- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2015

Federal investigation now for Baltimore police after death in custody and fiery riot

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department waded anew Friday into fraught big city police-community relations, with new Attorney General Loretta Lynch declaring the subject “one of the most challenging issues of our time.” She announced a wide-ranging investigation into Baltimore’s police.

The federal civil rights investigation, which city officials requested following the death last month of a man in police custody, will search for discriminatory policing practices and examine allegations that Baltimore officers too often use excessive force and make unconstitutional searches and arrests.

The investigation is to build upon the government’s voluntary and collaborative review of the Baltimore police that began last year. Since then, the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray and the days of rioting that followed exposed a “serious erosion of public trust,” Lynch said, and showed that community concerns about the police were more pervasive than initially understood and that a broader investigation was warranted.

“It was clear to a number of people looking at this situation that the community’s rather frayed trust - to use an understatement - was even worse and has, in effect, been severed in terms of the relationship with the police department,” Lynch said.

The announcement indicated that Lynch, who was sworn in last week as the successor to Eric Holder, is likely to keep the Justice Department engaged in a national dialogue about race relations and law enforcement. That issue consumed the final year of Holder’s tenure and flared most vividly last summer following the shooting death of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer.


Mistrial declared in ‘79 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz; jury deadlocked 11-1 for guilt

NEW YORK (AP) - The murder trial of a man accused in the 1979 disappearance of first-grader Etan Patz ended Friday in a hung jury, leaving one of the nation’s most wrenching missing-children cases still unresolved after nearly two generations.

After 18 days of deliberating, jurors said for a third time that they were hopelessly deadlocked - 11-1, in favor of conviction - in the case against Pedro Hernandez. The judge declared a mistrial as Hernandez sat impassively.

The Maple Shade, New Jersey, man was a teenage stock clerk at a Manhattan convenience store near where 6-year-old Etan vanished May 25, 1979. He would become one of the first missing children ever pictured on milk cartons.

Prosecutors immediately asked to set a new trial date in the case, which frustrated authorities for decades before a tip led them to Hernandez - never before a suspect - and he confessed in 2012. His lawyers said the confession was false and concocted by mental illness, and they said another longtime suspect was the more likely killer.

The mistrial left Etan’s parents, who became national advocates for the cause of missing children, to await another trial.


Oklahoma braces for more tornadoes, just days after storms that brought more than 50 twisters

MOORE, Okla. (AP) - When spring arrives in Oklahoma and conditions are right for tornadoes, David Wheeler and his family don’t take any chances.

Two years ago, a top-of-the-scale twister tore a miles-long path through this Oklahoma City suburb and turned Wheeler’s son’s school into a pile of rubble. That’s when he installed a small underground shelter in his garage. Now the family regularly drills on what to do if the skies turn ominous.

“Today we’ve been nervous,” Wheeler, a fifth-grade teacher whose family has survived two deadly tornadoes, said Friday. “We’ve done some dry runs before the spring. I made the kids go down there by themselves, and we’ve done the same thing with me, the wife and the kids, all together.”

The Wheeler family retreated underground nearly a dozen times on Wednesday night, when a powerful thunderstorm that rumbled across the southern Plains produced more than 50 tornadoes. The menacing clouds had barely vanished before forecasters began warning of another system that could produce even more violent twisters through the weekend in parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and North Texas.

“We’re going to see storms that present the risk of a full gamut of severe weather,” including large hail, high winds and tornadoes, said Todd Lindley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.


Hiring rebounds in April, pushing US unemployment rate to 7-year low of 5.4 pct.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Rebounding from a dismal start to the year, the U.S. economy added 223,000 jobs in April, a solid gain that suggested that employers are helping fuel a durable if still subpar recovery.

The job growth helped lower the unemployment rate to 5.4 percent from 5.5 percent in March, the Labor Department said Friday. That is the lowest rate since May 2008, six months into the Great Recession.

The figures provided some reassurance that the economy is recovering from a harsh winter and other temporary headwinds that likely caused it to shrink in the first three months of the year. Yet the bounce back appears to be falling short of hopes that growth would finally accelerate in 2015 and top 3 percent for the first time in a decade.

Most analysts foresee the economy growing about 2.5 percent this year, similar to the modest expansion typical of much of the 6-year-old recovery.

In its report Friday, the government revised sharply down its estimate of March’s job gain to 85,000 from 126,000. In the past three months, employers have added 191,000 positions, a decent total but well below last year’s average of 260,000.


Cameron to govern Britain without coalition in new political landscape after stunning election

LONDON (AP) - After years of sharing power, David Cameron pulled off an unexpected election triumph that gave the Conservative prime minister a second term with an outright majority Friday and dealt a stinging defeat to his three main rivals.

Standing before the glistening black door of 10 Downing Street, Cameron pledged to govern as the party of “one nation, one United Kingdom.” But he faces a fractured Britain - divided by rich and poor, by separatist gains in Scotland and by doubts over its place in the European Union.

The election ushers in a new era in British politics, with veteran lawmakers ousted by a public that made clear it had lost trust in its political leaders. The victors included a 20-year-old Scottish nationalist who beat out a senior Labour Party leader in Scotland.

It was also unexpected. Polls had predicted a dead heat - a result that would have meant days of haggling to form a new government. Queen Elizabeth II was out of town at her castle in Windsor, and needed to rush back to London for the traditional meeting at Buckingham Palace in which the victor offers to form a government.

By the time Cameron met the monarch all three of his major rivals had resigned: Ed Miliband of the Labour Party, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage of the U.K. Independence Party.


Ambassadors from Philippines, Norway among 7 killed in Pakistan helicopter crash

ISLAMABAD (AP) - A Pakistani army helicopter crashed Friday on its way to an inauguration at a resort in the country’s north, killing four foreigners - ambassadors to Islamabad from the Philippines and Norway, as well as the wives of the ambassadors from Malaysia and Indonesia - and a three-member crew in what was one of the worst such incident in the country involving a high number of foreign dignitaries.

The air force said a technical failure caused the crash while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was flying to the same event on a separate aircraft, declared Saturday a day of national mourning. Twelve passengers, many of them diplomats, who were injured in the crash were being treated at a local hospital, officials said.

Hussain Khan, a police officer at the crash site Naltar, said he saw the helicopter stall in midair, then come down in an erratic manner as if the pilot had no control over it - then plunge to the ground.

“The helicopter was preparing to land at a helipad near a school, when it suddenly …. crashed and caught fire,” Khan told The Associated Press over the phone from Naltar.

Security forces scrambled to rescue survivors and transport the dead and injured to a nearby hospital, Khan added.


Saudi-led coalition declares rebel stronghold a war zone, but promises a cease-fire Tuesday

SANAA, Yemen (AP) - A coalition led by Saudi Arabia ordered civilians in rebel strongholds in northern Yemen to flee by nightfall Friday, warning it will strike anything in the region, even as the Saudis pressed for a cease-fire to begin next week.

After the evening deadline passed, the coalition’s warplanes attacked a rebel-held complex in the region that was believed to contain weapons, a Saudi news agency reported.

The declaration of an entire region of Yemen as a “military target” was a sharp escalation that raised alarm about more casualties in a conflict that has killed over 1,400 people - many of them civilians - since March 19. The fighting also has created a humanitarian crisis in what was already the Arab world’s most impoverished nation.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced in Paris that a cease-fire aimed at allowing humanitarian aid to reach Yemen’s embattled population of 25 million would begin Tuesday - but on the condition that the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies also halt hostilities.

The mixed signals from Saudi Arabia seemed to have two purposes: The declaration of an all-out war in the northern region of Saada, the Houthis’ stronghold, appeared aimed at stopping cross-border attacks against Saudi cities that have inflicted civilian casualties. At the same time, it appeared to pressure the Houthis and their allies - military units loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh - to abide by a cease fire.


Illinois justices: Pension overhaul lowering retirement benefits violates state constitution

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The Illinois Supreme Court forced the state Friday to find another way to fix the nation’s worst government-employee pension crisis, ruling lawmakers “overstepped” by enacting a law that slashed retirement benefits to confront a massive budget deficit.

In a unanimous decision that frequently scolded state policymakers, the seven justices declared that the measure former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law 18 months ago violates the state constitution because it would leave pension promises “diminished or impaired.”

The cash-strapped state now must again grapple with a $111 billion deficit in what’s necessary to cover its employee retirement obligations. The hole is so deep the state has in recent years had to reserve up to $7 billion - or one-fifth of its annual operating funds - to keep pace.

The plan rejected by the justices was designed to whittle down the monstrous shortfall over 30 years, gradually but significantly slicing back pension benefits by erasing a 3 percent annual adjustment.

Lawmakers who spent years working toward a consensus acknowledged the ruling creates a major dilemma for new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly.


Europeans mark 70 years since Nazis surrendered to Allies, ending World War II in Europe

PARIS (AP) - With quiet moments of memory or military pomp, leaders and ordinary citizens across Europe are marking 70 years since the Nazi defeat and the end of a war that ravaged the continent. But the East-West alliance that vanquished Hitler is deeply divided today.

Russia is celebrating Soviet wartime feats in a ceremony Saturday that is causing diplomatic tensions because of the country’s role in Ukraine’s conflict. Poland has held a ceremony meant as an alternative to Moscow’s.

Paris’ mile-long Champs Elysees was closed to traffic to make way for a procession of official motorcades and mounted military escorts that ascended the wide boulevard from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, site of France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“The victory of May 8th wasn’t the supremacy, the domination, of one nation over another. It was the victory of an ideal over a totalitarian ideology,” President Francois Hollande said in a speech before arriving at the giant stone arch.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. ambassador to France joined French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to lay a wreath at the tomb, in a sign of appreciation for the American role in liberating France from German occupation.


FDA wasn’t told of listeria in Blue Bell plant before deadly outbreak linked to ice cream

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal health officials said Friday that they were never told of repeated findings of listeria at a Blue Bell Creameries facility before an outbreak linked to the ice cream turned deadly.

Results of a Food and Drug Administration investigation released this week showed the company had found 17 positive samples of listeria on surfaces and floors in its Oklahoma plant dating back to 2013. The FDA said Friday that it “was not aware of these findings” before doing its own inspection this year in response to the outbreak.

The outbreak - and the FDA’s lack of knowledge of the bacteria found in the plant - is a stark illustration of gaps in the nation’s food safety system. Food contamination often isn’t discovered until people get sick or die.

In the outbreak linked to Blue Bell, three people died in a Kansas hospital and seven others were sickened in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona.

The FDA said it isn’t uncommon for companies not to report findings of listeria or other pathogens. Companies are only required to report to the FDA if they find a “reasonable probability” that a food could make people sick. Blue Bell’s listeria samples were found on surfaces and not in the ice cream, and the company hadn’t tested to see if the listeria strains found were among those that are the most dangerous.

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