Court Digest

State AG: Officer justified in non-fatal shooting

RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) — A Rutland police officer was justified when he shot and wounded a man who he believed had run over another police officer during a drug investigation last summer, the attorney general’s office said.

The Attorney General’s office said Tuesday it was declining to prosecute Rutland City Police Officer Tyler Billings for the non-fatal shooting of Michael Goodnough, 45, of Rutland.

The investigation found Billings believed the life of Officer Nathan Harvey was in danger after being run over by a vehicle driven by Goodnough. It turned out that after being knocked down, Harvey had managed to get out of the way of the vehicle.

Investigators used video from the scene, including two cruiser dashcam videos and footage from a nearby business, a ballistics examination, and a count of the number of bullets in Billings’ gun. They determined Billings fired eight times while Harvey was lying on the ground near the suspect’s vehicle.

“Moreover, once Officer Billings realized that the driver was no longer a threat to Officer Harvey, he stopped shooting,” the release said. “Therefore, Officer Billings’ shooting of the driver was justifiable.”

Goodnough was taken into custody after a vehicle chase.

Man who spit at hikers, claiming COVID infection, arraigned

ASHBURNHAM, Mass. (AP) — A 71-year-old Massachusetts man facing charges for claiming he had COVID-19 when he spit at two women on a hiking trail because he was apparently angry they were not wearing face masks has been ordered by a judge to quarantine and be tested for the virus.

Hale Powell, of Westford, was released after pleading not guilty at his arraignment Tuesday to assault and battery and issuing a false threat of a biological agent.

He did not respond to questions about the incident when approached by reporters outside of court.

Two young women who had been hiking the Midstate Trail in Ashburnham on Nov. 15 paused to sit down on a bench at the Hudson Overlook, a popular spot where the Boston skyline is visible, police said.

A man confronted them about their lack of masks, police said. The man walked away, but returned, lowered his own mask and spit toward the women several times.

One of the women recorded a video of the confrontation.

An image of the man, taken from the video, was posted on the Ashburnham Police Department Facebook page and generated tips.

Deputy charged with rape of teen

ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) — A Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy is accused of rape involving a teenage girl he met online.

Anthony Zayas, 26, has been charged with third-degree rape and was placed on administrative leave in August, The Herald reported.

Charging papers say Zayas met the girl on Tinder, where she used a fake name and claimed to be 19. She was 14 and told police he gave her alcohol, charging papers said. The charges say he told investigators he took her word for it — after picking her up late at night at a park in Mount Vernon — that she was an adult.

In June, the girl’s mother reported to police in Idaho that the girl had run away. Later she was found in Spokane. One of the mother’s friends agreed to take her to the Mount Vernon area for awhile to stay. About two weeks later, the girl told her mom’s friend she had been sneaking out, according to the charges.

The friend went through the teen’s phone and found Snapchat photos of a man later identified as Zayas. The friend looked up Zayas on Facebook and saw evidence that he might be an officer. She reportedly contacted him and told him the girl’s real age.

“Oh my God,” Zayas replied, according to court papers. “What the (expletive)?”

Zayas was not in custody as of Tuesday. The rape charge was submitted Friday in Snohomish County Superior Court. Court records do not list an attorney for Zayas.

Zayas was hired by the county in July 2019. He remained on administrative leave as of this week while the sheriff’s office conducts its own internal review.

Judge: Dam can’t be removed if water level falls

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — A federal court says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can’t demolish a dam downriver from Augusta if it doesn’t maintain the current water level.

U.S. District Judge Richard Mark Gergel ruled Friday that the Corps of Engineers’ proposed plan to remove the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam doesn’t follow the requirements of a 2016 law that requires the river to be maintained at its current level. The Corps had proposed to remove the dam and build a series of rock weirs across the river, arguing that it’s required to improve fish habitat.

But governments, industries and private property owners who built around the elevated river level provided by the dam opposed the plan. The city of Augusta and the state of South Carolina sued to block the removal after the Corps formally decided to go ahead with the plan in October 2019. That followed a trial drawdown.

“In February of 2019, we all witnessed the damage caused when there was a drawdown to simulate water levels if the proposed plan moved forward,” Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis told The Augusta Chronicle. “The simulation caused the seawall to bend and demonstrated what would happen if one of Augusta’s greatest resources was demolished.”

Russell Wicke, a spokesman for the Corps’ Savannah District, which had proposed the plan, said the agency is reviewing the decision and noted that the matter is still under litigation.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement that the order requires the Corps’ Savannah District to “develop a mitigation plan that maintains the water levels to avoid impacts on water supply and recreation.”

The Corps of Engineers has been tasked as part of a plan to deepen Savannah’s harbor to provide a fish passage so sturgeon can migrate to historic spawning grounds upstream.

“Our goal has been to preserve South Carolina’s riverfront and the river’s pool as we know it, and this court decision is a victory for our side in achieving those goals,” South Carolina state Sen. Tom Young, an Aiken Republican, told The Aiken Standard

Young said three possible developments that could come next include an appeal by the Corps, a long-term legislative solution, or the Corps could develop a different alternative for consideration.
North Augusta Mayor Bob Pettit said the key outcome was to delay construction of the weirs, which was scheduled to begin in January. He said the ruling is likely to be appealed, but would like to see Congress renew funding for the lock and dam, originally built in 1937.

Ex-prosecutor writes of drug addiction in sentencing letter

HONOLULU (AP) — A former Honolulu prosecutor, convicted of conspiracy in Hawaii’s biggest corruption case that also took down her police chief husband, apologized for her actions in a handwritten letter to the judge Tuesday and blamed a prescription drug addiction for clouding her judgement.

Katherine Kealoha is scheduled to be sentenced Monday, along with her now-estranged husband, Louis Kealoha. A jury convicted them of conspiracy in a plot to frame a relative to keep him from revealing fraud that enriched the couple’s lavish lifestyle.

“I have no doubt that prison is my cross to bear, to atone for my sins and to open my mind to spiritual teachings far beyond anything I could have ever imagined,” she wrote, describing how being confined has given her “the courage to speak the truth about my life.”

Filed with her letter is a certificate for completing a drug abuse prevention program at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center. She had been abusing prescription medication since 2001, she wrote: “My abuse of prescription drugs was an addiction that clouded my judgment both personally and professionally.”

She also described being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, which she didn’t specify.

She wrote that she takes “full responsibility for the widespread destruction that I’ve caused, and I am not going to make any excuses for my behavior.”

But she also wrote that she forgives those “in this case that did not speak the truth.”

Prosecutors said the corruption included stealing from vulnerable victims — Katherine Kealoaha’s own grandmother and uncle — framing the uncle for a crime he didn’t commit, and using members of a secret police unit. All these actions were taken to cover up fraud that enriched the Kealohas and to maintain their status of prestige, prosecutors said.

The Kealohas were once a respected power couple before a curious case of a mailbox reported stolen from their home in a swanky neighborhood led to their downfall and cast a spotlight on alleged corruption in the city’s police force and prosecutor’s office.

Katherine Kealoha should go to prison for 14 years and her husband should be locked up for about half that time because the disgraced former power couple abused their positions of trust to commit corrupt acts at the highest levels of law enforcement, U.S. prosecutors wrote in sentencing recommendations.

In her letter, she asks for leniency for her husband and two former officers convicted with them.

“I took advantage of their friendships and of our relationships, and their only mistakes were in trusting me and associating with me,” she wrote, adding that her husband told her not to get involved with her family’s financial matters and stayed with her after her infidelity.

The case revealed that she spent some of the bilked money on her firefighter lover.

Louis Kealoha filed for divorce after they were convicted.

Judge: State can’t ban offensive license plates

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California can’t enforce a ban vanity license plates it considers “offensive to good taste and decency” because that violates freedom of speech, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar ruled in a case filed in March against Department of Motor Vehicles Director Steve Gordon on behalf of five Californians who were denied permission to put their messages on personalized license plates.

They included a gay man in Oakland who owns Queer Folks Records and wanted to use the word “QUEER” but was refused because the DMV said that might be considered insulting; a fan of the rock band Slayer who was notified that “SLAAYRR” would be considered “threatening, aggressive or hostile” and an Army veteran who wanted to note his nickname and love of wolves with “OGWOOLF” but was refused because the DMV said the OG might be construed as a reference to “original gangster.”

Others were refused because their plates might look or sound like a swear word or might be construed as sexual, according to the judge’s ruling.

Citing U.S. Supreme Court free-speech cases, the judge struck down a DMV standard that said vanity license plate configurations can’t carry “connotations offensive to good taste and decency.”

The judge said the personalized messages were types of personal expression, not “government speech,” and therefore regulations governing them “must be both viewpoint-neutral and reasonable.”

He noted a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court case allowing an Asian American rock band to call itself The Slants in saying that public speech can’t be barred because it may offend some people.

However, Tigar said the DMV probably could be permitted to deny plates that are, for instance, obscene, profane or contain hate speech because they fall outside of First Amendment protections.

“This is a great day for our clients and the 250,000 Californians that seek to express their messages on personalized license plates each year,” attorney Wen Fa of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed the lawsuit, said in a statement. “Vague bans on offensive speech allow bureaucrats to inject their subjective preferences and undermine the rule of law.”

The DMV was reviewing the ruling and declined further comment, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

State alleges gym chain illegally charged fees

BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Sports Clubs gym chain continued to charge membership fees even after closing its facilities in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, then failed to refund those fees when requested in violation of state consumer protection laws, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office said in a lawsuit Tuesday.

The office has received more than 2,000 complaints from members who have tried and failed to cancel their contracts with the company to avoid paying for facilities they could not access since the company’s 31 Massachusetts locations closed on March 16, Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement .

“From the start of this pandemic, Boston Sports Clubs has shown a total disregard for its members, for good business practices, and for the law,” Healey said. “This company claimed it wanted to do the right thing, but it reneged on its promises.”

In September, Town Sports International, the company that owns Boston Sports Clubs and 150 other gyms around the country, filed for bankruptcy protection. A call seeking comment on the Massachusetts suit was left with Town Sports International. In court filings the company denied violating consumer protection laws.