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Oct. 9 2015 11:01 AM

NBA Player Whose Leg Was Broken During NYPD Arrest Found Not Guilty on All Charges

A jury in Manhattan has found Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha not guilty on three charges related to his arrest on April 8 outside a nightclub for allegedly interfering with NYPD officers at the scene of a stabbing. Sefolosha, 31, reportedly suffered a broken leg during his arrest and has said he was injured by police officers; before his trial he rejected prosecutors' offer to dismiss charges against him in exchange for community service.

Sefolosha was found not guilty of misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Police had claimed he was slow to move away from a crime scene and then "charged at an officer whose back was turned," in the New York Times' words. Sefolosha testified that he was not charging at police but rather trying to give money to a panhandler who was being escorted by an officer. He did admit to calling one officer a "midget."


Sefolosha's attorney complained during the trial that authorities had not provided him in timely fashion with police documents that, when compared with video footage of the scene, appeared to contain false assertions. The judge subsequently told jurors that they could "infer" that the documents in question contradicted officers' trial testimony.

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Oct. 9 2015 9:46 AM

Obama Shuts Down Dismally Unsuccessful Program to Train Syrian Rebels

The Obama administration is shutting down the Pentagon’s beleaguered and dismally unsuccessful $500 million program to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight against ISIS. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made the announcement in London on Friday and President Obama is expected to speak on it later today.

The 150 recruits currently in the program will finish their training and a much smaller center for leaders of opposition groups will be set up in Turkey. The Obama administration is also currently considering Turkey’s proposal that the U.S. aid a separate force of Arab fighters that would fight alongside Kurdish militias to march on ISIS’s capital in the eastern city of Raqqa. A Pentagon official told the New York Times  that from now on the U.S. would focus on supporting groups already fighting ISIS “rather than using training to try to manufacture new brigades.”


The train-and-equip program, which began a little over a year ago to recruit “moderate” Syrian rebels for training in neighboring countries, probably should have been seen as a long shot from the start. The U.S. was looking to recruit rebels to fight the Islamic State exclusively, rather than Bashar al-Assad’s military, which the potential recruits have been battling for years and care much more about defeating. So recruits were hard to come by. The plan was to train 5,400 fighters by the end of 2015 and 15,000 over the next three years, but only a few dozen actually went through the program. Last month, Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of the U.S. Central Command, admitted to Congress that only four or five U.S.-trained rebels were actually fighting against ISIS.

This isn’t quite the full story. Since 2013, the CIA has been running a separate covert program that has, according to the Washington Post,trained and armed thousands of fighters sent back into Syria’s civil war.” That program is presumably not effected by Friday’s announcement, but it’s facing dark days as well. Some of these CIA-backed rebels appear to have been specifically targeted in airstrikes across western Syria by Russia, which sees them as the primary threat to Assad’s regime. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, while the Pentagon has pledged to defend their trained rebels—such as they are—if they come under attack, no such guarantees have been extended to the groups supported by the CIA. The U.S., so far, doesn’t appear to have taken any steps to protect them from Russian strikes.

After Friday, it’s doubtful any rebel group would continue to count on U.S. support. 

Oct. 9 2015 9:27 AM

Four Shot, One Killed Near Dorm at Northern Arizona University

Police say four people were shot, one of them fatally, by an 18-year-old freshman after a "confrontation" at about 1:20 a.m. Pacific time this morning near a dorm on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. The suspected shooter, Steven Jones, is in custody. The victims of the shooting were also students.

The dorm, Mountain View Hall, houses a number of students who are members of fraternities and sororities. The Delta Chi fraternity confirmed to the Washington Post that some of its members were "involved" in the shooting, though it did not give further details.

Oct. 9 2015 7:44 AM

Tunisia National Dialogue Quartet Gets 2015 Nobel Peace Prize

The Norwegian Nobel Committee surprised everyone Friday and awarded the 2015 Peace Prize to Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.” In other words, for being the only Arab Spring country that succeeded.

The quartet is comprised of the Tunisian General Labor Union; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers. But the committee’s statement makes clear that the award should be read as a broader recognition of the role of civil society in Tunisia, which, four years after the overthrow of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, is the only Arab Spring country that is still a democracy.


The “Jasmine Revolution” was kicked off by the self-immolation of a street vendor in January 2011. Ben Ali stepped down in the midst of mass protests a few weeks later, followed by the election of government led by the Islamist Ennahda party in October. But in 2013, the country’s transition to democracy looked to be in danger of coming off the rails following the assassination of two opposition lawmakers by suspected extremist Islamist militants. The assassinations led to another round of widespread demonstrations by Tunisians already frustrated with the Islamist-led government and the secular opposition’s failure to adopt a new constitution. It was the labor unions that facilitated meetings between the government and the opposition. An agreement was reached under which Prime Minister Ali Larayedh of Ennahda stepped down in January 2014 in favor of a caretaker government. Later that month, a new constitution was adopted and in December of 2014, the country held its first free presidential elections.

The role of the labor movement, which has been deeply entwined in the country’s democratic development since independence, was particularly key. As the Carnegie Endowment’s Sarah Chayes wrote last year, “without the muscular involvement of the General Union of Tunisian Workers—perhaps the only organization whose power and legitimacy rival the Islamists’—it is unlikely that Tunisia’s remarkable political settlement would have come about.”

Still, the role of the Quartet is not that well known outside of Tunisia, and Friday’s statement by Kaci Kullmann Five, the chairwoman of the committee, indicates that the recognition isn’t meant to be limited to one group: “More than anything, the prize is intended as an encouragement to the Tunisian people, who despite major challenges have laid the groundwork for a national fraternity which the Committee hopes will serve as an example to be followed by other countries.”

The 2011 Arab Spring began in Tunisia before spreading throughout North Africa and the Middle East. But unlike Egypt, which has seen the return of authoritarian rule, or Libya, Yemen, and Syria, which have descended into violence and chaos, Tunisia has maintained a slow and steady progress toward democracy.

There are plenty of explanations for the Tunisian exception, as I wrote earlier this year. Some are structural: It’s a relatively small and ethnically unified country. It also had a dictator who knew when to get out of the way: Ben Ali fled the country less than a month after protests began, sparing Tunisia the rioting and repression seen elsewhere. Tunisia also had a less politically powerful military than Egypt, and the Islamist Ennahda party that took power in the first elections after the revolution was much more moderate and willing to share power than some of its counterparts elsewhere. Most importantly for any post-revolutionary government, it was willing to step down after it lost an election. And, as the Nobel committee recognized Friday, Tunisian civil society led by a powerful labor movement was able to put pressure on political leaders during times of crisis.

Tunisia still faces major challenges from corruption, a sluggish economy, and extremist violence exemplified by the attack that killed 19 people at a museum in downtown Tunis in March. It’s in a dangerous neighborhood, bordering Libya, and worryingly has supplied the largest share of foreign fighters joining ISIS in Syria.

Nonetheless, Tunisia’s fledgling democracy has weathered significant challenges already and is still the Arab world’s only full-fledged one. As the committee put it, Tunisia “shows that Islamist and secular political movements can work together to achieve significant results in the country’s best interests.”

The country’s slow and often messy progress gets a lot less attention than the outright anarchy engulfing other countries in the region, which makes Friday’s recognition, while unexpected, very welcome.     

Oct. 8 2015 11:12 PM

North Charleston Agrees to $6.5 Million Settlement With Family of Walter Scott

The city of North Charleston, South Carolina announced Thursday it had reached a settlement with the family of Walter Scott, the unarmed black man who was shot in the back by a police officer in April. The city will pay the Scott family $6.5 million rather than face a civil suit for Scott’s death at the hands of officer Michael Slager, who has been charged with murder and is awaiting trial.

“It’s historic,” Chris Stewart, a Scott family attorney, told the Washington Post. “It sets a good precedent for a city not tolerating this sort of behavior from police officers.” The 50-year-old Scott was a father of four and was fleeing from a traffic stop when he was pursued and shot by Slager. A bystander videotaped the incident.


“The settlement comes after the City of New York agreed to pay $5.9 million to the family of Eric Garner, whose death after allegedly being put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer was captured on bystander video, and the City of Baltimore agreed to pay $6.4 million to the family of Freddie Gray, whose death in the back of a police transport van prompted murder charges for six officers,” according to the Post.

Oct. 8 2015 10:17 PM

Ben Carson Tells CNN the Holocaust Would Have Gone Differently If the Jews Had Guns

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson took to the airwaves again on Thursday to discuss his views on guns. The former neurosurgeon is a believer in the therapeutic powers of heavy artillery in America’s classrooms, for instance. And Carson’s views on gun control, laid out in his book A More Perfect Union, bubbled to the surface again on Thursday during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, where he suggested that the outcome of the Holocaust would have been different if Jews had guns.

Blitzer read aloud a passage of Carson’s book:

German citizens were disarmed by their government in the late 1930s, and by the mid-1940s Hitler's regime had mercilessly slaughtered six million Jews and numerous others whom they considered inferior. ... Through a combination of removing guns and disseminating deceitful propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance.

The CNN anchor then went on to ask Carson to comment on his claim:

Blitzer: So, just clarify, if there had been no gun control laws in Europe at that time would 6 million Jews have been slaughtered?
Carson: I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed.
Blitzer: Because they had a powerful military machine, as you know, the Nazis.
Carson: I understand that. I’m telling you that there is a reason that these dictatorial people take the guns first.

“Ben Carson has a right to his views on gun control, but the notion that Hitler’s gun-control policy contributed to the Holocaust is historically inaccurate," said Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "The small number of personal firearms available to Germany’s Jews in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state."

Oct. 8 2015 8:50 PM

WHO Announces the First Ebola-Free Week in West Africa Since March 2014

After a year of tragic milestones of historic proportions due to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, this week came a landmark announcement of a different sort: Last week was the first week since March 2014 to record zero Ebola cases in the three countries at the epicenter of the outbreak. The heartening news came via the United Nations, which reported that the WHO had discovered no new cases over the last week in Guinea or Sierra Leone. Liberia was determined to be free of Ebola last month, after 42 days without a new case.

The three countries accounted for almost all of the estimated some 11,000 deaths in the region due to the virus. “New cases have fallen sharply in 2015, but the WHO has warned that the disease could break out again,” the BBC reports. “More than 500 people believed to have had dangerous contact with an Ebola patient remain under follow-up in Guinea, the WHO said in a report. It also said several ‘high-risk’ people linked to recent patients in Guinea and Sierra Leone had been lost track of.” The WHO urged all parties to remain diligent and that we’re not totally out of the woods yet. In Nigeria, which escaped the brunt of the virus, and was declared Ebola-free last year, quarantined 10 people on Thursday for coming into contact with a patient with Ebola-like symptoms.

Oct. 8 2015 6:09 PM

John Boehner Reportedly Begging Paul Ryan to Run for Speaker. Should He?

Rep. Paul Ryan knew that members would be looking in his direction when Rep. Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the race for speaker. Like most people, he has absolutely no interest in taking that awful job and prefers to fiddle around with tax and budget policy. (Well, more than just fiddle around.) He doesn’t want to be the guy up until 4 a.m. every funding deadline trying, in vain, to talk sense into members like Louie Gohmert; he doesn’t want to fly around the country chasing money. So Ryan rushed out a statement ruling himself out.

But Speaker John Boehner wants to get out of Washington badly and isn’t going to let some nimbly-pimbly statement get in his way. He spent much of the afternoon following McCarthy's announcement begging Ryan to reconsider. “On Thursday, Boehner personally asked Ryan to run for speaker over two long phone conversations, according to two sources familiar with the exchanges,” the Washington Post reports. “Boehner has told Ryan that he is the only person who can unite the House GOP at a time of turmoil.”


Ryan supposedly understands the “gravity” of the situation and how he may be the only candidate who can muster 218 Republican votes. He has cleared his schedule for the next couple of days. One imagines Ryan, in solitude, sitting by the fire, thinking very statesmanlike thoughts. Such as: Ugh, do I really have to do this dumb job?

So should he?

What Ryan certainly would want to avoid is another ambush from the few dozen conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, which effectively vetoed McCarthy’s bid. Sure, he’s supposedly respected by all now. But Tea Partiers are fickle. One day you’re the golden child; the next day you support some compromise bill that they don’t like, and suddenly you’re a left-liberal in cahoots with Obama’s “European-style socialist” agenda.

If Ryan is truly as strong as Boehner and others say he is, he should use that as leverage before giving an answer. House conservatives tried to bully McCarthy into accepting a wish list of unrealistic demands, and when he didn’t agree, he had to step aside. Ryan could—and if he’s shrewd, should—turn the tables. He could make the Freedom Caucus pledge (or better yet, sign a contract in blood) not to ever threaten a coup against him. He could demand that they vote with the leadership on critical budget, appropriations, and debt ceiling bills. They would be barred from going to Tortilla Coast to plot with Sen. Ted Cruz.

If conservatives don’t agree to his terms, then Ryan shouldn’t bother. But if they really want him, and agree, he would be doing an enormous favor for his party. And though it is America’s worst job, Speaker of the House Who Saved the Broken Republican Party wouldn’t be such a bad chapter to have in one’s legacy.

Oct. 8 2015 6:04 PM

Charlotte Police Officer Who Killed An Unarmed Black Man Resigns After Mistrial, Will Receive $113,000 in Back Pay

The Charlotte, North Carolina police officer who stood trial this summer for shooting and killing an unarmed 24-year-old black man in September 2013 has resigned as part of a settlement with the police department, the Charlotte Observer reports.

Randall “Wes” Kerrick, who is white, shot former college football player Jonathan Ferrell ten times during a nighttime confrontation. Ferrell had been in a car wreck in the suburban neighborhood of Bradfield Farms, and encountered Kerrick and two other officers after a frightened homeowner who believed Ferrell to be a burglar called 911.


In a deviation from the script so many Americans have become accustomed to since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department arrested Kerrick shortly after the shooting, having determined, based on dash-cam footage, that he had used excessive force. He was charged with voluntary manslaughter. The North Carolina Attorney General’s office at first failed to win an indictment on the charge from a grand jury, but after presenting the case a second time, convinced a second grand jury to deliver the indictment.  

Kerrick’s trial ended Aug. 21, with the jury deadlocked 8-4 in favor of acquittal. The judge declared a mistrial, and the AG announced that his office would not attempt to try Kerrick a second time. (You can read about Kerrick’s trial, its aftermath, and the extent to which it did and didn't leave the people of Charlotte with a sense that justice had been served, in a Slate feature on the case published earlier this week.)

According to the Observer, Kerrick’s last day as a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer was October 2nd; prior to that time, a representative for the department told me at the end of September, he had been on unpaid administrative leave.

The terms of the settlement between Kerrick and his now-former employer provides him with $113,000 in back-pay. An additional $16,000 will go toward social security and Kerrick’s retirement, according to the Observer, and about $50,000 more will go the attorney who represented Kerrick in the civil suit that Ferrell’s family filed in the wake of his death. The settlement will cost the city of Charlotte a total of $179,989.59.

Jonathan Ferrell’s mother was quoted in the Observer as saying, ““I know he doesn’t deserve it, but I can’t do anything about it. Let them go ahead and pay him.”

One of the lawyers who represented Kerrick in the criminal trial told the paper in a statement that his client’s actions on the night of September 14, 2013 had been justified under the law. “Wes Kerrick and his family look forward to new endeavors and are eager to place this tragic chapter of their lives behind them.”

Oct. 8 2015 5:47 PM

Oklahoma Accidentally Executed Someone in January With the Wrong Drug

The state of Oklahoma killed a man named Charles Warner on Jan. 15 with the wrong drug, the Oklahoman reported today. Warner, who was convicted for the 1997 rape and murder of an 11-month-old girl, died after a seemingly uneventful 18-minute procedure that apparently involved the use of potassium acetate rather than the potassium chloride which is called for in the state's execution protocol. The acetate/chloride distinction became public news on Sept. 30 when governor Mary Fallin cited the state's failure to obtain potassium chloride in calling for an unexpected stay of execution for Richard Glossip. (Glossip is a convicted murderer who many observers believe may be innocent and who actually lost a Supreme Court case relating to a different drug in Oklahoma's so-called lethal-injection cocktail.)

Charles Warner's execution was the first in Oklahoma since the controversial botched killing of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014, during which Lockett (in the AP's words) "writhed, clenched his teeth and appeared to struggle" over the course of 40 minutes before dying of a heart attack. The Oklahoman's story today doesn't mention Lockett, but does quote state attorney general Scott Pruitt as saying he is investigating "not only actions on Sept. 30, but any and all actions prior, relevant to the use of potassium acetate and potassium chloride."