EarthLink – News
Jury to restart deliberations in Oakland warehouse fire case
By JANIE HAR | Mon, August 19, 2019 11:02 EDT
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Three jurors were dismissed Monday for undisclosed reasons on the 10th day of deliberations in the trial of two men charged in the deaths of 36 partygoers from a fire inside a cluttered San Francisco Bay Area warehouse.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson excused three female jurors and replaced them with a woman and two men who were alternates during the three-month trial of Derick Almena and Max Harris. The jury was told to restart deliberations in the case, disregard all past discussions and remember they cannot talk to others about the case or seek outside information about it.
She also imposed a gag order preventing attorneys from discussing the case with reporters.
The Dec. 2, 2016, fire broke out during an electronic music party at the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland. The building was packed with pianos, furniture, tangled electrical cords and other flammable material but had only two exits and no smoke detectors, fire alarms or sprinklers, prosecutors say.
The blaze killed 36 people — most of them on the building’s illegally constructed second floor. Prosecutors said the victims had received no warning and had little chance to escape down a narrow, ramshackle staircase.
Monday’s restart is the latest prosecutorial setback in the case.
Almena and Harris were set to be sentenced to nine and six years in prison, respectively, after pleading no contest to manslaughter last year. But a judge threw out their pleas after many of the victims’ families objected, saying their proposed sentences were too lenient.
About a dozen family members and friends of the victims came to court for Tuesday’s announcement but declined to speak as they left.
In closing arguments during the trial, Deputy District Attorney Autrey James said the men didn’t obtain permits because they wanted to avoid inspections and they violated the fire code by refusing to install safety devices.
Almena, 49, was the master tenant and Harris, 29, acted like a manager by collecting rent and settling household disputes, the prosecutor said.
James told jurors that to find the men guilty of involuntary manslaughter, they must agree that their actions were criminally negligent. “Is failure to get a permit criminally negligent? Absolutely,” he said.
The defense argued that city workers were to blame for not raising concerns about fire hazards and said the fire was arson. Investigators have never found what caused the fire, so arson cannot be ruled out.
Almena and Harris face up to 39 years in prison if convicted.
Associated Press writer Samantha Maldonado also contributed to this report.
EarthLink – News
Leaked UK memos warn of food, drug shortages in Brexit chaos
By RAPHAEL SATTER | Sun, August 18, 2019 03:54 EDT
LONDON (AP) — Secret British government documents have warned of serious disruptions across the country in the event that the U.K. leaves the European Union without a trade deal on Oct. 31, according to a report.
The Sunday Times newspaper published what it said was what the British government expects in the case of a sudden, “no-deal” Brexit. Among the most serious: “significant” disruptions to the supply of drugs and medicine, a decrease in the availability of fresh food and even potential fresh water shortages due to possible interruptions of imported water treatment chemicals.
Although the grim scenarios reportedly outlined in the government documents have long been floated by academics and economists, they’ve been repeatedly dismissed as scaremongering by Brexit proponents.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is ready to leave the EU regardless of whether he is able to renegotiate the Brexit deal struck with Brussels by his predecessor, Theresa May.
His own officials, however, have warned that with a no-deal Brexit, the sharing of law enforcement data and the health of Britain’s crucial financial services industry could be in jeopardy after Oct. 31.
The documents published by the Times also Quote: officials as warning that up to 85% of all trucks wouldn’t be ready for French customs at the critical English Channel crossing that day, causing lines that could stretch out for days. Some 75% of all drugs coming into Britain arrive via that crossing, the memos warned, “making them particularly vulnerable to severe delays.”
The officials foresee “critical elements” of the food supply chain being affected that would “reduce availability and choice and increase the price, which will affect vulnerable groups.”
Britain’s Cabinet Office didn’t return a message seeking comment on the documents, but Michael Gove, the British minister in charge of no-deal preparations, insisted that the files represented a “worst case scenario.”
Very “significant steps have been taken in the last 3 weeks to accelerate Brexit planning,” he said in a message posted to Twitter.
But the documents, which are titled “planning assumptions,” mention a “base scenario,” not a “worst case” one. The Times Quote: d an unnamed Cabinet Office source as saying the memos were simply realistic assessments of what was most likely to happen.
The opposition Labour Party, which is trying to delay Brexit and organize a government of national unity, held up the report as another sign that no-deal must be avoided.
“It seems to me is what we’ve seen is a hard-headed assessment of reality, that sets out in really stark terms what a calamitous outcome of no-deal Brexit would mean for the United Kingdom,” lawmaker Nick Thomas-Symonds told Sky News television. “The government is reckless in the way it’s been pushing forward with no-deal planning in this way.”
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country is ready for Brexit, even without a deal to smooth the transition.
Merkel said Sunday during an open house at the chancellery in Berlin that she would “try everything in my power to find solutions” and that “I believe that it would be better to leave with an agreement than without one.”
But she added that “should it come to that we are prepared for this eventuality too.”
David McHugh contributed to this report from Frankfurt, Germany.
EarthLink – News
Airstrikes target Turkish convoy in Syria, raising tensions
By ALBERT AJI and SUZAN FRASER | Mon, August 19, 2019 06:30 EDT
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Airstrikes targeted a Turkish army convoy inside a rebel-held part of northwestern Syria on Monday, killing three civilians and wounding 12 others, the Turkish Defense Ministry said.
Syria said the Turkish convoy was carrying ammunition to rebels who have lost ground this month amid a government offensive to retake their last stronghold in the country.
The incident ratcheted up tensions in the region, currently ground zero in the long-running Syrian civil war that has put Turkish, Russian, U.S. and Iranian interests at stake.
The Turkish Defense Ministry said the convoy was attacked while heading to one of Turkey’s observation posts in rebel-controlled Idlib province, but did not say whether any Turkish people were killed.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the convoy of armored vehicles was delivering weapons to Khan Sheikhoun, a major rebel-held town that lies on the front line of fighting along the southern edge of the Idlib enclave. The town is a stronghold of al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the most powerful militant group in the area.
It was not immediately clear whether the airstrikes were carried out by Syrian or Russian warplanes. The convoy consisted of several armored vehicles and flatbed trucks carrying tanks.
The Turkish move into Idlib appears to be a message by Ankara that it won’t allow Syrian forces to capture Khan Sheikhoun, which would cut the highway linking Idlib to northern parts of Hama province, home to one of Turkey’s observation posts.
Syrian government forces reached the town’s outskirts earlier Monday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, and Idlib-based opposition activist Mazen al-Shami reported that Syrian troops reached the M5 highway north of Khan Sheikhoun. That would make it more difficult for rebels and civilians to move between Idlib and rebel-held areas in northern parts of Hama province.
Just before midnight, the Observatory and other activists reported that Syrian troops entered Khan Sheikhoun from the northern part after the insurgents retreated amid intense clashes and heavy airstrikes. The town, one of the largest in Idlib province, has been emptied of residents who fled the violence.
The town came under a suspected chemical attack on April 4, 2017 that killed 89 people and triggered the first direct American assault on the Syrian government.
The United Nations called for de-escalation and a return to the cease fire negotiated in September, sponsored by Russia, which backs the Syrian government, and Turkey which backs the rebels, who have controlled the region since 2012.
Under that deal, the M5 highway was supposed to be open by the end of 2018 but that never happened. Now, Syrian troops appear to be trying to open it by force.
The Turkish Defense Ministry’s brief statement did not provide details but “strongly condemned” the airstrikes, adding that they were “against existing agreements as well as our cooperation and dialogue” with Russia.
The strikes hit near the highway where the convoy was traveling, Syrian activists said.
Turkey’s private DHA news agency said Syrian government planes targeted the route of a Turkish military convoy carrying reinforcement vehicles and personnel. It said the convoy was heading toward two Turkish observation posts when it came under Syrian aircraft fire.
The report said the convoy could not proceed because the route between Maaret al-Numan and Khan Sheikhoun was targeted. The agency did not report any casualties.
The Britain-based Observatory said airstrikes believed to be from Russian planes struck near the highway and forced the nearly 25-vehicle Turkish convoy to stop.
Al-Shami also said that warplanes struck areas near where the Turkish convoy was moving. The Sham Network, an activist collective, posted photos of the Turkish convoy. A mushroom cloud of smoke, apparently from the airstrike, could be seen in the distance.
Among those killed was Mohammed Hussein al-Qassem, a commander with the Failaq al-Sham rebel group that is supported by Turkey, opposition activists said.
Hours after the airstrike, the Turkish convoy was just north of the village of Heesh in Idlib, said Yazan Mohammed, a media activist in Idlib province.
The Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman, said Turkish aircraft were over the area where the convoy had stopped, adding that another convoy was also heading to the area from northern Idlib province.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry called the convoy’s incursion a “flagrant Turkish intervention,” saying that “this hostile behavior of the Turkish regime” wouldn’t affect Syria’s push into Khan Sheikhoun.
Syrian troops have been on the offensive in Idlib and its surroundings since April 30. The region is home to 3 million people, many of them displaced by other battles around the war-torn country. The latest round of fighting in the past month has displaced some 450,000 people.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed.
EarthLink – News
Thousands flee from ‘monster’ wildfire on Canary Islands
By BARRY HATTON | Mon, August 19, 2019 12:37 EDT
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A major, out-of-control wildfire in Spain’s Canary Islands was throwing flames 50 meters (160 feet) into the air on Monday, forcing emergency workers to evacuate more than 9,000 people, authorities said.
The blaze — described by the local fire department as “a monster” — was racing across parched woodlands into Tamadaba Natural Park, regarded as one of the jewels on Gran Canaria, a mountainous volcanic island in the Atlantic Ocean archipelago off northwest Africa.
Famous for its beaches and mountains, Gran Canaria and its capital, Las Palmas, are popular European vacation destinations but the blaze was in a rugged inland area known as the central highlands. Some tourists had to leave rural hotels as a precaution and were moved to other holiday accommodations, the island’s government said.
Tourists on the coast could see billowing clouds of gray smoke being blown out to sea. Las Palmas international airport was working normally, authorities said.
Canary Islands President Ángel Víctor Torres said 1,100 firefighters were being deployed in shifts along with 16 water-dropping aircraft to battle the blaze that started Saturday afternoon. The local government said around 6,000 hectares (14,800 acres) had been charred in just 48 hours, villages were evacuated and two dozen roads were closed.
Emergency workers faced huge flames and gusting winds that blew embers into the air, starting secondary fires, local fire officials said. Summer temperatures Monday were expected to hit 36 degrees Celsius (nearly 97 degrees Fahrenheit) and climb to 38 C (100 F) later this week.
The Spanish caretaker government’s farm minister, Luis Planas, told a news conference in Las Palmas that Madrid sent a “cutting-edge” drone to the island that can livestream images of the fire at night. One aircraft on Gran Canaria also coordinated aviation movements to prevent an accident in the busy skies, he said.
Planas said the official response to the fire on Gran Canaria was one of the greatest firefighting deployments recently in all of Spain.
Gran Canaria is the third-largest island in the Canary Islands archipelago, which is 150 kilometers (93 miles) west of Africa. About 50 kilometers (31 miles) in diameter, Gran Canaria has a population of 850,000.
Wildfires are common in southern Europe during the parched summer months but changing lifestyles and the emptying out of rural areas have made woodlands more vulnerable, experts say.
Gran Canaria emergency chief Frederico Grillo said recent blazes on the island are much worse now than when families worked in the countryside and kept the forests more orderly, private news agency Europa Press reported.
He said if the island’s entire annual budget was used for forest fire prevention, it would only be possible to clear brush from 30% of its woodlands and there would still be large amounts of inaccessible areas due to the island’s steep mountains and deep ravines.
EarthLink – News
Mysterious death in custody has family seeking answers
By MICHAEL RUBINKAM | Mon, August 19, 2019 08:58 EDT
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Carmen Riley bent over her unconscious son, looked into his eyes and knew. It didn’t take a mother’s intuition or a doctor’s prognosis to figure out that Ty’rique was gone.
Several days earlier, 21-year-old Ty’rique Riley had been jailed after an altercation with his father. Now he lay in a hospital bed, his body covered in lacerations and deep, dark bruises. He was missing teeth. His kidneys were failing.
How did this happen? And who was responsible?
Seven weeks after his death, Riley’s family and supporters are pushing for answers.
“This family’s been kept in the dark. The first thing they want is answers,” said their attorney, Riley Ross III. “If it turns out there was abuse that contributed to his death, then they want justice.”
Authorities have said that Riley struggled with guards at Dauphin County Prison and became unresponsive after he was placed in a restraint chair, a device used to immobilize inmates at risk of hurting themselves or others. He was taken to a hospital June 26 and died there July 1.
The coroner has yet to rule on a cause of death. Photos taken at the funeral home and released by Ross show his battered body.
“He didn’t go in there looking like that,” Riley’s mother said.
The case raises questions about how inmates are treated and cared for at Dauphin County Prison, a lockup in the Pennsylvania capital that houses about 1,000 people.
County officials say they don’t tolerate abuse.
Brian Clark, Dauphin County director of corrections, said via email Monday that “we continue to work on reform of our correctional system. … I can tell you we have a zero-tolerance policy for excessive use of force.”
The reforms include training, he said, in “new use-of-force techniques with an emphasis on de-escalation.”
Riley was an aspiring rapper who lived with his parents. They called him a good kid who didn’t cause trouble. When his father suffered a series of heart attacks, it was Riley who tied his shoes and helped him up the stairs.
“He was always by my side, in my right pocket,” said his father, Thomas Matthews. “That’s my co-pilot, my navigator.”
Riley had no criminal record before police showed up at his door June 18. In court documents, police said he struck his father in the chest, neck and back with a large sledgehammer in an “unprovoked attack” at their home around 4:45 a.m.
The family disputes that account.
Matthews said his son had heard noises outside, thought an intruder was lurking and grabbed a sledgehammer. Thomas, who had been sleeping, said he told Riley to put it away and go back to bed. Riley refused. Thomas said he tried to get the sledgehammer away from his son, took a hard fall and then had trouble with his pacemaker. That prompted Riley’s mother to call 911.
As medics tended to Matthews, police officers put Riley in handcuffs and led him away, said Carmen Riley. It was the last his parents saw of him until June 27, when they showed up in court for Riley’s preliminary hearing and were told to go to the hospital instead.
District Attorney Fran Chardo, whose office is investigating Riley’s death, has said that Riley was placed on suicide watch at the jail but did not elaborate why. On June 26, he suffered some sort of medical problem, and jail staff determined he needed to go to the hospital. It was then that Riley became combative, Chardo told Pennlive last month.
“We’re reviewing a great deal of video, interviewing everybody that we can to try to figure out what happened,” he told The Associated Press on Monday. “We’re investigating this to figure out whether or not a crime occurred. Whenever there’s a suspicious death, that’s the appropriate thing to do.”
Surveillance video from the jail shows several guards dragging Riley out of his cell and putting him in the restraint chair, but the view is obstructed and it’s unclear what exactly is happening, said Ross, who has seen the footage. Guards also spent about 15 minutes in Riley’s cell before removing him, but there’s no video of what took place, he said.
Ross added that Riley had no history of mental illness.
“Every day that goes by and we don’t have results,” Ross said, “I have less patience and I have less confidence that the right thing is being done.”
Though there’s been no official ruling on the cause and circumstances of Riley’s death, Ross said it’s clear his injuries were not self-inflicted.
Dauphin County was recently sued over allegations that guards at the jail’s booking center and Harrisburg police savagely beat and kicked a man who had been arrested June 29 for public drunkenness, fracturing his orbital bone and inflicting “bruises and cuts from head to toe.”
The plaintiff, Jarrett Leaman, was severely intoxicated at the time, offered no resistance and “did nothing to warrant the ‘Lord of the Flies’ violence he received,” the suit said.
Two guards were suspended in the wake of the allegations. The jail has not said whether any staff members have been disciplined during the investigation into Riley’s death.
In an interview with the AP, a former longtime guard at the jail said abusive correctional officers beat and withheld food from inmates they didn’t like. The ex-guard said inmates were sometimes placed in solitary confinement to allow their bruises to heal out of view. The ex-guard spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals by current jail staff.
Clark, the jail official, rejected those claims.