Department of Justice files lawsuit against Alabama over conditions in the state prisons
The US Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Alabama over conditions in the state prisons, saying the state is failing to protect male inmates from inmate-on-inmate violence and excessive force at the hands of prison staff.
The lawsuit alleges that conditions in the prison system which the Justice Department called one of the most understaffed and violent in the country are so poor that they violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment and that state officials are “deliberately indifferent” to the problems. The lawsuit comes after the Justice Department twice released investigative reports that accused the state of violating prisoner’s rights.
“The Department of Justice conducted a thorough investigation of Alabama’s prisons for men and determined that Alabama violated and is continuing to violate the Constitution because its prisons are riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence. The violations have led to homicides, rapes, and serious injuries,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
Alabama had been in negotiations with the Justice Department since the first 2019 report in the hopes of staving off a lawsuit, but federal officials said the state has “failed or refused to correct” the unconstitutional conditions.
Associated Press report that the 24-page lawsuit said that conditions in Alabama prisons have gotten worse since the initial findings with homicides increasing and prisons becoming even more overcrowded than in 2016 when the investigation was initiated.
“The State of Alabama is deliberately indifferent to the serious and systematic constitutional problems present in Alabama’s prisons for men,” the lawsuit states.
The Justice Department’s 2019 report described a culture of violence across the state prisons for men with frequent rapes, beatings and fatal stabbings at the hands of fellow prisoners and a management system that undercounts homicides and fails to protect prisoners even when warned.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said she was disappointed by the Justice Department’s action.
“This is disappointing news, as the state has actively been negotiating in good faith with the Department of Justice following the release of its findings letters. Out of respect for the legal process, we unfortunately cannot provide additional comment at this time,” Ivey said in a statement.
Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall said the lawsuit disregards the “immense progress that the state has made in improving our prisons.”
“The state will not yield to this brazen federal overreach. We look forward to our day in court.”
Justice Department’s interest in Hunter Biden covered more than taxes – reports
One story that Republicans had been building up ahead of the election was a swirl of news around the president-elect’s son Hunter Biden. That included allegations of what was contained in emails on a laptop produced by Rudy Giuliani and covered by the New York Post in what soon became a tussle between social media companies and Trump acolytes over alleged censorship of the story.
It had pretty much gone quiet on that front until yesterday Hunter Biden said that the US attorney’s office in Delaware had opened an investigation into his “tax affairs”.
“I take this matter very seriously but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisers,” Hunter Biden said in a statement released by the president-elect’s transition office.
Overnight the Trump campaign’s director of comms Tim Murtaugh has seized on this Politico report, which claims that the Justice Department’s interest in Hunter Biden covered more than taxes:
The federal investigation into President-elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter has been more extensive than a statement from Hunter Biden indicates, according to a person with firsthand knowledge of the investigation.
In addition to Delaware, the securities fraud unit in the Southern District of New York also scrutinized Hunter Biden’s finances, according to the person with direct knowledge of the investigation. The person said that, as of early last year, investigators in Delaware and Washington were also probing potential money laundering and Hunter Biden’s foreign ties. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Federal authorities in the Western District of Pennsylvania are also conducting a criminal investigation of a hospital business in which Joe Biden’s brother James was involved. Federal officials have asked questions about James Biden’s role in the business, according to a second person with direct knowledge of that investigation, who said it remains ongoing.
There is no indication that Joe Biden himself is under investigation, but if the cases remain open when Joe Biden takes office, they could complicate his presidency, and shine an unflattering light on his relatives’ dealings, which often seek to capitalize on the Biden family’s political connections.
Trump and his allies have long sought to tarnish Biden with unproven corruption charges involving his son. Trump’s early pursuit of these unsubstantiated allegations resulted in his impeachment, after he pressured the newly elected president of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden’s work in the country while his father was vice-president.
A Senate investigation into the allegations led by Trump’s allies found no evidence of improper influence or wrongdoing by the former vice-president, concluding only that Hunter Biden had leveraged his family name to secure lucrative business deals.
Tamala Payne, mother of Black man fatally shot by an Ohio sheriff's deputy, demands answers
The mother of a Black man shot by an Ohio sheriff’s deputy demanded answers Wednesday to her son’s death, saying he’d done nothing wrong and was returning from the dentist with sandwiches for his family when he was killed.
Tamala Payne said she wants the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office deputy involved be jailed and said she’ll never be able to hold her son again, except “at his damn funeral.”
“I want answers. I deserve answers. I demand answers at this point,” Payne told the Associated Press.
Relatives have said that Casey Goodson, 23, was killed in the doorway of his grandmother’s house in Columbus as he walked through the front door.
Preliminary autopsy results showed Goodson died from multiple gunshot wounds in his torso, the Franklin County coroner said Wednesday. Final results aren’t expected for at least three months.
Franklin County Coroner Dr. Anahi Ortiz listed the cause of death as homicide, a medical determination used in cases where someone has died at someone else’s hand, but is not a legal finding and doesn’t imply criminal intent. Police have only said that the deputy “shot” Goodson without detailing how many shots were fired.
Two callers to 911 reported hearing multiple gunshots that day, according to copies of those calls released Wednesday afternoon.
“Four shots fired from what sounded like an automatic weapon,” one caller said.
The deputy who shot Goodson was Jason Meade, a 17-year veteran of the sheriff’s office. He had been assigned to a U.S. Marshals Office fugitive task force that had just finished an unsuccessful search for a fugitive Friday afternoon.
US Marshal Peter Tobin said that on the day of the shooting, Meade confronted Goodson outside his home after Goodson, who was not the subject of the fugitive search, drove by and waved a gun at Meade.
Police have said that a gun was recovered from the scene but have not provided further details.
Payne said Goodson had gone to the dentist that morning, and then returned with sandwiches for himself, his 5-year-old brother and his grandmother. He was shot after he unlocked and opened the front door, Payne said.
She learned of Goodson’s death when her younger son called her.
“My 5-year-old called me screaming, ‘Mommy, mommy, Casey just got shot. The police just shot Casey, he’s laying on the floor, mommy, he’s dead, please hurry up, come get me, come get me, I’m scared,”’ Payne said.
Payne said she, like all mothers of Black men, spend their children’s lives dreading a day like Friday.
“You see these other mothers and your heart breaks,” she said. “But you never imagine that it’s going to be you.”
Minneapolis City Council unanimously approves budget that defunds city police department by $8m
The Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved a budget early Thursday that will shift about $8 million from the police department toward violence prevention and other programs. However, it will keep the mayor’s targeted staffing levels for sworn officers intact, averting a possible veto.
Mayor Jacob Frey, who had threatened to veto the entire budget if the council went ahead with its plan to cap police staffing, said the vote was a defining moment for the city, which has seen mass protests against police brutality and racial injustice since the 25 May death of George Floyd.
The plan cuts nearly $8 million from Frey’s $179 million policing budget and redirects it to mental health teams, violence prevention programs and other initiatives.
“We all share a deep and abiding reverence for the role our local government plays in service of the people of our city,” Frey said. “And today, there are good reasons to be optimistic about the future in Minneapolis.”
The City Council had initially approved a proposal to cut the city’s authorized police force to 750 officers, down from the current 888, beginning in 2022. But they changed course late Wednesday after the mayor called the move “irresponsible.”
The council voted 7-6 on Wednesday to keep the cap at 888.
“Tonight the City Council passed a budget that represents a compromise, and also a big step forward into a more compassionate and effective public safety future,” said City Council member Steve Fletcher, co-author of the proposal to lower the cap on staffing. He said the City Council has more work to do and “we cannot afford to remain stuck in the past any longer.”
More than 300 Minneapolis residents signed up to speak about the proposal Wednesday. “The place I grew up this summer burned,” said Will Roberts, who grew up in the Longfellow neighborhood. “And it burned because of police misconduct.”
President-elect Biden to travel to Georgia next week to campaign for Ossoff and Warnock
While on the subject of the US and China, the usual daily tit-for-tat has been going on between the two countries.
Reuter reports that the US has slapped sanctions on Wan Kuok Koi, a leader of China’s 14K Triad organized crime group, and three entities “owned or controlled” by him.
The US Treasury said in a statement that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) was targeting Wan – also known as “Broken Tooth” – as part of broader efforts to stamp out corruption across several countries in Asia and Africa.
The statement said Wan was a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a largely ceremonial advisory body - a claim refuted by Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
Hua told a daily news conference in Beijing that Wan was not a member of the CPPCC, and that some US personnel are “fabricating lies and taking any opportunity to smear China.”
At the same time, China has said it will revoke visa exemption treatment for US diplomatic passport holders visiting Hong Kong and Macau after the United States imposed financial sanctions and a travel ban on more than a dozen Chinese officials earlier this week.
Beijing will also implement reciprocal sanctions against some US officials, members of Congress, personnel at non-governmental organisations, and their family members, over their “vile” behaviour on Hong Kong. China urges the United States not to go further down this “dangerous and mistaken path”, Hua said.
Chinese embassy in US allege hacking after retweet of Trump's false election claim
The Chinese embassy in the US has said its Twitter account was hacked after it retweeted a baseless claim by Donald Trump accusing the Democrats of cheating in the election.
Late on Wednesday night in the US, Trump posted: “If somebody cheated in the election, which the Democrats did, why wouldn’t the election be immediately overturned? How can a country be run like this?”
The post, which now carries a Twitter warning that the claim of election fraud is “disputed”, was retweeted within minutes by the official account for the Chinese government’s presence in the US, catching the eye of social media users.
The embassy then tweeted that it had not done any retweeting on 9 December. “The Chinese embassy Twitter account was hacked this afternoon and we condemn such an act,” it said.
China’s government formally congratulated Joe Biden on winning the election on 26 November.
Read more of Helen Davidson’s report here: Chinese embassy in US allege hacking after retweet of Trump’s election claim