Court Digest

Judge approves settlement in housing discrimination lawsuit

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A federal judge has approved a consent decree between the Maryland city of Annapolis and dozens of public housing residents.

The Capital Gazette reported Tuesday that the decree will mandate that the city pay a $900,000 settlement in a discrimination lawsuit and issue various housing policy reforms.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake approved the agreement last week. City representatives and the plaintiffs’ attorneys, The Donahue Law Firm, had accepted the terms last year. The City Council approved the consent decree in September.

The city will pay the $900,000 out of its self-insurance fund. A portion will be paid to 52 public housing residents named as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit was originally filed on behalf of more than two dozen residents who had alleged decades of racial discrimination. They claimed the housing authority and city failed to provide safe, adequate housing for its majority-Black residents.

The decree requires the city to continue inspecting and licensing housing authority properties like any other private rental property. It has been doing so since late 2019. It also calls on the City Council to pass more affordable and workforce housing legislation.

Sheriff: Deputy charged with threats after US Capitol attack

BARTOW, Fla. (AP) — A Florida deputy was arrested Tuesday for threatening to kill federal officials following the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, officials said.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced during a news conference that Deputy Peter Heneen, 29, was charged with making written threats to kill, conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism. The deputy, who was hired more than six years ago, has been suspended pending termination, Judd said.

“I am angry beyond words,” Judd said. “Having him arrested was important. Having him arrested before Inauguration Day was even more important.”

Joe Biden was set to be sworn in as president Wednesday in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington. Congress had met there Jan. 6 to certify the results of the presidential election. But an angry mob coming from a President Donald Trump rally near the White House broke into the Capitol, forcing members of Congress to flee. Five people died during the riot, including one Capitol Police officer.

Heneen had been communicating with another deputy on Facebook private messenger, angry about a rioter who had been fatally shot while trying to break through a door, the sheriff’s office said.
According to screenshots of the conversation, Heneen talked about shooting “the feds” and making “the streets of DC run red with the blood of these tyrants,” officials said.

The other deputy, who officials did not name, reported Heneen to his supervisors Jan. 8. Judd said they are still investigating, but Heneen does not appear to be part of any organized group or militia.

Online jail records did not list an attorney for Heneen.

Feds say charges over stolen Pelosi computer being prepared

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A woman accused of entering the U.S. Capitol illegally during the Jan. 6 riot will likely be charged with stealing a computer from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a federal prosecutor said in court Tuesday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson in Harrisburg said he will consider bail and that he plans to conduct a preliminary hearing on Thursday in the case of Riley June Williams.

Williams is charged with trespassing as well as violent entry of the Capitol and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, and is being held in the county jail in Harrisburg. She spoke only briefly during the half-hour proceeding and was represented by a public defender.

Federal authorities are preparing two new felony charges of stealing government property and aiding and abetting against the Harrisburg resident, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian T. Haugsby told Carlson. Those charges have not yet been approved by a judge in Washington, he said.

The FBI has said a witness who claims to be an ex of Williams’ said friends showed that person a video of Williams taking a laptop computer or hard drive from Pelosi’s office during the breach of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.

The tipster alleged that Williams intended to send the device to a friend in Russia who planned to sell it to that country’s foreign intelligence service, but that plan fell through and she either has the device or destroyed it, investigators said in court records.

Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, confirmed two days after the Capitol attack that a laptop used only for presentations had been taken from a conference room.

Haugsby told Carlson that prosecutors in Washington intend to file two felony charges against Williams, but the documents had not yet been approved by a federal judge. Haugsby argued Williams should not be released on bail pending trial, saying she might flee or try to obstruct justice.

Carlson scheduled the preliminary hearing and consideration of bail for early Thursday morning. Williams’ lawyer, Lori Ulrich, argued for her release and against a delay.

Williams’ father, who lives in the Harrisburg suburb of Camp Hill, told local law enforcement that he and his daughter went to Washington on the day of the protest but didn’t stay together, meeting up later to return to Harrisburg, the FBI said.

New York
Judge: Maxwell’s sex relationships with adults can  remain secret

NEW YORK (AP) — Testimony by Jeffrey Epstein’s ex-girlfriend about her sexual experiences with consenting adults can remain secret when a transcript is released next week, a judge said Tuesday.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska in Manhattan pertained to a July 2016 deposition of Ghislaine Maxwell in a civil lawsuit brought by one of Maxwell’s accusers that has since been settled.

“Although the prurient interest of some may be left un-satiated as a result, Ms. Maxwell’s interest in keeping private the details of her sexual relationships with consenting adults warrants the sealing of those portions of her testimony,” Preska said at a hearing conducted electronically because of the coronavirus.

Lawyers for the 59-year-old British socialite had objected to the transcript being made public on the grounds that it could damage her chance at a fair trial on charges that she recruited three underage girls in the 1990s for Epstein.

Preska said Maxwell’s lawyers had failed to show how the unsealing of the deposition transcript will jeopardize a trial that isn’t slated to begin until July or why publicity about the document cannot be overcome through a fair jury selection process.

The judge also ordered the release in eight days of dozens of other documents sought by the Miami Herald.

A message seeking comment was left with a lawyer for Maxwell.

Epstein, a wealthy financier and convicted sex offender, killed himself in a Manhattan jail in 2019 as he awaited a sex trafficking trial.

Maxwell, who is held without bail at a Brooklyn federal lockup, has pleaded not guilty to charges that she recruited girls for Epstein and sometimes joined in the abuse of them.

The hearing Tuesday was briefly interrupted when the judge was told that audio of the proceeding was being aired online.

“Whoever is doing it, you are operating against the law. I suspect there is a way to find out. So I will ask you, most respectfully, to stop doing it. We have had enough of lack of the rule of law around here. Let’s try to observe it,” Preska said.

The audio was online on a page that included comments by individuals who seemed to embrace QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory.

Police cleared in fatal shooting of man last year

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Prosecutors have cleared the Huntsville Police Department of wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of a man who was found atop a building last year, but relatives of the dead man said they still want answers about what happened.

Officers were justified in shooting Bradley Pugh, 41, after a November standoff in which he climbed off the roof of a restaurant and pulled a weapon on police, the Madison County district attorney’s office said in a statement Tuesday. Officers had been called because an armed man was spotted on the building.

Pugh’s mother Adina Peyton issued a statement in response saying authorities have failed to answer the family’s “basic questions” about the killing, and relatives were unaware prosecutors intended to issue a news release saying there wouldn’t be any charges, news outlets reported.

Pugh was suicidal and wanted officers to shoot him, she said,

“The city just wants to use the cover of a criminal investigation to avoid answering questions. I accept and understand that no criminal charges are going to be filed, but I cannot accept that this city allows its police department to kill my son and keep all of the details secret,” said Peyton.

Officers negotiated with the man for about four hours before he came down a ladder and tried to run, police said. Officials have not said how many officers opened fire on Pugh.

New Jersey
State high court overturns conviction over ‘Shining’ reference

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The New Jersey Supreme court has overturned a man’s bank robbery conviction because of a prosecutor’s reference to a classic horror movie.

During closing arguments in the case against Damon Williams, the prosecutor showed jurors a photo from the movie “The Shining” depicting a character played by Jack Nicholson telling his terrified wife and son, “Here’s Johnny!” moments after breaking through a door with an axe.

The reference was meant to illustrate that actions can speak louder than words, and to support the prosecutor’s contention that Williams should be convicted of a more serious offense even though no threatening words were spoken to the bank teller in Camden County in 2014.

The jury convicted Williams of second-degree robbery, which requires the use of force or the threat of force, rather than the less serious crime of third-degree theft. Prosecutors argued that Williams’ conduct before and after passing a note to the teller supported the more serious charge. Williams is currently serving a 14-year term.

A unanimous Supreme Court disagreed Tuesday, writing that prosecutors “must walk a fine line” when comparing a defendant with “an individual whom the jury associates with violence or guilt.”

“The use of a sensational and provocative image in service of such a comparison, even when purportedly metaphorical, heightens the risk of an improper prejudicial effect on the jury,” Justice Lee Solomon wrote. “Such a risk was borne out here.”

Former teacher pleads guilty to sex trafficking girl

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A former Eugene elementary school teacher on Tuesday pleaded guilty to sex trafficking involving a child.

Federal prosecutors will seek a prison sentence of more than 13 years for William Cantu Hamann, 38, when he’s sentenced in U.S. District Court in Eugene in March.

They’ll ask that the sentence run consecutive to a proposed state prison term of one year and eight months, according to global plea negotiations from both federal and state cases, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Hamann is accused of sexual abuse and sodomy in Lane County Circuit Court and has not formally entered any pleas. A trial is set there for March 10.

The victim was not a student of Hamann’s, according to prosecutors. He had taught at Spring Creek Elementary in Eugene.

Hamann met the victim on social media, paid her for sex and recorded her performing sex acts between 2018 and July 2019, according to federal prosecutors. She was 15 when Hamann met her.

Eugene police detectives and FBI agents arrested Hamann on July 26, 2019, when he arrived at a school to meet her, according to Eugene police.

As part of the federal plea agreement, Hamann has agreed to pay an undisclosed amount of restitution to the victim.