National Roundup

Man sentenced to 3 years in prison for firebombing Planned Parenthood clinic

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A 21-year-old Florida man was sentenced Monday to three and a half years in prison for firebombing a Southern California Planned Parenthood clinic in 2022, federal prosecutors said.

Xavier Batten pleaded guilty in January to one felony count of possessing an unregistered destructive device and one misdemeanor count of intentionally damaging a reproductive health services facility.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney also sentenced Batten, of Brooksville, Florida, to three years of probation and ordered him to pay $1,000 in restitution, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Carney said Batten had committed a “cowardly crime” that showed “no empathy for women and their rights,” according to the statement. He has been in federal custody since July 2023.

The clinic in Costa Mesa was bombed on March 13, 2022. Surveillance footage showed two men throwing a Molotov cocktail at the front door of the medical facility. The clinic was closed at the time and no one was injured.

A co-defendant, 24-year-old Chance Brannon, was sentenced last month to nine years in prison. Brannon, of San Juan Capistrano, California, was an active-duty Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton at the time of the bombing.

Another co-defendant, Tibet Ergul, has pleaded guilty to the charges against him. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 30.

Appeals court upholds ruling requiring county to pay for transgender deputy’s surgery

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court’s ruling that a Georgia county illegally discriminated against a sheriff’s deputy by failing to pay for her gender-affirming surgery.

In its ruling Monday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it was tasked with determining whether a health insurance provider can be held liable under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for denying coverage for a procedure because an employee is transgender. The three-judge panel decided in a 2-1 vote that it can and that the lower court had ruled correctly.

Houston County Sgt. Anna Lange, an investigator for the Houston County sheriff’s office, had sued Sheriff Cullen Talton and the county in 2019 after she was denied coverage.

U.S. District Court Judge Marc Treadwell ruled in 2022 that the county’s refusal to cover Lange’s prescribed gender-affirmation surgery amounted to illegal sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Treadwell’s order cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 decision finding that a Michigan funeral home could not fire an employee for being transgender.

The judge ordered the county’s insurance plan to pay for the surgery and Lange eventually underwent the procedure. A jury awarded Lange $60,000 in damages in 2022.

The county sought to undo Treadwell’s order and the damage award.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says an employer cannot “discriminate against any individual with respect to his (or her) compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

The 11th Circuit opinion says the Supreme Court clarified in another Georgia case that discrimination based on the fact that someone is transgender “necessarily entails discrimination based on sex.”

Lawsuit: County jail’s fees helped fund cotton candy and laser tag for police department

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — Civil rights groups filed a class action lawsuit on Monday accusing an Iowa sheriff’s department of mishandling the collection of jail fees, some of which helped fund recreational expenses like laser tag and a cotton candy machine at a shooting range.

The lawsuit in federal court alleges that convicted prisoners were forced to sign a confession of judgment, agreeing to a balance and payment plan for administrative and room and board fees, before being released from the Black Hawk County jail in Waterloo, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Des Moines.

Any cash carried by a person when they are booked is seized and applied toward the debt, the complaint said.

In a statement, the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office said inmates receive a statement of what they are owed when they are released, with the option to sign a confession of judgment outlining a payment plan. That is not required, according to the sheriff’s office.

Iowa allows a county sheriff to seek reimbursement for administrative fees and room and board, but the lawsuit alleges that the policies in Black Hawk County demand an individual signs away their legal protections without due process or the ability to consult their lawyer and are therefore unconstitutional.

ACLU of Iowa and Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Public Justice, along with other law firms, filed the suit on behalf of Leticia Roberts, who is described as having served two sentences after being charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

Roberts was made to sign the agreements before getting back her possessions, and it was not notarized in her presence, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that Black Hawk County collected nearly $600,000 in jail fees from July 2021 to July 2023, roughly twice as much or more than other counties, because of the confession of judgment.

Iowa law specifies how 60% of the collected funds must be used — for expenses related to courthouse and jail infrastructure or medical expenses — and says the sheriff may make recommendations to the county board of supervisors or the two may work in tandem to develop a plan to use the funds.

Public records indicate members of the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors questioned Sheriff Tony Thompson over the use of the unallocated 40% of collected fees for expenses at the shooting range, including “for a cotton candy machine, an ice cream machine and laser tag,” according to meeting minutes.

The records show Thompson told the board that those expenses were for the “entertainment of children too young for the training,” which was intended for staff and their families to learn more about gun safety.

Educational events on safety are “fulfilling, rewarding, and important to the total wellness and investment in a more inclusive, forthright and selflessly serving staff,” the department said in its statement.