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Justice

Minnesota Lawmakers Reach Deal on Policing Measures

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(Dave Schwarz/St. Cloud Times via AP)

A day following the sentencing of police officer Derek Chauvin, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers agree to implement a public safety bill.

What We Know:

  • Last week, a Minnesota judge sentenced police officer Derek Chauvin to 22 1/2 years in prison for killing George Floyd. 22 1/2 years is above the state of Minnesota’s minimum requirement for the specific crime committed but below the prosecutor’s 30 year proposition.
  • After months of negotiation, lawmakers reached a compromise. The State House opted to include policing provisions in its public safety budget bill. At 233 pages, the bill strives to create police accountability measures. It contains arrangements for an office of missing and murdered indigenous relatives, an armed team for missing and murdered women of color, regulated no-knock warrants, and a police misconduct database.
  • The police misconduct database serves as a preliminary measure to keep ill-behaving officers off the streets. $2 million for violent crime enforcement teams is included in the bill. Other provisions include a statewide ban on chokeholds and limits on informant use.
  • Ongoing contention in the House between Democratic and Republican lawmakers continues. A Wednesday deadline associated with the bill emerged. To avoid a government shutdown, the divided Legislature resolved budget negotiations on Saturday. Early Wednesday, the Minnesota Senate approved proposed police accountability measures presented in the bill. The Senate’s 45-21 vote followed a 75-59 vote in the Minnesota House on Tuesday night.
  • In regards to the public safety aspect of the budget bill, Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman stated: “It is a step forward in delivering true public safety and justice for all Minnesotans despite divided government.” Certain Democratic provisions were blocked by the Republican representatives, including the ban on “pretextual” traffic stops for minor offenses. Examples of minor offenses are expired tabs or objects dangling from the rearview mirror. Top GOP negotiators reject provisions as such perceived “anti-police.”
  • According to top GOP Senate negotiator Warren Limmer, “We are a divided government, and we come to some of these issues with various degrees of opposition. It’s been a rather difficult process to arrive at a common point. I believe we have, as far as we could go. And some of the issues that the House wants will have to continue to be discussed.”

Some Democratic representatives argue the bill doesn’t go far enough, while Republican representatives consider the bill sufficient and refuse to go further. Lawmakers planned to reconvene later Wednesday to pass two more budget bills and conclude their extra session.

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Alex Haynes is Editor-At-Large/NYC Editor at Urban Newsroom, Executive Editor at UNR's Black Alerts and the host of Boss Mornings and Unmuted Nation. Alex joined Urban Newsroom in 2010 and contributes regular op-ed and editorial pieces while advising the columnist and contributing staff.

Headlines

Police officers and medics indicted by grand jury in 2019 death of Elijah McClain

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Police and paramedics in suburban Denver will face charges in the case of Elijah McClain, the young Black man who died in 2019 after he was detained and placed in a chokehold by officers, following eight months of a grand jury investigation convened by Colorado’s top prosecutor.

What We Know:

  • State Attorney General Phil Weiser said Wednesday that two current officers, one former with the Aurora Police Department and two paramedics will be charged with one count each of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, as well as other charges. The indictment is a total of 32 counts.  This announcement comes two years after the death of McClain, who was 23 when he was killed.

“I said our investigation would be guided by a commitment to the facts, by thorough and diligent work, and we would be worthy of public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system. These remain the guiding principles of this matter.” -Phil Weiser, State Attorney General

WHAT HAPPENED

McClain’s encounter with police began just after 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2019, after he bought iced tea from a corner store. At the time, McClain, a massage therapist, was wearing a ski mask — which he typically did because of a blood condition that made him feel cold, according to his family.  Three Aurora police officers were called to the area on a report of a suspicious person wearing a mask and waving his arms.

Bodycam video later released showed officers ordering McClain to stop. He responded that he was an introvert and to “please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”

After questioning him, the officers grabbed McClain. One of them said he believed McClain had reached for a holstered gun, and McClain was brought to the ground. Aurora police said in a statement that he “resisted contact, a struggle ensued, and he was taken into custody.”

Authorities said officers applied a carotid control hold on McClain, a type of chokehold meant to restrict blood to the brain to render a person unconscious. Paramedics were called to the scene, and McClain was injected with ketamine to sedate him after police video showed him writhing on the ground saying, “I can’t breathe, please,” and vomiting. He apologized for vomiting.

About seven minutes after he received the drug, McClain was found to have no pulse in the ambulance and went into cardiac arrest, according to a report released in fall of 2019 by local prosecutor Dave Young. Medics were able to revive McClain, but he was later declared brain dead and taken off life support less than a week later.

  • The Adams County Coroner’s Office determined that McClain’s death was due to “undetermined causes,” and that the “evidence does not support the prosecution of a homicide,” according to Young’s report. Young declined to press charges against the officers.  McClain’s death prompted months of protests by local activists that dovetailed into national demonstrations demanding systemic changes in policing fueled by last year’s lynching of George Floyd.
  • Aurora police banned carotid control holds last summer, and separately, federal authorities said they were reviewing whether a civil rights investigation is warranted. A lawsuit filed by McClain’s family in August 2020 alleges that excessive force used by the officers over a span of 18 minutes caused an increase of lactic acid in his blood, and mixed with the ketamine injected into him, negatively affected his respiratory system.  An independent probe commissioned by the city of Aurora and released in February concluded police had no justification to stop or use force to detain McClain, and responding paramedics sedated him with ketamine “without conducting anything more than a brief visual observation.”

 

This is a Breaking News story and may be updated.

 

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Headlines

Mississippi asks Supreme Court to Overturn Roe v. Wade Case

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Mississippi formally asked the US Supreme Court to overturn their 1973 landmark decision, Roe v. Wade.

What We Know:

  • In May, the Supreme Court announced that they would take into consideration “whether state laws that banned abortions before fetal viability were unconstitutional.” The Mississippi case of Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization prompted the justices to take a further look into Roe v. Wade. They stated that they would listen to Mississippi’s appeal during their next term. This would be the first true test of the Supreme Court, since the addition of the three conservative justices former President Donald Trump nominated, that revolves around Roe v. Wade. During his time in office, Trump declared that he was “very pro-life” and would abolish Roe v. Wade by appointing only pro-life justices.
  • In the state’s appeal in 2020, Mississippi “argued its law complied with existing precedent, and it said the court should only overturn Roe if it concluded there was no other way to uphold the state law.” On Thursday, they took back their original statement and said Roe was “egregiously wrong” in stating that abortions were constitutional rights. 

“Under the Constitution, may a State prohibit elective abortions before viability? Yes. Why? Because nothing in constitutional text, structure, history, or tradition supports a right to abortion,” said Mississippi in their opening brief. 

  • Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch believes Roe and Casey, in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, were “unprincipled decisions” that brought about damage to the country’s democratic process. She claimed that both cases have “poisoned our national discourse and plagued the law.” Fitch has pushed the notion that they place a hold on states since they have to disregard “scientific evidence” that unborn children take on their human form months before they’re able to survive outside the womb.
  • In 2018, Mississippi passed the Mississippi Gestational Age Act, which allows abortion after 15 weeks for medical emergencies and severe fetal abnormality. They do not take into consideration rape or incest under this act. Those who perform abortions outside the given guidelines would have their medical licenses either suspended or revoked and possibly have to pay a fine. Fitch believes the act will protect all “lives” involved. 
  • Gov. Tate Reeves (R-MS) agrees with Fitch in that viability needs to be taken into consideration and the Mississippi Gestational Act is the perfect way for the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade. Reeves explained to Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union, that if science has changed over the years, then the fetal viability of an unborn child has changed as well. Because of this correlation, Reeves believes we should revisit the 1973 court ruling that has caused countless pro-choice v. pro-life debates all over the country. 
  • Abortion activists called out Mississippi for being too extreme with their legal cases. Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, stated that Mississippi wants the Supreme Court to take away a woman’s right to decide what to do with her body. This move would not only affect the state of Mississippi but the entire country and future generations to come. 

“Let’s be clear, any ruling in favor of Mississippi, in this case, overturns the core holding of Roe – the right to make a decision about whether to continue a pregnancy before viability. The Court has held that the Constitution guarantees this right. If Roe falls, half the states in the country are poised to ban abortion entirely,” said Northup.

  • Other states have followed the lead of Mississippi and are pushing for the total banning of abortions. In May, Arkansas released a bill that banned abortions except those performed when the mother’s life is in danger. With this bill, those who performed illegal abortions faced a felony charge and up to 10 years in prison. This bill prompted a pro-choice protest in the state, that brought out protestors dressed in outfits inspired by the hit series and book The Handmaid’s Tale, a story that shows extreme right-wingers taking over the country and women’s rights. 
  • President Joe Biden, a devoted Catholic, has voiced his opposing views on abortions, yet, he has stated that he doesn’t plan on pushing his views onto other people. He doesn’t believe he has the right to tell women how they should control her body. Biden believes that ultimately that decision is up to “her, her doctor, and the Supreme Court.” The 46th president does not plan on getting involved in the debate, however, his viewpoints have caused Catholic bishops to question if he should be allowed to partake in Holy Communion.

There is only one licensed abortion client in Mississippi and they plan on challenging the appeal made by the state. The Supreme Court has not stated when they will hear the oral arguments for the appeal, but their new term begins in October. Many believe they will have a decision made by the summer of 2022. 

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Crime

First Felony Sentence for January Insurrection Handed to Florida Man

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A Florida man was the first to be convicted of a felony in relation to the riots at the US Capitol on January 6th.

What We Know:

  • Paul Hodgkins, 38, pleaded guilty to a single count of obstructing an official proceeding last month. The crane operator, along with others, breached the US Capitol at the alledged request of former President Donald Trump. The former Commander in Chief held a rally where he said dangerous rhetoric about the election being rigged. He told his supporters to go to the Capitol, where they were counting electoral votes, and urge senators to overturn the presidential election results.
  • Hodgkins was seen walking onto the Senate floor holding a red “Trump 2020” flag and wearing a Trump shirt. He went to Washington initially for the rally that was held near the White House. He stated that he had no idea that day would end with him storming the capitol and that he was caught up in “the passion of the day.”
  • The US Justice Department considered the events of Jan. 6th as “acts of domestic terrorism.” They encouraged the judge to treat Hodgkins on the same level as those who are deemed domestic terrorists. Since Hodgkins took a plea deal, the government agency asked District Judge Randolph Moss to sentence him to 1.5 years in prison. Prosecutor Mona Sedky claimed that giving Hodgkins harsh sentencing would stop future people who planned on recreating the events of that day.
  • In court on Monday, Hodgkins spoke for about 10 minutes on how “remorseful” he was and that he “regretted” his actions on that day. He believes that the riots caused great harm to the “country that he loves,” and he takes full responsibility for his part in it.
  • Although Moss considered Hodgkins’ actions “utterly unacceptable,” he didn’t believe him a threat and stated how he didn’t have any previous criminal history. Moss sentenced Hodgkins to eight months in prison, two years on probation, and ordered him to pay $2,000 in damage fees.

“Hodgkins did some very bad things that day and caused some real damage to this country, but I don’t consider him to be a threat or see him as an evil person. This is a very bad episode in his life and a very bad episode in this country … some sentences will be far higher, and some will be far lower. This is what I believe is a fair sentence,” said Moss.

  • Over 530 people have been charged since Jan. 6th, with the help of social media and surveillance cameras. Of that number, “165 accused of assaulting, resisting or impeding officers,” and over 50 charged with “using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.” According to CNN,  20 people have already pled guilty and are awaiting their sentencing, while two charged with misdemeanors have already been sentenced: one to six months and one to three years probation.

Many charged rioters are pushing the idea of going to trial as they believe they did nothing wrong. Hodgkins walked out of court happy with the results and will be allowed to self-surrender once he is informed of where he will carry out his 8-month sentence.

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