Beyond the county: Mizzou threat mimicked Oregon shooting |

Beyond the county: Mizzou threat mimicked Oregon shooting

Students at Boston College raise their arms during a solidarity demonstration on the school's campus, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, in Newton, Mass. The protest was among numerous campus actions around the country following the racially charged strife at the University of Missouri. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Police: Missouri student threat mimicked 1 in Oregon attack

COLUMBIA, Mo. — A man accused of making online threats to shoot blacks on the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus said he mimicked postings linked to a deadly college shooting spree in Oregon last month, according to a probable cause statement obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday.

Hunter M. Park, a 19-year-old sophomore at one of the other University of Missouri System campuses in Rolla, is charged with making a terroristic threat, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison. He was expected to make his first court appearance Thursday afternoon via a video feed from jail, where he’s being held without bond.

The threatening posts showed up Tuesday on the anonymous location-based messaging app Yik Yak, and were concerning enough that some classes were canceled and some Columbia businesses closed for the day. They were made during a time of racial unrest on campus that resulted in the resignations Monday of the university system president and the Columbia campus chancellor.

One of the threats said: “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow” — a warning campus police Officer Dustin Heckmaster said in a probable cause statement that he recognized as one that appeared ahead of last month’s Oregon college shooting involving a gunman who killed nine people and himself.

Heckmaster wrote that Yik Yak willingly gave him the cellphone number that Tuesday’s poster had used to create the account from which the threats originated. AT&T later told investigators that the number was Park’s and that cellphone towers showed that the postings came from the Rolla area, the officer wrote.

University of Missouri-Columbia police records show the department had contact with Park last January, Heckmaster wrote without elaborating. Those records noted that Park was a student at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, where Heckmaster confronted Park early Wednesday in the sophomore computer science major’s dorm room.

Heckmaster wrote that Park admitted the posts were “inappropriate.” He said he asked if the threats amounted to “saber rattling,” and Park responded, “pretty much.”

When questioned specifically what he meant by the phrase, “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow,” Park “smiled and stated, ‘I was quoting something,’” Heckmaster wrote. When pressed whether it was mimicking the Oregon shooting’s posting, Park replied, “Mmhmm.”

When asked why, Park said, “I don’t know. I just … deep interest,” Heckmaster wrote.

A message left on Park’s mother’s cellphone was not returned, and there was no response to knocks on the door of the family’s home in the affluent St. Louis suburb of Lake St. Louis.

A second student was arrested at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville for allegedly posting a threat on Yik Yak that read, “I’m gonna shoot any black people tomorrow, so be ready.” Northwest Missouri State spokesman Mark Hornickel told several media outlets that authorities hadn’t linked the incident to threats at the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus.

Authorities also are investigating another threat on Yik Yak, this one leveled at the Rolla campus by someone saying, “I’m gonna shoot up this school.” And police at the Columbia campus say someone spray-painted over part of a sign early Thursday at the black culture center. They were reviewing video surveillance from the area, a school spokesman said.

On Wednesday, the university said an employee who was among those who clashed with a student photographer during campus protests was placed on administrative leave while her actions are investigated.

Janna Basler is the school’s director of Greek life. The videotaped clash helped fan a debate about the free press. Basler did not return a message seeking comment.

A communication professor also drew criticism for trying to stop a photographer from taking pictures. Melissa Click apologized Tuesday.

Months of protests culminated in a tumultuous week on the Columbia campus.

Back in September, the student government president reported that people shouted racial slurs at him from a passing pickup truck, galvanizing the protest movement. Last week, a graduate student went on a hunger strike to demand the resignation of university system President Tim Wolfe over his handling of racial complaints. The system’s governing board was expected to name Wolfe’s interim replacement on Thursday.

Then more than 30 members of the Missouri football team refused to practice or play in support of the hunger striker. Those developments came to a head Monday with the resignation of Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, the top administrator of the Columbia campus.

—Associated Press

Border agency holds off on widespread use of body cameras

SAN DIEGO — U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Thursday that it was holding off on equipping agents and officers with body cameras, saying more study is needed after a yearlong review by the nation’s largest law enforcement agency.

Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said the agency will use body cameras for training sometime after January, but he was noncommittal on when, or even if, the devices will be distributed more widely. Hurdles include cost, technological challenges and need for labor union approval.

The goal is to employ body cameras “where they would be most useful and helpful,” said the former Seattle police chief. His words lacked urgency for some critics of the agency, which has come under scrutiny for use of force.

The agency’s review found that cameras used in field tests were unsuited to the rugged, remote conditions in which many Border Patrol agents work.

“These things have to work in an environment day after day after day, hour after hour after hour, and that was a big part of the difficulty,” Kerlikowske told reporters.

The commissioner asked staff for additional research by the end of January on using body cameras at Border Patrol checkpoints and other locations. He also asked for a report by the end of March on the possibility of equipping vehicles with dashboard cameras.

The use of police body cameras is still in its infancy, and it’s unclear how many of the 18,000 state and local law departments in the nation have turned to the equipment to promote accountability.

Dozens of agencies across the country are testing body cameras after unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, led to criticism of police tactics. Many departments have plans to broadly employ the technology.

President Barack Obama supports the use of body cameras, and his administration has pledged millions of dollars to local departments.

Customs and Border Protection tested body cameras in simulated environments including the Border Patrol training academy in Artesia, New Mexico, and later expanded trials to 90 agents and officers who volunteered across the country to use them on their jobs.

Agency staff identified potential benefits in an August report, saying cameras could be a deterrent to frivolous complaints, make use of force less likely, and provide evidence for criminal prosecutions.

It also listed a litany of concerns, among them that footage may not reflect the sense of threat that an agent feels. It said cameras might hurt intelligence gathering if people interviewed by agents know they are being recorded, and could damage morale if employees interpret them as a sign of mistrust.

Advocacy groups hoped for quicker action.

“While CBP’s acknowledgment of the benefits of camera technology and decision to expand its review is a good step, the process needs to move much more quickly,” said Jacinta Ma, director of policy and advocacy at the National Immigration Forum.

Southern Border Communities Coalition, a group that has criticized Customs and Border Protection over use of force, said agents and officers have killed 40 people since January 2010. A 2013 report by the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group of law enforcement experts, was critical of the agency’s policies and tactics.

—Associated Press

Carson invests with business associate convicted of fraud

WASHINGTON — Ben Carson has called for harsh criminal penalties for health care fraud, but the Republican presidential candidate and his wife also have kept millions invested with a close friend who admitted defrauding insurance companies, according to an Associated Press review.

Pittsburgh dentist Alfonso A. Costa pleaded guilty to a felony count of health care fraud after an FBI probe into his oral surgery practice found he had charged for procedures he never performed, according to court records.

Though the crime carries a potential sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison, Costa was sentenced to house arrest and probation after Carson helped petition a federal judge on behalf of the man he described as “one my closest, if not my very closest friend.”

That’s different from the position Carson later took as he prepared to launch his presidential campaign. In his 2013 political treatise, “America the Beautiful,” Carson wrote that anyone found guilty of health care fraud should face the “Saudi Arabian Solution.”

“Why don’t people steal very often in Saudi Arabia?” asked Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Obviously because the punishment is the amputation of one or more fingers. I would not advocate chopping off people’s limbs, but there would be some very stiff penalties for this kind of fraud, such as loss of one’s medical license for life, no less than 10 years in prison and loss of all of one’s personal possessions.”

Despite that tough-on-crime message, records show Carson and his wife have maintained their business relationship with Costa in the years since the dentist’s 2007 conviction. The breadth of the two men’s business ties has not been previously reported, partly because details can be obscured in property and incorporation records.

Carson defended his relationship with Costa anew on Thursday, in a statement his campaign circulated among news organizations — but not the AP.

“Al Costa is my best friend. Al Costa is my very best friend. I know his heart. I am proud to call him my friend. I have always and will continue to stand by him. That is what real friends do,” Carson said.

Doug Watts, Carson’s spokesman, said this week he was unable to respond to specific questions about land deals involving the candidate and Costa. He acknowledged they do have investments together.

Costa did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Before his criminal conviction and the revocation of his license to practice dentistry, Costa built a multimillion-dollar fortune through commercial real estate. Costa Land Co. and its affiliates own properties in at least five states and overseas.

Investments that Carson and his wife made through Costa earn the couple between $200,000 and $2 million a year, according to financial records that Carson was required to file when he declared his candidacy.

Costa has also served on the board of Carson’s charity, the Carson Scholars Fund, and continues to lead the charity’s fundraising efforts in the Pittsburgh area to provide $1,000 college scholarships to children in need. Costa’s son has worked with Carson’s presidential campaign.

In 2007, a few months before Costa was charged, records show that two corporations were established in Pennsylvania called BenCan LLC and INBS LLC. Carson and his wife are listed as the sole members of the companies. Though the Carsons live outside Baltimore, the mailing address on the incorporation forms was Costa’s home address in Pittsburgh.

BenCan and INBS then paid more than $3 million to purchase an office building in suburban Pittsburgh. The mailing address listed on the deed matches the office of Costa’s firm, as does the address where property tax bills are sent.

That September, federal prosecutors charged Costa, accusing him of fraud committed over a nearly five-year period. Investigators determined that Costa’s dental practice charged more than 50 patients for procedures that had not been performed, resulting in a loss of more than $40,000 to insurance companies.

After Costa pleaded guilty, 40 of his family members, friends and dental patients wrote to the judge as character witnesses.

Carson was one of three people who also testified at Costa’s 2008 sentencing hearing, stressing his friend’s charitable work. He said they shared the “same values and principles” and that their families vacationed together.

Prosecutors urged the judge to make an example of Costa, arguing that reducing his sentence would “create the appearance that a defendant’s financial resources and prominent connections can skew the justice system in ways not available to persons of lesser means.”

In the end, Costa got no prison time. He was sentenced to one year of house arrest and ordered to pay more than $294,000 in fines and restitution.

Though Costa was assigned to serve his sentence in his 8,300-square-foot mansion in nearby Fox Chapel, his lawyers repeatedly returned to court to seek permission for him to travel. A few months after starting his sentence, Costa asked to travel to the White House as one of 10 invited guests at a June 2008 ceremony where President George W. Bush presented Carson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The judge denied that request, though Costa was later allowed to take a month-long trip to Italy while on probation to handle what his lawyer described as urgent business at a resort he owns.

Costa continues to use his ties to Carson to promote his real estate business. As of Thursday, the logo of the Carson Scholars Fund is featured prominently on the company’s website, as is a testimonial from the presidential candidate.

Carson is listed among the celebrity guests who have stayed at Costa’s “world renowned luxury villa” perched on a cliff overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

“This is the most beautiful spot on Earth,” Carson is quoted as saying.

—Associated Press

Appeals court temporarily halts upcoming Cosby deposition

LOS ANGELES — A California appeals court on Thursday temporarily halted an order requiring Bill Cosby and his former attorney to give sworn testimony in a defamation lawsuit filed by model Janice Dickinson.

The order Thursday by the 2nd District Court of Appeal puts plans to depose the comedian and his longtime attorney on hold. The depositions were ordered to occur this month by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Nov. 2, but Cosby’s attorneys appealed and the appellate court wants legal briefs filed by the end of the month.

An email message sent to Cosby’s lawyers was not immediately returned.

“We are confident that once the Court of Appeals hears full argument on the issues it will allow the deposition of Mr. Cosby and his attorney to go forward,” Dickinson’s attorney Lisa Bloom wrote in an email.

Dickinson is suing Cosby for defamation over denials over her claims that she was drugged raped by the comedian in 1982. Cosby’s lawyers want the case dismissed, but a judge ordered the depositions so Dickinson’s lawyers can properly oppose the motion.

She sued Cosby in May, claiming she has been re-victimized and her reputation has suffered because of pointed denials by Cosby’s attorney, Martin Singer, that the comedian drugged and raped her in a Lake Tahoe, California, hotel room more than 30 years ago.

Dickinson never reported the rape to authorities and has said she was afraid if she did that her career would be damaged and Cosby would retaliate.

Cosby, 78, has never been charged with a crime and has denied allegations that he drugged and sexually assaulted women.

On Thursday, Drexel and Bryant universities announced that they have rescinded honorary degrees given to Cosby in light of numerous accusations of sexual misconduct by dozens of women.

Ballot proposal would divert high-speed rail money to water

Two Republican lawmakers are proposing a ballot initiative that would ask California voters to redirect about $8 billion in bond money from the state’s high-speed rail project to build water storage. Board of Equalization member George Runner and Sen. Bob Huff said they filed language Thursday for the initiative.

It would also authorize shifting $2.7 billion in unspent water bond money to water storage construction and amend the state constitution to give drinking water and irrigation priority from California’s limited water supply. Runner and Huff say storing water for the future is a better use of billions in voter-approved spending than the $68 billion high-speed rail project.

— Associated Press

Obama awards Medal of Honor to Army captain

WASHINGTON — An Army captain who shoved a suicide bomber to the ground and away from his security detail became the nation’s newest Medal of Honor recipient Thursday as President Barack Obama credited his actions with preventing a greater catastrophe from occurring.

Florent Groberg, 32, is the 10th living service member awarded the nation’s highest honor for battlefield bravery in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Four people were killed in the attack, and several others were wounded. As families of the victims and some of his former Army colleagues watched, Obama draped the medal around Groberg’s neck at a White House ceremony. Groberg fought to keep his emotions in check as he faced the crowd and cameras. Afterward, he dedicated the medal to those killed and their families, saying they were the true heroes.

“I am blessed and just grateful to have been given the opportunity to serve my country,” Groberg said.

Obama recounted the details of the August 2012 attack, which left Groberg badly wounded and requiring nearly three years of recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Groberg was helping to lead a military escort in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province when his unit approached a bridge. As two motorcyclists caused a diversion, a man dressed in dark clothing spun toward him some 10 feet away. Groberg grabbed the bomber by the vest and kept pushing him backward, with help from fellow soldier, Sgt. Andrew Mahoney. The attacker fell to ground and the bomb detonated. That explosion also caused a second, unseen bomb to detonate before it could be placed closer to the unit.

“Had both bombs gone off as planned, who knows how many could have been killed,” Obama said.

Groberg suffered significant nerve damage and about half the calf muscle in his left leg was blown off. He needed 33 surgeries to save his leg.

Obama noted that he had met Groberg about three years ago at Walter Reed. Obama recalled that Groberg likes the Chicago Bears, “so I liked him right away.”

The Medal of Honor ceremony was somber, but Obama also recounted how Groberg first came to consciousness after the bombing. He thought he was in Germany and that the lead singer from the heavy metal band Korn was at his bedside and talking to him, Obama said.

“Flo thought, ‘What’s going on? Am I hallucinating?” Obama said. “But he wasn’t. It was all real. And so, today, Flo, I want to assure you you are not hallucinating. You are actually in the White House. Those cameras are on. I am not the lead singer from Korn,” Obama joked.

Born in Poissy, France, Groberg became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2001, the same year he graduated from high school in Maryland. He also competed in track and cross country at the University of Maryland before entering the Army in 2008.

Obama said that what helped make Groberg a great runner during his student days at the University of Maryland, “training, guts, teamwork,” also made him a great soldier.

Obama and Groberg worked to ensure that those killed in the attack are also remembered. Obama cited them by name during the ceremony: Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Griffin, Maj. Tom Kennedy, Major David Gray, and a USAID foreign service officer who had volunteered for a second tour in Afghanistan, Ragaei Abdelfattah.

“These four men believed in America. They dedicated their lives to our country. They died serving it. Their families, loving wives and children, parents and siblings, bear that sacrifice most of all,” Obama said.

After the ceremony, Groberg gave a statement, saying, “this medal is the greatest honor you could ever receive.” He added that the medal belonged to the true heroes who died in the attack. For the families of the victims, he said he would work to become the “right carrier for them and better myself as a human being for the rest of my life.”

—Associated Press

Myanmar army extends hand as Suu Kyi’s party nears majority

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar’s official vote count inched closer Thursday to confirming a parliamentary majority for Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party, as the military establishment that has been her nemesis for decades appeared ready to toss in the towel.

While the army has not conceded defeat for the ruling pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party, it has acknowledged the massive success of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in Sunday’s election, and pledged it will respect the final results. Those results seem virtually certain to allow the opposition to take over the government.

The office of army commander Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said the military will hold talks with Suu Kyi after the election results are complete. Suu Kyi issued an invitation on Wednesday for a meeting with the commander, along with President Thein Sein and House Speaker Shwe Mann.

Results issued so far by the Union Election Commission support unofficial numbers from the NLD and local media pointing to a landslide win for the pro-democracy crusader and a resounding rejection of military rule. While the opposition may soon have enough confirmed seats for a parliamentary majority, it could still be another week or so until all votes are tallied.

Attention is riveted on what has been called the “magic number” for Suu Kyi’s party. The election commission’s latest announcement Thursday night showed that the NLD needs just two more seats to reach the 329 it needs for a majority in the 664-member, two-house Parliament.

Elections were not held in seven constituencies, meaning a simple majority can be reached at 329. The NLD has officially won 217 seats in the lower house — which means it now will have the power to pass bills there — and 110 in the upper house, for a total of 327. The military automatically receives 25 percent of the seats in each house under the constitution.

A party with a combined parliamentary majority is able to select the next president, who can then name a Cabinet and form a new government.

Suu Kyi’s party said it received a message Wednesday from Information Minister Ye Htut on behalf of President Thein Sein congratulating it for leading the race for parliamentary seats.

Ye Htut said the government will pursue a peaceful transfer of power “in accordance with the legislated timeline.” He was not immediately available for comment.

The message helps ease lingering concerns that the military might deny the NLD power, as it did after the party won a landslide election victory in 1990.

It also means that Myanmar is likely to soon have its first government in decades that isn’t under the military’s sway. But while an NLD majority assures it of being able to elect the president, Suu Kyi remains barred from the office by a constitutional provision inserted by the military before it transferred power to Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government in 2011.

Suu Kyi has declared, however, that she will become the country’s de facto leader, acting “above the president” if her party forms the next government, and that the new president will be a figurehead.

President Barack Obama congratulated Suu Kyi for her party’s success in the elections.

In a phone call, Obama commended Suu Kyi for “her tireless efforts and sacrifice over so many years” to promote a peaceful, democratic Myanmar, the White House said.

Obama also called Thein Sein to congratulate the country on its success in conducting the elections and stressed the importance of respecting the outcome, it said.

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters Thursday that Suu Kyi “is in a very strong position as the leader of the NLD to be a leading voice about the future direction of the country.” He said it would be up to Myanmar’s new parliament and leaders to decide about constitutional reform.

Myanmar’s military, which took power in a 1962 coup and brutally suppressed several pro-democracy uprisings during its rule, gave way to Thein Sein’s nominally civilian elected government in 2011 — with strings attached.

It installed retired senior officers in the ruling party to fill Cabinet posts and gave itself key powers in the constitution, including control of several powerful ministries and a quarter of the seats in both houses of Parliament. In a state of emergency, a special military-led body can even assume state powers. Another provision bars Suu Kyi from the presidency because her sons hold foreign citizenship.

While Myanmar’s people voted overwhelmingly Sunday to remove the military-backed ruling party from power, it’s clear that the army’s involvement in politics won’t end, and the NLD will need to convince it to cooperate.

If the NLD secures a parliamentary majority, it will gain control over the executive posts under Myanmar’s complicated parliamentary-presidency system.

The military and the largest parties in the upper house and the lower house will each nominate a candidate for president. After Jan. 31, all 664 legislators will cast ballots and the top vote-getter will become president, while the other two will be vice presidents.

—Associated Press

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User

See more