Cleveland, Justice Department Reach Deal On Policing Violations

WASHINGTON (AP) — The city of Cleveland has reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over a pattern of excessive force and civil rights violations by the police department, a senior federal law enforcement official said Monday.

The official was not authorized to speak publicly of the settlement ahead of the official announcement, expected this week, and spoke on condition of anonymity. News of the settlement comes two days after a white police officer was acquitted of manslaughter for firing the final 15 rounds of a 137-shot police barrage through the windshield of a car carrying two black, unarmed suspects in 2012.

The suspects’ backfiring vehicle had been mistaken for a gunshot, leading to a high-speed chase involving 62 police cruisers. Once the suspects were cornered, 13 officers fired at the car.

The chase prompted an 18-month Justice Department investigation. In a report released in December, the department required the city to work with community leaders and other officials to devise a plan to reform the police department, which a judge must approve and an independent monitor will oversee.

Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson did not return messages seeking comment. Messages to a Cleveland city spokesman and the police department seeking comment weren’t immediately returned.

The specifics of the settlement, first reported by The New York Times, were not available Monday.

The Justice Department’s report spared no one in the police chain of command. The worst examples of excessive force involved patrol officers who endangered lives by shooting at suspects and cars, hit people over the head with guns and used stun guns on handcuffed suspects.

Supervisors and police higher-ups received some of the report’s most searing criticism. The Justice Department said officers were poorly trained and some didn’t know how to implement use-of-force policies. The report also said officers are ill-equipped.

Mobile computers that are supposed to be in patrol cars often don’t work and, even when they do, officers don’t have access to essential department databases, according to the report.

The agency said supervisors encouraged some of the bad behavior and often did little to investigate it. Some told the Justice Department that they often wrote their reports to make an officer look as good as possible, the federal agency said. The department found that only six officers had been suspended for improper use of force over a three-year period.

The investigation was the second time in recent years the Justice Department has taken the Cleveland police to task over the use of force. But unlike in 2004, when the agency left it up to local police to clean up their act, federal authorities intervened this time by way of a consent decree. Several other police departments in the country now operate under federal consent decrees that involve independent oversight.

Saturday’s bench verdict on the manslaughter charge against patrolman Michael Brelo led to a day of mostly peaceful protests but also more than 70 arrests.

But two other high-profile police-involved deaths still hang over the city: a boy holding a pellet gun fatally shot by a rookie patrolman and a mentally ill woman in distress who died after officers took her to the ground and handcuffed her.

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Nevada Tests ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The idea that a person’s home is their castle and they have the right to kill trespassers has been widely accepted in the U.S. for more than a century.

But that broad legal premise has been put to the test in several states amid cases that stretched the boundaries of “stand your ground” self-defense laws.

The latest high-profile case is in Nevada, where a man is on trial on murder charges after opening fire on two trespassers — not in his home but at a vacant rental unit he owns.

In neighboring Utah, a man was hailed as a hero after he intervened in a would-be carjacking outside a grocery store, gunning down the suspect. Months earlier, a jury convicted a Montana man who shot and killed a German exchange student trespassing in his garage.

Such cases have renewed discussions about stand-your-ground laws and how they are interpreted across the U.S.

Since Florida expanded its version of the “castle doctrine” to allow deadly force outside the home in 2005, more than 30 states have adopted or strengthened such provisions, providing more leeway to claim self-defense as a reason to kill.

Twenty-two specifically say “there is no duty to retreat (from) an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Reno, Wayne Burgarello, 74, insists he was justified in fatally shooting one unarmed trespasser and seriously wounding another after confronting them in a rundown duplex in February 2014.

Washoe County prosecutor Bruce Hahn said the former schoolteacher angry about past burglaries acted out of revenge — not self-defense — when he entered the darkened duplex and unleashed a barrage of gunfire on a man and woman beneath a comforter on the floor.

Burgarello said he thought the man pointed a gun at him. No weapon was found, but his lawyer said he might have mistaken a black flashlight police found beneath the victim’s body for a firearm.

“In a split-second decision … he shot because he believes his life was threatened in a bedroom where no one should have been,” attorney Theresa Ristenpart said.

The U.S. Supreme Court first ruled in 1895 that if a property owner didn’t provoke the assault and had reasonable grounds to believe such force was necessary to save his own life, he “was not obliged to retreat … but was entitled to stand his ground.”

Nuances in today’s stand-your-ground laws are complicated, but that basic premise has not changed, said Jules Epstein, a professor at Widener University School of Law in Delaware who teaches self-defense theory for the Reno-based National Judicial College.

“At least in your home, you can stand your ground,” Epstein said. “If a burglar breaks in, even though I could run out the back door, I don’t have to.”

Outside the home, states without stand-your-ground laws still prohibit use of deadly force “if you could retreat with complete safety,” he said. But in most states with such laws, a person who feels their life is threatened can respond lethally regardless of an ability to walk away.

Critics say such laws are about promoting gun ownership, not protecting people’s rights.

“Stand-your-ground laws have contributed to an atmosphere of vigilante justice in our society,” said Tanya Clay House, the director of public policy for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law who says the National Rifle Association started lobbying legislatures for such laws decades ago.

Backers say opposing groups are the same ones who long have advocated stringent gun control, fighting to ban concealed weapons and prohibit carrying them on college campuses.

“Stand-your-ground laws simply place the law on the side of victims instead of criminals,” NRA president Chris Cox said.

Interpretations of the laws vary.

Utah prosecutors announced May 15 that they would not charge the bystander who killed the would-be carjacker.

But a judge made it clear in February that Montana’s stand-your-ground law has limits when he sentenced Markus Kaarma to 70 years for the 2014 killing of the teenager. Prosecutors argued Kaarma couldn’t claim self-defense because he was intent on setting a trap for a burglar.

In Minnesota, which still has a “duty to retreat” provision in some instances, Byron Smith was convicted of premeditated murder last year for lying in wait in his basement and killing two teens who broke in.

Jeb Bush, who signed Florida’s law as governor in 2005, defended the laws last month in a speech at the NRA convention in Nashville.

“You shouldn’t have to choose between being attacked and going to jail,” he said.

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Islamic State Faces Battle In Iraq, Bombs In Syria

BAGHDAD/BEIRUT, May 25 (Reuters) – Islamic State poured more fighters into Ramadi on Monday as security forces and Shi’ite paramilitaries renewed efforts to retake the western Iraqi city that fell to the Islamists a week ago in a major setback for the …


Deadly Shooting Rocks Tunis Military Base

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A Tunisian soldier opened fire on fellow troops at a military barracks in the capital Monday, killing seven people before he was himself killed, a spokesman for Tunisia’s Defense Ministry said.

Belhassen Oueslati said 10 others were injured in the shooting, including one person who was in a serious condition. He described the incident as an “isolated act, not a terrorist act” and said the motive will be determined by an investigation.

Police reinforcements were sent to the area after the shooting, combing nearby streets, while a helicopter circled overhead. The Defense Ministry said a nearby school was also evacuated.

Authorities sought to calm the public in a city where tensions remain high after an attack on the National Bardo Museum on March 18 that killed 22 people, mostly foreign tourists. The shooting at the Bouchoucha barracks was about a kilometer from the museum.

Oueslati said the situation was under control by mid-morning.

He said the soldier had been forbidden from carrying a weapon after displaying “troubled behavior due to family problems” and had seized another man’s weapon for the attack.

Since overthrowing its secular dictator in in 2011, Tunisia has been battling militant groups with links to the Islamic State group and al-Qaida, which have carried out attacks on security forces.

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Middle East and North Africa: Forcing China to Revisit Long-standing Policies

By James M. Dorsey

A scan of white papers on multiple foreign policy issues published by the Chinese government is glaring for one thing: the absence of a formulated, conceptual approach towards the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This is a part of the world that is crucial not only to Chinese strategic and economic interests but also to how tensions in the restless Muslim province of Xinjiang will develop.

For much of the four decades of economic reform that has positioned China as one of the world’s foremost players, the People’s Republic could remain aloof to crises in the MENA region as Beijing single-mindedly pursued its resource and-export driven objectives. That is proving increasingly difficult as tortuous, bloody and violent conflicts threaten to redraw the post-colonial borders of a region that is crucial to a continued flow of oil and through which at least 60 percent of Chinese exports pass.

The MENA region moreover has become home to hundreds of thousands of Chinese expatriates who repeatedly have had to be rescued from escalating violence in countries like Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen or who were taken hostage by insurgents or criminal gangs in places like Egypt’s Sinai desert and Sudan. As a result, China has been forced to breach its policy of non-interventionism by establishing ties to opposition forces in countries like Libya, Syria and Afghanistan to hedge its bets in situations of political change.

The rise of Islamic State, the jihadist group that is expanding its control of swaths of Syria and Iraq and is attracting hundreds of Chinese Muslims as foreign fighters, is further forcing China to take the horse blinders off its approach towards the MENA region. China realises that it needs a new approach that would allow it to increasingly relax its long-standing insistence on non-interference in the domestic affairs of others while assuring it is not seeking to become a global military power through the establishment of military bases in far-flung lands.

Beijing has to do so without officially surrendering those policies or challenging the United States. on whom it relies for the security of key regions like the Gulf. In groping for a cohesive policy, China has to compensate for limitations to its ability to project military and political power. It is having to accommodate a broadening spectrum of domestic players with vested interests in Chinese policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, including national oil companies and security authorities.

“The deep political changes in the Middle East, the restructuring of the regional system and the strategy adjustment of the US, Europe and other Great Powers…suggest that it is urgent for China to work out mid-term and long-term diplomatic strategy toward the Middle East and corresponding mechanism and measures,” warned Middle East scholar Liu Zhongmin.

China’s limitations were evident in the failure of mediation efforts in the Sudan in 2011 and 2014 and a half-hearted Chinese attempt in 2013 to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that went no-where.
The failures notwithstanding, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signalled a recognition that non-interventionism was unlikely to be sustainable when he told the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 that China would play a “more proactive and constructive role” in the world’s hot spots and provide “public goods to the international community”.

In their search for a Middle East policy, Chinese officials are driven by their perception of misguided US support for political change in the region. They see a waning US influence, as shown in Washington’s reluctance to become further embroiled in the region’s conflicts, foremost in Syria, and its inability to nudge Israelis and Palestinians towards a resolution of their dispute. They also fear that the projection of Chinese power through military bases runs the risk of being further sucked into the Middle Eastern and North African vortex.

Avoiding this is, however, proving to be easier said than done. Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh recently disclosed that China was negotiating to establish a naval base in the African state’s northern port of Obock. The base is an outcome of a military agreement concluded in 2014 between China and Djibouti, which hosts the US’ only permanent military facility in Africa – an agreement that was criticised by Washington.

The International Business Herald, a paper published by Xinhua News Agency, moreover reported that
China was likely to establish over the next decade three strings of “overseas strategic support bases” totalling 18 facilities: a North Indian Ocean supply line with bases in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar; a Western Indian Ocean supply line with bases in Djibouti, Yemen, Oman, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique; and a central-south Indian Ocean supply line with bases in Seychelles and Madagascar.

Concern about Xinjiang, home to a Turkic-speaking people that has long felt culturally more akin to the region’s Turkic trading partners than to the Han Chinese, is undermining China’s adherence to the principle of non-intervention and forces China to balance contradictory approaches. In Iraq, for instance, China supports the fight against Islamic State while in Syria it backs the government of Bashar al-Assad against rebels who confront both the Syrian regime and Islamic State.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State’s expansion in Iraq in 2014 moreover put the group in direct competition with China for access to Iraq’s energy resources in which Beijing is heavily invested. As a result, China has agreed to intelligence cooperation with the US-led coalition in Iraq while some analysts have called on the government to contribute financially and materially as well as with training.

Ironically, as China tries to come to grips with realities on the ground, it faces the same dilemma that stymies US policy in the Middle East: the clash between lofty principles and a harsh reality that produces perceptions of a policy that is riddled with contradictions and fails to live up to the values it advocates. Non-alignment and non-intervention coupled with economic incentives have so far allowed China to paper over some of those dilemmas. Increasingly, that no longer is an option.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.

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Elephant Grabs Traveler’s GoPro, Snaps Selfie Of A Lifetime

Man encounters elephant, elephant takes a selfie.

That’s what 22-year-old Christian LeBlanc says happened to him while he was traveling with his girlfriend in Thailand earlier this year. He told CNN that the couple had “[come] across a couple elephants,” and had decided to buy some bananas to feed them.

But it seems one elephant had something else in mind.

“The elephant quickly ate what little bananas I had and become touchy, trying to find more food,” LeBlanc, a college student from Vancouver, told ABC News. “Next thing I knew it grabbed my GoPro by the mount.” LeBlanc added that the camera had been set to continuous shooting mode at the time.

This was the extraordinary result of the encounter:

“I got the selfie of a lifetime, which I can’t take full credit for,” LeBlanc told ABC News of the surprising snap. “Elephants are incredibly intelligent, and it definitely makes you wonder if it was a conscious action.”

LeBlanc’s “elphie” was taken earlier this year, but the photograph has only gone viral this week.

It’s certainly an incredible image, but as CNN points out, it isn’t actually the world’s first elephant selfie as some have claimed.

Last year, an elephant at a safari park in Worcestershire, England, reportedly grabbed visitor Scott Brierley’s phone and took a selfie with it. Brierley told the BBC at the time that the elephant may have mistaken his phone for food.

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71 Arrested In Cleveland Protests Over Cop’s Acquittal In Deaths Of Unarmed Black Motorists

CLEVELAND (AP) — The streets returned to calm Sunday after police arrested dozens of demonstrators overnight when protests grew increasingly aggressive in the wake of a patrolman’s acquittal in the deaths of two unarmed black suspects.

In total, 71 people were arrested, including several who turned their anger toward bystanders in downtown Cleveland, Police Chief Calvin Williams said. Someone picked up a restaurant sign and hit a patron in the head, and other protesters used pepper spray on passers-by and restaurant patrons sitting at outdoor cafes. But Mayor Frank Jackson thanked the vast majority of protesters who remained peaceful and respectful as they voiced their frustration with Saturday’s verdict.

Officer Michael Brelo, 31, faces administrative charges while remaining suspended without pay after he was found not guilty on two counts of voluntary manslaughter, but he no longer faces the prospect of prison. The anxious city now awaits a decision on criminal charges against a white officer in the fatal shooting of a black 12-year-old boy with a pellet gun.

Brelo and 12 other officers fired 137 shots at a car with Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams inside it on Nov. 29, 2012. The shooting occurred at the end of a 22-mile chase involving more than 100 Cleveland police officers and 60 cruisers after Russell’s Chevy Malibu backfired while speeding past police headquarters. During the chase, an officer reported that he thought he’d seen Williams with a gun. At the end, police mistook police gunfire for shots from Russell’s car.

Brelo fired 49 of those shots that night, but it was the final 15 fired into the windshield while he stood on the hood of Russell’s car that led to his indictment and a four-week trial. He faced up to 22 years in prison if convicted on both counts.

The shooting helped prompt an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice that concluded Cleveland police had engaged in a pattern and practice of excessive use of force and violations of people’s civil rights.

Jackson said protesters were encouraged to continue expressing their opinions as long as they stayed peaceful. Williams said police only moved in Saturday when things got violent and people refused to disperse.

“We want to make sure that people understand we’re going to help you in this process but if things turn violent, as we stated in the beginning, we will take action to preserve safety in the city,” Williams said.

The protests erupted as authorities work to complete an investigation into the Tamir Rice shooting, the findings of which will be given to the prosecutor’s office to decide whether to pursue criminal charges.

Alicia Kirkman, 47, of Cleveland, said she joined the march in honor of her son, killed in a police shooting eight years ago.

“I’m just so mad we never get justice from any of the police killings,” said Kirkman, who said she settled with the city after her son’s death but no charges were filed.

The judge said in his ruling that he wouldn’t “sacrifice” Brelo to the wave of anti-police sentiment that has swept across the nation in the wake of other police in-custody deaths. While protests in cities like Baltimore, New York City and Ferguson, Missouri, have erupted into violence, the demonstrations in Cleveland didn’t escalate.

The judge’s decision to acquit Brelo focused on which shots killed Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, two homeless drug addicts with a long history of mental illness. Four of the 23 gunshot wounds to Russell and seven of Williams’ 24 wounds were believed to have been fatal. Judge John P. O’Donnell said in his 35-page verdict that while testimony showed Brelo fired some of the fatal shots, other officers fired kill shots as well.

A grand jury charged five police supervisors with misdemeanor dereliction of duty for failing to control the chase. All five have pleaded not guilty and no trial date has been set.

Prosecutors had argued that when Brelo stood on the hood of the Malibu that he meant to kill Russell and Williams instead of containing a threat to his and other officers’ lives. O’Donnell ruled that even the last 15 shots were justified based on Brelo’s belief that someone inside the car had fired at police at the beginning, middle and end of the chase.

“Officer Brelo risked his life on that night,” Brelo’s lead attorney, Patrick D’Angelo, said after the verdict.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said he respected O’Donnell’s decision, and added that the case would prevent police violence.

In addition to the Tamir Rice case, the county prosecutor’s office is looking into the death of a black woman who died in police custody while lying face first on the ground in handcuffs. The family of Tanisha Anderson, 37, has sued the city of Cleveland and the two police officers who subdued her. They say she panicked Nov. 12 when officers put her in the back of a patrol car after they’d responded to a call about Anderson having a mental health crisis.

Russell’s sister, Michelle, said Brelo would ultimately face justice, despite the judge’s decision. The city of Cleveland has paid the families of Russell and Williams a total of $3 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit.

“He’s not going to dodge this just because he was acquitted,” Michelle Russell said. “God will have the final say.”


Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins, John Seewer in Toledo and John Coyne contributed to this report.

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