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U.S. Appeals Court Casts Doubt On MD's Post-Newtown Assault Weapon Ban

A federal appeals court yesterday cast doubt on the legality of Maryland’s 2013 ban on semiautomatic high-capacity assault weapons that passed after the mass shootings at a Newtown, Ct., elementary school, the Washington Post reports. The 2-to-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit sends the law back to a lower court for review, but allows the existing ban to remain in place. Chief Judge William Traxler found that the Maryland law “significantly burdens the exercise of the right to arm oneself at home” and should have been analyzed using a more stringent legal standard. The issue could end up in the Supreme Court

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NYC Corrections Worker Chief Defends Solitary To Protect Officer Safety

President Obama's ban on solitary confinement for juveniles does not take into consideration the reality that correction officers face every day, president Norman Seabrook of the New York City Correction Officers' Benevolent Association writes in USA Today. He says Obama's referring to corrections officers as "guards" in an op-ed article "shows not only a lack of respect, but a fundamental lack of understanding about how correctional facilities operate. Guards don’t enforce the law, trained officers do."

Seabrook says corrections officers "are routinely spit on and have urine and feces thrown at them. They are punched, slapped and kicked by inmates. That should not be part of the job. We are hired as professional law enforcement officers charged with maintaining care, custody and control." Since New York City banned punitive segregation for 16- and 17-year olds, "we have seen these inmates become emboldened and even more dangerous," Seabrook says. He agrees with Obama that solitary "should be used judiciously and sparingly, and that there should be limitations. But it must remain for enforcement." He says that New York City is slowing down "rash and haphazard" changes in solitary confinement policies after corrrections officers complained about threats to their safety. 

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Obama, State Legislators Seek More Education To Cut Teen Dating Violence

In middle and high schools across the U.S., counselors and teachers are quickly becoming the front line of defense for state officials looking to prevent teen dating violence, and the cycle of violence that follows, reports Stateline. Research shows that teenagers who experience violence either as victims or as abusers are more likely to be involved in it later in their lives, which leads to more people in hospitals, behind bars and receiving welfare. States hope that investing in education programs now will help prevent those negative, and expensive, outcomes down the road.

About one in 10 high school students who dated in 2013 reported being physically or sexually abused by a partner during the past year, says the most recent survey of high school students by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentages have fluctuated over time, but the 2013 figure is the highest ever recorded. Sexual abuse incidents on high school and college campuses and heated debates over sexual consent policies have heightened public awareness of the issue. Last week, the president called teen dating violence “a serious violation that can affect a young person’s safety, development, and sense of comfort” and called for support for programs that help young people develop healthy relationships. This year, lawmakers in at least five states — Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina — are considering bills that would encourage or require schools to discuss dating violence prevention with students in middle school or high school. Georgia approved the first such law in 2003, and since then 21 states have followed suit.

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Most Top Officials Arrested In TX City Billed World's Spinach Capital

Almost every top official in Crystal City, Tx., a remote city in the southern section of the state, was arrested yesterday after a federal indictment accused them of taking bribes from contractors and sending city workers to help an illegal gambling operator nicknamed "Mr. T," the Associated Press reports. Crystal City's mayor, city manager, mayor pro tempore, one of three current councilmen and a former councilman were arrested. A second councilman is charged in a separate case with smuggling Mexican immigrants. That leaves just one councilman not facing federal charges in Crystal City, a town of about 7,100 some 50 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

Once billed as the "Spinach Capital of the World," Crystal City's logo features a cartoon of Popeye. Its spinach festival and beauty pageant draws tens of thousands of people each year. In recent months, the town has been in the news for turmoil at City Hall and allegations of misuse of public money. The indictment accuses the town's leadership of using their positions "to enrich themselves by soliciting and accepting payments and other things of value." Also charged was Ngoc Tri Nguyen, allegedly an operator of illegal gambling rooms, who was nicknamed "Mr. T."

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KY Orders Review Of Detention Procedures After Teen Dies In Cell

Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley ordered an internal review of policies and procedures in state juvenile detention facilities after a 16-year-old girl died in a cell on Jan. 11, CBS News reports. Two separate investigations into the death of Gynnya McMillen are expected to end soon. Officials acknowledged that an "Aikido restraint" was used on the girl before her death, and 911 audio showed that the facility'staff did not immediately try to resuscitate McMillen when she was found unresponsive.

A spokeswoman said staff use "a modified version" of the martial art Aikido, which is intended to prevent injuries to both children and staff, by using the "energy and force of the child to control the situation without harm." The incident started after McMillen refused to take off her sweatshirt in order to be searched and photographed for booking. Melissa Sickmund of the National Center of Juvenile Justice said McMillen's response was not altogether unusual for a teen during her first time in custody. "That first day is traumatizing for them. If you have just been arrested and you are locked up, that is not a normal day. The trauma of it can make kids react in some really strange ways," Sickmund said.

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Residents Of Town In "Making A Murderer" Weary Of The Spotlight

For many viewers of true crime series like the popular podcast “Serial,” HBO’s “The Jinx,” and Netflix’s “Making a Murderer,” questions about the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed, Robert Durst, and Steven Avery depicted in the programs remain the subject of watercooler discussions and debates about the merits of the criminal justice system. Each show’s gripping tone and serial format has also prompted more direct action, including calls for a pardon for Steven Avery, the subject of “Making a Murderer.”

The Christian Science Monitor says the campaign took a more bizarre tone on Wednesday evening after a man who called in a bomb threat to a Wisconsin County Sheriff’s Office depicted in the show mentioned “getting justice for Steven.” A male caller said there were bombs inside the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office building and a car in the parking lot “packed with explosives,” the Manitowoc Police Department said. In Manitowoc, located on the shore of Lake Michigan, about 80 miles north of Milwaukee, residents say they have grown weary of the spotlight that continues to shine on the city as a result of “Making a Murderer.” Crowds have flocked to the city hoping to see the salvage yard where the victim's remains were discovered, and the sheriff’s department says it has received hate mail from viewers.

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CO Says It Eliminated Backlog Of Jail Inmates Waiting For Treatment

The Colorado Department of Human Services says it has cleared a backlog of inmates who had to wait months in some cases for court-ordered mental health evaluations and treatments, reports the Denver Post. The department said long-term and immediate changes implemented in 2015 have dissolved the list of inmates, none yet convicted, waiting for services. Iris Eytan, one of the attorneys pursuing a lawsuit against the department, said the law center has not yet verified that the backlog is cleared. 

Even if the backlog has been eliminated, the department still faces a lawsuit alleging that it violated a federal settlement agreement by allowing the waitlist to form in the first place. That question will be answered in March after a two-day hearing in U.S. District Court in Denver. "Pretrial detainees are no longer waiting in jail beyond the time frames originally agreed upon by the parties," a letter from the department last week reads. "Thus, concerns about their rights being compromised due to delayed admission should be alleviated." Dr. Patrick Fox, chief medical officer for the Human Services Department, said an increase in staff last year played a large role in eliminating the waitlist. To help keep future wait times down, the agency must work with judges and attorneys to "ensure that people who are being referred for in-patient competency evaluations really need an in-patient level of observation."

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COPS "Collaborative" Police Reviews Seen As Effective On Community Trust

Despite the fatal shooting of a young black man and another high-profile racial incident, the Justice Department announced a "collaborative" review and not a civil rights investigation of the San Francisco Police Department, working with the city to refine training procedures and use-of-force policies. London Breed, president of the city's Board of Supervisors, said "there’s a lot of community distrust with the department, and we have to figure out a way to rebuild that trust, and I don’t know what this is gonna do to help with that.” Policing experts tell the Christian Science Monitor the DOJ review could do quite a bit to address those concerns precisely.

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