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

 Derek Chauvin May Plea Guilty in Federal Civil Rights Case

Derek Chauvin appears on the verge of switching to a guilty plea in the charges that he violated George Floyd's civil rights, the Associated Press reports. This change would avoid a federal trial and could increase the amount of time he spends imprisoned significantly. Chauvin was convicted on state murder and manslaughter charges for kneeling on the neck of George Floyd. He was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison. Chauvin and three other officers were indicted. Chauvin's plea change may help the others separate their trials. They believe that not featuring Chauvin so prominently will help alleviate some of the pressure to convict.

If Chauvin pleads guilty, he could be compelled to testify in the other three cases. “I’m guessing he actually negotiated something that would allow him to see the light of day before he leaves the earth,” said Mike Brandt, a defense attorney no connected to the case. In Minnesota, inmates on good behavior spend about two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the remaining time on parole. Chauvin is also being charged for killing a 14-year-old in 2017. Similar to Floyd's death, Chauvin knelt on the boy's neck and upper back while he lay prone. There is no sign that Chauvin will be changing this plea as well.

 NJ's Grewal Vows to Get Tough As SEC Top Cop

The Securities and Exchange Commission often picks its top cop from the ranks of Wall Street's best defense lawyers. Its latest one hadn't worked on a securities case in almost six years until he took on the job in July. Gurbir Grewal became the director of the SEC's enforcement program after serving as New Jersey's attorney general for more than three years. There, he overhauled police use-of-force training and disciplinary transparency, spoke out against Asian-American hate crimes, and took heat for how state officials dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Since taking over at the Wall Street watchdog, Grewal has signaled higher fines for wrongdoing are on the horizon, along with efforts to remove more malefactors from Wall Street jobs. "We can't arrest them," Grewal said. "We can get them out of the industry." Grewal's long career in government, where he navigated partisan politics and managed a large number of law-enforcement agencies is rare for an SEC enforcement chief. The agency's head enforcer, one of its highest-profile figures, is usually a former prosecutor who rose to the top ranks of the defense bar, where they battled the SEC and Justice Department on behalf of corporate clients. Grewal, 48, was a federal prosecutor in New Jersey and New York before he was tapped by two governors—one Republican and one Democrat—to oversee law-enforcement agencies in his home state of New Jersey. Those posts raised his profile and made him one of the country's most prominent Sikh Americans. In 2018, Grewal became the nation's first Sikh state attorney general when Gov. Phil Murphy elevated him from Bergen County prosecutor, a role to which he was nominated by former Gov. Chris Christie. 

 Unusual Defense Witness Request in Maxwell Case: Anonymity

Three accusers in the case against Ghislaine Maxwell testified in the first two weeks of her trial while shielding their identities. Two women used the pseudonyms Jane and Kate while a third used her real first name, Carolyn. Three of the defense's witnesses have asked to testify anonymously, reports the New York Times. Maxwell is on trial in Manhattan on charges of sex-trafficking, accused of helping Jeffrey Epstein recruit, groom and sexually abuse underage girls. The government rested its case against Maxwell on Friday after two weeks of testimony from four accusers. Maxwell's defense claims that potential witnesses might not be willing to testify if they had to use their real names.

"The court's ruling on this issue may impact the willingness of these witnesses to testify," said defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim, "thereby compromising Ms. Maxwell's right to present her defense." It is not uncommon for witnesses called by the prosecution in sexual assault cases to seek anonymity, but experts say they are not aware of any trials in which defense witnesses also request pseudonyms. The prosecution originally thought its case would take four weeks, but cut that time in half, not calling many of its 35 witnesses. Defense lawyer Jeffrey Pagliuca said the defense would last no longer than four days as many witnesses on its list would not be called. He did not address whether Maxwell would testify, but his time estimate suggests that she will not be taking the stand.

 Like a Former Mayor, NYC's Adams Will Return Cops to Beats

As New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams prepares to dictate policy for the nation's largest police department, he has kept a romantic vision at the heart of his plans for the 35,000-officer-strong force. Adams, who spent 22 years as a reform-focused police officer before climbing to the mayoralty on a public-safety message, believes a crucial step to healing the NYPD's deep rifts with some communities is to return beat cops to the streets. "The goal is to rebuild trust," Adams told the New York Daily News. "We can show people that these officers are human beings just like them. They have children. They have families. They have spouses. They want to go home safe, and they want you to go home safe."

Adams intends to target areas where confidence in the cops is low, then to survey communities about police responses and determine officers' promotions based on neighborhood feedback. The effort could meet skepticism from activists and policing experts. In the mid-20th century, officers with steady foot posts were commonplace in New York City. Adams fondly recalls the white officer who walked the working-class neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens, the community of his youth. He knew how to keep you out of trouble," said Adams, a Black Democrat who once was a youth gang member and often recounts a beating he received from cops at 15. As concerns around kickbacks collided with changes in crime patterns, the Police Department dismantled its foot patrols. Under Mayor David Dinkins in the early 1990s, the Police Department pushed community policing and peddled a PR drive under a memorable banner: "The Beat Cop is Back." The officer who served as the poster boy for the ad campaign, Richard DeGaetano, was shot in the head in a 1992 fight between a landlord and a tenant. "It got bogged down," said Joseph Esposito, former chief of the department. "They were concerned about the corruption and the cops. Listen, it's a delicate balance."

 Parents of Teen Charged for Killing Four at MI High School Due in Court

Parents of Ethan Crumbley, the teen charged with killing four students at a high school in Michigan, were set to return to court Tuesday on charges of involuntary manslaughter, the Associated Press reports. A probable cause conference to discuss bond and other matters was scheduled for James and Jennifer Crumbley. After warrants were issued for their arrest, the couple was discovered hiding in a commercial building on Dec, 4 in Detroit. Their bail was set at $500,000 each.

Ethan Crumbley is being charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes for killing four of his classmates at Oxford High School. His probable cause conference was adjourned until Jan 7 to allow his attorney to review evidence. His parents are accused of failing to intervene despite being confronted with a drawing and a chilling message that read "blood everywhere" at his desk. The Crumbley's bought Ethan a gun on Black Friday and made it easily accessible to him. They resisted the removal of Ethan from class mere hours before the shooting.

 House Panel Urges Contempt Charge for Meadows

In the investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, a House panel voted 9-0 to recommend charges of contempt against Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff. Lawmakers said that during the attack, Meadows received a series of texts in which members of Congress, Fox News anchors and President Trump's son urged him to push Trump to stop the siege, the Associated Press reports. The House will vote Tuesday on whether to refer the charges to the Justice Department. “We need an Oval address,” Donald Trump Jr. texted Meadows during the riot. “He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand. He’s got to condemn this s—- ASAP.” Rep Liz Cheney (R-WY) said the texts show that the White House knew what was happening and chose not to help.

The panel has already interviewed over 300 witnesses and subpoenaed 40 people in an effort to create a comprehensive record of the time leading up to the insurrection. The committee intends to punish all who don't comply and has backed the indictment of Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of Trump, after he defied his subpoena. “Whatever legacy he thought he left in the House, this is his legacy now,” committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said about Meadows. “His former colleagues singling him out for criminal prosecution because he wouldn’t answer questions about what he knows about a brutal attack on our democracy. That’s his legacy.” Meadows' attorney said that the vote would be unjust because as a top aide of the president, all of his private conversations with Trump should be protected under executive privilege. 

 Many in Retail Flash Mobs Didn't Know Each Other

The rash of thefts by fast-moving mobs in the Bay Area and outside of Minneapolis as they loot stores were organized on social media and are often committed by people with no ties to one another. The sporadic planning has made investigations into the crimes increasingly difficult for law enforcement. Some thieves in the Bay Area used Snapchat to communicate with each other and plan out the crimes. When suspects are arrested, they don't have names or information about others who were there, the Wall Street Journal reports. "This isn't 'The Godfather' by any stretch," said Steve Wagstaffe, a California district attorney who is part of an alliance of Bay Area prosecutors tackling this problem. "It's the modern version of 'Hey, there's a party tonight' and suddenly you have 100 kids"

Rachel Racusen, a spokeswoman for Snap Inc., said promoting harm of property on Snapchat would be a violation and the company has not found anything to indicate that. Only three of the 90 people who overran a Nordstrom in the Bay Area were arrested. The thieves stole over $100,000 worth of goods in a minute before escaping in 25 different cars with hidden or no plates. Similar robberies occurred in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Minneapolis and only a small fraction of those involved were arrested. Police say that all of these "flash mobs" were organized on social media after someone posts a target and a time. Investigators believe the attacks were timed around the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse killing trial in Wisconsin because police would be distracted with preparations for protests from the case's fallout. 

 Former Jets Player Gets Prison Term in Wire Fraud Case

Former New York Jets wide receiver Joshua Bellamy fraudulently obtained over $1.2 million in COVID-19 relief, spending tens of thousands of dollars on luxury items. Bellamy, 32, has been sentenced to over three years in prison. Bellamy, of St. Petersburg, Fl., pled guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, reports the New York Times. Bellamy got a Paycheck Protection Program loan for Drip Entertainment by using false information about his company. He used money from the loan to buy personal items such as $104,000 in luxury goods from places like Dior and Gucci and $63,000 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fl.

In federal court, Bellamy was sentenced to 37 months in prison and ordered to serve three years of supervised release. He was also required to pay $1.2 million in restitution and $1.2 million in forfeiture. In August of 2020, he was taped speaking by phone with an undercover agent. During the call Bellamy explained how he was wiring money, withdrawing it and buying material for his artists. At the end of the call, he said he had more people to refer for loans.

 More Cities Hitting Homicide Records This Year

Austin, one of the nation's fastest-growing cities, is nearing the end of its deadliest year on record in 2021 as cities nationwide are experiencing a rise in homicides and gun violence that began last year. Fueled by what both authorities and community leaders say is the easy access to guns, Austin has recorded 88 homicides so far this year, shattering the previous high of 59 in 1984, CNN reports. Chris Harris, a member of the Austin Justice Coalition, a community-led organization addressing criminal justice reform as well as economic and social justice, said most of the violent incidents that occur in the city involve people "who know each other ...clearly there is some contact that has risen to a point now that is being resolved violently instead of being resolved peacefully." Police Chief Joseph Chacon said, "there's no clear-cut answer. We haven't found that one trend that we can really pin this on."

More than two-thirds of the most populous cities have seen more homicides in 2021 than last year, a continuation of the troubling increase in homicides that began at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, found a CNN analysis of over 40 major cities. Thomas Abt of the Council on Criminal Justice cites three major factors: the impact of COVID on communities and first responders, the fallout of the social unrest after the murder of George Floyd, and the surge in gun sales since the start of the pandemic. At least nine major cities have broken their previous annual homicide records with about three weeks left to go in 2021. There have been 513 homicides this year in Philadelphia, higher than the previous total of 503 in 1990. There have been 230 in Indianapolis, breaking the previous record of 215 set just last year. Other cities with record homicide totals include Louisville, Columbus, Albuquerque, Tucson, Rochester, and Portland, Or. Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Nashville are also on pace to reach record homicide numbers by the end of the year.

 Minority Areas Had Largest Violence Increases During Pandemic

During the first five months of the pandemic in 2020, low-income communities of color experienced significantly greater increases in firearm violence, homicides and assaults compared to more affluent, white neighborhoods, finds a new study from the Violence Prevention Research Program (VPRP) at the University of California Davis. The research was published in the American Journal of Public Health. Earlier studies have shown increases in violence in U.S. cities during the pandemic but did not indicate where violence was highest or increased most within those cities. In the new study, VPRP tracked violence in 13 major cities: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle.

Overall, they found firearm violence increased 29.3 percent, homicide by 27.7 percent, and assault by four percent in 2020 compared to 2018-2019. When they compared the violence data with the racial and income composition of people in the same areas, researchers found stark disparities. "We found that zip codes with higher concentrations of low-income Black people and people of color experienced substantially higher rates of violence from March to July 2020 than did zip codes with higher concentrations of high-income white people," said Julia Schleimer lead author of the study. Not all violent crime increased — robbery decreased 23.3 percent and rape by 31.4 percent during the first five months of the pandemic. "The overall decline in robbery and rape may be real, or it may be an artifact of changes in reporting," Schleimer said. Shelter-in-place orders may have reduced stranger rape or limited victims' ability or willingness to report intimate partner rape. Research is needed to understand the drivers of these trends," she said.

 First Black Woman Sheriff Elected in New Orleans

Former Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson shocked the New Orleans political establishment — and 17-year incumbent Marlin Gusman — by winning Saturday's runoff for Orleans Parish sheriff after a hotly contested race that saw more than $1 million pour into the race from progressive political action committees around the nation, reports Nola.com. Hutson received more than 53 percent of the vote in a come-from-behind win over Gusman, who ran first in the primary with 48 percent of the vote to Hutson's 35 percent. On Saturday, Hutson —a political unknown when she announced for sheriff in the summer — bested Gusman by almost 4,000 votes in a low-turnout election. Hutson is the first black woman to be elected a sheriff in Louisiana, CNN reports.

Hutson's win marks another major victory in New Orleans for political progressives, who helped elect Jason Williams as the city's new district attorney a year ago. Williams played a major role in Hutson's victory. He endorsed her and campaigned hard for her. Hutson's victory topped off a bad night for local incumbents. In addition to Gusman losing the sheriff's race, two incumbent City Council members went down to defeat.

 Chicago to Pay $2.9M for Bungled Police Raid

The city of Chicago is expected to offer a $2.9 million settlement to Anjanette Young for the bungled police raid on her home, reports the Chicago Tribune. Acting on a bad tip, police raided Young's home in February 2019, restraining her as she was getting ready for bed and forcing her to stand handcuffed and naked as police searched her residence. The errant raid became national news last year after Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration sought an extraordinary order to prevent CBS-2 from airing video footage from the incident. City lawyers requested sanctions against Young for sharing video of the raid with media, though they later backpedaled and dropped the request.

Lightfoot falsely claimed she "had no knowledge" of the matter and that her administration hadn't refused to give Young video of the raid. The mayor then acknowledged that members of her staff had told her about the raid via emails in November 2019. CBS-2 said Young was handcuffed by police, and officers "allegedly left her standing for 40 minutes handcuffed and naked while all-male police officers search her apartment." Lightfoot personally apologized to Young and vowed to resolve Young's lawsuit, but her administration continued playing hardball in defending the police department's actions.

 FBI Tactics Questioned in Case of Nebraska Rep.

The prosecution of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) on a false statement charge is raising questions about FBI tactics during investigations of Congress members, Politico reports. Critics say that concerns about the approval process and threshold to use deceptive investigative tactics are serious because of the role of the Constitution in separating the branches of government. “This goes back to the age-old question. … What is the separation-of-powers implication of having the FBI and the Justice Department test members for probity? I just think that’s wrong,” said Stan Brand, a former counsel to the House. “I think it’s a mistake, and I think it’s a problem.”

Fortenberry's case started when Gilbert Chagoury, a billionaire with French, Lebanese and Nigerian heritage who was legally forbidden from donating to U.S. political campaigns, contributed to Fortenberry's re-election. Chagoury and other donors do not believe Fortenberry was aware of the money's origin. The FBI seemed to stumble upon the donations as part of a larger investigation. Fortenberry agreed to place a call that would be recorded by authorities. According to his indictment, the informant told Fortenberry multiple times where the money came from. Nine months later the FBI and IRS questioned him about the money. Fortenberry's defense argues that he was misled and that as a member of Congress it was politically motivated. “The defense’s intimation that there were nefarious or underhanded tactics in obtaining internal approvals during the investigation is both disingenuous and false,” prosecutors wrote.

 15th Death in 2021 at Troubled NYC Rikers Jail Complex

A man being held at the New York City's Rikers Island jail complex died on Friday after a medical emergency — becoming the 15th person to die this year at a time when New York City's correction system is embroiled in a continuing crisis, the New York Times reports. Malcolm Boatwright, 28, had been having seizures and died after cardiac arrest. He had been jailed for nearly a month on sexual abuse charges and related offenses. He was held pending results off a psychiatric requested by his defense lawyer on the case, in which he had been accused of touching a 6-year-old boy's genitals.

Officials have struggled to respond to the pandemic and a staffing problem that has crippled the correction system. It was the deadliest year in New York City jails since 2016. "This is a heartbreaking loss at the end of a very difficult year," said Vincent Schiraldi, the city's jails commissioner. The death comes days after a federal monitor appointed to oversee reforms at the troubled jail complex said the Department of Correction was "trapped in a state of disrepair" with no sign of major improvement, calling it a system that is "rife with violence and disorder."

 Newsom Seeks to Allow Lawsuits Over Assault Weapons

California Gov. Gavin Newsom will push for a law modeled on Texas’ abortion ban that would let private citizens sue anyone who makes or sells assault weapons or ghost guns. Newsom has criticized the Texas law for limiting women’s access to abortion by allowing people to sue anyone who “aids or abets” one performed after about six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. Still, he said the Supreme Court’s decision Friday to let the law stay in effect while legal challenges proceed has opened an avenue for states to circumvent federal courts, the Sacramento Bee reports. Newsom cited a recent federal court decision to strike down California’s assault weapons ban. A judge compared assault weapons to Swiss Army knives, language Newsom harshly criticized.

Newsom said he was "outraged" by the high court ruling on Friday, "but if states can now shield their laws from review by the federal courts that compare assault weapons to Swiss Army knives, then California will use that authority to protect people’s lives, where Texas used it to put women in harm’s way.” Newsom's proposed bill would let citizens sue anyone who “manufactures, distributes, or sells an assault weapon or ghost gun kit or parts” in California. They could seek damages of at least $10,000 per violation plus costs and attorney’s fees. “If the most efficient way to keep these devastating weapons off our streets is to add the threat of private lawsuits, we should do just that,” said Newsom. Experts had predicted that other states would try to copy the tactic used in the Texas abortion law, which attempts to circumvent legal challenges by giving private citizens the power to sue. Arguing against her colleagues’ decision to let the Texas law stand, Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned their action would “clear the way” for other states to “reprise and perfect Texas’ scheme in the future to target the exercise of any right recognized by this court with which they disagree.” 


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