Timelines: March 19, 2015

Department of Transportation launches email and text message service alerts

Rockland’s Department of Transportation began a new program this week which allows riders to receive text and email updates on changes to bus routes.

The Transit Alerts initiative allows riders access to real-time information and alerts on system-wide events such as holiday scheduling, inclement weather conditions and detours which potentially impact riders. The new program covers users of all major county transportation including Transport of Rockland (TOR), TAPPAN ZEExpress and TRIPS.

Subscribers to the service may sign up at www.rocklandbus.com or by texting keywords to 781-728-9542. The keywords for service alerts are “TOR” for Transport of Rockland, “TZX” for TAPPAN ZEExpress and “TRIPS” for TRIPS. Text messaging rates may apply according to a phone users’ private plan.

 

Robert Durst, subject of HBO’s “The Jinx,” arrested for murder

Real estate heir Robert Durst, the subject of a six-part HBO documentary entitled “The Jinx,” was arrested on Saturday and charged in Los Angeles County with the first-degree murder of a longtime friend.

Owing to new leads authorities said came to light this year, Durst was arrested in New Orleans for the 2000 murder of crime writer and longtime confidant Susan Berman. Shortly before the arrest, he had made comments in the final moments of the HBO series when he thought his mic had been turned off, stating “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Durst has been the focus of law enforcement scrutiny for years, owing to his connection to the deaths or disappearances of three people, including his wife Kathie McCormack, who vanished in 1982. The wealthy heir was also suspected in Berman’s murder, which occurred shortly before she had agreed to speak to investigators on the McCormack case.

After receiving significant public attention for his wife’s disappearance and his friend’s murder, he hid out in Galveston, Texas, where he killed his neighbor Morris Black during a scuffle and cut up the body aterward. Durst argued he acted in self-defense and was never convicted.

 

Putin re-emerges after short absence

Following a brief disappearance from public view, Russian President Vladimir Putin resurfaced on Monday, seemingly unaffected by the absence and untouched by personal malady or political intrigue.

Putin’s disappearance, which began on March 5 and spanned over the course of 10 days, ended when the president joined Kazakh President Almazbek Atambayev for a public appearance in St. Petersburg, Russia. Speaking only briefly and vaguely of the absence, Putin seemed flippant about the disappearance and stated life would be “boring without gossip.”

Indeed, the absence sparked rampant speculation in Russia. After Putin missed an important meeting with the Russian Federal Security Service and postponed a trip to Kazakhstan, commentators bandied theories which included the delivery of a love child fathered with a mistress, a serious illness resulting in paralysis and a coup staged by high-ranking military officers.

The absence also illustrated the seemingly deep interconnection between Russia’s political landscape and Putin’s presence. The prime minister has often attributed the state’s continued stability to his leadership and some sources have suggested the absence was a ruse to unnerve the Kremlin’s critics, who continue to look for a viable rival to the often imposing leader.

 

U.S. Air Force veteran attempted to join ISIS

A former avionics specialist and mechanic in the U.S. Air Force attempted to make a trip to Syria to join the terror group ISIS, according to prosecutors.

Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, a 47-year old natural-born citizen and resident of Neptune, New Jersey, was charged this week after he was caught at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. Pugh allegedly had intentions of crossing the Turkish-Syrian border, a common route traveled by citizens of Western countries who are seeking to join the Islamic State.

However, Turkish authorities stopped him before he could cross, transferring him to Egyptian custody pending deportation to the U.S. Pugh argued he did not intend to cross the border and went to Turkey to find a job.

Pugh had a long history of Islamist sympathies prior to the incident. After his stint in the Air Force from 1986 to 1990, he moved to San Antonio, where he converted to Islam and became increasingly radical in 2001.

Pugh reportedly expressed support for Osama Bin Laden’s bombing of U.S. embassies in 1998. A suspect interviewed by the FBI suggested in 2002 that Pugh had also expressed interest in fighting with Islamists in Chechnya.

 

Man charged in shooting of two cops in Ferguson

A 20-year old man was arrested on Sunday and charged for the non-fatal shootings of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri.

Jeffrey Williams was charged with two counts of first-degree assault, one count of firing a weapon from a vehicle and three counts of armed criminal action for opening fire with a .40 caliber handgun near a demonstration against police violence.

The bullets struck one officer from nearby Webster Grove in the face and another officer from St. Louis in the shoulder. Both were treated at a nearby hospital and released later that day.

According to prosecutors, Williams stated he was not firing at police and only hit them by accident. Instead, prosecutors said it is possible he was in the midst of a dispute with somebody else and could have been gunning for one of any number of civilian targets. Protesters interviewed by police also stated they were not familiar with Williams, who did not appear to be a participant in the protest.

Williams also alleged through his counsel that his statement was altered after it was given and that he was roughed up during the arrest and sustained injuries to his back, shoulders and face. Police flatly denied the accusations.

 

Facebook clarifies community guidelines, acceptable content standards

In an effort to elucidate its sometimes confusing content policy, social media giant Facebook clarified its community standards on Monday, releasing a more nuanced set of rules governing which content is banned.

Facebook has long banned terror organizations, pornography and nudity, threats and bullying, but enforcement was often haphazard and inconsistent in the past. However, this has left major grey areas such as posts made by terror sympathizers, “revenge porn” and non-pornographic nudity in art.

Now, support for any group involved in “violent, criminal, or hateful” behavior and sexually-provocative pictures posted without the subject’s consent are prohibited. At the same time, more latitude has been given for artistic nudity, though explicit depictions or text descriptions of sexual acts are still banned.

Facebook has had a complex, often times contentious history with censorship. The social media outlet has been criticized for censoring political and religious speech in foreign countries such as Russia. According to its 2014 transparency report, Facebook received about 35,051 government requests for data removal were requested worldwide and honored 9,707 of those requests.

 

Robbery suspect identified after attempted escape across Ramapo River

A robbery suspect attempted to escape from police across the Ramapo River, but instead became stranded and required rescue.

Richard P. Morgan, 49, of Ramapo, allegedly robbed the Sunoco gas station at the Ramapo rest area on I-87 before he fled onfoot. Morgan made it as far as the Ramapo River near the Waldron Terrace residential neighborhood in Sloatsburg, but was cornered by pursuing police as he tried to cross the river.

Morgan attempted to cross, but got stuck on a rock at particularly turbulent patch of rapids. Police addressed the situation with a crisis negotiator, airboats, a helicopter, snipers and officers in wetsuits, a relatively large response which nonetheless produced results when Morgan was pulled from the river.

According to a woman who identified herself as Richard’s brother Michelle, police failed to take Morgan into custody earlier that day when he was intoxicated and posed a threat. Since his arrest, Morgan has been taken to Good Samaritan Hospital for treatment of possible hypothermia and felony charges are pending.

 

Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade permits gay groups to march

For the first time in the history of the parade, LGBT groups have been allowed to participate in Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

The parade had prohibited participation by the groups on the basis that it violated the religious beliefs of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which is informed by a Roman Catholic belief system. However, the group reversed its position this year to allow Boston Pride and Outvets, the latter of whom represents gay military veterans, that they were free to participate. When asked why, Veteran’s Council commander Brian Mahones simply stated, “Who am I to judge?”

The decision also spurred a visible reaction from Boston’s political leadership. Though former mayors had boycotted the parade for the exclusion, Mayor Marty Walsh joined the celebration this year in response to the Council’s change of heart.

The ban had been officially in place since 1995, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Veterans Council on religious freedom grounds.

 

Tomb of Saddam Hussein destroyed in conflict with ISIS

The tomb of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was destroyed during a rash of battles near his hometown of Tikrit as Iraqi security forces continue to attempt a reclamation of the city from Islamic State fighters.

Video footage released by the Associated Press showed the mausoleum, which was once comprised of a large octagon enclosing the tomb itself, reduced to rubble. ISIS took control of the northern city in June and announced the tomb was destroyed in July, but without confirmation security forces denied the allegation and stated the building had only sustained minor damage.

The destruction could inflame sectarian tensions in the already hot region, with Hussein’s Sunni supporters likely to accuse Shia militias of the structure’s levelling and intensifying opposition to the majority Shia government’s push into traditionally Sunni lands.

Hussein’s body had been removed by local Sunnis last year out of fear it would be affected by local conflict. Its location remains unknown.

 

Source: Cuomo receives, reviews FOIL requests for other state agencies

A source with New York State revealed this week that Governor Andrew Cuomo has been reviewing not only FOIL requests directed to his own office but also requests submitted to other state agencies, often delaying them in the process.

According to the unnamed source, it is “common practice” for the agencies to submit the requests for the governor’s approval. After submission, they could sit for months before being redacted by Cuomo’s legal team and cleared for release. Most of the requests enter through the Department of Health, Department of Environmental Conservation and Public Service Commission.

A Cuomo spokesperson did not reference the specific allegation, but merely said FOIL requests are completed by all state agencies as quickly as possible.

 

Schneiderman considers run for governor

New York State Attorney General might challenge Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2018 gubernatorial election, according to sources within the Democratic Party.

Speculation heated up this week when Schneiderman forced Cuomo to reverse a controversial state policy of destroying emails within 90-days. Schneiderman severely embarrassed the governor by reversing a policy put into place in 2007 and persistently defended by Cuomo until he was forced to assent to the attorney general’s calls for greater openness.

The party insurgency is reportedly the product of an increasingly broad cast of characters allied with the more progressive wing of the party including teachers’ unions, the Working Families’ Party and allies of high-profile left-leaning Democrats such as New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Cuomo’s former primary challenger Zephyr Teachout.

With Schneiderman gaining support and Cuomo receiving only a tepid response from largely reluctant Democrats, the email side-taking has reportedly worsened an already wide rift between Schneiderman and Cuomo, who are widely seen as not only political rivals but also bitter enemies.

 

Report: New York leads nation in heroin trafficking

A new report released by New York State’s special narcotics prosecutor has awarded the state with the dubious distinction of being the number one destination for heroin trafficking.

The report by Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan pointed to burgeoning distribution hubs for the drug, which are often situated in the outer boroughs of New York City and increasingly high overdose rates. About 20 percent of the nation’s heroin has come through New York State since 2010.

In 2013, 420 New Yorkers died of overdoses, with the rate reaching as high as 8.8 out of 100,000 deaths in the Bronx. Much of the increase has been attributed to a coinciding increase in the abuse of opioid painkillers.

 

Youngest U.S. congressman resigns amid questions over spending 

After an investigative report shed light on thousands in potentially inappropriate reimbursements, Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock resigned on Tuesday.

Schock, the youngest-serving U.S. congressman, billed the government for 123,130 miles driven in a personal car which did not appear to correspond to the car’s actual 81,860 mileage, according to public records accessed by POLITICO. The revelation prompted Schock to announce his surprise resignation and a reimbursement of all money unaccounted for in the report.

“The constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th District with the high standards that they deserve and which I have set for myself,” Schock said. “I have always sought to do what’s best for my constituents, and I thank them for the opportunity to serve.”

Though Schock was once considered a rising star in Washington, he had been hobbled by scandals for weeks prior to his resignation. Before the POLITICO revelations, rumors had circulated about exorbitant spending on private jets, luxury hotels and other high-end purchases.

Bergen mom drove son to Paterson for heroin purchase

A Bergen County mother allegedly acted as a driver for her son when they traveled to Paterson to purchase heroin, according to police.

Deborah Winans, 61, of River Vale, was arrested on drug charges with her son Daniel Winans, 29 at 5:25 p.m. on March 12. The two were pulled over by police in Elmwood Park and found to be in possession of 10 bags of heroin and six Xanax pills.

The mother was charged with drug possession in a motor vehicle while her son was charged with two drug possession counts. They were both released on court summonses.