Archive for May, 2010

“Homicidal Hitchhiker,” Ohio Inmate Denied Appeal, Is Executed

Monday, May 31st, 2010

The hitchhiker who went on a three-week shooting spree in the 1980s, killing one man and injuring two others in the Cincinnati area, has been executed by the state of Ohio.

Despite a prison conversion to Roman Catholicism, and several appeals that went to the Ohio and United States Supreme Courts, Michael Beuke died by lethal injection at 10:53 a.m. on May 13, at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.

Beuke, 48, had been convicted in 1983 of aggravated murder and sentenced to the death penalty for a the murder of Robert Craig, 27. He was also found guilty of attempted murder, after forcing two men on separate occasions to drive to rural areas, shooting them and leaving them for dead. Gregory Warhoff was paralyzed in the incident, and died four years ago. Bruce Graham, another survivor, had visited Beuke on death row and had publicly opposed his execution.

Beuke had appealed his sentence, once on grounds that his violent acts occurred as a result of brain damage, and then again on the grounds that his execution would be unconstitutionally cruel, since he had already spent 25 years on death row. Beuke also felt that a prescription medication he was taking might interfere with one of the drugs used in Ohio’s backup execution system. The state recently moved to a single-injection method of execution, which has spurred a number of appeals.

Both the United States Supreme Court and the Ohio Supreme Court, however, rejected Beuke’s appeals.

A spokesperson for the Lucasville prison said that Beuke, who had undergone a spiritual conversion in prison and become a Roman Catholic, recited the Rosary and said the Hail Mary repeatedly for 17 several minutes before the execution began. He extended his sorrow to the families of the three victims.

In one of his rejected requests for clemency, Beuke had accepted responsibility and admitted remorse for the crimes he had committed. He also prayed “that God will ease the pain I have caused my victims.”

Beuke had also explained his motives for his actions, saying that he needed $2,500 to pay a lawyer to defend him on a drug trafficking charge, and that he was stealing the car in order to rob a bank to get the money.

Beuke was the 38th inmate to have been put to death in the state of Ohio since 1999, when the death penalty was reinstated.

Microsoft’s Suppliers Face Labor Violations at Chinese Factories

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Two Chinese suppliers to the Redmond, Washington-based technology giant Microsoft have been cited for labor-law violations, including excessive overtime and the employment of unregistered and underage workers.

Kunying Computer Products and Xieying Computer Products are both divisions of a parent company, called KYE Systems Corporation and located in the factory town of Dongguan, that were investigated by the Pittsburgh, PA-based National Labor Committee. A report issued by the NLC last week said that the factories, which made computer mice, Web cams and other technology accessories, had hired underage workers and forced them to work for as many as 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week.

The “work study students,” as they were termed by KYE Systems, ranged in age from 16 to 18, with some as young as 14. According to the report, there were over 300 illegally employed workers, and they were paid only between 65 cents and $1 per hour. These abuses have been ongoing for years, alleged the report.

Photographs released with the report showed dorm rooms that held 14 workers in cramped conditions, as well as workers who were clearly exhausted, struggling to keep up with production at their work stations.

Chinese law allows 16- to 18-year-olds to work, but requires them to be registered with local authorities. There are also restrictions placed on their workloads.

Representatives from the Dongguan Municipal Human Resources Bureau inspected the factories briefly following the report, and cited them for employing some 326 unregistered workers, and for forcing them to work overtime hours that were “excessive.” The officials said that in March, employees on production lines at the two subsidiary companies averaged 280 hours worked—far more than the maximum number of work hours allowed by Chinese law, which is 196.

Chinese labor officials said that the KYE factories could face stiff punishments if they do not rectify the issues within two weeks.

A spokesperson for the Taiwan-based KYE Systems denied the allegations and invited auditors to visit the plant.

Microsoft said that it had been conducting audits of its Chinese suppliers’ factories, but that a new audit would occur immediately. In a statement issued last week, the computer company said that it has “rigorous standards in place” and that it would take “appropriate action” if the audit found that those standards were not being met.

The Chinese government has faced criticism for its lax standards and enforcement of labor laws, prompting the country to improve factory conditions and to pass new laws that are more worker-friendly. Nevertheless, labor groups from the United States and other countries regularly publish reports similar to that from the NLC, detailing labor-law violations and unacceptable working environments.

NJ Police Chief Suspended Amidst Controversy, Federal Charges

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Hackensack, New Jersey’s Police Chief, Charles “Ken” Zisa, has been suspended from the force with pay, after administrative charges were filed against him.

The chief’s leave of absence stems from criminal charges filed against Zisa and his former girlfriend, Kathleen Tiernan, by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office. Prosecutor John Molinelli alleges that the pair committed insurance fraud following a 2008 motor vehicle accident in which Tierney, driving a vehicle that was registered and insured by Zisa, slammed into a utility pole. Police officers who arrived on the scene suspected that Tiernan was drunk, but before they could administer a sobriety test to determine if she had been driving under the influence, Zisa arrived and escorted her away.

Afterwards, according to investigators, Zisa demanded that one of his subordinates falsify a police report, by stating that a rodent crossing the road had caused Tiernan to swerve her car and impact the utility pole. Zisa then filed an insurance claim based on this information.

This is not the first controversy that Zisa has faced. Fifteen current and former officers with his department have named him in separate civil suits, alleging that he abused his authority as Police Chief and as a Democratic state assemblyman for the 37th District, an office he held from 1994 until 2002. They also allege that Zisa retaliated against officers who did not contribute to his election fund, or who refused to back the candidates he supported in county, city and police union elections.

Zisa has denied these allegations but did surrender to police to answer the insurance fraud charges.

Captain Tomas Padilla has been named the department’s acting officer in charge, and it was Padilla who signed the administrative charges against Zisa. The chief has been charged with a violatin pursuant to the federal criminal complaint, and violation of civil service rules and regulations.

Yet the appointment of Padilla is also coming under fire because of his political background and allegations of cronyism with both Zisa and the county Democratic Party. Padilla, a Bergen County freeholder, is named in one of the federal civil suits against Zisa. He is accused of supporting the police chief’s strongarm tactics in soliciting campaign donations—some of which went to his own freeholder election.

Padilla, who says that he plans to step down as freeholder, also said that the complaints against him had been dismissed, but according to court documents, only one set of allegations was dismissed. The others—including one that he conspired with Zisa—remain and will be heard in federal court.

No Charges Will Be Filed in Teen’s Boot-Camp Death

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

The United States Department of Justice has announced that it will not file federal criminal civil rights charges against eight staffers at a Florida boot camp where a 14-year-old boy died.

Martin Lee Anderson had been sent to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office Boot Camp, a disciplinary facility where teenagers underwent military-style training, after his arrest for theft. On his first day at the camp, January 5, 2006, Anderson was ordered to go for a run, then beaten and harassed when he complained of fatigue. He eventually collapsed and was taken by ambulance to a Pensacola hospital, where he was pronounced dead the next day.

A videotape of the incident shows drill instructors and other staff members punching Anderson, yelling at him and forcing smelling salts up his nose in an attempt to get him to resume physical activity. Two separate autopsies on his body yielded conflicting results; one medical examiner ruled that he had died from complications of sickle-cell trait, while another ruled that boot camp staff members suffocated the teenager.

Eight staff members were tried for manslaughter and related charges in 2007, but a Florida jury found all of them not guilty. During the trial, staff members testified that although Anderson had complained of fatigue, they thought he was faking it. A nurse who had briefly examined him said that he was fine.

The Department of Justice said in a press release that prosecutors would have had to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the boot camp employees willfully deprived Anderson of a constitutional right.

“Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation,” said the release.

Anderson’s family has settled lawsuits to the tune of $7 million against both Bay County and the state of Florida.

In part because Anderson was black, and some of the guards at the boot camp were white, the teen’s death ignited a public outcry in Florida and around the nation, leading then-Governor Jeb Bush to appoint a special prosecutor in the case. This, in turn, resulted in the exhumation of the boy’s body and the second autopsy.

The controversy over the way Anderson was treated eventually led to the Bay County boot camp, and others in the state, being shut down.

Ohio Executes Serial Rapist; Fourth Lethal Injection In State This Year

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

The serial rapist who maintained his innocence in the death of a 16-year-old Ohio girl, and who tried to delay his execution on grounds that he was allergic to the drug that would be used, has been put to death without complications.

Darryl Durr, who had been on the death row at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, was pronounced dead at 10:36 a.m. According to reports, he clenched his fists, raised his head and grimaced as the lethal injection process began, but it is unclear whether or not this was a physical reaction to the drug.

Durr’s lawyers, in what was seen as a last-ditch legal maneuver, claimed that the inmate had an allergy to anesthesia, and that no one knew how his body would react if he were given a large dose of anesthesia during his lethal injection, were rejected by a judge, who said that Durr had waited too long before raising the issue. The United States Supreme Court upheld that ruling the day before the execution was scheduled to take place, and declined to intervene.

Durr, 46, had been convicted in the rape and murder of Angel Vincent, a 16-year-old from Elyria, Ohio, on January 31, 1988. Prosecutors said that Durr took Vincent from her home while her parents were away at a Super Bowl party, then raped her and strangled her with a dog chain. Durr had allegedly been obsessed with Vincent, naming a daughter after her and demanding that his girlfriend wear a pair of jeans he had taken from Vincent during the attack.

The body of Angel Vincent was found three months later, stuffed in two orange trash barrels placed end-to-end, in a Cleveland park. Durr was not connected to the crime until he was arrested on unrelated rape charges in September 1988, at which point his girlfriend came forward and said that she had seen Vincent tied up in the back of Durr’s car, and that he later boasted of having killed her.

In a final statement, Durr maintained his innocence, saying that he had hoped for further DNA testing, but acknowledged that this would not happen. He also told the Vincent family that he was sorry for their loss.

Durr was the fourth Ohio inmate executed this year; the state is on track to execute a record number of 11 inmates in 2010.

Chico State Student Body President Attacked in Hate Crime Stabbing

Monday, May 24th, 2010

In what is being described by law enforcement authorities as a hate crime, the student body president of a California university was sent to the hospital with stab wounds.

Joseph Igbineweka, a Nigerian-born political science major, is a senior at the University of California, Chico, commonly called Chico State. He is also active in campus politics, as the president of that school’s student body.

Igbineweka was reportedly walking with friends on Warner Street, an area near the university where many students live, when he passed two men who began yelling racial slurs at him. Initially Igbineweka ignored the shouts, but when they followed him and continued the taunts, he eventually turned around. One of the men struck him, and although Igbineweka fought back, the attacker began to stab him with a pocket knife before fleeing on foot.

The 23-year-old Igbineweka was stabbed at least four times, in the neck, arm, stomach and chest, according to Chico police Sergeant Rob Merrifield. His worst injury is a gash to his arm, and although he was hospitalized after the attack, he is listed as being in stable condition and is expected to make a full recovery.

A suspect, Barry Sayavong, was apprehended about a block away from where the attack took place. He was arrested and will face charges of attempted murder and a hate crime. Sayavong, of Chico, is 19 years old. The other man who was yelling insults at Igbineweka was not identified or apprehended.

Igbineweka, who came to Richmond, California from Nigeria with his family when he was 15, is well-known and well-respected both in the city of Chico and on the campus.

A spokesman for the university, Joe Willis, said that the student body president of the school is like a public figure in Chico, which has a population of about 100,000. “When violent crimes happen in this and other communities, it is very disturbing,” said Willis. “This is a hate crime and a very big deal.”

The mayor of Chico, Ann Schwab, issued a joint statement with university President Paul Zingg. “Today, our thoughts are with Joseph hoping for his full recovery,” read the statement, which also called the attack “an assault on the values of civility and respect for other people that both Chico State and the city of Chico work so hard to ensure.”

From his hospital bed, Igbineweka urged members of the community to “continue the conversation” about prejudice, violence and hate crimes, and said that he was eager to return to campus and stay active in the struggle against intolerance.

Wiretap Investigation Reveals Police-Killing Plot, Gang Unity

Friday, May 21st, 2010

A sting operation in Queens has not only netted a number of gang-related arrests, but also uncovered a plot to kill police officers and an unusual alliance between members of two notorious enemies: the Crips and the Bloods.

Law enforcement officers have revealed the results of a massive investigation, named “Operation Under Siege,” which began nearly two years ago, triggered by the May 2008 death of 15-year-old Brandon Bethea, who was shot by a gang member firing into a crowd outside a Far Rockaway housing project.

Over 100 gang members have been arrested, and dozens of guns, stacks of cash and a stash of drugs have been seized. Additionally, a plot to shoot police officers from rooftops in Far Rockaway and South Jamaica was foiled. Keith Livingston, a drug dealer and ex-con who had numerous drug violations on his rap sheet, was heard complaining that he “was tired of being stopped” by police walking the beat in South Jamaica. He was arrested 12 hours after making those statements, and authorities recovered two weapons, including 9-mm Hi-Point rifle, from Livingston’s home.

The foot patrol came as the result of Operation Impact, an initiative of the New York Police Department that puts rookie officers on the streets in high-crime areas.

Livingston has been charged with gun possession and conspiracy, and is being held on $250,000 bail.

The investigation depended in large measure on wiretaps—over 300 wiretaps and thousands of hours of tapes. According to federal statistics, Queens uses wiretaps more than in any other jurisdiction besides Los Angeles.

Police also uncovered ties between the two rival gangs, a rare but not unheard-of arrangement that centered on money. Crips in Far Rockaway, who were attempting to gain control over drug turf in some housing projects, bought drugs—marijuana, cocaine and heroin—at wholesale prices from Bloods in South Jamaica, who are not loyal to the Bloods in Far Rockaway. In fact, some of the South Jamaica Bloods are members of four Crips sets, known collectively as Flocc.

Also arrested in Operation Under Siege was Gquan Lloyd, 23, a Crips member who allegedly rallied Flocc in order to “corner the narcotics trade.” He was charged with gun possession, as was Farrad Smith, 23, a former corrections officer. Police discovered a loaded AK-47 under his mattress, as well as a handgun allegedly stolen from a fellow corrections officer.

Gunman Who Killed One, Injured Two Others Was Mentally Ill

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

A man who shot several people at a Tennessee hospital, killing one and wounding two others, was mentally ill and off his medication, say law enforcement authorities.

The gunman, Abdo Ibssa, entered a medical building near Parkwest Medical Center and asked to see the doctor who had performed his 2001 appendectomy, before heading to a patient discharge area and opening fire. After shooting three women, Ibssa turned the gun on himself.

Ibssa, 38, apparently thought that the doctor had implanted a tracking device inside his body during the procedure to remove his appendix. Investigators found a note during a search of Ibssa’s Knoxville apartment which indicated that he believed an electronic chip was monitoring his movements.

Investigators also found an anti-psychotic medication which was prescribed to him, but said that they believed Ibssa had not been taking that medication. Also recovered from his apartment were a cell phone, two laptop computers, a bag of marijuana, a .22 handgun with an altered serial number and a handbook entitled The CIA Manual of Tracking and Deception.

Ibssa, who was from Ethiopia, became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 2006. In February, he had been committed to a mental health treatment center by relatives who were concerned about his psychological well-being.

Cab driver Freddy Sakhleh said that he picked up Ibssa outside of an apartment complex and drove him to Parkview Medical Center, stopping at an ATM on the way. Once at the hospital, Ibssa gave Sakhleh $20 and asked him to wait. He returned to the cab twice—once after attempting but failing to find the appendectomy surgeon; and a second time, just a few minutes after entering the patient discharge area at Door #5.

Sakhleh had actually started to drive away when Ibssa asked him to stop, exited the vehicle, and pulled out the gun with which he fired five shots. Bystanders said that the shots occurred within seconds of each other, striking three female hospital employees. Ibssa then shot himself in the head.

A stolen .357 magnum handgun was discovered under Ibssa’s body, but it was unclear whether Ibssa was involved in its theft.

Two of the victims, Ariane Reagan Guerin, 26, and 32-year-old Nancy Chancellor, were said to be in stable condition at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. The third, Rachel Wattenbarger, 40 had worked at the hospital for five years, helping discharge elderly patients. She died on the scene, as did Ibssa.

Oil Spill Lawsuits Begin, Could Cost BP Billions in Damages

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Even before the massive Gulf oil spill has been cleaned up—or even contained—a wave of lawsuits, both individual and class-action, is already threatening BP, which operates the still-gushing Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Louisiana fishermen whose livelihoods are threatened, Florida condominium owners and restaurateurs along the coasts of several states are among those expected to bring suit against the petroleum giant. Others who may become embroiled in legal battles include subsidiary and contractor companies that played a part in the environmental disaster, including the beleaguered oil service corporation Halliburton, and even the federal government.

According to BP’s top lobbyist, the company has already paid $350 million in cleanup, containment and relief well costs, in addition to $3.5 million in damages. That number is expected to surpass the $75 million cap on compensation payouts set by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

Said Mark Salt, a spokesperson for BP, “We believe it is inevitable we will spend more than the OPA suggests settling claims and are willing to do that.”

The disaster began on April 20, when an oil rig explosion killed 11 people and sent over 3.5 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, the oil has been moving steadily towards the shorelines in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, with some coastal residents reporting dead sea creatures and “blobs of oil” washing up on shore.

Since the leak has not yet been contained, and there’s no telling where the oil slick will end up nor what kind of damage it might do, there’s no consensus on how much money could be lost by those who fish the Gulf, or who operate hotels, restaurants, golf courses and other recreational enterprises.

At least one BP shareholder has filed a lawsuit against the company, and numerous lawyers have set up temporary shop in the Gulf region. Earlier this week, BP filed paperwork requesting that more than 70 lawsuits be consolidated and heard by a Houston-area judge—whom the company likely feels will be less biased than a New Orleans-based court.

Even the federal government may get in on the legal skirmishes, especially if it decided to raise the $75 million liability damages cap—some senators have already moved to introduce legislation to up the cap to $10 billion. This, says an attorney who specializes in oil pollution matters, could make it impossible for most oil companies to run their offshore drilling operations.

BP reportedly asked fisherman, who had agreed to assist in cleanup efforts, to sign a waiver that would grant them $5,000 in exchange for releasing the oil company from liability, but has since put the kibosh on this initiative after public outcry.

AZ Senate Passes One of Nation’s Toughest Immigration Bills

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

The Arizona state Senate has passed legislation that requires law enforcement officers to question people whom they suspect of being undocumented immigrants—but that opponents say legalizes racial profiling.

The bill, which was approved by the Arizona House of Representatives last week, was passed by the Senate in a 17-11 vote. Governor Jan Brewer is expected to sign it into law.

Considered to be some of the most stringent immigration-related legislation in the nation, the new bill requires that immigrants to the United States carry their alien registration documents at all times. And it allows police broad authority to stop and question anyone they might suspect of being in the country illegally. It also allows police to target those who either transport illegal immigrants or hire them as day laborers.

Additionally, the bill contains a provision that allows Arizona residents to sue local governments if they feel that the law isn’t being adequately enforced.

Under current law, law enforcement officers can only question a person’s immigration status if they are suspected in another crime. Critics say that the new provisions will create an atmosphere of racial profiling, and that they effectively turn police officers into Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, taking them away from their other duties.

“The bill opens the doors to racial profiling with the provision that allows an officer to ask for citizenship papers from someone who only looks illegal,” said Senate Democratic leader Jorge Luis Garcia in a written statement. Garcia and other opponents of the bill, some of whom have compared this measure to Jim Crow laws, also fear that the court system will become overloaded with lawsuits as a result of the bill.

Another concern is that any immigrant who is in the country illegally will be reluctant to report crimes against them, such as assault, robbery, domestic violence or on-the-job abuse, for fear that they will be forced into ICE custody and subsequently deported. In fact, said State Representative Kyrsten Sinema, who voted against the bill, the abuser could even sue law enforcement for failing to investigate the status of the victim. Additionally, said Sinema, the bill does little if anything to target immigrants—legal or illegal—who are actually committing crimes.

Republicans, however, are largely in favor of the measure. The author of the immigration bill, Republican state Senator Russell Pearce, said in an interview that this bill allows lawmakers to “take the handcuffs off of law enforcement [and] put them on the bad guy. Illegal is not a race, it’s a crime.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has vowed that it will challenge the law’s constitutionality in court if it is enacted, as has the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and other pro-immigrant groups..

Supporters of the bill say that Governor Brewer is expected to sign it when it lands on her desk, sometime early next week. If she does so, the law will not go into effect until August, at the latest.