Court Digest

New York
Man who sent threats to LGBTQ groups gets 30 months

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — A 74-year-old retired schoolteacher from a New York City suburb was sentenced to 30 months in prison Wednesday for mailing dozens of violent threats to LGBTQ affiliated individuals, groups and businesses over several years.

According to prosecutors, Robert Fehring threatened to blow up the Stonewall Inn, a historic bar in Manhattan considered the birthplace of the gay rights movement. He also threatened to place explosives at 2021 New York City Pride march that would “make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk,” referring to the 2016 attack in which 49 people were killed and dozens wounded at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Other messages threatened to kill, shoot and bomb LGBTQ affiliated businesses and individuals, including an African American-owned barbershop in Brooklyn that Fehring wrote in one letter “is the perfect place for a bombing.”

Fehring pleaded guilty in February to mailing threatening communications through the postal service.

“We are disappointed in the length of the sentence, but Mr. Fehring is happy to be putting this nightmare behind him,” his attorney, Glenn Obedin, said in an email. “He is deeply remorseful for what occurred, and looks forward to living quietly with his family once he has served his sentence.”

An FBI search of Fehring’s home last November in Bayport, Long Island, yielded two loaded shotguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in addition to copies of letters containing threats. Investigators also found a stamped envelope addressed to an LGBTQ-affiliated attorney containing the remains of a dead bird, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York.

“Robert Fehring made heinous threats against members of the LGBTQ community in locations throughout New York, including Suffolk County, for nearly eight years,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said in a statement. “Thanks to the tireless efforts of our department’s Hate Crimes Unit detectives and the diligent work of our law enforcement partners, Fehring is being held accountable for his crimes.”


West Virginia
Judge: State’s Medicaid must cover transgender care

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s Medicaid program must provide coverage for gender-confirming care for transgender residents, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Chuck Chambers in Huntington made the ruling Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by LGBTQ interest group Lambda Legal over treatments for gender dysphoria. Chambers said the Medicaid exclusion discriminated on the basis of sex and transgender status and violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid Act.

Chambers certified the lawsuit as a class action, covering all transgender West Virginians who participate in Medicaid.

“Protecting and advancing health care for transgender people is vital, sound, and just,” Lambda Legal attorney Avatara Smith-Carrington said in a statement. “Transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants deserve to have equal access to the same coverage for medically necessary healthcare that cisgender Medicaid participants receive as a matter of course.”

The original lawsuit also named state employee health plans. It was filed on behalf of Christopher Fain, who was denied coverage for his testosterone prescription under Medicaid, and Zachary Martell, who is married to a state employee with health care coverage. Both Fain and Martell were denied coverage for a bilateral mastectomy.

Last September, two plaintiffs were added to the lawsuit. Transgender women Shauntae Anderson and Leanne James were denied coverage for gender-confirming care, according to the lawsuit. Anderson is enrolled in a Medicaid plan and James was enrolled in a Public Employees Insurance Agency health plan offered by the state.

A settlement with The Health Plan of West Virginia Inc. earlier this year led to the removal of the exclusion on gender-confirming care in that company’s PEIA plans. Remaining claims involving PEIA were dismissed after James died in February, Lambda Legal said.

“This decision is validating, confirming that after years of fighting to prove that gender-confirming care is medically necessary, we should have access to the same services that West Virginia Medicaid already provides to cisgender participants,” Fain said in the statement. “Transgender West Virginians should never feel as if our lives are worth less than others.”


Suspect ­mistakenly freed in Lady Gaga’s dog recaptured

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A suspect mistakenly released from a Los Angeles County jail where he was being held on suspicion of shooting Lady Gaga’s dog walker and stealing her French bulldogs has been recaptured, authorities said.

James Howard Jackson, 19, was arrested Wednesday nearly five months after he was released from jail while awaiting trial “due to a clerical error,” the county Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

Jackson was one of five people arrested in connection with the Feb. 24, 2021, attack in Hollywood.

Last month, the U.S. Marshals Service announced a reward up to $5,000 for information leading to his arrest.

Jackson’s arrest comes as one of three men charged in the case pleaded no contest to second-degree robbery.

Jaylin Keyshawn White, 20, was immediately sentenced to four years in state prison, Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee told NBC4.

Prosecutors said Jackson and two other alleged gang members had driven around looking for expensive French bulldogs to steal, then spotted, tailed and robbed Ryan Fischer as he walked Lady Gaga’s dogs near the famed Sunset Boulevard. Fischer was with the pop star’s three dogs named Asia, Koji and Gustav.

During a violent struggle, Fischer was hit, choked and then shot in an attack captured by the doorbell camera of a nearby home.

The video captured Fischer screaming, “Oh, my God! I’ve been shot!” and “Help me!” and “I’m bleeding out from my chest!”

Fischer lost part of a lung. About a month after the crime, he posted on Instagram that his recovering has gone well.

The pop star’s dogs were returned two days later by a woman who claimed she had found them tied to a pole and asked about Lady Gaga’s offer of a $500,000 reward if the dogs were returned “no questions asked.” The singer was in Rome at the time filming a movie.

The woman was charged with receiving stolen property and the father of another suspect is charged with helping him avoid arrest.

Jackson already had been charged in the attack and had pleaded not guilty when the county district attorney’s office filed a superseding indictment that charged him with attempted murder, conspiracy to commit a robbery and assault with a semiautomatic firearm.


Police officer acquitted of false report on traffic stop

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A former Southern California police officer has been acquitted of filing a false report about a traffic stop that said a driver had consented to a vehicle search that allegedly turned up drugs.

A jury deliberated for about four hours before finding Dillon Avila not guilty, the Orange County Register reported Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Avila and his then-partner with the Anaheim Police Department stopped a driver in April 2018 and searched his vehicle, even though the driver didn’t consent. Drugs were found and the driver was charged, but body-worn camera footage later showed the driver didn’t agree to the search, the district attorney’s office said.

Prosecutors dismissed the charges against the driver in 2020.

Defense attorneys argued that it was unclear who wrote the police report, Avila or his partner, Samuel Silva. The defense said any errors in the report were unintentional.

Michael Schwartz, Avila’s attorney, told the Register his client was thankful and happy for the verdict.

“My client is a very honest person. To have such an attack on his integrity was a major blow to him,” Schwartz said.

Silva did not testify during Avila’s trial. Avila’s attorney in court filings said Silva was “disciplined” in connection to the allegedly false police report. Anaheim police confirmed that Silva is still with the department, but couldn’t comment on any possible discipline.


Rapper Mystikal, accused of rape, denied bond by judge

GONZALES, La. (AP) — A Louisiana judge has refused to set any bond for rapper Mystikal, who is accused of raping and choking a woman at his home outside Baton Rouge.

State District Judge Steven Tureau ruled on Tuesday that evidence against 51-year-old Michael Tyler, his past history and the victim’s fears met the standard for holding him without bail, The Advocate reported.

Tyler served six years in prison after pleading guilty in 2003 to sexual battery. In December 2020, prosecutors in Caddo Parish, in northwest Louisiana, dropped rape and kidnapping charges that had kept him jailed for 18 months.

He was not convicted of other charges, including marijuana possession and misdemeanor domestic violence, that had been brought against him since the mid-1990s, the newspaper reported.

Defense attorney Roy Maughan Jr., who had asked for $250,000 bond, maintained that Tyler is innocent of the most recent charges, including rape and domestic abuse battery by strangulation. But he told the newspaper after the hearing that Tyler probably won’t appeal the bond ruling.

Maughan tried unsuccessfully to get the court record to reflect that Tyler made all of his court dates in those cases and, as a celebrity, would have a hard time evading capture if he fled. He had been released on $3 million bond in February 2019, nearly two years before the Caddo Parish charges were dropped.

Mystikal, who grew up in New Orleans and now lives in Prairieville, is accused of attacking the woman, taking her keys and holding her against her will, according to an arrest warrant.

Sheriff’s Detective Garrett Keith testified Tuesday that the woman went to Tyler’s home about 8 p.m. Saturday to talk about alleged financial commitments he had made to her.

He said the woman reported that Tyler’s behavior changed abruptly after he went into the bathroom and returned: He accused her of stealing cash, choked her and pulled out her hair, Keith testified.

Tyler later apologized, prayed with her and threw rubbing alcohol on her to cleanse her “bad spirits” before raping her, Keith testified.

Maughan’s cross-examination tried to show that the prayer and apology indicated that things were calmer and the woman wasn’t afraid, the newspaper reported.

Keith later told prosecutors that the woman was “praying for her safety” and didn’t know what Tyler said.

The woman was cut and bruised, and deputies found some of her braids, an earring and a broken nail in the house, the detective said. Some wounds were consistent with rape, he said.

Maughan also cross-examined Keith about whether and how the woman had objected to sex. Keith quoted her as saying Tyler’s threats had made her afraid to object at first, but she later clearly told him “no.”