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

 LAPD Hired Polish Firm to Track 'Negative Narratives'

The Los Angeles police department worked with a Polish "strategic communications" firm to monitor social media and collect millions of tweets last year, including thousands related to Black Lives Matter and "defund the police," The Guardian reports. LAPD documents obtained by the Brennan Center for Justice through public records requests show that the department conducted a one-month trial of social media monitoring software from Edge NPD, a company that typically worked in advertising and marketing, had no experience contracting with law enforcement and was based in Warsaw, Poland. In fall 2020, Edge NPD tracked tweets on roughly 200 keywords. Its data set included tens of thousands of tweets related to Black Lives Matter and racial justice protests, some of them from prominent Black activists outside of LA and private civilians advocating for reforms.

The records suggest that LAPD was interested in using the company's services partly to help the department respond to "negative narratives." The partnership raised questions about oversight of surveillance technology, as well as police agencies' data collection practices. LAPD's test run with Edge NPD came as law enforcement agencies have increasingly been forced to take their investigations online, and have sought tools to do so. Edge NPD primarily assists private companies with market research and helps them ensure that advertising campaigns aren't jeopardized by bots and trolls, said CEO Dobromir Cias. During the 40-day trial in October and November of 2020, Edge NPD provided LAPD with a dashboard monitoring tweets related to six topics: "civil unrest," "American policing," "domestic extremism and white nationalism," "election security," "potential danger" and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan (which at the time was prompting local LA protests). The two entities discussed possible keywords to follow, including "lapdchiefmoore," "abolish the police," "nojusticenopeace," "police budget," "police killing" and "acab" (a protest slogan that stands for "all cops are bastards"). Cias suggested adding "defund the police" and "BLM" to the list of keywords.

 NYC's Adams Taps Black Woman to Head NYPD

New York City's Mayor-elect Eric Adams made a historic choice to lead the city's police force, the nation's largest. Adams tapped Nassau County, N.Y., Chief of Detectives Keechant Sewell to be the first female commissioner in the New York Police Department's 176-year history, NPR reports. She will be the city's third Black commissioner. Sewell told The New York Post, "I'm here to meet the moment." Shootings and incidences of violent crime have gone up in 2021 compared with last year. Adams and Sewell's new leadership will be a reset for the city's police force of more than 36,000 officers, and their union leaders, who were used to a tense relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

Patrick Lynch, head of the city's Police Benevolent Association, said the union welcomes Sewell "to the second-toughest policing job in America." He said, "The toughest, of course, is being an NYPD cop on the street. New York City police officers have passed our breaking point,." Sewell, who hails from Queens, has worked in the Nassau Police Department for 23 years in narcotics, major case and hostage negotiation. "I grew up in Queens," Sewell said. "This is my city, and now this being my department, I feel like I've come full circle." Adams, who will become the city's second Black mayor, will be sworn in Jan. 1.

 Cities Affected by Opioid Crisis Close to $26B Settlement

Thousands of towns across the nation are on the verge of receiving billions of dollars in the second-biggest legal settlement in U.S. history. The $26 billion from three drug distributors and a manufacturer would address damage wrought by opioids, which the federal government declared a public health emergency four years ago, the Associated Press reports. In Yamhill County, Or., the funds would expand counseling and treatment, including in jails, expand residential treatment and recovery facilities, said County Commissioner Casey Kulla. In the U.S., more than 500,000 deaths over the last two decades have been linked to opioids, both prescription drugs and illegal ones. The clock is ticking on the settlement, with a payout second only to the $200 billion-plus settlement, in 1998, with the four largest tobacco companies. The three drug distributors — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson agreed in July to pay the $26 billion to resolve thousands of state and local government lawsuits. If the defendants believe there’s a lack of participation by states and local jurisdictions, it could cause them to back away from the landmark agreement or eventually reduce the settlement amount.

“There are complex tradeoffs at stake here,” said Caleb Alexander of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “On the one hand, the settlement would offer sorely needed funding to scale up treatment and otherwise address the opioid epidemic. On the other, many parties believe the settlement is not enough.” At least 45 states have signed on or signaled intent to do so, and at least 4,012 counties and cities have confirmed participation. In Pennsylvania, district attorneys for Philadelphia and Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, have sued the state attorney general to ensure their lawsuits against the drug industry could continue, saying their communities’ shares from the settlement would cover only a small fraction of the epidemic’s financial toll. Under the settlement, the payments would be made over 18 years. The tobacco settlement was controlled by state governments, and most of the money has not gone to pay for the toll of tobacco. By contrast, the opioid settlements are structured so most of the money would fight the crisis.

 Pro-Trump FL Voters Arrested for Casting Multiple Ballots

Three Florida residents who have expressed support for former President Trump were arrested after reports that they cast more than one vote during the 2020 election, the Washington Post reports. Jay Ketcik, John Rider and Joan Halstead, who live in Sumter County, Fl., face felony charges and up to five years in prison for allegedly casting more than one ballot in the most recent presidential contest. The three were jailed after Sumter County Supervisor of Elections Bill Keen launched a probe of allegations of voting irregularities. Ketcik, 63, and Halstead, 71, are both registered Republicans. Rider, 61, is not affiliated with a political party, but there are pro-Trump posts on his Facebook page. 

More than a year after the 2020 election, Trump repeatedly makes false claims that his loss to Joe Biden was the result of widespread voter fraud, allegations that have been debunked by courts and state reviews. Prosecutors say Rider cast ballots in Florida and elsewhere. Halstead voted in person in Florida in addition to casting an absentee ballot in New York. Ketcik voted by mail in Florida along with casting an absentee ballot in Michigan, prosecutors say. It is not a crime to be registered in more than one state, but it is unlawful to cast a ballot in multiple states. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has spoken out against voter fraud — a crime that many reports have shown to be rare. DeSantis is proposing a new state office to investigate election fraud.

 'Remain in Mexico' Policy Up and Running Again

Under a federal judge’s order, the Biden administration has begun to restart the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, informally known as “remain in Mexico,” which during the Trump administration forced thousands of asylum-seeking migrants to stay in Mexican border cities as their cases made their way through U.S. immigration courts, the Texas Tribune reports. The program will first be revived in an undisclosed border city. Migrants would be enrolled into MPP at El Paso, Laredo, Brownsville and San Diego. Some human rights advocates, and migrants who have been placed in MPP, say reviving the program puts more migrants in danger of being targeted by criminals in Mexican border cities. Human Rights First, a New York-based organization, recorded 1,544 cases of killings, rapes and kidnappings of migrants who were forced to remain in Mexico between MPP’s launch in January 2019 and January 2021, when the Biden administration suspended the policy.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined Missouri's attorney general to sue the Biden administration in April, claiming that suspending the policy violated administrative law. Federal Judge Matthew. Kacsmaryk, an appointee of President Trump in Amarillo, agreed. President Biden appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied a request to pause Kacsmaryk’s ruling. Under the Biden administration’s version of MPP, migrants from anywhere in the Western hemisphere can be sent into Mexico. It had included migrants only from Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil. The migrants can receive a COVID-19 vaccine before immigration officials return them to Mexico.

 MI School District Sets New Safety Plan After Killings

Two weeks after the Nov. 30 shooting at Michigan's Oxford High School that killed four students and wounded six students and a teacher, administrators announced a zero tolerance policy toward threats and other initiatives aimed at improving safety, the Associated Press reports. “Anything that is remotely violent immediately goes to the administration and law enforcement,” said assistant superintendent Jill Lemond. Suspected students will be removed from the school until a mental health evaluation has been completed. Law enforcement also will be present in all schools and a security firm was hired to make sure every building has its own security guard. Backpacks will no longer be allowed in schools and the district is working with a vendor to provide clear backpacks. 

A judge gave a prosecutor more time to collect evidence against James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of shooter Ethan Crumbley, who are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter. The delay was ordered partly to give the Michigan community “time to heal” during the holiday season. The Crumbleys were accused of giving their son access to a gun and failing to intervene when they were confronted with his disturbing drawings a few hours before the Nov. 30 shooting. School officials have been criticized by the county sheriff and prosecutor Karen McDonald for not alerting a school resource officer about their concerns and not searching his backpack before allowing him to return to class about three hours before the shooting at the school. The Crumbleys were arrested hiding in a commercial building in Detroit after their charges were announced. They remain in jail, apparently unable to pay bonds of $500,000 each.

 D.C. Sues Proud Boys, Oath Keepers in Jan. 6 Riot

The District of Columbia is suing two far-right groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, for conspiring to terrorize the city with the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, NPR reports. The lawsuit was filed by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine. It accuses the two groups, their leaders and more than two dozen suspected members of coordinating and plotting violence on Jan. 6 to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers already face other lawsuits stemming from the events of Jan. 6 — one by members of Congress, another by police officers. Like those cases, the D.C. suit accused the groups of violating the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, a law passed after the Civil War to protect Black citizens from violence and intimidation.

The complaint says that after former President Trump's election loss, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers began working together "to plot, publicize, recruit for, and finance their planned attack." That planning and coordination came together on Jan. 6 when the defendants and other rioters bashed their way through police lines and forced their way into the Capitol. The lawsuit says, the rioters threatened and assaulted D.C. police officers and others. D.C. is seeking punitive and compensatory damages. "Our intent ... is to hold these violent mobsters and these violent hate groups accountable, and to get every penny of damage that we can," Racine said. "If it so happens that we bankrupt them, then that's a good day. When hate is dispatched and eliminated, that's a good day."

 QAnon Follower Gets 28-Month Term for Threats to Pelosi

A QAnon follower from Georgia who brought an arsenal of weapons to Washington, D.C., just after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol was sentenced Tuesday to 28 months in prison for making threats to kill Speaker Nancy Pelosi and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Politico reports. Cleveland Meredith Jr., 53, missed Trump’s Jan. 6 rally due to trouble with his truck, but was arrested the next day at a hotel near the Capitol after family members alerted the FBI to threatening text messages he’d sent. In a trailer outside the hotel, police found a pistol, a rifle and about 2,500 rounds of ammunition, as well as a telescoping gun-sight. In imposing the sentence, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected Meredith’s claims that he was simply joking around in the flurry of combative messages he sent during the tense days before and after the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. 

With credit for the more than 11 months he has already served in jaily since his arrest plus good behavior credit, Meredith is likely to spend another 14 months in federal prison. While Meredith’s family blamed his actions on an infatuation with the QAnon conspiracy theory, Jackson said that was just the latest chapter in his history of violent altercations and mental issues. “This has been a long time coming,” the judge said. “The problems were there long before QAnon came along.” “Thinking about heading over to Pelosi [expletive]’s speech and putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV,” Meredith wrote to his uncle on Jan. 7. “I may wander over to the Mayor’s office and put a 5.56 in her skull,” Meredith said in an earlier message. When a family member messaged Meredith that Trump had called for his supporters to go home peacefully, Meredith said that was impossible. “Bullshit. He wants heads and I’m going to deliver,” Meredith wrote. During the sentencing, Meredith suggested that his political or ideological beliefs are no longer central to his life. “I don’t want to have anything to do with politics again,” he said.

 Security Flaw Causes 'Dire Alarm' on the Internet

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, which Jen Easterly runs, stood up a resource page Tuesday to help erase a flaw it says is present in hundreds of millions of devices, the Associated Press reports. Easterly deemed the flaw “one of the most serious I’ve seen in my entire career, if not the most serious.” Publicly disclosed last Thursday, the flaw is catnip for cybercriminals and digital spies because it allows easy, password-free entry. The Department of Homeland Security sounded a dire alarm, ordering federal agencies to urgently eliminate the bug because it’s so easily exploitable — and telling those with public-facing networks to put up firewalls if they can’t be sure. The affected software is small and often undocumented. Detected in an extensively used utility called Log4j, the flaw lets internet-based attackers easily seize control of everything from industrial control systems to web servers and consumer electronics. 

A wide swath of critical industries, including electric power, water, food and beverage, manufacturing and transportation, were exposed, said Dragos, a leading industrial control cybersecurity firm. “I think we won’t see a single major software vendor in the world -- at least on the industrial side -- not have a problem with this,” said Sergio Caltagirone, the company’s vice president of threat intelligence. The affected software, written in the Java programming language, logs user activity on computers. Developed and maintained by a handful of volunteers under the auspices of the open-source Apache Software Foundation, it is extremely popular with commercial software developers. It runs across many platforms — Windows, Linux, Apple’s macOS — powering everything from web cams to car navigation systems and medical devicesState-backed Chinese and Iranian hackers have already exploited the flaw, presumably for cyberespionage, and other state actors were expected to do so as well, said John Hultquist, a top threat analyst at the cybersecurity firm Mandiant. He wouldn’t name the target of the Chinese hackers or its geographical location.

 O.J. Simpson Leaves Parole Via Good Time Credits

After spending nine years in prison and over four years on parole, O.J. Simpson became a free man effective Dec. 1, Courthouse News Service reports. In 2007, Simpson was charged with armed robbery and kidnapping after leading a group of men who held two sports collectible dealers at gunpoint in a Las Vegas hotel room. Simpson claimed the memorabilia was stolen from him and he was trying to retrieve it. A judge sentenced the former football star and actor to 33 years in prison. The Nevada Parole Board granted him parole after nine years and he was released in October 2017. The parole board granted him three months of good time credits, allowing his parole to end early.

Now 74, Simpson gained notoriety after his high-profile acquittal in the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994. A court found him liable in a wrongful death civil suit filed by Goldman’s family and ordered him to pay $33.5 million, most of which the Goldman family says it has never received. Simpson defenders claimed the armed robbery arrest and conviction were influenced by a vendetta against Simpson after his acquittal on the murder charges. Simpson has spent his parole in luxe Las Vegas gated communities and golf clubs.

 Ex-NFL Player Who Killed Six Had Severe Brain Disease

A former NFL player who fatally shot six people before taking his own life this year had "unusually severe" stage 2 CTE, a brain disease linked to head injuries, a Boston University neuropathologist said, reports CNN. Dr. Ann McKee said Phillip Adams, 32, had an extraordinary amount of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) pathology in both frontal lobes of the brain. The disease is characterized by an unusual buildup of a protein called tau. Severity is categorized in four stages based on the amount and location of the tau buildup in the brain. Stage 4 is the most severe. McKee said Adams' pathology was similar to that of former NFL player Aaron Hernandez, who died by suicide while in prison for murder. The disease can only be diagnosed after death.

Hernandez' Stage 3 CTE is commonly associated with cognitive and memory loss, as well as behavioral changes and impaired judgment. McKee said Adams' CTE pathology might have contributed to his behavior. "When you have frontal lobe pathology, you may have rage behaviors, violent tendencies, depression, impulsivity, all sorts of things. And that's, I think, what we saw in Phillip Adams," McKee said. Adams, 32, shot two air conditioning technicians outside the home of a prominent doctor in Rock Hill, S.C., on April 7. He then forced his way into Dr. Robert Lesslie's home, where Lesslie, his wife and two grandchildren, ages 5 and 9, were killed inside.

 D.C. Crime Lab Failures Threaten Criminal Cases

A report detailing systemic failures at Washington, D.C.'s Department of Forensic Sciences is recommending a complete overhaul of the independent crime lab and a review of casework from its firearms examination and fingerprint units, reports DCist. Mayor Muriel Bowser hired forensic consultant SNA International to complete the report after the lab, which analyzes evidence gathered at crime scenes, had its accreditation suspended in April amid accusations of fraud and coverups. The lab lost its accreditation in May and its director resigned.

The 157-page document outlines an exhaustive list of deficiencies, including "staff not having sufficient expertise to perform their duties, an ineffective quality management system that did not fully investigate customer complaints or resolve issues, and a culture that discouraged candid feedback from staff to leadership." The report noted that many D.C. police staff were "grandfathered" into the department "without formally vetting their prior training, competency, or proficiency." Bowser is creating a committee to implement the report's recommendations. Ward Six Councilmember Charles Allen said, "I am extremely concerned about the integrity of criminal cases that have relied and are relying on evidence from these units. Arrests, charges, and convictions are called into question, which will have significant impacts on defendants and victims." 

 Firm Records Thousands of Inmate-Lawyer Phone Calls

For years, Brooklyn Defender Services' incarcerated clients suspected that phone calls with their lawyers were being recorded. While such communications should be protected from surveillance under the Sixth Amendment and the Federal Wiretap Act, there had been little trust that prison telecommunications vendor Securus Technologies was distinguishing between personal calls—which incarcerated people are told are monitored—and private calls with attorneys, Vice reports. "There was a general sense of unease," said the agency's Elizabeth Daniel Vasquez. Then, around 2019, defense attorneys learned that prosecutors handed over attorney-client phone calls during the discovery process in several cases. They were assured the disclosures were isolated exceptions.

After several more attorney-client calls surfaced in discovery, Brooklyn Defender Services' Civil Rights Counsel confronted the Department of Corrections. "They repeatedly assured us that they had fixed all problems. We then demanded an audit," said Daniel Vasquez. Internal audits conducted by the company found more than 1,500 protected jailhouse phone calls had been recorded, affecting at least 353 defendants' case. Securus claimed the issue was not widespread and that wrongfully recorded calls were prefaced with an automated message warning that the call was being recorded. Several defense attorneys said they weren't aware the calls were recorded. The violations in New York City are just the tip of the iceberg, says the advocacy organization Worth Rises. Securus has allegedly recorded tens of thousands of phone calls between attorneys and their incarcerated clients in at least seven other states, charge lawsuits filed in California, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin. Global Tel Link (GTL), another major prison telecommunications vendor, allegedly recorded phone calls with attorneys in Florida, California, and Maine.

 How 'Risk Terrain Modeling' Cut Crime in NJ

As the U.S. thinks about new ways of responding to violent crime, three Rutgers University criminologists write in the Washington Post recommending an approach focused on places, not only people. Focusing on places to make them safer surroundings to live and work is cost-effective, transparent and sustainable, they say. What's more, evidence proves that it works. A place-based approach to prevention focuses on why certain crimes occur at particular places. It does not remove the importance of human factors; it shifts the focus away from personal characteristics to studying why offenders select the environments where they commit crime. These settings become crime hot spots because they are the most suitable places for illegal behavior. Using "Risk Terrain Modeling," criminologists analyzed trouble spots in Atlantic City, N.J., to address gun violence and crime patterns.

With a place-based approach to crime prevention, people in high-crime areas become partners in problem-solving, the criminologists say. Building safer spaces requires all members of the community to be involved, not just police. Using Risk Terrain Modeling (RTM) developed at Rutgers University, the criminologists began working with Atlantic City in 2015 to address gun violence. RTM pinpoints where and how environmental features such as convenience stores, laundromats and vacant properties are contributing to contexts for crime. Community members connected shootings to drug sales and related turf conflicts. When community stakeholders used the data-driven evidence from RTM to suggest that drugs, retail businesses and vacant properties are related to shootings, they agreed with police that certain places will be vulnerable to shooting incidents in the future. Through their combined efforts, police and their community partners quickly reduced homicides and shooting injuries by over 25 percent from 2016 to 2017. A similar effort yielded a more than 50 percent reduction in robberies within four months, as published in the journal Police Practice and Research. 

 USA Gymnastics to Settle for $380M in Nassar Victims Case

The Olympic and Paralympic Committee settled for $380 million to be allocated to hundreds of survivors of sexual abuse from former team doctor Larry Nassar, the Associated Press reports. The settlement includes non-monetary reforms to prevent abuse in the future. "We prevailed for one simple reason, the courage and tenacity of the survivors," said John Manly, attorney for some of the victims. "These brave women relived their abuse publicly, in countless media interviews, so that not one more child will be forced to suffer physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in pursuit of their dreams." The deal grew as the USA Gymnastics filed bankruptcy in 2018. 

"USA Gymnastics is deeply sorry for the trauma and pain that Survivors have endured as a result of this organization's actions and inactions," said Li Li Leung, president and CEO of USA Gymnastics. "We are committed to working with them, and with the entire gymnastics community, to ensure that we continue to prioritize the safety, health, and wellness of our athletes and community above all else." As a result of the settlement, USA Gymnastics will be required to have at least one abuse survivor on its board of directors and it will create a restorative justice process for the victims. Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse and another 40-175 years for molestation.


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