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News in Brief

California: Former San Diego sheriff’s deputy Richard Fischer, accused of sexual misconduct with at least 16 women between 2015 and 2017, will be eligible for jail release in under two years based on a plea deal, thefreethoughtproject.com reports. Fischer, who pleaded guilty to four felonies and three misdemeanors, allegedly assaulted, groped, hugged or tried to kiss women after he encountered them on duty or was dispatched to help them. “Thirteen of the victims were at the courthouse when Fischer pleaded guilty,” sandiegouniontribune.com reports. Fischer “won’t even have to register as a sex offender,” according to thefreethoughtproject.com. And, “instead of the 25 years he was originally facing, the now former officer was sentenced to 44 months behind bars but will be eligible for release just after 22 months.” The former U.S. Marine could have faced up to five years in prison under his plea agreement, reports KPBS.org. “Following his release, he’ll be subject to GPS monitoring and will have to undergo psychological evaluations.” As of Dec. 27, 2019, sandiegouniontribune.com reports that another accuser had sued the county and Fischer, alleging he sexually assaulted her after she agreed to meet him in a “parking lot, a week after he pulled her over for a traffic stop.”

Georgia: Ex-judge and family law attorney George Randolph “Randy” Jeffery of Monroe was sentenced in December 2019 for “enticing a child online for sexual purposes,” WGXA.TV reports. He was given 15 years in prison and 10 years of supervised release, according to the news site, just three months after pleading guilty to “one count of attempted online enticement of a minor.” The FBI was alerted to the 59-year-old based on a cyber tip from the Louisiana FBI in 2018. “Investigators learned Jeffery talked with someone between February and August 2018 that he thought was a 14-year-old girl,” WGXA.TV reports. “The two talked about sex acts in detail, the girl’s molestation by her father, exchanged nude photographs of the child and nude photographs of others who appeared to be minors.” However, the former judge was actually communicating with the girl’s dad who was molesting his daughter but “also posing as her online.” A search warrant of Jeffery’s home turned up child-porn images and video. He will be required to register as a sex offender after completing his sentence, WGXA.TV reports.

Hawaii: Honolulu police officer John Rabago was on leave after persuading a homeless man to choose between licking a public urinal or going to jail, according to thehill.com. The cop was the first of five officers who responded to a complaint of someone being a nuisance in a public restroom when the incident occurred in January 2018. As the man awaited handcuffing, Rabago told him, “If you lick the urinal, you won’t get arrested.” Another officer, Reginald Ramones, who pleaded guilty in September, declared the threat was serious and not a joke like Rabago originally claimed. Rabago later “admitted that he violated the victim’s constitutional rights,” the officer’s attorney, Megan Kau, told the court, reports Hawaii News Now. “He’s very remorseful, which is why he took responsibility.” Rabago could get “about 30 months” in prison, Hawaii News Now wrote. “Court documents show Rabago had once threatened another man with arrest if he didn’t stick his head in a toilet,” huffpost.com reports. Relatives of the homeless man (identified in court documents as S.I.) said “he struggles with drug addiction and has been in and out of jail for most of his adult life,” washingtonpost.com reports.

Florida: Now-fired cop Michael Martinez of Hialeah, who threatened two 18-year-olds with jail time unless they stripped naked and ran down a backwater Everglades road, was sentenced in December 2019 to 10 years in prison, sun-sentinel.com reports. He was convicted by a jury of four felonies — two counts of extortion and two counts of unlawful compensation — stemming from the 2016 traffic stop on Alligator Alley in which the then-Miccosukee Police Department officer ordered the young man and young woman to run around naked or face jail after he says they ran a stop sign and had a small amount of alcohol and a pot brownie in the vehicle, WSVN.com reports. Hoping to avoid arrest, the two complied. “According to the court records, Martinez also asked one of the teenagers for a ‘hand job,”’ courthousenews.com reports. “I was given a choice of go to jail or run, so I took the choice to run naked,” testified Kyle Shoulta, who managed to video-record the officer’s SUV on his phone. “Martinez, 30, pleaded not guilty and took the case to trial in October,” the news site reports. Broward County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Coleman, who sentenced Martinez, said the former cop could be freed from custody on a $20,000 bond, pending appeal. Martinez’s wife called the actions “embarrassing and hurtful.”

Florida: Barbara Pinkney was tased three times in her Bradenton home by cops who mistakenly thought her grandson was there December 26, 2019, WFLA.com reports. The grandma, who has never been in trouble with the law, refused to let Manatee County Sheriff’s officers in as they pounded on her door the morning after Christmas, also her 70th birthday. She demanded a search warrant, which they reportedly told her wasn’t necessary with an arrest warrant. One officer grabbed her wrist while trying to gain access and warned her she’d go to jail. They were looking for grandson Tevin Turner, who was wanted on a probation violation for a concealed weapon carry, NBC affiliate WFLA reports. There was video of the incident and “the affidavit says the officer fired [a Taser] after she pushed him in the chest. He struck her once with the stun gun in the left arm with no effect, then again in the back” before taking “her to the ground.” Pinkney was bruised and “charged ... with obstruction and battery on a law enforcement officer, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by NBC News,” the news station reports. “I was just hollering,” she said. “I didn’t know what else to do,” she said. The affidavit says the grandson was not at home but might have escaped during the “chaos.”

Kansas: A 23-year-old police officer was fired after restaurant video footage revealed he fabricated a story about McDonald’s staff writing an obscenity on his coffee cup in December 2019. “[T]he officer, who no longer works for the department, had originally claimed he had been given a coffee cup on Saturday that had “f***ing pig” written on it,” cbsnews.com reports. Said police Chief Brian Hornaday: “We found that McDonald’s and its employees did not have anything whatsoever to do with this incident. This was completely and solely fabricated by a Herington police officer who is no longer employed with our agency.” Hornaday, who originally received a picture of the cup from the officer via text message, said his department’s investigation determined the cop “meant [it] to be a joke,” CNN reports.

Kentucky: The FBI is looking into some of former Republican Governor Matt Bevin’s hundreds of pardons and commutations made between his Election Day loss to incoming Governor Andy Beshear and his final day in office, according to abcnews.go.com. Bevin had talked with aides and with Justice Secretary John Tilley, Public Advocate Damon Preston and Corrections Commissioner Kathleen Kenney. Under discussion was “commuting the sentences of fewer than 100 nonviolent offenders in Kentucky’s prison system who were nearing the end of their sentences,” courier-journal.com reported in December 2019. He then asked his Justice Cabinet to recommend early releases for felons convicted on drug possession charges. “His flurry of executive orders was applauded by some for showing compassion and righting injustices. But several pardons and commutations have ignited sharp criticism, as well as calls for a federal investigation and a proposed constitutional amendment to limit future governors’ ability to issue end-of-term pardons,” according to courier-journal.com.

Michigan: The family of Detroit teen Damon Grimes, who died in an ATV crash after being tasered by police, has been awarded a $12 million settlement, which includes about $4 million in attorney fees, the Detroit Free Press reports in December 2019. The 15-year-old “was driving his ATV in August 2017 on the city’s east side when a trooper, who said he thought the teen was driving recklessly, fired his Taser at him from the passenger seat of a moving patrol car,” the newspaper reports. The teen who was struck hit a parked car and later died. Meanwhile, the “now-former Michigan State Police trooper who used the Taser, Mark Bessner, was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.” The ex-cop has a “history of using excessive force” and using a Taser inappropriately, freep.com reports. As far as the settlement: “We hope this kind of money will act as a deterrent, but unfortunately it rarely does,” Geoffrey Fieger, an attorney for Damon’s family, told The New York Times. “Mr. Fieger added that the settlement is the largest ever paid by the Michigan State Police Department for a single incident.”

Mississippi: After wrongful convictions attributed to prosecutorial misconduct, 49-year-old Curtis Flowers was free for the holidays wearing an ankle monitor. The man who was “tried six times in the same killings” was out of custody “after more than two decades behind bars while he faces a possible seventh trial,” The Washington Post reports December 16, 2019. Flowers had been charged in the shooting deaths of four people in a Winona furniture store where he had worked in 1996, despite no “no gun, no fingerprints, no DNA,” nytimes.com reports. In June, the Supreme Court vacated his conviction but the indictments charging him with capital murder remain. “Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that the prosecutor, 5th Circuit District Attorney Doug Evans, had repeatedly struck black jurors from Flowers’ trials because of their race, a move that violated an earlier high court ruling,” NBC News reports. In December, an anonymous donor posted the 10 percent needed for Flowers to be freed after a judge set bail at $250,000, nytimes.com reports. Flowers’ case received national attention due to the American Public Media podcast investigation “In the Dark.”

Missouri: David Keith Hastings, a former sheriff’s lieutenant for the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, was sentenced to six consecutive life terms in December 2019 for sexually grooming and abusing an 8-year-old girl for more than a year. “Following a jury trial in October, Hastings was convicted of 11 felonies, including statutory rape, statutory sodomy and child molestation,” news-leader.com reports. “The victim said Hastings showed her pornography and then asked her to perform the same acts on him. … authorities say they also found several marijuana plants and a handgun at Hastings’ property.” Assistant Greene County prosecutor Stephanie Wan called the 68-year-old “a complete and utter danger to the community,” lawandcrime.com reports. Hastings plans to appeal, his lawyer said.

New York: GOP Assembly leader Brian Kolb, who tweeted December 26 that “There is no excuse for driving impaired this holiday season” and wrote a December 24 newspaper column about the perils of drunken driving, ended New Year’s Eve 2019 in a pickle. His state vehicle, a 2018 GMC Arcadia, landed in a ditch in front of his home in Victor, and Kolb was charged with DUI and an unsafe turn, usatoday.com reports. He failed field sobriety tests, nytimes.com reports, and a Breathalyzer test at the Ontario County Jail showed his blood-alcohol level at over 0.08%. There were no injuries nor other cars involved. While Kolb apologized in a statement, fellow Republican Kieran Michael Lalor tweeted that he “should step down as Assembly Minority Leader. That he hasn’t done so already is a disgrace.” A special prosecutor has been named in the case. The 20-year Assembly veteran has been re-elected nine times and “helped push for legislation to crack down on drinking while driving with children as passengers,” according to nytimes.com.

New York: NYPD cops who posted on social media with what they claimed was a record haul of pot was, in fact, legal hemp. All 106 pounds and nine boxes. In fact, according to myfox8.com, “NYPD praised the officers involved for their ‘precision policing and relentless follow-up.’ Police claimed it was marijuana ‘destined for our city streets.’” The owner, meanwhile, said he did “everything by the books.” Even the Williston Police Department in Vermont said it was legal hemp. FedEx Freight, however, took the haul to NYPD’s 7th Precinct. “The charges against [owner] Ronan Levy were officially dropped December 10, but the additional “work” in the D.A.’s statement proved to be another hurdle,” reason.com reports. “Though tests conducted by the city confirmed that the plants Levy ordered from Vermont were indeed hemp, the NYPD still had the shipment in its possession and the D.A. wasn’t sure how to interpret New York’s hemp laws.” While both hemp and marijuana contain the psychoactive ingredient THC, industrial hemp contains no more than .3 percent THC per the farm bill—and Levy’s load contained only .06 percent. Still the city was not satisfied and it took until December 23 before the owner got the green light to receive his shipment.

North Carolina: Former cop Robert George’s assault on an innocent handcuffed woman led to a lawsuit and a $400,000 settlement between the victim and the city of Hickory, thefreethoughtproject.com reports in December 2019. “Chelsea Doolittle suffered a broken nose and multiple broken teeth as a result of the attack” in 2013 following a disorderly conduct arrest in a traffic ticket dispute, the news site reports. Jail surveillance video captured the incident. “As the video shows, George pulls up to the jail, gets out of the driver’s seat and violently drags Ms. Doolittle from the car,” according to freethoughtproject.com. “He then smashes the handcuffed woman face first into the concrete, severely injuring her nose and breaking her teeth.” In October 2019, George “was sentenced to four years of probation and ordered to pay $23,000 in restitution” after he was found guilty of “using unreasonable force against the then-24-year-old” in January 2019. The victim “suffers from memory loss, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder,” hickoryrecord.com reports.

Texas: Liberty County District Attorney Logan Pickett was charged with assault against a family member in November 2019 in Houston and booked into the Harris County Jail, houstonchronicle.com reports. His concealed handgun license was suspended. Pickett, 38, allegedly pushed his wife during an argument, causing her to injure her head, a wound that required three stitches, after she learned he was having an affair, ABC 13 reports. Pickett denied the allegations. Police arrived after a Westin Houston Downtown clerk reported the incident. “He faces one charge of assault against a family member, a class A misdemeanor. If convicted, he could face up to one year in jail and/or a fine up to $4,000,” houstonchronicle.com reports.

Vermont: Burlington recently made headlines when both its police chief and that chief’s replacement lost their jobs — and social media accounts proved to be their undoing, according to nypost.com. Chief Brandon del Pozo heeded calls for his resignation in December 2019. “[H]e confessed to using a fake Twitter account to troll a resident who had been critical of the department,” the Burlington Free Press reports. Del Pozo, the city’s “chief since 2015, had created a Twitter account called @WinkleWatchers in July to poke fun at Charles Winkleman, a political activist.” However, when Deputy Chief Jan Wright became acting police chief, she “was abruptly relieved hours later after admitting to running a bogus Facebook account under the name ‘Lori Spicer,’ where she engaged in discussions of department policies and practices.” Her failure to tell Mayor Miro Weinberger drew criticism. Residents were relieved to learn that Deputy Chief Jon Murad was then named acting chief after he confirmed “explicitly” that he’s “never engaged in anonymous social media posting,” the city said.

Wisconsin: A now-fired Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy is accused of burglarizing the homes of people while they attended funerals, at times under the guise of buying items or doing house cleaning, lawandcrime.com reports. Janelle Gericke is charged with felony burglary for a February 2019 incident in which a family found her in their kitchen upon returning from a funeral, although investigators said they can link her to at least six other burglaries or attempted burglaries. “In February 2018, one victim’s doorbell camera caught Gericke approaching, entering and leaving a home in Watertown while the owner had been at a funeral,” jsonline.com reports. “She left behind a note that read, ‘I was here to pick up the stuff through Facebook. I came in to the house and the items weren’t by the door. So I didn’t leave my money. I tried Facebook messaging you but you haven’t responded.”’ But the 82-year-old resident reported a cabinet open and checkbook missing. In 2019, a fingerprint was uncovered from the note that matched Gericke’s. In June 2019, “investigators set up surveillance at homes of relatives who would be attending a funeral that had been in a published obituary, and of Gericke. They watched her go to one of the homes, in Fort Atkinson, and try to enter, then leave, go to another home and try to enter,” jsonline.com reports. The state’s Division of Criminal Investigations is handling the case. 

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