BEYOND THE COUNTY: 4 men held captive at pot farm; Clinton, Trump decry latest police shootings of black men; World leaders rage against neighbors at UN
Police: 4 men held at California pot farm, forced to work
SAN FRANCISCO — Two women have been arrested on charges of holding four brothers captive at an illegal marijuana farm in Northern California and forcing them to work there for six months, police said Wednesday.
The men ran away in July from the secluded pot growing operation in the small Sierra Nevada mountain range town of West Point after overhearing they would be killed after the harvest, said Calaveras County Sheriff’s Capt. Jim Macedo.
At least one of the men, identified as brothers in a sheriff’s department statement, was also threatened by another man at the camp who had a gun and a knife and is being sought by authorities.
“There were some males that would come and go along with the females and we are actively seeking those males,” Macedo said.
The arrested women, Guadalupe Sierra Arellano, 43, and Medarda Urbieta, 44, were charged with human trafficking, kidnapping, battery with serious bodily injury, terrorist threats, and drug charges. They were detained by federal immigration officials and their lawyers declined comment Wednesday.
Macedo said the victims, who were not identified, had bruises and black eyes after they escaped the marijuana farm and made it to a nearby home to ask for help. They were treated for their injuries and have recovered, he said.
Police found more than 23,000 marijuana plants on the sprawling, forested compound and said it was worth up to $60 million. They also seized guns and $10,000 in cash.
“We’ve seen an increase in violence, theft and greed related to marijuana trafficking and this appears to be an organized, violent group,” Macedo said.
Two of the men were hired in February as day laborers by a woman from Modesto, California, who said she had work for them at a home in Calaveras County, he said. After the two arrived at the marijuana growing operation, they were threatened by people with weapons and forced to stay there.
Nine days later, one of the women at the pot farm went back to Modesto and got in touch with relatives of the men, threatening to kill family members if they contacted authorities, police said. She offered to bring the two other brothers to see their two brothers at the farm, and they were held captive and put to work, the statement said.
The men worked the marijuana operation on several acres of land up a winding road with armed men standing guard over a house where the women lived. The men themselves slept in squalid and ramshackle conditions in a hut-like structure, Macedo said.
The Union Democrat reported Wednesday that the two women were taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement services after an arrest on Sept. 14. They are due to make a court appearance on Nov. 7.
Man accused of assaulting women while driving for Uber, Lyft
ESCONDIDO, Calif. — Authorities in San Diego County arrested a former driver for Uber and Lyft on suspicion of sexually assaulting several women while he worked for the ride-hailing services, and investigators said Wednesday that there are likely more victims.
The investigation began Friday when an 18-year-old student said she was assaulted after requesting an Uber car at Palomar College, Escondido Police Lt. Justin Murphy said at a press conference. The woman told police the driver picked her up at the school in a 2014 Chrysler minivan, immediately turned off the Uber app and then drove her to another location where he attacked her, Murphy said.
Later that day police arrested Jeremy Vague, 37, at his home in San Marcos near the college, Murphy said. He was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday on multiple sexual assault charges.
A phone listing for Vague could not be found. It wasn’t immediately known if he has an attorney.
In the course of the investigation, detectives discovered additional suspected victims. Among them was a 19-year-old woman, awaiting the arrival of the first woman in Escondido, Murphy said. Also, a 19-year-old woman said Vague sexually battered her in the minivan after she requested a Lyft ride Sept. 7, he said.
Murphy asked any additional victims to contact police.
“We’re asking you to find the courage to come forward so we can hold Vague accountable for his actions,” he said.
On Sept. 6 a student called Palomar College police and said a driver tried to get her into his minivan, but she refused.
Vague is no longer employed by Uber and Lyft and both firms are cooperating with authorities.
Murphy said Vague, who is 270 pounds and 7 feet tall, is married and had worked for the ride-hailing companies for three months.
Brown signs ban on park name trademarks
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation prohibiting ownership claims over California state park names after a dispute that led to renaming beloved sites at Yosemite National Park.
Brown announced Wednesday he’s signed AB2249.
The legislation won’t end the controversy at Yosemite but is aimed at preventing a similar dispute at state-run parks. The bill would also disqualify future bids by a vendor that attempts a trademark claim on a state park or its historical, cultural or recreational resources.
The U.S. National Park Service renamed several Yosemite sites during a dispute with a former concessionaire. The Ahwahnee Hotel became the Majestic Yosemite Hotel and Curry Village became Half Dome Village, among others.
2 potential bombing witnesses seen with suitcase are sought
NEW YORK — Investigators of last weekend’s bombings have released an image of two men who took a suitcase they found on a city street, possibly without realizing a wired pressure cooker they removed from it and left behind could have blown them to bits.
Police investigating the bombings in New York and New Jersey have been saying for several days they were looking for the men, who they stressed were being sought as potential witnesses in the case, not as suspects.
“They’re not in any jeopardy of being arrested,” Jim Watters, chief of the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism unit, said on Wednesday. “We have no reason to believe they’re connected.”
Federal prosecutors have charged Ahmad Khan Rahami with detonating a pipe bomb in a New Jersey shore town on Saturday morning and a pressure cooker bomb in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood later that night. Thirty-one people were injured in the New York blast. A second pressure cooker bomb left in Manhattan didn’t explode and is the subject of the latest public plea.
Prosecutors said surveillance video shows Rahami rolling a suitcase down the street, then abandoning it on the sidewalk where that second device was found.
A few minutes later, two men pass by the luggage and appear to admire it, police said. They then remove a pressure cooker from the luggage, leave the pressure cooker on the sidewalk and walk away with the luggage.
“I think they were more interested in the bag, not what they were taking out,” Watters said, adding that they were “very, very lucky” the bomb didn’t explode.
In court papers, a public defender sought a court appearance for Rahami, an Afghan-born U.S. citizen, so he can hear the federal terrorism charges against him.
Rahami, 28, was arrested on Monday following a shootout with police in Linden, New Jersey. He is being held on $5.2 million bail, and he faces state charges of attempted murder of police officers.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Rahami will be moved to New York to face federal charges in the “near future.”
In a bloodied journal recovered by investigators, Rahami made references to Osama bin Laden, American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and former Army officer Nidal Hasan, who went on a shooting rampage in Ford Hood, Texas, according to a federal complaint.
In one section, the complaint says, Rahami wrote: “Death to your oppression.”
Prosecutor: No charges in fatal police shooting of woman
TOWSON, Md. — No one will be charged in the shooting death of a woman during a standoff with police that she posted on social media, a Maryland prosecutor said Wednesday.
A review of the police investigation into the shooting of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines in Randallstown last month found the officer who fired was justified, and the state will not take any further action, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger announced in a statement.
“Criminal charges are not warranted,” the statement said.
A narrative of the incident provided with Wednesday’s statement says Gaines, who was black, was fatally shot on Aug. 1 after she barricaded herself inside her apartment and pointed a shotgun at officers attempting to serve an arrest warrant. Gaines’ 5-year-old son was with her and was injured. The warrant stemmed from a March 10 traffic stop that included disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
The narrative provided Wednesday says that police were told by Gaines’ fiance after the standoff started that she suffered from a mental illness and had not been taking her medications. The statement says during the standoff there were times when Gaines spoke calmly and others where she “screamed and acted irrationally.” She said repeatedly that the police had no authority over her and were there to kidnap her. She also said “that when she and her son were dead the news would report it and the world would know, and that it would be worth it as she took at least one of the officers with her,” the narrative said.
The narrative says she was shot after she stopped communicating with officers and an officer saw her starting to raise the shotgun to a firing position toward officers.
Lawyers for Gaines’ family have said she was shot because officers ran out of patience during a seven-hour standoff. Gaines posted video of the standoff on Facebook, but her account was taken offline in the midst of the standoff after a request by police. Police Chief Jim Johnson has said that people on social media were encouraging her not to comply with officers.
Shellenberger met with Gaines’ family before announcing that no charges would be filed. The family’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, says the meeting reinforced the family’s belief that the officer shot Gaines “out of frustration rather than fear.” He called the officer a “cowboy” who “wanted to use his weapon.” Gordon said Gaines’ family is frustrated.
Clinton, Trump decry latest police shootings of black men
CLEVELAND — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton decried a fresh round of police-involved shootings on Wednesday, with the Republican nominee saying he was “very troubled” by the killing of a black man by a white police officer in Oklahoma.
Courting black voters who have long spurned Republicans, Trump’s event in Cleveland Heights’ New Spirit Revival Center took a bizarre turn when he was introduced by boxing promoter Don King, who used a racial slur as he made the case for black voters to support Trump.
Trump’s latest foray into the black community not only sought to connect with voters in Cleveland, home to a large community of African-American voters key to Clinton’s prospects in Ohio, but also with moderate suburban voters, who frequently hear Clinton describe Trump as extreme.
King, introducing Trump, raised eyebrows when he said a black man is always framed by his skin color, recalling that he once told pop icon Michael Jackson “if you’re poor, you’re a ‘poor Negro.’ If you’re rich, you’re a ‘rich Negro.’” An educated black man is “an intellectual negro.”
King, who is black, continued: “If you’re a dancing and sliding and gliding n—–— I mean Negro — you are ‘a dancing and sliding and gliding Negro.’” Gasps and laughs could be heard from the audience.
The King incident underscored the often clumsy way in which Trump has made his appeal to minority voters. Many black community leaders and voters have been offended by his dire depiction of life in minority communities. Trump’s outreach has also been viewed cynically as an attempt by his campaign to soothe concerns among more moderate, suburban voters.
At the end of the Ohio church event organized by members of his diversity coalition, Trump was asked about recent high-profile police shootings in Oklahoma and North Carolina. Trump said 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, who was killed in Friday’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, shooting, “looked like he did everything you’re supposed to do. And he looked like a really good man.”
“This young officer, I don’t know what she was thinking. I don’t know what she was thinking but I’m very, very troubled by that,” Trump said, calling it a “terrible situation.”
But hours later he called for the expanded use of stop-and-frisk, a police tactic that a federal judge has ruled can be discriminatory against minorities. Trump said during a Fox News town hall taping that the tactic that gives police the ability to stop and search anyone they deem suspicious had “worked incredibly well” in New York, where it expanded under former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Clinton notably made no direct mention of Trump in a speech in Orlando, Florida, focused on helping people with disabilities thrive in the U.S. economy. She pointed to the Oklahoma and North Carolina shootings at the start of her remarks, saying it added two more names “to a long list of African Americans killed by police officers. It’s unbearable and it needs to become intolerable.”
Clinton has made curbing gun violence and police brutality a central part of her candidacy. She has campaigned alongside a group of black women called the “Mothers of the Movement,” who advocated for more accountability and transparency by law enforcement. The group includes the mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, black victims of high-profile killings.
Leaders rage against neighbors on 2nd day of UN debate
UNITED NATIONS — World leaders from Pakistan to Ukraine unleashed their regional grievances Wednesday, taking the stage of the U.N. General Assembly to rage against their neighbors and presenting a picture of a chaotic world consumed by intractable conflicts.
A few paces from the General Assembly hall, the United States and Russia bitterly attacked each other during a Security Council meeting meant to salvage Syria’s faltering cease-fire. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implored Syria’s warring parties to lay down their arms.
In the midst of the anger, a few bright spots emerged on the second day of the annual U.N. gathering of heads of states. Colombia basked in world praise when it presented its newly reached peace agreement with leftist rebels to the Security Council. Former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi made her first General Assembly speech since she formed a democratically elected government in Myanmar.
But on the International Day of Peace, tensions from all parts of the planet filled the halls of the United Nations.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang voiced his country’s mounting frustration with ally North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, highlighting the urgency of reaching “a comprehensive political solution on the Korean nuclear issue.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe devoted about half of his address to North Korea, which earlier this month conducted its fifth nuclear test in defiance of repeated Security Council resolutions intended to constrain its weapons development.
Abe said North Korea this year fired three missiles into Japan’s exclusive economic zone and it was a matter of luck that no ships or aircraft were damaged. He urged unity in the Security Council to confront the North Korean threat.
“We must concentrate our strengths and thwart North Korea’s plans,” Abe said.
Some of the angriest words came from the rivalries between Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif delivered a blistering attack on neighboring India while, across the world, gunbattles raged for a second day between Indian soldiers and suspected rebels in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Sharif demanded a U.N. investigation against “brutalities perpetrated by the Indian occupying forces,” saying “innocent Kashmiri children, women and men” have been killed, blinded and injured.
Airstrike hits medics in Syria as UN moves to resume aid
BEIRUT — An airstrike in northern Syria killed four medics responding to an earlier bombing raid, a relief group said Wednesday, as the U.N. announced it would resume aid deliveries suspended after an attack on a convoy two days ago that killed 20 people.
The escalation of violence against humanitarian workers has all but destroyed a cease-fire that took effect on September 12, and has stoked tensions between the truce’s architects, the U.S. and Russia, which have traded blame for running it into the ground.
The U.N said convoys to priority areas would be resumed, with deliveries planned as early as Thursday. “Our obligation to civilians on all sides is to go where and when we can with relief,” said Jan Egeland, a senior U.N. humanitarian official focused on Syria. “We hope to resume convoys tomorrow and Friday, but still work on security guarantees.
But air raids continued in other parts of Syria, with activists reporting at least 23 civilians killed in the besieged parts of Aleppo city and the nearby rebel-held Idlib province.
The attack that killed the medics took place shortly after they arrived at the scene of an airstrike in the rebel-held town of Khan Touman on Tuesday. As the medics deployed, planes circled around and struck the area again, Dr. Oubaida Al Moufti, vice president of the International Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, said. Al-Moufti initially said that five medics were killed. The group later said two nurses and two ambulance drivers were killed, while a third nurse remains in critical condition.
Syrian government forces have been accused of carrying out “double tap” attacks throughout the 5-1/2 year war, placing paramedics and rescue workers in peril.
Scanning software deciphers ancient biblical scroll
JERUSALEM — The charred lump of a 2,000-year-old scroll sat in an Israeli archaeologist’s storeroom for decades, too brittle to open. Now, new imaging technology has revealed what was written inside: the earliest evidence of a biblical text in its standardized form.
The passages from the Book of Leviticus, scholars say, offer the first physical evidence of what has long been believed: that the version of the Hebrew Bible used today goes back 2,000 years.
The discovery, announced in a Science Advances journal article by researchers in Kentucky and Jerusalem on Wednesday, was made using “virtual unwrapping,” a 3D digital analysis of an X-ray scan. Researchers say it is the first time they have been able to read the text of an ancient scroll without having to physically open it.
“You can’t imagine the joy in the lab,” said Pnina Shor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who participated in the study.
The digital technology, funded by Google and the U.S. National Science Foundation, is slated to be released to the public as open source software by the end of next year.
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