National Roundup

Florida
Old court ­practices revived due to ­hurricane

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) - Hurricane Michael has forced a Florida Panhandle county to revive old court practices, as inmates are making initial court appearances in person for the first time in years.

The Panama City News Herald reports that damage following the catastrophic hurricane that hit Oct. 10 left Bay County's jail and courthouses unable to hold first appearances and bond hearings by video, which has become standard practice.

Judge Thomas Welch held some hearings in flip-flops and casual clothes instead of his usual black robes. Welch said he was taking into consideration that some inmates "could be at a disadvantage" because the hurricane prevented their families from attending the hearings.

Sheriff's Office Maj. Rick Anglin said the jail has restored power and running water but its inmate phone system was still down.

North Carolina
White woman fired over filmed racist rant at black neighbor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - A white North Carolina woman filmed going on a racist rant at her black neighbor has been fired from her job.

News outlets report the video shows Susan Westwood approaching sisters Leisa and Mary Garris this month and saying "I am white and hot. So what are you doing here?"

Charter Communications spokesman Patrick Paterno said Sunday that Westwood has been fired from her $125,000-per-year job referenced in the video.

An apparently drunk Westwood is heard asking where the sisters live, if they're visiting their "baby daddy" and if she needs to reveal her concealed weapon. The sisters ask Westwood to leave them alone as they're waiting for AAA. They eventually call 911.

Westwood has been issued criminal summons of communicating threats and simple assault.

New York
Commissioner apologizes over mishandled 994 rape case

NEW YORK (AP) - New York Police Department Commissioner James O'Neill on Sunday apologized to a woman who came forward with a rape allegation in 1994 but was discredited by police, saying the department let her down "in almost every possible way."

In a letter, O'Neill offered the woman his "heartfelt apology for all aspersions cast upon your credibility by NYPD personnel those many years ago."

The woman, who is African-American, had told police in April 1994 that she had been in Prospect Park in Brooklyn when she was dragged into the bushes and raped.

She gave authorities a detailed description which was the basis of a police sketch, and DNA evidence was recovered, but no arrests were made.

A newspaper columnist, Mike McAlary of the Daily News, wrote at the time that police sources cast doubt on the woman, saying she had invented her story in an effort to gain attention around a speech she was going to give at a rally demonstrating against anti-lesbian violence.

The woman sued McAlary for libel, but a judge dismissed the case in part because McAlary had been relying on information from police. McAlary died in 1998.

In January, police announced that the case had been cracked, that modern DNA analysis methods found a match to a man serving prison time for rape. He told police he wasn't involved in the 1994 attack.

A few days after that announcement, another NYPD official made an apology.

Deputy Commissioner John Miller sent a statement to the woman's lawyer that he was wrong to tell reporters that police doubted the woman's account. He was the chief police spokesman at the time.

The woman, now 52, said in an interview with the New York Times on Sunday that the apology left her feeling grateful and unexpectedly emotional.

The Associated Press doesn't normally identify victims of sexual assault.

Vermont
State Supreme Court nixes school mascot name ­lawsuit

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) - The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled against South Burlington residents seeking to keep the local high school mascot name in place.

The Burlington Free Press reports the court ruled Friday, saying the South Burlington School Board was not legally required to consider a petition that would have taken the name change to a citywide vote.

On Feb. 1 2017, the school board voted unanimously to drop the "Rebel" school nickname because of connections to the Confederacy. Students later chose to adopt "Wolves" as the new mascot name.

Alaska
'Fairbanks Four' to appeal ­rejected lawsuit vs. city, police

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Four Fairbanks men will appeal the rejection of their civil court case accusing the city of Fairbanks and city police officers of malicious prosecution.

A federal judge last week tossed out the case filed by the men known as the "Fairbanks Four," the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland said the men needed to have their criminal convictions invalidated, not simply vacated, before they could sue the city and the police officers who investigated them.

George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent were convicted of murder in the 1997 death of Fairbanks teenager John Hartman. The four men spent 18 years in prison while they asserted their innocence and appealed their convictions.

After a five-week hearing that re-examined the cases in detail, and presented the case that others killed Hartman, the convictions were vacated in December 2015.

Judge Holland in his ruling referred to a 1994 U.S. Supreme Court case that outlines how a defendant in a criminal case must be cleared before seeking monetary damages from prosecutors and police.

"Plaintiffs have not shown that their convictions or sentences have been invalidated," Holland said.

Attorney Mike Kramer, who represents two of the men, said the group will take the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, a process that will take about two years.

The four men were released from prison after signing what they call a "devil's bargain" in their lawsuit.

Facing additional years in prison while state prosecutors challenged their case, the men agreed to a settlement to be free under the condition they not sue the city or state for their treatment by the Fairbanks Police Department and the district attorney's office.

The latest lawsuit, filed in December, contends the agreement not to sue is not legally binding because the men were coerced because of their imprisonment.

Published: Tue, Oct 30, 2018

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