Court Digest

Police shooting of high school psychologist ruled justified

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Two Connecticut police officers who shot a high school psychologist to death during a domestic violence call last year were justified in using deadly force and no charges will be filed, according to a state prosecutor’s report released Wednesday.

Windham State’s Attorney Anne Mahoney investigated the East Hartford officers’ shooting of 43-year-old John Carras during a violent struggle with him outside his home on Sept. 5, 2019. She concluded the officers reasonably believed using deadly force was necessary to defend themselves against Carras.

Officer Andre Lyew fired five shots and officer Daniel Zaleski fired once as Carras charged at Lyew with his fists clenched while screaming, Mahoney said.

The shooting came after Carras had choked his wife to unconsciousness, police said. His wife, identified only as Victim One in the report because she is a domestic violence victim, was seriously injured but survived.

Before the shooting, Carras punched Zaleski in his face several times, put the officer in a chokehold, rendered him nearly unconscious and tried to take his gun, Mahoney said. He then rushed at Lyew, who fired a stun gun. The probes struck Carras, but they didn’t stop him. Carras then punched Lyew in the head and tried to throw Zaleski over the deck railing, Mahoney said.

Carras, a psychologist at Berlin High School, was later pronounced dead at Hartford Hospital. An autopsy showed he was shot six times and had fentanyl and other drugs in his system.

“John Carras became the aggressor with the police officers. He violently resisted arrest,” Mahoney wrote in her report. “At first glance it seems unusual that two armed police officers could not subdue an unarmed man without the use of deadly force.”

The report continued, “Decisions made by these officers under duress in the confined area of the deck within seconds are easy to second guess. The officers here responded to what appeared to be a homicide and used voice commands, warnings, physical force, and a Taser to try and contain the enraged suspect who although unarmed, fought as though he had nothing left to lose.”

Mahoney said Carras was known as “a well-respected professional and loving family man,” and her report said there had been no previous history of police involvement at his home. But the report also said Carras “suffered from intense jealousy” in his relationship with Victim One, whom police previously identified as his wife.

Carras began assaulting his wife that day after discovering a text on her phone sent by her work colleague “after school hours,” the report said.

Mahoney said neither officer had any substantiated citizens’ complaints against them.

But Mahoney noted that East Hartford police had neither body cameras nor dashboard cameras, which would have “substantially” helped her review of the shooting.

LA County agrees to settle immigration suit for $14 million

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles County agreed Tuesday to pay $14 million to settle a lawsuit that said the Sheriff’s Department improperly held thousands of people in jail beyond their release dates at the request of immigration officials.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to settle the class-action suit that was filed in 2012, although the agreement still needs a judge’s approval.

The lawsuit alleged that between 2010 and 2014, the Sheriff’s Department routinely held people in jail for days, weeks or even months beyond the dates of their release and refused to allow them to post bail solely because of immigration detention requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In 2018, a federal judge ruled that the practice violated the inmates’ rights.

More than 18,500 people could qualify for a share of the settlement, attorneys for the plaintiffs told the Los Angeles Times.

“It should send a very strong message to law enforcement agencies around the country who continue to blindly comply with ICE’s requests that are patently unlawful,” said Jennie Pasquarella, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Sheriff’s Department agreed to stop honoring ICE detainer requests in 2014.

“I kicked ICE out of the jails and I banned all transfers of inmates to custody of ICE,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Tuesday.

In August, Villanueva permanently banned inmate transfers from county jails to ICE unless the agency obtained a judicial warrant.

Black man serving life sentence for stealing hedge clippers paroled

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Black man whose life sentence for stealing a set of hedge clippers in a 1997 burglary drew scathing criticism from the chief justice of Louisiana’s Supreme Court was granted parole Thursday.

The 3-0 vote during an online meeting of the Committee on Parole means freedom, with conditions, for Fair Wayne Bryant.

Louisiana’s Supreme Court had denied release for Bryant, 63, earlier this year for the burglary from a carport storage room.

The case drew national attention for a dissent by Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, the high court’s only Black justice. She said the habitual offender law under which Bryant was sentenced was a “modern manifestation” of Jim Crow era laws aimed at jailing Black people for simple crime.

Conditions of Bryant’s parole include mandatory attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, a 9 p.m. curfew and community service. He is to first enter a program in Baton Rouge with the Louisiana Parole Project, a nonprofit that helps released prisoners adjust to freedom. He will eventually live with his brother in Shreveport.

Peterson murder convictions ordered re-examined

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The California Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered a second look at Scott Peterson’s conviction for killing his pregnant wife and unborn son, less than two months after it overturned his death penalty.

The court sent the case back to San Mateo County Superior Court to determine whether Peterson should receive a new trial, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The court said a juror committed “prejudicial misconduct” by failing to dislose that she had been involved with other legal proceedings. The juror had filed a lawsuit in 2000 to obtain a restraining order after her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend harassed her while she was pregnant, the Times said.

The juror said she feared for her unborn child.

Yet when asked as a potential juror whether she had ever been a crime victim or involved in a lawsuit, she answered no, Peterson’s attorneys told the Times.

In a case that garnered worldwide attention, Peterson was convicted in 2004 of first-degree murder of Laci Peterson, 27, who was eight months pregnant. He also was convicted of second-degree murder of his unborn son, Connor.

He has maintained his innocence.

 Laci Peterson disappeared on Christmas Eve 2002. Her husband, who was living in Modesto, told police that he had left that morning to go fishing in Berkeley.

Prosecutors contended that Peterson dumped their bodies from his fishing boat into San Francisco Bay, where their bodies washed ashore nearly four months later. They were found a few miles from where Peterson had said he was fishing.

Investigators chased nearly 10,000 tips and considered parolees and convicted sex offenders as possible suspects. Peterson was eventually arrested after Amber Frey, a massage therapist living in Fresno, told police that they had begun dating a month before his wife’s death, but that he had told her his wife was dead.

In August, the state Supreme Court overturned Peterson’s death sentence. The justices cited “significant errors” in jury selection.

The court said potential jurors were improperly dismissed after saying they personally disagreed with the death penalty but would be willing to follow the law and impose it.

Baltimore prosecutor: Do not authorize “no knock” warrants

BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has directed prosecutors in her office to not authorize “no knock” arrest warrants that are approved by judges, citing the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.

Police are typically required to knock, but they can request permission to conduct a “no knock” warrant from a city judge, The Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday. It’s up to the judge to approve or deny the request.

Prosecutors do not have the authority to stop the execution of warrants that are already approved, but Wednesday’s directive shows Mosby’s office does not support the tactic, said Patricia DeMaio, Baltimore’s deputy state’s attorney of major crimes.

“The ends do not justify the means,” Mosby wrote to her staff Wednesday. “Seventeen states do not allow this tactic, and our office will also no longer sign off on this dangerous measure.”

The directive has drawn criticism from Mike Mancuso, the president of the city’s police union.

“A judge should be the only person who decides whether a no-knock is warranted,” Mancuso said in a statement. “This action is completely irresponsible and an overreach, though predictable. We urge all Baltimore City judges not to get caught up in the agendas of others, but to continue to follow the facts as presented.”

Taylor, a Black emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times by white officers who entered her Louisville home during a narcotics investigation in March.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said that while the officers had a no-knock warrant, the investigation showed they announced themselves before entering. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire when police burst in. He told police he did not know who was coming in and fired in self-defense.

The warrant used to search her home was connected to a suspect who did not live there, and no drugs were found inside.

Louisville has since banned the tactic, and Oregon and Florida have outlawed such warrants. Other cities, including Topeka, Kansas; and police in Memphis, Tennessee; have also banned the measure.

‘Cheer’ star asks for jail release until trial on child porn charges

CHICAGO (AP) — A judge said Wednesday that she will decide soon whether to allow Jerry Harris, a star of the Netflix documentary series “Cheer,” to be released from jail and placed on home confinement while he awaits trial on child pornography charges.

The issue before U.S. District Judge Heather McShain is whether she believes a plan to release Harris that includes around-the-clock monitoring will be enough to prevent him from victimizing young boys.

A motion from Harris’ attorneys filed ahead of a court hearing Wednesday argues that the mental health treatment that the 21-year-old suburban Chicago man needs is not available in federal jail. The document also said that Harris has asthma, which puts him at greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

The judge did not say when she would issue her ruling, only that it would be soon.

At the 90-minute hearing, Todd Pugh, one of Harris’ attorneys told the judge that third-party monitors would make sure Harris doesn’t use the devices that he allegedly used to coerce young boys into sending him obscene photographs. The four women who would take turn monitoring Harris assured the judge that they would turn him in if he tried to use a cellphone or other electronic device.

A prosecutor argued that it would be impossible to prevent Harris from acting on his “criminal impulses.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Parente noted that after Harris learned he was under investigation, he destroyed his cellphone and used another phone to seek photos from children.

“His dangerousness is his ability to access the internet (and) there’s no ankle bracelet for cellphones,” Parente said.

Allegations against Harris surfaced last month when twin boys who are now 14 years old filed a lawsuit alleging that he had sent them sexually explicit photographs of himself and cornered one of them in a bathroom and begged for oral sex. Later that week, Harris, who lives in Naperville, was arrested and charged  with producing child pornography.

According to the criminal complaint, Harris admitted to FBI agents that he had asked one of the teens to send him photos and videos the boy’s genitals and buttocks via Snapchat. He also admitted to requesting and receiving photographs of 10 to 15 other children, according to the complaint.