The family of an unarmed Black man who was fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies in North Carolina has filed a $30 million civil rights lawsuitBy BEN FINLEY Associated PressJuly 14, 2021, 6:31 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe family of an unarmed Black man who was fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies in North Carolina says he died because of the officers’ “intentional and reckless disregard of his life,” according to a $30 million civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday.Andrew Brown Jr. was killed April 21 by Pasquotank County Sheriff’s deputies while they were serving drug-related warrants at his Elizabeth City home.Several deputies surrounded Brown in his BMW before his car backed up and moved forward. They fired several shots at and into his vehicle. He was killed by a bullet to the back of his head.Lawyers for the Brown family said the shooting was unjustified because Brown was trying to drive away — not toward the deputies.“This lawsuit was easy to draft because of the facts in this case,” attorney Harry Daniels told reporters at a news conference. “Anybody can see that this was an unlawful killing.”The filing is the latest in a string of federal civil rights lawsuits in the wake of high-profile police shootings of Black and brown people. Many have ended in settlements that often include money but specify there was no admission of guilt. Some end up in court where a jury can award massive settlements that are whittled down on appeal.The family of George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis police custody last year, agreed to a $27 million settlement in March. In September, the city of Louisville, Kentucky, agreed to pay Breonna Taylor’s family $12 million and reform police practices.The lawsuit in North Carolina was filed in a U.S. District Court by Brown’s paternal aunt, Lillie Brown Clark, who is the administrator for his estate. The suit says the 42-year-old Brown was the father of seven children.Defendants include Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II and several deputies. Maj. Aaron Wallio told The Associated Press in an email that Wooten’s office “has no comments on the lawsuit.”Attorneys for Brown’s family have repeatedly said that he posed no threat. Authorities have said he was using his car as a “deadly weapon” and caused deputies to believe it was necessary to use deadly force.District Attorney Andrew Womble cleared the deputies in May. He said they were justified because Brown had struck a deputy with his car and nearly ran him over while ignoring commands to show his hands and get out of the vehicle.The federal lawsuit is the latest fallout from the shooting, which has sent shockwaves through the small city in northeastern North Carolina.Residents say they have gathered in protest for the past 85 days. One of the deputies who fired his gun at Brown’s car has resigned. The FBI also launched a civil rights investigation into the death.The shooting has also drawn scrutiny from outside law enforcement observers who say officers should not shoot at a vehicle when there is no other deadly threat besides the car.Daniels, the Brown family attorney, said the lawsuit will prevail based on decisions made in the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers North Carolina. He cited a ruling against police officers in South Carolina who continued to shoot at a man after his car had driven by them.“They had no authority to shoot him,” Daniels said.But Candace McCoy, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, questioned whether the Brown lawsuit would produce a large settlement or jury award.“You could make a good case that, in this particular instance, somebody’s life was in danger,” McCoy said.She added that the Floyd and Taylor cases were “light years different” from the Brown case in terms of police misconduct.But McCoy said the overall effect of these civil rights lawsuits has led to more training and better practices. The lawsuits stem from a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows people to sue departments over alleged constitutional violations.“The effect of these lawsuits has been really important in reducing police use of force nationwide over the last 40 years,” she said.
A member of an elite group of U.S. Marines has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for his role in the hazing death of a U.S. Green Beret while the men served in AfricaBy BEN FINLEY Associated PressJuly 2, 2021, 7:46 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNORFOLK, Va. — A member of an elite group of U.S. Marines has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter and related charges for his role in the hazing death of a U.S. Green Beret while the men served in Africa, the U.S. Navy said in a news release Friday.But Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez was found not guilty of felony murder. He still faces a maximum possible sentence of 27.5 years in prison as well as a reduction in rank and a dishonorable discharge.A jury of U.S. Navy sailors and Marines returned its verdict late Thursday at a Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia, following a weeks-long trial that pulled back the curtain on alleged misconduct in America’s special operations community.Madera-Rodriguez belongs to a special operations group in the Marines known as the Raiders. Prosecutor’s said he, another Raider and two Navy SEALs conspired to humiliate Army Green Beret Logan Melgar in 2017.The men were angry over perceived slights during their time together in the country of Mali, prosecutors said. In particular, some were upset that they missed a party at the French embassy in the capital city of Bamako because Melgar and the others got separated in traffic.Their plan was to break into Melgar’s room, tie him up and choke him into unconsciousness while filming their prank on a phone, prosecutors said. Melgar died from strangulation.A defense attorney for Madera-Rodriguez had argued that he played a minor role in the hazing and should not be found guilty of murder and other crimes.The attorney said Madera-Rodriguez never touched Melgar until he tried to help revive him. He said the Marine’s role was only to break down Melgar’s door with a sledge hammer, play some music and bring in Malian guards who were part of the joke.Madera-Rodriguez’s attorneys also said military prosecutors misapplied the law when it came to the murder charge. They said he can only be found guilty of felony murder if he’s found guilty of burglary, a charge related to the accusation that the men broke into Melgar’s room. They said the burglary charge depends on the alleged crime happening at night, which they said it no longer was by the time of the hazing.“You don’t have night time, you don’t have burglary,” Marine Lt. Col. Timothy Kuhn argued on behalf of Madera-Rodriguez. “You don’t have burglary, you don’t have felony murder.”Prosecutors argued that Madera-Rodriguez was culpable because he chose to partake in the hazing, despite the known risks of placing someone in a chokehold.Madera-Rodriguez is the last of the four servicemembers to face a court-martial. He also was the only one to plead not guilty.SEAL Tony DeDolph, who had applied the chokehold, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter earlier this year and received a 10-year prison sentence. His attorney said he planned to appeal the punishment.Adam Matthews, the other SEAL, and Marine Kevin Maxwell Jr., made plea deals and were sentenced to shorter terms in military prison.Charging documents don’t state why the service members were in Mali. But U.S. Special Forces have been in Africa to support and train local troops in their fight against extremists.
A defense attorney for a U.S. Marine has told jurors that he played a minor role in the hazing of a U.S. Green Beret and should not be found guilty of murder and other crimes in the soldier’s deathBy BEN FINLEY Associated PressJuly 1, 2021, 2:08 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNORFOLK, Va. — A defense attorney for a U.S. Marine told jurors Wednesday that he played a minor role in the hazing of a U.S. Green Beret and should not be found guilty of murder and other crimes in the soldier’s death.Speaking inside a Navy base in Virginia, Marine Lt. Col. Timothy Kuhn said that Mario Madera-Rodriguez never touched Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar during the fatal hazing incident in Africa in 2017 until he tried to help revive him.“Facts have been manipulated and moved around like a puzzle to fit the government’s theory,” Kuhn said.Kuhn spoke during closing arguments at the trial for Madera-Rodriguez. The Marine is the last of four American servicemembers to face a court-martial in Melgar’s killing.Madera-Rodriguez, who belongs to a special operations group in the Marines known as the Raiders, is the only one of the four men to plead not guilty. The others, who include another Marine and two Navy SEALS, have already made plea deals with military prosecutors.Military prosecutors have said the men were angry over Melgar’s perceived slights during their time in Mali. In particular, some were upset that they missed a party at the French embassy in the capital city of Bamako because Melgar and the others got separated in traffic.Their plan was to choke Melgar into unconsciousness and then humiliate him while filming it on a phone camera, prosecutors saidDespite the “text-book” risks and known dangers of such chokeholds, “they do it anyway,” military prosecutor Benjamin Garcia said Wednesday during his closing argument.Navy Cmdr. Garcia told the jurors that Madera-Rodriguez chose to get some duct tape to help tie up the Green Beret. And Garcia said Madera-Rodriguez chose to help restrain him while a Navy SEAL applied the chokehold. Melgar died of strangulation.“They tied him up, and he could not tap out,” Garcia said.Much of the closing argument from Madera-Rodriguez’s defense attorneys was held in closed session because classified information was discussed. But in open court, his attorneys disputed much of the government’s case.Kuhn said that Madera-Rodriguez’s task was limited to breaking down Melgar’s door with a sledge hammer, putting on some music and bringing in two Malian guards who were part of the joke.Madera-Rodriguez did not restrain Melgar, Kuhn said.Kuhn also said that the government’s case against Madera-Rodriguez was like “a house of cards” based on a flawed application of the law.For instance, Kuhn said that Madera-Rodriguez can only be found guilty of felony murder if he’s found guilty of burglary, a charge related to the accusation that the men broke into Melgar’s room. But Kuhn said the burglary charge depends on the alleged crime happening at night, which he said it no longer was.“You don’t have night time, you don’t have burglary,” Kuhn said. “You don’t have burglary, you don’t have felony murder.”
The Titanic is disappearing. The iconic ocean liner that was sunk by an iceberg is now slowly succumbing to metal-eating bacteria: holes pervade the wreckage, the crow’s nest is already gone and the railing of the ship’s iconic bow could collapse at any time.Racing against the inevitable, an undersea exploration company’s expedition to the site of the wreckage could start this week, beginning what’s expected to be an annual chronicling of the ship’s deterioration. With the help of wealthy tourists, experts hope to learn more about the vessel as well as the underwater ecosystem that shipwrecks spawn.“The ocean is taking this thing, and we need to document it before it all disappears or becomes unrecognizable,” Stockton Rush, president of OceanGate Expeditions, said Friday from a ship headed to the North Atlantic wreck site.The 109-year-old ocean liner is being battered by deep-sea currents and bacteria that consumes hundreds of pounds of iron a day. Some have predicted the ship could vanish in a matter of decades as holes yawn in the hull and sections disintegrate.Since the ship’s 1985 discovery, the 100-foot (30-meter) forward mast has collapsed. The crow’s nest from which a lookout shouted, “Iceberg, right ahead!” disappeared. And the poop deck, where passengers crowded as the ship sank, folded under itself.The gymnasium near the grand staircase has fallen in. And a 2019 expedition discovered that the captain’s haunting bathtub, which became visible after the outer wall of the captain’s cabin fell away, is gone.“At some point you would expect the railing on the bow, which is very iconic, to have collapsed,” Rush said.The company has outfitted its carbon fiber-and-titanium submersible with high-definition cameras and multi-beam sonar equipment, Rush said. Charting the decomposition can help scientists predict the fate of other deep-sea wrecks, including those that sank during the world wars.OceanGate also plans to document the site’s sea life, such as crabs and corals. Hundreds of species have only been seen at the wreck, Rush said.Another focus will be the debris field and its artifacts. David Concannon, an OceanGate adviser who’s been involved in various Titanic expeditions, said he once followed a trail “of light debris and small personal effects like shoes and luggage” for 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).The expedition includes archaeologists and marine biologists. But OceanGate is also bringing roughly 40 people who paid to come along. They’ll take turns operating sonar equipment and performing other tasks in the five-person submersible.They’re funding the expedition by spending anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 apiece.“Somebody paid $28 million to go with Blue Origin to space, not even the moon,” said Renata Rojas, 53, of Hoboken, New Jersey. “This is cheap in comparison.”Obsessed with the Titanic since she was a kid, Rojas said she started studying oceanography in hopes of one day discovering the wreck. But it was found the same year, prompting her to pursue a career in banking instead.“I kind of need to see it with my own eyes to know that it’s really real,” she said.Bill Sauder, a Titanic historian who previously managed research for the company that owns the ship’s salvage rights, said he doubts the expedition will discover “anything that’s front-page news.” But he said it will improve the world’s understanding of the wreck’s layout and debris field. For instance, he’d like confirmation regarding where he believes the ship’s dog kennels are.OceanGate will not take anything from the site, making this expedition far less controversial than the now-scuttled plans by another firm to retrieve the Titanic’s radio.RMS Titanic, the company that owns the wreck’s salvage rights, wanted to exhibit the radio equipment because it had broadcast the Titanic’s distress calls. But the proposal sparked a court battle last year with the U.S. government. It said the expedition would break federal law and a pact with Britain to leave the wreck undisturbed because it’s a grave site.All but about 700 of the roughly 2,200 passengers and crew died after the ship struck an iceberg in 1912.The court battle ended after the firm indefinitely delayed its plans because of complications brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s possible that not everyone will approve of this next mission.In 2003, Ed Kamuda, then the president of the Titanic Historical Society, told The Associated Press that human activity, including tourism and expeditions, needs to be limited. He said the site should be a simple maritime memorial and left alone.“Let nature take back what is hers,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time before it’s a brown stain and a collection of pig iron on the ocean floor.”