American Scene: Court says HIV-infected saliva not legally a weapon

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ALBANY — New York’s top court said Thursday that the saliva of an HIV-infected man who bit a police officer doesn’t constitute a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument under state law.

In dismissing the aggravated-assault conviction of David Plunkett, the Court of Appeals is sending the case back to a lower court for resentencing.

The 48-year-old Plunkett is serving a 10-year sentence at Sing Sing after pleading guilty to assault and aggravated assault on an officer. He had punched the officer and bit his finger in 2006 at a medical clinic in the Mohawk Valley village of Ilion.

The court says saliva should be treated the same as teeth, which it concluded previously don’t qualify as dangerous instruments.

Federal health officials say HIV transmissions from bites are “very rare.”

Judge lets Occupy sue cops, but not city’s leaders

NEW YORK — A judge gave the green light Thursday to a lawsuit against police officers in the arrests of 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters last year on the Brooklyn Bridge, but he dismissed the city and its top officials from liability.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan said in a written ruling that the marchers had adequately backed up their claims at this stage of the litigation that they were not properly warned by officers that they would be arrested on the bridge Oct. 1.

Judge Rakoff, a 1995 appointee of President Clinton, began his decision by citing the contributions of people such as Thomas Paine and Martin Luther King, saying, “what a huge debt this nation owes to its ‘troublemakers.’ “

But he tossed out as defendants the city, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, rejecting the argument that the city and its top officials had a policy of making false arrests designed to discourage protesting.

FLORIDA

Florida A&M president defiant after no-confidence vote

TALLAHASSEE — The president of Florida A&M University vowed to remain on the job Thursday despite a no-confidence vote from school trustees over his handling of the hazing death of a member of the school’s famed marching band.

The board of trustees voted 8-4 against James Ammons as it questioned his management of a broad range of issues, particularly calling into question what it saw as his lax attitude toward hazing and management of the Marching 100 band before the November death of drum major Robert Champion.

After the vote, Mr. Ammons, a Florida A&M alumnus, said he intended to stay in his post. “This is my university,” he said. “Until the final bell rings, I am going to serve as president.”

But trustees said problems transcend the hazing crisis as the university grapples with the impact of state budget cuts and a likely decline in enrollment this fall. They also noted the resignation of a top auditor at the school last year after false audit summaries were presented to the board of trustees.

“I do not have confidence in Dr. Ammons to lead us out of this crisis,” trustee Bill Jennings said.

TEXAS

Road may get 85 mph limit; would be first in the nation

HOUSTON — Transportation officials in Texas are testing a new 41-mile segment of highway to see whether it would be safe to post the state’s first 85 mph speed limit, setting it on a path to have the highest posted speed limit in the U.S.

The Texas Department of Transportation is considering the move on a portion of state Highway 130 that would run north-south between Austin and Seguin, a town just east of San Antonio, spokesman Mark Cross said Thursday.

The agency is looking at the toll road’s topography, checking what speed most drivers are traveling on existing parts of the highway and ensuring the access points and cross-sections would still be safe with an 85 mph speed limit, he said.

In 2011, the Texas Legislature upped the maximum speed limit from 80 mph to 85 mph, but only for future highways. Only sparsely populated areas of West Texas now have roads with 80 mph speed limits. Some roads in Utah also have 80 mph speed limits.

FLORIDA

All six family members killed in plane crash

LAKE WALES — A Kansas businessman, his wife and their four children were killed Thursday when their small plane crashed into a swampy area of central Florida, authorities said.

The single-turboprop, fixed-wing plane broke apart and went down about 12:30 p.m. in the Tiger Creek Preserve, just south of Lake Wales. Ronald Bramlage, 45, was piloting the 2006 Pilatus PC-12/47 when it began experiencing trouble at about 26,000 feet during a trip from the Bahamas to Junction City, Kan.

The cause wasn’t immediately known, and plane parts were found two miles from the crash site, which was only reachable by helicopters and all-terrain vehicles. The National Transportation Safety Board will lead an investigation.

Mr. Bramlage was a prominent businessman in Junction City and owned Roadside Ventures LLC, to which the plane was registered. Also killed were Rebecca Bramlage, 43, and their four children, whose ages were not released.

INDIANA

Feds break international child-porn operation

INDIANAPOLIS — Federal prosecutors in Indianapolis say they have broken an international child-pornography ring and sentenced seven men convicted of producing and distributing explicit images of babies and toddlers online.

The U.S. attorney’s office announced Thursday that two more defendants have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

The investigation, called Operation Bulldog, began in November 2010 with the arrest of David Bostic of Bloomington, Ind. Bostic was convicted on 65 counts and sentenced to 315 years in prison. His arrest led investigators to others in the ring, which prosecutors say traded pornography involving children younger than 5 years and as young as 2 months.

More than 20 U.S. suspects have been captured, and authorities are investigating other suspects in the U.S., Sweden, Serbia, the Netherlands and the U.K.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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