News from
Monday, February 18, 2019

Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A threat reporting system now required for all Pennsylvania schools fielded more than 4,900 tips in its first month, about a third of them considered serious enough to pass along to local police and school officials.

The goal of the Safe 2 Say Something program, which funnels tips to an around-the-clock call center at the attorney general's headquarters in Harrisburg, is to respond to troubling behavior, unsafe school situations and anything else tipsters deems appropriate to report.

The program passed the Legislature with near unanimity last year, mandating it encompass all K-12 students in Pennsylvania, including charter, private and vocational-technical schools.

Sen. Scott Martin, a prime backer of the new law, has been encouraged by the volume of tips so far.

"I think, in itself, that justifies why we need to do this and why it's important," said Martin, R-Lancaster.

The reports come in through phone calls, by email and via an app. Callers are assured of anonymity.

In the first month, nearly 1,400 contacts were deemed "life safety" tips, considered important enough to notify schools and the local 911 center.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro told lawmakers at a hearing last week those tips have included suicide threats and situations where students may have hurt others without intervention. Other common subjects of calls include harassment, bullying and mental health issues, Shapiro's office said.

There have been more than 415 incidents of gunfire on U.S. school grounds since 2013, according to Every Town for Gun Safety, a nonprofit aimed at reducing domestic gun violence. Last year's carnage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead surpassed the 1999 Columbine High School massacre as the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history.

The program, which is in part a response to the frequency of mass shootings in America, is mandated in four other states and about a dozen others are at least considering starting their own version, according to Tim Makris, managing director of Sandy Hook Promise. The nonprofit has provided technical help, support for training and equipment to help get Pennsylvania's program up and running.

Pennsylvania is the first state to do a comprehensive launch of the program, training schools, students, 911 operators and the team that fields calls at the attorney general's office, Makris said.

The attorney general's office says 3,800 schools are already involved. About 85 percent of all K-12 schools are currently participating, including nearly all of the state's 500 public school districts.

Each district is supposed to set up a group of three to five people who can respond to the tips, the majority coming in through the app and online, Makris said.

The goal is "to teach kids and the adults around them how to identify and intervene around individuals who may be at risk of hurting themselves or others through words, through actions, through weapons," Makris said.

In Philadelphia, the state's largest public school district, the roll-out is just getting underway and training is expected to be complete by mid-March, spokeswoman Megan Lello said.

Lawmakers appropriated about $600,000 to operate the program through June, when the fiscal year ends, and Shapiro wants to double that figure for the full 2019-20 budget year. So far, the call center has hired eight analysts and two supervisors.

The program is exempt from the state's open records laws and guarantees confidentiality. But prosecutors and criminal defendants can request records of tips — with the tipster's name redacted — leaving the decision about providing those records to a judge who first must review the record in private.

Making a false report under the Safe 2 Say Something program is a misdemeanor criminal offense. The false report rate is currently less than 1 percent, roughly the same frequency as the national average for such school threat reporting systems, the attorney general's office said.

Shapiro's office must produce a report every year, by Aug. 1, that includes the total calls for the year and for the lifetime of the program, how the calls were received, calls broken down by school entity and the cost. The attorney general's office also must disclose the number of false reports.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Associated Press

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Authorities say a Virginia police officer has been shot and seriously wounded after making a traffic stop.

State police say a Bluefield officer was shot after stopping a 2008 Toyota Yaris for an equipment violation on Route 460 shortly before midnight Saturday.

Authorities say a passenger in the vehicle began shooting at the officer.

The officer and another Bluefield officer, who had responded to assist with the traffic stop, returned fire. The Toyota's driver surrendered but the passenger got into the driver's seat and drove off.

The Toyota was found abandoned a few hours later in Bluefield, West Virginia. The search for the passenger continued Sunday.

The wounded officer was being treated for serious injuries that were not considered life threatening at Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Associated Press

AURORA, Ill. — More than 1,500 people braved snow and freezing drizzle to attend a prayer vigil for five slain co-workers Sunday, two days after they were fatally shot at a suburban Chicago manufacturing plant by a longtime employee who was fired moments earlier.

The Rev. Dan Haas told those who gathered near five white crosses erected for the shooting victims outside Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora that Friday's "senseless killings" left their families brokenhearted in the city about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Chicago.

"All of these were relatively young people — many of them were very young people. We will never know their gifts and talents. Their lives were snuffed out way too short," he said of the victims, who included a 21-year-old university student on his first day as an intern.

Haas called on God to bring comfort to the families and Aurora. He then read the names and ages of the five shooting victims, prompting waves of sobs and cries from relatives attending the vigil.

The city of Aurora tweeted that about 1,700 people attended the vigil in a snowy lot outside the industrial valve manufacturer where several ministers and a rabbi called for healing.

Authorities said Gary Martin pulled out a gun and began shooting right after hearing that he was being fired from his job of 15 years at the plant for various workplace violations. Martin, 45, was killed in a shootout with officers, ending his deadly rampage. Five police officers and a sixth plant worker were injured in the shooting and are expected to survive.

Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin told the vigil crowd that the city's residents feel for the victims' families "with all our hearts."

"When I thought about the words that I might share with our community and the families of the victims today, I thought to myself that just to simply offer condolences is not enough," he said. "It doesn't measure the amount of pain that we feel, for the loss that we've experienced in this community."

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Associated Press

HOUSTON — A woman who called Houston's non-emergency dispatch line after discovering a tiger inside a cage at an abandoned home told the shocked dispatcher: "I'm not lying."

The Houston Chronicle obtained a recording of the call after animal rescue workers found the well-fed animal resting on a bed of hay Monday inside a cage they said could be easily opened.

Police say a group of people looking for a place to smoke marijuana happened across the tiger on Monday. The woman told the dispatcher: "It's pretty big." Authorities say the animal weighed 350 pounds (159 kilograms).

Investigators have leads into who owned the tiger but say it may not be the person who owns the property.

The tiger has been moved to an animal sanctuary in Texas. The tiger was nicknamed "Tyson" after the movie "The Hangover."

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Associated Press

AURORA, Ill. — An initial background check five years ago failed to flag an out-of-state felony conviction that would have prevented a man from buying the gun he used to kill five co-workers and wound six other people, including five responding police officers, at a suburban Chicago manufacturing plant, authorities say.

Gary Martin, who was killed in a shootout with officers Friday, ending his deadly rampage at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, was issued a firearm owner's identification card in January 2014 after a background check failed to show a 1995 aggravated assault conviction in Mississippi, Aurora police Chief Kristen Ziman said Saturday.

He bought the Smith and Wesson handgun he used in Friday's attack two months later, on March 11, 2014, she said. Five days after that, he applied for a concealed carry permit, which included a more rigorous background check that used digital fingerprinting and that did flag his Mississippi felony conviction, which led the Illinois State Police to revoke his permit.

"Absolutely, he was not supposed to be in possession of a firearm," Ziman said.

Martin was able to keep his gun despite losing his permit, raising questions about what, if anything, the state did to get him to relinquish it.

Authorities said Saturday that Martin pulled out the gun and began shooting right after hearing he was being fired from his job of 15 years at the industrial valve manufacturer.

Martin killed the other three people in the room with him and two others just outside, Ziman said. Among those killed was a college student starting a human resources internship at the plant that day. Martin also wounded a sixth worker — who is expected to survive — before police began arriving, drawing his attention toward them.

After wounding five officers and with law enforcement from throughout the region pouring in to help, Martin ran off and hid in the back of the building, where officers found him about an hour later and killed him during an exchange of gunfire, police said. All of the wounded officers are expected to live.

"He was probably waiting for us to get to him there," police Lt. Rick Robertson said. "It was just a very short gunfight and it was over, so he was basically in the back waiting for us and fired upon us and our officers fired."

Martin, 45, was no stranger to police in Aurora, where he had been arrested six timesover the years for what Ziman described as "traffic and domestic battery-related issues" and for violating an order of protection.

Scott Hall, president and CEO of Mueller Water Products Inc., which owns Henry Pratt, said at a news conference Saturday that Martin was being fired "for a culmination of various workplace rules violations," though he didn't elaborate.

He said a company background check of Martin when he joined Henry Pratt 15 years ago did not turn up the 1995 felony conviction in Mississippi.

A vigil was planned for Sunday in Aurora, which is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Chicago and is Illinois' second-largest city, with about 200,000 people.

Police identified the slain workers as human resources manager Clayton Parks of Elgin; plant manager Josh Pinkard of Oswego; mold operator Russell Beyer of Yorkville; stock room attendant and fork lift operator Vicente Juarez of Oswego; and Trevor Wehner, the new intern and a Northern Illinois University student who lived in DeKalb and grew up in Sheridan.

It was Wehner's first day on the job, his uncle Jay Wehner told The Associated Press. Trevor Wehner, 21, was on the dean's list at NIU's business college and was on track to graduate in May with a degree in human resource management.

"He always, always was happy. I have no bad words for him. He was a wonderful person. You can't say anything but nice things about him," Jay Wehner said of his nephew.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The new leader of the nation's largest sheriff's department on Friday further limited when inmates in Los Angeles County jails can be transferred to U.S. authorities for deportation.

The department has reduced the number of misdemeanor charges that can trigger an inmate's transfer to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation from 151 to 101, spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.

One example of a charge removed from the list is vandalism with prior convictions, she said.

Under its so-called sanctuary law, California already limits which crimes can trigger the transfer of someone held in a county jail to federal deportation agents. The Los Angeles County sheriff's department further reduced the list of misdemeanors that qualify.

The department also limited the timeframe for these convictions to three years from five, she said.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who won an upset election victory last year, previously said he would bar ICE agents from entering department facilities to conduct civil immigration matters.

That directive took effect this month, Nishida said. Previously, federal immigration agents would interview inmates suspected of being in the country illegally while they were still in jail.

Thomas P. Giles, acting field office director for ICE's enforcement and removal operations in Los Angeles, said in a statement that the changes would encourage criminal activity by immigrants without legal status. He said agents would keep making arrests elsewhere in the community of those suspected of being in the country illegally.

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, said she welcomed a reduction in the number of misdemeanor charges that can lead to deportation.

She said immigrants convicted of crimes already serve their sentences and the question is whether deportation is an appropriate enhancement for the offenses committed.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Associated Press

AUBURN, Ala. — An Alabama police officer who was shot multiple times after responding to reports of an armed robbery was recovering Saturday, while two suspects are believed to have died in a fire following a shootout.

The incident began about 5:30 p.m. Friday, the Opelika-Auburn News reported.

Auburn Officer Justin Sanders stopped a vehicle that fit the description of one driven by the suspects. As Sanders approached, police said the man opened fire, striking the 30-year-old officer at least four times. Sanders, five-year veteran of the department, was hospitalized in stable condition, Police Capt. Lorenza Dorsey said.

The suspects fled and an ensuing manhunt tracked them to a nearby apartment complex.

Dorsey said heavily armed officers in tactical gear surrounded the building. Gunfire then erupted, filling the air with noise and smoke. Residents from several blocks away heard the commotion, while nearby Auburn University issued warnings and a lockdown for the veterinary school.

Residents fled the scene as the gunfire continued. "Get back! Bullets are flying everywhere!" one officer warned bystanders.

"It sounded like fireworks going off," one man told the Opelika-Auburn News.

A woman told the newspaper when she heard the gunfire she took cover in her bathtub.

Officers tossed canisters of tear gas into the apartment, which caught fire, Dorsey said. The two suspects refused to exit. Authorities said their bodies were later found in the rubble.

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris identified one of the suspects as Christopher James Wallace, 38. The identity of the other person, a woman, has not been released.

Two people believed to be relatives of Wallace exited the apartment and were taken into custody as officers were trying to get the suspects from the apartment. After the fire was extinguished, authorities found the suspects' bodies in a back room of the apartment.

Harris said the bodies will be taken to the medical examiner's office at the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Montgomery for an autopsy to determine the cause of death and positive identification.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Associated Press

CHICAGO — The wife of a Chicago police officer who was convicted of fatally shooting teenager Laquan McDonald demanded on Thursday to know why her husband was transferred from an Illinois state prison where he was kept from harm to a federal prison in Connecticut where he was assaulted and where she fears he is still in danger.

"I don't need people to go into his cell and attack him," said an emotional Tiffany Van Dyke at a news conference. "The next time this could happen, they could kill him. I cannot bury my husband."

The Illinois Department of Corrections confirmed Thursday that Jason Van Dyke was moved to federal custody but would not say why. Asked about the attack on Van Dyke, the federal Bureau of Prisons said in an email that it could confirm "an assault resulting in minor injuries" occurred on Feb. 7. The bureau declined to provide additional information, citing privacy concerns.

Van Dyke, who is white, was convicted in October of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery for shooting McDonald 16 times in 2014. He was sentenced last month to six years and nine months in prison.

Van Dyke was attacked by another inmate after his transfer to the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, appellate attorney Jennifer Blagg said in an interview Thursday. Blagg said Van Dyke was not severely injured and has since been placed in a segregated unit away from most inmates as a precaution.

Blagg said she learned of the attack when she and another attorney were on the phone with Van Dyke talking a request the state's attorney general filed asking the Illinois Supreme Court to review Van Dyke's sentence.

"We were explaining to him what it meant ... when he said another inmate had jumped him and landed a few punches," Blagg said.

Blagg didn't appear at a news conference Thursday with Tiffany Van Dyke and trial attorneys Dan Herbert and Tammy Wendt, who expressed concern that Jason Van Dyke had been placed in the prison's general population with other inmates. They said former police officers would be particularly vulnerable to attack from other inmates — something Tiffany Van Dyke and others told a judge about during her husband's sentencing hearing. While imprisoned in Illinois, Van Dyke had been kept in a segregated unit.

"It was as if he was led like a lamb to slaughter," said Wendt of the attack that she said occurred within four hours of Van Dyke's arrival to the general population unit.

Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer in a half-century convicted of murder in an on-duty shooting. He was sentenced in January to six years and nine months in prison — a sentence that angered activists. This week, the state's attorney general and the special prosecutor who handled the case and asked the judge to impose a sentence of 18 to 20 years asked the Illinois Supreme Court to review the sentence.

Absent a new sentence, Van Dyke will likely serve only about three years, with credit for good behavior.

Tiffany Van Dyke said the assault was a realization of her worst fears and noted the widespread media attention his case has received in explaining why her husband might still be in danger even though he's imprisoned several states away.

"My husband's life, my family's life is national news," she said. "At the basic minimum, they were supposed to keep him safe."

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Associated Press

NEW YORK — Police arrested a man Friday suspected of being the lookout during a robbery that led to the blue-on-blue death of a New York City police detective, an official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press.

The man was taken into custody in Queens hours after NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill revealed on a radio show that police were looking for a second suspect in Tuesday night's stick-up, the official said.

The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity. The suspect's name wasn't immediately available Friday night.

Detective Brian Simonsen was hit once in the chest by crossfire as he and six other officers fired 42 shots at robbery suspect Christopher Ransom, who police say charged at them from inside a T-Mobile store pointing a fake handgun.

Simonsen, 42, will be laid to rest next week.

Ransom, who was wounded eight times, was arraigned Friday by video from his hospital bed on murder, manslaughter and other charges.

A judge ordered him held without bail. His next court date is scheduled for Tuesday. Ransom faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

The Legal Aid Society, which represents Ransom, cautioned people not to "demonize" him.

"The loss of life and the serious injuries suffered by all are tragic," the an indigent defense organization said in a statement. "But we ask the public to respect Mr. Ransom's right to due process and a presumption of innocence."

Ransom, 27, has a long rap sheet and a habit of bizarre stunts, styling himself on social media as a comedian and prankster in the vein of Sasha Baron Cohen of "Borat" fame.

Ransom has been arrested at least 11 times since 2012, records show, and he was wanted by police in connection with a Jan. 19 robbery at another cellphone store. After one arrest, court papers show, Ransom was taken to a psychiatric ward.

Ransom pleaded guilty to criminal trespass and was sentenced to 20 days in jail in 2016 after allegedly climbing over a gate and walking up to a desk at a Brooklyn police station while wearing a fake SWAT vest and police badge. Police records listed his alias as "Detective."

Four years earlier, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to jail time for pretending to be an intern to gain access to a judge's chambers.

A funeral for Simonsen, a 19-year veteran of the NYPD, is scheduled for Wednesday in Hampton Bays on Long Island, with viewings on Monday and Tuesday.

Simonsen's supervisor and partner, Sgt. Matthew Gorman, was wounded in the leg . He was discharged from the hospital on Thursday.

Simonsen, Gorman and six uniformed officers swarmed to the T-Mobile store at around 6:10 p.m. Tuesday after a 911 caller standing outside reported seeing a man take two employees to a back room at gunpoint, police said.

According to a criminal complaint, Ransom ordered the employees to remove iPhones and money from the cash registers and back room safes.

Simonsen and Gorman, who were both in plainclothes and not wearing bulletproof vests, were working on another case nearby when the call came and arrived around the same time as patrol officers, police said.

Gorman and two of the uniformed officers went into the store, but retreated when Ransom emerged from a back room and came at them, police said. The gunshots blew out the store's doors, showering the sidewalk with glass.

Simonsen stayed outside as Gorman and the uniformed officers went in, police said. Simonsen fired two shots. Gorman fired 11 times. It's not clear who fired the shots that struck them, police said.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Associated Press

AURORA, Ill. — The frantic calls started pouring in at 1:24 p.m. A gunman was shooting people inside a sprawling manufacturing warehouse in Aurora, Illinois.

Within four minutes, the first police officers rushed to the 29,000-square-foot building in the suburban Chicago city and were fired on immediately; one was struck outside and four others shot inside.

By the time the chaos ended Friday afternoon, five male employees of Henry Pratt Co. were found dead and the gunman was killed in a shootout with police after a 90-minute search of the sprawling warehouse. Five male police officers were hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening.

"For so many years, we have seen similar situations throughout our nation and the horrible feeling that we get when we see it on the news. To experience it first-hand, is even more painful," said Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin.

Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman said the gunman, 45-year-old Gary Martin, was being fired from his job Friday after 15 years with the company. It was not immediately known why Martin was being fired.

"We don't know whether he had the gun on him at the time or if he went to retrieve it," Ziman said.

She also said that authorities don't yet know if the employees firing him were among the victims. The names of those killed were not immediately released.

In addition to the five employees killed, a sixth worker was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening. A sixth police officer suffered a knee injury while officers were searching the building.

The shooting shocked the city of 200,000 that is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Chicago.

Christy Fonseca often worries about some of the gang-related crimes and shootings around her mother's Aurora neighborhood. But she never expected the type of phone call she got from her mom on Friday, warning her to be careful with an active shooter loose in the town.

Police cars with screaming sirens revved past her as she drove to her mother's house, where the Henry Pratt building is visible from the porch stoop. It was only when they flipped on the television news that they realized Martin had killed people just a few hundred feet away.

"In Aurora, period, we'd never thought anything like this would happen," Fonseca, a lifelong resident, said as she looked out at the warehouse where Henry Pratt makes valves for industrial purposes.

At Acorn Woods Condominiums where Martin lived, a mix of brick apartments and condos nestled on a quiet street just a mile and a half from the shooting, neighbors gathered on sidewalks near Martin's unit talking and wondering among themselves if they knew or had come in contact with him.

Mary McKnight stepped out of her car with a cherry cheesecake purchased for her son's birthday, to find a flurry of police cars, officers and media trucks.

"This is a strange thing to come home to, right," she said. She had just learned that the shooter lived close by and his unit in the complex had been taped off by police.

Asked if Martin's rampage had been a "classic" workplace shooting, police chief Ziman said:

"I don't know. We can only surmise with a gentleman that's being terminated that this was something he intended to do."