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Flint Prosecutors Drop All Criminal Charges Against Government Officials

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  • Prosecutors in the Flint water investigation announced that they will drop all existing criminal charges regarding the Flint water crisis.
  • Prosecutors explained in a statement that they dropped the charges in order to start a new investigation.
  • They said that when they inherited the investigation from previous prosecutors, they had “immediate and grave concerns” about how it had been handled.
  • Residents of Flint, who already have little trust in the government, are upset with the decision.

Announcement

Michigan state prosecutors said Thursday that they are dropping all pending criminal charges brought against government officials involved in the Flint water crisis.

In a statement, Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who took control of the Flint investigation in January, said that they decided to drop the charges in order to launch a new, more complete investigation.

Hammoud and Worthy explained that when they took over the investigation from the previous team of prosecutors, they had “immediate and grave concerns” with how the investigation had been handled.

Contrary to accepted standards of criminal investigation and prosecution, all available evidence was not pursued,” they said in the statement.

They also said that the previous team had let law firms representing former Gov. Rick Snyder and other defendants have “a role in deciding what information would be turned over to law enforcement.”

“We cannot provide the citizens of Flint the investigation they rightly deserve by continuing to build on a flawed foundation. Dismissing these cases allows us to move forward according to the non-negotiable requirements of a thorough, methodical and ethical investigation,” they continued.

Hammoud and Worthy also added that the dismissal will not prevent them from refiling the same charges against the officials or adding more charges and new defendants in the future.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel defended the prosecutors in a separate statement.

“I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied and a fearless and dedicated team of career prosecutors and investigators are hard at work to ensure those who harmed you are held accountable,” she said.

Flint Water Crisis

The Flint water crisis traces back to April of 2014, when a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s drinking water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River as part of a cost-saving effort.

However, proper precautions were not taken to prevent lead in the pipes from contaminating the clean water.

Previous coverage about the Flint water crisis.

Fifteen state and local officials involved in the oversight of Flint’s water system were charged by the Michigan attorney general’s office of crimes ranging from willful neglect of duty to involuntary manslaughter.

Seven of those accused took plea deals. Eight others, including the majority of high-ranking officials implicated in the scandal, were still waiting for trials.

Notable among those accused was Nick Lyon, the former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Lyon was charged with involuntary manslaughter for his failure to tell the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease linked to bacteria in the Flint River, which resulted in the deaths of at least 12 people.

Residents Respond

While prosecutors argue that the dismissal of criminal charges is necessary to expand the investigation, many Flint residents, who already have low trust in the government but crave justice, are more skeptical.

Nayyirah Shariff, a Flint resident and the director of the grassroots group Flint Rising, told the Detroit Free Press that the announcement was “a slap in the face to Flint residents.”

“This has been bungled,” Shariff said. “I’m very disappointed with Dana Nessel’s office because she ran on a platform that she was going to provide justice for Flint residents, and it doesn’t seem like justice is coming.”

Flint resident Melissa Mays, who founded the group Water You Fighting For, also told the Detroit Free Press that she was upset the decision was made without the residents of Flint. “It’s extremely terrifying,” she said.

Now, we have people who may or may not know what is going on, all it does is reinforce that our voices mean nothing.”

Another Flint resident named Fortina Harris told CNN that he feels helpless. “We’ve been dogged out, misused, abused and we still need to pay water bills and wash our bodies,” he said.

“We don’t get any supplement. No discounts or nothing for buying water. We got to fend for our self.”

Politicians Respond

Political figures who represent Flint in various government bodies also expressed their dissatisfaction with the prosecutors’ decision. Flint City Councilwoman Monica Galloway told CNN that she was “appalled” by the move.

“The lead impact on our children hasn’t even been realized, which means that there’s many unknowns for their future. They haven’t been made whole,” she said.

“It causes me to believe that Gov. Snyder just got a get out of jail free card. The people that are responsible will be walking away free.”

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, who represents Flint, echoed the same sentiment, telling the Detroit Free Press he wants “to see people behind bars.”

“Words cannot express how disappointed I am that justice continues to be delayed and denied to the people of my city,” Ananich said. “Months of investigation have turned into years, and the only thing to show for it is a bunch of lawyers who have gotten rich off the taxpayers’ dime.”

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, however, expressed more optimism.

“We’re excited about a full investigation,” Weaver said in an interview with a local news station.

“What we deserve is a full investigation because we know what happened in Flint was criminal adn we’ve been waiting for accountability and justice.”

See what others are saying: (The Free Detroit Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Evelyn Yang, Andrew Yang’s Wife, Says Gynecologist Sexually Assaulted Her

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  • Evelyn Yang, the wife of presidential candidate Andrew Yang, went public with her sexual assault allegations against a New York gynecologist. 
  • Yang said Robert Hadden, who practiced through Columbia University, sexually abused her during a medical appointment when she was pregnant in 2012.
  • After Yang and several other women’s allegations brought charges against Hadden, he pleaded guilty to two counts in 2016 and lost his medical license, but did not go to prison. 
  • Hadden and Columbia University are facing a lawsuit for abuse allegations and coverups, respectively, filed by at least two dozen women. 
  • Hadden has denied all allegations except the two counts he pleaded guilty to several years ago.

Evelyn Yang’s Story

Evelyn Yang, the spouse of 2020 presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, said she was sexually assaulted by a gynecologist who is also facing abuse allegations from more than two dozen other former patients. 

In a CNN interview released Thursday, Yang publicly spoke for the first time about her alleged assault by Robert Hadden, a former medical professional with Columbia University.

Yang said she started seeing Hadden in 2012, when she was pregnant with her first child, and described the visits as routine at first. But she said eventually the gynecologist’s behavior grew more and more inappropriate.

The mother claimed the worst case of assault was when she was seven months pregnant. 

“I was in the exam room and I was dressed and ready to go,” she told CNN. “And then, at the last minute, he kind of made up an excuse. He said something about ‘I think you might need a C-section’ and he proceeded to grab me over to him and undress me and examine me internally, ungloved.”

Yang revealed that she didn’t tell anyone about what happened for awhile — not even her husband — even though she knew what the doctor did was wrong. It wasn’t until months later, after she found out that another woman had reported a sexual assault by Hadden, that she told her spouse.

Legal Battles Against Robert Hadden

After telling her husband about what happened to her in the gynecologist’s office, Yang hired a lawyer and discovered that the Manhattan District Attorney had an open case against the doctor as several other women came forward with similar stories. 

In early 2016, after agreeing to a plea deal that saw him admitting to two out of nine charges against him, Hadden was convicted of sex crimes. However, the charges Yang accused him of weren’t among them. In that deal, Hadden had to surrender his medical license and register as the lowest level sex offender, but he did not have to spend any time behind bars. 

Yang was disappointed by the verdict and thought the punishment was not large enough for the crime. 

“They said that the punishment was the same, regardless of how many counts he plead guilty to, that the punishment would’ve been the same, so it didn’t matter,” Yang said. “And I thought, well, it matters to me.”

“The DA’s office is meant to protect us, is meant to serve justice,” she added. “And there was no justice here.”

Now, there are at least 30 women that now accuse Hadden of sexual assault. The majority of them, Yang included, are part of a civil suit against Columbia University, its affiliates, and Hadden. 

The lawsuit claims that the university “concealed Robert Hadden’s abuse for decades” and continued to allow his access to patients.  

Hadden has denied all allegations against him, save for the two counts he pleaded guilty to prior to his 2016 conviction. 

Justification for Going Public Now

Yang chose to bring her story into the public eye now because she felt empowered by the people she met as she accompanied her husband along his campaign trail. 

“Meeting people and seeing the difference that we’ve been making already has moved me to share my own story about it, about sexual assault,” Yang said.

After the CNN interview came out, Andrew Yang posted support for his wife on his Twitter page.

“I’m so proud of Evelyn for sharing her story on behalf of so many women who have had similar experiences, most of whom will never have the same opportunity,” he wrote. “She is the source of strength for our family and she demonstrates it every day.”

In her interview, Evelyn also expressed wanting to use her unique position to speak up about these issues. 

“My experience with the sexual assault… is such a powerful and upsetting example of the truth that women are living with every day,” she said. “And I just happen to be able to have a platform to talk about it. I need to use that voice.”

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CNN) (BBC)

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Virginia Governor Declares State of Emergency Prior to Pro-Gun Rally

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  • The governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency on Wednesday ahead of a pro-gun rights demonstration next week, banning firearms from the Capitol grounds of Richmond for several days.
  • Gov. Ralph Northam warned of “credible threats” from outside groups that are planning to disrupt the assembly with violence.  
  • The demonstration, organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is scheduled to take place Monday, Jan. 20 on the state’s Capitol grounds. 
  • Lobbyists plan to protest gun control bills that are being pushed by the state’s government, which Democrats have recently taken control of for the first time in a generation.

State of Emergency Declared

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a temporary state of emergency on Wednesday in preparation for the pro-gun rights rally set to take place in the capital early next week. 

“We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies that there are groups with malicious plans for the rally that is planned for Monday,” Northam said at a press conference. “This includes out-of-state militia groups and hate groups planning to travel from across the country to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence.”

“They are not coming to peacefully protest,” he added. “They are coming to intimidate and to cause harm.” 

In preparation for this possibility, Northam released an executive order detailing the state of emergency that will be set in place from Friday evening until Tuesday evening. Throughout this stretch of time, firearms and other weapons will be prohibited from the Capitol grounds in Richmond.  

Northam said that state intelligence analysts have identified rhetoric and threats similar to what was seen prior to the 2017 deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one person dead directly from the violence and dozens more injured. 

“No one wants another incident like the one we saw in Charlottesville in 2017,” Northam said. “We will not allow that mayhem and violence to happen here.”

Monday’s Plans

The rally that Northam is preparing for is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) and will take place on Monday, Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Northam asked the organizers of Monday’s event to “disavow” any groups who threaten violence, according to NPR.

On their frequently-asked-questions page, the VCDL writes that their annual Lobby Day is intended to be a “peaceful event” and encourages attendees to disengage if faced with any kind of harassment.

The VCDL emphasizes the sole purpose of the demonstration is for gun rights supporters to protest gun control bills that are moving forward under a new slate of lawmakers.

Earlier this month, Democrats took over as the majority group in both houses of Virginia legislature, a dynamic that hasn’t been seen in over 25 years. Many of these lawmakers have pledged to support Gov. Northam’s proposed measures to regulate and restrict firearms. 

Philip Van Cleave, the president of the pro-gun group, told CNN on Wednesday that he “doesn’t believe the governor has the right to ban weapons.”

Later on Monday, the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention will also be assembling at the capital for their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day vigil to honor victims of gun violence. A coordinator for the vigil was advised to push back the start time to avoid the big crowds from the pro-gun rally, according to a local news outlet

See what others are saying: (NPR) (CNN) (ABC)

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Student Expelled From Christian School After Rainbow-Filled Photo

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  • A 15-year old girl was expelled from a private Christian school after her mother, Kimberly Alford, shared a photo of her wearing a rainbow-striped sweater next to a colorful cake. 
  • Alford said the color scheme was a coincidence with no LGBTQ meaning, but the school interpreted the post that way and said it contradicts its beliefs.
  • The school later clarified that the teen was not expelled for the photo alone but also for repeated student conduct violations.
  • While Alford admitted her daughter had made previous violations, she still argued that the repercussions for the photo were unjust.

Teen’s Expulsion

A private Christian school in Louisville, Kentucky expelled a student last week after her mother posted a photo of the teenager wearing a rainbow shirt posing next to a colorful cake.

Fifteen-year-old Kayla Kenney celebrated her recent birthday with a small gathering out at a restaurant at the end of December. Her mom, Kimberly Alford, set up the event and posted a photo of Kenney to Facebook shortly after.

The image shows the girl grinning to the camera with a frosted rainbow birthday cake sitting before her. The cake’s decor matches the striped rainbow design on Kenney’s sweater.

Credit: Kimberly Alford.

On Jan. 6, Alford said she received an email from Bruce Jacobson, the head of Whitefield Academy where her daughter is a student. In it, Jacobson allegedly said that Kenney was being expelled over the post and attached the image in his message.

“The WA Administration has been made aware of a recent picture, posted on social media, which demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs,” Jacobson wrote, according to Alford.

“We made it clear that any further promotion, celebration or any other action and attitudes counter to Whitefield’s philosophy will not be tolerated.”

The school’s reaction to the birthday image baffled the family. Although a rainbow is widely recognized and used as a symbol of LGBTQ pride and support, Alford said the color scheme was just a coincidence with no deeper meaning for her daughter. 

“Rainbows don’t mean you’re a certain gender or certain sex or sexuality,” Alford told The Washington Post. “I’m not saying she’s this or that — she’s just Kayla to me… I ordered the cake, she didn’t.”

School’s Rationale

In a later statement, Whitefield Academy clarified that this was not Kenney’s first breach of their protocol. The school condemned “inaccurate media reports” for making it seem like the expulsion was solely based on the cake photo and said that the teenager had “unfortunately violated our student code of conduct numerous times over the past two years.”

Alford acknowledged that her daughter had misstepped in the past, and cited instances of Kenney being found with e-cigarette paraphernalia and ditching class one day after lunch. She said that in October, after an e-cigarette incident, her daughter had been put on probation. 

But the cake picture being the last straw made no sense to Alford or her daughter.

 “She was really hurt. She was very upset because she thought, ‘All my friends are going back to school in the morning, and I don’t have anywhere to go,’” Alford told The Washington Post

She added that her daughter told her, “‘Mom, I didn’t do anything wrong.’”

Whitefield Academy, which serves as a ministry of the Highview Baptist Church, disagreed. According to the school’s parent/student handbook, the Biblical role of the school is to work with families to “mold students to be Christ-like.”

“On occasion, the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home may be counter or in opposition to the Biblical lifestyle the school teaches,” the handbook states. “This includes, but is not limited to, sexual immorality, homosexual orientation, or the inability to support Biblical standards of right and wrong.”

The handbook notes that the school reserves the right to refuse admission or discontinue enrollment of any students who may go against its religious beliefs. According to a local Kentucky news outlet, The Courier-Journal, exemptions for faith-based schools in Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance grant Whitefield Academy the authority to do this. 

Alford appealed her daughter’s expulsion but reported that she was denied. She said that administrators did agree to change the expulsion to a “voluntary withdrawal” as to not reflect poorly on Kenney’s record.

The mother said her daughter is now attending a public school and has received overwhelming support from friends at her former school, though she still thinks Kenney was treated “unjustly” and that is why she’s chosen to make the story known.

“I just want to defend her in a graceful way,” Alford told NBC. “I want to stand up for my child,” she said. “Just treat people with kindness and love, and don’t be judgmental.”

See what others are saying: (NBC) (WAVE3) (ABC)

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