Category Archives: Life in the USA

Katy cheerleaders make first court appearance

By Calvin Palmer

Six former cheerleaders and the former mascot from Morton Ranch High School in Katy, Texas, made a court appearance today accused of hazing.
 
The charge relates to an incident last year when the seven girls allegedly restrained several junior varsity cheerleaders, blindfolded them, bound their hands and pushed them into a swimming pool.
 
No further details were revealed in court this morning but the seven teenagers were told to appear before the judge next month.
 
The indicted students – 17-year-olds Kelly Anna Buffa, Haley Spincer Davis, Kirsten Marie Davis and Madison Gabrielle Tanner; and 18-year-olds Adelynn “Addie” Garner, Hannah Rose Cochran and Meigan Taylor Goff – each appeared in court on one charge.
 
Neither the girls nor their parents commented after the hearing but attorneys for two of the girls said outside the courtroom their clients are caught in a tough situation and have the full support of their families.
 
“This is probably a case where teenagers used poor judgment,” said attorney Robert Fickman who represents Garner, the varsity squad’s former mascot.  “There is no evidence anyone was harmed or endangered.”
 
Attorney Jed Silverman, who represents Hayley Davis, said his client just wants to get on with her education and her life.
 
“It’s just very unfortunate for anyone to have to go through this during the holidays,” Silverman said.  “She has a good family behind her 100 percent.”
 
Some of the girls were ordered to reappear before state District Judge Larry Standley on December 12 and others were assigned court dates on December 22.
 
Although several junior varsity cheerleaders are alleged to have been hazed, the indictments focus on only one.  The varsity girls are accused of pushing that cheerleader into a swimming pool on July 25 while her hands were bound and she was blindfolded as part of an initiation ceremony into the varsity squad.
 
The girls face probation and community service to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine if convicted of the class B misdemeanor charge.  They will be tried as adults.
 
Earlier this fall, school district officials suspended Morton Ranch High School’s cheerleading activities for the remainder of the school year.
 
[Based on a report by the Houston Chronicle.]

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Security tightened in New York as FBI warns of possible terrorist attack

By Calvin Palmer

As the great exodus begins for the Thanksgiving holiday, Police in New York are stepping up security of the city’s subway and train systems following a warning from the FBI of a possible terrorist attack during the holiday season.
 
The FBI has received a “plausible but unsubstantiated” report that al-Qaeda terrorist may have discussed in late September attacking the subway system.
 
A source told the Associated Press that the threat may also be directed at the passenger rail lines running through New York, such as Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road, which are particularly busy with Thanksgiving holiday travelers.
 
A U.S. counter-terror official said senior government officials have been briefed because the FBI recently received credible information about possible attacks over the holiday season and authorities are particularly concerned about this long holiday weekend.
 
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko confirmed that his agency and the Homeland Security Department had issued a bulletin on Tuesday night to state and local authorities and the information is being reviewed.
 
Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said the warning was issued as a routine matter but added there may be an increased police presence in New York and other large cities.
 
The discussions by al-Qaeda are said to have involved the use of suicide bombers or explosives placed on subway/passenger rail systems.
 
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said they have received an unsubstantiated report and as a result have “deployed additional resources in the mass transit system.”
 
Rep. Peter King, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said authorities “have very real specifics as to who it is and where the conversation took place and who conducted it.”

“It certainly involves suicide bombing attacks on the mass transit system in and around New York and it’s plausible, but there’s no evidence yet that it’s in the process of being carried out,” King said.

Homeland Security spokesman Knocke said the warning was issued “out of an abundance of caution going into this holiday season.”

No changes are being made to the nation’s threat level, or for transit systems at this time.  “However, transit passengers in larger metropolitan areas like New York may see an increased security presence in the coming days,” he said.

The increased security presence could include uniformed and plainclothes “behavior detection” officers, federal air marshals, canine teams, and security inspectors, Knocke added.

[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]

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Couple serves McDonald’s with $3m lawsuit over nude photographs

By Calvin Palmer

An Arkansas couple is suing McDonald’s after nude photographs of the wife stored on the husband’s cell phone ended up on the Internet after he accidentally left the phone at the fast-food chain’s restaurant in Fayette, Arkansas.
 
Philip Sherman says staff at the restaurant promised the cell phone would be turned off and securely stored until he could retrieve it.  He alleges they went through the phone’s memory, looked at his text messages and images of his wife Tina before posting the pictures online.
 
The McDonald’s logo and advertising slogan “I’m loving it” appeared next to the nude photographs, along with a caption describing Tina as “hot like McDonald’s coffee.”
 
Tina’s name, address and contact details were also posted resulting in unwelcome letters, phone calls and e-mails to the point where the couple were forced to move home.
 
The Shermans are seeking $3 million (nearly £2 million) compensation for emotional distress, embarrassment and damage to their reputation.  They also allege loss of earnings and want to reclaim the cost of moving to a new address.
 
The nude photos had been removed from the site that originally posted them but a professional-looking black and white image of Tina dressed in lingerie, allegedly one of the photographs stored on the phone, has been carried by various news organizations.
 
Tina Sherman says she started receiving threatening and offensive phone calls and text messages about the pictures shortly after her husband visited McDonald’s on July 5.  She was then shocked to discover that several of the images she had sent to her husband had been posted online.
 
The lawsuit holds the McDonald’s Corporation, together with the local franchise owner, responsible for what it claims were the reckless and abusive actions of its staff.
 
A spokesman for the company was unavailable for comment.
 
The quality of the photographs has raised some suspicions that the couple may have engineered an elaborate compensation scam, a suggestion they are likely to deny.
 
[Based on reports by The Independent and BBC News.]

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Teenager video streams his suicide on the Internet

By Calvin Palmer

A 19-year-old South Florida man committed suicide live online and in front of a reported audience of 1,500 people.
 
Abraham K.Biggs, from Broward County, died on Wednesday from a combination of opiates and benzodiazepine, said medical examiner’s office investigator Wendy Crane.
 
Biggs had told users of a body building Web site that he would be committing suicide and invited them to watch on Justin.tv – a live video Web site.
 
Some of the other users of the Web site were encouraging him to go ahead with the suicide, others tried to talk him out of it.
 
With Biggs lying motionless on the bed for several hours, it is believed one of the forum members contacted police who broke down the door, found Biggs on the bed and turned the webcam off.
 
A video clip posted on the Internet shows a police officer entering the room, his handgun drawn, as he checks for any sign of life.
 
Biggs was a member of the bodybuilding.com forum and posted under the name CandyJunkie.  He was also known as Feels Like Ecstasy on Justin.tv.
 
On Wednesday, he went to the forum and detailed the amount of drugs he was going to take.  The moderators of the forum apparently did not take him seriously because he had threatened to commit suicide before.  Other forum members encouraged him to carry out his threat.
 
Biggs then posted a suicide note, where he said he had hurt other people and hated himself for being a failure.  “I am an a@#hole.  I have let everyone down and feel as though I will never change or improve.  I am in love with a girl and I know that I am not good enough for her,” he wrote.
 
As he lay motionless on the bed after taking the pills, many forum members continued to insult him, believing that it was staged.
 
One forum pleaded with the other forum members to contact the police and tried to e-mail the Miami-Dade police.  He borrowed his father’s cell phone and spoke to police who directed him to the Broward County Sheriff’s Department.  About an hour late, police arrived at the teenager’s house.
 
San Francisco-based Justin.tv is an open network of thousands of live streaming channels and is named after its first “star,” Justin Kan.
 
“We regret that this has occurred and respect the privacy of the broadcaster and his family during this time,” Justin.tv CEO Michael Seibel said in an e-mail. “We have polices in place to discourage the distribution of distressing content and our community monitors the site accordingly.  This content was flagged by our community, reviewed and removed according to our terms of service.”
 
The video feed has been taken down but video clips have been posted elsewhere on the Internet and copies of the suicide note can also be found.
 
Many of the insulting posts on the forum have been deleted by those who made them.
 
There are none so brave as those who sit in front of a computer screen, except when their cover of anonymity is likely to be blown.  It strikes me the Web site should name and shame these poor imitations of humanity.
 
Welcome to the 21st Century.
 
[Based on reports by The Times, The Daily Telegraph and Associated Press.]

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South takes on the north in dispute over access to Beverly Park

By Calvin Palmer

Hollywood stars and celebrities are locked in a legal battle over who has access to a gated road.  Like battles of old, there is a north and south divide.  In this case, it is residents of North Beverly Park versus those of South Beverly Park.  And just like in the past, it is the south that fired the first shot.
 
In May, residents of South Beverly Park, among them Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson and movie producer Richard Zanuck, sued the North Beverly Park residents, people such as Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, Reba McEntire, Sylvester Stallone, Barry Bonds and media moguls Haim Saban and Sumner Redstone.
 
The dispute started when the 64-home North Beverly Park Homeowners Association began restricting access to a road that residents of the 16-home South Beverly Park community had been freely using for two decades.
 
Under the new arrangement, the southern residents could continue to enter through the northern gates at Mulholland Drive but contractors, nannies and gardeners had to take a seven-mile detour.
 
This exclusive neighborhood comprises mansions in Tuscan, French chateau, Spanish and modern styles, set on lots varying in size from one acre to 3.5 acres.  Of the handful of houses on the market, the cheapest is $14 million, the most expensive is $50 million.
 
Brian Adler, who helped develop the sister communities beginning in the mid-1980s, said the concept of having guards and gates was intended to make Beverly Park stand out from the other three top Westside neighborhoods, Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills and Bel-Air.
 
For more than 20 years, residents of the dual communities have enjoyed neighborly relations.  All residents of South Beverly Park, their relatives, friends and “business invitees” had access to their homes from the north.
 
In March 2006, the North Beverly Park homeowners sent a demand to the south asking for $121,000 year to pay toward the cost of maintaining the roads, gates and security.
 
Southern residents rejected the demand.  The legal letters flew back and forth eventually culminating in demand for $128,000 by the north.
 
In May 2007, northern residents informed the south that their relatives, staff, vendors and guests would no longer be allowed to enter the northern neighborhood’s gates at Summitridge and Mulholland drives.
 
Southern residents complained that such a restriction could lead to the denial of access to a fiancée, grandparent or domestic partner.  In addition, construction vehicles would not be able to gain access to South Beverly Park because they could not navigate the steep narrow streets above Sunset Boulevard.
 
The south argues that the conditions, covenants and restrictions for both the south and north developments made clear that residents of both communities were to have free and full access through the north gates; a provision that represented “a valuable property right” for each South Beverly Park homeowner.
 
The south claims the restriction has diminished the value of properties in South Beverly Part, as well as inconveniencing relatives, friends and others.
 
Attorneys –Steven Goldberg for the south and Jeffrey Huron for the north – are expected to make their closing arguments on Friday in Santa Monica Superior Court before Judge Norman P. Tarle.
 
Irena Medavoy, wife of movie producer Mike Medavoy, and resident of the north said “We don’t know who is coming in.”
 
She added that requiring payment from southern residents was only fair, given that she and her neighbors in the north pay a few thousand dollars a month for security.
 
“We are going to have to add extra security,” she said.  “You have to stop them, know who is coming through.  We videotape them.  Then you have the patrol cars.  It’s like Mossad security here.”
 
Whatever the outcome in this case, one thing is certain – attorneys Goldberg and Huron will be laughing all the way to the bank.  And then there will be the appeal and they will laugh some more.
 
[Based on a report in the Los Angeles Times.]

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Inmates crawl through ceiling of jail to party and have sex

By Calvin Palmer

Metal ceiling panels do not a prison make.  Three male and three female inmates at Greene County Jail in southern Indiana found a way of removing them to sneak between cellblocks to have sex.
 
The men – ages 44, 38 and 17 — and the women – ages 27, 26 and 21  — crawled through the ceiling after midnight more than a dozen times in September and October to have sex and drink homemade alcohol found in the male cellblock, according to a police affidavit.
 
The inmates were able to find a security camera “blind spot” where they could remove the ceiling tiles and create a passage between the cellblocks, Sheriff Terry Pierce said.
 
He added: “They used a shower drain as a tool to loosen security screws and the ceiling tiles were carefully replaced so they did not appear to be disturbed. We could not see it.”
 
The ceiling tiles have since been secured and Pierce said he was seeking funding to improve security at the jail, which was built in 1994 about 25 miles southeast of Bloomington.
 
The activities of these inmates have caused a certain amount of embarrassment for staff at the jail.
 
“If your facility has a flaw, the prisoners will show you,” Pierce said.  “They will find it.  “We are going to have to find a way to have a better security system.”
 
Prosecutors have filed felony escape charges against the six inmates who were awaiting trial on a variety of charges.  Five of them remain in Greene County Jail; one has been transferred to the Monroe County Jail in Bloomington.
 
Police say the investigation is ongoing and other current or former inmates may be charged.
 
The subsequent court case should prove interesting since none of the inmates actually “escaped” from the jail; they simply moved around within its confines.  But I guess Indiana state law doesn’t cover prison officials being made to look stupid.
 
[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]

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Indicted high school cheerleaders could face jail if convicted of hazing

By Calvin Palmer

Seven Morton Ranch High School cheerleaders, from Katy, Texas, have been indicted by a Harris County grand jury on charges accusing them of illegally hazing other cheerleaders.

The misdemeanor indictments were issued today, accusing the cheerleaders of restraining several junior varsity cheerleaders, blindfolding them, binding their hands and pushing them into a swimming pool on July 25.

One 15-year-old recalled: “I could hear some of the other members yelling, ‘I can’t swim. Stop. Please don’t push me in.'”

Katy school district officials launched an investigation during which cheerleading activities were suspended. After the investigation was concluded, cheerleading at Morton Ranch High School was suspended for the school year.

If the girls thought that was an end to the matter, they were clearly mistaken. It now appears they will go before a court.

Seven members of the varsity squad, ages 17 and 18, were charged as adults with hazing, a Class B misdemeanor that could bring a maximum six-month jail sentence and a $2,000 fine upon conviction.

Five more cheerleaders, all minors, may still face prosecution in juvenile court, said Tucker Graves, an attorney representing one of the girls.

Named in the indictments were Kelly Buffa, Haley Davis, Kirsten Davis and Madison Tanner, all 17; and 18-year-olds Hannah Cochran, Adelynn Garner and Meigan Goff.

The defendants, all of whom still attend class, are expected to surrender to authorities as their cases move through the criminal justice system.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for,” said Diane De La Cruz, mother of Laura De La Cruz, 15, one of the junior varsity cheerleaders. “We are thankful that the grand jury came up with an indictment because we have known all along that the (varsity) girls were guilty of hazing.”

Some parents of JV cheerleaders said their daughters have been harassed at school during the hazing investigation.

“The victims in this case are being treated like guilty parties,” said David Cruz, whose daughter, Danielle, was listed as a victim in the case.

Kim Armstrong, the mother of another JV cheerleader, said she voiced concerns about harassment to school officials.

“They haven’t given us any assurance that our kids will be safe,” Armstrong said.

School officials did not respond Wednesday to inquiries about the parents’ concerns.

“Frankly,” said Casie Gotro, an attorney representing defendant Kirsten Davis, “I don’t think anybody should have been indicted. It’s been blown way out of proportion.”

Gotro said her client got lost and wasn’t present when the younger girls allegedly were pushed into the pool.

“Nobody got hurt,” said Allen Isbell, attorney for Kelly Buffa. Isbell said his client didn’t push anyone into the pool.

Robert Fickman, attorney for Adelynn Garner, said his client is “contrite.”

National experts on hazing say the activity, which can leave its victims scarred for life, has grown more severe in recent decades.

“There has been a natural negative evolution,” said Cincinnati lawyer Gary Powell, who for two decades edited a newsletter for schools and fraternities. “It’s more creative, and, unfortunately, more violent.”

Chicago psychologist Jean Alberti termed hazing “child abuse by children.”

“If it happened to an adult,” she said, “it would be called assault, battery, robbery — all life-threatening stuff. Until we call it ‘child abuse,’ we won’t generate the outrage to change it. (Youths) think it’s funny, parents think it’s funny. They think it’s normal adolescent development, but this is an aberration. It didn’t happen 30 or 40 years ago. Now we have video on YouTube showing girls kicking other girls in the head.”

[Based on reports by the Houston Chronicle and Sante Fe New Mexican.]

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