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Walmart where man killed 22 reopens amid increased security
By CEDAR ATTANASIO | Thu, November 14, 2019 07:32 EST
EL PASO, Texas (AP) — About 50 shoppers lined up early Thursday ahead of the reopening of a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, that had been closed since August, when a gunman police say was targeting Mexicans opened fire in the store and killed 22 people.
On the day of the attack, Walmart didn’t have a security guard on duty. But as the doors opened to the public for the first time in three months and shoppers streamed into the renovated space, they passed dozens of sheriff’s deputies, security guards and store employees. Workers greeted customers with cheers of “Welcome back to Walmart!”
Walmart has quietly hired off-duty officers at its stores in El Paso, Texas, since Aug. 3, when police say Patrick Crusius drove more than 10 hours from his grandparents’ house in a Dallas suburb to carry out the attack. Crusius, 21, pleaded not guilty.
More than 3,000 people from largely Latino El Paso and neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, were at the store when the attack happened.
Among the visitors to the reopened store was Eddie Medina, who walked out carrying a frozen turkey and wearing a T-shirt in honor of his wife, Cecy Medina, a Walmart employee who survived the shooting while working in the women’s clothing section.
The shirt reads: “My wife is a cancer survivor and a Walmart survivor. She is El Paso Strong.”
Medina, 62, said recent months have been difficult for his wife; her yearlong fight with cancer ended in May, but was followed by her mother’s death and then the shooting. She’s been seeing a psychiatrist paid for by Walmart, but she’s still too traumatized to return to the scene of the crime.
“I told her ‘I’m going to go in your place,’” the husband said. “I just retired last month so I could stay home and take care of her.”
The retail giant reopened the store amid ongoing lawsuits over security on the day of the mass shooting.
The interior of the building was rebuilt after authorities took more than 10 days to finish processing blood and bone fragments in the massive crime scene.
“There was a time that Walmart hired off-duty officers and for some time prior (to) August 3rd that ceased,” El Paso police spokesman Enrique Carrillo said in an email. He declined to provide more details.
When Police Chief Greg Allen first revealed the phasing out of officers during a City Council meeting, council members discussed possibly requiring that off-duty officers be hired at large stores, though the idea hasn’t been implemented.
Instead, Walmart started hiring off-duty officers at their stores throughout the city, from its sprawling Supercenters to its smaller neighborhood grocery stores.
“We’re covering Walmarts, we’re also covering Sam’s (Club),” said El Paso police union president Ron Martin. “Even the neighborhood Walmarts are being covered.”
Martin said it’s unclear how long Walmart will continue to employ off-duty officers at every location.
The off-duty officers are paid about $50 per hour, depending on their rank, which is about double the officers’ full-time hourly wage.
Walmart officials declined to discuss the hiring of police officers, the costs, or if the company is taking similar steps in other cities. Company spokeswoman Delia Garcia said additional measures could include hiring security guards or adding cameras inside stores or in parking lots.
“We will continue our long-standing practice of regularly evaluating our staffing, training, procedures, and technology which are designed to provide a safe working and shopping experience,” Garcia said.
John Furner, Walmart CEO for its U.S. business, said on an earnings call with media Thursday that workers at the El Paso store wanted the location reopened “to get back to a normal way of life.”
Some victims are suing Walmart over the lack of security on the day of the attack, arguing that the company’s method of evaluating security boils down to an inadequate algorithm and was wantonly reduced.
Arnulfo Rascón, 56, is one of the plaintiffs. He was shot in the knee and now walks with a cane. The former salesman said he can’t work because of the injury.
Rascón said he expects to receive a letter this month telling him how much money he will receive from the One Fund El Paso, a victim’s relief effort set up after the shooting by a group of El Paso-area nonprofits.
“The whole world promises to help but when the moment comes, they don’t,” he told reporters Wednesday, in Spanish. “My savings are dwindling.”
Construction workers have broken ground on a permanent memorial in the store’s parking lot, a “Grand Candela” that will be about 30 feet (9 meters) tall and could be finished in as little as three weeks.
The reopening of the El Paso store also comes as Walmart has dipped its toe into the gun debate. It posted signage with its new policy discouraging customers from openly carrying guns. But it is not banning them.
AP Retail Writer Anne D’Innocenzio in New York contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show the plaintiff who was shot in the knee is called Arnulfo Rascón, not Arnuflo.
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French police ratchet up evidence search in Epstein probe
By JOHN LEICESTER | Fri, November 15, 2019 06:32 EST
PARIS (AP) — French police are launching a fresh appeal for witnesses and victims to come forward to aid their probe of Jeffrey Epstein and allegations that one of the financier’s associates drugged and raped young models.
Police hope the new appeal issued Friday will have a broader reach than a similar call for witnesses they issued on Facebook and Twitter on Sept. 11.
Women who say they were raped and sexually assaulted by one of Epstein’s associates, French modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, had this week told The Associated Press they were disappointed with the limited scope of police efforts to track down witnesses.
Brunel has denied wrongdoing and has said via his lawyer he is willing to talk to investigators.
Police commissioner Philippe Guichard, whose office is leading the French probe, acknowledged in an AP interview Friday that their previous appeal for witnesses, worded only in French, had had limited success. The new appeal was also being issued in English, he said.
“The witnesses and the victims tell us that they had trouble identifying us and finding the number and reaching us to give evidence,” he said.
He also said the evidence search had been hampered by a reluctance to talk in the “closed world” of modeling.
“We imagine that potential victims don’t want to speak, to report crimes, because they must feel that, ‘If I say something, will I keep my job?’” he said.
The French probe was launched in August after Epstein took his life while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.
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Old dogs, new tricks: 10,000 pets needed for science
By CARLA K. JOHNSON | Thu, November 14, 2019 07:20 EST
SEATTLE (AP) — Can old dogs teach us new tricks? Scientists are looking for 10,000 pets for the largest-ever study of aging in canines. They hope to shed light on human longevity too.
The project will collect a pile of pooch data: vet records, DNA samples, gut microbes and information on food and walks. Five hundred dogs will test a pill that could slow the aging process.
“What we learn will potentially be good for dogs and has great potential to translate to human health,” said project co-director Daniel Promislow of the University of Washington School of Medicine.
If scientists find a genetic marker for a type of cancer in dogs, for instance, that could be explored in humans.
For the study, the dogs will live at home and follow their usual routine. All ages and sizes, purebreds and mutts are welcome.
Owners will complete periodic online surveys and take their dogs to the vet once a year, with the possibility of extra visits for certain tests. Their welfare will be monitored by a bioethicist and a panel of animal welfare advisers.
To nominate a pet, owners can visit the Dog Aging Project’s website.
The five-year study was formally launched Thursday at a science meeting in Austin, Texas. The National Institute on Aging is paying for the $23 million project because dogs and humans share the same environment, get the same diseases and dogs’ shorter lifespans allow quicker research results, said deputy director, Dr. Marie Bernard. The data collected will be available to all scientists.
Leslie Lambert of Parkville, Maryland, enrolled her 11-year-old rescue dog, Oscar, in an early phase.
“I would selfishly like to have him around forever,” said the 33-year-old veterinarian. “Unfortunately, he ages much, much faster than I do.”
But she’s torn by the prospect of an anti-aging pill because so many abandoned dogs go without care. “Just because we can, should we?”
Compared to farm dogs in the past, today’s pampered pups live longer and get more geriatric diseases, said veterinarian Dr. Kate Creevy of Texas A&M University, the project’s chief scientific officer.
Yet no standard measures exist for frailty or prognosis in sick, aged dogs, Creevy said. The project will develop those tools.
One dog year is roughly equal to seven human years, Creevy said, but that varies by breed. Large dogs have shorter lifespans than smaller dogs. A Great Dane’s lifespan is about half that of a toy poodle’s.
That makes large dogs better test subjects for the pill. Dogs weighing at least 40 pounds will be eligible for an experiment with rapamycin, now taken by humans to prevent rejection of transplanted kidneys. The drug has extended lifespan in mice. A small safety study in dogs found no dangerous side effects, said project co-director Matt Kaeberlein of the University of Washington.
Human devotion to dogs drives projects like this, the scientists said. Owners will gladly fill out surveys, send records and submit a pup’s poop for analysis if they think it will help all dogs live longer, even if it won’t help their pet.
“People love dogs,” said Promislow, who normally studies aging in fruit flies. “No one has ever come up to me and said, ‘Oh my goodness, I just love fruit flies.’”
Promislow’s mixed breed, 14-year-old Frisbee, will not participate to prevent a conflict of interest.
“It’s too bad because she’s a terrific example of a really healthy ager,” he said.
Follow AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson on Twitter: @CarlaKJohnson
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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Chileans blinded by police firing pellet guns in protests
By EVA VERGARA and PATRICIA LUNA | Thu, November 14, 2019 08:44 EST
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chileans are accustomed to seeing violent clashes between police and demonstrators but a new trend is leaving them shaken: the blinding of protesters by shotgun pellets fired by state’s security agents.
Chile’s main medical body says at least 230 people have lost sight after being shot in an eye in the last month while participating in the demonstrations over inequality and better social services that have overwhelmed the South American nation.
Of those, at least 50 people will need prosthetic eyes. “This means that the patient doesn’t only lose their vision, but they lose their actual eye,” said Dr. Patricio Meza, vice president of the Medical College of Chile.
The victims are on average 30 years old. In 80% of the cases, the damage is caused by the impact of a lead or rubber projectile on their eyes, Meza said.
“We are facing a real health crisis, a health emergency given that in such few days, in three weeks, we have had the highest number of cases involving serious ocular complications due to shots in the eye,” he said.
What began on Oct. 18 as a student protest over a modest increase in subway fares has turned into a much larger and broader movement with a long list of demands that largely have to do with the wide gap between the rich and ordinary Chileans. People are calling for reforms to health care, education, the pension system and even the constitution, which dates back to 1980 and the military dictatorship.
At demonstrations, it’s common to see police firing pellet guns at crowds. Often, “they’re firing at 90 degrees, which is to say, directly at the face,” said Meza. He said most of the injured say it’s the national police force – known as the Carabineros – who are the ones firing.
The National Institute of Human Rights has said that while it condemns violence by protesters, this does not justify “the indiscriminate use” of pellet guns by riot police.
Meza said other countries seem to follow protocols about the use of pellet guns but in Chile, “this is clearly not happening.”
There are protocols in Chile around use of force by the police. They must first seek to establish order with verbal commands. The use of force is permitted in cases of active resistance, while the use of non-lethal arms is allowed during acts of active violence. Lethal arms are limited to situations that could be deadly.
The National Institute of Human Rights, Amnesty International and the Medical College have been urging the government to ban the use of pellet guns by police since the start of the Chilean unrest, but they have come up against a wall.
The appeal courts of Antofagasta, in the north, and Concepción, in the south, this week banned the use of lethal arms and projectiles against people who are protesting peacefully.
University of Santiago rector Juan Manuel Zolessi said the Council of Rectors, which represents 29 private and public universities, has asked the courts in Santiago to ban the use of lead and rubber pellets by the national police in demonstrations.
On Sunday, police director Gen. Mario Rozas said the use of pellet guns will “be limited.”
The following day, theatre student Vicente Muñoz was hit by projectiles fired by a police officer two meters away, according to his sister. He lost sight in his left eye.
“I think it’s absolutely incredible that, after all these cases of lost eyes, immediate action has not been taken to ensure it doesn’t keep happening,” said Ennio Vivaldi, rector of the University of Chile, where Muñoz studies.
In response to demands that pellet guns not be used, Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel said that “we need to be very careful about introducing changes that could result in a violent situation that is actually worse.”
The massive demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, but it’s common to see hooded protesters infiltrate the gatherings, hurling rocks, raising barricades and confronting police, who clamp down with violence.
Rozas said police will start using a camera on their helmets to track their actions and the use of pellet guns will be limited to situations of “real danger” for police and citizens.
“Evidently, they are recognizing that they were doing something wrong,” said Sergio Micco, director of the National Institute of Human Rights.
Health Minister Jaime Mañalich announced an “ocular reparation program” for “victims of political violence” that covers the cost of treatment and psychological care.
The national prosecutors have opened 1,089 criminal investigations into allegations of “institutional violence” during the first two weeks of the conflict. Of those 70% are directed at the police.
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The Latest: EU launches action against UK over commissioner
BRUSSELS (AP) — The Latest on Britain’s failure to name a candidate for the new European Commission. (all times local):
The European Union has launched legal action against the United Kingdom following the country’s decision not to name a candidate for the bloc’s executive arm.
The EU Commission says in a statement that it has sent a letter of formal notice to UK authorities, which have until Friday next week to “provide their views.”
Sending a letter of formal notice is the first step in a lengthy legal procedure if the Commission deems a member state to be in contravention of EU rules. In the final stages of an infringement procedure the EU Commission can refer such a case to the bloc’s highest court, which can in turn impose financial penalties.
Britain’s decision not to name a candidate for the European Commission before the country’s Dec. 12 general election could further delay the forming of incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s team in Brussels.
The European Union confirmed Thursday that British authorities said they will not present a candidate to the bloc’s executive arm, despite its obligation to do so. Dana Spinant, the deputy spokeswoman for the next commission, however, said the U.K. has made clear it wants to cooperate in a constructive manner with the EU “to ensure the commission can be formed as soon as possible.”
After Britain’s envoy to Brussels, Tim Barrow, sent a letter to EU headquarters informing them of London’s decision, the commission is now exploring legal options that would allow von der Leyen’s team to start work on Dec. 1.
The new commission was initially scheduled to take office Nov. 1, which would have been after Britain had been scheduled to leave the bloc on Oct. 31. But European lawmakers rejected three commission candidates from other countries, delaying the process, and the EU agreed to delay Britain’s departure from the bloc until Jan. 31.