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American Scene

- - Thursday, March 31, 2011

CALIFORNIA

Russian billionaire buys $100 million home

LOS ALTOS HILLS | A Russian billionaire investor has purchased a lavish, 25,500-square-foot mansion in Silicon Valley for $100 million, thought to be the most ever paid for a single-family home in the United States.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Yuri Milner, 49, an investor in Facebook, Groupon and Zynga, has no immediate plans to move into the home.

Mr. Milner is the founder of Digital Sky Technologies, an investment firm he started in 2005.

FLORIDA

Tent collapses from storms; 7 hurt

ST. PETERSBURG | Windy, rainy weather furiously swept through central Florida Thursday, knocking out power to tens of thousands of people, flooding roads and toppling trucks and small planes.

In Lakeland, where several hundred people had gathered for the annual Sun 'n Fun aviation festival, a tent collapsed and injured seven people, authorities said. All of the injuries were reported to be minor and six of those hurt were taken to a local hospital.

"The worst injury was a fractured hip," said Polk County Sheriff's spokesman Scott Wilder. He added that 70 people were under the tent when it collapsed and that some crawled out.

It was the second day of bad weather in the central Florida region. For hours Thursday morning, strong storms swept across Florida, starting in the Gulf of Mexico and traveling east over the I-4 corridor towards Orlando.

GEORGIA

Ex-CDC counselor in legal fight over gay woman

ATLANTA | A former counselor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims she was wrongly fired over religious beliefs after refusing to counsel a woman about a same-sex relationship.

Marcia Walden's attorneys asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday to overturn a judge's ruling and allow her lawsuit against the Atlanta-based federal agency to go forward.

The dispute began in 2007 after a female CDC employee came to Miss Walden for advice involving a same-sex relationship and Miss Walden declined, citing her background as a devout Christian. The CDC told the contracting company that employed Miss Walden to fire her after the woman complained.

The CDC said allowing her to remain as a counselor would have alienated a significant segment of the staff and jeopardized the integrity of the program.

LOUISIANA

Ex-cops sentenced in post-Katrina killing

NEW ORLEANS | Calling the crimes inexcusable and barbaric, a judge sentenced two former New Orleans police officers to prison Thursday for their roles in the shooting death of an unarmed man whose body was later set on fire in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The 25-plus years David Warren received for fatally shooting Henry Glover, 31, was the stiffest punishment so far in the Justice Department's investigations of post-Katrina police misconduct. Ex-officer Gregory McRae was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for burning Glover's body after he was gunned down.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk rejected the notion that the cases would deter officers in the future from staying after a storm to protect the public. When Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, many officers fled the city, leaving the police department with depleted forces. The National Guard was eventually dispatched to help prevent looting and control much of the city.

Warren said he thought Glover had a gun and posed a threat when he shot him outside a police substation at a strip mall. The judge called his testimony absurd.

NEW YORK

Kerik's prison term upheld by appeals court

NEW YORK | A federal appeals court upheld the conviction and four-year prison sentence given to a former New York police commissioner who nearly became head of the Department of Homeland Security.

Bernard Kerik was treated fairly by a judge who gave him a year longer in prison than the three-year term called for by federal sentencing guidelines, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

Kerik, 55, pleaded guilty in late 2009 to charges that included tax fraud, making a false statement on a loan application and lying to the White House while he was being vetted for the Homeland Security post in 2004. He began serving his sentence last May.

The sentencing judge, Stephen Robinson in White Plains, N.Y., had said Kerik made "a conscious decision to essentially lie to the President of the United States to get a Cabinet position."

A protege of former Mayor Rudolph Giulani, Kerik had been nominated to the post after he was declared a hero for his work as commissioner after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

On appeal, Kerik's lawyers argued that procedural error and judicial bias led him to be sentenced more harshly than called for by the sentencing guidelines.

UTAH

5 Browns dad sentenced in abuse case

PROVO | The father of the renowned piano group The 5 Browns has been sentenced to serve at least 10 years in a Utah prison on charges that he sexually abused his three daughters when they were children.

Keith S. Brown, 55, pleaded guilty in February to one felony count of sodomy and two felony counts of sexual abuse.

Fourth District Judge David Mortensen sentenced Brown on Thursday to 10 years to life on the first count, and 15 years to life for each of the others. The sentences will run concurrently, but Brown will have to serve at least 10 years under the plea agreement.

Brown's daughters and sons make up The 5 Browns, whose albums have topped classical music charts. The daughters, now adults, reported the abuse last year.

WASHINGTON

Federal probe of Seattle officers launched

SEATTLE | The Justice Department on Thursday launched a formal civil rights investigation of the Seattle Police Department following the fatal shooting of a homeless woodcarver and other incidents of force used against minority suspects.

Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and the assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, Thomas E. Perez, held a conference call Thursday morning to discuss the investigation. Durkan previously said her office was reviewing the Seattle Police Department's actions.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and 34 other community groups called for the inquiry after a Seattle officer fatally shot American Indian woodcarver John T. Williams after he crossed a street downtown. The officer who shot Mr. Williams, Ian Birk, resigned from the force but was not charged criminally.

Other incidents captured on surveillance or police-cruiser video include officers using racial slurs and stomping on a prone Hispanic man; an officer kicking a non-resisting black youth in a convenience store; and officers tackling and kicking a black man who showed up in a police evidence room to pick up belongings after he was mistakenly released from jail.

NEW YORK

12-year-old Muslim accused of anti-Islam hate crime

NEW YORK | A 12-year-old Muslim boy accused of trying to rip the head scarf off a Muslim classmate during recess has been charged in New York City with a hate crime.

The boy appeared Thursday in family court with his father and his attorney. He's sixth-grader at a Staten Island middle school and is being charged as a juvenile. A call to his attorney wasn't immediately returned. The boy's father says his son is also a Muslim.

Police and school officials say the boy has a history of harassing the 13-year-old girl, taunting her and threatening her on at least four separate occasions. The police report says he asked, "Are you Muslim?" while trying to remove her scarf. The girl suffered minor injuries.

If convicted, he faces 18 months in juvenile detention.

OHIO

Kasich signs bill limiting union power

CLEVELAND | Gov. John Kasich on Thursday signed into law a limit on the collective-bargaining rights of 350,000 public employees, defying Democrats and other opponents of the measure who have promised to push for repeal.

His signature came a day after the measure was approved by the state House and Senate, which are led by his fellow Republicans.

The measure prompted weeks of pro-labor protests by thousands of people amid a national debate over union rights, keyed by a similar bill passed in Wisconsin and signed by the governor there.

The Ohio bill prevents unions from negotiating wages but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. It also eliminates automatic pay increases and bans strikes. It applies to teachers, nurses and many other government workers, including police and firefighters, who were exempt in the Wisconsin measure.

From wire dispatches and staff reports