Beyond the county: Houston gunman had 2 weapons, thousands of rounds; State police will be required to lock up guns; Colombia to sign historic peace deal | TheUnion.com
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Beyond the county: Houston gunman had 2 weapons, thousands of rounds; State police will be required to lock up guns; Colombia to sign historic peace deal

Jennifer Molleda looks at the blood specked face of her husband, Alan Wakim, who had two bullets whiz by his face after going through his windshield during a shooting along Wesleyan at Law Street that left multiple people injured and the alleged shooter dead, Monday morning, Sept. 26, 2016, in Houston. (Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle via AP)
AP | Houston Chronicle

Nation

Houston gunman had 2 weapons, thousands of rounds at scene

HOUSTON — A disgruntled lawyer wearing military-style apparel with old Nazi emblems had two weapons and more than 2,500 rounds of live ammunition when he randomly shot at drivers in a Houston neighborhood Monday morning before he was shot and killed by police, authorities said.



Nine people were injured during Monday morning’s shootings; six were shot and three had eye injuries from flying glass. One person is in critical condition and another in serious condition, officials said.

Houston Homicide Capt. Dwayne Ready and Interim Police Chief Martha Montalvo did not identify the man and did not have information about a motive. A bomb-squad robot examined a Porsche that police said belonged to the gunman; Texas motor vehicle records in a commercially available database showed the car is licensed to Nathan DeSai at an address in the condo complex.




The property manager of the condo complex also confirmed that police were going through DeSai’s residence, where Ready said vintage military items dating to the Civil War and other guns were found the man’s apartment.

Authorities first received reports of the shootings about 6:30 a.m., and the man began firing at officers when they arrived. The man had two legally purchased guns — a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun and a Tommy gun — and an unsheathed knife, Ready said. He also noted that there were 75 spent casings at the scene, which were from officers and the gunman.

Mayor Sylvester Turner told KTRK-TV that DeSai was a lawyer who was “disgruntled” and was “either fired or had a bad relationship with this law firm.” But DeSai’s former law partner, Kenneth McDaniel, disputed that assertion, saying they jointly closed their 12-year-old law firm in February due to economic conditions related to Houston’s energy industry downturn.

McDaniel also said he’d had no contact with DeSai lately and that police called him Monday morning to check on his safety, though they didn’t explain why.

“He went his way with his practice and I went with mine,” McDaniel said, adding, “All I can say it’s a horrible situation. I’m sad for everyone involved.”

Jennifer Molleda and her husband live in the same condo complex as Nathan DeSai. Though she heard gunshots about 6:12 a.m. and called 911, her husband left for work. The 45-year-old called him not long after, and he told her “I’m hit, I’m hit.”

After the shooting stopped at 7:15 a.m., Molleda found her husband, 49-year-old Alan Wakim, several blocks away in the parking lot of a nearby strip mall. His Mustang had two shots that went through the windshield, and he told her that he saw a red laser beam before the shots were fired. He was taken to a hospital to be treated.

“He got out of his car, we hugged, we cried,” Molleda said, adding that after she saw everything, she believes DeSai was “aiming to kill.”

Showdown: Congress looks to override Obama veto of 9/11 bill

WASHINGTON — Congress is poised to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill that would allow families of Sept. 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for the kingdom’s alleged backing of the terrorists who carried out the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

The showdown is scheduled for Wednesday. Proponents of the legislation say they have enough votes for what would be a first: During his nearly two full terms in office, Obama has vetoed nine bills. None has been overridden.

While there is broad and bipartisan support for bucking the president, the bill’s opponents also are pushing hard to keep the measure from being enacted. They’re warning the U.S. will become vulnerable to retaliatory litigation in foreign courts that could put American troops in legal jeopardy.

Here’s a look at the key issues surrounding the bill, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, as the veto override vote nears:

WHAT WOULD THE LEGISLATION DO?

The legislation, known as JASTA, gives victims’ families the right to sue in U.S. court for any role that elements of the Saudi government may have played in the 2001 attacks that killed thousands in New York, the Washington, D.C., area and Pennsylvania. Under the terms of the bill, courts would be permitted to waive a claim of foreign sovereign immunity when an act of terrorism occurs inside U.S. borders. Saudi Arabia has objected vehemently to the bill.

WHY DID OBAMA VETO THE BILL?

In his veto message issued on Friday, Obama said the bill would disrupt longstanding international principles on sovereign immunity and could create complications with even the closest allies of the United States.

Foreign governments would be able to act “reciprocally” and allow their courts to exercise jurisdiction over the United States and its employees for allegedly causing injuries overseas through American support to third parties, according to Obama. As examples, Obama cited actions taken overseas by U.S.-backed armed militias, the improper use of U.S. military equipment, and abuses committed by U.S.-trained police units.

The bill’s proponents have disputed Obama’s rationale as “unconvincing and unsupportable,” saying the measure is narrowly tailored and applies only to acts of terrorism that occur on U.S. soil.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that the Senate would vote Wednesday on the president’s veto.

WHAT’S THE CONCERN FOR AMERICAN TROOPS AND SECRETS?

Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said that even if none of the potential lawsuits against the United States succeeded, “the risks of discovery or trial in foreign courts, including the questioning of government employees under oath, will disclose sensitive information and subject Americans to legal jeopardy of various kinds.”

Thornberry is opposed to the bill and is urging his colleagues not to override Obama’s veto.

But attorneys for the 9/11 families said U.S. military personnel are not at risk of lawsuits. Should a foreign government enact a law that allows a claim against American service members, that nation would not be reciprocating but engaging in a “transparent and unjustifiable act of aggression” that the U.S. should respond to, they said.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Monday he is inclined to vote to override and said it looks as though there are enough votes in the House to overturn the president’s decision. The House would act after the Senate votes.

HOW MANY VOTES ARE NEEDED TO OVERRIDE A VETO?

A two-thirds majority of lawmakers present and voting is required in the House and Senate to override a veto.

Use of body cams questioned after Charlotte police killings

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The fatal shooting of a black man by a police officer in Charlotte is only the latest shooting to raise questions about how the department uses body cameras.

Six people were fatally shot since body cameras were given to all patrol officers about a year ago. But the officers who fired the fatal shots in five of those cases — including Keith Lamont Scott’s — weren’t using the cameras.

The weekend release of police footage showing the shooting of Scott left questions in many people’s minds — including whether he was holding a gun. The footage includes body camera video from another officer, but not the black officer who fatally wounded Scott.

Scott’s family and advocacy groups complain the department divulged only about three minutes of footage from two cameras. They have urged the police department to release all other video footage it has, as well as audio recordings of communications that could clarify how the situation unfolded. A media coalition is also requesting more footage.

Police Chief Kerr Putney has said the officer who shot Scott wasn’t wearing a body camera that day because he’s part of a tactical unit.

“Our tactical units don’t all have body-worn cameras at this point,” Putney told reporters on Saturday, adding they are to receive them in the future. He said was previously reluctant to make officers in high-risk operations wear cameras showing tactics and locations.

The department said plainclothes officers who saw Scott with a gun and marijuana left the area to put on vests identifying them as police before confronting him.

If the officers “had the foresight to put on their police vest, why did you not put on your body cam?” asked Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte NAACP chapter.

Susanna Birdsong, a legal policy expert for the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned whether the department is violating its own body camera policy instituted in April 2015.

The policy, according to the department’s site, states the cameras must be activated in situations including arrests and encounters with suspicious people. It doesn’t address whether tactical units must wear them.

Referring to the Scott case and others, Mack said she’s angry not all units have the cameras yet.

“It speaks to the culture of the police department that even when policies and procedures are put in place, that they feel they don’t have to follow them,” she said. “This is serious, that there is no record of a life being taken. … People want to know why we don’t trust the police department?”

State

Police will be required to lock guns in vehicles

SACRAMENTO — Gun owners and law enforcement officers will be required to lock up their firearms if they leave them in an unattended vehicle under legislation Gov. Jerry Brown signed Monday in response to high-profile thefts from police vehicles in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The measure was among four gun bills the Democratic governor signed, and it joins more than a half-dozen gun-control measures approved this year. Brown also vetoed two gun bills.

Beginning Jan. 1, SB869 will require that anyone — including police and people with concealed weapon permits — leaving a handgun in a vehicle lock it in the trunk or a container out of plain sight, or face a $1,000 fine. Police won’t face sanctions during urgent situations.

Handguns stolen from law enforcement officers’ cars last year were used in the San Francisco killing of 32-year-old Kate Steinle in July and 27-year-old Oakland muralist Antonio Ramos in September.

Steinle was shot in the back as she walked with her father and a family friend along a popular San Francisco pier. Oakland police said Ramos was among artists working on a community mural when he was fatally shot after an apparent argument.

His family filed a claim in June against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, saying it was partly responsible for the shooting because it was committed with an agent’s stolen gun.

In January, three handguns and an FBI agent’s badge were stolen from a locked vehicle equipped with an alarm in Benicia, about 30 miles northeast of San Francisco.

Brown also announced Monday that he’d signed a bill allowing people with concealed weapons permits to carry a county-issued identification card instead of the standard state form, which some gun owners find clunky to keep on them.

He vetoed a measure that would have required police agencies and sheriffs’ departments to charge a fee for concealed gun permits to cover the full cost of issuing permits and enforcing them.

Gun-rights groups feared the measure would significantly raise the price of obtaining a concealed weapons permit and make them cost-prohibitive for many firearm owners.

“This bill was spurred by a local dispute in one county,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “I am unaware of a larger problem that merits a statewide change at this time.”

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, a Democrat, introduced the bill, saying Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones had issued far too many permits. Jones, a Republican, is challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Ami Bera in one of California’s closest congressional races.

Police: Bus from Yosemite going too fast before deadly crash

OAKHURST — Authorities say a bus carrying students from China was going too fast around a curve when it went off the road and hit a tree near Yosemite National Park, killing a 13-year-old passenger.

California Highway Patrol Officer Kaci Lutz said Monday that the driver hasn’t been cited in the wreck Saturday that happened after the students and their chaperones visited the park.

Lutz says the bus was traveling between 35 and 40 mph when it entered a curve and slid off the road. Lutz says the speed was unsafe for the bus, despite the posted speed limit of 55 mph.

Officials say another 13-year-old girl is hospitalized in critical condition. Others injured in the crash have been released.

Investigators have interviewed witnesses, and they’re inspecting the bus to rule out mechanical problems.

The bus held 22 people, including the driver, who received minor injuries.

Jupiter moon may have water plumes that shoot up 125 miles

LOS ANGELES — The Hubble Space Telescope has spied what appear to be water plumes on one of Jupiter’s icy moons shooting up as high as 125 miles.

The geysers are apparently from an underground ocean that is thought to exist on Europa, considered one of the top places to search for signs of life in our solar system.

The plumes at the south pole were detected by the workhorse telescope as the moon passed in front of Jupiter. Scientists believe the eruptions on Europa are sporadic since they were only able to spot them on three out of the 10 times that they looked over more than a year.

Even so, the possible presence of plumes, which shoot up and rain back down on the surface, would “allow us to search for signs of life in the ocean of Europa without needing to drill through miles of ice,” astronomer William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore said Monday.

The latest finding builds on earlier work by Hubble, which in 2012 found hints of water vapor venting from Europa’s south pole. The telescope didn’t see anything in follow-up studies until this latest campaign, which was carried out by a different group of researchers.

If confirmed, Europa would be the second moon in the solar system where water plumes have been detected.

The Cassini spacecraft previously spied jets shooting out from the surface of the Saturn moon Enceladus (ehn-SEHL’-uh-duhs), which harbors an ocean beneath its icy shell. Unlike Europa, the geysers erupting from Enceladus are continuous.

The Juno spacecraft, currently in orbit around Jupiter, isn’t designed to study Europa and won’t be able to confirm the plumes, NASA said.

The space agency is in the early stages of drafting a mission to Europa in the 2020s that would involve putting a spacecraft in a long, looping orbit around Jupiter to make close flybys of the ice-encrusted world.

World

Colombia to sign historic peace deal on ending long conflict

CARTAGENA, Colombia — More than 220,000 deaths, 8 million homeless and countless human rights violations: These are the tragic toll of South America’s oldest armed conflict, which begins to wind down with the signing Monday of a historic agreement between Colombia’s government and the country’s largest rebel movement to end a half-century of hostilities.

Underlining the significance of the deal, President Juan Manuel Santos and the top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a rebel fighter known by the alias Timochenko, were to sign the accord in the colonial city of Cartagena. Fifteen Latin American presidents as well as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry were on hand to witness the signing.

In a ceremony charged with symbolism befitting a historic moment that generations of Colombians thought they would never see, the more than 2,500 guests were asked to wear white as a sign of peace and Santos was to sign the 297-page accord with a pen made from a recycled shell used in combat.

Earlier Monday, Santos and the foreign dignitaries attended a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, at a baroque church named for St. Peter Claver, a 17th-century Jesuit priest revered as the “slave of slaves” for his role aiding tens of thousands of African slaves brought to the New World as chattel.

In a stirring homily, Pope Francis’ envoy praised Colombians for overcoming the pain of the bloody conflict to find common ground with the rebels.

“All of us here today are conscious of the fact we’re at the end of a negotiation, but also the beginning of a still open process of change that requires the contribution and respect of all Colombians,” the cardinal said.

Across the country Colombians marked the occasion with a host of activities, from peace concerts by top-name artists to a street party in the capital, Bogota, where the signing ceremony was to be broadcast live on a giant screen. It was also celebrated by hundreds of guerrillas gathered in a remote region of southern Colombia where last week top commanders ratified the accord in what they said would be their last conference as a guerrilla army.

The signing won’t close the deal, however. Colombians will be given the final say on endorsing or rejecting the accord in an Oct. 2 referendum. Opinion polls point to an almost-certain victory for the “yes” vote, but some analysts warn that a closer-than-expected finish or low voter turnout could bode poorly for the tough task the country faces in implementing the ambitious accord.

Among the biggest challenges will be judging the war crimes of guerrillas as well as state actors. Under terms of the accord, rebels who lay down their weapons and confess their abuses will be spared jail time and be allowed to provide reparations to their victims by carrying out development work in areas hard hit by the conflict.

That has angered some victims and conservative opponents of Santos, a few hundred of whom took to the streets Monday to protest what they consider the government’s excessive leniency toward guerrilla leaders responsible for scores of atrocities in a conflict fueled by the country’s cocaine trade.


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