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Petito Case Renews Call to Spotlight Missing People of Color

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Seraphine Warren cries as she talks about her missing aunt, Navajo rug weaver Ella Mae Begay, while holding a rug made by Begay at her home in Tooele, Utah, on Sept. 23, 2021. Begay, 62, disappeared in June, one of thousands of missing Indigenous women across the U.S. The extensive coverage of the Gabby Petito case is renewing calls to also shine a spotlight on missing people of color. (AP Photo/Lindsay Whitehurst)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — In the three months since 62-year-old Navajo rug weaver Ella Mae Begay vanished, the haunting unanswered questions sometimes threaten to overwhelm her niece.

Seraphine Warren has organized searches of the vast Navajo Nation landscape near her aunt’s home in Arizona but is running out of money to pay for gas and food for the volunteers.

“Why is it taking so long? Why aren’t our prayers being answered?” she asks.

Begay is one of thousands of Indigenous women who have disappeared throughout the U.S. Some receive no public attention at all, a disparity that extends to many other people of color.

The disappearance of Gabby Petito, a white 22-year-old woman who went missing in Wyoming last month during a cross-country trip with her boyfriend, has drawn a frenzy of coverage on traditional and social media, bringing new attention to a phenomenon known as “missing white woman syndrome.”

Many families and advocates for missing people of color are glad the attention paid to Petito’s disappearance has helped unearth clues that likely led to the tragic discovery of her body and they mourn with her family. But some also question why the public spotlight so important to finding missing people has left other cases shrouded in uncertainty.

“I would have liked that swift rush, push to find my aunt faster. That’s all I wish for,” said Warren, who lives in Utah, one of several states Petito and boyfriend Brian Laundrie passed through.

In Wyoming, where Petito was found, just 18% of cases of missing Indigenous women over the past decade had any media coverage, according to a state report released in January.

“Someone goes missing just about every day … from a tribal community,” said Lynnette Grey Bull, who is Hunkpapa Lakota and Northern Arapaho and director of the organization Not Our Native Daughters. More than 700 Indigenous people disappeared in Wyoming between 2011 and 2020, and about 20% of those cases were still unsolved after a month. That’s about double the rate in the white population, the report found.

One factor that helped people connect with Petito’s case was her Instagram profile, where she lived her dream of traveling the country. Other social-media users contributed their own clues, including a traveling couple who said they spotted the couple’s white van in their own YouTube footage.

While authorities haven’t confirmed the video led to the discovery, the vast open spaces of the American West can bedevil search parties for years and anything that narrows the search grid is welcome. Public pressure can also ensure authorities prioritize a case.

The opportunity to create a well-curated social-media profile, though, isn’t available to everyone, said Leah Salgado, deputy director of IllumiNative, a Native women-led social justice organization.

“So much of who we care about and what we care about is curated in ways that disadvantage people of color and Black and Indigenous people in particular,” she said.

The causes are layered, but implicit bias in favor of both whiteness and conventional beauty standards play in, along with a lack of newsroom diversity and police choices in which cases to pursue, said Carol Liebler, a communications professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School.

“What’s communicated is that white lives matter more than people of color,” she said.

One sample of 247 missing teens in New York and California found 34% of white teens’ cases were covered by the media, compared to only 7% of Black teens and 14% of Latino kids, she said.

Friends of Jennifer Caridad, a 24-year-old day care worker of Mexican descent, have taken to social media to draw attention to her case out of Sunnyside, Washington, after it received little notice in August. Just as in Petito’s case, Caridad was last believed to have been with her boyfriend. He was arrested on carjacking and attempted murder charges after shooting at police during a pursuit following her disappearance.

So far, authorities have no answers for Caridad’s parents. Twice a week, Enrique Caridad heads to the police station for any updates on his daughter.

“They tell me they will not rest until she is found,” he said. “I tell them to please let me know her last whereabouts so I can also help find her. But they tell me not to get involved, not to hurt the case.”

Detectives took parental DNA samples and said there were blood stains in her SUV, but they have yet to say whether it was Caridad’s blood. At the beginning, her parents struggled to understand English-speaking detectives, but after the case was transferred to a smaller police department, they can speak Spanish to one of the investigators.

“Not knowing is what kills us — not knowing if she is alive or if she was hurt by that man,” Caridad said.

David Robinson moved from South Carolina to Arizona temporarily to search for his son, Daniel, who disappeared in June. The 24-year-old Black geologist was last seen at a work site in Buckeye, outside Phoenix. A rancher found his car in a ravine a month later a few miles away. His keys, cellphone, wallet and clothes were also recovered. But no sign of him.

The Petito saga unexpectedly elevated his son’s case as people used the #findgabypetito hashtag on Twitter to draw more attention to cases of missing people of color.

“I was working hard previously trying to get it out nationally for three months straight,” said Robinson, who’s communicated with other families about the coverage disparity. “This is bigger than I thought. … It isn’t just about my son Daniel. It’s a national problem.”

Another family whose case was highlighted by that hashtag — Lauren “El” Cho, a missing 30-year-old Korean American from California — said in a Facebook statement they understand the frustrations but cautioned that differences between cases “run deeper than what meets the public eye.”

Asians and Asian Americans definitely face the same issue of news visibility, said Kent Ono, a University of Utah communications professor. The “model minority myth,” that Asians are successful and don’t get into trouble, also contributes to the problem.

“That then makes it very hard for readers and viewers to imagine that Asian and Asian American people have any problems at all, that they can’t take care of by themselves,” he said.

Public attention is vital in all missing-persons cases, especially in the first day or two after a disappearance, said Natalie Wilson, who co-founded the Black and Missing Foundation to help bring more attention to underreported cases. Dispelling racism and stereotypes linking missing people with poverty or crime is key.

“Oftentimes, the families … don’t feel as though their lives are valued,” she said. “We need to change the narrative around our missing to show they are our sisters, brothers, grandparents. They are our neighbors. They are part of our community.”

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Former Louisville Cop Pleads Guilty in Breonna Taylor Case

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FILE - This undated file photo provided by Taylor family attorney Sam Aguiar shows Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot by police in her Louisville, Ky., apartment in March 2020. A former Louisville police detective who helped write the warrant that led to the deadly police raid at Taylor's apartment has pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge. (Courtesy of Taylor Family attorney Sam Aguiar via AP, File)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A former Louisville police detective who helped falsify the warrant that led to the deadly police raid at Breonna Taylor’s apartment has pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge.

Federal investigators said Kelly Goodlett added a false line to the warrant and later conspired with another detective to create a cover story when Taylor’s March 13, 2020, shooting death by police began gaining national attention.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot to death by officers who knocked down her door while executing a drug search warrant. Taylor’s boyfriend fired a shot that hit one of the officers as they came through the door and they returned fire, striking Taylor multiple times.

Goodlett, 35, appeared in a federal courtroom in Louisville on Tuesday afternoon and admitted to conspiring with another Louisville police officer to falsify the warrant. Goodlett briefly answered several questions from federal judge Rebecca Jennings Grady.

Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, was in the courtroom Tuesday but did not speak after the proceedings.

Three former Louisville officers were indicted on criminal civil rights charges earlier this month by a federal grand jury. Goodlett was not indicted, but charged in a federal information filing, which likely means the former detective is cooperating with investigators.

Goodlett will be sentenced Nov. 22. Grady said there may be “extenuating circumstances” that may move the court to push back the sentencing date. Part of the plea hearing was also kept under seal and was not discussed in open court Tuesday. She faces up to five years in prison for the conviction.

She resigned from the department Aug. 5, a day after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced new federal charges in the Taylor case.

Former officers Joshua Jaynes and Kyle Meany were indicted on charges related to the warrant used to search Taylor’s home. A third former officer, Brett Hankison, was charged with using excessive force when he retreated from Taylor’s door, turned a corner and fired 10 shots into the side of her two-bedroom apartment. He was acquitted by a jury on similar state charges earlier this year. Jaynes, Meany and Hankison have all been fired.

The three former officers face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on the civil rights charges.

Federal prosecutors said in court records that Jaynes, who drew up the Taylor warrant, had claimed to Goodlett days before the warrant was served that he had “verified” from a postal inspector that a suspected drug dealer was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment. But Goodlett knew this was false and told Jaynes the warrant did not yet have enough information connecting Taylor to criminal activity, prosecutors said. She added a paragraph saying the suspected drug dealer, Jamarcus Glover, was using Taylor’s apartment as his current address, according to the court records.

Two months later, when the Taylor shooting was attracting national headlines, the postal inspector told a media outlet he had not verified packages for Glover were going to Taylor’s apartment. Jaynes and Goodlett then met in Jaynes’ garage to “get on the same page” before Jaynes talked to investigators about the Taylor warrant, court records said.

They decided to say Sgt. John Mattingly, who is identified in the court records as J.M., told them Glover was receiving packages at Taylor’s home, according to prosecutors. Mattingly was shot in the leg during the raid at Taylor’s apartment.

Meany, who signed off on the Taylor warrant and was still a Louisville police sergeant when he was indicted on Aug. 4, was fired by Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields on Friday.

Shields said in a statement that Meany has not yet had his case heard by a jury, but “he is facing multiple federal charges after a lengthy investigation by the DOJ” and should not “expect continued employment under such conditions.”

Hankison was the only officer charged who was on the scene the night of the killing.

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Lawyer’s Group Text Causes 2nd Florida Murder Case Mistrial

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A prosecutor in a murder case complained about a judge’s ruling in a group text message that included the judge, resulting in a second mistrial for a man charged with killing his girlfriend’s young son. Now the defense wants the case dismissed altogether.

Broward County Judge Peter Holden refused to allow a 911 call as evidence against Corey Gorden, who is accused of killing the 3-year-old in 2015 and returning him in his car seat to his mother as if nothing had happened.

Assistant State Attorney Katya Palmiotto then sent a text complaining about the ruling to a group of current and former homicide prosecutors, the South Florida SunSentinel reported.

“Holden just sustained their objection and wouldn’t let us put the 911 call in as hearsay,” she wrote.

As a former homicide prosecutor who was appointed to the bench in 2018, the judge remained in the group chat. And lawyers are prohibited in criminal cases from talking with the judge if the defendant’s lawyers are not present.

Defense lawyer Michael Gottlieb filed for mistrial on Wednesday, saying in a summary that the 15-year veteran prosecutor had been overheard saying she messed up “real bad.”

“The judge was visibly upset and appeared angry,” Gottlieb wrote.

Holden grilled the prosecutor about the text message before declaring a mistrial.

In May, another judge declared a mistrial when prosecutors asked a witness about Gorden’s refusal to give a statement. Criminal trial jurors are not permitted to consider the defendants silence as proof of guilt.

Holden has not set a hearing on Gottlieb’s motion to dismiss the case.

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Uvalde Schools Look to Fire Chief Arredondo After Shooting

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FILE - Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo, third from left, stands during a news conference outside of the Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas Thursday, May 26, 2022. The district’s superintendent said Wednesday, June 22 that Arredondo has been put on leave following allegations that he erred in his response to a mass shooting at an elementary school that left 19 students and two teachers dead. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Facing massive public pressure, Uvalde’s top school official has recommended the firing of the school district police chief who was central to the botched law enforcement response to the elementary school shooting nearly two months ago that killed two teachers and 19 students.

The South Texas city’s school board announced Wednesday that it will consider firing Chief Pete Arredondo at a special meeting Saturday. Arredondo has been accused by state officials of making several critical mistakes during the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.

School officials have previously resisted calls to fire Arredondo. The announcement comes two days after a meeting where the school board members were lambasted for more than three hours by members of the public, who accused them of not implementing basic security at Robb, of not being transparent about what happened and of failing to hold Arredondo to account for his actions.

 

 

Confronted with parents’ vociferous demands to fire Arredondo and warnings that his job would be next, Superintendent Hal Harrell said Monday that the police chief was a contract employee who could not be fired at will. The agenda for Saturday’s meeting includes the board discussing the potential firing with its lawyer.

Arredondo, who has been on leave from the district since June 22, has faced blistering criticism since the massacre, most notably for not ordering officers to immediately breach the classroom where an 18-year-old gunman carried out the attack. If fired, Arredondo would become the first officer ousted from his job following the deadliest Texas school shooting in history.

 

 

Although nearly 400 officers from various agencies were involved in the police response that took more than an hour to confront and kill the shooter, Arredondo is one of only two known to have faced discipline. His attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The move to potentially fire the chief follows the release of a damning 80-page report by a Texas House committee that blamed all levels of law enforcement for a slow and chaotic response. The report found that 376 law enforcement officers massed at the school, with more than half coming from state and federal agencies, but that they “failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety.”

According to the committee, Arredondo told lawmakers he didn’t consider himself the on-scene commander in charge and that his priority was to protect children in other classrooms. The committee report called that decision a “terrible, tragic mistake.”

Body camera footage released by the Uvalde officials shows Arredondo in the hallway trying multiple sets of keys on other classroom doors, but not the one where the massacre took place. The classroom door could not be locked from the inside, but there is no indication officers tried to open the door while the gunman was inside.

“Our thought was: ‘If he comes out, you know, you eliminate the threat,’ correct?” Arredondo told the committee, according to the report. “And just the thought of other children being in other classrooms, my thought was: ‘We can’t let him come back out. If he comes back out, we take him out, or we eliminate the threat.’”

Arredondo, 50, grew up in Uvalde and spent much of his nearly 30-year career in law enforcement in the city. He took the head police job at the school district in 2020 and was sworn in as a member of the City Council in a closed-door ceremony May 31. He resigned from his council seat July 2.

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