- Mark Aguirre, a 63-year-old man accused of holding an air conditioner repairman at gunpoint in an attempt to prove an outlandish election fraud conspiracy theory, had his arraignment hearing postponed after he tested positive for COVID-19.
- The judge overseeing the case asked if the arraignment could be rescheduled for Friday on Zoom, but according to Aguirre’s attorney, Aguirre is not “doing well,” does not own a phone, and may not own a computer.
- According to prosecutors, Aguirre believed the repairman he targeted had been hoarding 750,000 fraudulent ballots which he maintained had all been signed by Hispanic children “because the children’s fingerprints would not appear in any databases.”
- After tracking the repairman for four days, Aguirre attempted to make a citizen’s arrest on Oct. 19 by slamming into the man’s truck and faking an injury before pulling a gun on him while two co-conspirators searched the truck.
- Aguirre is being charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, a second-degree felony. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
Ex-Houston Cop Charged In Attack Over Bogus Election Fraud Plot
The Thursday arraignment hearing for a former Houston police captain, who was arrested after acting on what may be one of the most bizarre election fraud conspiracy theories to come out of 2020, has been postponed because he’s now tested positive for COVID-19.
According to his attorney who presented the test results in court, that man — 63-year-old Mark Aguirre — “wasn’t doing well” as of Thursday night.
The judge presiding over the case asked if Aguirre would be able to appear Friday on a Zoom call. While Aguirre’s attorney said he would try to make that work, he also claimed that Aguirre does not own a phone and said he was not sure if Aguirre owns a laptop, either.
On Tuesday, Aguirre was arrested nearly two months after he violently held a man at gunpoint while trying to prove that the 2020 Presidential Election had been rigged against President Donald Trump.
According to prosecutors, in October, Aguirre and two other unidentified people reportedly tracked a man for four days on the suspicion that he was hiding 750,000 fraudulent ballots in his truck and home. Prosecutors have also claimed that Aguirre believed these ballots had all been signed by Hispanic children “because the children’s fingerprints would not appear in any databases.”
Aguirre also allegedly believed that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had given the man, David Zuniga, $9.37 billion for “ballot harvesting.”
With that information in hand, Aguirre then reached out to three different Texas law enforcement agencies — the Texas Office of the Attorney General, the Texas Rangers, and the Texas Department of Public Safety. His concerns were rejected by all three.
Following Aguirre’s call with the attorney general’s office, Lt. Wayne Rubio alerted police that Aguirre might try to “handle” the situation on his own. In fact, according to prosecutors, that’s exactly what he did.
Early in the morning on Oct. 19, Zuniga noticed a black SUV swerve into his lane while he was driving. According to prosecutors, Zuniga just barely avoided getting hit by the SUV.
A few seconds later, the SUV then allegedly slammed into the back of Zuniga’s truck. From there, Zuniga pulled off the side of the road and got out of his truck to check on the SUV driver. That’s when Aguirre reportedly stepped out of the SUV while faking an injury.
“He said, ‘Help me! Help me!’ with his hand inside his coat,” Zuniga told KPRC News. “Then when I tried to help him, he pulls out a gun. That is when I was told to get on the ground.”
As Zuniga complied, Aguirre then pushed his knee into Zuniga’s back as two other unidentified co-conspirators arrived on the scene and searched Zuniga’s truck before driving away with it.
The truck was later found abandoned a few blocks away, but notably, no ballots were ever discovered in Zuniga’s truck or home. In fact, the Harris County district attorney’s office has described Zuniga as an “innocent and ordinary” air conditioner repairman.
Aguirre now faces a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
Aguirre Was Paid $266,000 to Investigate Fraud
Aguirre is believed to have been paid $266,400 by the group Liberty Center for God and Country to investigate election fraud claims. Court records indicated $211,400 of that was given to Aguirre on Oct. 20, one day after he held Zuniga at gunpoint.
The group’s CEO, Steve Hotze, is an active GOP donor and was a major figure in trying to restrict 2020 voting efforts in Texas.
Alongside State. Rep Steve Toth (R), Hotze joined a lawsuit that unsuccessfully attempted to throw out nearly 127,000 Harris County ballots just before Election Day. Notably, those ballots were cast at drive-thru polling sites, which were established to provide a safe voting experience for people who might be nervous about going to traditional polling locations during the coronavirus pandemic.
In another lawsuit, Hotze failed to stop Gov. Greg Abbott (R) from extending the state’s early voting period, which was also a response to the pandemic. At the time, Aguirre provided an affidavit with that lawsuit, claiming he was investigating a “wide-ranging and fraudulent ballot harvesting scheme” in Harris County.
In 2017, Hotze — who is intensely opposed to same-sex marriage and trans rights — also backed an unsuccessful piece of Texas legislation aimed at keeping transgender people from using restrooms that align with their gender identity.
During this past summer’s protests over the in-custody killing of George Floyd, Hotze infamously left a voicemail for Abbott’s chief of staff, in which he said:
“I want to make sure that [Abbott] has National Guard down here and they have the order to shoot to kill if any of these son-of-a-bitch people start rioting like they have in Dallas, start tearing down businesses — shoot to kill the son of a bitches. That’s the only way you restore order. Kill ’em. Thank you.”
Unlike Aguirre, the Liberty Center for God and Country hasn’t been implicated in the attack against Zuniga. Reportedly, Aguirre was only one of 20 investigators it hired to look into election fraud claims in Texas. As Hotze’s attorney also claimed, the CEO “did not direct or lead any of the investigations.”
“Unless there is evidence that tends to connect Dr. Hotze or anybody else to the commission of this aggravated assault, that is the beginning and the end of this matter,” Brian Wice, a legal analyst for KPRC News, said.
What About Aguirre’s Conspirators?
Attorneys are still trying to determine the identities of Aguirre’s co-conspirators, but that’s been made difficult because since being arrested, Aguirre has claimed he doesn’t know who they are.
“This is a political prosecution,” Aguirre’s attorney said of the charges against his client. “Retaliation for the investigation that was being done.”
Aguirre worked for the Houston Police Department for 24 years but was fired in 2003 following a controversial raid at a Kmart parking lot.
On Tuesday, the same day he was arrested for the attack against Zuniga, Aguirre was released from jail on $30,000 bond.
See what others are saying: (KPRC) (CNN) (Texas Tribune)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Heavy)(CBS 58) (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Medical Groups, Local Leaders Push for Healthcare Workers and Public Employees To Get Vaccinated
The move comes as COVID cases have nearly quadrupled in the last month due to the rapid spread of the highly infectious delta variant.
Increased Calls for Mandatory Vaccinations in Certain Sectors
More than 50 of America’s largest medical groups representing millions of healthcare workers issued a statement Monday calling for employers of all health and long-term care providers to require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.
The groups, which included the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and 55 others, cited contagious new variants — including delta — and low vaccination rates.
“Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” they wrote.
The call to action comes as new COVID cases have almost quadrupled during the month of July, jumping from just around 13,000 infections a day at the beginning of this month to more than 50,000.
While the vast majority of new infections and hospitalizations are among those who have not received the vaccines, many healthcare workers remain unvaccinated. According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, over 38% of nursing home staff were not fully vaccinated as of July 11.
An analysis by WebMD and Medscape Medical News found that around 25% of hospital workers who were in contact with patients had not been vaccinated by the end of May when vaccinations became widely available.
In addition to calls for medical professionals to get vaccinated, some local leaders have also begun to impose mandates for public employees as cases continue spiking.
Last month, San Francisco announced that it was requiring all city workers to get vaccinated. Also on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that all municipal employees — including police officers and teachers — must either get the jab or agree to weekly testing by the time school starts in September.
Dr. Fauci Says U.S. Officials Are Considering Revising Mask Guidance for Vaccinated People
Numerous top U.S. health officials have applauded efforts by local leaders to mitigate further spread of the coronavirus, including the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who confirmed Sunday that federal officials are actively considering whether to revise federal masking guidelines to recommend that vaccinated Americans wear face coverings in public settings.
In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are vaccinated do not need to mask in public. Although that was a non-binding recommendation, many states and cities that had not already lifted restrictions on masking began to do so shortly after.
But now, local leaders in areas seeing big spikes have begun reimposing mask mandates — even for those who are vaccinated — including major counties like Los Angeles and St. Louis.
In his remarks Sunday, Fauci also emphasized that, despite claims from many conservatives, those efforts are in line with the federal recommendations, which leave space for local leaders to issue their own rules.
While Fauci and other top U.S. public health officials have encouraged local governments to take action, Republican lawmakers in several states are taking steps to limit the ability of local leaders and public health officials to take certain mitigation measures.
According to the Network for Public Health Law, at least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering bills to limit the legal authority of public health agencies — and that does not even include unilateral action taken by governors.
Some of the leaders of states suffering the biggest spikes have banned local officials from imposing their own mask mandates, like Arkansas, which has the highest per capita cases in the country right now, as well as Florida, which currently ranks third.
Notably, some of the laws proposed or passed by Republicans could go beyond just preventing local officials from trying to mitigate surges in COVID cases and may have major implications for other public health crises.
For example, according to The Washington Post, a North Dakota law that bans mask mandates applies to other breakouts — even tuberculosis — while a new Montana law also bars the use of quarantine for people who have been exposed to an infectious disease but have not yet tested positive.