Beyond the county: Sacramento Mayor hit with pie; Tulsa officer charged in man’s death; UN calls for increased security for planes, airports
Witnesses: Mayor tackled man who hit him with pie
SACRAMENTO — A man took a pie from a grocery bag, grabbed Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson from behind and smacked him in the face with the creamy dessert at a charity event, witnesses say, leading the former NBA star to start swinging and then tackle the man who was left with stitches and facing assault charges.
Social justice advocates are concerned Johnson overreacted, sending the pie wielder and local activist, Sean Thompson, 32, to the hospital with bruises and cuts to his eye before he went to jail.
The mayor was greeting people eating at a charity dinner Wednesday night at Sacramento Charter High School when Thompson pulled Johnson back and shoved the pie in his face, said Johnson’s chief of staff, Crystal Strait.
“There was no throwing of the pie,” said Erika Bjork, who was attending the dinner and saw the encounter up close. “This was a direct assault. It just happened that he had a pie in his hand.”
Bjork, who works for a professional soccer team in Sacramento, said the mayor was standing near her when he was hit. She said he looked shocked and swung at the man multiple times, but she didn’t see him land any punches.
Johnson then wrestled Thompson to the ground and mayoral staff and a police officer pinned him down, Bjork said. Strait, who agreed with Bjork’s account, said the mayor had minor scratches and bruising.
Police arrested Thompson on suspicion of assaulting a public official, which is a felony, police said. It wasn’t clear if he had retained an attorney.
Chris Vellucci, who organizes legal support for activists at the National Lawyers Guild in Sacramento, said people in the social justice community are concerned about Thompson’s safety and Johnson’s physical response.
Vellucci wrote in an email that he met Thompson five years ago and described him as a nonviolent person who participated in some of the first Black Lives Matter protests in Sacramento in 2014 and in Occupy Sacramento rallies before that.
Both police and Strait said Thompson was not previously known to the mayor and his staff. He is scheduled to be formally charged in court Friday afternoon.
The chief of staff said it was a serious and scary situation and there was nothing funny about it, especially because no one, including the mayor, could tell immediately that it was a pie the man was holding.
After cleaning up, Johnson gave another speech to calm nerves at the event, which was held in the school’s garden and featured many of the city’s top restaurateurs.
Johnson, who had a long career as an NBA All-Star with the Phoenix Suns and a brief stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, has about two months left as mayor. He decided not to seek a third term.
Johnson’s signature achievement in office was getting a $500 million arena built for the city’s NBA team, the Sacramento Kings. He is also well-known for his efforts to revitalize Oak Park, a predominantly African-American neighborhood that is being restored during his tenure.
His final two years in office were marked by the re-emergence of a decades-old claim of sexual abuse from a woman who was a teenager when Johnson played for the Suns. The Phoenix Police Department investigated but did not file charges.
Johnson has denied the allegations and that they had anything to do with his decision to leave office.
Feds OK plan to fight housing displacement in San Francisco
SAN FRANCISCO — Federal housing officials approved a preference plan that advocates said Thursday will help low-income minorities stay in increasingly unaffordable San Francisco.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will allow San Francisco to set aside 40 percent of affordable units at a new senior complex for low-income applicants who live in certain districts. The agency informed the city of its decision on Wednesday.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and other city officials had sought permission to reserve 40 percent of the units for people in the neighborhood where the new complex is located, but HUD officials rejected the plan as limiting equal access to housing in violation of fair housing law.
The rejection disheartened city leaders struggling to keep San Francisco affordable for residents, especially for dwindling numbers of African Americans who have left historically black neighborhoods for lower-cost suburbs.
In 1970, there were 100,000 African Americans in San Francisco. There are fewer than half that today even as the population has increased.
Supervisor London Breed, who is president of the board and pushed for the preference, welcomed the change of heart.
“We’ve lost a large population of African Americans in San Francisco, but we’ve also lost a large number of middle-income San Franciscans,” she said. “It has been really difficult for people who grew up here to find affordable places to live once they become adults.”
Couple charged with murdering relative, kidnapping her kids
LOS ANGELES — A California couple was charged with murder in the shooting death of a woman and the kidnapping of her three young children in a case that spanned three states, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Joshua Aaron Robertson and Brittney Sue Humphrey are charged with killing 26-year-old Kimberly Harvill, whose body was found with gunshot wounds along a road in a remote area of Los Angeles County on Aug. 14. Harvill was Humphrey’s half-sister.
Robertson, 27, and Humphrey, 22, were arrested in Pueblo, Colorado on Aug. 25, a day after the three children they’re charged with kidnapping were found safe in a motel outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. The three children are all Harvill’s and are between 2 and 5 years old.
Robertson was set to be arraigned Thursday while Humphrey was awaiting extradition from Colorado.
It was unclear whether they have attorneys.
Prosecutors are asking that their bail be set at $2 million.
Robertson is accused of firing the gun that killed Harvill in an act that both he and Humphrey planned ahead of time, according to charging documents.
The couple took Harvill’s children forcibly by instilling fear, according to the documents, which did not provide more details.
Investigators said Harvill and her children had most recently lived in Fresno and were transitory, moving from motel to motel, and depended on panhandling to survive.
Humphrey and Robertson were living in Lebec, the unincorporated area of Los Angeles County where Harvill was recently staying with her children and where she was killed, investigators said.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer charged in man’s death
TULSA, Okla. — Prosecutors charged a white Oklahoma police officer with first-degree manslaughter Thursday, less than a week after she fatally shot an unarmed black man on a city street and just days after police released videos of the shooting, saying in court documents that the officer “reacted unreasonably.”
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler charged Tulsa officer Betty Shelby in the Sept. 16 shooting death of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher. Kunzweiler said arrangements were being made for Shelby’s surrender.
Shelby “reacted unreasonably by escalating the situation from a confrontation with Mr. Crutcher, who was not responding to verbal commands and was walking away from her with his hands held up, becoming emotionally involved to the point that she over reacted,” according to an affidavit filed with the charge.
The swift action in Tulsa stood in contrast to Charlotte, North Carolina, where police refused under mounting pressure Thursday to release video of the shooting of another black man this week and the National Guard was called in to try to a head off a third night of violence. Demonstrations in Tulsa since Crutcher’s death have been consistently peaceful.
Dashcam and aerial footage of the shooting and its aftermath showed Crutcher walking away from Shelby with his arms in the air. The footage does not offer a clear view of when Shelby fired the single shot that killed Crutcher. Her attorney has said Crutcher was not following police commands and that Shelby opened fire when the man began to reach into his SUV window.
But Crutcher’s family immediately discounted that claim, saying the father of four posed no threat to the officers. They also pointed to an enlarged photo from police footage that appears to show Crutcher’s window was rolled up. And police said Crutcher did not have gun on him or in his vehicle.
An affidavit filed Thursday says Shelby told police homicide investigators that “she was in fear for her life and thought Mr. Crutcher was going to kill her. When she began following Mr. Crutcher to the vehicle with her duty weapon drawn, she was yelling for him to stop and get on his knees repeatedly.”
Crutcher was wearing “baggy clothes” but that Shelby “was not able to see any weapons or bulges indicating a weapon was present,” the affidavit states.
Among the definitions in Oklahoma for first-degree manslaughter is a killing “perpetrated unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the person killed to commit a crime, or after such attempt shall have failed.”
If convicted, Shelby could face a minimum of four years in prison.
Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett said police worked quickly to provide Kunzweiler with the information he needed to decide whether to charge the officer.
“I appreciate their efforts as well as the District Attorney’s usual thorough evaluation of the rules of law for which we are all accountable,” Bartlett said in a written statement. “These are important steps to ensure that justice and accountability prevails.
“We will continue to be transparent and ensure the system carries out its responsibility to provide justice.”
Shelby, who joined the Tulsa Police Department in December 2011, was en route to a domestic violence call when she encountered Crutcher’s vehicle abandoned on a city street, straddling the center line. Shelby did not activate her patrol car’s dashboard camera, so no footage exists of what first happened between the two before other officers arrived.
The police footage shows Crutcher approaching the driver’s side of the SUV, then more officers walk up and Crutcher appears to lower his hands and place them on the vehicle. A man inside a police helicopter overhead says: “That looks like a bad dude, too. Probably on something.”
A police sergeant has said investigators found a vial of the drug PCP in Crutcher’s SUV. Attorneys for Crutcher’s family said the family didn’t know whether drugs were found in the SUV, but that even if they were, it wouldn’t justify the shooting. A toxicology report could take several weeks.
In the videos, the officers surround Crutcher and he suddenly drops to the ground. A voice heard on police radio says: “Shots fired!” The officers back away and Crutcher is left unattended on the street for about two minutes before an officer puts on medical gloves and begins to attend to him.
Sexual harassment common at national parks, panel told
WASHINGTON — Sexual harassment, bullying and other misconduct is rampant among employees at national parks across the country, including at iconic sites such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, a congressional committee was told Thursday.
At Yosemite, at least 18 employees have come forward with allegations of harassment or other misconduct so severe that a recent report labeled working conditions at the park “toxic.”
At Yellowstone, officials are investigating complaints of sexual exploitation, intimidation and retaliation.
The complaints follow a report by the Interior Department’s inspector general that found male employees at the Grand Canyon preyed on female colleagues, demanded sex and retaliated against women who refused.
In a separate case, the park service has temporarily reassigned the superintendent of a Florida park where female employees long complained of sexual harassment and a hostile workplace.
“There seems to be some patterns here that are just not anything we should come close to tolerating,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Michael Reynolds, deputy director of operations for the National Park Service, acknowledged problems at many of the agency’s 413 park sites, including the Grand Canyon and other parks visited by millions of people each year.
Problems at the Grand Canyon and also the Canaveral National Seashore in Florida “were more than a wake-up call,” Reynolds told lawmakers. “They presented us with clear and undeniable evidence that … we must extend the same commitment to the employees of the National Park Service as we make to the protection of our nation’s most extraordinary places.”
Asked if he agreed the agency has a problem with harassment and hostile work environments, Reynolds said yes.
Kelly Martin, Yosemite’s chief of fire and aviation management, told lawmakers that she has been sexually harassed throughout her 32-year career at the park service and U.S. Forest Service.
Early in her career, a Grand Canyon park ranger stood outside her bathroom window and watched her shower, Martin said. After she reported the incident, he apologized and no further action was taken. The ranger “was repeatedly caught engaging in voyeuristic behavior, all the while receiving promotions around the agency until his recent retirement as a deputy superintendent” at a national park, Martin said.
At Yosemite, dozens of people, mostly women, “are being bullied, belittled, disenfranchised and marginalized from their roles as dedicated professionals,” Martin said. She and other employees said Park Superintendent Don Neubacher has “publicly humiliated” workers, intimidated them and questioned their professional credibility.
Yosemite employees described “horrific working conditions (that) lead us to believe that the environment is indeed toxic, hostile, repressive and harassing,” the park service said in a preliminary report last month.
Chaffetz and other lawmakers said problems at Yosemite are exacerbated because Neubacher’s wife, Patricia Neubacher, is deputy director for the Pacific region, which includes Yosemite.
Scott Gediman, a spokesman for Yosemite, declined to comment, referring questions to the agency’s Washington headquarters
Spokesman Jeremy Barnum said the park service is implementing “a comprehensive plan to identify and stop harassment, educate our staff at all levels about their rights and responsibilities, and create a safe and respectful work environment for every employee.”
New black museum prepared to deal with visitors’ emotions
WASHINGTON — America’s newest museum brings to life all the pain and tribulations of the black experience and its creators expect many visitors will be shaken by what they see and hear.
Slave shackles sit ominously in a glass case, surrounded by whispering hymns of past pains. Nearby are artifacts from a slave ship which carried black men, women and children to lifetimes of servitude in a land not their own and a whip used to punish the backs of those whom survived the ocean voyage by cruel white masters.
In preparation, the new Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture has been training more than 250 docents to help visitors process their emotions. They’re being taught what to do if someone gets angry, distraught or depressed by the exhibits — to offer tissues to help dry tears, or to direct those who need to collect themselves to the museum’s Contemplative Court.
There, a circular waterfall — symbolizing the water path that many enslaved African-Americans took to freedom — cascades down the center of the room from an oculus, or circular window, which will allow sunlight to diffuse underground onto benches strategically located around the calming waters. Spread throughout the museum also are “recording booths” where visitors inspired by what they’ve seen unburden themselves and share their own stories with the Smithsonian to collect and store for future generations. In addition, it will serve as a catharsis for some.
“People get to leave behind their thoughts,” said Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director.
When the museum opens on Saturday, thousands will be transported back to the time of slavery, a time of horrors few know outside of history books and sanitized images from television and movies. But technology and the museum’s environment combine to provide a more “intimate” experience, officials said, and hopefully greater understanding and reconciliation with the past.
Everything in the “Slavery and Freedom” gallery, the first place visitors are directed in the museum, is designed to attack the senses and draw out emotion: The ceilings are low, the rooms are dark and oppressive, and the walls are covered with quotes from the slavers and the enslaved, whose voices have been reproduced and are broadcast through the exhibits.
Scattered throughout the exhibit space are heart-rending exhibits like the slave manacles used on a child, the auction block from a slave auction site, and ballast blocks from a Portuguese slave ship that sank in 1794 carrying hundreds of African slaves.
“You’ll really be thinking of the people who experienced this and hear it through their own voices,” said Nancy Bercaw, curator of that gallery. Added Bunch: “This is really almost like a kind of commemorative memorial space that you can go in and pay homage to those who were lost and those who survive.”
Museums have to be prepared to deal with a variety of emotions when dealing with charged subjects like slavery and civil rights, said Priscilla Hancock Cooper, vice president of institutional programs at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama.
After going through the Birmingham museum, visitors are offered a chance to talk with volunteers — many of whom lived through the turbulent civil rights era in Birmingham — to help process their thoughts and feelings, Cooper said.
“There’s an opportunity for that person-to-person contact, which may be needed,” she said.
UN calls for stepped up security for planes and airports
UNITED NATIONS — Responding to increasing attacks on airports and aircraft, the U.N. Security Council on Thursday unanimously approved its first-ever resolution to address extremist threats to civil aviation and urge beefed-up security.
The U.N.’s most powerful body called for stepped up screening and security checks at airports worldwide to “detect and deter terrorist attacks.” And it called on all countries to tighten security at airport buildings, share information about possible threats, and provide advance passenger lists so governments are aware of their transit or attempted entry.
“The Security Council has delivered a resounding call to action for the international community,” said Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. “This is the first U.N. Security Council resolution ever to focus on the threats by terrorists to civil aviation and it demonstrates our joint resolve to protect our citizens from an escalating danger.”
The resolution reflected growing global anxiety following attacks on airplanes and airports from Ukraine, Egypt and Somalia to Brussels and Istanbul.
While aviation security has improved, Johnson said the recent tragedies demonstrate “the urgency of our task” and the dangers posed by “terrorists who probe relentlessly the chinks in our collective armor.”
The British-drafted resolution expresses the council’s concern “that terrorist groups continue to view civil aviation as an attractive target, with the aim of causing substantial loss of life, economic damage” and air links between countries.
Fang Liu, Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization, told the council before the vote that there are currently over 100,000 daily flights carrying 10 million travelers, which adds up to 3.5 billion passengers per year plus “one-third of the world’s trade by value” carried by planes.
She stressed that “the worldwide air transport network will double its volume of flights and passengers by 2030” which makes the protection of civil aviation from “acts of unlawful interference” one of ICAO’s highest priorities.
Deadly suicide bombings this year at airports in Brussels and Istanbul are “a tragic reminder of the enormous challenges faces in security public areas, the inseparability of aviation security and national security, and of the significant socio-economic consequences of terrorism,” Liu said.
Kerry admits Syrian diplomacy at impasse after truce’s end
NEW YORK — Secretary of State John Kerry says the current trajectory of efforts to work out a diplomatic solution for Syria can’t continue after the collapse of the cease-fire and the Syrian government’s announcement of a new offensive on Aleppo.
Kerry says the U.S. will continue pushing for a negotiated truce and political transition that can end five years of war.
But he says Washington cannot be successful alone, and needs Syria’s government and its chief backer, Russia, to do their part.
Kerry says, “We can’t go out to the world and say we have an agreement when we don’t.”
He spoke Thursday after meeting with the top diplomats of Russia and more than a dozen European and Arab countries.
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