Supreme Court takes up energy companies’ appeal over Baltimore climate suit

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal by energy companies including BP PLC, Chevron Corp, Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell PLC contesting a lawsuit by the city of Baltimore seeking damages for the impact of global climate change.

The justices will weigh whether the lawsuit must be heard in state court as the city would prefer or in federal court, which corporate defendants generally view as a more favorable venue. The suit targets 21 U.S. and foreign energy companies that extract, produce, distribute or sell fossil fuels.

The outcome could affect around a dozen similar lawsuits by U.S. states, cities and counties including Rhode Island and New York City seeking to hold such companies liable for the impact of climate change.

Baltimore and the other jurisdictions are seeking damages under state law for the harms they said they have sustained due to climate change, which they attribute in part to the companies’ role in producing fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The plaintiffs have said they have had to spend more on infrastructure such as flood control measures to combat sea-level rise caused by a warming climate. Climate change has been melting land-based ice sheets and glaciers.

The Supreme Court in 2019 declined the companies’ emergency request to put the Baltimore litigation on hold after a federal judge ruled that the case should be heard in state court. In March, the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judge’s decision.

In the absence of federal legislation in the bitterly divided U.S. Congress targeting climate change, the lawsuits are the latest effort to force action via litigation.

The Supreme Court in a landmark 2007 ruling said that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that could be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Under Democratic President Barack Obama, the agency issued the first-ever regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse gases. But efforts in Congress to enact sweeping climate change legislation have failed.

The court took action in the case three days before it begins its new nine-month term short one justice after the Sept. 18 death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. President Donald Trump has nominated federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Gas explosion destroys Baltimore homes, one dead and children trapped

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – A gas explosion ripped through a Baltimore neighborhood on Monday, killing at least one person, injuring four and trapping children as the blast destroyed at least three homes, firefighters said.

Fire officials described it as a natural gas explosion but said the exact cause was under investigation.

The blast destroyed three brick row homes and ripped open the wall of another, spreading debris throughout the neighborhood. Rescuers picked through the rubble, searching for victims with their hands and hand tools, Baltimore City Fire Department spokeswoman Blair Adams told reporters at the scene.

One woman was killed, four people were hospitalized in serious condition, and firefighters were trying to rescue a sixth person, fire officials said.

At one point at least five people were trapped, some of them children, the Baltimore Firefighters IAFF Local 734 said on Twitter.

Neighbors responding to the blast dug through rubble and called out for victims.

One neighbor told the Baltimore Sun he could hear shouts from trapped children.

“Come get us! We’re stuck!” came the cries, Kevin Matthews told the Sun.

Matthews found one person buried from the neck down and another sheltering in a closet, the Sun said.

“You knew it was something catastrophic,” Dean Jones told WBFF television about hearing the blast. “I didn’t think. I didn’t grab shoes. I took off running. I followed the smoke. I started yelling to come help.”

Jones and several other neighbors freed at least one woman from the scene.

“Once they said a kid was in there, I lost it. I said I had to get in there now,” Jones told WBAL television.

But he also wanted no special accolades, saying, “I am not a hero, I’m a human.”

Neighbors said their windows were blown out and doors blasted off the hinges, the Sun reported.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Brendan O’Brien; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Government health experts warn U.S. cities of ‘trouble ahead’

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House health experts are warning of an uptick in the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in U.S. cities including Boston, Chicago and Washington, urging local leaders to maintain health safety measures to avoid a surge.

“This is a predictor of trouble ahead,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Thursday.

Fauci was asked on CNN about comments made by his White House coronavirus task force colleague, Dr. Deborah Birx, identifying new areas of concern in major cities, even as authorities see encouraging signs across the South.

Baltimore and Atlanta remain at a “very high level,” as well as Kansas City, Portland, Omaha and California’s Central Valley, Birx told state and local officials in a telephone call Wednesday. A recording of the call was obtained by the journalism nonprofit Center for Public Integrity.

White House data shows small increases in the percentage of positive COVID-10 tests in Chicago, Boston and Detroit and those places need to “get on top of it”, Birx said.

Even in cities and states where most people are doing things right, Fauci said, a segment of people not wearing masks or following social distancing remains vulnerable to infection and can keep the virus smoldering in U.S. communities.

“Unless everybody pulls together, and gets the level way down over baseline, we’re going to continue to see these kind of increases that Dr. Birx was talking about in several of those cities,” Fauci said.

White House coronavirus experts have in recent days sent regular warnings to cities and states not to relax anti-coronavirus measures too much before the virus is under sufficient control.

On average, 1,000 people are dying each day nationwide from COVID-19. The U.S. death toll is now over 157,000, with 4.8 million known cases.

President Donald Trump, in contrast, has played down the staying power of the virus, saying on Wednesday “it will go away like things go away” as he urged U.S. schools to reopen on time for face-to-face lessons.

Trump also said children are “almost immune” from COVID-19, prompting Facebook Inc on Wednesday to take down a post by the Republican president containing a Fox News video clip in which he made the statement. Facebook said it violated its rules against sharing misinformation about the virus.

Chicago’s mayor said on Wednesday that school would be online-only in September, after the teachers’ union and many parents in the city objected to a plan to allow students the option of attending class twice a week in pods of 15.

Chicago is the third-largest school district in the United States behind New York and Los Angeles, with 350,000 students.

Los Angeles has already announced that students will be kept home, while New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he expects to have children attend classes part of the time.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Trump to send federal forces to more ‘Democrat’ cities

By Steve Holland and Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday said he would send law enforcement to more U.S. cities, as a federal crackdown on anti-racism protests in Oregon with unmarked cars and unidentified forces angered people across the country.

Trump, a Republican, cited New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, California, as places to send federal agents, noting the cities’ mayors were “liberal Democrats.” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot frequently blasts Trump on Twitter.

“We’re sending law enforcement,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We can’t let this happen to the cities.”

State and local leaders in Oregon, as well as members of Congress, have called for Trump to remove Department of Homeland Security secret police forces from Portland, Oregon, after videos showed unidentified federal personnel rounding up people and whisking them away in black minivans.

“Not only do I believe he is breaking the law, but he is also endangering the lives of Portlanders,” the city’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, tweeted, having previously called the federal presence “political theater” in an election year.

Trump, trailing in opinion polls behind Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, in June declared himself “president of law and order” and threatened to send the U.S. military into cities after sometimes violent protests and looting in the aftermath of African American ‘s death in police custody in Minneapolis.

Federal agents last week began cracking down on Portland protests against police brutality and systemic racism, using tear gas to defend federal buildings and taking some activists into custody without explanation.

“They grab a lot of people and jail the leaders. These are anarchists,” Trump said of federal agents sent to the historically liberal city to quell often unruly protests.

Despite a national outcry over the tactics, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials on Monday said they would not back down and would not apologize.

The state of Oregon and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued the Trump administration for unlawfully detaining Oregon residents, and some Republicans spoke out against its tactics on Monday.

“There is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding people up at will,” tweeted U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Homeland Security was making plans to deploy around 150 agents in the city this week where police defending a statue clashed with protesters on Friday.

The DHS did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington, additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Deborah Bloom in Portland; Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Supreme Court turns away murder case highlighted in ‘Serial’ podcast

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – A Baltimore man will remain behind bars for the 1999 murder of his former high school girlfriend after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected his bid for a new trial in a case that captured public attention after the podcast “Serial” raised questions about his prosecution.

The justices turned away an appeal by Adnan Syed, 39, who has been serving a life sentence since 2000 after being convicted in the strangling death of high school classmate Hae Min Lee. Maryland’s highest court in March ruled out a new trial for Syed despite his attorney’s failure to properly defend him.

Prosecutors said Syed killed the 17-year-old Lee in 1999 in the parking lot of a Best Buy store shortly after school, and then buried her body in a shallow grave later that evening. He was jealous, the state argued, because she had started dating someone else. Lee’s body was found three weeks later.

There were no eyewitnesses to the murder but one witness said he helped Syed bury the body. A jury in Baltimore convicted Syed of first-degree murder and other charges in 2000.

In 2015, a state court reopened the case to allow Syed to argue that his initial defense lawyer had been ineffective because she failed to contact and interview a witness, Asia McClain, who could have provided a potential alibi. McClain had said she remembered speaking with Syed at the school library during the time prosecutors had said Syed killed Lee.

A new trial was ordered for Syed after a state intermediate appeals court said the attorney’s incompetence resulted in impermissible prejudice to Syed’s defense.

Syed’s case won public attention in 2014 when it was the subject of the “Serial” podcast, produced by public radio station WBEZ Chicago and downloaded tens of millions of times. It has since inspired news articles and a documentary on HBO.

Last March, in a closely divided 4-3 ruling, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s top court, overturned that decision because the jury could have disregarded prosecutors’ timeline for when Lee was killed, but still believed that Syed murdered her.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

‘Multiple victims’ reported in shooting in Maryland

Pol;ice on scene at work place shooting. Active shooter

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Several people were shot on Thursday in Perryman, Maryland, near an Army facility, and residents were asked to avoid the area, according to authorities.

“The situation is still fluid,” the Harford County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Twitter, adding that officers were dispatched to the incident shortly after 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT).

Agents from the Baltimore offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the FBI were also responding, the agencies said.

Perryman is 34 miles (55 km) northeast of Baltimore. The area of the reported shooting includes a church and a business district, and is near the Aberdeen Proving Ground, an Army facility.

Details of the shooting were still largely unknown around 10:30 a.m. (1430 GMT).

A witness told NBC’s affiliate in Baltimore that the shooting occurred in a warehouse and that 20 to 30 officers, as well as ambulances, responded to the scene.

“They’re telling that there is an active shooter,” said the witness, whom the station identified as a man named Bo who did not want to provide his last name.

Governor Larry Hogan said his office was “closely monitoring the horrific shooting.”

“Our prayers are with all those impacted, including our first responders,” Hogan wrote on Twitter. “The State stands ready to offer any support.”

The shooting occurred a day after a man shot and wounded four people, including a police officer, at a Pennsylvania court building before he was killed by police, according to Pennsylvania State Police.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Pope orders investigation of bishop as U.S. Church leaders meet on abuse crisis

Pope Francis meets U.S. Catholic Church leaders Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop of Los Angeles JosŽ Horacio G—mez, Cardinal Sean Patrick OÕMalley, Archbishop of Boston, and Monsignor Brian Bransfield, General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, during a private audience at the Vatican, September 13, 2018. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis has ordered an investigation of an American bishop accused of sexual misconduct with adults and accepted his resignation, the Vatican and U.S. Church officials said on Thursday.

The announcement was made as the pope was meeting U.S. Catholic Church leaders to discuss the fallout from a scandal involving a former American cardinal and demands from an archbishop that the pontiff step down.

The Catholic Church worldwide is reeling from crises involving sexual abuse of minors. Surveys show plummeting confidence in the Church the United States, Chile, Australia, and Ireland where the scandal has hit hardest, as well as in other countries.

The bishop who resigned is Michael J. Bransfield, 75, of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. The Vatican said the pope had appointed Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to run the diocese until a new bishop is appointed.

Neither the Vatican nor the Archdiocese of Baltimore gave any details of the specific allegations against Bransfield.

Neither Bransfield nor his legal representative could immediately be reached for comment.

The archdiocese of Baltimore’s website said the pope had instructed Lori to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults by Bransfield.

“My primary concern is for the care and support of the priests and people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston at this difficult time,” Lori said in a statement.

“I further pledge to conduct a thorough investigation in search of the truth into the troubling allegations against Bishop Bransfield and to work closely with the clergy, religious and lay leaders of the diocese until the appointment of a new bishop,” he said.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Police seek motive in shooting at Florida video game contest

Police officers cordon off a street outside The Jacksonville Landing after a shooting during a video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Reuters) – Police on Monday were trying to determine why a gunman opened fire at a Jacksonville, Florida, video game tournament, killing two people and injuring 11 others before fatally shooting himself.

The Sunday shooting immediately became an issue in Florida primary elections set for Tuesday when voters choose candidates for governor and the U.S. House of Representatives. Some Democrats called for stricter gun laws while other candidates canceled events.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office identified the shooter as David Katz, 24, of Baltimore, and said they found his body near those of his two alleged victims at The Landing, a popular riverside shopping and dining location. The shooting broke out during a regional qualifier for the Madden 19 online football game tournament at the GLHF Game Bar and witnesses told local media Katz was angry because he lost the tournament.

It was not clear if Katz knew his victims.

Local media identified the dead victims as Eli Clayton, 22, of Woodland Hills, California, and Taylor Robertson, 27, of Ballard, West Virginia. Both had been competitors in the tournament, local media reported, citing family of the victims.

Robertson, a husband and father, won the tournament last year and Katz won it the year before, the Miami Herald reported, citing family and friends posting on the Internet.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s office said nine people were wounded by gunfire and at least two others were injured while fleeing the scene. Officials did not respond to calls seeking updated information on Monday.

Taylor Poindexter speaks to reporters after witnessing a gunman open fire on gamers participating in a video game tournament outside The Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

Taylor Poindexter speaks to reporters after witnessing a gunman open fire on gamers participating in a video game tournament outside The Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

FLORIDA HISTORY OF SHOOTINGS

Six months ago 17 students and educators were gunned down at a high school in Parkland, Florida, an incident that inflamed the United States’ long-running debate over gun rights.

In 2016 a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in the second-deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history.

The Sunday attack drew immediate statements from two Democratic candidates for governor – former U.S. Representative Gwen Graham and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

“We need to end these mass shootings – and the only way to do that is to vote out the politicians complicit in this cycle of death,” Graham said on Sunday on Twitter. Levine sounded a similar note, saying, “It’s time for new leaders.”

Graham and Levine are seeking the office currently held by Republican Governor Rick Scott, who in turn is challenging Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.

The leading contenders for the Republican nomination for governor, U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, canceled campaign events and urged cooperation with law enforcement.

The bar was livestreaming the gaming competition when the gunfire started, according to video shared on social media. In the video, players can be seen reacting to the shots and cries can be heard before the footage cuts off.

Taylor Poindexter and her boyfriend, Marquis Williams, who had traveled from Chicago to attend the tournament, fled when the gunfire erupted. She said she saw Katz take aim at his victims.

“We did see him, two hands on the gun, walking back, just popping rounds,” Poindexter told reporters. “I was scared for my life and my boyfriend’s.”

Another gamer, Chris “Dubby” McFarland, was hospitalized after a bullet grazed his head. “I feel fine, just a scratch on my head. Traumatized and devastated,” he wrote on Twitter.

Jacksonville Memorial Hospital is treating three people wounded in the attack, said spokesman Peter Moberg. All were listed in good condition and one was expected to be discharged later on Monday, he said.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Jacksonville Fla., Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Alison Williams and Bill Trott)

Confederate monuments removed in Baltimore: media

(Reuters) – Work crews took down four Confederate monuments in Baltimore overnight into Wednesday, days after white nationalists led a deadly protest over the planned removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Monuments to Robert E. Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army in the American Civil War, and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, a Confederate general, were dismantled from the city’s Wyman Park Dell after the city council on Monday approved the removal of four statues, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“It’s done,” Mayor Catherine Pugh told the newspaper on Wednesday. “They need to come down. My concern is for the safety and security of our people. We moved as quickly as we could.”

The swift dismantling of the monuments, which Pugh said began at 11:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday (0330 GMT on Wednesday) and finished at 5:30 a.m. EDT (0930 GMT), comes after a rally by white nationalists protesting against plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee sparked clashes with anti-racism demonstrators in Charlottesville on Saturday.

The rally turned deadly when a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring 19 other people.

“Following the acts of domestic terrorism carried out by white supremacist terrorist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, cities must act decisively and immediately by removing these monuments,” Baltimore city councilman Brandon Scott wrote in a resolution calling for the removal of the statues, according to the Sun.

Saturday’s violence appears to have accelerated the drive to remove memorials, flags and other reminders of the Confederate cause across the United States.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

Two Baltimore murders break 72-hour anti-violence ‘ceasefire’

Two Baltimore murders break 72-hour anti-violence 'ceasefire'

(Reuters) – A 37-year-old man was shot and killed in Baltimore late on Saturday, police said, in the second murder since activists called for a 72-hour “ceasefire” this weekend in response to the city’s record homicide rate.

The unidentified victim suffered multiple gunshot wounds just before 10 p.m. on Saturday, a few hours after a 24-year-old man was reported shot and killed. Another shooting, which was not fatal, occurred earlier in the day, police said.

Community leaders had pleaded for a 72-hour pause in the violence during Friday, Saturday and Sunday, using the hashtag #BaltimoreCeasefire on social media. No murders were reported until Saturday afternoon.

The city had recorded a record 204 homicides for the first seven months of the year.

Following the first shooting on Saturday, Baltimore Ceasefire’s organizers said on Facebook that the killing would not stop their mission.

“It’s not that we EITHER keep celebrating life this weekend OR honor the life that has been lost to violence today,” the post read. ” … We will honor the life that was lost to violence, and raise our vibration even higher, and keep celebrating life.”

The Rev. Grey Maggiano, a rector at the Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore, said on Twitter: “The victory in #BaltimoreCeasefire is not whether someone got shot or not – it’s that so many ppl mobilized to say ‘we are tired! No more.'”

Despite the shootings, activists held marches, cookouts and vigils on Saturday night, paying tribute to the city’s murder victims and hugging residents affected by the violence, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Riots convulsed the majority-black city in April 2015 after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died in police custody.

Prosecutors charged six officers in connection with the incident but secured no convictions. Gray’s death also prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation, which concluded that the city’s police department routinely violated residents’ civil rights.

People participate in the "Peace Walk" event at Patterson Park during the 72 hour community-led Baltimore Ceasefire against gun violence in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Sait Serkan Gurbuz

People participate in the “Peace Walk” event at Patterson Park during the 72 hour community-led Baltimore Ceasefire against gun violence in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Sait Serkan Gurbuz

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)