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National News

A new scientific method for bail reform

Image Source/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Cities and towns around the country are turning to a new scientifically based algorithm that will work to help judges make decisions during pretrial processes in an attempt to create fairer judicial procedures that are less focused on a cash-based bail system.

The algorithm, called the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) tool, was created by the Advancing Pretrial Policy & Research center and is a project of the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice. It was funded by Arnold Ventures, a philanthropy founded by billionaire John Arnold and his wife Laura Arnold. The assessment tool is free and has been implemented in more than 50 jurisdictions in states, cities and counties around the country, according to sources involved in the development of risk assessment tools.

According to those close to its creation, the PSA algorithm was formulated by analyzing 750,000 historical criminal cases around the country, which pinpoint nine factors that best determine a set of critical pretrial questions: How likely would a released detainee be to appear in court for their trial, commit a new crime and perpetrate a violent criminal act?

Detainees are scored on a scale of 1 to 6, in what is called a release conditions matrix, according to creators of the PSA. It is then up to the jurisdiction to determine what happens to the charged individual based on their score. The PSA was never created to replace judges as decision makers in pretrial releases. Rather, it’s another tool they can use when deciding to release a detainee before their trial, according to sources close to the development of PSA.

“We're going to hopefully ensure that people who cannot afford a bond are not going to be held just because they can't afford it,” Nushin Sayfie, chief judge of Miami-Dade County in Florida, told ABC News. “We're also going to make sure that people that are going to pose any kind of threat or danger to the community that they're going to actually see a judge before they're released.”

According to those familiar with the creation of risk-assessment tools, the PSA was created in hopes of ending the cash-bail system. They believe judges can implement other conditions, such as court reminders through text, pretrial supervision and criminal history checks, once a month, in lieu of cash bonds.

In the current system, a first-time offender arrested in Miami for shoplifting could stay detained in jail until their trial if they do not have enough money to pay their bail. And if someone with enough money were detained for aggravated battery with a firearm, they could get out on bond without even having to see a judge before their trial, according to Sayfie.

Discrepancies like these in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida are a big reason why Miami hopes to implement a new PSA algorithm that will help officials reform the county's pretrial bail processes.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis voiced opposition against “rogue” judges releasing people into the community and announced at a press conference in Miami last week that he would unveil new criminal-justice legislation.

Sayfie’s office told ABC News they would put the pretrial reform initiative on hold until after DeSantis delivers his proposal at the Florida legislative session this spring. Sayfie’s office is confident their bail reform plans fall in line with DeSantis’ views on criminal justice and believe their policies could still roll out by the end of this year, as planned.

But there are critics of the algorithm on both sides of the bail reform issue.

“There's been so many panaceas in the criminal justice system that we've been promised are going to fundamentally change and move justice forward by, sort of, leaps and bounds,” Patrick Kenneally, McHenry County State Attorney in Illinois, said. “I am skeptical that these types of things are going to fundamentally change how courts operate or increase the accuracy of projecting future behavior.”

Illinois was poised to become the first state in the country to eliminate the cash bail system. But Kenneally joined state attorneys in other Illinois counties in a lawsuit halting the enactment of the law. According to Kenneally, the bill is currently on hold as it moves through the appellate process before the Illinois Supreme Court.

According to sources close to the development of the PSA tool, discussions about eliminating cash bail become conflated by prosecutors who believe cashless bail policies will make communities inherently more dangerous. Research shows money doesn't improve court appearance or community safety; rather, it mostly extracts wealth from poorer communities, according to those familiar with the development of risk assessment algorithms.

"The kind of biggest problem with these tools is that we actually can't predict serious crime that well. We haven't been able to for decades and decades,” Colin Doyle, Associate Professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, said. “There are still real limits to it and there are real limits to being able to predict human behavior, particularly rare actions like violent crime.”

There are those like Megan Guevara, executive partner with the Pretrial Justice Institute, who agree that bail reform should change to a cashless system but think the PSA tool is not the answer because she says the factors considered reflect inherent racial bias.

“When criminal history data, like the number of times somebody has previously been arrested or previously been convicted, is used to calculate a score, we know that people of color in the United States are more likely to have been arrested, more likely to live in over-policed communities and more likely to have been convicted of a crime,” Guevara said. “So, it means that there's racial bias baked into those tools.”

Those close to the development of risk assessment tools admit that they haven’t seen a reduction in racial disparities in jurisdictions that have implemented the algorithm. PSA can help reduce the reliance on a cash-bail system, but on its own, it won’t eliminate disparities in the system, according to those familiar with the PSA formulation.

New Jersey began applying the PSA tool as part of an overhaul plan for its judicial system in 2017. The inmate population, which was 8,482 in 2018, dropped in 7,937 in 2019. But in 2020, restrictions were put in place to combat COVID-19, slowing the criminal justice process and increasing the jail population to 8,930, according to New Jersey courts. However, serious crime offenses, which include murder, rape, aggravated assault and burglary, fell to 164,965 in 2020 from 212,346 in 2017, according to the New Jersey government records.

But in New Mexico, 80 percent of detainees the algorithm recommended be released in Bernalillo County were still detained by the courts because of the seriousness of their crimes, according to the Bernalillo County district attorney.

Judge Sayfie is eager to implement the algorithm in her district, but isn’t planning on eliminating cash bail.

“I want to assure people that we are doing everything we can, and we truly believe that this is going to improve public safety,” Sayfie said. “More people who are arrested currently on firearm charges are going to be seeing a judge that currently don't. And I believe it's also going to be better because people will get to be released without having to post a bond if they're low risk.”

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


High-powered rifles, shotguns, handguns found in man's home; police say possible mass shooting was prevented

Los Angeles Police Dept.

(LOS ANGELES) -- A cache of high-powered rifles, shotguns and handguns have been recovered at a man's Los Angeles apartment and authorities say a mass shooting may have been thwarted.

On Tuesday morning, officers in Hollywood responded to a call from building security of a man making threats, according to law enforcement sources.

The officers "determined the elements of Criminal Threats had been met" and they obtained a search warrant, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

Police said they recovered "several high-powered rifles, shotguns, handguns and a large cache of various munitions" in the home. Some guns were found in front of a window, according to law enforcement sources.

Braxton Johnson, 24, was arrested for criminal threats, according to police.

Lt. Leonid Tsap told reporters, "There's a high chance that the officers, and obviously security staff and the people who called, prevented a mass shooting from happening."

Johnson served in the Army as an Infantryman from July 2016 to February 2020, according to an Army spokesperson. He had no deployments.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Up to 20 hours more Tyre Nichols footage yet to be released: DA

Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) --

There is up to 20 hours of additional video footage in the Tyre Nichols case that has yet to be released, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy's office confirmed to ABC News on Thursday.

It is not yet clear what that footage may show. The timing of that release is up to the city of Memphis with the city issuing a statement earlier this week saying any additional video would be released in the "next few weeks."

Nichols, 29, died three days after he was beaten by police during an encounter following a traffic stop for reckless driving on Jan. 7. Memphis police released hours of footage from body cameras last Friday.

Nichols complained of shortness of breath after the traffic stop and was taken by ambulance to Memphis' St. Francis Hospital in critical condition, according to police.

Speaking to local news after Nichols' death, his stepfather Rodney Wells said his stepson suffered a cardiac arrest and kidney failure because of a beating by officers.

A funeral was held for Nichols on Wednesday, which was attended by Vice President Kamala Harris and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy. Ben Crump, a lawyer for the Nichols family, also spoke.

Three videos from body worn cameras were shared by the city of Memphis on Jan. 27 with the warning: "Footage contains graphic content and language. Some may find offense. Viewer discretion is advised." A fourth video -- soundless surveillance footage from a city pole camera -- was also released, amounting to about 67 minutes total.

The videos prompted immediate outrage and protests across the nation.

The family of Tyre Nichols had been shown the video at the beginning of the week and supported to release of footage to draw attention to police brutality.

Five Memphis police officers were fired from the department and later charged with second-degree murder, among other felonies. They have yet to enter pleas, though two of the officers' lawyers said they would plead not guilty.

On Jan. 28, the Memphis Police Department deactivated its SCORPION Unit, the task force at the center of Nichols' death. All five officers fired and charged in connection with Nichols' death were in the unit, which had been inactive since the fatal encounter.

In the videos released last week, Nichols is shown being pulled out of his car and wrestled to the ground, Nichols can be heard saying, "I didn't do anything," and tells officers at least twice that he is "just trying to go home." During the altercation an officer warns Nichols, "I'm going to beat your a--."

Nichols breaks free and runs away, with officers chasing him. A 30-minute clip from nearby surveillance footage at a second scene shows the officers catching up to Nichols and kicking, punching and striking him with a baton while being held down.

Nichols can be heard screaming "mom" several times during the clips, which appear to show officers beating and pepper-spraying him after he ran from the traffic stop arrest.

The officers yell multiple times at Nichols to "give me your hands." The officer with the baton can be heard saying, "I'ma baton the f--- out of you" and then appears to strike him on the upper body three times.

ABC News' Meredith Deliso contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Dangerous and possibly record-breaking freeze heading to Northeast: What to expect

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Bitter cold is moving into the northern Great Lakes and upper Midwest before a dangerous and possibly record-shattering freeze invades the Northeast.

By Thursday evening, the wind chill -- what temperature it feels like -- is expected to reach the minus 20s in Minneapolis. On Friday morning, the wind chill is forecast to fall to minus 18 degrees in Chicago.

The cold will move into the Northeast Friday morning, with wind chills expected to drop to 0 degrees in Boston, minus 10 degrees in Buffalo and minus 25 degrees in Burlington, Vermont.

The coldest air for the Northeast will hit Saturday morning, when wind chills are forecast to plunge to a bone-chilling minus 33 degrees in Boston, minus 23 degrees in Hartford and minus 9 degrees in New York City.

The most extreme forecast is for Caribou, Maine, near the Canadian border, where wind chills could be as low as minus 65 degrees on Saturday morning. That would clock in as the coldest wind chill on record.

But the extreme cold won’t last for long. On Sunday and Monday, New York City is forecast to thaw to 46 degrees and 50 degrees, respectively.

Click here for tips on how to stay safe in the cold.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Virginia principal was not informed 6-year-old had a gun before shooting, lawyer says

Jay Paul/Getty Images

(NEWPORT NEWS, Va.) -- The former principal of Richneck Elementary School, where a 6-year-old intentionally shot a teacher last month in Newport News, Virginia, was not informed that the student had a gun at school, according to her lawyer, despite allegations that administrators were warned the day of the shooting.

Briana Foster Newton, the principal, was removed from her position and will be reassigned within the district, according to her lawyer, Pamela Branch.

"It continues to be reported that unidentified school administrators were aware that the 6-year-old student had a gun at school on Jan. 6, and simply failed to act. Mrs. Newton has been assumed to have been one of those administrators. However, this is far from the truth," Branch said at a press conference Thursday.

Branch told reporters Newton has been receiving "threatening voicemails wishing her ill [and] has also been the subject of misinformed social media posts," since the shooting.

The teacher, Abigail Zwerner, was shot in the chest and rushed to the hospital in critical condition. She is now home recovering from her injuries.

Zwerner announced she will be filing a lawsuit against the school board, alleging the shooting could have been prevented by school administrators who were warned about the student on the day of the shooting.

Toscano alleged that the administration was warned four times by teachers and school employees about the student. There were three warnings from school employees about the gun and a warning from Zwerner about the student threatening to harm another child, Toscano alleged.

A bullet remains lodged in Zwerner body, according to Diane Toscano, Zwerner's lawyer.

After the incident, the 6-year-old was admitted to a medical facility for treatment. Police interviewed the boy and his mother after the shooting and determined the gun was legally purchased by the boy's mother.

ABC News' Beatrice Peterson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Man arrested for allegedly throwing Molotov cocktail at New Jersey synagogue

Bloomfield Division of Public Safety

(BLOOMFIELD, N.J.) -- A 26-year-old man is facing federal charges for allegedly throwing a Molotov cocktail at a New Jersey synagogue.

Nicholas Malindretos, of Clifton, New Jersey, is accused of trying to firebomb the doors of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield this weekend.

According to the charging documents, a surveillance camera caught Malindretos approaching the synagogue in the middle of the night while wearing a mask and gloves. The video showed the attacker walk to the entrance and ignite a wick on the top of a bottle before throwing it at the front glass doors. The synagogue was not damaged.

Malindretos was tracked, in part, through his car, which was recorded near the synagogue shortly before and after the incident, the FBI said.

Temple Ner Tamid Rabbi Marc Katz said in a statement, "We have prayed, reflected, and have helped each other heal from this traumatic event."

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy met with members of the synagogue on Tuesday.

On Thursday evening, the congregation will come together with the local community and New Jersey leaders for an "evening of prayer, healing and unity."

"We must not forget that many communities across the country have suffered from violent and hateful attacks over the past months," Katz said.

"We hope that Thursday evening's community event will be an opportunity to join together in solidarity across faiths and regions of the state, to unite, strengthen the voices of the great majority, and show that there is no place for violence or hate," he said.

Malindretos is due in court Thursday afternoon.

If convicted of attempted use of fire to damage and destroy a building used in interstate commerce, Malindretos faces a minimum of five years and a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Twelve monkeys missing from Louisiana zoo as search for thief continues

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(NEW YORK) -- Twelve squirrel monkeys that were stolen from Zoosiana, a Louisiana zoo, shortly before midnight Saturday remain missing five days later.

The thief targeted facilities of smaller primates and "compromised" the squirrel monkey exhibit, successfully stealing 12 from the enclosure, according to zoo officials.

The remaining squirrel monkeys were assessed by the zoo's veterinarian and animal care team and there are no apparent issues affecting their health or well-being, Zoosiana said in a statement posted on Facebook.

"All other animals are accounted for and appear to have been undisturbed," Zoosiana said.

The zoo was closed on Sunday, but Zoosiana said this was due to weather and was unrelated to the theft.

An investigation into the incident is ongoing. Zoosiana said it is working with local, state and federal agencies.

Zoosiania and the Broussard Police Department did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

The incident at Zoosiana comes as the Dallas Zoo faces a series of suspicious incidents. In the most recent incident, two emperor tamarin monkeys were stolen from their habitat earlier this week.

The Dallas Police Department found the monkeys safe on Tuesday. No arrests have been made and the investigation is still ongoing. There's no known connection to the monkeys stolen at Zoosiana.

In January, a clouded leopard escaped her enclosure at the Dallas Zoo after the fence of her habitat was "intentionally cut," the leopard was found the same day it went missing, according to officials. A second fence inside the zoo's langur monkey habitat was cut although no monkeys escaped or were danger or harmed.

The Dallas Zoo also found a rare and endangered vulture dead in its enclosure in January, with officials saying it did not appear to have died from natural causes.

Dallas Zoo is offering a $25,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of those responsible for the incidents.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


New Jersey councilwoman shot and killed in possible targeted attack outside her home

Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- A 30-year-old woman found fatally shot in her Sayreville townhouse complex has been identified by local officials as Councilwoman Eunice Dwumfour.

She was shot while inside her white SUV, which appears to have then crashed on Samuel Circle at around 7:22 p.m. Wednesday night, authorities said.

She sustained multiple gunshot wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene. She lived in the townhouse complex where she was killed, just steps from her home.

She preliminarily appears to have been the target of the gunfire, but a motive for the shooting was not immediately disclosed.

Mahesh Chitnis, who serves on Sayreville's Human Relations Commission, posted on Facebook that the victim, who was also his neighbor, was "killed 300 feet from my home ... She was shot while returning back home. She was a woman full of life."

Hours later, her SUV was towed away by police, who did not say if a suspect was identified or an arrest was made.

Dwumfour was elected to the council in 2021 and worked as a business analyst and part-time emergency medical technician.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called Dwumfour's death "a shocking, shocking development" during a news conference Thursday, adding that he could not remember the last time a sitting politician was fatally shot in the state.

"I am stunned by the news of Sayreville Councilwoman Eunice Dwumfour's murder last evening in an act of gun violence," Murphy said in a statement. "Her career of public service was just beginning, and by all accounts she had already built a reputation as a committed member of the Borough Council who took her responsibility with the utmost diligence and seriousness."

He added, "The New Jersey State Police are supporting the ongoing investigation, and I urge anyone with information to contact either the Sayreville Police or the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office."

New Jersey Republican State Committee Bob Hugin called Dwumfour's murder "senseless violence."

"We will remember Eunice for her steadfast dedication to the community, as well as her deep and abiding Christian faith," Hugin said. "We have the utmost confidence that law enforcement will bring the perpetrators of this heartbreaking tragedy to justice. God Bless Councilwoman Dwumfour and her family."

The investigation is active and ongoing and anyone with information or surveillance footage of the area is asked to call Detective Rebecca Morales of the Sayreville Police Department at 732-727-4444 or Detective Michelle Coppola of the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office 732-745-3477.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Discrepancy between police accounts, evidence in Tyre Nichols case revealed

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(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) -- The police traffic stop that led to Tyre Nichols’ death was detailed in an incident report obtained by ABC News, as well as a Memphis Police statement, but the written statements provide a different account from what the body camera footage of the disturbing encounter has revealed.

Nichols, a 19-year-old Black man, died after a confrontation with police in which he was beaten following a traffic stop.

The footage shows officers beating Nichols and targeting him with pepper spray as he begins yelling for his mother, who lived near the site of the encounter.

In body camera footage, officers can be seen standing over Nichols while he's on the ground. As two officers hold him down, a third kicks him. A fourth officer comes over with a baton and the officers pick up Nichols from the ground and hold him up while officers appear to strike him in the face and torso.

The officers yell multiple times at Nichols to "give me your hands." The officer with the baton can be heard saying, "I'ma baton the f--- out of you" - then appears to strike him on the upper body three times. Officers pull Nichols to a stand, then appear to punch and slap him.

The official incident report does not mention that Nichols was kicked and punched by the officers. It also claims that Nichols started to fight with officers, reached for their guns, pulled on their duty belts and grabbed at least one officer by his vest. This cannot be seen in body camera footage.

Officers can be heard in the aftermath claiming that Nichols reached for their guns.

"Suspect Tyre Nichols was refusing a lawful detention by law enforcement officers and he started to fight with detectives," the report reads.

It says Nichols was "sweating profusely" and "irate" when he exited the vehicle.

The report also claims Nichols “began actively resisting by pulling duty belts and grabbing Officer Smith by the vest.”

It describes the use of chemical agents and the use of the baton to strike Nichols.

The report says the Memphis Police Department officer responded to an "aggravated assault" and that former MPD Officer Martin had observed Nichols' vehicle "driving recklessly at a high rate of speed" and "into oncoming traffic."

The initial statement from the Memphis Police Department failed to mention the details of the physical altercations.

It’s not the only example in recent years of police reports or statements not aligning with details seen in body camera footage or other evidence.

Some law enforcement experts and lawyers argue that when people are in fast-paced, high-intensity situations, they may not be equipped to "record" key details the way a body camera can.

“There's no training that any human being can go through that is going to teach them how to record an event like a machine,” said Michael Rains, a California attorney who has represented law enforcement in civil and criminal litigation.

Two former law enforcement officers told ABC News that every person's recollection of an event can differ.

“We learned to not say that eyewitness testimony is the only thing,” TJ Kennedy, a public safety and de-escalation expert, told ABC News. “You have to put it all together.”

However, “It's not to say that an officer wouldn't lie or try to lie because we all know that that can happen,” Rains adds.

Some officers get a chance to look at body camera footage before submitting their report, while others may not be allowed to because of local legal restrictions, according to ABC News contributor and former San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan.

It’s an ongoing debate in the industry, he said. Does it help officers recollect the events? Or does it cause officers to change their narrative based on what they saw in the footage?

“Now we have that conflict between what is the officer perceiving versus what the actual camera is showing,” said Burguan in an interview with ABC News.

Discrepancies in police reports, official statements and official documents have been seen in several recent police brutality cases.

George Floyd incident

The Minneapolis Police Department also has been criticized over its initial statement detailing the murder of George Floyd by then-MPD Police Officer Derek Chauvin.

“After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance,” read the May 26, 2020, statement.

The report fails to mention that Chauvin held his knee on the back of Floyd's neck for more than 9 minutes, a moment captured on cellphone video by bystanders. The video prompted protests worldwide against police brutality.

Floyd, who was handcuffed and in a prone position on the pavement, repeatedly said he couldn't breathe before falling unconscious and losing a pulse, according to evidence presented at Chauvin's state trial.

Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital. Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He pleaded guilty to violating Floyd's civil rights.

Breonna Taylor

Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in March 2020 by Louisville, Kentucky, police officers executing a no-knock search warrant on her home.

Her death became one of several that year that prompted global protests.

Details concerning the legitimacy of the search warrant unveiled by the Department of Justice in August 2022 prompted more ire.

The DOJ charged Detective Joshua Jaynes, former Louisville Detective Kelly Goodlett and Sgt. Kyle Meany for allegedly violating Taylor's Fourth Amendment rights when they sought a warrant to search Taylor's home while knowing they lacked “probable cause.”

The DOJ alleged that the officers knew their affidavit supporting the warrant contained false and misleading information and it omitted other material information, resulting in her death.

"Among other things, the affidavit falsely claimed that officers had verified that the target of the alleged drug trafficking operation had received packages at Ms. Taylor's address. In fact, defendants Jaynes and Goodlett knew that was not true," Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a press conference on the charges.

Garland also alleged that Jaynes and Goodlett knew armed officers would be carrying out the raid at Taylor's home, and that conducting the search could create "a dangerous situation for anyone who happened to be in Ms. Taylor's home."

Goodlett pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the civil rights of Taylor. Jaynes and Meany have both pleaded not guilty. The next status hearing for the trial is scheduled for Feb. 21.

Casey Goodson

Casey Goodson, 23, was shot and killed by Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jason Meade while Goodson entered his home on Dec. 4, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio.

However, the details of the fatal incident from authorities and Goodson's family don't match up.

Goodson's family said he was returning from a dentist appointment and had a Subway sandwich in his hand, according to family co-counsel Sean L. Walton.

"Casey had the screen door open and his keys in the door, and Deputy Jason Meade fired shots at Casey," Walton told ABC News. "He fell into the house, where he lay in his kitchen."

Meade, who had been taking part in an unsuccessful search for a fugitive along with the U.S. Marshals Service, said Goodson -- who was not the target of the search -- waved a gun at him when he drove by in his police car.

Meade confronted Goodson outside his home, and Goodson allegedly refused to drop his gun, U.S. Marshal Peter Tobin said at a press conference. Tobin later withdrew those remarks about Goodson waving a gun.

Meade is charged with murder and pleaded not guilty.

Meade's attorney, Mark C. Collins, has said in a December 2021 statement that his client "acted within his lawful duties as an officer of the law when he pursued Mr. Goodson," and said Meade fired his weapon at Goodson in "fear for his life as well as those inside the house."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Two South Carolina men charged following 2019 murder of transgender woman

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(NEW YORK) -- Over three years after Pebbles LaDime “Dime” Doe was found dead, the Department of Justice unsealed charges against two men involved in her murder.

A South Carolina man was charged with a hate crime for the 2019 murder of Doe in Allendale, South Carolina, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina. The U.S. Attorney also charged another man with obstruction offenses related to the murder.

The five-count federal indictment alleges that Daqua Ritter, 26, shot Doe on Aug. 4, 2019, “because of her actual and perceived gender identity.” Ritter faces the maximum penalty of life imprisonment for the hate crime count alone. He also faces charges related to lying about his whereabouts on the day of the murder to federal investigators.

Another man, 24-year-old Xavier Pinckney, was charged with two obstruction counts for allegedly lying about seeing Ritter after the murder and concealing from investigators that his phone was used to call and text Doe on the day of the murder.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, Doe’s death marked the second murder of a transgender woman in South Carolina within a month that summer. On July 20, 2019, Denali Berries Stuckey was killed in North Charleston. Both Stuckey and Doe were black transgender women.

“As occurs far too often in the reporting of anti-transgender violence, initial reports also misgendered and misnamed Doe in coverage of the crime, delaying HRC’s awareness of her death,” HRC wrote in 2019.

According to the Department of Justice, transgender persons are 2.5 times more likely to be violent crime victims than cisgender people.

In 2019 when Doe and Stuckley were murdered, 23 other transgender or gender non-conforming were killed, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, predicts six more weeks of winter

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Punxsutawney Phil, Pennsylvania's most famous groundhog, awoke Thursday morning to see his shadow which means that -- according to legend -- there will be six more weeks of winter.

Legend has it that if he sees his shadow then winter will continue for another six weeks but if Punxsutawney Phil does not see his shadow spring will come early.

Phil’s prediction comes as parts of the county are being slammed with cripplingly cold temperatures and ice.

Phil's actual prediction takes place ahead of time in a place called Gobbler's Knob, a small hill just outside of the town, and has done so each year since 1887. This year marks the 137th time the event has occurred, according to the Pennsylvania Tourism Office.

The men in top hats surrounding Phil during the ceremony are members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle. According to their website, their role is to “protect and perpetuate the legend of the great weather-predicting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil.”

Phil's predictions have been fairly even over the past decade or so. From 2015 to 2020, the groundhog predicted a longer winter three times and an early spring three times.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Will the Texas power grid survive the next deep freeze?

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- The lights have stayed on in Texas among the recent freezes the state has been experiencing, but experts aren't sure whether the energy grids are winterized enough to withstand the next deep freeze.

Texas typically experiences deep freezes that really test its power grids once every decade, Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at the University of Houston, told ABC News. December 1983 holds the record for the coldest December for both Dallas-Fort Worth and Waco.

In 1991, a Halloween blizzard and ice storm overtook southeast Houston. Other freezes occurred in the early 2000s, specifically in 2011, which is known colloquially as the "Super Bowl freeze" because it took place over the Super Bowl weekend hosted at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. In 2021, more than 100 people died as a result of rolling blackouts during back-to-back ice storms that brought temperatures as low as 6 degrees.

How the grids have held up amid the recent tests, including freezes this week and in December around the Christmas holiday, has been "remarkable,", Krishnamoorti said.

In terms of demand and capacity, both renewable energy production and natural gas supply have been available "as predicted," he added.

"We're not seeing any significant challenges with the power grid at this point," other than occasional local outages associated with icing on transmission cables, Krishnamoorti said.

Energy-wise, the winter season has been so successful that price spikes for electricity have stayed well below what was anticipated, Krishnamoorti said. While predictions were measuring electricity prices to increase to about $100 a megawatt per hour, it was stayed closed to $25 to $30, Krishnamoorti said.

Several coal and gas production plants underperformed during the December freeze, and ERCOT underestimated the demand by about 10%, Daniel Cohan, associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston, told ABC News. Despite there being "record amounts" of demand on the grid, no widespread outages have occurred. In addition, because it has been so windy in the region, the wind production made up for the coal and gas production facilities that did go down, Cohan said.

"That was a great sign that the grid performed better than it had in 2021," Cohan said.

However, the tests to the grid these past two winter seasons have not acted as "true stress tests," Krishnamoorti said. The current freeze is "much less intense" in terms of temperature and temperament, compared to the back-to-back winter storms of 2021 that caused a statewide energy catastrophe, he said. In addition, there has been no ice and snow, Cohan said.

During this cold spell, temperatures have not dipped into the negatives or even to single digits. In addition, the ice that did cause some local outages only fell in select regions, such as Dallas and Austin, Krishnamoorti said.

Changes have been made to the grid, Krishnamoorti said. In June 2021, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill to reform the state's power grid and how it is operated.

Power plants in Texas have installed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of updates to better winterize their facilities, Cohan said.

But it is unclear whether those changes have led to a true winterization of the system, Krishnamoorti said.

"Nature is the best stress test," he said. "The only way we will know whether the system can stand through the stress test is actually put it through that stress test."

ERCOT expects sufficient generation to meet demand this season and is continuing to monitor forecasts throughout this week, a spokesperson told ABC News in an email statement on Monday.

"Ice on trees, powerlines can lead to localized outages," the ERCOT spokesperson said. "If customers are experiencing a local power outage they are to reach out to their local power provider or visit the PUCT outage map for more information."

One of the challenges to winterizing Texas' energy grid is that the freezes don't happen often, Cohan said. After about a third of homes blacked out during the "Super Bowl" freeze in 2011, it would be near-impossible to determine what the demand would have been had the lights stayed on, Cohan said.

The energy sector is also in the middle of a "dynamic shift," as electrification becomes more commonplace than less sustainable sources, such as coal, nuclear energy and natural gas, Krishnamoorti said.

"That's great for reducing natural gas use and reducing emissions most of the year, but it makes us more vulnerable to having big surges in demand," Cohan said.

While Krishnamoorti expects the "next big one" to occur some time in the 2030s, climate scientists believe that climate change increases the frequency in which deep freezes reach the southern-most states in the U.S.

While those types of deep freezes have historically occurred once every decade, climate change could threaten the Lone Star State with more frequent occurrences in the future, scientists say.

As the Arctic warms and Arctic ice melts, the jet stream, a band of strong winds moving west to east created by cold air meeting warmer air, becomes weaker. As the jet stream becomes more "wavy," it allows very warm temperatures to extend far into the Arctic and very cold temperatures further south than usual, Jessica Moerman, vice president of science and policy at the Evangelical Environmental Network, a faith-based environmental group, told ABC News in 2021.

The loss of human life as a result of extreme weather events is "highly avoidable" in the U.S., Krishnamoorti said. In addition, the economic fallout that occurs as a result of blackout situations in Texas can also be catastrophic, especially in the medical and natural gas industries, he added.

"If Texas sneezes, the world will probably catch a cold," Krishnamoorti said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Attorneys for "Rust" armorer say she was pressured to work in unsafe environment

Steve Prezant/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Attorneys for the Rust film armorer charged with involuntary manslaughter Tuesday said she felt "extreme pressure" to work within an irresponsible culture that resulted in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in 2021.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed and actor Alec Baldwin were both charged Tuesday with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in New Mexico. First assistant director David Halls has already agreed to plead no contest for the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon.

Attorney Jason Bowles said Halls "rushed" Gutierrez-Reed "all the time," which did not allow her to do a full safety check on the gun held by Baldwin that fatally killed Hutchins. His client was waiting on Halls to call her back to the church where the scene was scheduled to be filmed and where she expected to perform a full check on the gun.

According to her, she never got the call.

Gutierrez-Reed "didn't even know that Baldwin was there with the gun. So for the DA's office to blame Hannah for failing to do something … it's insane," Bowles told ABC News.

In an exclusive with ABC News, Bowles and attorney Todd Bullion characterized the Rust set as negligent regarding its safety and blamed the culture on Halls, who they said insisted on having a "real gun" on the set and ignored Gutierrez-Reed's request to be called to the set when it was time to use the Colt .45 in a scene.

Halls, Bowles said, "handed the gun to Baldwin and didn't do the check himself. He admitted that had Hannah been called back in [he] would have prevented this tragedy. That's a David Halls failure."

Amid the allegations by Gutierrez-Reed's attorneys, Halls' legal team said, "You can quote anything in the public record." Lisa Torraco, attorney for Dave Halls, told ABC News earlier that Halls was responsible for "announcing that there's a firearm on set" but denied he was responsible for the handling of the weapon to Baldwin.

Law enforcement said Halls, Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed were the only three people who handled the gun on the set. Halls testified in a deposition in December with attorneys from the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau that he checked the gun and did not "have any recollection" announcing the gun was "cold," indicating it did not contain live rounds.

"I have recollections of Hannah saying it," he testified.

Gutierrez-Reed contradicts those claims, her attorneys say. Prosecutors said Baldwin has given contradicting statements to media and law enforcement, first telling police he received the gun from Gutierrez-Reed and later saying it came from Halls and that Halls told him it was a "cold gun."

Bowles said the charges brought against Baldwin are appropriate because he failed to follow the appropriate training when handling a firearm. Despite following the required hour-long training, it lasted 30 minutes because Baldwin was texting his family throughout, according to court documents.

"She was demanding the training occur, she was asking for it, pleading that the training occurred. They didn't allow her to do it," he said.

When reached for comment, Baldwin's attorney directed ABC News to his Jan. 19 statement. "Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun -- or anywhere on the movie set. He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win," attorney Luke Nikas said.

Despite her concerns over a reckless safety culture, Gutierrez-Reed did not feel comfortable demanding that protocols be met because of her junior status. Investigator Robert Shilling wrote in the statement of probable cause that she was unqualified because she had "no certification or certifiable training, or union 'card' for this practice," and the production violated industry practices by also assigning her assistant prop master duties, which meant she could not focus primarily on her armorer duties.

Bowles rejected the suggestion that Gutierrez-Reed, 24, was not capable of safety measures because of lack of experience.

"She was absolutely qualified to work in this film," he said, because she received training from Thell Reed, her father, a veteran armorer and weapons specialist whose credits include Tombstone, Django: Unchained, 3:10 to Yuma, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

"Everybody has to start somewhere. That didn't mean she wasn't trained or capable of doing this job," said Bowles.

He added she was simply "trying to follow orders" because Rust presented her the "opportunity to get her union certification to then be certified" as a professional armorer.

"She's trying to do her job. And she's being made to do certain things that she's fighting against," he said. "So when you have a 30-year veteran [like Halls] telling her 'you're going to do this.' That's what she did."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Can artificial intelligence help stop mass shootings?

Emily Fennick / EyeEm/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- A string of six mass shootings in California over less than two weeks, which left 30 dead and 19 injured, has reignited calls that the U.S. address gun violence.

President Joe Biden earlier this month pushed for a nationwide ban on assault rifles, while Republicans, who oppose such a measure, have remained largely silent in the aftermath of the attacks. In response to other mass shootings, Republicans have called for improved mental health services.

The congressional gridlock and apparent ineffectiveness of California's robust state gun laws have left people searching for alternatives. One relatively new potential solution, the use of artificial intelligence-enhanced security, has drawn interest for its promise of apprehending shooters before a shot is fired.

The AI security industry touts cameras that identify suspects loitering outside of a school with weapons, high-tech metal detectors that spot hidden guns, and predictive algorithms that analyze information to flag a potential mass shooter.

Company officials behind the development of the AI-boosted security cameras say the technology corrects for fallible security officers, who they said often struggle to monitor multiple video feeds and suss out emerging threats. Instead, company officials say, AI reliably identifies assailants as they ready for an attack, saving security officials precious minutes or seconds and possibly saving lives.

"This is the best-kept secret," Sam Alaimo, co-founder of an AI security company called ZeroEyes, told ABC News. "If there's an assault rifle outside of a school, people want to know more information. If one life is saved, that's a victory."

Critics, however, question the effectiveness of the products, saying companies have failed to provide independently verified data about accuracy. Even if AI works effectively, they add, the technology raises major concerns over privacy infringement and potential discrimination.

"If you're going to trade your privacy and freedom for security, the first question you need to ask is: Are you getting a good deal?" Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told ABC News.

The market for AI security

As schools, retailers and offices consider adopting AI security, the industry is poised for growth. The market for products that detect concealed weapons is expected to nearly double from $630 million in 2022 to $1.2 billion by 2031, according to research firm Future Market Insights.

The optimism owes in part to the increased prevalence of security cameras, allowing AI companies to sell software that enhances the systems already in use at many buildings.

As of the 2017-18 school year, 83% of public schools said they use security cameras, the National Center for Education Statistics found. The figure marked a significant uptick from the 1999-2000 school year, when just 19% of schools were equipped with security cameras, the organization's survey said.

"We work with an existing surveillance system," Kris Greiner, vice president of sales at AI security company Scylla, told ABC News. "We just give it a brain."

Companies working on AI security to prevent shootings

Scylla, an Austin, Texas-based company launched in 2017, offers AI that aids security cameras in not only detecting concealed weapons but also suspicious activity, such as efforts to circumvent security or start a fight, Greiner said.

When the fully automated system identifies a weapon or suspicious actor, it notifies officials at a school or business, he said, noting that mass shooters often draw their gun prior to entering a facility. The system can also be set to immediately deny access and lock doors, he said.

"At a time when every second counts, it's quite possible that it would have a heavy impact," Greiner said.

The company, which has performed about 300 installations across 33 countries, allows client institutions to overcome the common shortcomings of security officers, he added.

"Imagine a human sitting in a command center watching a video wall, the human can only watch four to five cameras for four to five minutes before he starts missing things," Greiner said. "There's no limit to what an AI can watch."

Another AI security company, ZeroEyes, offers similar AI-enhanced video monitoring but with a narrower purpose: Gun detection.

The company, launched by former Navy Seals in 2018, entered the business after one of its founders realized that security cameras provided evidence to convict mass shooters after the fact but did little to prevent violence in the first place, said Alaimo, ZeroEyes Co-founder.

"In the majority of cases, the shooter has a gun exposed before squeezing the trigger," Alaimo said. "We wanted to get an image of that gun and alert first responders with it."

As with Scylla's product, the ZeroEyes AI tracks live video feeds and sends an alert when it detects a gun. However, the alert at ZeroEyes goes to an internal control room, where company employees determine whether the situation poses a real threat.

"We have a human in the loop to make sure the client never gets a false positive," Alaimo said, adding that the full process takes as little as three seconds from alert to verification to communication with a client.

Accuracy in AI security

AI-enhanced security sounds like a potentially life-saving breakthrough in theory, but the accuracy of the products remains uncertain, said Stanley, of the ACLU.

"If it isn't effective, there's no need to get into a conversation about privacy and security," he said. "The conversation should be over."

Greiner, of Scylla, said the company's AI is 99.9% accurate -- "with a whole lot of 9s" -- in identifying weapons, such as guns. But he did not say how accurate the system is in identifying suspicious activity, and said the company has not undergone independent verification of the system's accuracy.

"For us to search for a third party to do it -- we haven't done that yet," Greiner said, adding that the company allows customers to test the product before purchasing it.

Alaimo, of ZeroEyes, said the company's use of employee verification as part of its alert process allows for the elimination of false positives. But he declined to say how often the AI system presents employees with false positives or whether employees make mistakes in assessing the alerts.

"Transparency is key, because if communities are going to try to make hopefully democratic decisions about whether or not they want these technologies in these public places, they need to know whether it's worth it," said Stanley.

Other concerns about AI

Setting aside the efficacy of the systems, critics have raised concerns over privacy infringement as well as potential discrimination enabled by AI.

To start, more than 30 states allow people to openly carry handguns, leaving such people as potential targets of AI-enhanced security.

"Carrying a gun is lawful in most places in this country now," Barry Friedman, a law professor at New York University who studies AI ethics, told ABC News. "It's very hard to know what you're going to search for in a way that doesn't impinge on people's rights."

At ZeroEyes, the AI sends out a "non-lethal alert" to clients in cases where an individual is lawfully holding a gun, making the client aware of the weapon but stopping short of an emergency response, Alaimo said.

Noting additional privacy concerns, Stanley said security officials never watch the vast majority of surveillance footage currently recorded, unless a possible crime has taken place. With AI, however, an algorithm scans every minute of available footage and, in some cases, watches for activity deemed suspicious or unusual.

"That's pretty spooky," Stanley said.

In light of racial discrimination found in assessments made by facial recognition systems, Stanley cautioned that AI could suffer from the same issue. The problem risks replicating racial inequity in the wider criminal justice system, Friedman added.

"The cost of using these tools when we're not ready to use them is that people's lives will be shredded," Friedman said. "People will be identified as targets for law enforcement when they should not be."

For their part, Greiner and Alaimo said their AI systems do not assess the race of individuals displayed in security feeds.

"We don't identify individuals by race, gender, ethnicity," Greiner said. "We literally identify people as a human who is holding a gun."

Alaimo said the U.S. could face unnecessary tragedy if it forgoes AI solutions, especially since other fixes operate on a longer time horizon.

"We can and should keep talking about mental health. We can and should keep arguing gun laws," Alaimo said. "My concern is today -- not a year from now, not 10 years from now, when we might have answers to those more difficult questions."

"What we're doing is a solution right now," he said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Mother of man fatally shot by Columbus police renews call for officer to be held accountable

ABC News

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- Following the disciplinary actions and murder charges brought against several officers involved in the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, Rebecca Duran, the mother of Donovan Lewis, renewed her call Tuesday for the Columbus, Ohio, police officer who fatally shot her son last year to be terminated and charged.

"If it can be done in a swift manner anywhere, it can be done swiftly here," Duran said at a press conference. "Yesterday was five months since the murder of my son, and for the most part there hasn't been any action when it comes to the reprimanding or termination of Ricky Anderson."

Lewis, a 20-year-old expectant father, was fatally shot by Officer Ricky Anderson on Aug. 30, 2022. He later died at a hospital.

Columbus police have said they went to Lewis' apartment around 2 a.m. to arrest him on three separate charges: domestic violence, assault and improper handling of a firearm.

When police arrived, they identified themselves and stood outside the apartment for approximately eight minutes asking those inside to exit, body camera footage shows. Two people eventually exit the apartment and police enter with a K-9, finding Lewis in bed, the video shows.

The footage, played during the press conference Tuesday, appears to show Anderson, a 30-year veteran with the Columbus Police Department and K-9 unit, open fire almost immediately after police open the bedroom door to where Lewis was sleeping.

In the footage, Lewis is seen raising his hands as he lies in bed. Anderson is then seen firing the single gunshot.

Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant previously said Lewis appeared to be holding something in his hand, but only a vape pen was found on his bed and that there was no sighting of a weapon.

Duran told ABC News' Linsey Davis in September that "there was no attempt to preserve his life."

Several months after Lewis' death, Duran said "there's no accountability whatsoever."

The Columbus Police Department has previously said Anderson was on paid administrative leave.

During the press conference this week, Rex Elliott, an attorney for Lewis' family, applauded Memphis leadership's action against the officers involved in Nichols' beating and read statements from Columbus community leaders condemning how Nichols was treated by Memphis police. Attorneys for two of the Memphis officers have said they will plead not guilty.

"With all due respect, do something here in Columbus," Elliott said, criticizing Columbus' lack of punishment against its own law enforcement. "It is time for the other officers who acted inappropriately in this situation with Donovan, that they be handled, and that ... Officer Anderson be indicted and charged with homicide."

"We need to let the criminal process work here in Columbus like it is working in Memphis," he added.

Michael Wright, an attorney for Lewis' family, said the Bureau of Criminal Investigation completed its investigation in December.

In a statement to ABC News on Wednesday, Sgt. David Scarpitti, public information officer for the Columbus Division of Police, said: "Once the investigation is completed, BCI forwards the investigation to the Franklin County Prosecutor, who will present the evidence to a grand jury."

"Once the criminal process is completed, the Office of the Inspector General may conduct an administrative investigation if a complaint is filed or if the Civilian Police Review Board initiates a complaint in order to determine if the officer's actions were within policy," he continued. "The IG's findings go to the Civilian Review Board for review and recommendation of discipline and/or policy changes."

According to Scarpitti, the Collective Bargaining Agreement requires that recommendations regarding discipline undergo review by the chain of command, which "may rise to the level of the Chief and then the Director of Public Safety."

"Officer Ricky Anderson is still employed with the Division of the Columbus Police while this process takes place," Scarpitti said.

Mark Collins, the attorney representing Anderson, did not yet respond to ABC News' request for comment.

In a previous statement to ABC News, Collins said: "When we analyze police-involved shootings, we must look to the totality of the circumstances, and we are expressly forbidden from using 20/20 hindsight, because unlike all of us, officers are not afforded the luxury of armchair reflection when they are faced with rapidly evolving, volatile encounters in dangerous situations."

Remembering her son, Duran said she misses Lewis' sense of humor and his smile the most.

"He had a lot of life in him and had a lot of life left, and he's not here to be able to live that to his full potential," she said.

"If something is not done, I can promise you as we sit here and do nothing, it's going to happen again," Elliott added, of deadly encounters with police, "and none of us want that."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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