Chief: Houston PD to end use of no-knock warrants

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St. John Barned-Smith and Keri Blakinger Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON — The Houston Police Department will end its use of controversial no-knock warrants in most situations, Chief Art Acevedo said during a contentious town hall meeting three weeks after a deadly Pecan Park drug raid that left two people dead and five officers injured.

“The no-knock warrants are going to go away like leaded gasoline in this city,” Acevedo told the crowd of activists, reformers and concerned community members gathered at Talento Bilingüe de Houston.

After the event – organized by the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice – Acevedo said any situation where a no-knock raid would be required would have to receive a special exemption from his office.

“I’m 99.9 percent sure we won’t be using them,” he said. “If for some reason there would be a specific case, that would come from my office.”

Given the wounded officers and the two slain civilians, the chief said he didn’t “see the value” in the controversial raids.

“So that’s probably going to go by the wayside,” he said.

The news came during the meeting late Monday after more than an hour of questions from a furious crowd that repeatedly pressed Acevedo on the conduct of his undercover officers, the use of no-knocks and inflammatory comments from Houston police union President Joe Gamaldi who recently seemed to suggest the department was surveilling law enforcement critics.

And, despite pushback earlier in the day from a defense lawyer representing the case agent at the center of the botched bust, Acevedo doubled down on his previous statements about the likelihood of charges against the police involved.

“I’m very confident we’re going to have criminal charges on one or more of the officers,” he said.

The crowd greeted his declaration with a chorus of angry voices demanding: “All of them.”

Still, Acevedo said he wouldn’t agree to let the Texas Ranger or the FBI take over the investigation.

“I feel very strongly that a police department that is not capable of investigating itself and finding malfeasance and criminal misconduct,” he said, “we should just shut down — and that’s just not the case here.”

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg also tried to assure the crowd that her office would investigate and that bad actors would not be allowed off the hook, but pushed back against “mob justice.”

“There is a process – it is the justice system,” she said. “What you’ve seen is more accountability – grand juries are returning more true-bills, and we’re prosecuting them.”

When asked whether he would fire Gamaldi or others allegedly surveilling or harassing activists, Acevedo said he wouldn’t deal with speculation. In response, activist Shere Dore fired back with an allegation that earlier in the day police came out and took pictures of protesters gathered outside Houston police headquarters to demand murder charges against the case agent behind the raid.

Acevedo asked for video to look into the claim.

He went on to say that he would roll out a new policy in the coming weeks to make sure that undercovers wear body cameras; the fact that they didn’t in the Harding Street raid was a point of contention afterward, given the lack of evidence to counter the initial narrative.

But Acevedo’s sweeping announcements weren’t enough to placate some of the town hall attendees.

One member of the audience, Tomaro Bell, expressed indignation over police use of no-knock warrants.

“I do believe this officer is going to be charged with murder,” she said, of Goines. “But the systemic problems that exist in the undercover narcotics division will not be resolved with this officer charged with murder.”

Relatives of several people killed in no-knock raids said they believe more investigation was needed before using the raid.

Aurora Charles said her brother, 55-year-old Ponciano Montemayor Jr., was killed during a no-knock raid in September 2013.

“I just want to see change, that’s it,” she said. “They’ve got to do their homework before they go in with these warrants.”

For some in the crowd, the killing of the Tuttles brough back memories of the killing of Joe Campos Torres in 1977.

“We’ve been down this road before,” said Johnny Mata, a longtime civil rights activist. Still, he tried to assure them.

“To those who feel down and depressed, that nothing has changed, ill tell you it has,” he said.

But at the same time, he called on Gamaldi to reach out to activists.

“An apology is still needed,” he said, suggesting the union could recall his election. “We don’t need any demagoguery.”

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©2019 the Houston Chronicle

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Ill. state trooper helps driver with blown tire

Kaitlin Cordes Effingham Daily News, Ill.

EFFINGHAM, Ill. — The last thing Steve Hibbard expected on his Dec. 30 trip to Indianapolis was a flat tire. What could have been a disastrous situation was avoided with the help of an Illinois State Police District 12 trooper.

Hibbard, who was traveling to Indiana with his father from their Arkansas home, was driving on Interstate 70 when his front passenger side tire blew around 4 a.m. The two were on their way to see Hibbard’s grandmother who was being treated at an Indianapolis hospital.

They decided to pull over on exit ramp 160 after searching on the internet for the nearest Walmart as Hibbard said he did not have a jack or other tools to change the tire. The Effingham store was approximately a mile from Hibbard’s disabled vehicle, so Hibbard said he and his father decided to walk there.

The Hibbards began walking back to the truck after purchasing a jack and four-way tire iron and tried to hitch a ride for the last mile of their trek.

“On our way to Walmart, there was a gas station, and we tried to get a ride since we still had a mile back to our truck after the first trip to Walmart. We asked two different people that turned us down,” Hibbard said.

When the two returned, they realized they didn’t have the right tool to release the spare tire from its cables. Hibbard said he decided to make the second trip alone because his father has heart problems.

That’s when Hibbard said he spotted Illinois State Police District 12 Trooper Andy Rath. In a December Facebook post, Hibbard described his initial encounter with Rath.

“As I got to Walmart, I saw (Illinois) State Trooper Andy Rath sitting in his patrol car. I asked if he wouldn’t mind giving me a ride back to the truck, saving me from a mile of cardio. He agrees without hesitation,” Hibbard wrote in the post. “We get back to the truck, and the blade breaks, so he gives me another ride to Walmart. He stays the whole time and makes sure we got back on the road.”

Rath said he did not think twice about giving Hibbard a ride and monitoring traffic while he and his father changed the tire. Rath said he assisted the Hibbards partly because he hoped someone would do the same for him or his family.

“I try to put myself in the position where if that’s my family stranded on the road or a friend that’s stranded, I’d want the trooper or the officer to treat them with respect and the way I’d want to be treated,” Rath said. “That’s the good part about the job. You don’t realize how much of an impact that you have on people.”

Hibbard snagged a photo with Rath before departing for Indiana, which he included in his “thank you” Facebook post to Rath.

Proud he’s one of ours! Thanks for sharing this Steve. While Andy Rath is an exemplary Trooper, many more serve their…

Posted by Illinois State Police District 12 Effingham on Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The 11-year ISP veteran said the kind deed was nothing out of the ordinary for a state trooper.

“This is just what we do. I’ll tell you what though. I will never forget them,” Rath said of Hibbard and his father. “That’s what we’re here for. We want to be there to help people.”

Rath said Hibbard did not call 911 because he didn’t think a blown tire was an emergency. However, Rath said if a driver needs that type of assistance, he or she should call for help.

ISP District 12 Safety Education Officer and Media Liaison Trooper Tammy Welborn said Rath’s act of kindness is just one of many examples of ways troopers assist the public beyond enforcing the law.

“On any given day, our troopers can be found assisting drivers who are having a rough day with a broken-down vehicle. Even on a mild day, you can see a sense of relief come to their face when they see a trooper walk up to the window to provide assistance,” Welborn said. “Whatever the trouble — flat tire, out of fuel, dementia, mechanical issues, medical issues or a crash — troopers are there to help them figure out the next step.”

Rath agreed, saying assisting motorists with something as small as a flat tire is something any one of his co-workers would do. He said it’s just a part of the job.

Hibbard said he will forever be grateful for the assistance Rath provided him and his father in their time of need.

“I’d just like to thank him again because I know that being an officer is mainly a thankless job. There are so many good deeds and actions out there every day that go unnoticed,” Hibbard said.

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©2019 the Effingham Daily News (Effingham, Ill.)

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Ohio deputy who was set on fire out of the hospital

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Eileen McClory Record-Courier, Kent, Ohio

PORTAGE, Ohio — The Portage County sheriff’s deputy who was set on fire Thursday while arresting a fugitive is out of the hospital after suffering burns on about 20 percent of his body.

Portage County Sheriff David Doak said Monday evening that Sgt. Jim Acklin was released from Akron Children’s Hospital burn unit on Monday afternoon.

When he visited Acklin in the hospital on Sunday, Doak said the deputy was “in good spirits and making some progress.”

“I was over yesterday afternoon and he was in real good spirits,” Doak said Monday morning. The sheriff posted on his office’s Facebook page Sunday, after he visited Acklin in the hospital.

Acklin was able to walk around a little on Sunday and was trying to wean himself off of painkillers he was given. Acklin was hospitalized with burns on about 20 percent of his body, mostly on his hands and arms, Doak said last week.

The sheriff posted on his Facebook page that Acklin “is a very humble guy and doesn’t care for the ‘limelight’… he expressed to me he and his family want to THANK everyone for the texts, phone calls, social media posts, and especially your prayers and well wishes.”

Acklin has served a long and distinguished career with the sheriff’s office and was just 70 days from retirement when he was attacked, Doak said.

Doak said a GoFundMe page has been set up through the Big Creek Search Dog Team, a Painesville-based group Acklin participates in. The group uses trained dogs to perform specialized operations throughout the region. The sheriff’s office is also accepting donations of gas cards, grocery cards and restaurant gift cards for Acklin’s family, as long as they are addressed to Sgt. Jim Acklin, Doak said. The sheriff’s office cannot accept cash.

A GoFundMe page has been set up for the deputy. As of Monday morning the fund had surpassed its goal of $5,000.

Acklin was among three deputies and two officers from the Northeast Ohio Medical University police force who were serving felony warrants on a fugitive, Jay E. Brannon, 45, at 6:43 p.m. Thursday after receiving confidential information that he was at a home in the 3900 block on Route 44 in Rootstown.

The officers detained two people outside a garage at the home before entering the garage to confront Brannon. Doak said Brannon ignited a can of flammable liquid and proceeded to make threats that he was going to “kill the cops,” in addition to saying he wanted officers to kill him, according to reports.

Brannon threw the ignited can of flammable liquid at the officers, striking Acklin, who fled outside with his clothing on fire.

Brannon has been charged with five counts of attempted murder, each a first-degree felony, and five counts of arson, each a first-degree felony. He has not yet been indicted for the incident and the charges are pending in Ravenna Municipal Court. If he is indicted, the case will proceed in Portage County Common Pleas Court.

He is being held in the Portage County jail on a $1 million bond.

In online court records, charges linked to Brannon vary, but include burglary, domestic violence, drunk driving, possession of drugs and various others that go back decades.

Brannon has also been charged in two separate cases from January, both of which are currently pending.

On Jan. 27, he allegedly offered a man money to make a false report to law enforcement and was charged with two counts of complicity, one a third-degree felony and the other a fifth-degree felony.

He was also indicted for tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony, and forgery, a fifth-degree felony, after allegedly forging documents for a motor vehicle on Jan. 4. The next court date on that charge is Feb. 22 in Judge Becky Doherty’s court.

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©2019 Record-Courier, Kent, Ohio

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CanceledSilver Alert-Pima SO–Mccants Hutchins–Located

CanceledSilver Alert-Pima SO–Mccants Hutchins–Located

Silver Alert canceled for Mr. Hutchins.  He has returned home safely.

Investigating Agency (if in Arizona): 
Pinal County Sheriff’s Office
Contact Person: 
Dispatch
Date: 
Sunday, February 17, 2019 – 10:15am
Contact Phone: 
(520) 351-4900
Alert Status: 
Located
Name: 
Mccants Hutchins
Age: 
80
DOB: 
Thursday, December 15, 1938
Height: 
5’8
Weight: 
200
Hair Color: 
Grey
Eye Color: 
Blue
Race: 
White
Gender: 
Male
County/Location: 
Pima
Vehicle License Plate: 
(Wheel Chair) JZW50 (AZ)
Vehicle Make/Model: 
Lincoln MKZ
Vehicle Year: 
2007
Vehicle Color: 
Beige
Photo : 

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Ill. shooting raises questions over gun permit checks

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Associated Press

AURORA, Ill. — An initial background check five years ago failed to flag an out-of-state felony conviction that would have prevented a man from buying the gun he used to kill five co-workers and wound six other people, including five responding police officers, at a suburban Chicago manufacturing plant, authorities say.

Gary Martin, who was killed in a shootout with officers Friday, ending his deadly rampage at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, was issued a firearm owner’s identification card in January 2014 after a background check failed to show a 1995 aggravated assault conviction in Mississippi, Aurora police Chief Kristen Ziman said Saturday.

He bought the Smith and Wesson handgun he used in Friday’s attack two months later, on March 11, 2014, she said. Five days after that, he applied for a concealed carry permit, which included a more rigorous background check that used digital fingerprinting and that did flag his Mississippi felony conviction, which led the Illinois State Police to revoke his permit.

“Absolutely, he was not supposed to be in possession of a firearm,” Ziman said.

Martin was able to keep his gun despite losing his permit, raising questions about what, if anything, the state did to get him to relinquish it.

Authorities said Saturday that Martin pulled out the gun and began shooting right after hearing he was being fired from his job of 15 years at the industrial valve manufacturer.

Martin killed the other three people in the room with him and two others just outside, Ziman said. Among those killed was a college student starting a human resources internship at the plant that day. Martin also wounded a sixth worker — who is expected to survive — before police began arriving, drawing his attention toward them.

After wounding five officers and with law enforcement from throughout the region pouring in to help, Martin ran off and hid in the back of the building, where officers found him about an hour later and killed him during an exchange of gunfire, police said. All of the wounded officers are expected to live.

“He was probably waiting for us to get to him there,” police Lt. Rick Robertson said. “It was just a very short gunfight and it was over, so he was basically in the back waiting for us and fired upon us and our officers fired.”

Martin, 45, was no stranger to police in Aurora, where he had been arrested six timesover the years for what Ziman described as “traffic and domestic battery-related issues” and for violating an order of protection.

Scott Hall, president and CEO of Mueller Water Products Inc., which owns Henry Pratt, said at a news conference Saturday that Martin was being fired “for a culmination of various workplace rules violations,” though he didn’t elaborate.

He said a company background check of Martin when he joined Henry Pratt 15 years ago did not turn up the 1995 felony conviction in Mississippi.

A vigil was planned for Sunday in Aurora, which is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Chicago and is Illinois’ second-largest city, with about 200,000 people.

Police identified the slain workers as human resources manager Clayton Parks of Elgin; plant manager Josh Pinkard of Oswego; mold operator Russell Beyer of Yorkville; stock room attendant and fork lift operator Vicente Juarez of Oswego; and Trevor Wehner, the new intern and a Northern Illinois University student who lived in DeKalb and grew up in Sheridan.

It was Wehner’s first day on the job, his uncle Jay Wehner told The Associated Press. Trevor Wehner, 21, was on the dean’s list at NIU’s business college and was on track to graduate in May with a degree in human resource management.

“He always, always was happy. I have no bad words for him. He was a wonderful person. You can’t say anything but nice things about him,” Jay Wehner said of his nephew.

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