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North Carolina sheriff's deputy fatally shoots Black man while serving warrant

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(ELIZABETH CITY, N.C.) -- A sheriff's deputy shot and killed a Black man while executing a search warrant in North Carolina on Wednesday, authorities said.

The shooting occurred at approximately 8:30 a.m. ET as deputies from the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office attempted to serve the man -- identified as Andrew Brown Jr. -- a search warrant at his home in Elizabeth City, about 170 miles northeast of Raleigh. Brown was fatally wounded during the encounter, according to Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten.

"It's been a tragic day," Wooten said at a brief press conference Wednesday.

The sheriff told reporters he wasn't sure of Brown's age, but court records show he was 42.

The unnamed deputy who fired the fatal shot has been placed on administrative leave pending a review by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, according to Wooten, who vowed to be "transparent and take the proper actions based on the findings."

"I have put together a team of local law enforcement to come to Pasquotank County to ensure the safety and protection of the citizens in our community," the sheriff said.

The deputy was wearing an active body camera, but Wooten said the footage can only be released at the order of a judge. The bureau of investigation does have the body camera footage for its investigation.

"We are currently working that right now as hard as we can," he told reporters. "We will be transparent with this situation, absolutely."

The sheriff said in a Thursday press conference that Brown was already a convicted felon and his deputies were serving a warrant for felony drug charges.

"If evidence shows that any of my deputies violated the law, or policies, they will be held accountable because that's what the citizens expect me to do and it's the right thing to do," Wooten said Thursday.

Masha Rogers, the special agent in charge of the northeastern district of North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, said investigators will conduct a thorough probe before turning their findings over to Andrew Womble, the district attorney for the state's first prosecutorial district.

"He will make a determination about any criminal charges," Rogers told reporters.

Womble said his office will be looking for "accurate answers and not fast answers."

"This will not be a rush to judgement," Womble told reporters. "We're going to wait for that investigation as we're duty bound to do."

Further details about the shooting were not immediately available, and Wooten did not go into detail Thursday, saying they didn't have all of the facts.

Brown's death is the latest in a slew of officer-involved shootings of Black men, women and children in recent years that have sparked protests nationwide and even overseas.

Dozens of people, some holding signs that read "Black Lives Matter" and "Stop Killing Unarmed Black Men," gathered on Wednesday at the scene of the shooting in Elizabeth City and outside City Hall where the City Council held an emergency meeting. The crowds grew as the sun set, with hundreds of people blocking traffic on a main thoroughfare of Elizabeth City and another group congregating outside Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office.

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Alternate juror in Chauvin trial describes experience: 'I felt he was guilty on some level'

KTSP-TV

(MINNEAPOLIS) -- One of the alternate jurors to sit on the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin called the experience of watching one of the most important police use-of-force trials in decades "emotional" and "draining."

Lisa Christensen, referred to as juror No. 96, told Minneapolis ABC affiliate KTSP that she did not think the trial would affect her as much as it did, saying there were days when she would come home from court and go right to bed and others when she would spend time reflecting on the testimonies of the witnesses from that day, she said.

Watching the cellphone video of Floyd's death in its entirety, which Christensen had never done before the trial, was "graphic," and despite watching it day after day, "it never got any easier," she said.

Christensen said she believes that Chauvin was guilty on "some level," but was still amazed to hear her fellow jurors had found him guilty on all three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Hearing the testimony from the bystanders was "very emotional" as well, Christensen said.

"I could feel their pain," she said. "I could feel their sadness, their guilt. I was sitting pretty much right next to them. So I got the brunt of everything."

Christensen believes the "most important witness" the state had was pulmonologist Dr. Martin Tobin, who explained the process of Floyd dying in a way that the jurors could understand, she said.

The law enforcement witnesses were also instrumental in helping Christensen form her opinion, she said. For her, they were able to clarify the use-of-force policy.

Christensen admitted that, before serving, she was concerned for her safety -- and the court did not inform the jurors who would serve as an alternate. Christensen was ultimately disappointed that she would not partake in the deliberations.

Christensen said she does sympathize with Chauvin, who she believes "made a huge mistake" that cost someone their life.

"You know, nobody is a winner out of this whole situation," she said. "I feel bad."

"It'll be with me for a while," Christensen said of the trial. "I hope we did it right, and we got it right. We really tried to put all of our effort into making the right decisions."

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George Floyd's killer was convicted. So what was different about Philando Castile's case?

Facebook/Philando Castile

(NEW YORK) -- Two of the most high-profile cases of police using deadly force in Minnesota history happened roughly 5 miles and four years apart. Each death was captured on video and in front of witnesses, and both prompted protesters to chant the names of the deceased Black men nationwide.

While former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted and jailed on Tuesday for murdering George Floyd, former St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter in the 2016 roadside shooting of Philando Castile.

Minneapolis attorney Robert Bennett, who represented Castile's mother in a $3 million wrongful death settlement, told ABC News that the two cases are also similar in the way defense attorneys used toxicology reports in an attempt to undermine the prosecution and argue Floyd and Castile were to blame for their own deaths.

But Bennett said the jury is still out on whether the Chauvin guilty verdict on charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter will have implications on other prosecutions of police officers in use-of-force homicide cases.

"It shows that the times are changing a bit," Bennett said. "Although it's a step, how big the step is will be for others to determine."

Comparing the video evidence

Bennett said there were numerous differences between the Floyd and Castile cases, the biggest being that Castile was heard on police dash-cam video telling Yanez he had a concealed gun just seconds before he was shot dead in the driver's seat of his Oldsmobile after being pulled over for a busted brake light.

"That almost immediately puts Philando's in a different category," Bennett said.

Floyd was unarmed when police removed him from a car and handcuffed him after getting a complaint he allegedly used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Floyd, who refused to get into the back of a police car, was placed prone on the pavement by three officers, including Chauvin, who pressed his knee into the back of Floyd's neck for more than 9 minutes as the victim cried out he could not breathe, begged for his life, went unconscious and died.

Bennett said another major contrast was that video from multiple police body cameras, surveillance cameras and bystander cellphone footage offered jurors an up-close and almost 360-degree view of Floyd's death and his interactions with officers leading up to his fatal takedown.

Yanez was captured from a distance by a police car dash cam firing into Castile's car, but the footage failed to capture what happened in the vehicle that prompted the officer to resort to deadly force, Bennett said. In the dash-cam video, Yanez is heard yelling, "Don't pull it out," before shooting Castile five times.

A juror on the Yanez case told Minnesota Public Radio, "It just came down to us not being able to see what was going on in the car."

The witnesses

In the immediate aftermath of the gunfire, Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with her 4-year-old daughter, posted a Facebook Live video of him bleeding to death and her saying, "He was licensed to carry," and that he was reaching for his wallet. Speaking to Yanez, who was still pointing his gun at Castile, Reynolds said, "You told him to get his ID."

"You didn't get to look at Yanez's face very much," Bennett said of the dash-cam video. "He didn't have the nonchalant, 'I don't care if I kill you' look that Chauvin displayed."

He said another salient difference was the witness.

"You had Diamond Reynolds who was a witness," Bennett said, "versus this bouquet of citizen witnesses [in the Chauvin trial] who were of all different genders, different ages, different races, who all came to the same startling conclusion and had the guts to testify on the stand and to take video and remember. All of whom were left marked by what they saw. I think the citizen witnesses convicted him."

During Yanez's trial, the defense attorney, Earl Gray, sought to discredit Reynolds' testimony by getting her to admit on the witness stand that she and Castile, who worked as a nutrition services assistant for an elementary school, smoked marijuana daily.

Like the Cauvin case, where defense attorney Eric Nelson argued drugs found in Floyd's system, specifically fentanyl and methamphetamine, influenced his behavior and contributed to his death, Gray used marijuana found in Castile's system to argue his impairment was to blame for his death, Bennett said.

Bennett said another variable was that Yanez testified in his trial while Chauvin invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

"I thought I was going to die," Yanez testified. "I had no other choice. I was forced to engage Mr. Castile. He was not complying with my directions."

Yanez also broke down in tears on the witness stand, saying his "baby girl" flashed through his mind during the encounter and that it wasn't his intention to shoot Castile.

The jurors

Bennett also noted the backgrounds of the Yanez jury, which was comprised of 10 white people and two Black people, most of them, with the exception of a nurse and a wellness coach, were blue-collar workers with little college education. Whereas the Chauvin trial jury -- comprised of six people of color and six white members -- were mostly college-educated, including a tax auditor, a chemist, a banker, an information technology security manager and a woman with a degree in child psychology.

Bennett said the Chauvin jury reminded him of the panel assembled for the 2019 trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor. Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter for the 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, was shot to death after she called 911 to report a possible assault in progress behind her home.

Bennett represented Ruszczyk Damond's family in a wrongful death lawsuit that resulted in a $20 million settlement from the city of Minneapolis, which was the largest payout for a police misconduct case until the city paid Floyd's loved ones $27 million in March.

"The jury in the Mohamed Noor conviction is very much like the Chauvin jury. It was diverse, it was intelligent, it was really very similar. And they took about the same amount of time to come to their verdict," Bennett said.

The Chauvin jury reached its unanimous verdict on Tuesday after just under 10 hours of deliberation.

Another significant difference between Chauvin's trial and that of Yanez was the gavel-to-gavel livestream of the proceedings that Cahill ordered due to COVID-19 precautions limiting the number of people allowed in the courtroom.

"The lawyers, by and large, behaved themselves," Bennett said. "If you're on camera, you can't say the same stuff that you say when you're not on camera it seems to me."

Asked if future prosecutions of police will require the mountain of evidence prosecutors presented in the Chauvin trial to garner a conviction, Bennett said criminal trials, particularly police misconduct trials, are "very idiosyncratic."

"I've been doing police-misconduct cases since 1980, and it always took a lot of evidence to even get a verdict in you favor in a plaintiff's case with a preponderance of the evidence," Bennett said. "So, it's certainly a high burden. I know that they got it right in this case. Will they get it right in every other case? I don't know."

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Case over Jeffrey Epstein's 'sweetheart deal' could be headed for Supreme Court

Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- On a Friday afternoon in July 2008, 20-year-old Courtney Wild appeared in federal court in West Palm Beach, Florida, demanding answers from federal prosecutors about their investigation of multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who allegedly sexually abused Wild and dozens of other underage girls at his waterfront mansion on Palm Beach Island.

Her legal action forced the government's admission that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami already had reached a confidential deal with Epstein several months earlier, without informing the alleged victims. Over 12 years of litigation, Wild's case ultimately exposed details of the secret negotiations between prosecutors and Epstein's high-priced legal team that led to the controversial agreement.

"Without our case, probably no one would have seen the non-prosecution agreement, the secret agreement," said Brad Edwards, an attorney for Wild. "Without that action, nobody would have known just how bad [Epstein] and his other co-conspirators were. No one would have ever understood the whole story."

But now the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled, in a 7-4 decision, that Wild's case never should have gotten off the ground. The majority of judges concluded that the federal Crime Victims' Rights Act, enacted by Congress in 2004, did not allow Wild to sue the Justice Department over Epstein's "sweetheart deal" in the absence of an existing criminal prosecution against Epstein.

Federal prosecutors drafted a 53-page indictment of Epstein in 2007 but never filed it, opting to forgo federal prosecution in exchange for Epstein's guilty pleas to two prostitution-related charges in Palm Beach County Court.

"Because the government never filed charges against Epstein, there was no pre-existing proceeding in which Ms. Wild could have moved for relief under the CVRA, and the Act does not sanction her stand-alone suit," U.S. Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom wrote in the court's majority opinion.

Newsom acknowledged that the court's decision leaves Wild and other alleged Epstein victims "largely empty handed" and without any remedy for the U.S. government's alleged mistreatment of Epstein's victims. Wild had argued for years that the Epstein deal, which also conferred immunity to any alleged co-conspirators, should be declared illegal and torn up.

"We have the profoundest sympathy for Ms. Wild and others like her, who suffered unspeakable horror at Epstein's hands, only to be left in the dark—and, so it seems, affirmatively misled—by government attorneys," Newsom wrote. "Shameful all the way around. The whole thing makes me sick."

In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Court Judge Frank Hull asserted that the court's majority decision "eviscerates the CVRA." Hull pointed to language in the CVRA that she argued allowed for Wild to seek judicial enforcement of her rights "if no prosecution is underway" by filing a motion "in the district court in the district in which the crime occurred." That is, Hull noted, exactly what Wild did in 2008.

"Ms. Wild has spent over 10 years seeking to vindicate her statutory rights expressly created by Congress. Today, the Majority tells Ms. Wild and Epstein's other victims that all of that was for naught, since they never had the right to file their motion in the first place back in 2008," Hull wrote.

Wild's attorneys told ABC News this week that they plan to ask the nation's highest court to take up the case and overturn a ruling they contend is "outrageous" and "wrong-headed."

"We plan to seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court of this unfortunate and far-reaching decision, which makes victims' rights completely unenforceable in situations where federal prosecutors cut a secret deal with wealthy defendants," said attorney Paul Cassell, a former federal judge, who, along with Edwards, has spent "several thousands of pro bono hours" on Wild's case.

"Basically," Cassell added, "what this means is if you're rich enough to hire a battery of lawyers to cut a pre-indictment deal, then you don't have to worry about the victims at all."

The ruling by the 11th Circuit effectively nullifies previous decisions by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra in West Palm Beach. Marra ruled in February 2019 that federal prosecutors had reached the deal with Epstein in violation of the rights of Epstein's victims. But as Marra was considering potential remedies for the government's infraction, Epstein was arrested again in July 2019 and charged in New York with federal conspiracy and sex crimes against minors. Epstein died by suicide a month later in a Manhattan federal jail, and Marra subsequently dismissed Wild's case.

Wild appealed the dismissal, contending that the Epstein deal should still be invalidated because of the government's alleged breach of its legal obligations to the victims. Her appeal received support from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and former Republican senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jon Kyl of Arizona, who spearheaded the passage of the Crime Victims' Rights Act in 2004. In a court filing, the lawmakers contended that the "miscarriage of justice" in the Epstein case was "precisely what the Act prevents."

"That's a bit awkward for the [court] majority to tell us that Congress never meant to do something when the three leading congressional sponsors of that very same act said, 'Yes, we did.'" Cassell said.

Cassell and Edwards acknowledge that the odds are against them in their pursuit of review by Supreme Court, which hears only about 2% of the cases presented to it each year. But Wild's attorneys also are pushing for passage of a pending U.S. House bill, the "Courtney Wild Crime Victims' Rights Reform Act," that would amend the CVRA to better protect victims. They credit Wild, now a 33-year-old mother of two, for her perseverance in her protracted legal battle for accountability.

"If the Supreme Court turns us down, then she is 100% all on board for testifying before Congress and making sure this doesn't happen again," Edwards said. "Her attitude is, 'Look, I'm proud of the fight. I'm proud of exposing the bad that the government did.' She's definitely a fighter. She's not about to quit."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Daunte Wright's family gathers in Minneapolis for funeral: Recap

Wright Family

(MINNEAPOLIS) -- Family and friends of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man shot dead by a Minnesota police officer on April 11, will gather on Thursday for his funeral.

Wright, who leaves behind a 2-year-old son, was shot and killed by a Brooklyn Center police officer during an afternoon traffic stop.

The officer claimed she mistook her gun for a Taser. The officer resigned from the department and on April 14 she was charged with second-degree manslaughter.

The service at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis is set to begin at 1 p.m. ET.

Here is how the news is developing. Check back for updates.'

Apr 22, 3:31 pm
'Entire young life ahead of him'

Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar presented Katie and Aubrey Wright with a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol in their son's honor.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz presented the Wrights with a proclamation he issued, ordering two minutes of silence across the state when the funeral began.

Daunte Wright "had his entire young life ahead of him," the governor said. "We know that this tragedy is connected to the deep and systemic racism in our society that Black people in Minnesota and across the country face every single day."

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar added, "Racism in this country is not isolated. It is systemic. And so when we ask ourselves, why Daunte Jr. [Daunte Wright’s 2-year-old son] has to grow up without a dad, when we think about what could possibly fill this hole that Daunte left in the world, we come up empty.”

"We must do more," Klobuchar said. "It is time for Washington, D.C., to move forward on police reform."

"We must pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act," she said, which was met with applause.

Apr 22, 3:02 pm
Rev. Sharpton gives eulogy

Rev. Al Sharpton in his eulogy noted how Daunte Wright’s mother, who is white, and father, who is Black, "raised him in an interracial home." "They defied the color barriers," he said, and "raised children to not hate nobody."

Sharpton said, "I don’t care how much settlement they [Wright’s family] may be given -- you can never fill the hole in their heart that was caused for no reason."

"The time has come for America to stand up and bring a new day -- to where we don’t have to explain to our children what to do when the police stop you," Sharpton said. "It's time to bring a new day where we don’t have to videotape when we see a badge, but where we know that that badge will serve and protect -- not treat us like we've been convicted. The time has come for police to understand they're not above the law."

Wright’s death will "change the laws of the land," Sharpton said, and children not born yet will "know his name."

Apr 22, 2:52 pm
'My son should be burying me'

Daunte Wright's mother Katie Wright was overcome with emotion as she spoke at the funeral.

"My son should be burying me," she said.

"My son had a smile that was worth a million dollars," she said. "When he walked in the room he lit up the room. … He was loved by so many."

Daunte Wright's baby son was born prematurely, she said.

The "joy" his son brought to his life was "truly amazing," Katie Wright recalled. "He was so happy and so proud and he always said he couldn’t wait to make his son proud."

"He lived for him every single day and now he’s not gonna be able to see him."

Apr 22, 2:28 pm
Crump: 'Justice for Daunte Wright'

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump led the mourners in a chant of: "Daunte Wright’s life mattered."

"Justice for Daunte Wright," he said.

"Our heart is broken with yours as we come to lay him to rest," Crump said to his parents. "But most importantly we celebrate his life and we define his legacy."

"As we make the plea for justice in the court of public opinion that we pray [Minnesota] Attorney General Keith Ellison will allow us to get full justice in the court of law," he said.

Emmett Till’s family, Oscar Grant’s family and Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend came to the funeral to show their support, along with George Floyd’s family, Crump said.

Till, a 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago, was killed in Mississippi in 1955. Till was kidnapped, beaten and lynched after he was accused of whistling at a white woman. Two white men went on trial for his killing and were acquitted by an all-white jury.

Grant, a 22-year-old Black man, was shot dead by a transit officer at a California train station in 2009. The officer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot dead by police in her Louisville home as officers tried to execute a search warrant. No officers have been charged in connection to her death.

Before Crump spoke, an artist came to the podium and painted a portrait of Wright in realtime. When he was done, he was praised with a standing ovation.

Apr 22, 1:26 pm
Minnesota politicians arrive

Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith are joining Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar at the funeral.

"Nothing can bring Daunte back to his loved ones," Walz tweeted Thursday. "But we will continue working to enact meaningful, lasting police accountability and reform."

Apr 22, 12:43 pm
A beloved father, son and brother

Daunte Wright was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was raised in Minneapolis, where he moved when he was 7 years old.

He’s survived by his son, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and great-grandmother.

"He was a beloved son, a loving father to his two-year-old son, an adored brother and role model, especially to his younger sister," the funeral card said. "Daunte was taken from his family and friends too soon and leaves a hole in their heart that will never be filled."

Daunte Wright was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was raised in Minneapolis, where he moved when he was 7 years old.

He’s survived by his son, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and great-grandmother.

"He was a beloved son, a loving father to his two-year-old son, an adored brother and role model, especially to his younger sister," the funeral card said. "Daunte was taken from his family and friends too soon and leaves a hole in their heart that will never be filled."

Apr 22, 11:01 am
George Floyd's family to attend funeral

Rev. Al Sharpton will give a eulogy at Wright's funeral at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

Relatives of George Floyd are expected to attend the service.

One of George Floyd's brothers, Terrence Floyd, said he had an "emotional" conversation with Wright's mother.

"Just 11 months, not even a year ago, our family was in the same situation and going day by day," Floyd said on ABC's The View Wednesday. "I basically just prayed with her and told -- just consoled her. I did to her what we wanted people to do for us."

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Ohio garbage man pleads guilty to dumping trash, waste on his own property

Marilyn Nieves/iStock

(MILFORD, Ohio) -- An Ohio man whose job it was to collect trash has pleaded guilty to several charges related to dumping that garbage and other illegal waste at a makeshift landfill on his own property.

The man, 52-year-old Donald Combs of Milford, Ohio, could face possible jail time for picking up thousands of pounds of trash over four years and putting it in the unlicensed landfill adjacent to his home, as well as at an unlicensed commercial site of his waste hauling business in nearby Goshen Township, the Ohio attorney general's office announced Thursday.

Combs, described by state authorities as a "mass polluter," would solicit waste-hauling business by placing ads on Craigslist. He also undercut competitors, who factored into their prices "the appropriate costs of properly dumping solid waste in a licensed landfill," authorities said.

Some of the piles of solid waste, which were mixed in with construction and demolition debris, were more than 20 feet high, authorities said. The cleanup is estimated to cost nearly $1.3 million.

"This garbage man drove off with your trash, but was never headed to a landfill," Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a statement.

Combs pleaded guilty to eight felonies -- three counts of illegal open dumping of solid waste, two counts of illegal operation of a solid waste facility without a license, two counts of violating Ohio EPA director of environmental protection orders and one count of illegal open burning of solid waste.

In 2019, Combs pleaded guilty to open burning of solid waste at his residential property, authorities said. When the Goshen Township Fire Department responded to his home, they found an unattended fire.

Combs was free on bond from that criminal case when he disregarded orders from the Ohio EPA prohibiting him from hauling waste to his unlicensed property, according to authorities. He was indicted in December and pleaded guilty to two counts of violating EPA orders.

He is scheduled to appear for sentencing for both criminal cases on May 27. An attorney for Combs did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

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Boulder mass shooting: Nine civilians killed before slain officer arrived, DA says

Chet Strange/Getty Images

(BOULDER, Colo.) -- The nine civilian victims gunned down at a Boulder, Colorado, grocery store last month were all killed before police officer Eric Talley and other officers "bravely charged in" the store, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said Thursday.

Less than 30 seconds after Talley -- the final victim -- was shot and killed, a "second wave of officers" headed into the store, Dougherty said at a news conference.

Prosecutors have added 43 additional charges against Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, who was taken into custody after the March 22 shooting that killed 10 at the King Soopers grocery store, Dougherty said.

Alissa, 21, was initially charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder as well as one count of attempted murder for allegedly shooting at a police officer who was not hurt.

The amended criminal complaint list numerous counts of attempted murder for the citizens and police officers who were in the store and responded to the shooting.

At least 115 people were in the store and at least 25 others were in the parking lot when the shooting began, Dougherty said.

New charges also include assault and for the illegal large capacity magazines Alissa was allegedly carrying.

The weapon allegedly used in the massacre was a semi-automatic Ruger AR-556 pistol that was bought legally in Colorado, police said.

A motive has not been determined, Dougherty said Thursday. He said authorities are still working to uncover one, but added, "you don't need motive to prove that someone acted with intent."

Alissa has not entered a plea. He is next due in court on May 25 for a status conference, Dougherty said.

ABC News' Alex Stone contributed to this report.

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'This can't happen anymore': A year after Vanessa Guillen's death, family demands legislation

Sgt. Melissa Lessard/U.S. Army

(WASHINGTON) -- It has been one year since Army specialist Vanessa Guillen was last seen alive at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas.

On the anniversary of her death, her family gathered in Washington, D.C., to push members of Congress to pass a bill to reform the way the military handles sexual assault and harassment allegations.

Guillen, 20, was allegedly killed by another solder at the Killeen, Texas, base on April 22, 2020. Her family says she told them she’d been sexually harassed by a sergeant months before her death.

"Young men and women ... they’re not afraid to take a bullet for our country but they’re afraid to report sexual harassment," Natalie Khawam, the Guillen family's lawyer, said at a press conference in Washington Thursday. "This can't happen anymore. If we don’t have legislation, [if we don't have] the I Am Vanessa Guillen bill passed, we’re just going to see more deaths in our military. Young men and women serving our country need to be protected."

California Rep. Jackie Speier was originally expected to re-introduce the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act on Thursday. The bill was first introduced last September in a previous session of Congress but was never voted on.

Khawam said Speier would wait for a report from an Independent Review Commission requested by President Joe Biden to investigate sexual assault in the Army. The report is slated to be released in May.

The bill seeks to create an independent system where service members can safely report sexual misconduct cases without fear of retaliation and move prosecution decisions out of the chain of command. It would also make sexual harassment a punishable crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Guillen's sisters, Mayra and Lupe, gave emotional speeches Thursday, urging Congress to pass the bill.

“It takes a lot for us to be here today after demanding justice after a whole year," Mayra said. "All I ask for today is please don’t forget her name. Don’t forget the story."

Lupe cried during her statement and said her tears were out of "frustration."

"Every day she was putting her life, thousands of men and women are putting their lives at risk, simply for this nation. What does the nation give them? No rights," Lupe said. "They don't have the right to file a complaint outside the chain of command. They don't have the right to speak up. My sister couldn’t speak up because she was afraid of retaliation."

She added, "The problem is not the aggressor -- it’s the system, because the system does not hold them accountable."

Guillen’s death triggered a sexual assault reckoning in the U.S. Army and prompted the “I Am Vanessa Guillen” movement where military members opened up about sexual assault during their service.

Guillen was allegedly killed by Spc. Aaron Robinson. He allegedly bludgeoned her to death with a hammer in an arms room, Khawam said last year. Robinson took his own life when police confronted him on July 1, 2020, hours after Guillen’s remains were discovered.

Only one person has been arrested in her death, Robinson's girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar. According to a criminal complaint against her, she told police she helped Robinson dispose of Guillen’s body. She faces up to 20 years in federal prison for one charge of conspiracy to tamper with documents or proceedings and two charges of tampering with documents or proceedings. In July, her lawyer entered not guilty pleas on her behalf.

On Monday, Army officials dedicated a gate at Fort Hood in Guillen's honor.

“I want current and future soldiers to understand the impact of what we’re doing here today,” Lt. Gen. Pat White, III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general, said. “It’s mostly so in two, three, four years, we haven’t forgotten what this is all about, what this moment is about in our history.”

A vigil will also be held at 6:30 p.m. ET at the Vanessa Guillen Mural in Washington.

In Texas, state lawmakers have introduced several bills in honor of Guillen.

Senate Bill 623, which seeks to create a state sexual offense prevention and response program and coordinator for Texas military forces, passed in the Texas Senate with an unanimous vote of 31-0 on April 12. The bill now sits with the Texas House Committee on Defense & Veterans’ Affairs.

Other bills are seeking to rename a part of State Highway 3 after Guillen and make her Sept. 30 birthday a state holiday.

In December, the Army announced 14 senior leaders and enlisted personnel at Fort Hood were fired or suspended following an independent panel’s review of the command climate and culture at the base.

"The investigation after Vanessa Guillen's murder found Fort Hood has a command climate that was permissive of sexual harassment and sexual assault," then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said.

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Record cold from Midwest to the Northeast as new storm brings severe weather South

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A late season cold blast is moving through the country Thursday morning with record lows and snow.

On Thursday, nearly four dozen record lows could be tied or broken from Little Rock, Arkansas, to New York City’s JFK airport.

Up to 8 inches of snow fell near Cleveland Wednesday, making roads a mess in northern Ohio.

A quick moving heavy snow squall moved through southern Wisconsin creating whiteout conditions for a short time and at least 22 vehicles were involved in a pile up that shut down Interstate 41 near Milwaukee.

In the Northeast, 4 to 6 inches of snow fell from upstate New York into northern New England creating a winter wonderland at the end of April.

Ahead of this storm, there were numerous damaging storm reports along the I-95 corridor with trees and power lines down, and hail covered the ground in parts of New York City and the Tri-state area.

On Thursday, freeze alerts have been issued from Kansas to Massachusetts and Thursday will be the last really cold day as milder weather is expected this weekend for the eastern U.S.

Attention now turns to the South where a new storm is expected to bring a new severe weather threat from Texas to the Carolinas on Friday and into the weekend.

On Friday, severe weather with damaging winds, large hail and a few tornadoes will be possible for Oklahoma City, Dallas, Alexandria, Louisiana, and into Jackson, Mississippi.

On Saturday, a severe weather threat will move east into the Southeast with the biggest threat for damaging winds and hail.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Millions of Americans could be grounded from flying because of REAL ID deadline

Department of Motor Vehicles

(NEW YORK) -- As more Americans return to the skies for trips across the county, federal and state officials are sounding the alarm about a looming deadline that could potentially ground tens of million flyers.

Starting Oct. 1, any flyer over 18 will need to have a REAL ID-issued driver’s license or another federally approved identification card if they are going to fly domestically. The regulation was put in place in 2005 to ensure travelers’ identity in light of the 9/11 attacks, according to the Department of Homeland Security, but only recently did all 50 states come into compliance.

With less than six months left until that deadline, the country is far from meeting the new standards, as only 43% of the U.S.-issued driver’s licenses are REAL ID-compliant, according to DHS data.

Tori Emerson Barnes, the executive vice president of public affairs and policy at the U.S. Travel Association, a non-profit that represents the travel industry, said there are millions of Americans who either aren’t aware of the new rules or are stuck in a backlog at their local department of motor vehicles (DMV) that have been hindered by the pandemic.

“The last thing the air industry and travelers need is another delay,” Barnes told ABC News.

As the federal government mulls calls from governors to delay the deadline, which was already pushed back by a year due to the coronavirus, experts say states need to promote the REAL ID license upgrades and streamline the process as soon as possible.

Sluggish start

REAL ID licenses require more proof of identity, such as a Social Security card, tax form or pay stub. In some states, REAL ID compliant licenses are the only form of licenses given out to residents, while others are optional.

Licenses that are REAL ID-compliant can be identified with a star or wording on the card that indicates it is compliant.

Travelers who wish to fly after the Oct. 1 deadline and do not have a REAL ID can use a U.S. passport or U.S. military ID to fly, according to DHS. Passengers with Enhanced IDs, which are used to travel to Canada, Mexico and some Caribbean nations without a passport and require additional proof of identification such as a birth certificate, are also accepted.

Ian Grossman, a spokesman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which represents DMV officials throughout the country, told ABC News there were a number of factors behind the slow rollout of the new IDs.

Although Congress approved the new rules in 2005, several states didn’t begin to issue REAL IDs to their residents until years later.

Some state legislators and even federal leaders on both sides of the aisle challenged the act for concerns that it infringed on people's privacy and created problems for immigrants who may not have the necessary paperwork to get a license and fly.

The first states were certified for REAL ID in 2012 and it took the next eight years for all 50 states to be compliant, according to DHS records.

“The [states] that have a higher rate of enrollment are Georgia, Indiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and Maryland, because they were among the first states to offer it,” Grossman told ABC News.

DHS said the pandemic was a setback for rollout as DMVs had to cancel all of their in-person appointments and applications. Fortunately, the federal government announced in March 2020 that their original October 2020 deadline for air passengers to have a REAL ID would be postponed by a year, due to the pandemic.

Some relief

As of April 8, 118 million of the 274 million state-issued driver’s licenses in the country and IDs are REAL ID-compliant, according to DHS.

“The national adoption rate is increasing approximately .5% a month today, as compared to over 1% a month prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency said in a statement.

With DMV offices now open to in-person appointments with smaller capacity, applications have begun to increase, but there is still a backlog, according to Grossman.

DHS officials said they are working with states to promote the REAL ID and help them guide license holders to get their cards updated. It also has an online portal that provides users with answers and information on the deadline and links users to their local DMV.

Barnes also said that airports and airlines have been informing customers who have returned to flying in the recent months about the REAL ID deadline.

“Some airlines and airports are informing them at the point of booking,” she said.

Congress did provide states with assistance as part of its omnibus spending bill at the end of 2020. States now have the option of accepting documents for REAL ID applications, such as photo ID, online to speed up the process, according to the new rules.

“That technology is already available however some states have laws in their books where they needed a piece of paper in order to process the REAL ID application,” Grossman said. “The omnibus bill gave them the money and approval to do it.”

Calls for more time

While Grossman said he’s optimistic the federal outreach and new tech will make a difference in speeding up REAL ID applications, he said there is very little time to get a majority of Americans approved.

“It will take some time for DMVs to build up that new technology to process documents online,” he said.

Barnes said her organization and other travel groups have also been in contact with the federal government and the White House about a possible extension and she emphasized that the people who will most be affected will be the casual travelers who don’t know about the new regulation.

And with a post-pandemic demand soaring as more people are vaccinated and travel restrictions eased, Barnes warned that millions of adults might be grounded in the fall.

Barnes said the number of people screened at airports has been steadily increasing every month and she predicted there will be a large demand come Thanksgiving and the holidays.

“I do think more people are becoming aware of the REAL ID deadline, but there are many who don’t and others who are still waiting to get their application processed," she said.

State leaders are also calling for another extension.

On April 8, the National Governors Association, which represents all 50 governors, put out a statement stating, “the prolonged impact of COVID-19 may require an extension,” and called on Americans to apply for the license if they don’t already have one.

A spokesperson for DHS told ABC News in a statement that the agency “is assessing the necessity to move the enforcement date.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How Wyoming became the most vaccine-hesitant state

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(NEW YORK) -- With more than half of U.S. adults now having received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, the country is on the precipice of a new vaccination challenge: hesitancy.

According to new estimates from a U.S. Census Bureau survey conducted from October to March, we know more about which Americans are most likely to say they're "definitely not" or "probably not" going to get a vaccine once it's available to them.

Wyoming has emerged as the most vaccine-hesitant state in the country -- an estimated 33% of adults said they were reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine, compared with an estimated 16% of nationwide.

According to an ABC News analysis of county-level data, vaccine hesitancy is estimated to be higher in rural areas, particularly in the West and South. Counties with high estimated hesitancy also tend to be younger, poorer and more likely to have been won by former President Donald Trump during the 2020 presidential election.

Vaccine hesitancy estimates in Wyoming's neighboring states outpaced most other areas of the country. In Montana, North Dakota and Idaho, roughly a quarter of residents were reluctant to get vaccinated, compared with 8% of residents in Connecticut.

The top three reasons cited for vaccine hesitancy in Wyoming were "Concerned about side effects," "I don't believe I need it" and "Don't trust COVID-19 vaccines," according to the survey data.

Linda Thunstrom, an associate professor of economics at the University of Wyoming, said the Census Bureau survey tracked with research she's conducted with the help of Madison Ashworth, a Ph.D. student, and others on her team. Those findings aren't yet published, but preliminary indications are that vaccine hesitancy in Wyoming might be more persistent than it is nationally. Still, she added, the main drivers of vaccine hesitancy tend to be similar across the U.S. -- people are worried about side effects and about the vaccine being so new.

A third important factor appears to be "low trust in government agencies and also in the companies that develop the vaccines," she said.

What's happening in Wyoming?

In Wyoming, where 42% of adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine compared with 51% of adults nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state-based health experts offered a variety of theories for why some patients may eschew a vaccine, ranging from mixed public health messaging to concerns about safety to a belief that the worst of the pandemic has passed.

"Wyoming has had low levels of COVID-19 illnesses and hospitalizations for a while now, which affects threat perception," said Kim Deti, a spokesperson for the Wyoming health department.

The state saw its biggest spike in COVID-19 cases in November and December, according to state health department data, and is now reporting fewer than 50 new cases each day.

"I think part of the issue goes way back to when the pandemic started," said Dr. Jeffrey Chapman, chief medical officer at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, adding that the messaging over mask wearing was well-intentioned but inconsistent. "People just don't know what to believe anymore."

Linda Van Dorn, who directs Cheyenne Regional's COVID vaccine clinic, said some patients who come in for vaccines ask, "How safe is it really? How effective is this?"

Others have asked whether the vaccine contained a live virus. (It does not.) And despite an Axios/Ipsos poll this month, which found the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause had not affected Americans' likelihood to get vaccinated, Van Dorn said patients have asked about the pause.

"The shot that you are giving me today is OK, right?" she recalled patients asking.

The Johnson & Johnson pause, Chapman said, is similar to the messaging over masks: "Things just change all the time, which just creates angst."

Still, Van Dorn emphasized that Cheyenne, the state's capital and home to about 65,000 people, was doing much better on vaccinations than surrounding areas.

"The people that are coming in, they don't have that same sense of hesitancy that we're hearing about from our rural counties," Van Dorn added.

For Wyomingites on the fence about getting vaccinated, Chapman said a primary concern was long-term safety of a new vaccine. In younger populations, lower personal risk of severe COVID-19 complications was a factor, with some people, according to Chapman, saying things like, "I'm 20-some years old. All my friends have gotten COVID and it was just a cold. Why should I take any risk at all?"

Faced with those concerns, Chapman emphasized the importance of vaccination for the community at large.

"This isn't just about the individual getting the vaccine," he said. "This is about a community effort to try and eliminate the virus so we can get back to normal."

Rugged individualism meets limited health care access

The individualism that Chapman described can cut two ways, according to Noel Brewer, a professor of health behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

"People who live in rural areas are used to being self-sufficient," Brewer said. "In places where physicians and other health care resources have been scarce, it's common to be a bit entrepreneurial about your own health. You see that in rural areas all across the country."

On the other hand, people who live in areas where health care is limited or hard to access may be more inclined to see vaccines as a valuable tool.

"The idea of having a prophylactic against future harm that allows you to not have to go to the doctor can be extremely appealing," Brewer said.

When it comes to increasing vaccination rates among the hesitant, Brewer said there are additional factors to consider beyond how people feel about vaccination. He pointed to the Increasing Vaccination Model, adapted by a World Health Organization working group based in part on Brewer's research, which is meant to identify behavioral and social drivers of vaccination.

Three factors play into whether people get vaccinated, according to the model: what people think and feel; social experiences and norms; and practical issues, like their ability to schedule an appointment or pay for it.

"It's very common for people's intuition and for studies like this to reflect what people think and feel," Brewer said. "The reality is that the most influential factors are often the practical factors."

In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, "The main barrier right now that people face is the fact that vaccination appointments are hard to sort out," he said, adding that complex online appointment systems represent are a barrier to vaccination.

In Albany County, Wyoming, Christine McKibbin, director of the Wyoming Center on Aging, is trying to address that barrier head-on. McKibbin and her team helped staff a COVID-19 call-in center for the first eight weeks of its existence, so that people without access to the internet, or who weren't tech-savvy, still could make vaccine appointments.

People who contacted the call center were eager to get vaccinated, she said. "The vaccine is seen as a pathway for them to be able to see family again or gather in small groups together, potentially to travel again."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


16-year-old girl fatally shot by police in Ohio

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(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- Police have identified the 16-year-old girl who was shot and killed by a Columbus, Ohio, police officer Tuesday afternoon while he responded to a fight between several girls in a residential neighborhood.

Columbus police responded to 911 calls of a disturbance at 4:30 p.m. local time, with the first officer getting out of his patrol car, approaching the fight and opening fire just seconds later.

The victim was identified late Tuesday as Ma'Khia Bryant. She was taken to the hospital in critical condition and pronounced dead just before 5:30 p.m. The Franklin County Children Services said Bryant was a foster child under its care.

Interim Police Chief Michael Woods identified the officer who shot Bryant as Nicholas Reardon during a press conference Wednesday. He has been with the department since December 2019.

On Wednesday, police shared three new videos from body camera footage of the incident and released audio of the two 911 calls police received from the scene.

Footage from Reardon's body camera shows him exit a police car and approach a scuffle between Bryant and two other girls. In a matter of seconds the cop shoots at Bryant, who appeared to have a knife in her hand, when she lunged toward another girl. He fired what sounded like four shots. A second officer is seen rushing to her side after she fell to the ground.

"She had a knife, she just went at her," Reardon is heard saying in the footage.

"She's just a f------- kid," one bystander at the scene yelled after the shots rang out.

A statement released on behalf of the Bryant family and Ma'Khia's mother, Paula, said they wanted to "respectfully request justice for Ma'Khia Bryant."

"As a family we are all saddened by the tragic and unnecessary death of Ma’Khia," Paula and the Bryant family said in a statement to ABC News. "She was loved by many and had family throughout both Mansfield and in Columbus, Ohio. Ma’Khia was a good student, a good person, and did not deserve what happened to her. We want to remind everyone Ma’Khia was only a 16-year-old teenage girl. We are deeply disturbed by the disproportionate and unjustified use of force in this situation."

The first 911 call came in at 4:32 p.m. In the audio, screaming is heard in the background and a female voice is heard telling dispatchers, "These girls over here trying to fight us, trying to stab us, put their hands on us. Get here now! We need a police officer over here now!" The second caller said police were already at the scene.

The second body camera footage played Wednesday shows an officer arriving to the scene moments before Reardon opened fire and later placing at least three people, including the girls involved in the fight, into police cars. No one was arrested at the scene.

The third officer's footage shows him responding to Bryant after she was shot and an officer starting to perform chest compressions on her.

"Wake up ma'am. Stay with us," an officer is heard saying in the footage.

Woods said Wednesday two police officers performed lifesaving measures on Bryant and a medic was called 90 seconds after shots were fired. The medic arrived six minutes after the shooting and Bryant was transported to a hospital.

When asked why the officer did not use a Taser, Woods said "when officers are faced with someone employing deadly force, deadly force can be the response officers give."

"It's a tragedy. There's no other way to say it. It was a 16-year-old girl. I'm a father, her family is grieving," Woods said.

"She could be my grandchild," Ned Pettus, director of the Columbus Department of Public Safety, said at a press conference Tuesday. "My heart breaks for the family tonight. No matter the circumstances, that family is in agony. ... They deserve answers, the city deserves answers. ... But fast answers cannot come at the expense of accurate answers."

Pettus said if the law was broken the police officer will be held accountable.

Police held a press conference late Tuesday where they showed a small portion of body camera footage of the incident. In the video, the officer is seen approaching a fight involving several teenage girls.

Police said, and the slow motion video appeared to show, that the officer shot the teen just as she was "attempting to stab the first female that lands on the ground and then the second female that is pushed onto the vehicle."

"She was a good kid. She was loving," Hazel Bryant, who said she was the victim's aunt, told Columbus ABC affiliate WSYX-TV near the scene of the shooting. "Yeah, she had issues, but that's OK. ... She didn't deserve to die like a dog on the street."

A review of the shooting will be conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther confirmed the news of the shooting on Twitter.

"This afternoon a young woman tragically lost her life," he wrote. "We do not know all of the details. There is body-worn camera footage of the incident. We are working to review it as soon as possible. BCI is on the scene conducting an independent investigation -- as they do with all CPD-involved shootings.

"We will share information that we can as soon as it becomes available," he continued. "I'm asking for residents to remain calm and allow BCI to gather the facts."

People gathered near the scene of the shooting as night fell and later marched through Columbus and outside the police department.

The shooting came about an hour before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of second- and third-degree murder in the May 2020 death of George Floyd.

Police initially said Ma'Khia Bryant was 15 years old, but Franklin County Children Services later said she was 16.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Human remains found in search for missing Amish teen, prosecutors say

East Lampeter Police Department

(EAST LAMPETER TOWNSHIP, Penn.) -- Investigators have found human remains in a rural Pennsylvania area during the search for an Amish teenager who has been missing for 10 months, authorities said.

Linda Stoltzfoos, 18, was reported missing on June 21 when she did not return from a youth group she was supposed to attend. Investigators believe she was abducted while walking home from church, police said.

On Wednesday, the Lancaster County District Attorney's Office announced that members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pennsylvania State Police and the East Lampeter Township Police Department in Lancaster County recovered human remains in a rural area of eastern Lancaster County.

"The scene will be forensically processed, and the remains will then be released to the Lancaster County Coroner for official identification and determination of cause and manner of death," the district attorney's office said in a statement.

Since her disappearance, law enforcement and volunteers have searched over 15,000 hours for Stoltzfoos, according to the district attorney's office.

"The Stoltzfoos family has been notified of this update and are understandably still processing this information," the district attorney's office said Wednesday. "We ask that the family be given privacy during this difficult time."

In July, the East Lampeter Township Police Department charged 34-year-old Justo Smoker with felony kidnapping and misdemeanor false imprisonment in connection with Stoltzfoos' disappearance.

The Lancaster County district attorney also charged Smoker with one count of criminal homicide in December after prosecutors concluded that, based on the teen's continued disappearance, the suspect had allegedly caused her death.

"There was nothing found, no report or evidence, that indicates Linda was planning to leave her home and community," District Attorney Heather Adams said at the time. "And since June 21, there have been no signs of Linda or traces of activity or routines involving Linda."

In March, a judge ruled there was enough evidence to proceed with the homicide charge.

Smoker is incarcerated at Lancaster County Prison awaiting trial. He was ruled ineligible for bail due to the nature of the charges and the ongoing investigation.

During the investigation, authorities obtained and viewed surveillance footage that showed Stoltzfoos on Beechdale Road near the community of Bird-In-Hand, which would have been her walking route back home after church, as well as a red Kia Rio involved in the alleged abduction that fit the description of Smoker's vehicle registration and bumper stickers. Statements from multiple witnesses also allegedly placed Stoltzfoos in Smoker's car, authorities said.

Investigators searched a rural location in Ronks, Pennsylvania, where they believed Stoltzfoos may have been taken following her alleged abduction and found her bra and stockings buried in a wooded area, authorities said. Cellphone evidence showed Smoker allegedly traveled to that site several times, prosecutors said.

Smoker's defense attorney, Lancaster County Chief Public Defender Christopher Tallarico, said in court last month there was no proof that Stoltzfoos had ever gotten into Smoker's car, Harrisburg ABC affiliate WHTM reported.

ABC News' Jon Haworth contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


'He will be dearly missed by so many': Doctor among 2 victims in fatal Tesla crash

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(THE WOODLANDS, Texas) -- The two victims in the fatal Tesla crash that occurred this past weekend in Texas have been identified as William Varner and Everette Talbot, the local medical examiner's office said Wednesday.

The fiery crash involved a 2019 Tesla Model S car, and local authorities said there is no indication that anyone was in the driver's seat when the car swerved off the road and hit a tree.

The vehicle subsequently burst into flames and burned for over four hours even as firefighters doused it with 30,000 gallons of water. Eventually, firefighters had to let the fire burn itself out.

Varner, 59, was an anesthesiologist who worked at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center. The hospital's senior vice president remembered him as a "tremendous human being" in a statement to ABC News on Wednesday.

"Dr. Varner was a tremendous human being who personally impacted many throughout our Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center family over the years," Justin Kendrick, the medical center's SVP and CEO said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family, and also to those who had the privilege of working and serving alongside him in various capacities. He will be dearly missed by so many."

Tony Good, the vice president of communications at U.S. Anesthesia Partners, Varner's official employer, told ABC News on Wednesday that they "were saddened to hear of the death of one of our physicians over the weekend."

"Dr. Varner spent his life caring for others, and now we are focused on caring for his colleagues and family, helping them to cope with this sudden and unexpected loss," Good added.

Further information about Talbot's background was not immediately available. ABC News' local affiliate KTRK-TV in Houston reported that he was a 69-year-old engineer and friends with Varner.

Earlier this week, the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced in separate statements that both federal agencies were sending teams to help investigate the fatal crash.

The vehicle had an autopilot option, and investigators are working to determine if it was in use at the time of the crash.

Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman told ABC News earlier this week that one victim was found in the front passenger seat and the other in the backseat -- meaning that nobody appeared to be in the driver's seat operating the vehicle.

Tesla's chief executive Elon Musk replied to a Twitter comment on a Wall Street Journal article about the crash earlier this week to say that he doesn't believe autopilot was on during the crash.

"Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled & this car did not purchase FSD [Full Self Driving software]," Musk wrote on Monday. "Moreover, standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have."

On Wednesday, the electric vehicle tycoon responded to another tweet featuring a video of automotive engineer Sandy Munro touting the safety of Tesla's autopilot function.

"Sandy Munro knows what he’s talking about," he wrote.

Meanwhile, Constable Herman told KTRK that investigators are "100% sure" that no one was driving the vehicle at the time of the crash.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Inspector general finds DHS had legal authority to deploy officers in Portland but no comprehensive strategy

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general released a report Wednesday saying DHS had the legal authority to deploy agents and officers to Portland, Oregon, last summer but did not have a comprehensive strategy and was "unprepared."

DHS deployed Customs and Border Protection agents to Portland, Oregon, in the summer of 2020 to protect the federal courthouse after nights of protests in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder.

It did so under the legal authority to assist the Federal Protective Service (FPS), the new report says. FPS protects federal buildings such as courthouses. At the time, then-Acting Secretary Chad Wolf slammed the governor and mayor of Oregon for not properly protecting the courthouse.

But the report also said DHS was not up to the task and that "not all officers were properly trained to respond to riots and to conduct crowd control operations."

"DHS was unprepared to effectively execute cross-component activities to protect Federal facilities when component law enforcement officers first deployed on June 4, 2020," the report said. "Specifically, not all officers completed required training; had the necessary equipment; and used consistent uniforms, devices, and operational tactics when responding to the events in Portland."

In total, DHS deployed 755 people to Portland last summer, including Federal Protective Service, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Secret Service personnel. Out of the 222 agents deployed, 36 were not properly trained, according to the report.

The report found that 14 of the 36 officers who were not properly trained used a non-lethal weapon against a person in Portland.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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