A federal judge in Kentucky on Thursday ordered a clerk jailed for contempt of court because of her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, reports the New York Times. The clerk, Kim Davis of Rowan County, was ordered incarcerated after a hearing before Judge David L. Bunning of Federal District Court. The contempt finding was another legal defeat for Davis, who has argued that she should not be forced to issue licenses that conflict with her religious beliefs.
“The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order,” Judge Bunning said. “If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.” Bunning said Davis would be released once she agreed to comply with his order and issue the marriage licenses.
The Guardian investigates the practice of U.S. police officers firing into moving vehicles, which the Department of Justice, prominent international policing experts and most major police departments agree should be severely limited or prohibited. The shots are widely viewed as ineffective for stopping oncoming vehicles, and the risks to innocent parties are seen as overwhelming. But the paper has found U.S. police have carried out at least 30 fatal shootings into moving vehicles they claimed were being used as weapons so far in 2015.
More than a quarter of those killed were black men. In all cases, officers said the vehicle posed a threat either to their own lives, to those of police colleagues, or to bystanders. In almost all incidents, however, their decisions to shoot appeared to run counter to federal guidance instructing officers to open fire only if a driver presents a separate deadly threat, such as a gun. None of those killed were accused of pointing firearms at police, and in only three cases did police appear to be aware of a gun being inside the vehicle.
Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said Wednesday night that officers "took a knee" after the April riots following the death of Freddie Gray, allowing crime to spike because they felt a lack of support from commanders, reports the Baltimore Sun. Batts, who was fired in July as homicides mounted following the unrest, said during a panel discussion at Mount St. Mary's University that he is one of several police chiefs who have been met by opposition from their rank-and-file as they tried to implement reform.
"They felt that I wasn't standing up for them," Batts said. "They want — anything they do — for the chiefs to stand up and say, 'My guys are right.'" Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier recently faced a vote of no confidence from her officers, Batts noted, as she tried to implement changes in that department. "Is this going to be the tactic, where police don't feel supported, so they allow the crime rate to go up, and the reformers lose their job?" Batts asked. A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the mayor "couldn't disagree more."
New data gathered by state and federal corrections officials indicates that as many as 100,000 prison inmates were in solitary confinement in 2014, quadruple one recent estimate of 25,000, reports the National Law Journal. A report issued Wednesday by the Association of State Correctional Administrators in conjunction with Yale Law School also says that prison officials regard prolonged isolation of prisoners as a “grave problem,” and are moving quickly to rein in the practice.
The report on solitary confinement came a day after California agreed to a court settlement that requires it to drastically reduce the number of inmates kept in isolation. In its account, the New York Times said the call by the association, the leading organization for the nation’s prison and jail administrators, to sharply limit or even end long-term isolation of inmates is "a sign of how far the nation has moved from supporting solitary confinement for inmates."
Fatal shootings in the past week of a deputy sheriff near Houston and a police officer in suburban Chicago have led to speculation that the Black Lives Matter movement had prompted an increase in attacks on law enforcers. The Chicago Sun-Times says that data doesn’t support such a claim. In 2014, 48 police officers were fatally shot, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. This year, 39 officers will be killed if the current pace holds up, down 19 percent from last year.
In the wake of the recent shootings, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke went on Fox News to say that President Obama "has breathed life into this ugly movement" of “anti-cop madness." And Harris County, Texas, Sheriff Ron Hickman criticized Black Lives Matter while discussing the execution last Friday of one of his deputies. “We’ve had Black Lives Matter, all lives matter, well, cops’ lives matter too,” Hickman said. “So why don’t we just drop the qualifier and just say lives matter, and take that to the bank.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is linking a recent string of police killings to President Barack Obama, calling him a "divider-in-chief," reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In an column posted Wednesday on Hot Air, a conservative website, the Republican presidential candidate noted this week's shooting death of an Illinois police officer as well as a recent fatal shooting of a deputy in Texas — and largely blamed Obama for the crimes.
"In the last six years under President Obama, we've seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. Instead of hope and change, we've seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat," Walker wrote. "This kind of attitude has created a culture in which we all too often see demonstrations and chants where people describe police as 'pigs' and call for them to be 'fried like bacon.' " Walker added that such "inflammatory and disgusting rhetoric" has consequences for the safety of law enforcement officers.
Union leaders for Atlanta’s cops and firefighters say that long-standing unhappiness over pay is driving them away, reports AJC.com. They say the morale problem has gotten worse in recent weeks after public safety workers were left out of raises given to nearly 3,000 other Atlanta employees. About 100 officers have resigned from the Atlanta Police Department so far this year, on pace to exceed the average of nearly 130 resignations in 2013 and 2014.
Data from Atlanta Fire Rescue show that resignations have doubled in the past two years, with 20 firefighters leaving in fiscal year 2014 and 43 in fiscal year 2015. That’s about 10 percent of the force’s 409 firefighters. The public safety unions took a bold public position recently on a billboard off I-75, warning motorists, "Danger: Enter at Your Own Risk. Mayor Kasim Reed Does Not Care About Public Safety." Reed, who says the city has given a number of raises to public safety workers, adds that he won’t approve additional pay bumps as long as the unions continue to support a class-action lawsuit against his 2011 pension reform.
As heroin addiction soars in the U.S., an opium production boom is underway in Mexico, reflecting the two nations’ troubled symbiosis, says the New York Times. Officials from both countries say that Mexican opium production increased by an estimated 50 percent in 2014 alone, the result of a voracious American appetite, impoverished farmers in Mexico and entrepreneurial drug cartels that straddle the border.
The legalization of marijuana in some states has pushed down prices, leading many Mexican farmers to switch crops to opium poppies. Cartels, meanwhile, have adapted, edging into American markets once reserved for higher quality heroin from Southeast Asia. The results have rattled both nations. Nowhere is the toll of that surge more apparent than in Guerrero, Mexico’s most violent state, where rival drug factions perpetrate a war of bloody competition and silent disappearances that have paralyzed the region.
Columbia Journalism Review profiles reporter Rachel Dissell of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, whose revelations about Ohio's backlog of thousands of rape kits, some dating to 1993, led to a new state law that mandates timely testing. Dissell has been covering the story since 2010. In August 2013, she and her colleague Leila Atassi published a four-part series about their rape kit investigations. Since 2011, almost all of Cleveland's backlog of 4,000 kits have been tested. More than 1,600 contained usable DNA, leading to grand jury indictments in 350 cases and convictions of more than 100 rapists.
Dissell first began asking questions about rape kits in late 2009, after 11 bodies were found in and around the Cleveland home of Anthony Sowell, a convicted rapist. The story prompted Dissell and Atassi to investigate how sexual assault cases were handled in Cuyahoga County. They filed a public records request, asking for the number of untested rape kits in storage at the Cleveland police department. The answer they got: We don’t know. CJR calls their work "an exemplary instance of local reporting, responsive government officials, and public support coming together to make a community safer."
Lawyers for Louisiana on Wednesday argued for a chance to put Albert Woodfox, 68, back on trial -- for the third time -- in the decades-old murder of a prison guard at Angola, reports NOLA.com. Two of Woodfox's previous convictions in the 1972 slaying of a Louisiana State Penitentiary guard were thrown out. At issue during a federal appeals court hearing was whether or not a June 8 order by U.S. District Judge James Brady, who granted the unconditional release of Woodfox, should stand. Brady ruled that Woodfox should not be subjected to a third trial in the 43-year-old prison murder.
But by then, the state had already secured a third indictment against Woodfox in the case from a West Feliciana Parish grand jury, and state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has pledged to keep Woodfox locked up. For more than 40 years, Woodfox has been held in solitary confinement, a custody status that's come under increasing scrutiny in prisons across the country. Supporters of Woodfox claim he was wrongly accused to silence his activism inside the prison and as punishment for organizing Angola's first Black Panther Party chapter. Attorneys made their arguments to a three-judge panel in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.