NEW YORK — The man accused of spraying 33 shots on a crowded subway train last month pleaded not guilty Friday to federal terrorism charges. Frank James, 62, appeared in Brooklyn Federal Court Friday in a khaki jail jumpsuit, telling a judge he was doing “pretty good.” James is accused of boarding the rush hour train on April 12, donning a gas mask, setting off a smoke canister and opening fire at terrified passengers as it approached the 36th Street station in Sunset Park. Ten passengers were shot. Amazingly, no one died. James was on the lam in the city for a day before he was arrested near ...
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Texas Department of Public Safety says local police made crucial error as Uvalde school shooting continued
Texas’ top law enforcement official admitted Friday that police officers made key errors when responding to a shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
Police officers did not act sooner to stop the 18-year-old gunman because a supervising officer at the scene wanted to wait for backup and equipment, said Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. By the time a specialized team of federal officers arrived and entered the school — they had to get keys from a janitor to open locked classroom doors — more than an hour had passed since the shooter arrived at the school, McCraw said.
That was a mistake, McCraw said at a Friday press conference.
"Of course it was not the right decision,” McCraw said. “It was the wrong decision."
“When it comes to an active shooter, you don't have to wait on tactical gear, plain and simple,” he said.
McCraw gave more details about the shooting Friday, revealing that the gunman entered the school through a back door that minutes before had been propped open by a teacher. He said a police officer employed by the school district responded to an initial 911 call about an armed man near the school but drove past the gunman and mistook a teacher for the shooter.
McCraw also detailed harrowing 911 calls by teachers and students trapped inside with the gunman, including one at 12:47 p.m. — more than an hour after the shooter entered the school — when a student begged the 911 operator: “Please send the police now.”
Weeks before the shooting, the gunman discussed his plans to buy a gun with others on Instagram, McCraw said.
Law enforcement officials have faced increasing questions in the days since the shooting about whether officers on the scene could have acted more quickly to stop the gunman. Videos circulated on social media show desperate parents begging officers to enter the school, and parents have reported being handcuffed and Tased by law enforcement officers when they implored officers to act or tried to retrieve their children.
At the same time, DPS officials — who are leading the shooting investigation along with local police — have often given conflicting details about how the police response played out.
For example, DPS officials initially said the 18-year-old gunman encountered a school district police officer when he arrived on school grounds — and gave conflicting accounts about whether the officer fired at the gunman.
On Thursday, the agency reversed course, saying that no campus police officer confronted the gunman when he stepped onto the premises.
Uvalde police received the first call around 11:20 a.m. Tuesday, when the gunman’s grandmother called 911 to report that he had shot her in the face at her home about two minutes from Robb Elementary. The shooter fled in his grandmother’s pickup truck and crashed it in a ditch near the school at 11:28 a.m.
McCraw said the gunman fired at two passersby on the street, then went to the school, where he fired shots at the building from outside before entering the building at 11:33 a.m. through the back door that a teacher had left propped open.
Once inside, the gunman entered a pair of connected classrooms — Rooms 111 and 112 — where he killed 19 children and two teachers and wounded 17 others. McCraw said the gunman fired more than 100 rounds at that point.
Local police officers arrived at the school and entered at 11:35 a.m., McCraw said, but fell back after two officers were shot and wounded by the gunman. Officers tried to negotiate with the shooter, officials have said, but the man “did not respond.”
McCraw said the commander on site at that point treated the situation as a “barricaded suspect” and thought children were no longer at risk, which he also called a mistake.
“There was plenty of officers [at the scene] to do what needed to be done,” McCraw said.
The mother of a Hawkins County eighth-grader says in a lawsuit filed this week that her son was repeatedly subjected to racially-motivated attacks, and the school system did nothing to stop them.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greeneville Tuesday, details a slew of racially-motivated attacks by white students, at least three of which were recorded by the students and posted on social media. Erika Qualls contends in the lawsuit she repeatedly sought help from administrators at Church Hill Middle School and Hawkins County Director of Schools Matt Hixson, but they either ignored or downplayed her complaints.
“(Qualls’ son) was regularly subjected to a pervasive, racially-hostile school environment in which he was repeatedly referred to by the ‘N-word’; subjected to a barrage of other racial epithets, such as ‘monkey’; shown hate-based depictions of a KKK member holding a torch and noose; taunted as the brunt of a ‘slave auction’; chased and ridiculed with a stuffed monkey; and shown depictions of African-American caricatures being stabbed and shot,” the lawsuit stated.
“(Qualls) alleges that Hawkins County Board of Education officials knowingly tolerated, condoned, and were deliberately indifferent to the pattern of racial harassment suffered by (her son), thereby depriving him of equal access to educational opportunity and resulting in severe emotional injury,” the lawsuit continued.
Hixson said in a statement provided Thursday to the Tennessee Lookout the school system “vehemently” denies “that our school system tolerates racial discrimination or harassment of any kind.”
“When such allegations are brought to our attention regarding student conduct, we take steps to investigate the same and to discipline those found responsible,” Hixson said in the statement. “Hawkins County Schools and the many educators who work within our school system strive to create an environment where all students, regardless of their race, feel safe and welcome. And, we will defend ourselves in court against any claims to the contrary.”
Among the allegations in the suit:
- White students chased the boy with a stuffed monkey and posted video on social media captioned “monkey chasing monkey.”
- The boy was taunted during a mock slave auction.
- Called a “n***** b****.
- That the Black student was given a drawing of a Ku Klux Klan member holding a torch and noose standing over “Monkey Island.”
- A white student handed the Black one a tag labeled “100% Cotton” and thank the Black student for picking the cotton for the shirt.
Attorneys Larry Crain and Emily Castro, who represent Qualls, are seeking an injunction against the school system to prevent further abuse and $2.5 million in damages.
The lawsuit includes screenshots as proof of the abuse, including a photograph taken from a Snapchat video posted by white students at the school with the caption “monkey chasing monkey.” The video shows white students, one of whom was holding a stuffed monkey, taunting Qualls’ son, who is biracial, as he sought to flee.
According to the lawsuit, Hixson “blamed the COVID-19 epidemic for the outbreak of racial hatred among the students, whom he said spent so much time at home during the pandemic.”
Qualls’ son, the lawsuit stated, was one of only five minority students at Church Hill, which has a total student population of roughly 400.
Qualls enrolled her son at Church Hill in the fall of 2021. Within two weeks, the racially-motivated attacks began, according to the lawsuit.
In the first incident detailed in the lawsuit, the boy was sitting in class when a white student walked in, shoved the boy and yelled, “Fight me, you (expletive) monkey.” Qualls’ son ignored the white student, but he persisted.
“While eating lunch (that same day) in the school cafeteria, the same white student yelled at (Qualls’ son) from across the cafeteria, calling him a “n***** b****.”
“(Qualls) alleges that this incident occurred within hearing distance of school faculty, but no corrective action was taken by any of the school staff,” the lawsuit stated. “Near the end of the school day, (the same white student) stalked (Qualls’ son) through the gym and out the back exit of the school building. While (Qualls’ son) was on his way to football practice, (the same white student) yelled, ‘Come back here, n*****’ and, when (Qualls’ son) turned around, (the white student) slapped him in the face.”
When Qualls’ son sought “to defend himself against this physical and verbal assault,” a teacher “separated” the pair, put the white student on “his school bus” to go home and escorted Qualls’ son to the school office, the lawsuit stated.
Qualls was waiting for her son in the parking lot when she saw him being escorted inside the building. The lawsuit alleged Assistant Principal Natasha Bice refused to allow Qualls inside her office as she talked to Qualls’ son.
Bice, according to the lawsuit, accused Qualls’ son of being the instigator and, the following day, punished him with two days of in-school suspension.
“The white student that verbally and physically assaulted (Qualls’ son) and used racial epithets not once, but twice, received no punishment,” the lawsuit stated.
More racially-motivated attacks against Qualls’ son followed in the following months, according to the lawsuit.
“On March 1, 2022, a drawing depicting an image of a KKK member holding a torch and noose, standing over ‘Monkey Island,’ was passed around the school cafeteria,” the lawsuit stated. “A white student handed the drawing to (Qualls’ son) as several of his white peers were laughing and mocking the drawing as though they found it humorous.”
When Qualls’ son informed his mother of that incident, she “immediately sent an email to Principal Scott Jones, reporting the drawing and expressing concern about the incident and its impact on her son,” the lawsuit stated.
In a meeting with Jones and Bice the following day, “Bice apologized to (Qualls’ son), simply stating that it should never have happened,” but, according to the lawsuit neither she nor Jones took any action against the white students.
Less than a week later, Qualls’ son was again verbally attacked while inside a restroom at the school.
“Five white students entered the boys’ restroom and confronted (Qualls’ son),” the lawsuit stated. “One of the students used his cell phone to videotape this encounter, while another student chased (Qualls’ son) out of the restroom holding a stuffed monkey.”
According to the lawsuit, one of the white students involved posted the video on Snapchat with the caption, “monkey chasing monkey,” and shared it with other students in Qualls’ son’s class. Qualls reported that incident to Hixson three days later.
“Director Hixson told Ms. Qualls that school administrators were made aware of the incident and that a full investigation was underway,” the lawsuit stated. “(The school system) delayed its investigation, however, and did not interview the male student responsible for this racial taunting until several weeks later.”
The lawsuit does not detail what, if anything, the school system did after interviewing the white student. Meanwhile, the verbal attacks on Qualls’ son continued, according to the litigation.
“On March 14, 2022, while walking the hallways at Church Hill Middle School, a white male student … began promoting what he referred to as the ‘Monkey of the Month Campaign,’” the lawsuit stated. “According to this school-wide campaign, the student ‘who acted the most n*****’ would be elected ‘Monkey of the Month.’
“On March 15, 2022, while (Qualls’ son) was in the boys’ Restroom, this same student … entered the restroom and in front of other students began acting a role out loud as a slave auctioneer and pretended to be selling (Qualls’ son) to the highest bidder,” the lawsuit continued.
‘Picking my shirt’
Qualls again notified Hixson, the school system director, according to the lawsuit.
At a follow-up meeting with Hixson, Jones, Bice and School Administrator Thomas Floyd, Hixson told Qualls “the school administration was ‘not going to focus on past incidents but work hard to make sure they didn’t have any more racially-motivated incidents’,” the lawsuit stated.
It was then, according to the lawsuit, that Hixson blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for students’ “racial hatred.”
Qualls would go on to report at least three more racially-motivated incidents at the school.
One involved a white student who “published a video” to social media depicting “the back of his hand, where he had written in black ink the words ‘n*****, n*****’ and a caption stating that he wrote it while taking a (expletive).”
A screen shot from that video, which was circulated among students at the school, also is included in the lawsuit.
The second incident, again recorded and posted on social media, involved three white students holding “inflated blue vinyl gloves with caricatures drawn on them of the heads of African-Americans,” the lawsuit stated.
“The heads were mockingly assigned African-American sound names, ‘Shaundale, Quandale and Quandale Jr.,” the lawsuit stated. “The students who made these artifacts posted Instagram videos of them with someone shooting and stabbing the gloves while speaking in ‘Ebonics’ or what might be termed a blend of racial sounding phonics.”
A screen shot from that video was, likewise, included in the lawsuit as proof.
In the third incident reported by Qualls, “a white student approached (her son) at school and gave him a clothing tag from his shirt which read ‘100 percent cotton,’” the lawsuit stated. “The student then stated to (Qualls’ son), ‘Thanks for picking my shirt this morning, n*****.’”
Tennessee Lookout is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Tennessee Lookout maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Holly McCall for questions: email@example.com. Follow Tennessee Lookout on Facebook and Twitter.
The new head of Italy's Catholic Church announced Friday a study into clerical child sex abuse over the last 20 years, but survivors said it fell short of an independent inquiry.
Pope Francis had called for a transparent annual audit of efforts to protect minors, as he seeks to restore trust in the Catholic Church following a global scandal.
"It's our duty, faced with so much suffering," Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the 66-year-old named this week by the pope to lead Italy's Bishops' Conference, told reporters.
In a statement at the end of its general assembly in Rome, the Conference said there would be an "analysis" conducted in collaboration with unnamed independent research institutions on alleged or confirmed crimes by clerics in Italy from 2000 to 2021.
It will use data kept by the Vatican department that deals with issues of abuse, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to establish a "deeper and more objective knowledge of the phenomenon".
The study "will allow an improvement in preventative measures" and allow victims and survivors to be treated with "more awareness", it added.
It is part of a five-point action plan which also includes a report on national cases and prevention measures over the last two years, with the aim of making this into an annual, publicly-available dossier.
Inquiries across the United States, Europe and Australia have exposed widespread abuse of children and a decades-long cover-up.
Campaigners in Catholic-majority Italy say it is now well past time for their country to do the same.
'Radical change' needed
Francesco Zanardi, who was abused by a priest when he was a teenager, told reporters it was "discriminatory" to study cases from 2000 onwards, with "many cases, like mine, excluded".
In an interview with AFP, Zanardi --the founder of survivors group Rete L'Abuso (The Abuse Network) -- also condemned Italy's judicial system for failing to properly address the issue, saying that "everyone must play their part".
Rete L'Abuso said in February it had recorded more than 300 cases of priests accused or convicted of child sexual abuse in the past 15 years in Italy, out of a total of 50,000 priests across the country.
Earlier this month, a group of survivors, lawyers and journalists who together form "ItalyChurchToo" -- named after the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment -- published an open letter calling for an independent inquiry by high-level experts.
"Italy as a country is the most behind. What we want from the new president (of the Bishops' Conference) is the courage to put into place radical change," said Ludovica Eugenio, a member of the network.
She told AFP the plan for a report dating back 20 years "will not resolve the problem because it does not go to the heart of the matter. It's a bit like building a house from the third floor, without foundations."
"Without prevention, with justice and without the truth, it will come to nothing."
During the meeting in Rome this week, US Cardinal Sean O'Malley, head of the pope's Commission for the Protection of Minors, urged the Italian bishops to confront the issue.
"The reality is that we will be judged on our response to the abuse crisis in the Church," he said in a video message, published by Vatican News.
© 2022 AFP