TIMELINES 12/11/14

Haverstraw man’s name cleared three years after police encounter

A Haverstraw man was cleared of all charges after an appellate panel dismissed a jury decision which found him guilty of several misdemeanor counts against a Clarkstown police officer.

Richard Canjura, 31, was cleared on the grounds that the case, which involved aggressive acts against an officer during a 2011 bar fight, lacked evidence and involved several legal errors. Canjura was initially arrested for resisting arrest, harassment and disorderly conduct in 2012 and sentenced to probation.

Canjura was cleared in part thanks to a bar videotape which showed him complying with officers’ orders to leave the bar before an officer grabbed his shoulder from behind before stating he was under arrest, prompting Canjura to pull away.

Though the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office plans to appeal some of the charges, it has indicated the resisting arrest charge has been effectively dropped.

Opposing groups form to support and oppose East Ramapo oversight

Two opposing groups have emerged for a coming battle over state fiscal oversight of the East Ramapo School District.

One, Strong East Ramapo, was formed by about 1,000 who support a state bill designed to give a state fiscal monitor veto power over the local school board’s decisions. Formed by Chestnut Ridge educator Andrew Mandel, the group will aim to work existing alumni networks to build political momentum for a proposal based on recommendations from state-appointed fiscal monitor Hank Greenberg, who concluded in November that the District required strong state oversight, including a veto option.

Meanwhile, another group called Ramapo Citizens for Civil Rights emerged shortly after Strong East Ramapo’s website went up with an almost identical website name, allegedly in an attempt to redirect traffic to their site. The opposition group initially called for restoration of school cuts and opposes the use of a fiscal monitor, though alterations to the site later called for “reasonable” and “limited” state oversight if necessary to obtain aid.

The latter group’s message closely resembles arguments of those on the school board and their supporters in the Hasidic community, who argue oversight would undermine the democratic process in East Ramapo School District elections. The predominantly Orthodox Jewish school board has been at odds with public school families over accusations that it has unfairly exercised block vote power to redirect funds from public schools to the private religious community.

East Ramapo provides translator for board meeting, controversy ensues

The East Ramapo School Board stoked another controversy last week when it decided to hire an interpreter to translate the meeting’s proceedings for non-English-speaking attendees, but only allowed translation during one part of the meeting.

The school board, which has been attempting to appease parents and students who have criticized it for not paying enough attention to students for whom English is not their first language, promised the translator would be present. However, the translator did not appear until the audience began to loudly demand one. Even then, the translator only spoke for about 40 minutes during a presentation on the district’s ESL program.

According to Oscar Cohen of the Spring Valley NAACP, an offer was made to the board by his organization to provide a translator, but the board declined and opted to use a district employee instead, producing a result which he described as “deceitful and misleading.” Board President Yehuda Weissmandl justified the decision to only translate part of the meeting by arguing that translating all of the board’s proceedings would take too long.

Suburban farm bill signed by governor

A bill designed to protect and restore farmland in New York by relaxing standards for agricultural districts was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on December 5.

The bill, which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, lowers the required acreage for an agricultural district from 500 to 250 acres, potentially paving the way for an increased number. Agricultural districts exempt agricultural producers within them from certain local laws, government-funded acquisitions and construction projects, allowing the producers to function with relatively few impediments.

The bill was partly inspired by a policy forum held by Jaffee in 2013 on increasing the number of local farms and boosting their ability to meet local food needs. It is hoped that the bill, which received strong endorsements from Rockland farm advocates.

19 hospitalized after chlorine gas attack on “furry” convention

Authorities stated that a December 7 chlorine gas release at Midwest FurFest, a convention in Chicago for the “furry” subculture, was likely an intentional, malicious act.

The attack occurred sometime before 12:40 a.m., when first responders responded to reports of a noxious smell at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Rosement, which was hosting the event. They detected a dangerous level of chlorine gas in the air and subsequently evacuated the building, but not before 19 people were taken to the hospital.

After the hotel was evacuated, HAZMAT teams discovered powdered chlorine which looked to have been intentionally placed in the location. The building was cleared and convention-goers were allowed to return to their rooms at around 4 a.m.

According to the event’s website, FurFest “celebrate[s] furry fandom, that is, art, literature, and performance based around anthropomorphic animals.”

Justice Department announces new rules to limit profiling

Attorney General Eric Holder announced on December 8 that the Department of Justice will implement new federal rules geared toward reducing instances of racial profiling by federal law enforcement personnel.

The rules, which apply to federal employees with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, prohibit consideration of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity in the opening of cases. The new standards expand upon a pre-existing federal ban on racial profiling enacted by President George W. Bush in 2003 by eliminating accepted use of profiling in national security cases.

However, the law does not completely eliminate federal allowances to engage in racial profiling. Such practices will still be permitted during border patrol and airline screening activities and by Secret Service protective activities. Additionally, the rules must be followed by local and state law enforcement during joint work with federal agencies, but will only apply as guidelines for purely local law enforcement activities.

The announcement comes in the wake of protests against the police-related deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City. Though the announcement coincides with public outcry over a perceived lack of regard for the civil rights of minorities, Holder’s plan has been in the works since his appointment in 2009.

Rolling Stone updates apology as UVA rape story deteriorates

Rolling Stone Magazine issued an update to an apology posted to its website, blaming its own reporting rather than the narrative offered by an anonymous University of Virginia woman who alleged she was told by friends and school officials to stay silent after what she alleged was a brutal gang rape.

After Rolling Stone published the article in November, critics pointed to a lack of corroborating accounts regarding the gang rape of a student referred to only as “Jackie” during a date at a Phi Kappa Psi frat house in 2012. After the publication of the article, UVA temporarily suspended all fraternity activities and initiated its own investigation into the claims.

However, when contacted by the Washington Post, several students confirmed to be Jackie’s friends and representatives of the fraternity disputed the account, stating she had changed the number of assailants and did not have injuries consistent with the injuries reported in the Rolling Stone article.

In addition, Phi Kappa Psi reported no party had occurred the night of the incident and at least one of the men named as an attacker belonged to a different fraternity altogether.

Rolling Stone posted a response on Friday stating the author and editors were mistaken in honoring a request by Jackie not to contact her friends or assailants for fear of damage to her reputation. Jackie herself continues to stand by her account.

Massive Los Angeles fire investigated as a criminal act

A huge fire in downtown Los Angeles that consumed a seven-story apartment complex, snarled traffic on two expressways and caused tens of millions of dollars worth of damage was put out Monday night, but remains under investigation.

The fire, which occurred at the Da Vinci apartment complex, began in the middle of the night. Due to the unfinished nature of the building, wood frames were exposed to the flames, sprinklers had not yet been installed and walls had not yet been built, feeding the fire with more free-flowing air. Two neighboring buildings were damaged by the fire as well.

Investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrived to investigate on Wednesday, but are not expected to have a clear picture of the fire’s cause for at least a few days. Authorities examining the apartment’s ruins explained foul play was a possibility given that the fire did not occur during working hours.

However, it is also possible no cause will be found. Though the ATF is looking to interview witnesses and examine security footage from nearby locations, reports indicated the fire burnt through the building so thoroughly that any usable evidence might have been destroyed.

First of 43 missing students confirmed dead in Mexico

Forensic investigators have identified the remains of one of the 43 missing teaching students who were allegedly abducted by police and handed over to a local drug gang for execution in an event which has stoked outrage toward frequent collusion between narcotics traffickers and Mexican government and police officials.

The charred bones of Alexander Mora, 21, were identified with DNA tests conducted by an Austrian forensics team months after he disappeared from the southwestern city of Iguala. More remains were found at a landfill where Mora’s body was believed to have been burnt before he was dumped in a stream, but another Argentine forensics team was unable to conclusively link Mora’s remains to others found at the known landfill site.

Mora and 42 other students disappeared on September 26 after they commandeered several buses as part of a protest in Iguala. It is believed they were caught by police on orders from Iguala’s mayor on their way back to the college to prevent them from disrupting a planned speech his wife was scheduled to make. The mayor, his wife, the police involved in the kidnapping, and several members of the gang have been arrested.

The incident sparked protests across Mexico and led to a precipitous drop in the popularity ratings of current President Enrique Pena Nieto. In response, Pena Nieto has vowed to reform police forces, centralizing them more to reduce influence of local drug gangs and improve regional economies to prevent the gangs’ appeal to impoverished youths.

American, South African hostages killed by al-Qaeda in Yemen

A rescue attempt made by U.S. Navy SEALS to rescue American journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie ended in tragedy when both died shortly after a firefight with their al-Qaeda captors, U.S. officials said Saturday.

The raid, which took place at 1 a.m. Saturday, was made after it was determined by U.S. intelligence services that Somers was about to be executed. Though the SEALs successfully extracted Somers and Korkie, both had been seriously wounded. Korkie died while being extracted via helicopter while Somers died while undergoing surgery on a nearby Navy ship, the USS Makin Island.

A previous, unsuccessful attempt was made to rescue Somers, who was kidnapped in 2013 while working as a freelance photojournalist in the Yemeni capitol Sanaa, two weeks ago, but failed after Somers was moved to another compound. Korkie, who was captured with his now-released wife, was not known by intelligence officials to be in the same compound.

South Nyack pushes back against bridge pathway plans

After years of relatively cordial cooperation, residents of South Nyack are now fed up with state-level directives which they claim cut them out of the decision-making process.

Much of the furor emerged on November 24 when the State Thruway Authority broke a promise it had previously made not to place the access point to a bike and footpath in a residential neighborhood. When the corner of South Broadway and Cornelison was chosen, residents began to discuss how to organize against the state’s perceived lack of regard for the village.

Nyack Mayor Bonnie Christensen and the Village’s Board have come out in opposition to the plan, though they argue they are not opposed to the bridge itself. Residents and local pols have suggested the access point should be at a nearby Thruway interchange, though the Thruway Authority stated that would be too cost-prohibitive.

Discovery Channel viewers angry after “Eaten Alive” star fails to get eaten

A TV special on the Discovery channel which featured a researcher who attempted to get eaten alive by a giant snake stirred dismay among viewers when the man was not, in fact, eaten.

The two-hour program, titled “Eaten Alive,” was supposed to involve researcher and conservationist Paul Rosolie capturing and being eaten by a 25-foot anaconda. Rosolie never captured an anaconda of that length, but when he attempted to get eaten by another snake in a special wetsuit and helmet made for the event, the creature squeezed him and tried to fit him in its mouth.

However, by the end of the special, the anaconda opted not to swallow Rosolie. Twitter exploded after the special aired, with viewers complaining of a bait-and-switch by the Discovery Channel. Rosolie stated before the special that the show was meant to raise awareness of the destruction of the anaconda’s rainforest habitat in the Amazon.

FDA places $5.27 billion “lost pleasure” cost on calorie count rule

New FDA rules requiring calorie counts on restaurant menus could cost an estimated $5.27 billion in “lost pleasure” over 20 years, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s report on the regulations.

The analysis was included in a consideration of costs and benefits of the regulations, though the FDA claims the lost pleasure of eating unhealthy foods would be outweighed by the health benefits of eating well. The calculation is based upon a “consumer surplus” estimate, a category of benefits to consumers which might be difficult to quantify with market prices.

The lost pleasure figure is aside from easier to measure metrics such as reduced financial strain due to obesity and related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Though the FDA argues their study is sound and the data reflects positive outcomes for consumers, public health advocates have indicated the lost pleasure metric might be useful for trade groups and companies that wish to challenge the new rules.