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Judge won't block parts of Georgia election law for now

Judge won't block parts of Georgia election law for now

A federal judge declined to block some challenged sections of Georgia’s new election law ahead of two runoff elections next weekBy KATE BRUMBACK Associated PressJuly 7, 2021, 5:41 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleATLANTA — A federal judge on Wednesday declined to block some challenged sections of Georgia’s new election law ahead of two runoff elections next week, but he didn’t rule out the possibility for future elections.Election integrity activists had asked U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee to prohibit the state from enforcing sections of the new law that have to do with observation of elections, as well as a new deadline for requesting absentee ballots. Their request arose from one of eight federal lawsuits challenging the new law.The Republican-backed overhaul of election rules enacted this year has been blasted by Democrats and others who say it creates unnecessary obstacles to voting, particularly for people of color. Most of the lawsuits, including one filed last month by the U.S. Department of Justice, challenge the parts of law that critics say threaten voting rights.The targeted request that led to Wednesday’s ruling didn’t focus on the most commonly criticized parts of the law. The challenged provisions mostly have to do with monitoring or photographing parts of the election process.The activists, led by the Coalition for Good Governance, said the challenged sections of the law criminalize normal election observation activities and could intimidate voters, election observers and members of the news media. A tighter absentee ballot request deadline makes it virtually impossible to request an absentee ballot for a runoff, they argue.Lawyers for the state countered that the provisions reinforce protections that were already in place and are necessary for election integrity.Two state House districts held special elections June 15 and are set to hold runoff elections on Tuesday. Boulee wrote in his ruling that making changes now could risk “disrupting the administration of an ongoing election.”Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, expressed disappointment but said she’s pleased that Boulee’s order was limited to the July runoffs.“We’re concerned about the voter confusion that will no doubt occur with these little-known rapid changes to the rules,” she said.Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said this is “just another in a line of frivolous lawsuits” against the state’s election law, adding, “We will continue to meet them and beat them in court.”The challenged provisions prohibit observers from: intentionally observing a voter in a way that allows them to see how the person is voting; reporting anything they see during absentee ballot processing to anyone other than an election official; estimating or tallying the number of absentee ballots cast or any votes on the absentee ballots cast; and photographing the touchscreen of a voting machine while a voter is voting, or photographing a voted ballot.The final challenged provision sets an absentee ballot application deadline 11 days before an election.Boulee is presiding over all eight of the lawsuits challenging the state’s new law. He held a hearing last week on the narrow request at issue because the activists had asked for an emergency temporary ruling on those parts of the law. There haven’t been any similar requests for immediate action in the other lawsuits.Boulee said in his order that he found the timing in this case problematic. The law was signed in late March and the request to block these provisions was filed the day before the House special elections, he noted.The law is now in effect and barring its enforcement, he wrote, “would change the law in the ninth inning.” But he said he reserves judgment on the propriety of taking steps to block any of the challenged parts of the law for future elections.

No indictment for Georgia officer who killed Black driver

No indictment for Georgia officer who killed Black driver

A grand jury has declined to indict a former Georgia state trooper who shot and killed a Black man after trying to pull him over for a broken tail lightBy KATE BRUMBACK Associated PressJune 29, 2021, 7:40 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleATLANTA — A grand jury has declined to indict a former Georgia state trooper who shot and killed a Black man last year after trying to pull him over for a broken tail light.Jacob Thompson, who worked for the Georgia State Patrol, had been arrested on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault in the Aug. 7 death of 60-year-old Julian Lewis. After the case was presented to a Screven County grand jury Monday, the grand jurors did not indict Thompson on any of the charges.Francys Johnson, an attorney for Lewis’ family said they want to see video from the shooting. He also called on District Attorney Daphne Totten to empanel another grand jury to try again to get an indictment.A woman who answered the phone in Totten’s office on Tuesday said the district attorney was in court in another county. Totten did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.Keith Barber, an attorney for Thompson, released a statement thanking the grand jury for “listening diligently to the evidence in this case and coming to this just and fair determination.”“We trust this will be the end of this long ordeal that the Thompson family has had to wrongfully experience because of Trooper Jake Thompson only doing his job to protect the Citizens of the State of Georgia,” Barber said.Lawyers for Lewis’ family had applauded Thompson’s arrest a week after the shooting and subsequent firing by the Georgia State Patrol. They were further heartened when Screven County Judge F. Gates Peed initially denied bond for Thompson in September, saying it “would be inappropriate” to allow bond at that moment given the facts in the case. Peed granted a $100,000 bond in November after seven people, including four law enforcement officers, testified on Thompson’s behalf.Lawyers for Lewis’ family expressed disappointment Tuesday with the grand jury’s decision, saying the system too often fails to provide justice for Black people.“Make no mistake about it, we believe that this was a very strong case,” Johnson said during a livestreamed news conference in Savannah. “The evidence was there. It still is.”Barber said Thompson, his family and his defense team offer their condolences to Lewis’s family, but he defended Thompson’s actions.“Jake Thompson has committed no crime in relation to his interaction with Julian Lewis,” Barber said. “He has clearly shown he only acted in self defense in this situation.”Thompson, who is white, tried to pull Lewis over for a broken tail light in rural Screven County, near Georgia’s border with South Carolina. When Lewis didn’t immediately stop, the trooper pursued him and forced his car into a ditch, then shot Lewis in the head.Thompson wrote in his incident report that he shot Lewis as Lewis was revving his engine and turning his steering wheel, as if he was trying to ram the trooper. But Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Dustin Peak testified in September that was impossible, because Lewis’ car battery disconnected when it hit the ditch, leaving the vehicle inoperable.Peak testified that dash camera video shows one second elapsed between the time the trooper got out of his patrol vehicle and when he fired the shot that killed Lewis.Johnson noted that district attorneys have great power in the indictment process and essentially can present what they want to present how they want to present it. The evidentiary standard of “probable cause” required for an indictment is much lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” required to convict someone at trial.While grand jury proceedings are secret and people accused of crimes do not generally get the opportunity to appear before grand jurors to present their side, Georgia law does have an exception that allows police officers accused of crimes to testify before a grand jury.Johnson said he wants to see the transcript of the grand jury proceedings: “If the presentation went like the prosecution has gone thus far, we will not be surprised by what we see if there is underzealous prosecution.”

Civil rights trail book aims to make history easy to digest

Civil rights trail book aims to make history easy to digest

ATLANTA — By highlighting cities that played host to significant events during the civil rights movement, a new book aims to make that complex history easier to understand and to pass its legacy on to younger generations.“The Official United States Civil Rights Trail” companion book includes a timeline of events from 1954 through 1969 and a list of more than 120 civil rights landmarks as well as featuring 14 cities where people can visit sites that help bring that history to life. Author Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department, said he wanted to break the history down into easily digestible pieces.“We wanted to make it easy for people to understand things about civil rights that they didn’t know before, and so we decided to divide it up by cities where there are a major number of places to visit, not just where something happened but where people can go and visit and learn the story,” Sentell said.He spoke in an interview Wednesday outside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home in Atlanta before an event launching the book.The U.S. Civil Rights Trail, which debuted in 2018, includes more than 120 sites — churches, schools, courthouses, museums — across 15 states, mostly in the South. They are places where activists fought to advance social justice and racial equality in the 1950s and 1960s. The new companion book includes more than 200 images of those landmarks today, as well as photographs from the civil rights era.After working with tourism directors around the South to establish the trail, Sentell decided to put together a companion book after a conversation with the Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the civil rights leader and CEO of The King Center in Atlanta.“She said how concerned she was that young African Americans did not know the story about what her father and people’s parents and grandparents went through in the 50s and the 60s in order to leave a better world for their children and grandchildren,” Sentell told an audience including King at the launch. “She said people don’t know the story. If you don’t know the story then you don’t care.”That, Sentell said, is what prompted him to make the stories of the civil rights movement more accessible by writing the book and putting it all online as well.Speaking at the launch event, King said it’s imperative for people to learn about the people and events that helped put an end to legal segregation.”It’s important that families all across this nation — regardless of race, ethnicity — bring their children to these historical sites to learn the stories of brave, courageous, visionary, non-violent individuals who changed the South forever,” she said.Noting that she was speaking in front of the house where her father lived as a child, she told a story from his childhood about how one day the parents of some white children he was friends with refused to let them come out and play. That’s when his parents explained to him the history of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow, she said.“My father, at that moment, made up in his little 6-year-old mind that ‘I’m going to do something about these conditions,’” she said.When young people visit the civil rights landmarks or read the companion book, they should be similarly inspired to make changes to the world around them, whether it’s addressing poverty, the wealth gap, voting rights, police brutality, education inequity or the school-to-prison pipeline, she said.King said the civil rights sites featured on the trail serve as a reminder of what can happen “when ordinary people have a commitment and a willingness to do whatever’s necessary to bring about change.”Sentell said one of his goals for the book was to share details that casual students of history may not have heard before.He said that while people may be familiar with the story of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy lynched in Mississippi in 1955, they may not have heard much about the trial of the men accused in his killing. Even though the boy’s great-uncle identified the two men at trial as the ones who had abducted him, an all-white jury took only an hour to find them not guilty, the book says.Another tidbit that Sentell found interesting was that the words “I have a dream” didn’t appear in the prepared text for King’s famous speech that was delivered during the March on Washington in 1963. As he was speaking, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson sensed the crowd growing listless and, remembering a speech he’d given earlier in Detroit, called out, “Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream,” the book says. King then pushed his script aside and delivered the now-familiar words to great effect.

Echoes of Breonna Taylor in shooting of Black man in Georgia

Echoes of Breonna Taylor in shooting of Black man in Georgia

ATLANTA — Johnny Lorenzo Bolton was lying with his eyes closed on a couch in his apartment near Atlanta when police serving a narcotics search warrant burst through the front door with guns drawn and no warning.Bolton stood up and at least one of the officers fired, sending two bullets into Bolton’s chest. The 49-year-old Black man died from his injuries.Details of the pre-dawn encounter in December — most of which come from a lawyer representing Bolton’s family — resemble a case that is well known nationwide: the killing nine months earlier of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. The 26-year-old Black woman also died after being shot by officers serving a drug search warrant at her apartment.But unlike Taylor’s, Bolton’s name is not painted in large letters on protest signs or mentioned in the ongoing nationwide discussions on racial injustice and police brutality that began after Taylor’s death in March 2020 and that of George Floyd, who died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.Bolton’s relatives and their lawyers wanted to try to get information about the shooting from law enforcement before drawing attention to his killing, they said. Frustrated in those efforts, the attorneys sent a draft of a lawsuit to Cobb County officials in mid-April along with a letter threatening litigation if county officials didn’t provide more information and address accountability and compensation for Bolton’s death.“For almost six months, we gave them quiet,” Bolton’s sister Daphne Bolton said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “That lets me know that’s not what gets a response.”Now, Bolton says, “I want my brother’s name to ring beside Breonna Taylor’s. When they say Breonna Taylor, I want them to say Breonna Taylor and Johnny Lorenzo Bolton. I want them to be simultaneous.”The specifics of Taylor’s killing have been laid out in detail: Police arrived after midnight and used a battering ram to knock open the door. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he grabbed his gun and he and Taylor got out of bed and walked toward the door. Police say they knocked and identified themselves. Walker said he didn’t hear them say police and feared the officers were intruders. He fired once, hitting an officer in the leg. Three officers returned fire, discharging a total of 32 bullets, five of which hit Taylor.Far fewer details about Bolton’s death have been released.In a bare-bones news release issued the day he died, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, or GBI, which investigates shootings involving police at the request of local agencies, said officers had executed a narcotics search warrant at a Smyrna apartment around 4:40 a.m. on Dec. 17.“During entry into the residence, a SWAT team member discharged his firearm and an occupant of the apartment was struck,” the release said.It was a Cobb County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team. The agency has said it’s cooperating with the investigation.The GBI said it turned over its investigative file to the Cobb County district attorney’s office on March 16.The district attorney’s office has said it’s still investigating and — as it does with all cases involving shootings by police — plans to present the case to a grand jury.In a letter responding to the family’s lawyers, an attorney representing Cobb County said officials were reviewing the claims raised by the family’s lawyers but they “believe there are several material inaccuracies” in the draft lawsuit and accompanying letter. County officials have declined requests from the AP for documents detailing the shooting, citing an exemption in the state’s open records law for material related to an ongoing investigation.The two-bedroom apartment where Bolton lived served as an unofficial boarding house, according to Zack Greenamyre, one of the family’s lawyers. A woman and her teenage daughter lived in one bedroom, another woman rented the other bedroom, and Bolton slept on a couch in the living room, Greenamyre said.As part of an investigation targeting a suspected drug dealer, police served two warrants at roughly the same time: one at a townhouse where the suspected dealer lived and the second at the apartment where Bolton lived, which police said was paid for by the alleged dealer. The officer who provided sworn statements for both warrant applications said they were based on information from a confidential law enforcement source and surveillance. The officer said the confidential informant bought cocaine at the apartment in September and that drug sales continued there in December.The officer asked for a “no-knock” warrant, which allows police to enter without announcing themselves. He cited the criminal histories of people who were known to associate with the suspected dealer at the apartment and previous reports of guns seen there.Greenamyre says the warrant for the apartment was based on false and outdated information and that the apartment was purely residential, with no drug sales taking place there. Bolton’s name doesn’t appear in the paperwork for either warrant.Greenamyre said witnesses told him Bolton was lying on a couch with his eyes closed, possibly sleeping, when officers crashed through the door. He stood in response to the noise and was shot by police, the witnesses said. They also said that as Bolton lay dying, officers didn’t immediately provide first aid but instead handcuffed him.“The limited information available to the family now does not make this look like a justified shooting,” said the letter accompanying the draft lawsuit.About two weeks after the shooting, police got additional arrest warrants for the alleged dealer, who had already been arrested in the raid on the townhouse, and his brother, saying the pair had access to a locked closet in the apartment where a backpack containing drugs was found.Police also got arrest warrants for two women and a man who were in the apartment with Bolton when police entered. The warrants charge all three with possession of a gun despite prior felony convictions after one gun was found in the kitchen and another in a bedroom. The man also had a backpack containing cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines, a warrant says.Daphne Bolton, who says her brother was a talented singer with a big heart, wants to know why he was shot and wants the officers involved to be fired and charged. She also wants an end to “no-knock” warrants.Bolton said she was at work at a bank in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Dec. 17 when she got a Facebook message from her brother’s daughter saying he’d been shot. The hours that followed are a blur, but she remembers pacing in her home, calling hospitals near Atlanta to try to find him before eventually learning he’d died.Her anger and grief are still raw.The two siblings were born about a year apart and grew up, along with an older sister who died five years ago from complications of multiple sclerosis, in a tightknit family in Mississippi. As teenagers, they moved to South Carolina with their mother after their parents divorced.Johnny Bolton never really liked school, but he was funny and well liked and drew a crowd when he’d sing in public. He began dabbling with drugs in his late teens, possibly as a way to cope with their parents’ divorce, his sister said. He moved to the Atlanta area as a young man.Daphne Bolton saw her brother a couple of times a year, but spoke to him more often. She treasures a memory from one of her birthdays when her brother came to surprise her and the family went bowling. Since his death, she’s regretted not going to a family reunion last summer where he was set to sing.Johnny Bolton loved women and always had a girlfriend, some of whom reached out to his sister for advice about him. He’d been working at a carwash and was popular with customers and staff there, Daphne Bolton said.Johnny Bolton ran into trouble with the law over the years, mostly drug and misdemeanor offenses, and spent some time locked up. He’d often call his sister to ask for money and she’d send it. Even though she didn’t agree with some of her brother’s choices, she figured it was safer if he got money from her.“He always told me, he said, ‘Baby Sis, I’m gonna get better.’ I said, ‘I know you are,’” Daphne Bolton said through tears. “I never gave up hope that he would get better. Now I, unfortunately, will never get to see that day.”