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American Scene: NYPD officer convicted of assaulting teacher

- - Wednesday, March 28, 2012

NEW YORK — An off-duty police officer was convicted Tuesday of grabbing a schoolteacher off a street and sexually assaulting her, and jurors have been told to keep deliberating on some unresolved counts, including rape.

The jurors found Michael Pena guilty of criminal sex act and some counts of predatory sexual assault. The latter charge carries the potential for life in prison.

The woman testified that Pena grabbed her off the street, forced her into an Upper Manhattan apartment building courtyard and raped her at gunpoint in August. She was on her way to her first day of work at a teaching job.

The defense said Pena acknowledges attacking the woman but never had intercourse with her.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Governors to tour plant where 'pink slime' is made

SIOUX FALLS — The leaders of five states plan a visit to the only place where a beef product known as "pink slime" is still made, an effort aimed to support its embattled manufacturer, a company spokesman said Tuesday.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Texas Gov. Rick Perry will visit the one Beef Products Inc. plant that's still in operation to combat misconceptions and misinformation about the company and its "lean, finely textured beef" product, company spokesman Rich Jochum said.

They'll be joined at the South Sioux City, Neb., plant on Thursday by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy and South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels.

Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based Beef Products said Monday it is suspending operations at plants in Texas, Kansas and Iowa where it makes the low-cost beef ingredient from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts.

KANSAS

Former abortion doctor dumps files in school bin

OVERLAND PARK — More than 1,000 private abortion records from a defunct clinic have been found discarded in a recycling bin outside an elementary school near Kansas City, prompting a police investigation and outrage from people on both sides of the abortion debate.

The patient records found Saturday came from Affordable Medical and Surgical Services, which closed after its doctor, Krishna Rajanna, lost his medical license in 2005. The records detail names, birth dates, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers and the patients' health histories, including whether any abortions were performed, the Kansas City Star reported.

From 2000 to 2005, Mr. Rajanna was either fined or disciplined four times by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts and inspectors who visited his clinic in 2005 and reported it was not clean.

Mr. Rajanna said he threw the personal documents into recycling bins at Brookridge Elementary School on Friday.

"I was under the impression that these would not be seen by anyone," Mr. Rajanna said. "I thought that these would be recycled away just like any other papers."

The daughter of the woman who found the records contacted the Kansas City Star after Overland Park police initially declined to respond to her call - a decision Capt. Erik Hulse later conceded was a mistake. The women did not want their names released.

CALIFORNIA

Coastal cleanup effort nets 9 million pounds of garbage

SAN FRANCISCO — Volunteers around the world collected nearly 9 million pounds of cigarettes, bottles and other trash during a coastal cleanup campaign last year, according to a report released Tuesday.

The garbage was picked up by nearly 600,000 volunteers who scoured more than 20,000 miles of coastline on Sept. 17 for the 2011 International Coastal Cleanup, according to the Ocean Conservancy, which organized the 26th annual event.

The top five types of trash found were cigarettes, beverage lids, plastic bottles, plastic bags and food containers. Volunteers found 94,000 balloons, 267,000 items of clothing and 940,000 pieces of food packaging, the report said.

"Our volunteers picked up enough food packaging for a person to get takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for the next 858 years," Ocean Conservancy CEO Vikki Spruill said in a statement. "Ocean trash is human-generated, preventable and one of the biggest threats to our ocean and waterways."

Ms. Spruill said people should take responsibility for their trash by discarding it properly and using reusable bags and containers.

Thousands of marine mammals, sea turtles and birds are injured or killed by ocean debris every year, conservationists say.

Over the past 26 years, the annual cleanup effort has led to the removal of 153 million pounds of garbage from beaches, coastlines and waterways around the world, according to the Ocean Conservancy.

GEORGIA

'Chicken Man' facing eviction blows up home

ATLANTA — An attorney for the local activist known as the "Chicken Man" said Tuesday that he filed an emergency motion to fight the man's eviction minutes before he killed himself by blowing up his house.

Andrew Wordes set off the blast Monday as marshals were preparing to oust him from the Atlanta-area house that was in foreclosure, a last act of defiance by a man who seemed to relish fighting the government.

"This was the first step of our larger legal battle to keep his home," said Mr. Wordes' attorney, Ryan Strickland. "He had options. He had a way out. And he had a good case."

Mr. Strickland said he met Mr. Wordes last week and pledged to help him avoid eviction. The legal filing Monday wasn't going to resolve the case, he said, but it was an important step to stop the eviction from going forward.

"It's overwhelmingly sad," Mr. Strickland said. "It's one of the most stressful things someone can go through - the prospect of losing your house and finding somewhere else to live. I can only imagine what he was feeling."

Mr. Wordes had become well-known for his fight to keep poultry, goats and pigs at his home in Roswell. Former Gov. Roy Barnes took his case against the city to court, and he attracted far-flung supporters who read about his case online.

He won the right to raise chickens on his property, but the 53-year-old continued to fight the government over flood damage to his property and attempts to evict him from the foreclosed home. He went to jail for three months last year for violating probation after pleading guilty to a grading violation, and received the eviction notice shortly after he was released.

ILLINOIS

Lower death risk found with heart bypass surgery

CHICAGO — Older patients with clogged heart arteries may have a little lower death risk over time if they have bypass operations instead of angioplasty and stents to fix the problem.

In bypass operations, doctors move healthy segments of blood vessels from other parts of the body to create detours around clogged arteries supplying blood to the heart. Angioplasty repairs the damage through a tube pushed through a blood vessel. A tiny balloon is inflated to flatten the clog and a mesh scaffold, a stent, is placed to prop open the artery.

Researchers compared these approaches using Medicare records on 190,000 patients with two or three clogged arteries - the largest study ever of this issue. Death rates were similar one year after either treatment. But after four years, nearly 21 percent of the angioplasty patients had died versus about 16 percent of those who had bypass surgery.

Doctors say differences in the overall health of people who had surgery versus the less-drastic procedure could account for some of the results. They say angioplasty remains a good and safe option for many people.

"You're not making a mistake if you still have angioplasty," especially if you are older than 65 with only one or two blockages, said Dr. Kirk Garratt of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. He is a spokesman for the Society for Cardiac Angiography and Interventions, doctors who do angioplasties.

In the United States, more than 1 million operations or procedures are performed each year to treat clogged arteries, and the study "provides comprehensive, large-scale, national data" to help doctors and patients decide which treatment is best, Dr. Susan Shurin said in a statement. She is acting director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which sponsored the study.

Results were discussed Tuesday at an American College of Cardiology conference in Chicago and published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

From wire dispatches and staff reports