advertiser: Montgomery Fire/Rescue burns through budgeted overtime by more than $2M
Montgomery Fire/Rescue's multiyear worker shortage continues to produce a glut of overtime that far exceeds the department's budgeted amount.
As of mid-August, MFR has spent $2.2 million on overtime. That amounts to $2,079,470 more than expected, or 1,411 percent over budget.
Officials say that overtime is a temporary solution for an ongoing problem that stems from continued recruitment and retainment issues. Some, including Mayor Todd Strange, sought to downplay the budget overages, saying it is a small part of a larger fiscal plan that remains intact.
"At the end of the day, you've got to have firefighters in place," Strange said. "You can't understaff."
That was stressed by several city officials, who cited regulations that require a certain amount of firefighters per truck and unit. When workers call in sick, take vacation or can't come to work for any reason, the slot they have left empty needs to be filled, said Director of Public Safety Ronald Sams.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: A Catholic superstorm staggers a weakened church
On the morning of June 13, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops seemed to find their voice.
Gathering in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., they came to the microphone one by one, issuing passionate denunciations of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdowns and separation of asylum-seeking families. And to confound any partisan pigeon-holing, they made clear their defense of asylum seekers, an issue associated with Democrats, was part of their “right-to-life” agenda that include opposition to abortion, an issue where they align with Republicans.
It might have seen the bishops were returning to their full-throated prophetic advocacy that became their hallmark in the late 20th century before the crisis of clerical sexual abuse erupted.
It’s not that such scandals were over — given Pope Francis’ slow response to damaging revelations overseas and a looming Pennsylvania grand jury report. But 16 years since that crisis went nuclear in 2002, forcing bishops into adopting a charter that included zero-tolerance toward abusers and increased safe-environment rules for children, the crisis might have seemed less than all-consuming.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette: The money owed in eviction cases is often small, but the consequences can be huge
In District Judge Robert Ravenstahl’s North Side courtroom, stacks of manila folders are piled beside the judge.
An American flag stands in the corner.
There are several water stains on the ceiling.
On this Friday afternoon, he will hear nearly 30 eviction cases in about 90 minutes.
Many of the cases this afternoon are tenants from nearby Northview Heights, a large public housing complex on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
From the small courtroom, you can hear the chatter of people on the street outside, either waiting to hear their case called, or lingering after theirs has already been heard.
One of cases before the district judge today is that of LaShea Davis Harris, who owes $787.95 for two months of rent and late fees to the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh.
Despite her protesting that the money order she sent for her July rent wasn’t cashed by the Housing Authority and that she had to pay money to have her apartment sprayed because of bed bugs, her case is decided in a few minutes, with a judgement entered against her of $932.31 — the amount she already owed, plus $144.36 in court fees.
San Francisco Chronicle: After 14 years and $3 billion, has California's bet on stem cells paid off?
It was an extraordinary political proposal: Approve a $3 billion bond measure to fund the cutting-edge science of stem cell therapy, and soon some of the world’s cruelest diseases and most disabling injuries could be eradicated.
The 2004 measure was Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative. The campaign to pass it was led by a Palo Alto real estate developer whose son suffered from an incurable illness that he believed stem cells, the keystones of human biology, could heal. Other supporters included preeminent scientists, Hollywood celebrities, business leaders and elite investors.
"How many chances in a lifetime do you have to impact human suffering in a really fundamental way, including possibly even in your own family?" Robert Klein, the campaign leader, would say shortly after the vote.
Chicago Tribune: In Illinois’ understaffed nursing homes, deadly infections persist from bedsores and common injuries that go untreated
Shana Dorsey first caught sight of the purplish wound on her father’s lower back as he lay in a suburban Chicago hospital bed a few weeks before his death.
Her father, Willie Jackson, had grimaced as nursing aides turned his frail body, exposing the deep skin ulcer, also known as a pressure sore or bedsore.
“That was truly the first time I saw how much pain my dad was in,” Dorsey said.
The staff at Lakeview Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, she said, never told her the seriousness of the pressure sore, which led to sepsis, a severe infection that can quickly turn deadly if not cared for properly. While a resident of Lakeview and another area nursing home, Jackson required several trips to hospitals for intravenous antibiotics and other sepsis care, including painful surgeries to cut away dead skin around the wound, court records show.
Dorsey is suing the North Side nursing center for negligence and wrongful death in caring for her dad, who died at age 85 in March 2014. Citing medical privacy laws, Lakeview administrator Nichole Lockett declined to comment on Jackson’s care. In a court filing, the nursing home denied wrongdoing.
The case, pending in Cook County Circuit Court, is one of thousands across the country that allege enfeebled nursing home patients endured stressful, sometimes painful, hospital treatments for sepsis that many of the lawsuits claim never should have happened.
Year after year, nursing homes around the country have failed to prevent bedsores and other infections that can lead to sepsis, an investigation by Kaiser Health News and the Chicago Tribune has found.
Kansas City Star: Lethal inaction: As fatal truck crashes surge, U.S. government won’t make an easy fix
Trucker Jeff Kolkman was an ace within Green Transportation’s squadron of “road pilots.”
The lanky, 38-year-old father of four was, according to his dispatcher, “a very safe driver who followed the rules. He always put safety first.”
Until one spring afternoon when he didn’t.
In a dash-cam recording from inside the cab of a 2016 Volvo semi, Kolkman stares down at a black tablet computer in his right hand while piloting the 18-wheeler down the interstate at 70 mph. It ends seconds later as the truck slams into the rear of a 2014 Toyota Camry stuck in traffic outside West Terre Haute, Ind.
Kolkman’s big rig never braked, one witness told the state police. It “barely slowed down,” said another.
Four lives were lost in that fiery crash near the Illinois-Indiana border last year, adding to a grim toll: fatal truck wrecks are growing at a clip almost three times the rate of deadly crashes overall.
More than 4,300 people were killed in accidents involving semis and other large trucks in 2016, a 28 percent increase over 2009, according to the federal government. It would be equal to a 737 airliner crashing twice a month, killing all on board.
“Those should be eye-opening numbers,” said John Lannen of the Truck Safety Coalition. “If air carriers or railroads reported similar numbers, there would be national outrage.”
Yet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal regulatory agency responsible for protecting us from danger on the nation’s roads, has failed to mandate changes that over the past two decades might have averted thousands of rear-end truck crashes like that one outside West Terre Haute.
The New York Times/ProPublica: Top Cancer Researcher Fails to Disclose Corporate Financial Ties in Major Research Journals
One of the world’s top breast cancer doctors failed to disclose millions of dollars in payments from drug and health care companies in recent years, omitting his financial ties from dozens of research articles in prestigious publications like The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet.
The researcher, Dr. José Baselga, a towering figure in the cancer world, is the chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He has held board memberships or advisory roles with Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb, among other corporations, has had a stake in start-ups testing cancer therapies, and played a key role in the development of breakthrough drugs that have revolutionized treatments for breast cancer.
According to an analysis by The New York Times and ProPublica, Dr. Baselga did not follow financial disclosure rules set by the American Association for Cancer Research when he was president of the group. He also left out payments he received from companies connected to cancer research in his articles published in the group’s journal, Cancer Discovery. At the same time, he has been one of the journal’s two editors in chief.
The Philadelphia Inquirer: Hundreds at risk of water shutoffs in Camden’s semi-privatized water system
Jasmine Walker's brick-face home in Camden's Waterfront South section appeared ordinary at first: A purple cutout of the alphabet was pasted to the wall, and a television set rested in the living room, which was cluttered with her kids' toys. But in the next room, dirty laundry lay in piles, the defunct sink overflowed with dishes, water containers of every size littered the tables and floor, and a putrid smell permeated the air.
"I just feel hopeless," Walker said as she sat in her home, anxiously bouncing her 7-month-old daughter, Elaya, on her knee. "I can't seem to win."
In July, American Water, the for-profit company that leases Camden's water system, stopped service to her home due to failure to pay, leaving Walker, 25, and her two daughters, newborn Elaya and 6-year-old Naja, without running water for months. That finally changed on Wednesday, Walker said, after she submitted a form detailing the symptoms of her severe epilepsy and American Water reestablished her water service.
Throughout the city, there are more than 400 homes at risk of having their water shut off like Walker's under Camden's privatized water contract, according to a report acquired by the Inquirer and Daily News through the state's Open Public Records Act.
The Tennessean: Have insurance? There's still no guarantee you can get mental health care
In January, Nashville therapist Brian Poynter faced the prospect of losing 25 patients whose sessions were primarily paid for by a major employer.
The employer previously covered 80 percent of each session's cost, leaving patients to pay the remaining bill. In a drastic change, the employer stopped the popular program, instead telling employees to use insurance.
However, the insurance company did not cover Poynter's counseling services.
Like many therapy offices, Poynter accepted only cash payments, citing the low reimbursement rates and the substantial paperwork required to navigate the corporate insurance claims systems.
Faced with the prospect of losing 25 clients who needed his services, Poynter embarked on the weekslong process of applying to have his care covered by the insurance provider. After months of waiting, he learned his application was rejected because he failed to check a single box on the questionnaire.
The result: 25 clients battling depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses were left scrambling for new therapists or counselors. Many of them elected not to continue therapy, Poynter said.
“I told the woman on the phone, ‘You really don’t want to add providers, do you?’ ” Poynter said, adding he was still deciding whether to reapply.
The complicated process confronting Poynter highlights a major problem in the treatment of mental health issues in Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services estimated 411,037 Tennesseans had a serious emotional disturbance or a serious mental illness last year.
Houston Chronicle: Houston’s roads, drivers are country’s most deadly
The risk surrounds us, moves with us, passes us. It follows us on the way to work, to school, to church. We see it coming in the rear-view mirror.
A pickup plows into the back of a helpless car at 100 mph in northwest Harris County, killing two. A 17-year-old loses control on a narrow rural road in Fort Bend County, strikes a power pole and lands in a cornfield, pronounced dead at a hospital.
A driver doesn't stop after hitting and killing a woman standing on Texas 249. Two drivers collide head-on in Fort Bend County, killing both and sparking a five-car pileup. A motorcyclist exiting Loop 610 at Richmond dies after a BMW barrels into him and two other riders.
We drive past the crashes, numbed to their frequency, by how they add up. But they do: 640 people a year die on Houston-area roads, and 2,850 more are seriously injured.
The carnage, all factors considered, makes Houston the most deadly major metro area in the nation for drivers, passengers and people in their path, a Houston Chronicle analysis of 16 years of federal highway data reveals.
The Seattle Times: Sound Transit is taking a $300 million gamble on a new I-405 bus station in Kirkland
Sound Transit is betting $300 million that people will flock to freeway buses at a Kirkland site where nobody catches transit now.
Design is moving ahead for the Northeast 85th Station in Kirkland, even though the agency’s own projections say only a few hundred people would go there to catch new Interstate 405 buses, to arrive in 2024.
It’s the most expensive stop among 11 stations in a $1.1 billion, 37-mile corridor around the east side of Lake Washington. A new bus rapid transit (BRT) service, arriving every 10 minutes at peak times, was promised by the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure.
“A river of bus rapid transit, from Everett to Bellevue to Renton to SeaTac,” is how Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen described the project in her state of the city address in February.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bice: Golden retirement -- seven ex-Milwaukee County prosecutors gets $1 million-plus cash payouts
It's good to be a retired Milwaukee County prosecutor.
Former Deputy District Attorney James Martin walked away from his job last month with lump-sum payment of nearly $1.5 million and an annual pension of $78,438, according to documents released via open records request.
That made Martin the seventh staffer to leave the DA's office as a newly minted millionaire under the county's backdrop program, which has proved abundantly lucrative to select retirees but a financial albatross around the necks of the hard-working taxpayers of Milwaukee County.
Only four county retirees outside the DA's office have scored $1 million-plus backdrop payouts.
Why so many from the prosecutor's office?
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Sept. 6, 2018
Los Angeles Times: Lead paint threatens to undo California's biggest residential cleanup, officials warn. But they're doing little to fix it
Officials have long known that children across a swath of southeast Los Angeles County are exposed to brain-damaging lead from two distinct sources: pollution from a now-shuttered battery recycling plant and lead paint in the walls of their homes.
The state has begun cleaning soil contamination from yards near the Exide Technologies plant in California’s biggest-ever lead cleanup. But bureaucratic mistakes and a lack of cooperation between state and local agencies have blocked efforts to fix lead house paint, state records reviewed by The Times and interviews show.
The result, officials acknowledge, is that children in the area remain at risk of lead poisoning.
Failures occurred at multiple levels. State agencies let scarce lead abatement money slip away and refused to tell local officials which homes were in need of remediation. And the county health department, now in line to receive millions to remove lead paint from hundreds of homes, has not repaired any homes using federal grant money awarded for that purpose more than a year ago.
Sacramento Bee: Calling 911 in rural California? Danger might be close, but the law can be hours away
As urban areas such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Fresno grapple with discussions about use of force and the over-policing of minority communities, the state’s rural counties face a growing and no-less-serious law enforcement crisis: a severe shortage of staff that puts the public — and deputies — in danger.
A McClatchy investigation found that large stretches of rural California — where county sheriffs are the predominant law enforcement agencies and towns often run only a few blocks — do not have enough sworn deputies to provide adequate public safety for the communities they serve.
Departments in multiple jurisdictions are operating with skeleton staffs, McClatchy found, pushing response times into hours, or sometimes leaving residents without a response at all. In Trinity County, deputies regularly cover hundreds of miles of territory alone, leaving people like the Gunds to fend for themselves. When law enforcement does arrive in many outlying places, it’s often a single officer cut off from backup and, in some cases, communication with her or his department.
“We have no money. We have no people,” said Modoc County Sheriff Mike Poindexter, echoing more than a dozen rural California sheriffs. “We don’t have near enough people. We just don’t.”
San Francisco Chronicle: Oakland schools’ blunder shows larger issue: Girls’ sports stuck at 2nd
Nearly half a century after a federal law barred gender discrimination at schools and universities, blatant inequities remain, with girls and women routinely cheated out of academic and athletic opportunities, research shows.
The inequities leave girls at a disadvantage on playing fields and in life.
Oakland Unified School District recently offered an extreme example when it eliminated sports programs to save money, ignoring a disproportionate impact on girls, according to civil rights attorneys.
Across California, 819,625 students participated in competitive sports last school year — 57 percent were boys and 43 percent girls, even though enrollment is nearly equal, the National Federation of State High School Associations reported in its annual survey. A legal advocacy group found that less than half of California school districts are complying with a state law requiring them to report gender participation in sports.
“The public does not seem to have that grasp, nor do the schools, that it is a systemic problem,” said Amy Poyer, senior staff attorney at the California Women’s Law Center. Girls are “just so used to being pushed to the side.”
The Oakland district’s decision to cut 10 high school competitive sports, announced Aug. 24, affected twice as many girls as boys, which represented a clear violation of federal Title IX law against sex discrimination in schools, the legal experts said.
Des Moines Register: An Arizona developer who owes Iowa millions turned nursing homes and apartments into his cash cows, court filings allege
Alan Israel owes the people of Iowa $2 million but lives in a $1.3 million home in Paradise Valley, Arizona, the wealthiest suburb of Phoenix.
He has lived in Arizona for at least 30 years, though many of his business dealings — encompassing nursing homes, apartments and housing development — have been in Iowa.
His story, based on hundreds of filings in state and federal court, is about the intersection of commerce and health care in Iowa, and the profits that nursing homes can generate for owners whose primary business is real estate, not health care.
Portland Press Herald: Fewer foster parents on the front lines
It was 4:30 p.m. on a Monday this spring when the caseworker came to Stefanie Millette’s house to collect the teenager.
The child, one of hundreds in foster care in Maine, was supposed to be with Millette only for a weekend, but two days had turned into two months.
Millette provides respite foster care but not indefinite placement, so she had been calling every day, pleading with caseworkers to find another option. There was nothing.
“The caseworker said (the child) could either go stay with a relative who has always been a trigger or go to a youth homeless shelter. Or, if there were any thoughts of suicide, to the emergency room,” Millette said. “How are these the options?”
The teen ended up at the youth shelter and then ran away after two hours. A child in state custody on the street.
Millette’s experience underscored a stark reality: The number of people willing to become foster parents in Maine has declined at a time when the number of kids entering care has increased significantly. In cases where children don’t go to a shelter, a hospital or with a family member who might not be suitable, they routinely stay in hotels with caseworkers who already are overburdened.
Boston Globe: Ethnicity not a factor in Elizabeth Warren’s rise in law
CAMBRIDGE — The 60-plus Harvard Law School professors who filed into an auditorium-style room on the first floor of Pound Hall on that February 1993 afternoon had a significant question to answer: Should they offer a job to Elizabeth Warren?
The atmosphere was a little fraught. Outside the hall, students held a silent vigil to demand the law school add more minorities and women to a faculty dominated by white men.
The discussion among Harvard professors inside that room is supposed to remain a secret, but it’s still being dissected a quarter of a century later because the resulting vote set Warren on her way to becoming a national figure and a favored target for conservative critics, among them, notably and caustically, President Trump.
Was Warren on the agenda because, as her critics say, she had decided to self-identify as a Native American woman and Harvard saw a chance to diversify the law faculty? Did she have an unearned edge in a hugely competitive process? Or did she get there based on her own skill, hard work, and sacrifice?
The question, which has hung over Warren’s public life, has an answer.
In the most exhaustive review undertaken of Elizabeth Warren’s professional history, the Globe found clear evidence, in documents and interviews, that her claim to Native American ethnicity was never considered by the Harvard Law faculty, which voted resoundingly to hire her, or by those who hired her to four prior positions at other law schools. At every step of her remarkable rise in the legal profession, the people responsible for hiring her saw her as a white woman.
The Oregonian: Inside the Hart family home, police search reveals debts, contradictions
The police search of the Hart family home, days after a March crash off the northern California coast presumably killed them all, turned up few indications that six children were being raised there. The home contained only one twin bed for them.
Nearly half the family’s income in most recent years came from money designated for care of the kids, all adopted out of foster care in Texas, an analysis of recently released records by The Oregonian/OregonLive found.
Investigators couldn’t figure out where the children slept in the Woodland, Washington home, the new records from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office show.
The parents had a double bed. Another bedroom contained two foam loveseats and a padded mat where police believed some of the children may have slept. The third bedroom held the twin bed.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart, parents of the six, lived beyond their means, and aspects of their lifestyle diverged widely from what they presented publicly online, the records show.
Houston Chronicle: Breaking all the rules: Lax oversight undercuts Houston housing program goals
The idea was simple: Houston would acquire lots in blighted neighborhoods and sell them at a discount to developers, who would build affordable homes.
Low-income residents would become homeowners, gaining a foothold on the climb to financial security. Struggling neighborhoods would get millions in new investment, flipping eyesore lots into productive properties and sparking a turnaround in neglected areas.
Fifteen years and $15 million later, however, it is clear the Houston Land Bank frequently has fallen short of its mission.
The land bank — Houston’s largest locally-funded affordable housing program — has operated with little to no oversight from city officials, who acknowledge they have no idea how many of the roughly 400 reduced-price houses built through the program actually went to low-income buyers. Public records and interviews suggest dozens of buyers’ incomes were too high to qualify under program rules.
It was not until the Chronicle started asking questions last year that housing department leaders grasped the rules surrounding the program, and it took them a year to take steps to begin enforcing them, undercutting Houston’s housing goals at a time when rising prices are putting homeownership out of reach for an ever-growing share of families.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 'Absolute incompetence': Prison nurses didn't get teen at risk of dying to hospital for 3 days in 2016
MADISON - Nurses at the state’s troubled juvenile prison failed to detect for three days in 2016 that a 14-year-old inmate’s appendix was about to burst and gave him crackers and Gatorade instead of rushing him to a hospital — putting him at risk of dying, records show.
Prison officials fired one nurse over the situation but didn’t discipline others, including a nurse who failed to contact a doctor about the boy even though he should have under Department of Corrections policies because his pulse was so elevated.
The doctor who performed emergency surgery on the inmate said she saw widespread problems with the way he was treated at the prison.
“I mean, if this had happened at the hospital, I would demand that the nurse be fired for absolute incompetence,” physician Kristen Wells told a sheriff’s investigator without naming the nurse she was referring to. “She has no idea what she’s looking at. What we call it in the hospital setting is ‘failure to rescue.’ ”
Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Wide racial disparities show up in prosecutor's sentencing numbers.
Dean Morphonios was the sole prosecutor in this tiny Panhandle county for nearly a decade.
He’s the son of a flamboyant Miami judge — Ellen Morphonios — but could not be more different in character and temperament.
Where his mother was bold and bawdy and bragged about her sexual conquests, he is humble, deeply religious and devoted to his wife.
Where she earned the nicknames “Maximum Morphonios” and “The Time Machine” for doling out long sentences to criminal defendants, he has a reputation for leniency and favoring probation over prison.
Where she co-wrote an autobiography and hosted a radio show for years, he prefers anonymity and declined to be interviewed.
Morphonios’ mother, who died in 2002, was no racist. Morphonios isn’t one either.
But a decade of crime data from the state’s massive Offender Based Transaction System shows that black defendants he prosecuted for felony drug crimes spent four times longer behind bars than whites on average.
Pittsburg Post-Gazette: In Greene County, school budgets are being hollowed out by dwindling coal reserves
he firehall whistle blew in town a few miles away, marking the big moment of the night: the crowning of the 2018 Bituminous Coal Queen at Carmichaels High School.
Craig Baily, retired school superintendent and master of pageant ceremonies, wore a black tuxedo and tails. Teenage girls packing the school auditorium shrieked.
Albert Gallatin High School senior Holly Lesko (“Go Colonials!”) crouched slightly in her heels and gown and smiled wide as the crown was placed on her head by Gary Wilson, superintendent of the Cumberland Mine, a coal operation 20 miles from the high school.
The crowning of the queen is a Greene County tradition that started in 1954, a time when bituminous coal fueled an economy — feeding, clothing and schooling generations. But King Coal’s grip is slipping.
Bituminous represents 90 percent of all coal burned in the United States, but most of the mines around Carmichaels played out years ago. Two big Greene County mines closed in the past year. Production at a third, Cumberland, has been falling in recent years.
Nowhere has the sting been felt more acutely than at the county’s five school districts, where 27 percent of the tax base — $414 million in value — is tied to coal. And that erodes with each chunk torn from the ground.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Aug. 30, 2018
Peoria Journal Star: In last four fatal fires, firefighters didn’t call the closest reinforcements
BARTONVILLE — There’s no guarantee that a different strategy would have resulted in a different outcome — that the victims would be alive today if something as mundane as an administrative spreadsheet had one more agency added.
But in each of four fatal fires over the last 11 years, the structure of mutual aid calls for volunteer fire departments just beyond Peoria city limits has resulted in scenarios that appear to contradict the most basic tenets of firefighting.
In each instance, when the primary firefighting agency called for help, that call did not go to the next nearest fire station, where full-time crews respond around the clock.
The calls instead went to other departments staffed by trained volunteers, either personally selected by a fire officer on scene or according to a predetermined order on file with the agencies and dispatchers.
In practice, that meant calling firefighters who had to assemble at a station as far as a 15-minute drive away rather than the crew already on standby at a station within a few minutes of driving time from the scene.
And that practice appears inconsistent with the notion that the most successful firefighting outcomes result from getting as many firefighters as possible to the scene as quickly as possible.
Montgomery Advertiser: 8 years after Deepwater Horizon, beaches look good, but are they really?
GULF SHORES — Cory Phipps didn’t know what to expect on the family vacation to the Alabama Gulf Coast this year.
The last time he visited Gulf Shores and Orange Beach was 2008, some two years before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill sparked an environmental and economic disaster of monumental proportions.
“We were hoping it would be nice,” the Gadsden resident said in late July as he frolicked in the waters off Gulf State Park with his daughters Rory and Tory.
“Of course we had heard about the oil spill and all the trouble it caused," Phipps said. "But just look around, it’s beautiful. We like Gulf Shores much more than Panama City and some of the other beaches. It’s more family friendly down here.”
On April 20, 2010, an explosion and fire on the Deepwater oil well set in motion what many experts have called the greatest marine ecological disaster in history. The offshore well was about 40 miles south of Louisiana. The fire and explosion took 11 lives on the rig. And when the gushing well was declared sealed on Sept. 19, 2010, 4.9 million barrels of oil (or about 210 million gallons) had poured into the Gulf, according to U.S. government estimates.
Fisheries and beaches were closed as the oil spill migrated north and east along the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle coasts. Hotels and condos went empty and cities that rely on tourism, such as Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, became veritable ghost towns at the height of the season.
So fast-forward eight years. Where do we stand? Using environmental and economic yardsticks, the beach is back. But still there’s a specter hovering over this stretch of sugar white sand, lurking just off the surfline like an ominous cloud.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: With release of grand jury report, Mary Robb Jackson and her sister make a terrible discovery
Mary Robb Jackson grew up with a devout Catholic mother.
So, when the Rev. Lawrence O’Connell asked the young girl to work for him in the parish house in the late 1950s, she said yes.
The work was easy — copying church bulletins, answering phones, filling out Mass cards and doing homework in between.
But Father O’Connell would often call Mary Robb back into his office.
As he wrapped his arms around her, touched her breasts and kissed her, he would say, “’Does this bother you?’”
“You’re 12 years old, a little Catholic girl,” said Ms. Jackson, now 70. “What are you going to say? Of course it does.
“He was the first man to stick his tongue down my throat.”
Last week, as news of the statewide grand jury report broke, Ms. Jackson’s sister, Cynthia Carr Gardner, who lives in Marblehead, Mass., read a story that referenced Father O’Connell as one of 90 Pittsburgh Diocese priests identified as an abuser.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2018/08/22/mary-robb-jackson-grand-jury-report-victims-catholic-church-diocese-pa-lawrence-oconnell-abuse-cynthia-sisters-pittsburgh/stories/201808210251
San Diego Union-Tribune: Wounded warriors and others react to Rep. Duncan Hunter's alleged deceptions involving their causes
Daniel Riley joined the Marines in 2007 and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, in Afghanistan, he stepped on an IED, losing both legs and half of his left hand.
As a fellow Marine, he said, he had a physical reaction to the allegations against Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of Alpine.
Daniel Riley joined the Marines in 2007 and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, in Afghanistan, he stepped on an IED, losing both legs and half of his left hand.
As a fellow Marine, he said, he had a physical reaction to the allegations against Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of Alpine.
Congressman Hunter denied the allegations Wednesday and pleaded not guilty on Thursday. He and his attorneys say the prosecution is a witch hunt tainted by partisanship.
However, in a case laid out over 47 pages that included 200 allegations of questionable spending, the government brought the receipts.
Miami Herald: Fewer people are using cash, which means fewer tips. And Miami workers are hurting
Julio Valdez, a valet at a major hotel chain on South Beach, has parked cars for more than a decade. But in recent years, a crucial part of his income has changed: Fewer drivers are tipping him.
“Before, if you worked valet, you earned good tips. It didn’t really matter that companies paid little,” he said.
The culprit: Cash—and lack of it. It seems fewer and fewer customers are carrying bills in their wallets, he said.
As a tourist and hospitality destination, South Florida is home to an army of doormen, waiters, valets, hotel housekeepers, tour guides and drivers. Like Valdez, they rely on cash tips to help make ends meet.
But for these workers, getting by is getting harder as more people ditch cash for cards and apps.
Valdez said his current employer has not upped his pay, despite the fact that he and his co-workers can no longer count on tips to boost their hourly wage of around $9. (The employer declined to comment.)
Des Moines Register: Mollie Tibbetts' death put a spotlight on undocumented immigrants. But can Iowa's economy thrive without them?
In the northwest corner of Iowa, Sioux County is an agriculture powerhouse: Farmers raise more pigs and cattle, and milk more cows, than anywhere else in a state known for its powerful farming economy.
But without nearly 2,000 foreign-born workers, Sioux County's economy would fold, said cattleman Kent Pruismann.
In Sioux County, four of every five immigrants are not U.S. citizens, Census data show. That includes people who are authorized to be here as well as undocumented immigrants.
Across Iowa, an estimated 40,000 workers were undocumented in 2014 — about 2 percent of the state's labor force, the Pew Research Center estimates.
"If all of Sioux County's immigrant labor left tomorrow, we'd have a huge problem. … We don't have the people to replace them," said Pruismann, a former Iowa Cattlemen's Association president who feeds up to 5,000 cattle.
Kansas City Star: ‘I can’t lose this money’: KC area investors, IRAs ensnared in big Florida bankruptcy
A $283 million bankruptcy in Florida has knocked Khosrow “Kevin” Sohraby off his plan to retire in a house he’d picked out in Overland Park.
The bankruptcy has left Beverly Durant in financial limbo not knowing where her money is, a small inheritance that she could use for a car, dental work or to help her adult children.
And it swallowed the money Wanda Christensen received after her son, Nick Moeder, was killed five years ago by a downed and unattended power line at Rosedale Park in Kansas City, Kan.
“It feels like I’ve lost Nick all over again,” Christensen said in a statement through her attorney.
They are among scores of people in the Kansas City area and thousands nationwide who sank their money into “memorandums of indebtedness” from the now bankrupt 1 Global Capital in Hallandale Beach, Fla. The company uses the name 1st Global Capital.
Each of them had been offered the deals by Matthew Walker or others working for his Overland Park-based group of Pinnacle Plus companies.
Public records show Walker has financial partners, among them Americo Financial Life and Annuity Co. It’s owned by Americo Life Inc., which served as financial backer for Burns & McDonnell in its failed bid to build a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: For those living north of Delmar Boulevard, trash complaints addressed at a slower rate
ST. LOUIS • The city’s customer service department records trash complaints made by residents, but how long it takes to get a response varies by neighborhood.
For residents in some north St. Louis neighborhoods, wait times to get an issue resolved through the Citizens’ Service Bureau can be three times longer than in some areas of south city. That prolonged time has brought with it fading confidence in City Hall’s ability to provide basic services.
“It sucks, and people get tired of calling and calling and not getting results,” said 3rd Ward Alderman Brandon Bosley, who represents Hyde Park and Fairground, two of the neighborhoods that get the slowest response. “It’s like nothing is getting done.”
The Post-Dispatch, as part of a continuing series of reports on the city’s mounting trash problems, reviewed almost nine years of complaint data, showing the disparities in response times by neighborhood. People who reside in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood, along with those in Walnut Park East and Kingsway West, can wait three weeks or more to see a complaint resolved, compared with those living in Tower Grove South, Compton Heights and the Central West End, who may wait less than a week. The 10 neighborhoods with the longest wait time are all north of Delmar Boulevard.
The New York Times: For Female Candidates, Harassment and Threats Come Every Day
Four days before the 2016 congressional primary in her Northern California district, Erin Schrode woke up to tens of thousands of messages. They were everywhere: in her email, on her cellphone, on her Facebook and her Twitter and her Instagram.
“All would laugh with glee as they gang raped her and then bashed her bagel eating brains in,” one said.
“It’d be amusing to see her take twenty or so for 8 or 10 hours,” another said, again suggesting gang-rape.
It has been two years since Ms. Schrode, now 27, lost her Democratic primary and moved on. But the abuse — a toxic sludge of online trolling steeped in misogyny and anti-Semitism that also included photoshopped images of her face stretched into a Nazi lampshade and references to “preheating the ovens” — never stopped.
“She needs to stop moving her hands around like a crackhead,” said one tweet this year. “Another feminazi’s plans foiled!” said another.
The 2018 election cycle has brought a surge of female candidates. A record number of women ran or are running for the Senate, the House and governorships, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Many more are running for state legislatures and local offices. And in the process, they are finding that harassment and threats, already common for women, can be amplified in political races — especially if the candidate is a member of a minority group.
The Oregonian: Portland 911, at rock bottom, looks to reach the top
Portland’s 911 center, roiled by scandal for falsifying data to cover its failure to answer calls on time, has faltered as it works to improve under new leadership.
Since the agency began publishing accurate data in late 2017, its call times have lagged far behind national benchmarks and reached a record low in June.
That leaves those who call Portland 911 at risk of getting help from first responders too late to put out a house fire, revive someone after cardiac arrest or stop a crime in progress.
National standards say 90 percent of 911 calls should be answered in 10 seconds at peak call times. So far this year, just 14 percent of Portland’s were. In June, the agency dipped to its lowest point – answering just 8 percent of peak-time calls within 10 seconds – before rebounding to 16 percent in July.
Any 911 agency so far behind the national standards ought to undertake a “wholistic, widescale assessment” to identify and correct its problems, said Christopher Carver, who oversees 911 standards at the National Emergency Numbers Association, the benchmark-setting group.
The Tennessean: When we have mental health crises, are our schools, churches or doctors offices prepared?
On one of his more challenging days, Johnathan refused to get on the school bus.
He threw chairs and ran away from the teachers, fleeing to hide under a table at his elementary school.
He lay there, curled up and crying when his mom was called to come and pick him up. And when Shaunqueen Leatherman arrived, worried and stressed, her son was asleep on the floor in that same spot.
His mother and grandma, who works as a teaching assistant in Metro Nashville Schools, asked for help from the school and were connected with a school-based therapist.
For a year, Johnathan's behavior underwent a "dramatic change," Leatherman says. He saw Laurie Jackson, a therapist from Centerstone who worked full time at Rosebank Elementary. He learned calm-down techniques. And if he was having a particularly tough day, he had someone nearby at school who understood him well enough to help.
"It was nice having someone who knew him mentally being right there," Leatherman says.
But this year, Johnathan changed Metro Nashville schools, and there is no longer a full-time therapist there to work with him. The 7-year-old's behavior is escalating again. He's becoming more jittery, and more wild, his mom says, leaving Leatherman — who is raising three kids on her own — to worry again about the mental wellness of her son.
"It's more difficult now because he doesn’t have that person to talk to every day," she says.
Johnathan is just one example of a significant and persistent need in Tennessee schools.
School-based therapy gives kids direct access to treatment, addressing behavior that may be disruptive or dangerous — often in the moments when a child needs it most.
But as the mental health needs of students reach unprecedented levels and fears about school and community violence escalate, experts say Tennessee schools have an inadequate number of psychological staff.
And that is a big problem.
Dallas Morning News: How a company’s refusal to cover medical costs is hurting sick foster kids in Texas
Last summer, child-welfare workers dropped a disabled girl, two pairs of pajamas and some diapers at Lorna Spears’ home in Kerrville, about 100 miles west of Austin. The 11-year-old could hardly see, couldn’t eat without choking and couldn’t survive without constant monitoring.
Spears knew that taking in a “medically complex” foster child would be tough, but she had watched her sister, a nurse who lived nearby, care for similar kids. Spears thought she could do it, too.
“I had raised my kids, and I just wanted to help,” says Spears, 52. “It’s just that motherly instinct.”
They had joyous moments, watching Disney’s Moana over and over, and laughing when Spears’ husband played Elvis songs on a guitar.
Often, though, Spears felt overwhelmed. The state assures foster parents that everything the children need, including expensive home nursing, will be provided by a health care company that it pays hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
But Superior HealthPlan wouldn’t provide enough medical supplies to keep the girl clean and comfortable, Spears says. Nor would the company pay for all the home nursing her doctor recommended, covering only 16 hours a day and leaving Spears alone with the child for eight. Foster parents cannot give consent for their children to be publicly identified, so The Dallas Morning News is withholding the girl’s name.
The Seattle Times: Did Seattle City Hall deliberately withhold records?
Records have emerged showing the Seattle mayor’s office and a City Council staffer privately conveyed to individual council members information about where a majority of their colleagues stood on issues related to the repeal of the controversial business head tax before a public meeting on the issue.
Those records include text exchanges between Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan and Councilmember Rob Johnson two days before the June 12 vote, and a tally sheet of council members’ positions for joining the mayor in a public statement shared with Councilmember M. Lorena González a day before.
The records weren’t turned over by the city in discovery requests in a lawsuit alleging the city violated the state’s public-meetings act, potentially scuttling a settlement of the suit, according to a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs. The city also didn’t disclose the records in response to a public-disclosure request by The Seattle Times.
The new records — obtained by a local blogger this month as part of hundreds of documents released in response to his request about public polling on the head-tax issue — were provided this week to The Times, which verified them with city officials.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Under Wisconsin law, it should be easy to buy the drug to reverse an opioid overdose. It's not
A lifesaving drug that can reverse a heroin or opioid overdose should be easily available at pharmacies across Wisconsin.
But a survey of more than 450 pharmacies in the state turned up conflicting guidance from staff members when asked how to purchase naloxone, known by its brand name Narcan.
About a quarter of pharmacies said a doctor's prescription was required to buy the drug — even though one has not been needed since 2016.
That year, the state's chief medical officer signed a "statewide standing order" allowing licensed pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription. The order was included in a slate of proposals to lower opioid-related deaths approved by state lawmakers and signed by Gov. Scott Walker.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has an online naloxone directory to help the public find pharmacies that provide the drug under the standing order.
Reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin surveyed 465 of those pharmacies, located across 15 counties, and found:
• About 54 percent of pharmacists correctly said no outside prescription was needed.
• Nearly 27 percent said a prescription was needed and did not explain the statewide standing order.
• About 19 percent of pharmacies had a disconnected number, were not a retail pharmacy, served a special population such as an inpatient hospital or would not answer questions.
Providence Journal: Reported attacks on the rise, yet most perpetrators avoid prison
A year-long investigation by a team of Brown University students found that 87 percent of those charged with elder-abuse offenses in R.I. between 2000 and 2017 did not go to prison for those crimes, leaving their elderly victims vulnerable to repeated attacks.
Seventy-eight-year-old Mary Lamar Grancher lived in fear of her son Garry Lamar, 47. He was prone to violent rages — often spitting in his mother’s face, grabbing her throat, shoving her around and calling her crude names, according to police reports.
After allowing Lamar to live in her North Kingstown home for four years without paying rent, Grancher kicked her son out. But Lamar returned daily, banging on her door and begging for money. “I would like to see you dead,” he told her. He repeatedly stole her cat, Melo, which he threatened to kill unless she paid him hundreds of dollars in ransom.
As a neighbor testified, Grancher would often “cry and cave in.” By July 2007, Lamar had forced his mother to hand over more than $15,000.
“I felt like I had to because he is my son,” a trembling Grancher explained to officers. “I don’t want him back in the house.”
Prosecutors initially charged Lamar with one count of blackmail and extortion and another count of domestic assault on a person over 60. However, the assault charge was later dismissed, and Lamar received a five-year suspended sentence for blackmail and extortion. He never went to prison, and to date he has paid less than half of his $450 fine, according to the Rhode Island judiciary.
In a review of all Rhode Island criminal cases since 2000 that included an elder-abuse charge, a group of Brown University student reporters found that victims such as Grancher are routinely left vulnerable to abuse. Despite the fact that all crimes committed against a person over 60 are designated as felonies, tracking these cases through the state’s legal system reveals that perpetrators of these crimes rarely serve significant prison time.
AP: Tabloid that kept Trump secrets faces losses, legal trouble
WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Enquirer has long explained its support for Donald Trump as a business decision based on the president's popularity among its readers. But private financial documents and circulation figures obtained by The Associated Press show that the tabloid's business was declining even as it published stories attacking Trump's political foes and, prosecutors claim, helped suppress stories about his alleged sexual affairs.
The Enquirer's privately held parent company, American Media Inc., lost $72 million for the year ending in March, the records obtained by the AP show. And despite AMI chairman David Pecker's claims that the Enquirer's heavy focus on Trump sells magazines, the documents show that the Enquirer's average weekly circulation fell by 18 percent to 265,000 in its 2018 fiscal year from the same period the year before — the greatest percentage loss of any AMI-owned publication. The slide follows the Enquirer's 15 percent circulation loss for the previous 12 months, a span that included the presidential election.
More broadly, the documents obtained by the AP show that American Media isn't making enough money to cover the interest accruing on its $882 million in long-term debt and that the company expects "continued declines in circulation and advertising revenues" in the current year. That leaves AMI reliant on debt to keep its operations afloat and finance a string of recent acquisitions that are transforming the tabloid news industry.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Aug. 23, 2018
Des Moines Register: As nearly $1 billion is spent elsewhere, Des Moines flooding victims wonder why they haven't been helped
Angry that the basement of her Beaverdale home has been inundated with 6 feet of water three times since 1993.
Angry that she's spent thousands of dollars on repairs, and that more than a month since the latest round of flooding, her home is still not fixed.
And angry that the city has not moved more quickly to fix chronic flooding in Beaverdale and elsewhere, despite knowing about problems since the early 1990s.
The June 30 flash flood that damaged nearly 1,800 Des Moines homes has prompted questions about how the city prioritizes spending on things like roads and parks, and whether enough is being done to protect homeowners from aging storm sewers that have repeatedly flooded basements in the city.
Residents want to know why city officials have not redirected money from other projects to address what they believe has been an emergency for decades.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: 'A playbook for concealing the truth' -- Grand jury's investigative report identifies over 300 abusive priests
Pennsylvania was the focus of international attention in the past week following the release of the grand jury church abuse probe.
While we did dozens of stories, this one from reporter Paula Reed Ward is among the most comprehensive and detailed published via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Cal U says garage contractor lacked state approval for substitute construction material
Reporter Bill Schackner's story: California University of Pennsylvania says builder used unapproved material; university suing over collapsed parking garage.
Wall Street Journal: VA May Have Erred in Rejecting Sexual-Trauma Claims, Report Says
WASHINGTON—The Department of Veterans Affairs didn’t follow proper procedure when it denied hundreds of claims by veterans seeking support and treatment for sexual trauma they said they suffered while in uniform, according to a department watchdog report released Tuesday.
In 2017, the VA denied nearly half of approximately 12,000 claims by veterans seeking support for military sexual trauma, according to the department’s inspector general. Of the claims that were denied, the department erred in processing 1,300 of them, fumbling a variety of procedures put in place to ensure victims of sexual trauma receive the benefit of the doubt by officials processing their claims.
“This comes as no surprise to those of us who follow these issues,” said Scott Jensen, chief executive of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group. “We need not just better laws but better definitions of metrics and follow-up reporting. There are laws on the books but no one is holding them to account.”
The VA declined to comment beyond its official response to the report. In that response, Paul Lawrence, the top VA official for benefits, concurred with the findings and said the department would review all denied military sexual-trauma claims stretching back to late 2016.
Leader-Telegram Analysis: Bills move faster under Republicans in Wisconsin Legislature
MADISON — The length of time bills were deliberated dropped significantly soon after Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators took control in 2011, diminishing the public’s opportunities to influence lawmaking, according to an analysis of records and interviews by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.
The center’s analysis of all bills enacted into state law over the past two decades shows an overall decline in deliberation time — with the most dramatic drop happening just after Walker took office.
In Walker’s first two years in office, averagedeliberation time was 119 days, compared with a20-year average of 164 days. During that 2011-12 session, 1 out of every 4 bills, including some of the Republicans’ most sweeping and controversial legislation, was passed within two months of introduction.
In comparison, in the 1997-98 session under Gov. Tommy Thompson, it took an average of 227 days for a bill to be introduced, aired in public hearings, passed by the Assembly and Senate and signed into law. Republicans controlled the governor’s office and Senate at the beginning of that session, adding control of the Assembly in 1998.
By the 2017-18 session, when Republicans controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office, the deliberation time averaged 162 days — close to the 20-year average, but well below the levels seen in the pre-Walker years.
Among the bills approved in Walker’s first session was Wisconsin’s 2011 redistricting plan, which the U.S. Supreme Court recently kicked back down to the court that had overturned it. After being crafted in secret by Republicans, it was approved by the Legislature in 29 days.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Aug. 16, 2018
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Arkansas ranks 7th in gun deaths, but weapons restrictions not on the table
Francisco Zamora looked like he was asleep, his arms folded under his stomach and head turned to the side.
The 16-year-old had been shot three times — in the arm, chest and hip — by Armando Castillo, someone who shouldn’t have been able to buy a gun under federal law because of previous domestic violence charges.
After killing the teenager, Castillo went on to murder Zamora’s 15-year-old girlfriend, Adriana Hernandez, and her mother, Amanda Murillo, in a rampage that lasted hours. He piled the mother and daughter on top of each other in the back of a car, next to some elementary school fliers and candy wrappers. Then Castillo, who was dating Murillo at the time, shot himself.
The shooting victims that Mother’s Day in 2017 are among the more than 8,000 people slain by gunfire in Arkansas since 1999. More than half of the victims died by suicide. About 200 died in gun accidents. The rest were killed by other people.
Such casualties are the day-to-day reality of gun violence in Arkansas: People here die by gunfire at a rate higher than in 43 other states, according to an analysis of 17 years of federal data by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Read more: https://ww2.arkansasonline.com/guns/
Philadelphia Inquirer: 165,000 Philly homeowners may be paying too much in property taxes. Is the city assessing property fairly?
Christin Phillips received an unwelcome piece of mail this spring: the city’s latest assessment on her Bella Vista rowhouse.
It suggested that her home’s value was about $130,000 above the nearly identical house next door, and that her tax bill next year would top $9,000 — more than double what she paid this year.
But the city, it turns out, had incorrect information: Her house, blocks from the Italian Market, was listed as a duplex but is actually a single-family residence.
Errors are inevitable in mass appraisals involving hundreds of thousands of properties. But an Inquirer and Daily News analysis of recent assessment data and sales prices found that assessment inaccuracy remains a stubborn problem in Philadelphia.
More than a dozen neighborhoods — including Hunting Park, Southwest Philadelphia, and Fairhill — are overvalued, according to the newspapers’ review. Others — University City, Point Breeze, and Center City — are getting relative tax breaks.
More than 35 percent of homes — totaling more than 165,000 — are overassessed, the analysis found, meaning those homeowners are paying more than they should in property taxes and essentially subsidizing others across the city. Lower-priced properties on average tend to be overassessed, while owners of higher-priced properties may be paying too little in taxes.
Philadelphia assessment officials disagreed with the Inquirer and Daily News analysis and said they stand by their calculations.
The Columbus Dispatch: How so-called rebates drive up the cost of prescription drugs
Rebates demanded by pharmacy middleman from drug manufacturers are driving up Americans' prescription-drug costs by billions of dollars.
A Dispatch analysis of financial records from the country’s largest drug manufacturers found that practices of the pharmacy benefit managers, also known as PBMs, push the list price of their drugs well beyond actual costs.
In short, PBMs tell manufacturers that if they want their drugs to be covered by the insurance companies they work with, the manufacturers need to provide the PBMs with "rebates."
In 2017, the country’s largest pharmaceutical companies spent $74.6 billion on research and development to create their brand-name drugs, according to financial reports. They also spent $116 billion to get those medications from their warehouses to wholesalers, and then via pharmacy benefit managers, hospitals and pharmacies to consumers.
These costs affect all patients because the rebates are factored into the price of name-brand prescription drugs.
Cleveland Plain Dealer: 'Big, big money:' Legal loopholes help property owners avoid taxes, fees
CLEVELAND, Ohio - In April, a Canadian real estate company bought one of downtown Cleveland's largest apartment buildings, the 407-unit Sphere on East 12th Street.
But no purchase price appears in public records. The sale didn't produce a conveyance fee, a government-imposed charge on real estate transfers that would have brought in $160,000 to $200,000 on a likely $40 million to $50 million transaction.
Though it's possible to guess at the price based on a $35.9 million mortgage filing, the cloaked nature of the sale means that Cuyahoga County is missing key data to determine what the property is worth. That makes it harder for the county to raise property taxes on Sphere, which the county's fiscal office values at only $8.6 million, and tougher for appraisers to treat the building as a benchmark for establishing values for similar downtown properties.
And it's all completely legal.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Lessons for Rochester: Failed Bronx school becomes coolest place in town
Before Public School 64 in the Bronx closed, serious disturbances frequently disrupted Taisha Rodriguez's teaching.
Poor, homeless and traumatized students received little support. Parent-teacher conferences might attract 10 percent of parents. The environment, she said, was toxic.
"There were many, many days I would cry upon having to go in or leaving."
The year it closed, 2016, only 11 percent of kids at P.S. 64 passed the English language arts (ELA) exams and 16 percent passed math.
Rodriguez was skeptical that The Walton Avenue School, P.S. 294, which would replace Pura Belpre, P.S. 64, in the same building would be any different.
The students at The Walton Avenue School would be from the same neighborhood, about a mile northeast of Yankee Stadium, where the median household income is $25,771. They would bring the same troubles and baggage.
By 2017, The Walton Avenue School saw 60.9 percent of its students pass state ELA exams and 78.1 percent pass math — results that were more than 20 percentage points higher than the state average.
Last year it had zero suspensions and 93 percent attendance rates.
Read more: https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/local/communities/time-to-educate/stories/2018/08/09/walton-avenue-school-ps-294-bronx-64-principal-daniel-russo-transform-rcsd-rochester-kodak-park-41/825859002/
Albuquerque Journal: New Mexico has seen its share of fringe groups
There are plenty of wide open spaces in New Mexico where people seeking to live off the grid can find starry nights, the sound of the wind through the trees – and few prying eyes.
Some of those folks are loners. Others are just checking out of the urban rat race. Others come to practice their religion in monasteries or remote farms in ways that harm no one.
But New Mexico’s remote areas have also attracted groups on the fringe of society who end up in the crosshairs of law enforcement – and often it’s because of their treatment of the children who live in the communes.
Groups like the five adults and 11 children found living in primitive and squalid conditions north of Taos earlier this month. Or the self-described revolutionary Christian group that Cibola County Sheriff’s deputies moved in on last year near Fence Lake, removing roughly a dozen children. Or a 70-member compound in Union County where “Messiah” Wayne Bent ended up being convicted in 2008 of criminal sexual contact.
Calling such groups “cults” is something the FBI rarely does. The FBI doesn’t even like the use of the word cult because it is easily misused and was historically used to describe religious groups like Mormons, Quakers and other groups now considered mainstream religions.
Instead, the FBI has issued risk factors to law enforcement on when they should be concerned about a religious group, couched in careful phrasing because the Constitution protects an individual’s right to religious beliefs. The key issue in those risk factors is a threat of violence to members, children or to people who don’t belong to the group.
Albuquerque Journal: Victims of Desert State still waiting for restitution
A woman known in court records as “J.W.” died destitute this year.
But she had once been a co-beneficiary of a $600,000 trust at the now-defunct and disgraced Desert State Life Management company of Albuquerque.
Her money, along with savings and trust accounts of more than 70 other vulnerable people who were clients of Desert State, were part of the estimated $4.8 million embezzled by company CEO Paul Donisthorpe, who pleaded guilty last November to federal money laundering and mail fraud charges in the scheme.
J.W.’s death several months ago left her daughters scrambling to find the money to bury their developmentally disabled mother.
They eventually found a “patchwork of people” to pay for funeral expenses, said Charles Reynolds, who had been her conservator.
“But it was very frustrating and sad to think there were no funds for an immediate burial,” Reynolds said. “It highlights how pathetic the situation was.”
More than a year after state regulators uncovered the crime, the dozens of victims who relied on Desert State to keep their savings safe are still waiting for financial relief. A proposed class action lawsuit for those defrauded was filed in June, but one of Desert State’s insurance companies has gone to court to keep from paying claims. Desert State was placed into state receivership last year.
Las Vegas Review-Journal: Study shows Nevada schools have largest average class sizes
Denise Lovern wants you to imagine your living room. Start with it empty.
Then add a counter or two, maybe a sink, some built-in shelves and a teacher-sized desk and chair. The space probably still feels roomy.
Now, add 36 smaller desks and chairs and children to sit in them. The kids are 9 and 10, so they’re not big. Still, there are almost 40 of them.
For Lovern, 57, a 28-year veteran teacher in the Clark County School District, this is her day-to-day reality at Steele
Elementary School in Las Vegas. And she says it interferes with her ability to do her job and ultimately penalizes the kids.
“Nevada’s children deserve smaller class sizes. We need to stop setting up our kids for failure,” she said.
Class size is a national issue, with parents and educators generally taking the view that smaller is better, as that affords students more one-on-one attention and provides a more reasonable workload for teachers. But research is mixed, and skeptics wonder whether the extraordinary expense required to reach “optimal” class sizes — whatever that might be — would be worth the achievement gains that might be realized.
Nevada is at the forefront of the debate, after a study by the National Education Association found that the state had the largest average class sizes in the nation last year for the second year running, followed by Arizona and Utah.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Residents of rundown St. Louis area apartment complex trapped by poverty, indifference
BEL-RIDGE • Of all the growth at Springwood Apartments, a 271-unit spread nestled in the woods here near Natural Bridge Avenue and Interstate 170, none of it appears to be economic.
Trees sprout from gutters. Mold creeps in walls. And after a good rain, in at least one of the 17 two-story buildings that make up the complex, a large basement floods.
The water lingers so long sometimes that an ecosystem flourishes.
“It becomes like a swamp,” said Clarence Crumer, 32, who lives above it. “I guess, when it gets hot, the insects need to find their way up, into the apartments.”
There are so many things to fix at Springwood, which was recently cited for at least 167 building code violations, he nearly forgot to mention temperature control. His air conditioner clanked like an old engine that wouldn’t start. He said it’s been broken all summer.
Kansas City Star: County officials wield the power as Colyer vs. Kobach race remains undecided
Local officials spread across Kansas’ 105 counties will exercise an incredible amount of power this week when they determine whether thousands of ballots should count in the closest primary race for governor in Kansas history.
The roughly 9,000 provisional ballots, awaiting rulings from county officials across the state, will likely decide whether Gov. Jeff Colyer or Secretary of State Kris Kobach emerges as the GOP’s standard-bearer in the fall.
More than 40 percent of the provisional ballots were cast in the state’s two most populous counties, Johnson and Sedgwick. The ballots have the power to swing the Kansas race in Colyer’s favor or solidify a victory for Kobach.
Kobach’s role as the state’s chief election official has heightened the scrutiny of the vote-counting process in the contentious race. After a backlash this week, Kobach announced Friday that Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker will oversee the process in his stead.
Colyer’s campaign plans to send representatives to all 105 canvassing board meetings to ensure the governor receives every possible vote. The candidates went into the weekend separated by a mere 110 votes.
The uncertainty about the winner has drawn comparisons to the standoff between George W. Bush and Al Gore during the 2000 presidential election, when a few hundred votes separated the two candidates in Florida.
Bryan Caskey, who works under Kobach as the state’s director of elections, said that usually 60 to 70 percent of provisional ballots end up being counted in the final tally.
“We always count more than we don’t count,” he said.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune: How alcohol foils rape investigations
Joanna Howe woke up in her bed, naked and uncertain how she got there.
Her friend’s wedding in October 2016 had been a rare night out for the 40-year-old single mom studying to be a preschool teacher. She planned to have a good time. She took a Lyft ride to the event and recalled telling the bartender, after a couple of beers and glasses of wine, not to worry, she would use the service to get home, too.
Her last memory from the night was unsettling: Trying to pronounce the name of a man standing over her as she was lying down. She wasn’t injured, but knew something was wrong. She never slept nude and her apartment door had been left unlocked.
“It was more of an emotional feeling of wrongness,” Howe said.
She suspected her Lyft driver had come into her apartment and raped her. She called the Roseville police.
Over the next year Howe confronted a stark reality faced by many women who report being raped in Minnesota: Their already slight chance of getting justice plummets if they were drinking.
Police are less likely to interview witnesses, assign cases to a detective or forward them to a prosecutor for possible criminal charges, according to a Star Tribune analysis of more than 1,000 sexual assault cases from 2015 and 2016.
When cases involving alcohol do reach prosecutors, suspects are much less likely to be charged with a crime or convicted. When a victim is sober, records show, prosecutors charge about 15 percent of the sex assaults. When a victim is intoxicated, that rate drops to 8 percent.
In cases where the victim was drinking, only 1 in 20 sex assaults resulted in a conviction — about half the overall conviction rate for sex assaults.
Boston Globe: New England’s smallest colleges are struggling
Financial conditions are deteriorating at many of New England’s quintessential small private colleges, with tuition revenue failing to keep up with expenses at more than half of the schools, a Globe review shows.
The review of federal data found a number of financial warning signs at many of the schools, which have become increasingly reliant on tuition, even as enrollment has declined.
The College of St. Joseph in Vermont, for example, relies on tuition for 90 percent of its revenue, but the tuition covers just 58 percent of the school’s annual expenses. At Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, tuition makes up 77 percent of the school’s revenue but covers just 65 percent of its expenses. At Newbury College in Brookline, enrollment has declined 24 percent over a five-year period, but it depends on tuition for 74 percent of its revenue.
These findings echo a national trend. Two reports issued recently by national credit rating agencies forecast more troubles for small schools as the gap between their revenue and expenses widens. Moody’s found in July that one in five small private colleges nationwide is under fundamental stress. It predicted more are likely to close or merge in the coming years.
Courier Journal: Shooting exposes weaknesses in Louisville police gun-safety rules
Louisville Metro Police Officer Sarah Stumler had holstered her gun as she and two other officers prepared to leave the vacant home.
But on her way to the door, she peered into the living room, the sun streaming through curtained windows. She saw a mattress box spring leaning against the wall to her left. Behind it, shadow. A figure.
"Show your hands," she yelled, raising her gun and its mounted flashlight.
“I meant to turn the light on to see what was behind the mattress and accidentally pulled the trigger,” she told department investigators after the March 2017 shooting of Bruce Warrick, an unarmed homeless man who had been using crack cocaine in the home.
Stumler's flashlight was mounted underneath the barrel, just in front of the trigger guard. She said she meant to hit a switch on the side of the light.
Instead, she pulled the trigger, shooting Warrick in the stomach.
2017 coverage: Police video from the shooting: 'Show your hands,' then a gunshot
The single shot was expensive: It cost the city $1.8 million in a payout to Warrick, who was left with limited kidney function and lifelong digestive system problems.
It also led to important questions about how Louisville police oversee officers' training and the use of such devices, particularly in light of similar shootings in other cities.
The department's Public Integrity Unit, which investigates all police shootings for criminal wrongdoing, spent five months working the case last year and officially closed the case in June, making the records available to the public.
A Courier Journal review of the unit's investigation found a lack of thorough policy on the use of these weapon-mounted flashlights.
Indianapolis Star: EPA documents: Contamination in Johnson County known for decades but still being cleaned up
With more than 50 children in Johnson County diagnosed with rare forms of brain, blood and bone cancer in the last 10 years, people here are desperate for answers. What is causing this? Is contamination at the source? What is being done to address it?
But even before those questions are answered, thousands of new documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are raising yet even more troubling questions.
The documents, which date back decades, reveal that federal and state environmental regulators have been aware of contamination at an industrial site in Franklin for more than 30 years.
Furthermore, an IndyStar analysis of the documents raise serious concerns about the extent of the contamination, the steps taken to clean it up and if more could and should have been done sooner. The documents also call into question who is accountable for what some environmental groups and community members call the insufficient response, and if it could have potentially harmed nearby residents and families.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Fatal heroin overdose tests limits of amnesty law
Sitting in the basement of his Milton home, heroin flowing through his veins for the first time, Gregg Ivey was euphoric.
“This is the best feeling in the world!” he exclaimed.
Moments later, Ivey collapsed, his face ashen, his lips turning blue. Friends couldn’t find a pulse and someone called 911.
At 10:09 p.m., shortly after arriving at North Fulton Hospital, Ivey, 28, was pronounced dead. The life-of-the-party jokester with the bushy black beard was gone.
That was nearly three years ago. But for Graham Williams, who allegedly helped Ivey locate a vein and shoot up that night, the consequences live on.
The Fulton County district attorney has charged Williams, 35, with “distribution” of heroin — for injecting him with the fatal dose — plus a felony murder charge that could send him away for life. Williams’ lawyer is arguing that his client should be immune from prosecution under Georgia’s 911 Medical Amnesty law.
Adopted in 2014 to encourage drug users to render aid instead of running away, the statute says that a person who calls 911 and remains at the scene “in good faith” providing care for an overdose victim cannot face criminal prosecution.
Williams’ case — replete with the messy details of a night of partying gone tragically wrong — could ultimately set an important precedent in how the law is applied at a time when drug overdoses are soaring.
Sacramento Bee: In emergencies, cell phone alerts can be too slow to save lives. Can the system be fixed?
Before the flames appeared, Sandie Freeman thought the sky above her Redding home looked especially beautiful.
The evening was golden hued and still; pretty enough that she took a picture. Minutes later, a light wind picked up and leaves from her oak tree began falling like rain, she said.
It was the only warning she received that something was amiss.
The breeze turned into heavy gusts, then a roar that sounded “like a locomotive in your front yard,” she said. The Carr Fire shot up behind the house across the street, leaving her and her husband mere minutes to grab their dogs and make a dash for the road, only to find a line of cars stuck in a slow-motion crawl to safety.
A family of deer with three fawns came up to her car bumper. A long-time animal rescuer, she tried to think of a way to save them. But she didn’t know if she was even going to save herself.
“I honestly thought the fire was going to come up over us,” she said.
Before the Carr Fire gutted the western edge of Redding, causing eight deaths and leveling more than a thousand homes, local emergency services in the Northern California region sent out 59 “Code Red” evacuation warnings to various areas, including at least three aimed at pinging 31,979 nearby cell phones with urgent alerts, according to the Shasta Area Safety Communications Agency.
Some of those critical messages missed people living in the Redding neighborhoods hit first as fire blew across the Sacramento River on July 26 — a fatal lack of effective communication that is disturbingly common during California disasters.
While multiple systems exist for governments to warn people in urgent times — including broadcast TV, radio and internet messages — none is instantaneous and all are hit-or-miss in whom they reach and when they reach them. It is a reality at odds with what many people expect during a disaster.
Los Angeles Times: Before becoming LAPD chief, Moore retired, collected a $1.27-million payout, then was rehired
Before Michel Moore was promoted to become the Los Angeles Police Department’s new chief in June, he took a brief, highly unusual retirement.
He left as chief of operations for only a few weeks before rejoining the force in the same job at the same pay. But the move provided him with a financial windfall: a lump sum retirement payment of $1.27 million from the city.
Moore, 58, received the money thanks to his enrollment in the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, which pays veteran cops and firefighters their pensions, in addition to their salaries, for the last five years of their careers.
The extra pension payments go into a special account that the employee receives at the end of the five years — so long as they formally retire.
Moore said in an interview that the plan to have him retire and then return almost immediately to work was proposed by former Chief Charlie Beck and approved by Mayor Eric Garcetti.
A few months after he returned to work, Garcetti appointed the well-respected, 36-year veteran as the department’s next chief.
Because chiefs are excluded from DROP, if Moore had won the promotion before he retired he would have been forced to forfeit the $1.27 million in order to take the job. Several other L.A. police and fire chiefs — including Beck — have lost their DROP payments that way.
Arizona Daily Star: Tucson group takes in money for foster kids, but has done little to help them
A cloud of ill will is gathering in Tucson over a Phoenix man who for months has collected donations he said would be used to benefit local children in foster care.
Since April, his fundraisers have been a familiar sight at tables outside local stores and eateries where representatives collect cash donations.
But where the money goes isn’t entirely clear.
To date, the organization has held just one event — a chaotic day at a Tucson fun park paid for with a check that didn’t clear the bank.
The fundraisers staffing the tables get to keep half of the money they collect — a fact not disclosed to donors in a state where little public disclosure is required, an Arizona Daily Star investigation found.
In 2013, the Legislature killed a longstanding consumer-protection measure that required fundraisers to register with the secretary of state.
Had it not done so, Tucsonans who drop donations at the collection tables might have known that Southern AZ Foster Kids is actually based in California.
AP Exclusive: Google tracks your movements, like it or not
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.
An Associated Press investigation found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you've used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so.
Computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP's request.
For the most part, Google is upfront about asking permission to use your location information. An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to location if you use it for navigating. If you agree to let it record your location over time, Google Maps will display that history for you in a "timeline" that maps out your daily movements.
Storing your minute-by-minute travels carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects - such as a warrant that police in Raleigh, North Carolina, served on Google last year to find devices near a murder scene. So the company lets you "pause" a setting called Location History.
Google says that will prevent the company from remembering where you've been. Google's support page on the subject states: "You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored."
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Aug. 9, 2018
Montgomery Advertiser: Reality vs. intent: Alabama Accountability Act serves mostly students from nonfailing schools
Alchico Grant was a T.S. Morris Elementary second-grader when his grandmother, Antionetta Jackson, started looking to get her grandson into another school and learned about the Alabama Accountability Act.
“I didn’t have a problem with his teachers, but he was coming home with too much knowledge from children — street knowledge,” Jackson said.
However, she didn't have the money to pay private school tuition, and school zoning required he stay where he was enrolled.
The 2013 act, which diverts taxpayer money to provide students scholarships to qualified private schools, turned out to be the aid Jackson had been looking for. The scholarship helped the family afford Trinity Presbyterian School, she said, even though the act’s intention didn't quite match Alchico's situation.
Alchico Grant and his grandmother Antionetta Jackson discuss his sixth-grade class schedule Thursday at Trinity. Grant will attend his fourth year at Trinity on a scholarship from the Alabama Accountability Act.Buy Photo
Alchico Grant and his grandmother Antionetta Jackson discuss his sixth-grade class schedule Thursday at Trinity. Grant will attend his fourth year at Trinity on a scholarship from the Alabama Accountability Act. (Photo: Julie Bennett / Advertiser)
The act was created to give students at "failing" public schools the means to exit. But with T.S. Morris not in the failing category, Alchico was still able to secure a scholarship based on financial need, like the majority of students that receive scholarships through the AAA.
Arizona Republic: Arizona's forests are being ravaged by climate change. How much can we save?
Arizona didn’t always burn this way.
In the 1970s, when Wally Covington began studying the world’s largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest outside his Flagstaff window at Northern Arizona University, people thought about forests and fire on a different scale. He remembers the shock as high country residents watched the unprecedented sight of 500-acre crown fires, the kind that spread from treetop to treetop, killing the mature pines.
Only a few decades earlier no one in Arizona had ever seen a crown fire, let alone one in the hundreds of acres.
“People couldn’t believe fires could get any bigger,” said Covington, a forestry professor and executive director of the university’s Ecological Restoration Institute.
The fires did get bigger. At their most extreme they got a thousand times bigger.
And they blackened acre after acre of ponderosas, the towering, orange-barked pines that clean the state’s water and air, shelter its high-country wildlife and define a great green arc from the Grand Canyon to New Mexico.
Foresters in the 19th century unwittingly set this disaster in motion. 20th century fire suppression and warming made it worse, littering the landscape with “doghair thickets,” dense stands of trees just a few inches in diameter that burn like kindling.
Without major ecological investments, Arizona risks losing its ponderosa forests in a generation.
It's likely too late to save it all, so federal foresters and their allies are racing against the next megafires to choose the places that matter most.
San Francisco Chronicle: Their costly, unproven treatments can be risky. But for-profit stem cell clinics are flourishing.
In the waiting room of Mark Berman’s Beverly Hills office, the reception counter is crowded with trophies. Mostly made of clear plastic or glass, resembling a row of miniature ice sculptures, they are touchstones of his long career in cosmetic surgery.
For more than three decades, Berman’s focus was breast augmentations and face-lifts. He invented a pocket-like device that can be implanted into the breast to produce better-looking, safer results from augmentation procedures. He calls it his “Sistine Chapel.”
But over the past eight years, Berman has reached far past his specialty into a realm of highly sophisticated, still-nascent medicine. He’s become one of the country’s most outspoken and notorious providers of so-called consumer stem cell therapies: using human stem cells to treat a wide variety of ailments despite little or no scientific proof that they work.
With his business partner, Rancho Mirage (Riverside County) urologist Elliot Lander, Berman has built the largest chain of stem cell clinics in the country. Their Cell Surgical Network has more than a hundred affiliates in 33 states — including 38 clinics in California alone — selling treatments they claim will fix everything from knee pain to symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
“As a cosmetic surgeon, it’s kind of a joke that I’m at the center of this universe,” Berman said in an interview last fall. “But I’m kind of ground zero.”
Seven months later, his words became darkly prophetic: In May, Berman and his partner were targeted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA requested an injunction that, if approved by a federal judge, would stop them from selling stem cell therapies.
The Denver Post: Colorado secretly created a way to police medical marijuana doctors, a lawsuit suppressed for years alleges
A Denver Post investigation revealed a lawsuit that accused Colorado regulators of secretly creating a policy to police medical marijuana doctors. The lawsuit is just one of thousands that were hidden from the public as a result of judges’ orders.
The Washington Post: An unsavory scam? Company accused of diluting Chesapeake blue crab meat with imported crab
Few things say local like the Chesapeake blue crab.
It has scuttled its way into Maryland’s tourism slogan and is part of the region’s signature dish, proudly touted on menus and in markets as a taste of the Bay in an era when “eat local” has become the mantra of foodies.
But a few years ago, a tipster reached out to authorities with an unsavory allegation: A major Virginia seafood supplier was selling packages of premium Chesapeake blue crab meat cut with cheaper foreign crab. It wasn’t even the same species.
In an unusual probe, federal agents fanned out to markets across Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina, scooping up crab meat from Casey’s Seafood and sending it out for the type of DNA analysis more common in rape and murder cases.
The results would reveal the tip of what authorities say is a massive fraud worth millions of dollars, one so large it has shaken the food industry and raised questions about just how much of the iconic food labeled as local comes from the Chesapeake Bay.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/an-unsavory-scam-company-accused-of-diluting-chesapeake-blue-crab-meat-with-imported-crab/2018/08/04/a8e1ab6c-85f7-11e8-8553-a3ce89036c78_story.html?utm_term=.419167e19742
Atlanta Journal Constitution: Reed, city concealed secret $147K payout to fired Atlanta airport boss
Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed reached secret terms in a settlement with the airport general manager he fired in 2016, agreeing to pay Miguel Southwell $147,000 more than was disclosed to the City Council and the public, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation has found.
The August 2016 settlement, reached in the heat of the presidential campaign, ended public accusations of illegal conduct between Reed and the former airport boss and defused a crisis that had the potential to threaten Reed’s political future.
But the previously unknown terms raise new questions about how the deal was done and why it was kept from the public. Documents reviewed by the AJC and Channel 2 Action News do not show the source of Southwell’s proposed payout, and the city told the AJC that it can find no record of public or insurance funds being used, raising questions about who paid the money on the city’s behalf.
Chicago Tribune: Indiana steel mill emits 18,000 pounds of lead a year. Is it blowing toward Chicago?
The nation’s largest source of industrial lead pollution is just 20 miles down the Lake Michigan shore from Chicago, churning more than twice as much of the brain-damaging metal into the air each year as all other factories in the region combined.
ArcelorMittal’s steel mill in Burns Harbor, Ind., emitted nearly 18,000 pounds of lead during 2016 and has topped the national list since a Missouri lead smelter shut down in 2013, according to a Tribune analysis of federal records that raises new questions about the oversight of big lakefront polluters by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Burns Harbor plant also emitted 173,000 pounds of benzene during 2016, the newspaper’s analysis revealed, making the sprawling steel-making complex by far the nation’s largest industrial source of a volatile chemical known to cause leukemia.
Lead and benzene pollution from the steel mill rose sharply during the past decade as airborne levels of both toxic substances dropped nationwide. More pollution could be on the way if Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel-maker, ramps up U.S. production in response to President Donald Trump’s controversial tariff on imported steel.
Yet regulators can’t explain where the steel mill’s pollution ends up.
Des Moines Register: Utility's push for more wind turbines is blowing up trouble with Madison County residents
DEXTER, Ia. — The battle playing out over a second crop of wind turbines that MidAmerican Energy is proposing near this small town is like many playing out across Iowa and the nation.
In the home of the famed covered bridges of Madison County, the utility plans to stand up 52 turbines that will be as tall as skyscrapers — towering 490 feet.
That's led to a tug of war between those who believe that the whooshing, flashing and flickering from the massive turbines will ruin their quality of life and others who see them as an economic windfall in easement payments and tax revenue.
Politicians and power companies proudly promote Iowa's status as the nation's leader in wind energy as a percentage of its overall electric generation, but neighbors of proposed wind farms are increasingly challenging the projects.
“One complaint we have is that most of these property owners (signing agreements with MidAmerican) don’t live on the land where the turbines will be used,” said Dave Marsh, whose home with a new pool overlooks a farm field that will host one of the turbines.
Read more: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/investigations/readers-watchdog/2018/08/01/iowa-wind-turbines-energy-neighbors-midamerican-energy-bridges-madison-county-dexter-adair/809981002/
Courier Journal: Here's how much Bevin's adoption advisers, a pastor and wife, will make
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The cost to taxpayers for the Bevin administration's hiring of a Baptist pastor from Florida and his wife as special advisers to Kentucky on adoption and foster care could total more than $350,000 a year.
The salaries paid to Chris and Alicia Johnson, of Clermont, Florida, will not be so high — $82,500 each per year, said Elizabeth Kuhn, communications director for Gov. Matt Bevin's office.
But state records obtained by the Courier Journal show state government is planning to spend up to $700,000 over the next 23 months for the advisers — when normal job benefits and up to $69,500 for travel and miscellaneous expenses are included.
On Wednesday Gov. Matt Bevin's office announced the Johnsons were retained by the state to support the governor and first lady Glenna Bevin's priority of reforming Kentucky's adoption and foster systems.
The Times-Picayune: One year and many fixes since the Aug. 5 flood, questions linger for New Orleans' drainage system
A year has passed since torrential rains flooded New Orleans on Aug. 5, 2017, revealing the shoddy state of the city’s drainage pumps and power systems and exposing administrative failures that forced out the leadership of the Sewerage & Water Board. The troubled agency has poured more than $82 million into emergency repairs, new leaders have taken the helm, and a new mayor has promised to ensure the system’s needs are addressed.
But key questions remain about the risk of flooding and the vulnerability of a system aimed at keeping New Orleans residents dry. Key repairs are still underway, and an engineer hired to analyze the city’s drainage system’s failures highlighted a little-discussed effect that can send water back onto the streets after it’s been pumped. The engineer, Matt McBride, called the effect “reverse flow” in a report provided to the city in November, saying it occurs when drainage pumps lose power and start spinning backwards – as some likely did a year ago, reversing water into already flooded streets.
“The effect is frightening and disturbing, as swimming pools full of water are directed back into a neighborhood in an instant during a downpour,” McBride said in his report, discussing reverse flow in general. “The force and speed of the flow can be so great that manhole covers are blown a dozen feet in the air blocks away from the reverse flowing pump.”
The Boston Globe: Boston’s schools are becoming resegregated
An alarming pattern of racial segregation has re-emerged in the Boston Public School system over the last two decades, according to a Globe analysis, largely the consequence of steps taken by city and school officials to allow more students to attend schools in their neighborhoods as they did prior to court-ordered busing.
Nearly 60 percent of the city’s schools meet the definition of being intensely segregated — meaning students of color occupy at least 90 percent of the seats. Two decades ago, 42 percent of schools were intensely segregated. Many of these schools are low performing.
All the while, the shifting student population is slowly creating more schools where the majority of students are white, climbing over the past two decades from two schools to five.
Las Vegas Review-Journal: Caseloads grow in Nevada, US as judicial vacancies unfilled
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are confirming President Donald Trump’s federal appellate judges at a fairly rapid clip, but vacancies in lower district courts remain unfilled, creating heavy workloads and delays for pending civil and criminal cases.
Nevada has two open seats that were vacated when judges took senior status. One seat, in Reno, has been listed as a “judicial emergency” by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts because it has been open for more than 2½ years.
The other Nevada seat is in Las Vegas and came open at the end of June. Judicial vacancies
Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro in Las Vegas said the vacancies have “a huge impact, considering our caseload is going up and up and up.”
According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the number of case filings in the Nevada district is higher than the national average for federal district courts. Nationwide, district court caseloads grew 6 percent last year alone.
The Judicial Conference of the United States recommended in March 2017 that Nevada receive an additional district judge, on top of its seven existing judgeships, due to the state’s high caseload.
Asbury Park Press: NJ marijuana legalization: Why NJ cops are the nation's toughest weed enforcers
Marijuana users in New Jersey — which is on the verge of legalizing weed — are arrested at the highest rate in the nation by local police departments, some of which report that more than a third of their arrests were for pot, a USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey investigation found.
There were 32,279 marijuana possession arrests in 2016 — more than murder, rape, assault or any type of theft, according to the latest data available from the FBI's Uniform Criminal Reporting program. The FBI tracks nearly all arrests across the nation.
More than one-third — 36 percent — of the weed possession arrests were of African Americans, although blacks comprise just 13 percent of the state's population. Learn more about who is arrested for marijuana possession in the video below. There was no breakdown in the data on the arrest of Hispanic suspects.
Statewide, marijuana possession accounted for 10.6 percent of all arrests made by local, state and federal law enforcement officers — about one arrest for every 187 adult residents. It was the highest percentage in the United States, the Network found. The next closest state was South Carolina at 9.9 percent of all arrests.
The Dallas Morning News: Are Dallas County constables quietly rounding up unauthorized immigrants for ICE?
No one disputes Trinidad Camacho was living in the country illegally. Not even her family.
Her record shows she was deported to Mexico in 1999 after convictions for drunken driving and cocaine possession. Soon after, she sneaked back into the United States.
But the 54-year-old grandmother's recent arrest in Oak Cliff — captured on video and widely shared on Facebook — has stirred questions that a Dallas County constable's office is quietly working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the expense of county taxpayers. It's a question that neither Constable Ray Nichols nor ICE would answer, despite repeated requests from The Dallas Morning News.
Camacho, who wailed as Deputy Constable Jeffrey Hubbard handcuffed her by her white SUV, was taken to an ICE office in Dallas on July 20 and booked at the Euless city jail in Tarrant County on an immigration detainer. Nichols, the constable in Dallas County Precinct 2 and Hubbard's boss, said his deputy stopped Camacho because of a traffic violation and arrested her because of an active federal felony warrant.
Her attorney said there was no federal or state felony warrant for her arrest. Camacho's family is also skeptical of Nichols' explanation. According to their account, one of Camacho's relatives was stopped earlier in the day by the same deputy but given no traffic tickets despite driving without a license or proof of insurance.
And now Dallas County commissioners, who set Nichols' budget, want to know why the deputy was making a traffic stop in Oak Cliff, far from his precinct in the Garland and Mesquite area. GPS data obtained by the county's budget office shows Hubbard drove an unmarked car straight from his home in Mesquite to Oak Cliff, where he lingered for more than two hours before arresting Camacho.
Houston Chronicle and ProPublica: For heart bypass surgery, St. Luke's has been among the nation's worst
Ernest Barnard, a 75-year-old resident of Cypress, checked into Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center in the summer of 2016, feeling lethargic and struggling to catch his breath. After three weeks at the hospital, family members said the medical team concluded Barnard needed a quadruple bypass to improve blood flow to his heart.
The evening before surgery, his children brought him a treat, hoping to lift his spirits.
"I'm a daddy's girl," Graciella Gonzalez said. "He asked for an ice cream ... so I went to the gift shop and got him an ice cream. And that was his last meal he ever had."
For nearly two years, Gonzalez and her family have wondered went wrong.
What they did not realize: Between the middle of 2016 and the middle of 2017, Baylor St. Luke's was rated among the worst hospitals in the country for bypass surgery. Of nearly 600 hospitals that voluntarily report surgical outcomes to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, St. Luke's was one of 18 nationally to earn only one star for overall bypass quality, the group's lowest rating.
The Seattle Times: In one Washington state immigration court, bonds are among the highest in the country and asylum is granted less often
When Guatemalan migrant Nanci Hernandez appeared before an immigration judge at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma — her kids thousands of miles away at a Texas facility — the government had one week left to meet a court-ordered deadline to reunite families separated after crossing the border.
With the separations sparking international outrage against President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy, judges and immigration officials were releasing parents on bond, here and elsewhere, so they could rejoin their children.
But in the Tacoma court that stands out nationally for high bonds, Judge John Odell had questions. He wanted to know if she had ever been in the same room as the person offering to put her up in Georgia, a friend of Hernandez’s mother, according to her lawyer, Malou Chávez of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP). Hernandez had not.
Odell determined she was a flight risk, and denied bond.
Hernandez got out of detention only after being transferred to Texas. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released her there on her own recognizance just in time for the July 26 deadline, allowing her to reunite with her 12-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.
“It’s arbitrary,” Chávez said of Odell’s decision. “In other situations, where we show the same evidence, he’s granting bonds.”
Six other parents separated from their children were denied bond in one of three courtrooms in the Tacoma detention center and in a makeshift courtroom recently set up at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, according to NWIRP.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Airlines are trimming flights to Mexican resort areas as demand softens after reports of tourist blackouts
Some of the largest U.S. airlines say their bookings to resort areas of Mexico have fallen in recent months, with travel to that region being singled out as one of the few weak spots in an overall robust global air travel market.
In transcripts of conference calls to discuss quarterly earnings with financial analysts, executives from United, Delta, American and Spirit all mentioned Mexico specifically as a weak spot in their flight networks.
Several said they either have or will consider reducing service to Mexican resort areas.
The reductions come after an ongoing Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation into reports of alcohol-related blackouts by American tourists in Mexico.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Jobs are back in Florida, but pay lags and poverty is still up
TALLAHASSEE — Florida unemployment is nearing an all-time low and Gov. Rick Scott says the state is “on a roll” with 1.5 million jobs created since he took office.
But that didn’t stop Angela Edwards-Luckett from coming to the Capitol recently as part of a protest by labor groups and others critical of Florida’s shortage of jobs that pay well.
“It’s a struggle to survive out there,” said Edwards-Luckett, 51, of Clearwater, whose primary source of income is a $10,000-a-year part-time instructor’s job at St. Petersburg College.
Edwards-Luckett, who teaches world religion, said she picks up more money doing ministerial work. But in Pinellas County, she said, many jobs pay only $8.50 or $9.50 an hour.
“If the jobs are there, they really don’t pay what you need, or what you’d call a living wage,” she said.
Almost a decade since the Great Recession ended, Florida’s economic recovery remains uneven, data shows. Scott can point to an abundance of new jobs — although research shows almost half are considered low-wage, paying $10 or less an hour.
Close to half of Florida’s 67 counties still have not returned to the employment levels they had before the recession, which began in 2007 and officially ceased in June 2009.
AP: After decades of silence, nuns talk about abuse by priests
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The nun no longer goes to confession regularly, after an Italian priest forced himself on her while she was at her most vulnerable: recounting her sins to him in a university classroom nearly 20 years ago.
At the time, the sister only told her provincial superior and her spiritual director, silenced by the Catholic Church’s culture of secrecy, her vows of obedience and her own fear, repulsion and shame.
“It opened a great wound inside of me,” she told the Associated Press. “I pretended it didn’t happen.”
After decades of silence, the nun is one of a handful worldwide to come forward recently on an issue that the Catholic Church has yet to come to terms with: The sexual abuse of religious sisters by priests and bishops. An AP examination has found that cases have emerged in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia, demonstrating that the problem is global and pervasive, thanks to the universal tradition of sisters’ second-class status in the Catholic Church and their ingrained subservience to the men who run it.
Some nuns are now finding their voices, buoyed by the #MeToo movement and the growing recognition that adults can be victims of sexual abuse when there is an imbalance of power in a relationship. The sisters are going public in part because of years of inaction by church leaders, even after major studies on the problem in Africa were reported to the Vatican in the 1990s.
The issue has flared in the wake of scandals over the sexual abuse of children, and recently of adults, including revelations that one of the most prominent American cardinals, Theodore McCarrick, sexually abused and harassed his seminarians.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Aug. 2, 2018
Pennsylvania: STATE OF EMERGENCY: Searching for Solutions to Pennsylvania's Opioids Crisis
America is in the midst of the deadliest drug epidemic in its history and Pennsylvania is at the epicenter.
In 2016, more than 2,200 Pennsylvanians died of opioid overdoses, the fourth highest rate in the US, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Opioid deaths made up about half of all drug overdoses in the state that year.
The death toll from opioids abuse has climbed so high that the governor's office this year issued an emergency declaration. That designation calls for increased coordination and tracking of the work of health and safety agencies dealing with the public health emergency.
Newsrooms have been documenting the epidemic's soaring numbers for close to two decades. Now, a special project marshaling their combined strength is focusing on what Pennsylvanians around the state are doing to try to reverse this most deadly trend.
PennLive and the Patriot-News along with other newspapers, websites, and TV and radio stations are using their platforms to spotlight the ways every region of the state is confronting this immense challenge. Words, videos and photos shared by journalists covering more than 50 counties outline a wealth of strategies and initiatives that are showing promise.
These are stories of community support, outreach, care and prevention.
All are about hope.
USA Today: Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it.
Every year, thousands of women suffer life-altering injuries or die during childbirth because hospitals and medical workers skip safety practices known to head off disaster, a USA TODAY investigation has found.
Doctors and nurses should be weighing bloody pads to track blood loss so they recognize the danger sooner. They should be giving medication within an hour of spotting dangerously high blood pressure to fend off strokes.
These are not complicated procedures requiring expensive technology. They are among basic tasks that experts have recommended for years because they can save mothers’ lives.
Yet hospitals, doctors and nurses across the country continue to ignore them, USA TODAY found.
As a result, women are left to bleed until their organs shut down. Their high blood pressure goes untreated until they suffer strokes. They die of preventable blood clots and untreated infections. Survivors can be left paralyzed or unable to have more children.
The vast majority of women in America give birth without incident. But each year, more than 50,000 are severely injured. About 700 mothers die. The best estimates say that half of these deaths could be prevented and half the injuries reduced or eliminated with better care.
Instead, the U.S. continues to watch other countries improve as it falls behind. Today, this is the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth.
Lohud.com: Volunteer fire embezzlement sparks oversight in Croton, Mahopac, Patterson, Briarcliff
Stunned by the rash of brazen embezzlement from volunteer fire departments throughout the Lower Hudson Valley, municipalities and the departments that protect them have shored up oversight to prevent it from happening again.
The thefts were substantial.
The Mahopac Volunteer Fire Department treasurer’s theft of $5.7 million was discovered in 2015, the same year the Patterson Fire Department treasurer swiped $1.1 million by writing 130 checks to companies he owned.
Croton-on-Hudson in 2018 discovered that $313,000 was purloined by one of the department’s former chiefs. The Briarcliff Manor Fire Council's former treasurer drained $120,000 from its accounts by writing 150 checks to himself.
And federal investigators are still probing the loss of $40,000 from one of the Port Chester Volunteer Fire Department's seven companies — the Putnam Engine & Hose Co.
“We need more eyes on the books,” said Robert Outhouse, president of the Westchester County Volunteer Firemen's Association. “We are trying to get all departments on the same page as far as audits and double checks so this doesn’t happen again.”
Read more: https://www.lohud.com/story/money/personal-finance/taxes/david-mckay-wilson/2018/07/25/embezzlement-sparks-oversight-volunteer-fire-departments-croton-mahopac-patterson-briarcliff/823058002/
Sarasota Herald-Tribune: The confounding state of child care in Florida
BRADENTON — It is 6:45 on a Friday morning, and Carina Piovera is trying to enjoy a cup of Cafe Bustelo coffee in the kitchen of her Bradenton day care, 14 minutes before the first kid will arrive.
The owner and director of My First Steps child care center has reams of paperwork due to the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee later in the day. Nap time will be filled with administrative tasks, and she needs to pay her staff.
As the first kids arrive at 6:59, Piovera receives hugs and updates on what took place in the 13 hours since she last saw them.
“I coughed last night,” says one.
“This morning I had a tummyache,” says another.
It’s toddler small-talk — the equivalent of commenting on the traffic or weather.
“I’ll see you at 6,” parents say as they leave, headed to work at restaurants and construction sites.
Payment for the week is due at the end of the day, so in 11 hours those parents will return with envelopes of cash. For some, the fee will be close to half their pay for the week.
The high cost of child care in Florida is well-documented — a year at My First Steps could easily cost upward of $8,000, more than the base tuition at University of Florida. Though the retail workers, security guards and waitresses who rely on My First Steps struggle to afford that, Piovera can’t charge any less.
But thousands in tuition doesn’t mean child care workers are getting rich.
A parent whose 3 or 4-year old child stays with Piovera from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday will owe her $165 for the week. That comes to $3 an hour for Piovera and her staff of four.
Florida’s child care industry is a case study in market failure — providers are selling their services at fire-sale prices, but it is still too expensive for the consumers.
Providers are just scraping by while parents are breaking the bank to pay for child care. Although the issue isn’t isolated to the Sunshine State, child care experts point to a multitude of Florida-specific factors.
Low barriers to entry means more centers open, creating more vacancy at existing providers. State funding remains flat. And too many providers aren’t demanding to be paid what their services are worth.
Meanwhile, research is proving that high-quality early learning is increasingly valuable. Providers are shedding the “day care” label as academic studies prove the difference a high-quality learning environment makes for a child from birth to age 5.
Seattle Times: He’s Mexican. She’s American. Deportation forced this Washington state family to make a choice.
HOQUIAM, Grays Harbor County — Erika Lopez woke up feeling sick. She hadn’t slept well, and her mind raced.
It was her last day working the front desk at an Ocean Shores hotel. It was a new job she wanted to keep.
But Erika and her family were moving out of their home in nearby Hoquiam, away from where she was born and raised, where her mother, sister and brother still live, and where at a Cinco de Mayo party many years ago, she caught the eye of the man who would become her husband.
“Honestly, I’m scared as hell right now,” Erika said.
They were going to Mexico. She knew only a little Spanish. The kids knew less.Her husband, like hundreds of thousands of people every year, was being deported. Juan Lopez sneaked across the border when he was about 16, and for a while gained legal residency. Now he’s 50.
As with so many cases, his expulsion affects not just one person but a family. Some split up. Others leave together, even when spouses and children are American citizens.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently reported deporting nearly 12,500 people who said they had at least one child born in the United States. That was just for the first half of 2017. Up to 600,000 children who are American citizens live in Mexico alone, some due to deportation and others whose families have voluntarily returned, according to an estimate by the government there.
For Americans who follow deported spouses, there is no figure. But Randall Emery, president of the advocacy group American Families United, says he’s sure it’s in the thousands.
Dallas Morning News: Atmos' gas leaks go far beyond one northwest Dallas neighborhood. See how bad the problem is.
A sharp increase in natural gas leaks has plagued neighborhoods across North Texas this year, from Irving to Oak Cliff to Preston Hollow.
Large swaths of north and northwest Dallas had more hazardous leaks during the first half of 2018 than in any year since 2015, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of data filed with state regulators by Atmos Energy Corp.
These leaks -- the most serious type, which required immediate fixes -- were reported along neighborhood gas lines that snake through working-class areas between Dallas’ two major airports, as well as tony North Dallas streets dotted with multimillion-dollar homes.
Atmos found so many natural gas leaks in northwest Dallas that it now plans to replace a pipeline network covering an area more than four times the size of White Rock Lake.
This gas line replacement extends well beyond the northwest Dallas neighborhood where leaks fueled three explosions and fires in February, including one that killed 12-year-old Linda Rogers. Those blasts launched a federal investigation and prompted Atmos Energy to replace aging pipelines to 2,800 homes in that neighborhood.
Since then, Atmos has done more frequent searches for gas leaks in the Dallas area using high-tech tools, the company said in a statement Friday.
"As would be expected, the result has been a higher number of found and repaired leaks ultimately enhancing the safety of our system," the statement said.
Our data analysis reveals potential widespread problems with aging and wear and tear in the gas delivery system running under customers’ homes and businesses all over Dallas County.
The Tennessean: In Tennessee, where you live can affect your mental health
DOWELLTOWN, Tenn. — Five-year-old Bryson Hines stands in the bedroom he shares with his sister and pounds repeatedly on the closed door, sending echoes through the brick ranch house in rural Dowelltown.
He's on a timeout.
In the kitchen, his mom, Tasha Burrage, lights a cigarette and exhales in a mixture of stress and release.
Her spirited, and at times aggressive, blond-haired boy was born in a Tennessee June a couple of years after she graduated from high school. Two years later, she had a daughter.
The 25-year-old mother lived in housing projects in rural DeKalb County then, in recovery for addiction, she says. She was dealing with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by childhood abuse, yet she was unable to get the mental health care she needed.
She didn't have insurance and had just sold her beat-up '99 Mazda Protege with its busted transmission to the junkyard, leaving her without transportation.
Life could have continued that way, but when she lost custody of her two kids after a violent night with a previous boyfriend, Burrage finally found a way to get support.
"I didn’t like being away from them," she says, "but it helped me do what I needed most. I went back to counseling ... ."
It is estimated that more than 1 million Tennesseans ages 18 and older have a mental health or substance use disorder. Many are uninsured.
Studies have shown that the risk for serious mental illness is generally higher in cities, but those living in rural areas can face greater barriers to diagnosis and treatment due to lack of services and access to transportation.
Experts say the state has one of the best first-response systems in the country, serving every Tennessee county, but before and after a mental health emergency finding help can be a challenge.
Columbus Dispatch: Was CVS favored by state in multimillion-dollar deal to provide HIV drugs?
State officials awarded a contract to CVS last year that allowed the national pharmacy company not only to control federal money for HIV drugs in Ohio, but also to require patients to buy their medicine only at CVS pharmacies.
Critics say that the contract arranged by the administration of Gov. John Kasich does not make the $8.1 million worth of drugs as widely available as they would be in an open pharmacy network that went beyond CVS. Nor is it the best way to ensure that HIV patients take their potentially life-saving drugs as they should, they say.
These questions come amid others about whether CVS is benefiting from outsized profits on billions of dollars of business it does with another state agency — the Ohio Department of Medicaid. State legislators, the state auditor and attorney general all are probing that setup.
CVS Caremark also took charge of a mailing to patients last year that potentially exposed their HIV-positive status to the public. But CVS Caremark wasn't supposed to be handling that mailing, according to the state's request-for-proposals that resulted in CVS getting the contract for the HIV assistance program.
The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program provides 6,500 needy, HIV-positive Ohioans with drugs that allow them to live near-normal lives despite carrying an otherwise-fatal virus. The drugs are free for patients who qualify for the state to serve as the "payer of last resort."
The Ohio Department of Health would not answer several questions because of pending lawsuits, including whether anyone other than CVS — with its large retail and mail-order operations — could have even offered a closed network of the kind for which the state expressed a preference going into the process.
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Ten years after the raids: Here were the people charged in the Cuyahoga County corruption probe
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- While the Cuyahoga County corruption probe started in 2007, July 28, 2008 was really the day it broke wide open.
More than 100 federal agents fanned out across the county, armed with search warrants, and raided government offices, homes and businesses. It became readily apparent that the targets of the joint FBI and IRS investigation were county commissioner Jimmy Dimora and auditor Frank Russo.
While some defendants were already aware of the federal investigation, others reacted in panic.
Witnesses and targets started cooperating. Federal investigators uncovered numerous schemes that embodied the pay-to-play culture that had long been taken for granted in the county.
It resulted, depending on how you count, in felony convictions against more than 70 government officials, employees, contractors and business people. The cases spanned years, with the last defendant being sentenced in June 2016.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said it collected more than $5.1 million in restitution.
Ten years later, the change in Cuyahoga County is evident. A year after the raids, county voters elected to change the form of government from commission-based to one with a county executive.
While corruption cases have come to light since then, none has been on the scale of what was known as Operation Airball.
Almost all the defendants pleaded guilty, with the exception of Dimora and a few others. Many cooperated with federal agents. A significant number of people who were imprisoned got out early for good behavior. Others remain incarcerated.
On the 10-year anniversary of the raids that led the corruption probe to go public, here is a comprehensive list over everyone charged, what they did and how they were punished. The cases are presented in the order in which the defendants were charged or penalties were made public, starting in 2009 and ending in 2016.
NJ.com: They scammed consumers. Some owe millions. Why can't the state get them to pay?
The list goes on and on.
Contractors who bilked customers for thousands of dollars, not completing work, doing substandard construction or in some cases, never starting the jobs.
Travel gurus who promised discounted trips to would-be vacationers, stealing consumers' cash, even leaving some stranded overseas without reservations or return flights.
A huckster who pledged to install bomb shelters for homeowners looking for safe havens on their properties.
The state of New Jersey is owed more than $76 million in unpaid fines, restitution and fees from prosecution of consumer fraud cases, but taxpayers will probably never see that money because the state said it lacks sufficient tools and resources to go after offenders who don't willingly pay up after civil cases.
The Division of Consumer Affairs can go back to court with renewed civil demands, put liens on real property and bank accounts and even seize assets. Consumer Affairs can also refer a case for criminal prosecution, but that is an extreme step and does not often lead to charges or financial collections.
The biggest challenge? Sometimes the money just isn't there. In some cases, the defendant has declared bankruptcy or has hidden assets in a relative's name, for instance.
Bamboozled reviewed five years of records -- from 2012 to 2017 -- from Consumer Affairs, a civil arm of the Attorney General's office.
We wanted to know how much the state was able to win in court or through settlement agreements, and how much it was able to collect.
Over those five years, Consumer Affairs won or was awarded $177.2 million in more than 1,300 cases that included Notices of Violation, Orders on Default and Final Judgments. (Collectively, we will call these matters "settlements.")
The defendants paid more than $100 million on the debts.
That leaves $76.6 million, or more than 43 percent, uncollected.
Las Vegas Review-Journal: Clark County sends many to death row, but executions are rare
Las Vegas sits in the heart of a death penalty triangle.
While Nevada has struggled to execute a condemned killer who volunteered for his sentence to be carried out and as other parts of the country move away from capital punishment, Clark County jurors handed down the second most death sentences of any county in the United States last year.
Of the 39 ultimate penalties imposed across the country in 2017, 31 percent were delivered in three southwest counties, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Riverside County in California issued five, Clark County issued four and Maricopa County in Arizona issued three. The entire state of Texas handed down four death sentences last year, while the rest of the country imposed 23.
In Riverside, considered the leader in California’s death penalty, there are 15 pending capital cases, compared with at least 60 in Clark County. The two counties have nearly identical populations.
Top Clark County prosecutor Steve Wolfson has pursued the death penalty in 71 cases since he took office in 2012. Those numbers have been on the rise in recent years, with his office filing notices of intent to seek the death penalty eight times this year, 16 times in 2017, and 14 times in 2016. In his first year in office, Wolfson sought the death penalty in five cases.
This year, a Las Vegas jury sentenced a 63-year-old man to die.
“We need to recognize that based upon what I’ve been told, a majority of Nevadans still favor the death penalty,” Wolfson said. “The death penalty is still the law of the land.”
Yet in Nevada, condemned prisoners are four times more likely to be taken off death row through the legal process than by execution. Since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1977, jurors have returned 189 death sentences for 160 people, including 140 times in 120 cases in Clark County. Nearly half of the state’s death sentences — 92 — have been reversed. Among those, 51 people have been permanently removed from death row.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: What did we learn from the Great Flood of '93? Not much, say many.
ST. LOUIS • The small town of Valmeyer, Ill., which had hugged the edge of the Mississippi River flood plain for more than 80 years, was essentially wiped off the map — forced to move to higher ground nearby.
Forty miles to the west, the muddy waters of the Missouri River poured into the Chesterfield Valley, inundating some 250 businesses.
Highway 40 (Interstate 64) was closed temporarily by the massive flood; an estimated 4,000 people locally were without jobs for months.
In the region, thousands of homes were flooded; some were swept away entirely.
Twenty-five years ago this week, one of the worst flooding events in U.S. history paralyzed the St. Louis area and much of the Midwest.
In the aftermath of the devastating Flood of 1993, officials vowed to learn from the disaster and reduce future flood risk.
Yet major floods have struck the area with unusual frequency in the years since — and some experts say the region is now even more vulnerable.
Kansas City Star: Congress didn’t act after 1999 duck boat tragedy. Experts say it must after Branson
Mary Schiavo read the headlines in horror 19 years ago when 13 people on board a duck boat in Arkansas drowned after it sank in Lake Hamilton.
The former Inspector General for the Department of Transportation thought then that Congress and the U.S. Coast Guard should act immediately. They needed to strengthen regulations regarding canopies on the vessels, enforce stringent life jacket requirements and either ban duck boats altogether or crack down on their industry.
None of that happened.
Then came the horrific headlines last week from another duck boat tragedy on Table Rock Lake near Branson. This time, 17 of the 31 on board were dead, five of them children.
Not again, she thought.
Today, Schiavo is part of a growing chorus of experts, lawmakers and safety advocates who insist change to these boats should happen soon. Not in a year or two when the federal investigation is finished. But now, when duck boats are still transporting tourists on lakes and waterways in several states across the country.
“If people want laws, they need to push for them right now,” said Schiavo, a transportation lawyer who was inspector general from 1990 to 1996. “What happens is you have this critical period of time after a tragedy in which you can get action. ... But as soon as Congress isn’t under the microscope anymore, it becomes very difficult.”
The nation learned that lesson after the deadly duck boat disaster on Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Ark. A long list of recommendations, which the National Transportation Safety Board came out with three years after the tragedy, was virtually ignored.
“If they had been (implemented), they would have saved this boat,” Schiavo said.
That inaction can’t happen again, lawmakers and safety advocates agree.
The Boston Globe: Welcome to the Quiet Skies
Federal air marshals have begun following ordinary US citizens not suspected of a crime or on any terrorist watch list and collecting extensive information about their movements and behavior under a new domestic surveillance program that is drawing criticism from within the agency.
The previously undisclosed program, called “Quiet Skies,” specifically targets travelers who “are not under investigation by any agency and are not in the Terrorist Screening Data Base,” according to a Transportation Security Administration bulletin in March.
The internal bulletin describes the program’s goal as thwarting threats to commercial aircraft “posed by unknown or partially known terrorists,” and gives the agency broad discretion over which air travelers to focus on and how closely they are tracked.
But some air marshals, in interviews and internal communications shared with the Globe, say the program has them tasked with shadowing travelers who appear to pose no real threat — a businesswoman who happened to have traveled through a Mideast hot spot, in one case; a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, in another; a fellow federal law enforcement officer, in a third.
It is a time-consuming and costly assignment, they say, which saps their ability to do more vital law enforcement work.
TSA officials, in a written statement to the Globe, broadly defended the agency’s efforts to deter potential acts of terror. But the agency declined to discuss whether Quiet Skies has intercepted any threats, or even to confirm that the program exists.
Release of such information “would make passengers less safe,” spokesman James Gregory said in the statement.
Already under Quiet Skies, thousands of unsuspecting Americans have been subjected to targeted airport and inflight surveillance, carried out by small teams of armed, undercover air marshals, government documents show. The teams document whether passengers fidget, use a computer, have a “jump” in their Adam’s apple or a “cold penetrating stare,” among other behaviors, according to the records.
Boston Globe: Lawmakers demand answers on ‘Quiet Skies’ surveillance program after Globe report
Amid a barrage of criticism from lawmakers, top Transportation Security Administration officials agreed Monday to brief Congress this week on a secret domestic surveillance program in which federal air marshals track ordinary US citizens at airports and on airplanes.
The response came after the Globe reported that the TSA in March began actively conducting surveillance of people who were not suspected of a crime or were not on a terrorist watch list, but who had caught the agency’s attention because of where they had flown, among other criteria.
Teams of air marshals have compiled data on the behavior of thousands of travelers under the “Quiet Skies” program, documenting whether they chatted with others, appeared sweaty or fidgety, or exhibited other actions.
“I am troubled by reports that the TSA is tracking US citizens who are not suspected of any crime and then monitoring seemingly innocuous behavior such as whether a person slept on their plane, used the bathroom, or obtained a rental car,” Senator Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, wrote Monday in a letter to the agency that included a number of questions about the program.
The Globe revealed the existence of the Quiet Skies program on Sunday, prompting complaints from lawmakers and civil liberties groups. In response, TSA officials said they have scheduled briefings later this week with the four committees that oversee the agency.
The Baltimore Sun: National firms are starting to snap up Maryland's medical marijuana licenses. Regulators want to prevent that
When state officials wrote the rules for Maryland’s lucrative new medical marijuana industry, they were guided by a few principles. They wanted to foster local businesses, encourage competition and spread opportunity as widely as possible.
To help bring about those conditions, the rulemakers tried to limit companies to owning no more than one store to sell the drug. Their goal was to create a level playing field on which many smaller players could thrive.
But less than a year after the industry launched, some firms have gained control of multiple dispensaries. Now lawmakers are concerned the rules have left the state vulnerable to large out-of-state corporations swooping in and dominating the budding industry.
At least two companies now operate more than one store in Maryland, according to corporate records.
One, Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries, states in investment documents of “controlling ownership over five retail dispensaries” in Anne Arundel, Harford and Montgomery counties, to complement its growing and processing licenses in Maryland and other states.
“We own the booze. We own the bar,” GTI declares in an investor presentation obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
Portland Press Herald: Protectors of Maine’s vulnerable kids at DHHS feel hobbled
Maine child protection caseworkers have been concerned since late last year that widespread problems within their agency were making their jobs harder and putting vulnerable children at risk.
High staff turnover. Low morale. Unmanageable caseloads. Some even said they felt intimidated by superiors.
Many workers said their biggest fear at the end of each workday was whether they missed something and, if they did, what the consequence might be for a child.
“This job is hard under the best of conditions and we haven’t been close to (good conditions) for a long time,” said one caseworker, who like others asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution.
After the deaths of Chick and Kennedy, DHHS launched an internal review and started to make changes meant to improve the child protective system. The Legislature also ordered an investigation by its watchdog arm, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, which is still pending.
Caseworkers, though, say many of the corrective steps taken by DHHS have only made matters worse.
More paperwork. A mandate to revisit some cases that had been closed. The sudden and unexplained reassignment of cases from the district office in Rockland, which has resulted in more travel and even bigger caseloads for many. A shift away from a collaborative relationship with families to a more authoritative approach, which has led to more children being removed and, frequently, caseworkers being forced to stay in hotels with children until they can find placement.
The Des Moines Register: Before the fatal crash: What happened the night Benjamin Beary went drinking at The Keg Stand?
Benjamin Beary felt generous the last night of his life.
It was Friday, March 25, 2016, and Beary was at The Keg Stand watching the NCAA men’s basketball Sweet 16. While the Iowa State Cyclone men played poorly, the University of North Carolina — the team Beary said he backed with a bet — won handily. Beary bought a pitcher of beer for a Tar Heel fan and shots of whiskey for others, documents filed in Polk County Court show.
Beary, who weighed about 160 pounds, spent about six hours at the bar, drank at least eight beers and downed a shot of whiskey, a forensic toxicology consultant wrote after reviewing surveillance video from the bar and other materials.
About 30 minutes after leaving The Keg Stand, Beary was driving 103 miles per hour the wrong way on Interstate Highway 80 just west of Waukee. He crashed his vehicle head-on into a Des Moines police vehicle, killing two officers and a prisoner. Beary, whose vehicle burst into flames, was killed instantly.
An autopsy showed Beary had a blood-alcohol content of 0.223 percent, nearly three times the 0.08 percent legal limit for driving. In Iowa, it's also illegal to serve alcohol to an intoxicated person. The families of those killed, including Beary's, claimed in lawsuits that staff at The Keg Stand "knew or should have known" Beary was intoxicated.
Yet Iowa's Alcoholic Beverages Division took no action against the bar.
In fact, the agency rarely sanctions establishments for over-service, a Des Moines Register review of division records shows. In the past decade, just 24 over-service complaints have been filed against the 6,750 Iowa establishments licensed to serve alcohol. Seventeen of the complaints resulted in sanctions.
The horrific March 2016 crash prompted an outpouring of sympathy to the Des Moines Police Department. Iowans spoke out in favor of crackdowns on impaired driving and raised questions about The Keg Stand's culpability in serving alcohol to Beary.
While 47 states have laws that ban providing alcohol to someone who is drunk, most states seldom sanction establishments for over-service. Twelve states with higher sanction rates have adopted a program that tracks where intoxicated people had their last drink. Iowa is now taking steps to implement the program, called Place of Last Drink.
A detailed review of court documents by the Register shows gaps in evidence of Beary's whereabouts before, during and after his time at The Keg Stand, which raised the possibility that he bought and consumed alcohol from elsewhere. Marijuana also was found in his system. And Beary showed no visible signs of intoxication in the surveillance video, the toxicology consultant concluded.
The Register's review sheds new light on Beary’s activities before the crash, why the licensing agency didn’t fine The Keg Stand for serving an intoxicated person and why the bar’s liquor license wasn’t suspended or revoked.
Chicago Tribune: Chicago children sexually attacked by peers at school amid lax supervision
The two 15-year-old boys, both with autism and developmental disabilities, were in the Bogan high school bathroom alone. One, a burly sophomore, had a history of violent outbursts and sexual aggression. The other was unable to sense danger.
Each had a special-education plan that required constant supervision by a school aide, their school records show. Even on bathroom trips.
But no one was supervising in 2016 when the towering aggressor allegedly told the other student to bend over and pull down his pants before penetrating the boy, who was slim and shorter by nearly a foot, records show. And no one was watching when the larger boy allegedly attacked the same student two more times that same year, first in a school bathroom and then during an off-campus Special Olympics field trip, also in a bathroom.
"The bottom line is I blame the school because no one was watching them," said the alleged victim's mother. "It shouldn't have happened."
The aggressive student was allowed to be alone with the other boy even though he had been found two years earlier in a bathroom stall with a different boy whose pants were pulled down, according to a pending lawsuit. And after the latest incidents, he allegedly went on to sexually attack another student in a bathroom while unsupervised, according to school and police records.
The Chicago Tribune's reporting on predatory adults in its "Betrayed" series already has resulted in an overhaul of the Chicago Public Schools' child-safety programs as well as bipartisan state legislative support for new laws to protect students.
Now, in an examination of student-on-student sexual attacks, the Tribune found that Chicago students also were violated by classmates as employees failed to keep them safe.
San Francisco Chronicle: Working in a wasteland
Fourteen years before the lump appeared on his neck, Nelson Lum’s San Francisco police unit was transferred to a new office in an unexpected location: the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.
The shipyard is a federal Superfund waste site. By definition, it’s one of the most contaminated places in the country, tainted by radioactivity, heavy metals and other pollution. But in 1996, the toxic land offered what few places in San Francisco could: lots of space for a low price.
That year, the city decided to lease a large, empty building owned by the Navy for below-market rates. Known only as Building 606, it became the new headquarters for some specialized police units, including the SWAT team, the bomb squad, the Honda Unit, the K-9 Unit and the crime lab. Before long, more than 100 officers and civilians were clocking in at the shipyard every day.
It was safe, according to the city and the Navy. They told the people in Building 606 that any nearby contaminants were minimal, too scant to cause harm.
“The building is clean, absolutely, and the area around it is clean,” a Navy representative promised in a March 1997 news story.
But at times, the cops felt unsure. Lum took Police Academy recruits on training runs around the shipyard, and more than once he was stunned when they passed Navy contractors outfitted in HazMat gear: goggles, respirators, disposable Tyvek uniforms.
“I’m in my shorts, and here are these guys walking around in space suits,” Lum recalled. “What’s wrong with this picture?”
Lum, 70, spent thousands of hours at the shipyard over eight years. He worked there every day for about a year, then returned regularly as a sergeant to lead SWAT exercises and academy trainings. He retired in 2005 and didn’t think much more about it.
Arizona Republic: As land values rise in Phoenix area, mobile-home parks disappear
Almost 85,000 trailers, manufactured homes and mobile homes dot metro Phoenix.
The Phoenix area has historically had a higher percentage of households living in factory-built homes than other major cities around the West. These mobile-home parks have been a significant part of metro Phoenix’s housing market since the 1950s, particularly for retirees and low-income families.
But as house and land values rise, mobile-home parks are being increasingly pushed out of the Valley's more urban areas. Investors are buying a record number of parks this year, according to an analysis of sales by The Arizona Republic.
Some investors are purchasing popular newer communities with golf courses and other upscale features to rent to the mobile snowbirds visiting in the winter. Others are buying to become landlords because the parks are usually full and provide a steady flow of rents.
But a growing number of new owners of older mobile-home communities are working on turning them into new, higher-priced developments.
Montgomery Advertiser: Wastewater treatment is a problem in the rural South. Who is working to fix it?
HAYNEVILLE — There are times where you walk outside Hayneville’s Family Dollar and smell it, the stench hanging thick in the Black Belt air.
Mary McDonald has seen schoolchildren steer their bikes through it, dark streams spider-webbing the cracked asphalt as rubber wheels splash through.
Charlie Mae Holcombe has heard it, an ominous gurgle from her toilets and sinks after heavy spring rains.
“It’s been so bad, it’s come up through my bathtub,” Holcombe said. “When it really storms, my yard is like a river. It’s terrible. You can smell it through the walls. It purely stinks."
In the best-case scenarios, Holcombe’s grandchildren play inside for a spell, avoiding a front lawn-turned-swamp pooling with sewage from a clogged septic system. In the worst case, the raw waste creeps through pipes inside the Holcombe home, ruining yet another carpet and forcing the family to stay in Montgomery while everything dries out.
Holcombe and McDonald are just two of thousands of Alabamians living with inefficient or failing wastewater treatment systems — a problem that has persisted for decades in both rural and urban areas. Holcombe has been dealing with waste flooding her front yard since the late 1980s when it was built.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • July 26, 2018
Sacramento Bee: Did an innocent man die in prison for a murder committed by the East Area Rapist?
The day after Christmas in 1975, Donna Jo Richmond, 14, was expected home before dark.
She had left her house in Exeter — the Central Valley town between Fresno and Bakersfield — earlier that afternoon, wearing new clothes she’d received as holiday gifts and riding her bike to feed some farm animals and visit friends.
But as the sun sank and the valley fog thickened, she had not returned and her mother grew concerned.
Richmond’s family went looking for her, but all they found was more worry and her bicycle, damaged and abandoned, in a neighbor’s orange grove. Underneath it was a handyman’s invoice book with a name inside that pointed to a suspect: Oscar Archie Clifton.
Police knew Clifton, then 35, a carpenter and painter, with a decade-old conviction for assault and attempted rape, who lived nearby. Just after midnight, they arrested him for kidnapping. Hours later, a farm worker found Richmond dead in another grove a few miles away. She had been strangled and stabbed and was naked from the waist down.
The charges against Clifton were upped to murder, and a year later, he was convicted of abducting, attempting to rape and killing Richmond. He died in prison in 2013 while serving a life sentence, but maintained his innocence during his decades of incarceration.
Recently, Joesph DeAngelo Jr., was arrested at this home in Citrus Heights on suspicion of being the East Area Rapist (aka the Golden State Killer), thought to be responsible for more than 50 rapes and a dozen murders throughout California. Authorities also believe he is responsible for a series of burglaries and Peeping Tom incidents in Tulare County, credited to the Visalia Ransacker.
San Diego Union-Tribune: County failed repeatedly to stop sexual abuse of foster children, lawsuit alleges
When a 6-year-old boy identified as A.G. in court records told his social worker in January 2006 that his foster father was hurting him, she dismissed his request for a new home.
When staff members at a family recovery center saw A.G. acting out sexually in 2007 and told the county they suspected his foster father was abusing him, the county did not intervene.
When San Diego County sheriff’s deputies in 2008 took A.G. to the county’s emergency shelter for children after an incident involving a neighbor child, A.G. told social workers that he was being sexually abused. He was returned to his foster father, Michael Jarome Hayes, within 18 hours.
Those lapses are alleged in a 2016 lawsuit by A.G. and his twin brother, M.G. They are suing the county and 14 of its social workers for leaving them at Hayes’ mercy despite more than a dozen reports of suspected abuse from an educator, a lawyer, a psychologist and others.
County social workers allegedly ignored some reports completely. They failed to properly investigate others, deciding again and again to the keep the children in Hayes’ home, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the abuse only stopped in 2013 — more than seven years after the boy’s first complaint — when San Diego police officers responded to Hayes’ own report that A.G. ran away.
Hayes was later arrested and faced 28 felony charges of sexual molestation and other crimes against A.G., M.G., another foster son the county had placed in Hayes’ care and two of Hayes’ young cousins.
Hayes pleaded guilty to eight of the charges, admitting to specific lewd acts including putting his hands and mouth on three of the boys’ feet for sexual arousal and touching A.G.’s genitals.
A.G. and M.G. are now adults, battling the phantoms of their childhood. What went wrong? Why did no one listen? How did Hayes end up as a foster parent in the first place?
A two-month review of court records and police reports and interviews with foster care experts and people involved in the lawsuit suggested a series of lapses.
Miami Herald: How dirty is Miami real estate? Secret home deals dried up when feds started watching
When a company called the Flower of Scotland paid $1.13 million — in cash — for a three-bedroom condo in Sunny Isles Beach last year, it had to do something unusual: tell the federal government who its real owner was.
In years past, the Delaware-based shell company could have put down the money and walked away with a new condo — and a boat slip near Dumfoundling Bay — no questions asked. But that secrecy was stripped away in early 2016 when the U.S. Treasury Department imposed a temporary transparency rule on Miami-Dade County and Manhattan, two of the nation’s most attractive real estate markets to dark money.
The simple disclosure requirement offered the opportunity for an enticing experiment: If regulators asked anonymous cash buyers like the Flower of Scotland to reveal their true owners, what would happen?
Now, a new working paper from economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the University of Miami offers one answer: The anonymous cash buyers stopped buying homes — at least using the method targeted by regulators.
In Miami-Dade, the first-of-its-kind study found a 95 percent drop in how much cash shell companies and other corporate entities spent on homes. The decline began immediately after the rule took effect in March 2016.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Shadowy Gwinnett lab goes bankrupt and debt collectors hound patients
A Gwinnett County toxicology lab accused in a kickback scheme to bilk Medicare out of millions of tax dollars is causing headaches for people around the nation as debt collectors try to collect on alleged unpaid lab bills.
For Deborah Smith of Houston, Texas, the calls started this spring from a debt collection agency seeking $1,400 in past due bills for urinalysis tests for her adult son. There was no explanation, no paperwork — just a bill.
“I’m getting a phone call every day now,” she said. “We already paid $125 for each drug screen each time he went to the doctor.”
For Tara Ross, another Texas resident, the bill was $1,000 for a test allegedly done in November 2015. Ross asked the debt collector to show her some documentation explaining the charge. She hasn’t heard back from them, so she called her doctor.
“He was like, ‘Throw it away. Don’t pay it,’” she said.
Then there is Richard Carter, who lives in Thomasville, Ga. Carter received a “past due” notice from a bill collector for $1,600.
“Supposedly this was drug testing, urine samples,” Carter, 65, said. “I have never had any of that done.”
Smith, Ross, Carter and others who contacted The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wondered why they suddenly were getting calls about alleged “past-due” bills for tests performed by a lab they had never heard of: Confirmatrix Laboratory.
The Times-Picayune: 'Dangerously close to complete collapse': Engineer's email gives detailed insight into March 2017 S&WB turbine failures
The Sewerage & Water Board's power system came "dangerously close to complete collapse" in March of 2017, months before flooding last Aug. 5 revealed severe problems in the utility's power and drainage facilities, according to an engineer the city hired to assess those facilities. He also assessed that water pressure dropped twice to "dangerously low levels ... without anyone noticing."
After reviewing activity logs from the Sewerage & Water Board's power station, engineer Matt McBride learned all four of the utility's 25-cycle power turbines either failed or were already down during the five-day period from March 7-11, 2017.
He emailed his assessment to a former top city official on Sept. 29, 2017, amid emergency repair efforts by the utility to patch the aged power turbines. Officials say those repairs have brought more power to the power system than has been available since before Hurricane Katrina.
McBride's assessment offers insight into the state of the Sewerage & Water Board's power generation system shortly before two summer deluges flooded the city in July and August.
"The events from March 7th forward are far worse than what has been publicly revealed," McBride emailed.
McBride's emailed assessment was among several records reviewed this month by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune through a public records request.
The Boston Globe: Conservative plan, years in the making, is occurring as Trump fills federal bench
WASHINGTON — President Trump is not only poised to put his conservative imprint on the Supreme Court, but he’s restocking vacancies throughout lower US courts at a historic clip, ensuring a judicial legacy that will last decades.
Trump has appointed 44 judges since taking office — including more appellate judges than any president in American history at this point in his tenure. He has another 88 nominees currently pending before the US Senate; and with an aging federal bench, future opportunities will assuredly arise. If Trump is able to fill just the current vacancies alone, he will be responsible for installing more than one-fifth of the sitting judges in the United States.
It is the fruits of decades of labor by conservatives — or, critics might say, the result of calculated partisan attacks on a process that once had at least a hint of bipartisan flavor — that has allowed Republicans to send like-minded appointees to this powerful branch of government.
“From the conservative perspective, it is a great triumph, a great victory,” said Sheldon Goldman, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who studies presidential nominees to the federal courts.
“Trump may talk about great success with North Korea or Russia and the like. We know that’s not credible,” he added. “But when he talks about the judiciary, that’s credible. He has made a great difference. It is an absolute phenomenon, really.”
Trump’s methodical efficiency in remaking the judicial system — not just on the high-profile Supreme Court choices of Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and nominee Brett Kavanaugh — has been one of the largely unnoticed aspects of a presidency marked by chaos in many aspects of foreign and domestic policy. Almost once a week on average, the Senate has been processing a judicial nomination, sending yet another Trump-approved judge to the bench.
Star-Tribune: Denied Justice: Sexual assault cases in the Twin Cities and across Minnesota are being investigated poorly or not at all
Brooke Morath barely saw the man who attacked her.
He lunged from the dark early one morning in Minneapolis, blinding her with pepper spray as she scraped snow off her car. Then he tackled her face down onto the frozen ground and raped her.
Bleeding, her eyes burning, Morath staggered to a friend’s house and banged on a window for help, pleading for someone to call 911.
Over the next few hours, the University of Minnesota pre-med student did everything she could to help investigators. She went to the hospital for a sexual assault exam. To preserve possible evidence, she didn’t shower or wash her clothing. When police officers arrived, she answered their questions calmly. An investigator assured Morath that her case was his top priority.
Within days, however, she began to have doubts. She discovered that the police crime alert for her rape listed an inaccurate address. And that officers had missed three nearby businesses while canvassing the neighborhood for surveillance video. Eventually, she said, police stopped returning her calls.
That was two years ago.
Today, Morath has lost hope that police will ever find the man who raped her, and she worries that he is still preying on other women.
“It’s a terrifying, humiliating and defeating feeling,” she said. “It shouldn’t be this hard for a victim.”
It often is. Each year in Minnesota, more than 2,000 women report being raped or sexually assaulted. Hundreds of them discover a crushing fact: They stand little chance of getting justice.
A Star Tribune review of more than 1,000 sexual assault cases, filed around the state in a recent two-year period, reveals chronic errors and investigative failings by Minnesota’s largest law enforcement agencies, including those in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: St. Louis Uber driver has put video of hundreds of passengers online. Most have no idea.
ST. LOUIS — On a recent Saturday night, two women in their early 20s called an Uber from Ballpark Village in downtown St. Louis.
Within minutes “Jason” arrived driving a black Chevrolet Silverado. They climbed into the pickup’s back seat, illuminated by purple lights.
The driver, a bearded man in his 30s, was friendly. The women asked where he went to high school. They joked about friends they were going to meet at a bar across town.
But there was something the women didn’t know: Their driver was streaming a live video of them to the internet, and comments from viewers were pouring in.
The blonde is a 7, the brunette a 5, someone with the username “DrunkenEric” commented.
“She doesn’t sit like a lady though,” another viewer added.
“This is creepy,” said another.
The women are among hundreds of St. Louis area Uber passengers who have been streamed online without their knowledge by their driver, Jason Gargac, 32, of Florissant.
Gargac has given about 700 rides in the area since March through Uber, plus more with Lyft. Nearly all have been streamed to his channel on Twitch, a live video website popular with video gamers where Gargac goes by the username “JustSmurf.”
Passengers have included children, drunk college students and unwitting public figures such as a local TV news reporter and Jerry Cantrell, lead guitarist with the band Alice in Chains.
First names, and occasionally full names, are revealed. Homes are shown. Passengers have thrown up, kissed, talked trash about relatives and friends and complained about their bosses in Gargac’s truck.
All the while, an unseen online audience watches, evaluating women’s bodies, judging parents and mocking conversations.
Las Vegas Review-Journal: LVCVA boss pursues retirement payout amid criminal investigation
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Rossi Ralenkotter is taking steps to collect a retirement settlement that could cost taxpayers tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, even as Las Vegas police conduct a criminal investigation into the tourism agency’s spending practices.
Ralenkotter is the third-highest-paid public official in the state, with a salary and benefits package valued at $863,000 annually. He does not have an employment contract, and the LVCVA has no legal obligation to pay Ralenkotter a retirement settlement. Based on his tenure, Ralenkotter will begin collecting a state pension of about $400,000 a year upon retirement.
He has hired an attorney to negotiate a retirement payment with the authority’s 14-member board of directors, which includes local elected officials and gaming industry representatives. The board has evaluated Ralenkotter annually and awarded him pay raises and bonuses.
His retirement date has not been set, and he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he is no closer to developing his expectations of a retirement settlement than he was at the board’s June 12 meeting, when he announced plans to retire.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Mandated school closings appear like forceful action, but have not produced results
School 41 was the latest Rochester school to receive the “death penalty.”
To preserve its hundred years of history, one Saturday in mid-June students filled a time capsule with class pictures, pompoms and favorite memories. “Maria, Maria” played in the background as district employees shoveled dirt over the capsule. It was the last ever end-of-the-year carnival, and kids happily ran between bounce houses.
One could almost avoid thinking that the patch of dirt looked like a small grave.
In September, a new school with a different name and mission will open at the same address, and the majority of these kids will be back for opening day.
Since 2002, the district has closed 26 schools (including School 41) and opened 18, according to state data. Some schools — which had the lifespans of mayflies — were both opened and closed during that time.
The result of all this disruption and upheaval?
Eight percent of elementary school students passed the 2017 reading and math tests and the city's graduation rate remains the worst in the state.
In 2002, the Federal No Child Left Behind Act ushered in an era of penalties — including closure — for failing schools. New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia says that in the past, Rochester has failed to execute plans designed to ensure the success of schools that replace failing ones. The state has put an external monitor over the planned reopening of School 41 in the fall, hoping to change a pattern of chaos and failure.
The News & Observer: Textbook calls cancer a ‘disease of choice’ -- and it’s required reading for UNC students
A textbook for a required fitness class at UNC-Chapel Hill calls cancer a disease of choice, describes a theory that Holocaust victims failed to tap into their inner strength and maintains that “many if not most women” who are obsessed with weight have become habitual dieters.
The online textbook, “21st Century Wellness,” also includes standard information about fitness, nutrition and health. It is read by students in a one-credit hour course called Lifetime Fitness, required of all undergraduates at UNC. Each year, nearly 5,000 undergraduates take the class, which is aimed at teaching students about healthy lifestyles while incorporating a physical activity such as tennis, soccer or running.
Skye Golann, who graduated from UNC in May, took the class in the fall of 2017. He made an A, and said he enjoyed the physical activity twice a week as part of the class.
But he said the online course reading materials were “beyond bad.” He said he would sometimes read his girlfriend passages of “the craziest thing I found in the book that week.”
Golann said the book gives short shrift to genetic or societal factors that affect people’s health — for example, a lack of access to health care and good nutrition for many lower-income people. “There’s an extreme emphasis on personal responsibility that pretty much explicitly blames people in poor health,” he said, “which I thought was very problematic.”
Calling cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular problems diseases of choice goes too far, Golann said.
“Who doesn’t know someone who is a survivor or someone who died of cancer?” Golann added. “I remember thinking about, reading it — we have a huge cancer hospital less than a mile away.”
The Inquirer: PPA lobbyist paid $3,000 a month. For what?
For 17 years, Fareed Ahmed collected $3,000 a month from the Philadelphia Parking Authority.
The longtime political consultant with an unusual past was the authority’s lobbyist.
What exactly he did in that role is unclear.
Ahmed, 73, is not registered as a lobbyist with the city, state, or federal government, and the parking agency offered few details about what he might have done for the $639,000 he was paid.
Marty O’Rourke, spokesman for the parking agency, said Ahmed was first contracted in February 2000 to “provide government and community relations as well as attend community and PPA meetings.” Asked for examples of meetings he attended, events he organized or what his lobbying produced, O’Rourke did not provide any.
Ahmed’s monthly invoices are only a little more illuminating. In some instances, he listed meetings with elected officials, but rarely stated what issues were discussed. He often reported making telephone calls without identifying to whom or why. Other invoices are just plain sloppy, with repeated misspellings of the names of public officials. He once noted a meeting with “Representative Jim Representative.”
For years, in billing his payments, Ahmed reported meeting only with Vincent Fenerty, then the parking authority’s executive director.
Ahmed’s contract survived a purge in 2008 when the parking authority, a longtime patronage haven, terminated three political consulting deals and halved the monthly fee it paid its top Harrisburg lobbyist.
The Inquirer: Will a Philly woman lose her home because of Family Court delays?
It seemed almost too good to be true: Mary Beth Novak found a job in Montgomery County as a police officer and a home she could afford in Royersford, in a good school district, just in time for her daughter to start fifth grade. No more scrambling to arrange transportation from her Northeast Philadelphia home to Catholic school in Bucks County — a commute that went from difficult last year to impossible now that Novak works out of town.
Now this dream, which seemed tantalizingly close, is vanishing like a mirage. Novak is bracing to back out of the house purchase, and lose close to $8,000 — her deposit and related costs. And she still isn’t sure where her daughter will be going to school next month, or how she’ll get her there.
The problem is that even though she has primary custody and support from a counselor who Novak and her ex had agreed to defer to in case of disputes, her daughter’s father has opposed the move that would take her an hour’s drive away. And, though Philadelphia Family Court is required under state law to provide an expedited hearing to resolve relocation disputes, her court date is not until next March.
“I had no idea all this stuff could happen,” Novak said. “I don’t know what to do.”
Novak is one of thousands of parents affected by a backlog in the court’s Domestic Relations section that attorneys call “unconscionable,” “tragic,” and “unbearable,” given that in some cases parents are being denied access to their children, or are losing jobs and homes while they wait for the court to weigh in.
“It’s extremely frustrating for the parents, but also really tragic for the children,” said Susan Pearlstein, co-supervisor of the Family Law Unit at Philadelphia Legal Assistance. “Things become so contentious and stressful when you have to deal with this lack of access and waiting to go though the court. The impact on children can’t be overstated.”
Austin American-Statesman: Hundreds of Texas foster care children denied Medicaid services
A private company that the state has tasked with providing Medicaid coverage to Texas foster children has repeatedly denied requests for critical care, many for children with disabilities.
Between June 7 and July 13, Superior HealthPlan denied medical services to foster children 394 times, according to data the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services provided to the American-Statesman. The agency, which oversees the state’s child welfare programs, started tracking the denials of service last month, in an effort to determine how the denials are affecting foster kids. Foster parents have reported denials from managed care organizations for years.
Company officials dispute the state’s figures and say Superior approves necessary medical care; foster care parents and advocates say the requests for service were for medically necessary treatment.
The issue is receiving renewed scrutiny from lawmakers and state officials.
The Journal News: Westchester County sexual harassment cases: Claims of stalking, vulgar talk
A male Westchester County correction officer claimed in a sexual harassment lawsuit that a superior officer approached him from behind while he sat, massaged his shoulders then made a vulgar reference to sodomy.
A female social services caseworker said in an internal complaint that she was stalked by a public works employee who at one point drove the wrong way down a one-way street to speak with her.
The county Human Rights Commission found in an investigation that a different caseworker faced hostility from a supervisor, who delayed processing her paperwork and overtime sheets because she’d rebuffed his flirtations and accused him of sexual harassment.
Once, she said, she was so upset that she vomited in his office.
The Journal News/lohud obtained more than five years of harassment and discrimination complaints investigated internally or received by the county as part of a look inside the workplace culture in Westchester's various departments. Also received in a separate request were records about legal cases and state complaints handled by the county law department over 10 years.
The documents offer unique insight into how Westchester handles these accusations and conducts its internal investigations.
AP: Pence family’s failed gas stations cost taxpayers $20M+
Vice President Mike Pence turns nostalgic when he talks about growing up in small-town Columbus, Indiana, where his father helped build a Midwestern empire of more than 200 gas stations that provided an upbringing on the "front row of the American dream."
The collapse of Kiel Bros. Oil Co. in 2004 was widely publicized. Less known is that the state of Indiana — and, to a smaller extent, Kentucky and Illinois — are still on the hook for millions of dollars to clean up more than 85 contaminated sites across the three states, including underground tanks that leaked toxic chemicals into soil, streams and wells.
Indiana alone has spent at least $21 million on the cleanup thus far, or an average of about $500,000 per site, according to an analysis of records by The Associated Press. And the work is nowhere near complete.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Two men charged with stealing more than $8 million in rare books from Carnegie Library
A former Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh archivist and a respected Oakland antiquarian bookseller “cannibalized” rare books from the institution by cutting out pages and stole more than $8 million worth of precious items over a 20-year period, according to the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.
It ranks as one of the largest library thefts in history.
Greg Priore, 61, of Oakland, who worked as the sole archivist and manager of the library’s rare book room since 1992, is charged with theft, receiving stolen property, conspiracy, retail theft, library theft, criminal mischief and forgery.
John Schulman, 54, of Squirrel Hill, who owns Caliban Book Shop, is charged with theft, receiving stolen property, dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, conspiracy, retail theft, theft by deception, forgery and deceptive business practices.
“According to Pall Mall Art Advisors, the staggering scope of these library thefts — resulting in the loss of value of the CLP collection of approximately $8,066,300 — ranks it among the world’s largest losses to date,” a criminal complaint written by DA’s detectives Frances Laquatra and Perann Tansmore said.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • July 19, 2018
Anchorage Daily News: Longer 911 hold times, backlogs, officer delays: When Anchorage hires more cops, but not more support staff
The clerks who manage records and evidence at the Anchorage Police Department say they're increasingly overwhelmed with paperwork as the department has added roughly 100 new police officers in three years without hiring additional support staff.
Meanwhile, amid a spike in property crime, Anchorage residents have been inundating police dispatchers with calls. But there have been severe staffing shortfalls in the dispatch department, with about half the seats in a new dispatch center unfilled.
That means the public is spending more time on hold when calling 911 or when dialing a non-emergency number to file stolen vehicle reports. Empty dispatch jobs may mean a delay in an officer showing up to a crime.
"Cops can't respond to calls if there's nobody answering the phone," said Brian Wilson, president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Union, in a June interview.
Pressed by police officials and some city Assembly members, the administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said it aims to beef up other parts of the police department, to balance the hiring of significantly more officers since Berkowitz took office in 2015.
Millions have been spent on the hirings. But it's not yet clear where the money for more support staff will come from. The dispatchers and records clerks the managers are asking for could cost about $600,000 in salaries. The Berkowitz administration will propose its budget for the next year in September, and city manager Bill Falsey said adding support staff will be mixed in with other priorities.
Montgomery Advertiser: Poverty and proficiency: MPS' biggest obstacle may lie outside the school system
Students who have jobs. Teachers who take students into their homes. Schools that offer fresh clothes to kids who may not have water. A look at poverty's effect on MPS as told by those within the system:
During the Sidney Lanier High School football team's summer workouts, linebackers coach Stephen Landrum knew which of his players either just came from work or were going there next.
“I have a lot of kids that have to support their family,” Landrum said. “They’re working jobs to help pay for things and taking care of brothers and sisters. ... If you have a schedule like that, there is no time for them to do any work outside of school and when they get to school they’re tired."
It's worse during the school year, he said, when shifts can only be picked up after school and a rough next day in class is all but guaranteed.
Landrum has at least 10 such football players out of 60 who he sees carry their economic burdens onto the field along with their pads and helmets.
It's the same story in his world history classroom, he said, where some students “come to school only to eat” and others can’t find motivation while wondering if they will be able to shower when they get home.
“There are kids that don’t know if their power is going to be on when they get home from school or if their water is going to be turned off. That’s a real issue,” Landrum said. “There’s 15 or 20 times a year that I find out one of my kids, the basic necessities at home, they don’t have them. That’s just the ones that tell me. There’s a lot more that don’t.”
High student poverty in school districts directly correlates to low average academic proficiency, according to a 2014 study by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA), and at a time when many are looking at ways to improve a Montgomery Public Schools system under state intervention, some within the system believe poverty isn’t being talked about enough.
Arizona Republic: Arizona charter school founder makes millions building his own schools
When Glenn Way moved to the East Valley at the end of the Great Recession, he might have been looking for a fresh start.
The charter school operator was deep in debt to the IRS, had sought bankruptcy protection, and recently resigned from the Utah Legislature after his wife filed a protective order against him, public records show.
Arizona offered other opportunities for someone in his line of work: A more lightly regulated charter school industry that's well-funded.
At his American Leadership Academy, which he launched in June 2009, he promised students would find "the best educational experience ... in a moral and wholesome environment."
Thanks partly to Arizona's favorable charter school laws and lucrative no-bid contracts with ALA, Way would find new wealth.
The schools, which have made patriotism central to their brand, including red, white or blue student apparel, have been a hit in the conservative East Valley. American Leadership — which bears the same name as a charter school Way and his wife, Shelina, operated in Spanish Fork, Utah — has over nine years grown to a dozen campuses with 8,354 students in Florence, Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek and San Tan Valley.
Way's own development and finance companies bought the land and then built most of the school buildings. Then, they sold or leased them to American Leadership Academy, where Way, until last year, was board chairman.
An Arizona Republic review of property records shows that during ALA's nine-year expansion, businesses owned by or tied to Way made about $37 million on real estate deals associated with the schools — funded largely by the Arizona tax dollars allocated to his charter schools.
LA Times: Workers claim injuries all over their bodies for big payouts — but continue their active lives
After nearly two decades on the force, former LAPD Officer Jonathan Hall ended his career the way many veteran officers do these days, claiming job-related injuries across most of his body.
With the help of a boutique Van Nuys law firm that specializes in workers’ compensation cases for cops and firefighters, Hall filed claims saying he’d injured his knees, hips, heart (high blood pressure), back, right shoulder — even his right middle finger.
The ailments had existed for months, in some cases years, and had not previously prevented him from working, Hall said in a recent interview. But he was burned out, the target of an internal affairs investigation and desperate to avoid going back to the station.
“I just couldn’t put the uniform back on,” Hall said.
Hall’s timing raised suspicion, and he was soon videotaped leading scuba dives and lifting heavy equipment despite the alleged injuries.
But he’s far from alone in asserting that so many parts of his body had been injured on the job.
In fact, claims involving at least five injured body parts have become by far the most common in California, according to a Times data analysis of millions of workers’ compensation cases spanning nearly three decades.
In the past, injuries to a single body part — a knee, a shoulder, the lower back — were the most prevalent, the data show.
That changed abruptly in the mid-2000s when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pushed through legislation that drastically lowered the amount that can be paid out in benefits for each injured body part.
Denver Post: Shrouded justice: Thousands of Colorado court cases hidden from public view on judges’ orders
Thousands of court cases across Colorado — hundreds of them involving violent felonies — are hidden from public view, concealed behind judges’ orders that can remain in effect for years, The Denver ...
Miami Herald: The chief wanted perfect stats, so cops were told to pin crimes on black people, probe found
The indictment was damning enough: A former police chief of Biscayne Park and two officers charged with falsely pinning four burglaries on a teenager just to impress village leaders with a perfect crime-solving record.
But the accusations revealed in federal court last month left out far uglier details of past policing practices in tranquil Biscayne Park, a leafy wedge of suburbia just north of Miami Shores.
Records obtained by the Miami Herald suggest that during the tenure of former chief Raimundo Atesiano, the command staff pressured some officers into targeting random black people to clear cases.
In a report from that probe, four officers — a third of the small force — told an outside investigator they were under marching orders to file the bogus charges to improve the department’s crime stats. Only De La Torre specifically mentioned targeting blacks, but former Biscayne Park village manager Heidi Shafran, who ordered the investigation after receiving a string of letters from disgruntled officers, said the message seemed clear for cops on the street.
“The letters said police were doing a lot of bad things,” Shafran told the Herald. “It said police officers were directed to pick up people of color and blame the crimes on them.”
Beyond the apparent race targeting, the report — never reviewed in village commission meetings — described a department run like a dysfunctional frat house. It outlines allegations that the brass openly drank on duty, engaged in a host of financial shenanigans and that the No. 2 in command during the period, Capt. Lawrence Churchman, routinely spouted racist and sexist insults.
Amid the probe, Atesiano abruptly resigned in 2014. Afterward, there was a stark change in village crime-busting statistics.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: ‘Concerns,’ but no consequences, after suicides in mental health system
The 16-year-old drew pictures that scared her mother. Angels crying tears of blood. Devils. People hanging from trees.
Then the girl attempted suicide, and her mother sought help from Georgia’s community-based mental health system. But therapists never flagged the girl’s risk for suicide, even after she inflicted what they recorded as another “self-injury.” When she skipped several appointments, a counselor left only a single voice mail for her mother, who speaks no English.
Three days before Christmas of 2016, the girl’s family found her in the back yard. She had hanged herself on her swing set.
State regulators cited the mental health agency that handled the girl’s care, the Clayton Center Community Service Board in Jonesboro, for five “deficient practices.” They also listed five “concerns.”
But the regulators imposed no fines or other sanctions. They required only that the agency draft what they call a corrective action plan – in essence, a promise to do better.
The state took the same approach to the 34 other suicides during a recent 12-month period by people under the care of community health providers, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found. Officials penalized none of the publicly funded agencies, even when serious errors apparently contributed to the deaths.
The state not only does not punish mental health care providers, it lets the agencies choose their own remedies for breakdowns in treatment. In cases reviewed by the Journal-Constitution, this often involved little more than additional training for the agencies’ staffs. In a single instance, a community service board fired two employees after a patient’s suicide.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Abigail Kawananakoa records secret despite Supreme Court directive
First Circuit Court Judge R. Mark Browning said in court last week that he’s all about due process and fairness as he oversees the now-yearlong legal brawl over control of the $215 million trust of Campbell Estate heiress Abigail Kawananakoa.
But there’s one area in which the judge is falling short: upholding public records law.
In allowing dozens of pleadings in the high-profile trust fight to remain sealed and obscured from public view, Browning appears to be ignoring the guidance and legal precedent established by the Hawaii Supreme Court.
There have been a handful of high court rulings in recent years aimed at balancing the protection of sensitive personal information against the public’s constitutional right to access the courts, including one just last month that reaffirmed the established procedures for sealing court records.
Those procedures, largely fixed by Oahu Publications Inc. v. Takase, a case brought by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser two years ago, calls for judges to issue a “minute order” for any portion of a pleading with information requiring sealing. A minute order is a judge’s order made orally during a court session and often documented only in the court clerk’s minutes.
Indianapolis Star: Black vultures are eating cows alive. But it's difficult to legally kill the birds.
When one of Rollin Bach's cows was partially paralyzed following birthing complications, a veterinarian told Bach she would recover; instead, something horrible happened.
Between 15 to 20 black vultures swooped down on the cow while she lay in the pasture. They proceeded to eat away portions of her back and hind legs. She was still alive. Because she couldn't stand up, she couldn't escape their attack.
The cow was little more than gore by the time Bach chased the vultures away. He had to put her down.
With that fatality, Bach joins a growing list of farmers dealing with a problem that isn't native to Indiana — black vultures.
While turkey vultures are common in Indiana, black vultures are a relatively new and deadly arrival. In the 1990s, there were so few black vultures in Indiana that organizations devoted to protecting migratory birds didn't even have a clear estimate.
Today, their estimated population is more than 10,000 — and counting. Unlike turkey vultures, which eat carrion and do not attack live animals, black vultures target both living and dead animals.
The problem, Bach says, is it's against the law to kill a black vulture without a federal permit.
Bach’s biggest issue with the current permit is the $100 annual fee, of which he said: "The idea of having to apply and pay money to protect your own well being, it's just ..." He cut himself off with a sigh.
He wants that to change the law, but others have tried with little success.
Des Moines Register: Greg Stephen case: Deceit, videos of nude boys and a potential Larry Nassar-like problem for elite youth basketball
Sonny Vaccaro knows the issues in basketball recruiting perhaps better than anyone else.
He's the man who created the relationship between big-money shoe companies and grassroots basketball decades ago. Vaccaro's summer showcase of elite high school basketball stars — the ABCD All-America Camp, which ran from 1984-2007 — included generational talents like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
Vaccaro gained so much influence in his four decades of shaping modern-day basketball that he earned the nickname "the Godfather of grassroots basketball."
His critics dubbed him the "Sneaker Pimp," and NCAA investigators targeted him — though they could never get anything to stick — and many players who attended his camp over the years.
"I've watched it all," Vaccaro said.
And yet, he's never seen allegations on the summer basketball circuit as troubling as those involving Iowa grassroots coach Greg Stephen.
"What we have here, in my eyes, is similar to what the people had to handle with (Larry) Nassar," Vaccaro said, referring to the disgraced former USA Gymnastics team doctor who was convicted of child pornography charges and sexual assault after being accused by 200 girls and women of sexually abusing them under the guise of treating them for injuries.
Stephen, of Monticello, a former coach and co-director for the Iowa Barnstormers basketball club, faces federal charges for possessing what investigators have deemed pornographic videos of his players and sexual images of minors.
Shoe company-supported grassroots basketball is no stranger to scandal. The NCAA has investigated such programs for decades, and the FBI is currently probing the underground economy of basketball recruiting.
But Stephen's case shines a light where it has rarely gone before in summer basketball: its potential for the sexual exploitation of boys.
The Baltimore Sun: While he's been governor, Larry Hogan's real estate business has continued to thrive — prompting questions
When Larry Hogan was running for governor, he liked to refer to himself as “just a small businessman.”
That “small” business he founded — the Annapolis-based Hogan Companies — has completed more than $2 billion in real estate deals since its founding in 1985 and has continued to thrive since Hogan took office in 2015.
While Hogan stepped aside at the company and turned his assets over to be managed by a trust, the Republican governor has continued to profit. Last week Hogan released tax returns that show he’s made about $2.4 million in corporate earnings while governor. According to a review of financial disclosure forms, his corporate holdings include stakes in commercial real estate deals as well as residential and retail developments around Maryland.
Many of them are new. In the past three years, Hogan’s trust has reported ownership interests in about 20 newly created limited liability companies — a type of business entity often used by developers to oversee projects.
As Hogan seeks a second term, this arrangement has drawn criticism from Democrats, who have sought to tie Hogan to President Donald Trump, and renewed a debate about the lengths to which businessmen-turned-politicians should wall themselves off from their private enterprises.
“Just like Donald Trump, Larry Hogan’s businesses are still being operated by his closest relatives, they are cloaked in secrecy, and they raise many questions about the decisions he makes as governor,” says Maryland Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews.
The Baltimore Sun: Collapse: The rise and deadly fall of a Baltimore rowhouse
As they sat in a worn Cadillac parked at the curb, the men heard no warning.
Thomas “Phil” Lemmon enjoyed the oldies on the radio. Daron Johnson sipped a Natural Ice beer.
Over Lemmon’s car loomed a hazard familiar in Baltimore: A decrepit two-story building. A rowhouse that had witnessed a century of city history, housed generations of immigrant families and, more recently, become mired in liens and foreclosures.
Neither man noticed the house shudder in the wind.
Then came the boom, and a whiteout of dust. Bricks smashed the windshield of Lemmon’s Cadillac and crumpled the red soft-top.
Johnson, dazed, staggered out. But rubble pinned Lemmon behind the wheel.
“Phil! Phil!” neighbors screamed.
More than two years have passed since 900 N. Payson St. collapsed and killed Lemmon, but the aftershocks linger. His grown children continue to search for whoever was responsible for the unsafe vacant house. The tragedy caused city officials to look for other dangerous vacants.
They say they have spent more than $9 million to demolish or stabilize 200 that posed the greatest threat.
“The push here was to make the situation safe," said Michael Braverman, Baltimore’s housing commissioner. “There are so many indignities in living beside vacant and abandoned buildings that people shouldn’t fear for their lives.”
Like other Rust Belt cities that have seen their industries collapse and families flee for the suburbs, Baltimore has long grappled with its abandoned homes. The old house on Payson Street near Midtown-Edmondson is a notorious case study.
The rise and fall of the 111-year-old rowhouse, traced through interviews, deeds, court records and inspection reports, reveals the story of Baltimore, and its blight — how good homes come to ruin, and how one turned deadly.
Las Vegas Review-Journal: Radio troubles hampered Las Vegas police on Oct. 1, RJ investigation finds
Rapid gunfire pocked the Route 91 Harvest festival grounds as Las Vegas police Sgt. Gregory Everett pulled up to the back of the venue on Oct. 1. He immediately encountered a mass of panicked concertgoers.
“Reno and Haven is where we need medical to stage,” Everett radioed to police dispatch a few minutes later, citing his location and noting he had at least 15 people with gunshot wounds. “We’re going to need lots of medical.”
But during the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, Everett had no way of directly contacting firefighters or paramedics. Instead, his main line of communication was a peripheral police radio channel as Metropolitan Police Department dispatchers fielded a surge of reports and other officers on the ground tried to locate and eliminate the threat.
Time ticked by. Everett enlisted volunteers to pack wounds and asked off-duty officers to secure a perimeter. About four minutes later, the sergeant made another appeal:
“I’m up to about 30 victims with gunshots. Where is medical for Reno and Haven?”
A Las Vegas Review-Journal examination of more than 500 officer reports found that Everett and other Las Vegas police officers were working in information silos on Oct. 1, only able to relay updates to their own police dispatchers, who then relayed information to dispatchers at other agencies, who in turn contacted their responding units.
“That strikes me as super cumbersome and potentially dangerous,” said Austen Givens, an emergency management and communications expert.
The Record: How segregated are New Jersey's schools and what can be done about it?
New Jersey is one of the country's most diverse states, but many school districts don't reflect the makeup of the counties where they are located, and the resulting divide has left many students learning in a racial bubble.
A Record analysis found that school segregation is most extreme in three northeastern counties — Passaic, Essex and Union. The divide in these counties stands out because of their large minority populations and wide disparities in wealth and poverty.
But North Jersey isn't alone. Segregated districts are found across the state, especially in cities such as Paterson, Newark, Trenton and Camden, where children go to schools where white students are virtually absent. Often, districts just a few miles apart have vastly different income levels and ratios of white and minority students.
Having surveyed this landscape, a coalition of advocacy groups and families has sued New Jersey and the state Board of Education, calling for the state to take steps to end "de facto" segregation in its public schools.
The advocates, who filed the lawsuit in June, say they are trying to undo years of policies that helped create what has been described as one of the most segregated school systems in the country. Today, nearly half of the state's 585,000 black and Latino students go to schools that are more than 90 percent non-white, according to the lawsuit.
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle: Angry employee or loss of integrity? Investigator says city told him to alter findings
A city office charged with safeguarding against fraud, corruption and waste is pursuing fewer investigations of financial crimes, records show.
The drop — down 70 percent during Mayor Lovely Warren's administration — comes as other measures, including internal audits, employee suspensions and arrests, also have dipped.
► Investigations involving financial loss have dropped from an average of 18.5 yearly prior to Warren taking office, to 5.4 during her tenure, city budget records show. Other types of investigations, including favoritism, violations of policies, unprofessional conduct, are not broken out, and totals have not been tracked.
► Audits have dipped from an average of 15.3 to 12.2, records show.
► Suspensions, an area in which the office used to be heavily involved, are down in recent years, from 53 totaling 470 days in 2015 to 31 suspensions totaling 227 last year, according to records the Democrat and Chronicle obtained through an open records request.
Critics say the Office of Public Integrity has regressed, having lost its clout and its appearance of independence, making whistleblowers less likely to come forward. This past week, the city's Board of Ethics took up a complaint from a longtime OPI investigator and former sheriff's deputy claiming OPI director Timothy Weir scuttled a 2017 case involving possible employee theft and hasn't assigned the investigator any cases since.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 'He'll evict you in a minute.' Landlord quietly becomes a force in Milwaukee rental business...and eviction court
A few months after Ernestine Young returned home from a hospital stay last year, she found herself on the basement stairs of her apartment building sobbing.
Her building had recently been bought by a company tied to Youssef "Joe" Berrada, a native of Morocco who has quickly and quietly become a force in the Milwaukee rental business — and the county eviction court.
Berrada is known as "the boulder guy," since his companies frequently put boulders on the lawns of their properties. In all, Berrada companies own 292 properties with more than 3,600 units in the city. Berrada says his organization owns 8,000 rental units nationwide.
Housing advocates in Milwaukee say the companies sometimes run roughshod over tenants and that they are using small claims court as a collection agency. The approximately 75 firms owned by or linked to Berrada — most of them limited liability companies — were behind more than one out of every 10 eviction cases filed last year in the county, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis found.
Soon after a Berrada LLC bought Young's building on the 5300 block of North 29th Street, the company began renovation work. When Young went to the basement to check her belongings kept in a locked storage area she was shocked to see just how aggressive the workers had been.
Everything was gone, Young said.
Among the vanished belongings: The urn containing the ashes of her infant granddaughter, Miracle Young.
"I just sat on the stairs and cried," Young said. "I was hurt, I was devastated, there were things in there that never will be replaced, my pictures, my family pictures — my siblings' (pictures). My granddaughter's ashes."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Grand jury report could name 90 offenders in Pittsburgh diocese alone
HARRISBURG — A grand jury report detailing Catholic clergy sexual abuse in the state includes information about more than 90 “offenders,” and a court document released Friday strongly suggests that could be the number for the Pittsburgh diocese alone.
If confirmed, that would be the largest number of potential sexual abusers ever publicly disclosed in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which covers six counties in Western Pennsylvania. The diocese reported in 2004 that 45 priests and deacons who served between 1950 and 2002 — just under 2 percent of the total — faced credible accusations that they sexually abused a minor. The diocese has never publicly released its full list of offenders.
New details about the investigation of the Pittsburgh diocese emerged amid a flurry of redacted filings released Friday, as attorneys for roughly two dozen current and former clergy members appeal to the state Supreme Court, asking the justices to block or alter portions of the more than 800-page report from public release. Those attorneys argue that their clients’ rights to their reputations are being unjustly violated and, in some cases, that the report contains “gross mischaracterizations and falsities.”
Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, which oversaw the nearly two-year-long investigation, filed its response in court Friday, and a redacted version of his filing could be made public next week. The attorney general’s office continues to stand by its work while victims advocate for the report’s release, saying they worry that their voices are once again being silenced.
A document written by an attorney for a clergy member and released by the Supreme Court late Friday afternoon provides some glimpses into a portion of the report pertaining to the Pittsburgh diocese. Attorney Stephen Stallings represents a clergy member, whose name is redacted from court records, and who is described in the report as “a sexual abuser of children.”
“This heinous characterization is false and wholly unsupported by the record below, and [the clergy member] asserts his actual and complete innocence to the allegations,” Mr. Stallings wrote.
He, like many other attorneys, is asking the court to block the report’s public release until references to his client are redacted or until an evidentiary hearing can be held.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Zoo committees discussed danger at wild dog exhibit before toddler's death, newly released report says
On at least six occasions, Pittsburgh zoo staff and volunteers raised concerns about the possibility of a child falling through an open side of the African painted dog exhibit.
“A visitor was seen dangling a child over the exhibit through the opening,” read the minutes of one Safety Committee meeting in August 2006. “Guests are dangling children over the railing at the Wild Dog Exhibit,” read the minutes from a meeting nine months later. “Wild Dogs Exhibit - Children hanging over ledge,” read the minutes from a meeting a month after that.
The subject of their fear was realized on Nov. 4, 2012, when 2-year-old Maddox Derkosh was mauled to death by the dogs after his mother held him up to the opening in the observation deck and he lurched forward and fell, bouncing off a safety net into the exhibit.
A report by the federal government, released this month more than four years after a Freedom of Information Act request by the Post-Gazette, investigates why the concerns of the safety committee — and another zoo council — weren’t acted upon by zoo management.
As a result of that investigation, the zoo was ultimately fined up to $4,500 for a barrier fence at the outdoor observation deck overlooking the wild dog exhibit that “was not sufficient to prevent a two year old boy from falling into the exhibit causing the African Painted Dogs to attack the boy causing fatal injuries.”
The 41-page “Report of Investigation” released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is only part of a larger, 522-page report that is still under review.
The Missoulian: Report excoriates Missoula County judge for absences, employee turnover, micromanagement
Justice of the Peace Marie Andersen required court employees to walk her dog, leave court fees in an unlocked box on her porch and execute an elaborate recycling plan at work, according to the findings of an extraordinary report on the judge's behavior.
The report was commissioned by the Missoula County officials after complaints about high turnover on Andersen's staff and frequent absences by the judge.
Andersen's rigid policies and practices have resulted in a situation where "employees are confused, do not receive thorough training, are fearful of retaliation, and concerned about serving the public well,” according to a report commissioned by Missoula County officials.
The report was compiled by outside consultant Michele Puiggari, who was hired by the county to look at “personnel functions” in Andersen’s department, including a high turnover rate and “concerns raised by (managers) during exit interviews.”
Chris Lounsbury, chief operating officer, said the Missoula County Commissioners were briefed on the report at the start of last week. While the county declined to release the full report, citing private employee information contained in it, the commissioners requested an executive summary of its findings that could be released. Lounsbury provided a copy of that executive summary to the Missoulian on Monday.
Andersen declined to be interviewed for the county investigation, the summary report noted.
She did not return an email seeking comment on Monday, and declined to speak with a Missoulian reporter who came to her office.
The commissioners will be sending a letter to Justice Court, the contents of which are likely to be taken up at an administration meeting this week, Lounsbury said.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • July 12, 2018
Providence Journal: Decade of data reveals R.I.’s recovery
Rhode Island’s economy is doing well but may be cooling off a bit, according to a Providence Journal analysis of 11 key economic indicators.
Launched today as a project to be continued quarterly, The Providence Journal Economic Scorecard tracks improvement and decline in the state’s economy over the last decade, beginning at the depths of the Great Recession. The state’s recovery began in the middle of 2010 with what’s often referred to as a dead cat bounce — a sudden improvement when things had fallen so far they had no place else to go but up.
The economy then meandered for a year, showing improvement in some quarters and decline in others, until the middle of 2012. Since then, it has shown steady growth. The only blip on that climb came near the end of 2014, when it almost stalled, but it has been pretty smooth sailing since.
Even so, The Journal’s scorecard shows a recent plateauing in the economy’s expansion.
Read more: http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20180707/decade-of-data-reveals-ris-recovery
More floods will come. We can count on it.
But Quad-Citians are better prepared to do battle with an out-of-its-banks Mississippi River than they were 25 years ago.
What many people remember about the Flood of '93 is the never-ending rain, the tens of thousands of sandbags, the damage, the ruckus and the mess.
Floods that have followed 1993 have met with a different kind of resistance. And the people fighting them have had a better chance of beating the floodwaters into submission.
Technology, tools and forward-thinking have changed how the Quad-Cities will respond the next time disaster strikes.
As is often the case, necessity produced invention, and our progress is our Big Story.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Dairy group uses behind-the-scenes influence with Gov. Scott Walker to shift regulation of large livestock farms
Agriculture interests are working behind the scenes with the administration of Gov. Scott Walker as he mounts a major change in the way large livestock farms are regulated in Wisconsin.
The Republican governor introduced a wide-ranging rural agenda on Oct. 26 that included a proposal to shift oversight of large dairy farms and other livestock operations to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Moving those powers from the Department of Natural Resources — the state’s chief environmental enforcement agency — has sparked controversy. Environmentalists are concerned about less emphasis on conservation, but farm groups say the agriculture department is the rightful place to enforce permitting and manure handling of big farms.
While the public has yet been able to weigh in on promised hearings, farms groups have had Walker's ear.
State records show that one day before Walker’s October speech in Trego, in northwestern Wisconsin, the governor’s office received detailed plans from the Dairy Business Association on legal requirements and strategic options to move the program.
Houston Chronicle: Manipulation of flood insurance leads to repeat disasters
Officials in Houston and across the country are failing to enforce a central pillar of the taxpayer-subsidized National Flood Insurance Program: Making sure severely damaged properties are elevated or removed from flood plains.
Thousands of such homes get rebuilt and then flood again, often for more than they are worth, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion in repeat losses.
The deeply indebted program is set to lapse July 31 without congressional reauthorization, and lawmakers have put forward a host of potential reforms to tie to that vote, but none directly address the costly problem of poorly enforced elevation requirements.
Texas has more flooded properties with evidence of this problem than any other state but Louisiana; Houston has more than any other city, a Houston Chronicle investigation found. Seven of the nation's 10 most frequently substantially damaged properties are in Houston. Those seven have had 107 damage claims totaling $9 million, even though the combined value of those buildings is just $426,000.
Under federal rules, local officials are supposed to assess flood damages and require demolition or elevation if the damage is estimated at 50 percent or more of the home's value. But telling traumatized flood victims that they will have to undertake expensive home elevation projects is politically and emotionally difficult, so officials lowball the damage estimates, putting people and homes back in vulnerable places, the Chronicle found.
The problem had largely been known only anecdotally, but the Chronicle's analysis used government data to bolster the reports of officials and flood victims in swamped communities, identifying thousands of losses that could have been avoided and homes put back in harm's way because requirements weren't followed.
Columbus Dispatch: Amid pharmacy benefit manager inquiry, officials' ties to CVS questioned
Possible conflicts of interest between the Kasich administration and CVS are fueling skepticism over whether Ohioans will see changes in a Medicaid setup that gives the national pharmacy company up to six times its actual cost of providing prescription drugs to Ohio's poor and disabled.
The relationships are shrouded in secrecy — in part because of confidentiality laws and in part because the administration of Gov. John Kasich has been less than forthcoming about critical aspects of CVS’s business with the state.
The concerns are heightened because Medicaid officials withheld key information from state legislators about CVS costs and displayed a reluctance to make substantive changes to a system that many lawmakers and pharmacists say is a ripoff of taxpayers.
"We have a right to know this information and we need to make decisions with that information," said Sen. Dave Burke, R-Marysville, a pharmacist who also is chairman of the Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee.
Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism: Want a lucrative Ohio debt collections contract? Hire a lobbyist
The Ohio Attorney General's office says campaign contributions don't influence how it awards debt collection contracts. But another factor -- hiring a lobbyist -- seems to have had an undeniable impact.
The Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism, or Eye On Ohio, looked at six collections firms that hired lobbyists to represent them before Attorney General Mike DeWine. Over his first six years in office, four of the represented firms saw average annual receipts jump by between 61 and 349 percent. The other two firms had no previous collection contracts; after hiring lobbyists, their average revenue per year hit $722,006 and $924,606.
During Richard Cordray's two years as attorney general, collections lawyer Charles "Chuck" Mifsud received average annual revenue of $1.2 million for collections. He gave nothing to Cordray or the Ohio Democratic Party, though he did have a lobbyist. And he attained high marks in a scoring system created under former Attorney General Marc Dann to rate and choose outside collectors.
After DeWine declared his candidacy for attorney general in 2010, Mifsud opened his wallet. From 2010 through 2017, he and two members of his family gave $150,550, most of it to the Ohio GOP's state candidate fund, according to campaign finance records. Only $4,500 went to DeWine's committee. Another $3,300 went to the committee of Mike DeWine's son, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine.
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle: NYC dumping more garbage than ever in Finger Lakes area
Other people’s trash is continuing to pile up in the Finger Lakes at an astonishing rate — especially trash from New York City, which has tripled its exports of garbage to the scenic region in just five years.
Three landfills within 30 miles of one another, in Monroe, Ontario and Seneca counties, are now the state’s largest.
In 2013, the Democrat and Chronicle declared the Finger Lakes to be New York’s dumping ground after an analysis showed that half of all trash buried in New York state was going to large landfills in this region.
Five years later, it’s worse.
Burial is up 37 percent at three huge Finger Lakes landfills, according to a new D&C analysis of state solid-waste reports, and the quantity arriving from far-off counties has risen from 2 million to 3 million tons a year.
Nearly 30 percent of all the trash generated in America’s largest city now finds its way to the picturesque, tourist-rich Finger Lakes region.
New York Times: ‘It’s Almost Like a Ghost Town.’ Most Nursing Homes Overstated Staffing for Years
ITHACA, N.Y. — Most nursing homes had fewer nurses and caretaking staff than they had reported to the government for years, according to new federal data, bolstering the long-held suspicions of many families that staffing levels were often inadequate.
The records for the first time reveal frequent and significant fluctuations in day-to-day staffing, with particularly large shortfalls on weekends. On the worst staffed days at an average facility, the new data show, on-duty personnel cared for nearly twice as many residents as they did when the staffing roster was fullest.
The data, analyzed by Kaiser Health News, come from daily payroll records Medicare only recently began gathering and publishing from more than 14,000 nursing homes, as required by the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Medicare previously had been rating each facility’s staffing levels based on the homes’ own unverified reports, making it possible to game the system.
The payroll records provide the strongest evidence that over the last decade, the government’s five-star rating system for nursing homes often exaggerated staffing levels and rarely identified the periods of thin staffing that were common. Medicare is now relying on the new data to evaluate staffing, but the revamped star ratings still mask the erratic levels of people working from day to day.
Santa Fe New Mexican: Racino applicants hope to get Tucumcari’s economy back on track
TUCUMCARI — Warren Frost’s field of dreams is 330 acres on the east edge of town.
The land is mostly mesquite, cactus and scrub grass. Someone planted three towering steel white crosses. There also is an old horse barn. Interstate 40 runs along the southern edge of the property.
Frost has a grand vision for the land: a horse-racing track, a casino with 600 slot machines, restaurants, a lounge and more.
He says Tucumcari, with its boarded-up Kmart and other shuttered businesses along Historic Route 66, needs a shot in the economic arm — including the jobs, increased tourism and additional spending at local businesses that a track and casino would produce.
“We’d like to have Apple, but we’re a little more realistic than that,” Frost says.
The lawyer from nearby Logan is a member of a group that plans to apply this month for a horse-racing license from the New Mexico Racing Commission. It will have competition from at least two other groups that plan to make separate proposals for a track in the Clovis area.
The Racing Commission announced in May that it was accepting applications for what would be New Mexico’s sixth racing license. The application deadline is July 30.
The commission says it plans to issue the license before the year’s end, which means the plum would be handed out before Gov. Susana Martinez leaves office Dec. 31. The governor appointed all five racing commissioners.
Given the high financial stakes and the political connections of the racing applicants — as well as those seeking to halt the licensing of another track — the proceedings before the Racing Commission promise to be hard fought.
“It’s going to be a fierce competition,” Frost says.
The five existing tracks raked in an average of $45.3 million from their slot machines in the year that ended June 30, 2017.
Star-Ledger: 'Guys like that don't get wiped out in a day.' Why the mob still holds sway at the port.
The Huck Finn on Morris Avenue in Union is an unremarkable, typical Jersey diner, where the usual three-egg omelets and burgers share the menu with Greek salads, tuna sandwiches and, of course, meatloaf.
But it has a more notorious claim to fame. In November 2005, authorities made a gruesome discovery in the trunk of a silver Acura that had sat undisturbed for weeks in the back of the diner’s big parking lot.
Alerted by a foul odor and the swarming of flies around the car, police found the decomposing body of Lawrence Ricci—an alleged Genovese crime family capo with hooks into the waterfront, who had disappeared weeks earlier in the midst of his own racketeering trial.
Face down with a grey sweatshirt over his head, somebody had put a bullet in his brain.
But more than a decade later, law enforcement officials say organized crime still stalks the docks.
Since January 2017, records show at least 10 dockworkers have had their registrations revoked, or had their applications denied by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor because of friendships or associations with those deemed to have organized crime connections.
Another four applications for registration were withdrawn or surrendered without an administrative hearing, and one individual seeking a restoration of his registration was denied.
Among those cases included a $350,000-a-year longshoreman barred over his alleged friendship with an admitted loan shark who authorities say was connected to a Colombo crime family bribery scheme involving debris removal from the World Trade Center site.
Kansas City Star: Worlds of Fun was sued for polluting. Then Missouri loosened its pollutant limits
When a Missouri group sued Worlds of Fun for its pollution of waters that eventually lead to the Missouri River, the last thing it wanted was to loosen environmental regulations.
The Missouri Coalition for the Environment in 2016 reached a settlement with Worlds of Fun, which includes Oceans of Fun, and the park has followed the terms of its agreement so far.
But this year, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources loosened the park's permit under the Clean Water Act, allowing it to send more pollutants into the river.
"You want this to strengthen the environmental law," Heather Navarro, executive director of the St. Louis-based Coalition for the Environment, said of the lawsuit. "You want to uphold the clean water laws, and often what happens is instead of strong enforcement, they increase the limits."
In the park's most recent permit, the state increased or completely removed limits for several pollutants, including chlorine, oil and grease, and total suspended solids (solids in water that can be trapped by a filter), The Star found.
Pollution inside the park itself is not an issue. But environmental groups are concerned about both the overall water quality of the Missouri River and the fate of a rare and ancient sturgeon as pollutants flow from outfalls at the park into creek tributaries and eventually the river.
Larry O'Donnell, president of the Little Blue River Watershed Coalition, called the permit level increase a "back door" for allowing pollution.
"DNR is not servicing the people of Missouri, it's servicing industry," he said. "They're the Department of Natural Resources, not the Department of How Many Resources Can We Screw Up."
Minneapolis Star Tribune: As churches close, a way of life fades
La Salle, Minn. -- For 100 years, Lutherans in this farming community on the Minnesota prairie have come to one church to share life’s milestones.
They have been baptized, confirmed and married at La Salle Lutheran. Their grandparents, parents and siblings lie in the church cemetery next door.
But the old friends who gathered here early one recent Sunday never imagined that they would one day be marking the death of their own church.
When La Salle Lutheran locks its doors in August, it will become the latest casualty among fragile Minnesota churches either closing, merging or praying for a miracle. Steep drops in church attendance, aging congregations, and cultural shifts away from organized religion have left most of Minnesota’s mainline Christian denominations facing unprecedented declines.
“Sunday used to be set aside for church: that’s what families did,” said Donna Schultz, 74, a church member since grade school at La Salle, in southwest Minnesota. “Now our children have moved away. The grandkids have volleyball, dance on weekends. People are busy with other things.
“I’m really going to miss this,” she added quietly, gesturing to her friends in the lobby. “We’re like family.”
The rising toll is evident in rural, urban and suburban churches across the state.
Portland Press: Pharmacy middlemen steer some patients to riskier drugs
Rachel Ostrom has been using an opioid pain control patch for several years to help her cope with the chronic pain of fibromyalgia. Her doctor prescribed the Butrans patch, which releases controlled doses of a milder, less addictive opioid known as buprenorphine.
But after the 24-year-old woman moved from Massachusetts to Maine this year, a company called Express Scripts – which manages the pharmacy benefits for her Maine insurance company – refused to cover the Butrans patch.
Express Scripts told Ostrom that her insurance would only cover patches using fentanyl or similar opioids – which are more addictive than buprenorphine and more likely to result in overdoses. If she wanted the Butrans patch – which is more expensive – she’d have to pay for it herself, at a cost of $800 a month.
The company was keeping its own costs down while exposing Ostrom to a highly addictive drug that her doctor had specifically avoided.
Ostrom appealed the decision – with guidance from her father, who is a retired doctor – and her insurance company eventually agreed to cover the safer Butrans patch. But the Biddeford woman’s case is emblematic of a system that critics say increasingly prioritizes profit over patient safety.
“These are decisions not based on medicine, but what deals they (pharmacy benefit managers) can get from the pharmaceutical industry,” said Dr. Noah Nesin, a pain control and addiction specialist at Penobscot Community Health Center in Bangor. “The moment they find a better deal, they’ll switch these lists. I don’t know that for a fact in this case, but I would bet my retirement on it.”
Des Moines Register: 'Not medically needed': A private Medicaid manager is trying to slash a paralyzed Iowa man's care. Again.
FONTANELLE, Iowa — Jamie Campbell can’t believe his Medicaid management company is messing with his care again.
Campbell, who is paralyzed from the neck down, lives in his home with daily assistance from aides paid by Iowa’s Medicaid program. UnitedHealthcare, which the state hired to help manage Medicaid, tried last year to drastically reduce the amount of in-home help Campbell could receive.
He appealed, saying he needed all the assistance he was using. An administrative law judge agreed, writing in a decision last summer that the evidence was “overwhelmingly” in Campbell’s favor. The judge ordered the insurer to continue covering his care as before.
“I just figured I was done then,” Campbell said in a recent interview. “I didn’t dream they’d come after me again.”
But they did.
Campbell is among scores of disabled Iowans who have complained about Medicaid managed-care companies trying to save money by cutting the assistance they receive at home.
Some, like Campbell, have won on appeal — only to see those same Medicaid managers later try to cut their care again. They find themselves trapped in endless appeals, according to a quarterly report by Iowa's Long-term Care Ombudsman.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Meth, ‘the Devil’s drug,’ is back and killing more people than ever
Before news of an opioid crisis tore through national media, Tori Holcomb knew the dangers of painkillers. She got addicted after a softball injury at North Gwinnett High and saw others around her struggling, too.
Before the resurgence of heroin caused alarm, Holcomb knew it was getting more popular. She fell into the drug, and the bleak new world that came with it, when doctors stopped writing her prescriptions for Percocet.
It is the afflicted who are first to know about every epidemic.
Now, Holcomb knows something else most people don’t: Methamphetamine, a drug that lawmakers fought with success in the 2000s, is back — and it’s more popular, plentiful and lethal than ever.
While the opioid crisis takes the spotlight, prosecutors and police say they also have been coming to grips with the devastating rebound of meth, which is killing more people in America today than in the mid-2000s when it was the national problem everyone was talking about.
Deaths related to stimulants — mostly meth — were up nationwide by more than 250 percent from 2005 to 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Georgia, deaths involving meth have increased every year since 2010, more than tripling from 65 in 2010 to 200-plus last year, data from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation says. And those numbers don’t even include Gwinnett, Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb, where the data is tracked differently. But Atlanta U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak says the metro area also is seeing an alarming jump in the number of people using and a significant increase in deaths.
Florida Sun-Sentinel: The world has never seen a Category 6 hurricane. But the day may be coming.
As a ferocious hurricane bears down on South Florida, water managers desperately lower canals in anticipation of 4 feet of rain.
Everyone east of Dixie Highway is ordered evacuated, for fear of a menacing storm surge. Forecasters debate whether the storm will generate the 200 mph winds to achieve Category 6 status.
This is one scenario for hurricanes in a warmer world, a subject of fiendish complexity and considerable scientific research, as experts try to tease out the effects of climate change from the influences of natural climate cycles.
Some changes — such as the slowing of hurricanes’ forward motion and the worsening of storm surges from rising sea levels — are happening now. Other impacts, such as their increase in strength, may have already begun but are difficult to detect, considering all of the other climate forces at work.
But more certainty has developed over the past few years. Among the conclusions: Hurricanes will be wetter. They are likely to move slower, lingering over whatever area they hit. And although there is debate over whether there will be more or fewer of them, most researchers think hurricanes will be stronger.
“There’s almost unanimous agreement that hurricanes will produce more rain in a warmer climate,” said Adam Sobel, professor of applied physics at Columbia University and director of its Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate. “There’s agreement there will be increased coastal flood risk, at a minimum because of sea level rise. Most people believe that hurricanes will get, on average, stronger. There’s more debate about whether we can detect that already.”
No one knows how strong they could get, as they’re fueled by warmer ocean water. Timothy Hall, senior scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said top wind speeds of up to 230 mph could occur by the end of the century, if current global warming trends continue. This would be the strength of an F-4 tornado, which can pick up cars and throw them through the air (although tornadoes, because of their rapid changes of wind direction, are considered more destructive).
Sacramento Bee: Doctors, nurses and insurers are spending big to determine how you'll get your health care
Insurers, doctors and nurses are spending millions on lobbying and donations to lawmakers' campaigns in the current legislative session, battling over costly large-scale changes as they await Gov. Jerry Brown's successor.
Major health industry groups have spent more than $18 million on lobbying, according to an analysis by The Sacramento Bee, in an effort to kill or water down bills proposed to rein in rising health care costs and impose new regulatory requirements for insurers and health plans.
The spending, similar to levels in the prior legislative session, foreshadows a costly and thorny political debate in the years ahead. Democrats are seeking to protect coverage gains made under Obamacare, expand access to care for the low-income and undocumented, lower premium costs and blunt broader changes to the health care landscape pushed by the Trump administration that they see as a threat to their long-term goal of universal coverage.
Brown has resisted spending the money it would take to implement the changes. Assembly Democrats proposed 16 major health care bills after the leader of the Assembly shelved a bill out of the Senate that sought to create the nation's first single-payer health care system, leading to a bruising political fight among lawmakers and health care groups. The budget Brown signed this month doesn't include funding for the most far-reaching, high-dollar ideas.
Montgomery Advertiser: The rural South’s invisible public health crisis
When Pamela Rush flushes her toilet, the waste flows out the back of her sky blue mobile home through a yellowing plastic pipe and empties just a few yards away in a soggy pit of mud, weeds, and dead grass. On a hot day in mid-May, Rush walked around her yard in rural Lowndes County. Flies and mosquitoes swarmed her as she tiptoed near the pit. The smell of sewage was overwhelming.
Rush, a soft-spoken 48-year-old with striking brown eyes, has straight-piped her family’s waste into her yard for almost two decades. Her home is on the edge of clay dirt road in the dense Alabama forest, miles from a municipal sewer system. Since Rush struggles with her health and is unable to work, she can’t afford the thousands of dollars it would cost to install an on-site septic system. This is her only option.
Mold grows throughout her house because of the damp, dark conditions, causing multiple respiratory problems for Rush and her two children. “I go to sleep in fear every night,” Rush said as she stared at the pit in her backyard, wiping sweat from her brow. “It don’t ever leave my mind.”
In the rural South, these conditions aren’t uncommon. Many communities from the Black Belt to Appalachia lack basic sewage and water infrastructure. In economically distressed regions like Lowndes County, it’s led to a surge in poverty-related tropical diseases often found in developing countries. Doctors and researchers have evidence of parasitic infections like hookworm and toxocara and conditions for mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika and West Nile.
The risks are accelerated by erratic precipitation patterns and warming temperatures caused by global climate change. But local, state, and federal governments offer little funding to update infrastructure and local health departments have, so far, done little to address this public health crisis, forcing activists and researchers to address it themselves.
“In most countries in the Western world, it’s assumed governments will one way or another make sure basic facilities like clean running water, sewage, and sanitation are available,” said Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who in 2017, traveled to Lowndes County for a report on U.S. poverty.
“What was striking to me in Alabama was the extent to which there’s no sense that a government should be working towards providing basic infrastructure,” Alston said. “If you happen to live in one of the big cities, you will get access, but if you don’t — and particularly if you live in one of the poor counties like Lowndes — there isn’t any obligation and there are no plans in place.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Disparity in Missouri deduction for stillbirths
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The state of Missouri continues to issue more tax deductions to families claiming a stillborn child than the number of such deaths reported in 2016, according to a newspaper analysis.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports a review of state tax records and public health figures found the Missouri Department of Revenue issued deductions to 1,044 families for a stillborn child in 2016, a year when the Department of Health and Senior Services received official reports of 467 stillborn children.
In 2017, the state issued 506 deductions, while the health department recorded 436 stillbirths.
The new numbers come after the newspaper found the deduction had been used by 1,400 families in 2015, when the law first took effect. The health department recorded 460 fetal deaths that year.
Department of Revenue spokeswoman Anne Marie Moy said the agency reviews a portion of all returns, including those claiming the stillborn deduction.
"We routinely ask for additional documentation to support various items reported on returns, but there is a balancing act between validating data reported on returns and becoming a burden to good taxpayers," she said.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • July 5, 2018
Pennsylvania Member Project - "State of Emergency"
More than 40 Pennsylvania AP members have collaborated on a special project, “State of Emergency,” that examines what the state’s citizens are doing to combat the opioid epidemic. The county-by-county effort includes more than 60 text stories, plus photos, audio and video, that was published July 1.
The project was truly a team effort:
On AP Newsroom: http://newsroom.ap.org/detail/PA--OpioidsCrisis-SearchingforSolutions/5490112d4e3240fc9804b03dc17ba2b3/text?Query=Advisory%20AND%20Opioids%20AND%20Crisis&mediaType=text&sortBy=arrivaldatetime:desc&dateRange=Anytime&totalCount=11¤tItemNo=1
CivilBeat.org: What This Consultant Is Doing In Hawaii Is A Mystery
There are two rules to work at Strategies 360, the Seattle-based public affairs, research and strategic communications firm that has recently ramped up its Hawaii operations, even convincing the state’s lieutenant governor to jump to the private sector.
“Rule No. 1 is no assholes allowed,” CEO Ron Dotzauer told Civil Beat. “If we find out later that you are … you will not be with us long term.”
“Rule No. 2 is no high sharp elbows,” he said. “We’re in this together. It’s about us. It’s not about me.”
But just what the company is about in Hawaii is unclear.
Dotzauer declined to reveal a single client, citing the importance of maintaining confidentiality and adhering to nondisclosure agreements. He did say that most of the clients are not engaged in politics.
The company doesn’t show up on any of the latest campaign expense reports of Hawaii candidates or as a contributor to political action committees. Those reports, however, haven’t been updated since January.
Education, environment and health care are the firm’s specialties, Dotzauer said, adding that it also does some work in technology and has probably touched every sector of the economy.
The Post and Courier: A SC funeral home left a body to rot for years in 'corrupt' system that protects homes
When Mary Alice Pitts Moore died at the age of 63, her family scraped together whatever cash they could to hold a proper funeral.
About 100 people showed up to pay their respects at the old AME church in rural Greenwood that day in April 2015. A preacher spoke. A choir sang. And Moore’s husband and son left feeling like they had done right by this big-hearted woman who was a steadfast companion for so many years.
“I just thought she would be in a better place somewhere,” her son Taras Parker said.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
In February — three years after Moore’s death — her badly decomposed body was found stashed in a locked, unrefrigerated storage room at the Spartanburg funeral home her family hired to handle the arrangements. The family paid to have her cremated. Instead, her body was left to rot, draped in blankets and surrounded by air fresheners to mask the smell, the county coroner told them.
First Family Funeral Home’s license is now under suspension, and a criminal investigation is underway into its handling of Moore’s remains. But the case underscores deeper questions about the state’s system for monitoring the nearly 500 funeral homes and crematories that operate in South Carolina and the more than 800 licensed staff members in their employ.
That system, largely governed by funeral industry insiders, is rife with delays, secrecy and potential conflicts that allow unscrupulous undertakers to continue operating for years after problems are discovered, a Post and Courier investigation found.
Pittsburg Post-Gazette: Greensburg, Harrisburg dioceses sought to shut down grand jury abuse probe
The Roman Catholic dioceses of Greensburg and Harrisburg last year sought to shut down the statewide grand jury investigating sexual abuse by priests in six dioceses, including their own, contending that the creation of the grand jury lacked a legal justification.
But the supervising judge of the 40th statewide grand jury dismissed the argument, according to newly unsealed records.
It’s the first indication that any of the six dioceses under scrutiny actually took steps to quash the investigation, which is looking into seven decades’ worth of allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Erie, Harrisburg, Allentown and Scranton.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Unreliable internet, cell service are hurting rural Pennsylvania’s health
Last year, J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital confronted a painful reality: Without radical change, the 107-year-old rural Huntingdon County hospital wasn’t going to survive.
The hospital turned to Robert Gillio, 64, a Mayo Clinic-trained lung specialist, to attack the problem.
Dr. Gillio, J.C. Blair’s new medical director for population health and clinical innovation, proposed a more efficient, less costly way of treating patients through a videoconference hookup called telemedicine — connecting doctors with patients online. He enlisted students at nearby Juniata College in developing educational videos about opioid addiction and childbirth that patients could retrieve from the hospital’s website.
Then Dr. Gillio ran into a problem. The telemedicine hookup he envisioned relies on broadband access — the cable, satellites and fiber that makes getting onto the internet possible.
But he could barely get internet access at his home near the county seat of Huntingdon, where he and his wife, Beth, 61, who teaches online college courses, had moved.
Their house was just four miles from his office. He said Comcast, a local broadband provider, quoted a price of $100,000 to get their street online.
It is a familiar problem to many people living in rural areas.
Even as businesses in Pittsburgh compete to commercialize artificial intelligence and give machines the human quality of “learning,” just a three-hour drive away people struggle with dial-up connections — if there are internet connections at all.
More than 24 million Americans — 800,000 in Pennsylvania and mostly in rural areas — lack an internet connection that meets a federal minimum standard for speed. The result is a yawning divide in commerce, education and medicine that’s splitting America into the digital haves and have-nots.
“We’re basically being cut off from the 21st century,” Huntingdon County Planning Director Mark Colussy said.
Montgomery Advertiser: Housing voucher wait lists close in Montgomery as thousands await assistance
Maryann Hicks has been waiting for a phone call for more than three years.
A mother of five and soon-to-be grandmother, Hicks dreams of having her own home with a pool and trampoline for her kids. But until her phone rings and the Montgomery Housing Authority tells her that she has been awarded a voucher, she waits.
Like many others across Montgomery, she has remained on a wait list for several years to receive a housing voucher — colloquially referred to as "Section 8" — which allows low-income residents to receive a subsidy on a state approved rental home.
Hicks, 29, waited three and a half years to get into public housing, and now years after that, she wants a voucher. She wants to move her family from a house to a home.
"People think that just because you have this government assistance it's easy," Hicks said. "It's not."
More than 2,200 families in Montgomery have applied for a federally funded Housing Choice Voucher. The wait list for the two different voucher programs averages anywhere from two to three years. The wait list length for public housing is similar, with 8,000 applicants.The voucher program closed its two wait lists earlier this year, in February and May, after it filled up with the number of applicants that can be served in a three-year time frame. It's unknown when the closed lists will reopen.
That has left several people in similar conditions as Hicks, who longs for a bigger, safer home in which to raise her family. It is a program many national researchers view as an important piece of the push to help low-income citizens rise from poverty in a country that has increasingly seen housing prices soar as incomes struggle to keep pace.
Montgomery Advertiser: Duty vs. dollars: What motivates underpaid officers?
PRATTVILLE — Hunter Estes puts his life on the line for $13.69 an hour.
The 25-year-old has been a deputy with the Autauga County Sheriff’s Office for a little more than a month. His starting salary is $28,475.20 a year. Estes went into his new career with his eyes open.
“I hate to give the cliché answer,” Estes said, on a recent patrol with Lt. Steve Adams, his training officer for that shift. “I’ve always looked up to law enforcement and first responders, even when I was young. I just thought this is where I needed to be.”
And the pay? After a year and completion of police academy training, Estes and other rookie officers are up for a step raise to $14.12 an hour.
“I knew what it was going in, I actually got a raise,” Estes laughed. “But the pay didn’t bother me one bit. I went in with my eyes open. I love it, it’s something different every day.”
The sheriff's office has struggled with filling deputy positions because of the low pay, said Sheriff Joe Sedinger.
ACSO had three deputy positions open for several months before filling the slots. The spots came open when other deputies left for higher paying jobs elsewhere. Last week, two deputies resigned, opening up two more slots. The turnover is an almost constant issue that has to be dealt with, Sedinger said. The pay is the major factor in the open positions, he said.
San Francisco Chronicle: Legacy of ‘93 SF rampage
Lying with her face pressed against an office floor, Michelle Scully squinted and saw the gunman’s shoe. Then, a flash of metal, the stench of barrel oil, and the steady sputter of a semiautomatic pistol. She closed her eyes.
Twenty-five years later, Scully — now Michelle Scully Hobus — remembers the massacre at 101 California St. in crisp fragments. How her husband, John Scully, pulled her to the floor and shielded her with his rangy, 6-foot-4 body. How she dialed 911 with her left hand because her right arm and hand were limp from a bullet wound. How Scully gazed at her as blood ran from his nose and chest.
“Michelle,” he said, “I’m dying. I love you.”
He was one of eight people slain when a heavily-armed man stormed into a downtown San Francisco law firm in 1993 and opened fire. The killings, which stand as the worst mass homicide in modern San Francisco history, stunned the city and reshaped the politics of guns.
The effects of the 101 California shooting reverberate today, yet its legacy is complicated. The gun control activism that rose from that Financial District office building has claimed many legislative victories at the state level, particularly in California. But nationally, the barriers to passing gun laws have proved far more difficult to overcome.
Statistics show that ownership of firearms has nearly tripled across the U.S. since the late 1990s, and shootings at schools, night clubs and workplaces have become a grim routine. The most recent attack happened last week, when a Maryland man entered a small newsroom in Annapolis. He carried a pump-action shotgun and a grudge.
San Diego Union-Tribune: San Diego's efforts to divest from rival L.A. water agency have driven up rates for residents. Is it worth it?
If the most powerful water officials in San Diego get their way, the county will ratchet down to a trickle one of its cheapest sources of water in the next two decades.
Local officials say ongoing efforts to secure alternatives to the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — known as the Met — have safeguarded businesses and residents against crippling cuts triggered during prolonged drought.
However, the strategy of the San Diego County Water Authority to move away from Southern California’s largest wholesaler has come with a cost.
Prices have increased substantially for the water authority’s 24 member agencies as the agency has inked contracts for new supplies, including for the Colorado River and desalinated seawater.
Critics of the water authority have questioned whether efforts to divest from the Met have been in ratepayers’ best interest — or the result of a longstanding feud.
General Manager Maureen Stapleton, who has run the authority for more than two decades, defended her approach in a recent interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“We’re supporting a $220 billion economy, and without water, we wouldn’t have it,” she said. “Everyone … has supported us and understood while it may increase the cost of water, the water will be there.”
Last year, San Diego County received roughly 40 percent of its water from the Met, down significantly from the early 1990s when that number was a whopping 95 percent, according to agency data.
Now officials project that San Diegans will get just 11 percent of their water from the Met by 2020, all the way down to roughly 2 percent by 2035.
Miami Herald: 'Millions of dollars of wasteful spending.' A look at Gov. Scott's post-Irma debris deals
Soon after Hurricane Irma slammed into the state, Gov. Rick Scott made the decision to ignore the debris removal contracts already in place in the Florida Keys and instead push forward with a plan to issue emergency contracts for the lucrative work of clearing fallen trees and palm fronds, as well as the remnants of destroyed homes and trailers.
One of the companies selected had no previous emergency debris removal experience, while more qualified firms were prevented from even submitting bids.
The governor’s emergency contracts will end up costing taxpayers an additional $28 million to $30 million, according to an analysis by CBS4 News.
CBS4 News reviewed more than $43 million worth of invoices submitted to the state through February by Munilla Construction Management (MCM) and Community Asphalt, the two firms selected to operate in the Keys under the emergency contract.
If the governor had instead used one of the companies already under contract with the state, it would have cost taxpayers as little as $13 million to do the same work.
Scott Amey, the general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group based in Washington, said that by ignoring the existing debris removal contracts, the governor “subjected state and federal taxpayers to millions of dollars of wasteful spending.”
“This is a rookie mistake made by a state that shouldn’t be making rookie mistakes,” Amey added.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Atlanta’s legal bills related to corruption probe top $7.5M, AJC finds
The city of Atlanta has spent at least $5.8 million over the past two years to pay an army of attorneys to respond to a federal corruption probe into former Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation has found.
The spending is four times the amount that the AJC previously reported and began much earlier than Atlanta officials have acknowledged.
An investigation by Channel 2 Action News and the AJC found the investigation has cost about $7 million
Atlanta’s legal bills related to corruption probe top $7.5M, AJC finds
June 28, 2018
By Stephen Deere, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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The city of Atlanta has spent at least $5.8 million over the past two years to pay an army of attorneys to respond to a federal corruption probe into former Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation has found.
The spending is four times the amount that the AJC previously reported and began much earlier than Atlanta officials have acknowledged.
The city spent another $1.7 million on attorneys to uphold Reed’s controversial firing of former airport general manager Miguel Southwell in a dispute that became an early focus of the federal probe.
The AJC investigation found:
The city paid for legal services of more than 100 different lawyers at three law firms, with bills that sometimes exceeded $350,000 per month.
Some money that funded at least two law firms came from federally regulated airport funds. Experts told the AJC that spending could violate Federal Aviation Administration policy.
The city’s billing practices and misleading communications effectively obscured the extent and nature of the attorneys’ work from the elected members of City Council who, under city charter, are co-equal clients of both the city’s law department and outside counsel it hires.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Fewer women applying for judge positions in Hawaii
n the early 2000s, women held just over a third of the judge positions in state courts, a level that raised concerns about too few females serving on the bench.
Women make up half the state’s adult population, and a judicial bench that reflects the community it serves is considered vital for an effective court system.
Over the past nearly 15 years, however, the proportion of women serving as full-time state judges has improved only slightly, disappointing those who believe more parity is essential.
Today, women make up 39 percent of the 80 bench seats, compared with 36 percent in 2004.
And the rate that women apply for openings has slowed in recent years, prompting questions about why more are not seeking the jobs.
From 2012 through 2016, men applied at a rate 2-1/2 times that of women, according to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser analysis of online Judiciary data. Since then, the rate has increased to nearly 3-1/2 times.
The disparity has persisted even as the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law has churned out more women than men graduates over the years.
In 2005, for instance, 61 women obtained their law degrees, compared with 40 men. This year 48 women and 44 men graduated.
The disparity in bench applicants also has persisted even as the number of active women lawyers with at least five years experience — a minimum requirement for District Court judges — has steadily increased.
Des Moines Register: EXCLUSIVE: Iowa's new private Medicaid manager has paid millions of dollars in penalties in a dozen states
The corporation selected to help manage Iowa's controversial privatized Medicaid system has faced serious charges of mismanagement resulting in at least $23.6 million in penalties in more than a dozen states, a Des Moines Register investigation shows.
Iowa Total Care, a subsidiary of Centene, was awarded a state Medicaid contract in May by the Iowa Department of Human Services despite scoring nearly 14 points lower on its evaluation than when it had applied and was rejected in 2015, public records show.
But with only two companies bidding for the work, Iowa Total Care won a spot managing Iowa’s annual $4.8 billion Medicaid program. The Centene subsidiary replaces AmeriHealth Caritas, which pulled out because it said it was losing too much money.
“If history teaches us anything, then this is an indication that we’re in more trouble,” said Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, a privatized Medicaid critic whose grown daughter is disabled and uses the program.
Iowa Medicaid provides services to 680,000 poor or disabled residents, more than a fifth of the state’s population.
Advance Local: From banning them to embracing them, a group of Americans got together to talk about guns
They were here because of Parkland. And before that: Sandy Hook. Before that: Columbine.
Outside, as the sun came up, kids wearing "March for Our Lives" T-shirts clogged the streets carrying signs that read "Protect kids not guns."
These 21 strangers gathered inside, away from the noise. They had traveled to Washington, D.C., about a month after the Parkland shooting, not to march, but to take part in an experiment.
They were victims of gun violence, and gun collectors, and cops and lawyers and hunters and teenagers and moms.
Could they do a better job talking with a group of strangers than they had managed to do with their own families? Could they agree on some measures to mitigate the crisis? Could they have a productive conversation, or even a civil one?
A gun, by its nature, is a polarizing thing. A gun forces us to envision ourselves on either one end of it or the other. A gun is an equalizer, a tool, a symbol of liberty and power and slaughter and loss.
Kansas City Star: Kansas City's gun theft 'victims' are arming criminals — and getting away with it
Good luck trying to find this guy.
Three times since April 2016, a Kansas City man walked into his local police station and reported he had been robbed of a 9 mm handgun — or two.
Once it happened near the corner of 42nd and Indiana, he said. Another time near a south Kansas City night club. The latest in the 18th and Vine district. Five guns in all, gone.
"We live in a world of lies," said Sgt. Paul Hamilton of the Kansas City Police Department's illegal firearms squad.
Many self-described victims of gun thefts are not telling the truth, gun violence experts say, and cops and courts seem nearly powerless against the problem.
In such cases, someone who legally acquired a gun passes it on to an illegal gun owner. And then, as an alibi, the legal gun owner reports the gun as stolen just in case it is recovered in a violent crime and traced back to their hands.
Criminals work with illegally gotten guns. Studies show that where guns are recovered in violent crimes, the shooter carries a gun that belongs to someone else 8 out of 10 times.
Just how often supposed theft victims knowingly pass guns to crooks is unknown. The feared trend is part of a booming rise in reported gun thefts in Kansas City. Police tallied 886 reported firearms thefts in 2017, up 50 percent in just two years.
The rise in gun thefts is driven primarily by criminals busting into cars and homes, taking advantage of poorly protected firearms.
But sorting out which victims are real and which are fake is not easy.
"They will tell you a story," Hamilton said.
The Oregonian: Portland homeless accounted for majority of police arrests in 2017, analysis finds
One in every two arrests made by the Portland Police Bureau last year was of a homeless person, an analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive has found.
The number of arrests is dramatically disproportionate to Portland's homeless population. People experiencing homelessness represent a tiny fraction of the city's overall population -- well below 3 percent even using the biggest estimates.
Yet in 2017, they accounted for 52 percent of arrests.
The arrests affect a staggering percentage of the city's homeless population. A federal survey last year found 4,177 people living outside, in shelters or transitional housing in all of Multnomah County. That survey likely undercounts the true number of people who are homeless, which could be as much as three times higher.
The newsroom found that 4,437 homeless people -- 260 more than the survey counted -- were arrested by Portland police last year.
Most often, police arrested homeless people on property, drug or low-level crimes. The vast majority of the arrests, 86 percent, were for non-violent crimes, the analysis found. And more than 1,200 arrests were solely for offenses that are typically procedural -- missing court or violating probation or parole.
The Inquirer: A Philadelphia story: Falsely declared dead, home stolen and no one will help
Three years ago, Tonya Bell went to City Hall and discovered that she was dead.
And that her house had been stolen.
She learned these things when she looked at the deed for a property she owned in Germantown. In the deed, she had been declared dead by a man she had never heard of. He had named himself her sole heir and taken ownership of her house for $1.
In the years that followed, the saga of her stolen house took many twists and turns, few of them good for Bell.
She learned that the notary who approved the $1 sale to “Braheem Hart” later admitted she never met the “heir” and helped fabricate the paperwork as a favor to her cousin.
She learned that a company that renovates and resells homes had ended up the owner of her property and resold it for almost $300,000.
Without ever contacting her, the firm filed legal papers declaring that she had no claim on the property and accusing her of having obtained it by fraud.
She also learned a hard lesson about asking for help in Philadelphia. She reached out to the Records Department, the Sheriff’s Office, the Police Department, and the District Attorney’s Office. Nobody assisted her. After a year, a private lawyer said she had no case and dumped her as a client.
Her story also exposed the empty promise of the city’s highly touted reforms to crack down on the theft of houses, a problem in Philadelphia for decades now.
By law, those reforms required officials to ask people filing deeds to show identification and death certificates to prove they are rightful heirs — and for the deeds office to take a picture of the filers and keep a photocopy of their ID.
Nothing like that happened here.
Austin American-Statesman: Police Chief Manley calls for stronger ‘guardian’ culture at academy
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley is calling for a cultural shift of the department’s training academy that will emphasize the role of officers as public servants, not strictly enforcers of the law, and treat cadets as students in an adult-learning classroom rather than military recruits.
It is one of Manley’s first initiatives since becoming Austin’s chief June 14 and one of several goals City Manager Spencer Cronk outlined for Manley in offering him the job
Manley said he is already having conversations with academy instructors and asked for input about how they will accomplish the adjustments before the next cadet class in October. He may also seek an outside review.
“We always want to make sure that we are providing our cadets the best possible training that meets not only best practices, but that meets the community’s expectations,” Manley said.
Manley’s view of the training regimen has shifted since two months ago, when a report by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV raised questions about the academy’s training philosophy and compared Austin’s academy to others nationally.
Dallas Morning News: Sexual assault survivors say Texas A&M chose its brand over justice
COLLEGE STATION — Kendra Bailey wasn't a drinker. But at a party one night in December, she took her turn in one of Texas A&M University's most popular traditions: the Aggie ring dunk.
One by one, she and her friends in the school's Corps of Cadets military program dropped their new class rings into pitchers of beer. Then they chugged until their wide grins showed the glinting gold rings between their teeth.
Later, Bailey said, a fellow cadet and ring-dunker who was engaged to one of her friends walked her to her dorm room. He locked the door and assaulted her, penetrating her violently, she said.
"I said 'no' and pushed him away," said Bailey, who thinks she was weakened from the unaccustomed alcohol. "He forced himself on me over and over."
What happened next, she said, was a series of failures by Texas A&M administrators to take her seriously and make her feel safe as she dealt with one of the most traumatic and common crimes affecting college students.
Kendra Bailey, 22, a student at Texas A&M, poses for a photograph at her home in Fort Worth. Bailey says she was raped on campus, and with the help of an attorney, the university found her offender responsible.(Rose Baca/Staff Photographer)
Kendra Bailey, 22, a student at Texas A&M, poses for a photograph at her home in Fort Worth. Bailey says she was raped on campus, and with the help of an attorney, the university found her offender responsible. (Rose Baca/Staff Photographer)
Her case is not unique. Ten women told The Dallas Morning News that A&M — Texas' oldest public university, with an enrollment of 68,000 — responded inadequately to their sexual-assault cases and protected the accused over the accusers. Earlier this month, some women launched a social media campaign, #MeTooTAMU, after a student protested on Twitter that A&M allowed the man found responsible for sexually abusing her to compete on the university's swim team.
Though many of the women took part in an official school process to resolve their complaints, they say the university seemed at every turn to put its own interests, and most of all its image, above their safety.
Palm Beach Post: How Florida ignited the heroin epidemic
In 2011, a national heroin epidemic was the equivalent of dry tinder, lacking only a match.
Florida lit it up.
Purdue Pharma and El Chapo had provided kindling: The pharma company’s unprecedented marketing campaign for its blockbuster OxyContin painkiller did not stop with pill sales. Purdue marketing helped ensure that for the first time in U.S. history, heavy doses of one of the most addictive substances known to man would be prescribed by family doctors for everything from sprained ankles to migraines.
Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, long focused on marijuana and transporting South American cocaine, took note of America’s new-found appetite for narcotics and began seeding mountainsides with poppy plants, the source of heroin.
But it took Florida to set the heroin epidemic ablaze, a Palm Beach Post investigation has found.
For years, Florida’s repeated failure to rein in its homegrown prescription painkiller scourge nourished a bumper crop of opioid addicts and dealers.
It was widely reported that rogue clinics in Palm Beach and Broward counties funneled OxyContin and fueled addiction in Kentucky, Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas and West Virginia.
It was much worse.
DEA reports and federal court records show that by 2010, Florida was the reliable opioid dealer of choice to users and dealers in not only the Southeast, but also in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions — an area spanning virtually every state east of the Mississippi River.
And when Florida finally turned off the free-flowing oxycodone spigot in 2011, drug users in states once fed by Florida oxycodone did exactly what users in Palm Beach County and Florida did: They turned to heroin.
Read more: https://heroin.palmbeachpost.com/
The Journal News: Cashless tolls: Executives reap big salaries, perks while New Yorkers, nation endure
Top corporate executives behind New York’s embattled cashless tolling roadways were paid $21 million in salary and incentive-based perks in 2017, despite a botched roll out that year over the Tappan Zee Bridge that ensnared motorists in a dark web of fines, debt and angst.
The payouts went to three executives at Conduent, the company responsible for cashless tolling in several states that include New York, where drivers told The Journal News/lohud harrowing tales of the system’s failures.
In fact, public fervor over cashless tolling’s mismanagement in New York got so bad that state government offered an amnesty program that cleared 281,000 Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge toll violations, for a total of over $1.4 million.
Yet, amid such seemingly high-profile corporate chaos — including data-center outages that could have been responsible for some of the problems with its cashless system — Conduent’s leaders hit key revenue and performance goals to secure about $19 million of incentive-based pay, bonuses and stock awards, federal records show.
The Journal News/lohud found the payout details buried deep in the publicly traded company’s financial records. The investigation spotlighted complex executive contracts that highlightedConduent’s bottom line.
While cashless tolling is just one of Conduent’s many business interests, the 2017 executive payouts underscored why the Gov. Cuomo bridge saga is little more than a speed bump for the $6 billion company.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • June 28, 2018