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Walmart Shooting Suspect Charged with Federal Hate Crimes

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FILE-In the is Oct. 10, 2019 file photo, El Paso Walmart shooting suspect Patrick Crusius pleads not guilty during his arraignment in El Paso, Texas. The government has filed hate crime charges against Crusius, who said he was targeting Mexicans and shot to death 22 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, last summer, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. (Briana Sanchez / El Paso Times via AP, Pool, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The man accused of killing 22 people and wounding two dozen more in a shooting that targeted Mexicans in the border city of El Paso, Texas, has been charged with federal hate crimes.

Patrick Crusius, 21, has been charged with 90 counts under federal hate crime and firearms laws for his role in the Aug. 3 shooting that authorities said was aimed at scaring Hispanics into leaving the United States, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday.

Federal prosecutors announced the charges against Crusius of Allen, Texas, at a Thursday news conference in El Paso. The Department of Justice will consult with the defense and victims’ families before deciding if they will pursue a death penalty. Ultimately, the decision is up to Attorney General William Barr.

The DOJ will prosecute on a parallel track with state officials. Crusius faces the death penalty on a state capital murder charge to which he pleaded not guilty last year.

Hate crime charges show members of targeted communities that “they are valued, that their protection matters, and then we will protect them and their rights,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ Civil Right Division.

“People in our nation have the right to go to a store on a Saturday morning without fear that they will be shot and killed because of who they are, or where they’re from,” Dreiband said.

The shooting happened at a time when immigration officials were trying to manage a crush of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border and there was political battle over their treatment. El Paso was the epicenter of the influx. President Donald Trump has made cracking down on immigration a hallmark of his administration and the polarizing topic makes headlines around the world.

Eight Mexican nationals were among the victims, and the indictment accuses Crusius of targeting people because of their “actual and perceived national origin.” The Walmart store is popular with shoppers from nearby Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just on the other side of the Rio Grande from El Paso.

David Lane, a Colorado-based lawyer representing Crusius in the federal case, said Thursday morning that he had not yet seen the indictment but hopes federal prosecutors don’t seek his client’s execution.

“Part of the evolution of our society involves understanding that justice is not synonymous with vengeance, because vengeance disregards the essential humanity in all of us and brutalizes us all,” Lane said. “Part of my job here is to hopefully convince the Department of Justice that they are not the department of vengeance.”

In a statement issued Thursday evening, Crusius’ family said it was aware of the indictment and has been and continues to be mindful of “the immense pain and suffering of all those affected and touched by this tragedy.” Beyond that, the family said it would make no further comment.

City Council member Cassandra Hernandez, whose district includes the Walmart, said the announcement was part of the healing process for El Pasoans and the victims.

“The mass shooting our community endured is clearly a symptom of a much larger problem that the United States has to face fully. Execution or life imprisonment for a white supremacist will not stop ethic cleansing in other Hispanic communities like El Paso. This heinous hate crime on the U.S./Mexico border is the definition of domestic terrorism invoked by white nationalism,” Hernandez said.

Judd Owens, a property manager, stopped Thursday at the Walmart while driving through en route to his Tennessee home. Owens, 45, said he wanted to see the Walmart where the shooting took place, to what kind of memorial it had. He took a picture of the 30-foot metallic cylinder in the parking lot that’s visible from Interstate 10. He said he feared mass shootings across the country.

“I had cold chills from the time I got out of the van,” he said. “Where I’m from we’ve had a few incidents, not that bad but close. And I worry it might happen closer to home and to people I care about.”

The federal grand jury that indicted Crusius found his alleged crimes came “after substantial planning and premeditation.” He bought a Romanian-made AK-47-style rifle and 1,000 rounds of hollow-point ammunition online more than six weeks before he drove 10 hours overnight from his grandparents’ house in a Dallas suburb to El Paso to carry out the attack, according to the indictment.

The federal indictment comes as El Paso marks the six-month anniversary of the shooting. Last weekend, the commuter town of San Elizario planted 22 oak trees in honor of the victims. Local news outlets aired remembrances.

The federal charge follows Crusius’ state indictment last fall on a capital murder charge, which could also bring a death sentence. He has been held without bond since the shooting and kept isolated from other prisoners, on suicide watch for at least two months after the shooting.

Crusius surrendered to police after the attack, saying, “I’m the shooter,” and that he was targeting Mexicans, according to an arrest warrant.

In court documents, prosecutors said Crusius published a screed online shortly before the shooting that said it was “in response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” It cited, as inspiration, a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed scores of Muslim residents of that country.

The document parroted some of Trump’s immigration policy rhetoric. El Paso residents such as former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination this year, accused Trump of promoting harmful stereotypes and fueling the idea that the increase in migrant crossings was a coordinated “invasion” by Latinos. The president has denied inciting violence.

The charges being announced Thursday are the latest by federal prosecutors following high-profile violent incidents. The Justice Department has brought federal hate crimes charges against a man suspected in a Hanukkah machete attack in New York in December that wounded five people; a man who opened fire at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last year; and a man who killed a woman when he drove into a crowd of protesters at a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Black Lives

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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Crime

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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Crime

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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