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Supreme Court Won’t Reinstate Ban on Homeless Sleeping in Public

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  • Last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down laws in Boise, Idaho that prohibited people from sleeping and camping in public places if no other shelter is available. 
  • Boise lawyers appealed the ruling, arguing that it does more harm than good, but the Supreme Court said on Monday that it will not hear the case.
  • Lawyers for Boise and multiple other groups claim that not being able to regulate homeless encampments brings more threats to people on the streets and other community members.  
  • Homeless activists consider the ruling a win, arguing that criminalizing homeless encampments does nothing to help the larger problem.

Supreme Court Denies Appeal

The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on Monday in a case that would make it illegal for homeless people to sleep on sidewalks and in public parks if no other shelter is available. 

The case, Boise vs. Martin, began a decade ago when six people in Boise, Idaho, were fined between $25-$75 for violating an ordinance against sleeping outside. The group challenged a couple of local laws that prohibited camping and sleeping in public places, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the laws on the grounds that they were a form of cruel and unusual punishment—a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The Supreme Court just turned down a petition from Boise, Idaho, to reinstate those laws. 

Nine states, including California, where homelessness prevails in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, are affected by the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling. 

Those in Favor of Criminalizing Public Encampments 

Lawyers for the city of Boise argued that the decision to abolish the laws hurts more than it helps, as homeless encampments are riddled with crime, violence, disease, and hazards that threaten both those on the streets and the general public. They claim that striking down laws that criminalize public camping and sleeping makes it harder to regulate these areas. 

“The creation of a de facto constitutional right to live on sidewalks and in parks will cripple the ability of more than 1,600 municipalities in the Ninth Circuit to maintain the health and safety of their communities,” their petition said. 

The petition drew wide support in the form of about 20 briefs from counties, cities, and business groups. One came from a coalition of 33 California counties and cities. 

They said that “no one doubts the severity of the nation’s homelessness crisis or the need for more housing and support,” but argued that they have other temporary solutions and that the lower court ruling derails this work.

Those Against Criminalizing Public Encampments 

Lawyers for the homeless people in the case believe that the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling—and the Supreme Court’s move to let it stand—were steps in the right direction. They argue that legal measures that outlaw public sleeping and camping are not feasible. 

“Sleeping outside is a biological necessity for those who cannot obtain shelter,” they said in court documents. “And a city that criminalizes both sleeping on private property and public property when no alternative shelter is available leaves a homeless individual who cannot obtain shelter with no capacity to comply with the law.”

Other homeless advocates agree, arguing that giving homeless people tickets does not contribute to the larger issue. 

“Paying lawyers six figures to write briefs is not really going to build any more housing,” Howard Belodoff, a Boise civil rights attorney, told NPR.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (USA Today)

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69 Convictions Could Be Reversed Due to Possible False Evidence From Texas Cop

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  • Prosecutors in Texas said 69 people may have been wrongfully convicted based on possible false evidence from a former Houston police officer, Gerald Goines. 
  • This announcement came after two men, who were convicted over a decade ago were declared innocent by judges earlier this month. Their convictions were based primarily on the testimonies of Goines. 
  • Goines has been under scrutiny ever since a deadly drug raid in January 2019. Prosecutors allege that he lied to obtain a search warrant in the raid that resulted in the death of two people. 

69 Possible Wrongful Convictions

Prosecutors in Texas announced that 69 people may have been wrongfully convicted due to possible false evidence from a former Houston police officer. 

On Wednesday, prosecutors filed motions requesting that judges assign attorneys to these 69 individuals to review their cases and start the process of potentially clearing their names. 

The ex-officer, Gerald Goines, has been under scrutiny ever since a drug raid early last year in which a married couple was killed. Earlier this month, judges declared two brothers innocent after they were convicted of drug crimes in 2008. Their convictions were based primarily on testimony from Goines. 

“We need to clear people convicted solely on the word of a police officer whom we can no longer trust,” said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.

Most of the 69 cases being called into question involved drug charges. Ogg’s office said that almost all of them resulted in the individuals going to prison, though none of them are still currently imprisoned. Prosecutors claim that in all cases, Goines was the only witness to the alleged crime.

Goines’ attorney, Nicole DeBorde, said the Wednesday announcement from Ogg’s office was a form of self-promotion ahead of the D.A.’s Democratic primary on Tuesday. 

“But because these unfounded and unsupported allegations conveniently align with her very public use of the case in her campaign and offer an end run around the rules prohibiting her from discussing the facts of the pending case, she issues press release after press release, the latest in her last push before Super Tuesday,” DeBorde said.

Officer’s Questionable History

Prosecutors allege that in a January 2019 drug raid, officers acted under a search warrant that was granted based on lies from Goines about confidential informants who had purchased heroin from the couple’s home. 

Goines later said there was no informant and that he had bought the drugs himself, prosecutors claim. However, after reviewing his cell phone’s GPS records, investigators found that he had lied again and was nowhere near the location on the date he said he was. Dennis Tuttle, 59, and Rhogena Nicholas, 58, were killed in the raid while five officers were injured. 

Otis and Steven Mallet, the two brothers convicted on testimonies from Goines, were declared innocent after their attorneys and prosecutors agreed that Goines had lied during their trials. Their cases are now pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals but the men are expected to receive a final ruling confirming their innocence.   

Goines worked with the Houston Police Department’s narcotics units. He was relieved of his duty after the deadly drug raid and since retired. He is facing two counts of felony murder in state court for the deaths of Tuttle and Nicholas as well as seven counts in federal court over allegedly providing false information in the raid. 

Since the fatal drug raid, prosecutors have been looking into thousands of cases linked to Goines. They are also looking into cases handled by another officer, Steven Bryant, who was present at the raid and is also facing state and federal charges.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo expressed his support for Ogg and her office’s investigation. 

“We continue to work cooperatively with @HarrisCountyDAO to leave no stone unturned in this matter and remain committed to uncovering all facts,” Acevedo said.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (CW39 Houston) (KHOU11)

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President Trump Selects VP Mike Pence to Oversee U.S. Coronavirus Response

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  • President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Vice President Mike Pence will now head U.S. response efforts to fight the coronavirus.
  • The decision that has been met with pushback from those citing Pence’s delayed response to a 2015 HIV outbreak in Indiana.
  • In California, a case of “unknown origin” has seemingly appeared, suggesting a possible community spread of the virus and more undetected cases across the country.
  • Internationally, China is beginning to see a decrease in new cases and deaths, but other countries like South Korea, Iran, and Italy are seeing spikes.

Trump Places Pence in Charge of U.S. Response

At a press conference on Wednesday, President Donald Trump placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the U.S. government’s coronavirus response team as the virus continues to spread internationally.

Trump said he was handing the role to the vice president because of Pence’s experience handling health crises in Indiana when he was governor, saying those experiences qualified him for this role.

“This team has been, at your direction, Mr. President, meeting every day since it was established,” Pence said at the announcement.

“My role will be to continue to bring that team together, to bring to the president the best options for action to see to the safety and well being and help of the American people.” 

Pence also cited his response to a MERS—Middle East Respiratory Syndrome—outbreak in Indiana in 2014. Pence, however, was notably silent on a mention of a 2015 HIV outbreak in Austin, Indiana.

Pence’s response to that event has caused pushback with this latest announcement, with many citing his delayed response to that HIV outbreak. 

“He just revealed how ignorant he is about the situation,” Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who works for the World Health Organization, said of Trump’s appointment of Pence.

In that Indiana incident, 30 people were confirmed to have HIV after sharing needles to abuse the painkiller Opana. Health officials then asked Pence to supply the town with clean syringes to help prevent the outbreak.

At first, Pence refused because syringe exchange programs were illegal in Indiana and because he opposed any form of drug use. While he refused, though, cases continued to grow. After 29 days, Pence ultimately supplied those syringes as part of a needle exchange program. By that time, the number of cases had jumped to 80. 

There has also been a significant amount of criticism aimed at the Trump Administration’s handling of the coronavirus, with some critics pointing to the fact that Trump fired the U.S. pandemic response team back in 2018 to cut costs.

At Wednesday’s press conference, however, Trump defended the White House’s response during the outbreak, saying, “Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low.”

Trump asked Congress Monday to release $2.5 billion to help fight the coronavirus. Half of that would then be directed as emergency funding. Then on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer followed up Trump’s proposal with an $8.5 billion counter-proposal. 

Possible Community Spread in the U.S.

Also on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement confirming the possibility that a patient with the coronavirus may have caught it via community spread.

In this context, community spread would result when a person becomes infected without having traveled abroad (for instance, to China) and without coming into contact with anyone confirmed to have contracted the virus. The patient in question has not been out of the country and has not knowingly been around anyone with the virus. 

If this case is later confirmed to be from community spread, that would suggest that the virus is currently circulating undetected in the U.S. since it is usually asymptomatic for the first 14 days. 

However, the CDC still said it’s also possible that this person may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected, meaning it is also possible that this might not actually be a case of community spread.

That person is a resident of Solano County, California.

Several counties in California have also declared local emergencies. Those include San Diego, Santa Clara, and Orange counties. San Francisco, a city-county, also declared an emergency on Wednesday despite having no confirmed cases. 

Of the decision, Mayor London Breed has said the move is an effort to be prepared for if/when the virus does hit the city.

Declaring an emergency in San Francisco, an international hub, will lead to several changes:

  • It helps clear up funds so that the city can be reimbursed later by the state and federal governments.
  • It allows staff such as public health nurses, case managers, and social workers to focus only on essential duties and focus on preparedness and prevention.
  • It allows officials to look at shelters and other opportunities to expand as well as to assess the city’s capacity to respond to an outbreak.

What’s Happening Across the World?

Globally, as of Thursday, more than 82,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus. More than 2,800 people have died. 

Similar to previous reports, the vast majority of cases and deaths still remain in China. Outside of the country, only about 4,000 people have been infected and about 60 have died from the coronavirus. 

On Thursday, China announced 433 new cases as well as 29 deaths, which is in line with their numbers from recent days. In fact, the country has actually begun to see a drop in the number of cases and deaths, which had previously spiked to more than 1,000 cases and 100 deaths a day. 

Outside of China, other countries are seeing a much different story as they work to contain fresh outbreaks. Over the past week, South Korea, Iran, and Italy have all seen a sharp spike in cases. 

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked schools on Thursday to shut down through March and until after spring break. Saudi Arabia has also banned foreign pilgrims from entering the kingdom to visit Mecca.

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “The advice we have received today is…there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus.”

“And as a result, we have agreed today and initiated the…coronavirus emergency response plan,” he added.

As of right now, the COVID-19 outbreak has not been declared a pandemic. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (USA Today)

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A Texas Teacher Was Suspended for Showing Students a Photo of Her Fiancé. Here’s How She Was Awarded $100,000 in an LGBTQ+ Discrimination Case

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  • In September 2017, a gay arts teacher at a Texas elementary school was placed on administrative leave after showing students a photo of her fiancé in an introductory slideshow to her class.
  • That teacher, Stacy Bailey, then sued the school district in federal court on the basis of discrimination against her sexual orientation. Currently, Texas law does not provide for protections against sexual orientation.
  • On Monday, Bailey and the school district reached a settlement, with the district agreeing to pay her $100,000, part of which Bailey said she will donate to a non-profit that addresses LGBTQ student issues.
  • The district also agreed to train staff on LGBTQ+ issues and hold a vote as to whether it will update its policies to include protections for LGBTQ+ staff, students, and families. 

Gay Teacher Settles With School District

Embattled arts teacher Stacey Bailey reached a settlement agreement with her Texas school district after it suspended her for showing a photo of her fiancé in class.

The problem? Bailey is gay, and her then-fiancé was a woman.

The settlement comes almost two years after Bailey first challenged the Mansfield Independent School District in federal court. As part of Monday’s settlement, Mansfield ISD agreed to pay Bailey and her lawyers $100,000. 

It will now provide mandatory training to human resources and counseling staff on LGBTQ issues in its schools. It will also require the Mansfield ISD board of trustees to hold a vote on whether or not to add protections for LGBTQ individuals in its policies, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it will pass those protections. 

As part of the settlement, Mansfield ISD did not have to admit any wrongdoing. 

For their part, Bailey and her now-wife said they will donate $10,000 of that settlement to a non-profit that addresses LGBTQ student issues.

Teacher Suspended for Showing Photo of Her Fiancé

The situation involving Bailey and Mansfield ISD began in August 2017 when Bailey showed a photo of her fiancé in an introductory slideshow to her class. By September, Bailey had been placed on paid, administrative leave following several complaints from parents. 

According to the school district, however, misinformation regarding the reason behind Bailey’s suspension was rampant. During that time, some believed she had been suspended because she had also reportedly approached the district and asked it to include protections for LGBTQ employees in August.

In March, nearly three dozen people backing Bailey showed up to a public board meeting where some of them directly addressed the board and challenged it to either provide protections for LGBTQ+ individuals in the district’s anti-discrimination policy or to provide answers surrounding Bailey’s suspension. 

Bailey had worked at the elementary school since 2008 and had twice been awarded “Teacher of the Year.”

As far as an answer, that same night, Mansfield ISD released a statement regarding Bailey’s suspension.

While Mansfield ISD said it generally doesn’t comment on employee personnel matters, it also noted that Bailey’s suspension was full of “misinformation” and had caused “disruption” to the elementary school. Thus, it decided to “clarify information about this situation.”

“Parents have the right to control the conversation with their children, especially as it relates to religion, politics, sex/sexual orientation, etc.,” the statement begins. 

“The District’s concerns regarding Ms. Bailey are not about her request to have our nondiscrimination policies reviewed and/or revised with regard to LGBTQ rights,” it continues. “Mansfield ISD welcomes that discussion through the District’s established policy review committee. Rather, the District’s concern is that Ms. Bailey insists that it is her right and that it is age appropriate for her to have ongoing discussions with elementary-aged students about her own sexual orientation, the sexual orientation of artists, and their relationships with other gay artists.”

Mansfield ISD also said it had received multiple complaints from parents and had met with Bailey more than once, noting that administration gave Bailey “directions regarding age-appropriate conversations with students” but that Bailey refused to follow those directions.

In response, Bailey’s lawyer released a statement labeling Mansfield ISD as false, saying Bailey “never received directives to change her behavior–and never refused to follow any directive.” 

Bailey’s lawyer then accused Mansfield ISD of trying to “silence the families and staff” who had worked to get Bailey reinstated.

“The fact is that she was placed on leave after years of exemplary work based on a SINGLE parent complaint,” she added, contradicting Mansfield ISD’s claim that multiple parents had complained.

Bailey Relocated to a High School 

In May 2018, Mansfield ISD reinstated Bailey’s contract; however, the school district then reassigned Bailey to a local high school. 

Following her relocation, a spokesperson for Bailey accused the school district of trying to keep LGBTQ teachers from teaching elementary students. Mansfield ISD then pushed back, saying, “there has never been an issue with her open sexual preference until this year.”

“That’s when her actions in the classroom changed, which prompted her students to voice concerns to their parents,” it said in a statement. 

“Teachers shall not use the classroom to transmit personal belief regarding political or sectarian issues,” it added. 

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Bailey said he had been nervous to start teaching at a high school because many people had already heard about the story from local news coverage. Because of that, she said she worried about how her students would react.

To her surprise, on her first day, about 15 LGBTQ students reportedly came to her classroom, flooded it with baskets and candy, introduced themselves, and welcomed her.

“I don’t think they’d ever seen a teacher out loud say they were gay,” Bailey told BuzzFeed News. “To see a grown-up who was successful and educated and not afraid? I don’t think they had ever seen that before.”

Bailey Sues Mansfield ISD

Also in May 2018, Bailey sued Mansfield ISD in federal court. 

Bailey did not sue in Texas court because Texas does not have any laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; however, the federal government does.

In her lawsuit, Bailey accused the school district and two employees of refusing “to return her to her previous position in an elementary school. She also claimed they “transferred her to a secondary school and determined she was not appropriate to teach elementary students all because of her sexual orientation and status as a lesbian.”

That lawsuit also stated that while Bailey had been open about her sexuality, she had never used sexual or mature terms with her students. 

It also seemed to clarify some of the inconsistencies between Mansfield ISD and Bailey’s lawyer. Regarding the issue of whether or not multiple parents had complained, the lawsuit alleged that one parent had complained twice before enlisting three other parents to also complain. 

After that first complaint, Bailey claimed Kimberley Cantu, the district’s associate superintendent of human resources, allegedly told her that she couldn’t “promote your lifestyle in the classroom.”

“We plan to get married,” Bailey reportedly responded. “When I have a wife, I should be able to say this is my wife without fear of harassment. When I state that, it is a fact about my life, not a political statement.”

Cantu allegedly replied, “Well right now, it kind of is [a political statement].”

Following that incident, Bailey approached the district about enacting protections for LGBTQ staff. 

That parent then complained again in September, with the parent claiming Bailey had shown “sexually inappropriate” photos in class. Bailey denied that claim but said she was suspended anyway.

In October 2017, Bailey claimed Mansfield ISD asked for her resignation, but she refused. 

What is Bailey’s Life Like Now?

In 2018, Bailey married her fiancé.

Currently, Bailey still works at the high school where she was relocated because she said she promised her students she would wait until they graduated to leave. 

“If you are a school district who thinks you can bully and shame a gay teacher out of their job, I hope you remember my name, and I hope you think twice,” she said Tuesday.

See what others are saying: (Texas Tribune) (CBS Dallas-Fortworth) (The Dallas Morning News)

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