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A daily report on important news nationwide from Ted Gest of Criminal Justice Journalists, plus commentary and research highlights.

 Manafort, Charles Kushner Pardoned by Trump

President Donald Trump issued pardons and sentence commutations for 29 more people on Wednesday, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law, the Associated Press reports. The actions bring to nearly 50 the number of people who have received clemency in the last two days. Pardons of Manafort and Roger Stone, who earlier had his sentence commuted by Trump, underscore the president’s determination to use the power of his office to unravel the results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and to come aid associates he feels were wrongly pursued. Trump has so far pardoned four people convicted in that investigation, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, both of whom had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Manafort had been sentenced to more than seven years in prison for financial crimes related to his work in Ukraine. He was among the first people charged as part of Mueller’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. He was released to home confinement last May because of coronavirus concerns in the federal prison system. Manafort thanked Trump in a tweet and lavished praise on the outgoing president, saying history would show he had accomplished more than any of his predecessors. Kushner is the father of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a wealthy real estate executive who pleaded guilty to tax evasion and making illegal campaign donations. Trump and the elder Kushner knew each other from real estate circle. Their children were married in 2009. See also: Trump Pardon List Favors the Well-Connected.

 Barr Touts ‘Operation Legend’ As He Leaves Office

More than 6,000 arrests were made in the U.S. Justice Department’s Operation Legend, which involved sending federal agents to aid local police fight violent crime since July, Attorney General William Barr announced as he left office Wednesday. The arrests included 467 for homicide. More than 2,600 firearms were seized, and more than 32 kilos of heroin, 17 kilos of fentanyl, 300 kilos of methamphetamine, 135 kilos of cocaine, and more than $11 million in drug and other illicit proceeds were seized. Some 1,500 of those arrested have been charged with federal offenses. About 815 were charged with firearms offenses, and 566 with drug crimes.

Operation Legend was launched in Kansas City on July 8 and later expanded to Chicago, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Memphis and Indianapolis. “Operation Legend removed violent criminals, domestic abusers, carjackers and drug traffickers from nine cities which were experiencing stubbornly high crime and took illegal firearms, illegal narcotics and illicit monies off the streets,” Barr said.  The project was named for four-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed while he slept on the morning of June 29 in Kansas City. The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) provided $60 million to fund 290 officers as part of Operation Legend, the Justice Department said.

 Ring Security Camera Users Sue Over Hacking Invasions

Dozens of people who say they were subjected to death threats, racial slurs, and blackmail after in-home Ring smart cameras were hacked are suing the company over “horrific” invasions of privacy, The Guardian reports. A new class action lawsuit alleges that lax security measures at Ring, which is owned by Amazon, allowed hackers to take over their devices. Ring provides home security in the form of smart cameras that are installed on doorbells or inside people’s homes. The suit against Ring joins complaints filed by more than 30 people in 15 families who say their devices were hacked and used to harass them. Ring “blamed the victims, and offered inadequate responses and spurious explanations”, the suit alleges. The plaintiffs claim the company has failed to update its security measures in the aftermath of such hacks.

“I would imagine that there are a whole lot more people out there who have been hacked,” said Hassan Zavareei, lead attorney on the case. “This is probably just the tip of the iceberg.” The suit outlines examples of hackers taking over Ring cameras, screaming obscenities, demanding ransoms, and threatening murder and sexual assault. One Ring user says he was asked through his camera as he watched TV one night, “What are you watching?” Another alleges his children were addressed by an unknown hacker through the device, who commented on their basketball play and encouraged them to approach the camera. An older woman at an assisted living facility was allegedly told “tonight you die” and sexually harassed through the camera. One plaintiff who had purchased a Ring device to keep an eye on her four-year-old daughter with a history of seizures alleges that music from a horror film was played through her camera. Ring blamed victims for not using sufficiently strong passwords, the suit says.

 FL Sheriff Uses Controversial Intelligence Programs

Since taking office a decade ago, Pasco County, Fl., Sheriff Chris Nocco has used his connections and clout to grow the department and expand its reach, reports the Tampa Bay Times. He’s also taken the agency in directions that have appalled experienced cops and law enforcement experts.. Nocco’s signature initiative — a sprawling intelligence program — uses an algorithm to identify people who might break the law, based on their criminal histories and social networks. The agency sends deputies to their homes, even if there is no evidence of a crime. Former deputies said they had been ordered to make targets’ lives miserable.

The Sheriff’s Office starts trying to predict future criminals early in life. It keeps a list of schoolchildren who might “fall into a life of crime” that’s built with data such as grades and child welfare records. The list includes more than 400 kids and is used by school resource officers to provide support and “mentorship.” The kids and their parents are not made aware of the designation. National experts call the programs “morally repugnant” and “everything that’s wrong about policing.” Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Southern Poverty Law Center and Institute for Justice — are considering lawsuits and public advocacy campaigns. Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition demanding the school district stop sharing sensitive student data with the Sheriff’s Office. Nocco became sheriff at 35, with eight years of law-enforcement experience. His office touts its reliance on data, early adoption of body cameras, and work to address mental health and create a cutting-edge research institute as proof of its forward-thinking attitude. Nocco’s office said it won’t back down from its intelligence strategies. It accused the Times of “yellow journalism” and bias against law enforcement.


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