Leader of white nationalist gang escapes Arkansas jail

Wesley Gullett appears in this handout photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service on August 1, 2019. U.S. Marshals Service/Handout via REUTERS

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – A white nationalist gang leader facing federal charges escaped from an Arkansas jail along with another inmate on Thursday, officials said.

Wesley Gullett, who prosecutors earlier this year said was the head of the New Aryan Empire, was found to be missing early on Wednesday at the Jefferson County Jail in Pine Bluff, a city about 30 miles (50 km) south of Little Rock, the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement.

The New Aryan Empire began as a prison gang and branched out beyond prisons, with members committing violence to support a large drug-trafficking operation, the Department of Justice said in February.

Christopher Sanderson appears in this handout photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service on August 1, 2019. U.S. Marshals Service/Handout via REUTERS

Christopher Sanderson appears in this handout photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service on August 1, 2019. U.S. Marshals Service/Handout via REUTERS

The other inmate missing was Christopher Sanderson, 34, who was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, the Marshals Service said. His prior convictions include possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver and theft.

Federal prosecutors in 2017 charged Gullett and more than 40 other people with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, according to court documents.

This past February, a federal grand jury named other defendants and brought additional charges. For Gullett, those new charges included attempted murder and assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Gullett, 30, who is from Russellville, Arkansas, has pleaded not guilty.

The Marshals Service has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Gullett and a $5,000 reward for Sanderson and agency officials warned that both men should be considered armed and dangerous.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

‘Affluenza’ Texan, who killed 4 driving drunk, released from jail

FILE PHOTO: Ethan Couch, the so-called "affluenza" teen, is brought into court for his adult court hearing at Tim Curry Justice Center in Fort Worth, Texas April 13, 2016. Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner/Pool via REUTERS

By Marice Richter

FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) – A Texan who was dubbed the “affluenza teen” was released from jail on Monday after serving nearly two years for killing four people while driving drunk and later fleeing to Mexico with his mother, law enforcement officials said.

The case made headlines worldwide after lawyers for Ethan Couch, now 20, argued that his wealthy upbringing impaired his ability to tell right from wrong. He has moved from the Tarrant County Jail and was being processed at a probation office, jail officials said.

Couch was released a few days before his 21st birthday and will remain under strict probation supervision, the county sheriff’s office has said.

It was not clear where Couch will go upon his release. His mother is in jail for violating the terms of her bond after being charged with helping her son flee to Mexico.

“Ethan does not wish to draw attention to himself and requests privacy so he may focus on successfully completing his community supervision and going forward as a law-abiding citizen,” his lawyers, Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn said in a statement.

Couch’s father, who runs a sheet metal business, did not respond to requests for comment.

Couch was 16 and had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit for an adult when he struck and killed four people in June 2013 with his pickup truck.

At his trial in juvenile court that year, a psychologist testifying on his behalf described Couch as suffering from “affluenza.” The psychologist said it was an affliction brought on by being spoiled by his parents and it had skewed his moral compass.

Couch was sentenced to 10 years of probation for intoxication manslaughter, sparking outrage from critics who ridiculed the affluenza defense and said his family’s wealth had kept him out of jail.

But in late 2015, when a social media video surfaced that showed him in possible violation of his drug-and-drink-free probation, he and his mother, Tonya Couch, fled for Mexico, where the two were later apprehended and deported.

In 2016, a Tarrant County judge transferred Ethan Couch’s probation supervision to the adult system, and as a condition of the transfer, ordered him to serve 720 days in jail, 180 days for each of his four victims.

That sentence was seen as the maximum possible, given the various legal mechanisms of a case that spanned the juvenile and adult systems, legal officials said.

(Reporting by Marice Richter and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, David Gregorio and Susan Thomas)

Venezuela police enter home of imprisoned opposition leader Lopez: wife

Lilian Tintori, wife of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, makes declarations to the media after casting her vote during a nationwide election for new governors in Caracas, Venezuela, October 15, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan intelligence agents have entered the home of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is under house arrest for leading protests against President Nicolas Maduro, Lopez’s wife said on Twitter on Thursday.

The arrival of agents of the Sebin came hours after the New York Times published a story in which Lopez described how security forces have sought to prevent him from speaking with reporters.

“Sebin has entered our house and they remain here,” Lilian Tintori tweeted. “It is illegal and inhumane for Sebin to be inside our home with weapons, in the presence of our three children.”

The office of the vice presidency, which oversees Sebin, did not answer calls seeking confirmation and the Information Ministry did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Lopez is the best-known of dozens of imprisoned opposition activists and leaders accused by Maduro of seeking to overthrow his government through street protests in 2014 and 2017.

He was arrested in 2014 and convicted of having incited protests against Maduro, who describes Lopez as “monster” responsible for dozens of deaths in demonstrations.

Lopez was granted house arrest in July. After calling on citizens to continue protests against Maduro in an internet video, he was taken back to jail in August but returned several days later to house arrest.

Opposition leaders and critics around the world have slammed the case against him as a sham and described the trial as a mockery of justice.

In 2015, one of the prosecutors who led the case said the conviction had been unfair and that he had been under constant pressure from superiors.

Former Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who was sacked last year, said in February she had been pressured about the case by high-ranking Socialist Party officials.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Bill Trott)

Undercover investigator able to smuggle blades, drugs into NYC jails: watchdog

An undercover investigator with New York City's Department of Investigation (DOI) posing as a corrections officer passes through front gate security as part of an operation against smuggling at city jails, in an undated still image from video released in New York City, New York, U.S. February 8, 2018. Parts of the image are blurred at source. New York City Department of Investigation/

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – An undercover investigator dressed as a jail officer was able to smuggle scalpel blades and drugs into the main city jails in Manhattan and Brooklyn, a city watchdog said on Thursday, the latest sign of ongoing troubles in the city’s jail system.

The report from the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI), which examines misconduct by city employees, was issued on the same day that federal authorities in Brooklyn unsealed an indictment charging two corrections officers and five inmates with smuggling drugs inside the Manhattan jail.

Evidence gathered as part of an undercover operation by New York City's Department of Investigation (DOI) into smuggling at city jails is seen in an undated photo released in New York City, New York, U.S. February 8, 2018. Part of the image is blurred at source. New York City Department of Investigation

Evidence gathered as part of an undercover operation by New York City’s Department of Investigation (DOI) into smuggling at city jails is seen in an undated photo released in New York City, New York, U.S. February 8, 2018. Part of the image is blurred at source. New York City Department of Investigation/Handout via REUTERS

Together, the two investigations highlighted the smuggling that continues to plague the city’s jails, most notably the notorious Rikers Island jail complex, according to DOI officials. The report comes after a similar 2014 sting operation in which an undercover investigator brought weapons and drugs through six Rikers entrances.

“Three years after a DOI undercover investigation demonstrated serious flaws in DOC security screening, the problems remain,” DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said in a statement, referring to the city Department of Correction.

DOC commissioner Cynthia Brann said the department had made progress in enhancing jail security.

“Notably, DOI didn’t find fault with our policy but urged us to better apply our procedures which we are committed to doing, and we have already begun implementing significant reforms,” she said in a statement.

The department cited statistics showing it has greatly increased its contraband finds among jail visitors since 2014, including a spike in weapons confiscations to 533 in 2017 from 88 in 2014.

Brann also said the two arrested officers would be suspended and, if convicted, fired.

Since 2014, more than two dozen corrections employees have been charged with smuggling contraband into city jails, according to the DOI. U.S. prosecutors said the two officers charged on Thursday accepted thousands of dollars from inmates in exchange for bringing marijuana into the Manhattan Detention Complex, known colloquially as “The Tombs.”

Rikers Island, which has been plagued by pervasive violence and smuggling for years, has received most of the attention, prompting Mayor Bill de Blasio to call for sweeping reforms at one of the United States’ largest jail complexes.

But Peters said Thursday’s report shows the problems are also present at other city facilities.

DOI officials recommended that the DOC screen corrections officers at staff entrances with drug-sniffing dogs, eliminate unnecessary pockets on their uniforms and place their personal lockers outside the front-gate entrances, among other measures. The DOC has agreed to adopt those improvements.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Susan Thomas)

Vietnam unveils 10,000-strong cyber unit to combat ‘wrong views’

Men use computers at an internet cafe in Bim Son town, outside Hanoi, Vietnam May 15, 2017.

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has unveiled a new, 10,000-strong military cyber warfare unit to counter “wrong” views on the Internet, media reported, amid a widening crackdown on critics of the one-party state.

The cyber unit, named Force 47, is already in operation in several sectors, Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted Lieutenant General Nguyen Trong Nghia, deputy head of the military’s political department, as saying at a conference of the Central Propaganda Department on Monday in the commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City.

“In every hour, minute, and second we must be ready to fight proactively against the wrong views,” the paper quoted the general as saying.

Communist-ruled Vietnam has stepped up attempts to tame the internet, calling for closer watch over social networks and for the removal of content that it deems offensive, but there has been little sign of it silencing criticism when the companies providing the platforms are global.

Its neighbor China, in contrast, allows only local internet companies operating under strict rules.

The number of staff compares with the 6,000 reportedly employed by North Korea. However, the general’s comments suggest its force may be focused largely on domestic internet users whereas North Korea is internationally focused because the internet is not available to the public at large.

In August, Vietnam’s president said the country needed to pay greater attention to controlling “news sites and blogs with bad and dangerous content”.

Vietnam, one of the top 10 countries for Facebook users by numbers, has also drafted an internet security bill asking for local placement of Facebook and Google servers, but the bill has been the subject of heated debate at the National Assembly and is still pending assembly approval.

Cyber security firm FireEye Inc  said Vietnam had “built up considerable cyber espionage capabilities in a region with relatively weak defenses”.

“Vietnam is certainly not alone. FireEye has observed a proliferation in offensive capabilities … This proliferation has implications for many parties, including governments, journalists, activists and even multinational firms,” a spokesman at FireEye, who requested anonymity, told Reuters.

“Cyber espionage is increasingly attractive to nation states, in part because it can provide access to a significant amount of information with a modest investment, plausible deniability and limited risk,” he added.

Vietnam denies such charges.

Vietnam has in recent months stepped up measures to silence critics. A court last month jailed a blogger for seven years for “conducting propaganda against the state”.

In a separate, similar case last month, a court upheld a 10-year jail sentence for a prominent blogger.

(Reporting by Mi Nguyen in HANOI; Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre in BANGKOK and Eric Auchard in FRANKFURT; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Nick Macfie)

Court rules Nazi death camp ‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz’, 96, must go to jail

Oskar Groening, defendant and former Nazi SS officer dubbed the "bookkeeper of Auschwitz" leaves the court after the announcement of his verdict in Lueneburg, Germany, July 15, 2015.

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s constitutional court has ruled that a 96-year-old German must go to jail over his role in mass murders committed at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz during World War Two, refusing to overturn a lower court ruling.

Oskar Groening, known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz” for his job counting cash taken from the camp’s victims, was sentenced to four years’ jail in 2015, but wrangling over his health and age have delayed the start of his sentence.

The constitutional court rejected the argument by Groening’s lawyers that imprisonment at his advanced age would violate his right to life, adding that the gravity of his crimes meant there was a particular need for him to be seen to be punished.

“The plaintiff has been found guilty of being accessory to murder in 300,000 related cases, meaning there is a particular importance to carrying out the sentence the state has demanded,” the judges wrote, upholding the Celle regional court’s ruling.

There is no further appeal to the constitutional court’s ruling. The ruling does leave open the possibility that Groening could be released if his health deteriorates.

In a 2015 court battle seen as one of the last major Holocaust trials, prosecutors said although Groening did not kill anyone himself while working at Auschwitz, in Nazi-occupied Poland, he helped support the regime responsible for mass murder by sorting bank notes seized from trainloads of arriving Jews.

Groening, who admitted he was morally guilty, said he was an enthusiastic Nazi when he was sent to work at Auschwitz in 1942, at the age of 21.

He came to attention in 2005 after giving interviews about his work in the camp in an attempt to persuade Holocaust deniers that the genocide had taken place.

Some 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust carried out under Adolf Hitler.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Alison Williams)

India aims for law that could jail Muslim men who instantly divorce wives

Television journalists report from the premises of India's Parliament in New Delhi, India, February 13, 2014.

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s lower house of parliament passed a bill on Thursday aimed at prosecuting Muslim men who divorce their wives through the “triple talaq”, or instant divorce.

The bill now moves to the upper house of parliament, where it is likely to be approved.

In August, the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional a law which allows Muslim men to divorce their wives simply by uttering the word “talaq”, which means divorce in Arabic, three times.

Muslim women had petitioned the court, arguing the practice of husbands divorcing them through triple talaq not only violated their rights but left many women destitute.

“Only a law can explicitly ban triple talaq, we have to enforce legal procedures to provide for allowances and protect custody of children,” said Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

The bill would make the practice a non-bailable offense with a possible three-year jail term.

Muslims are the biggest religious minority in Hindu-majority India and relations between the communities have sometimes been strained since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a 2014 election.

India is one of the few countries where the practice of instant divorce has survived in law, and while some Muslim groups have said it is wrong, they believe it should be reviewed by the community itself.

Members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board said the government had no right to outlaw instant triple talaq, as it was directly interfering with Muslim personal law.

India’s civil codes are designed to protect the independence of religious communities. Unlike most Hindu civil laws, which have been codified and reformed, Muslim personal laws have largely been left untouched.

Zakia Soman, founder of a Muslim women’s group, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, said that once triple talaq became a legal offense, victims could approach the police and the legal system to initiate action against offenders.

(Reporting by Nigam Prusty, Rupam Jain; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Malini Menon, Robert Birsel and Andrew Bolton)

Ohio politicians call for inquiry into jail stun-gun abuses cited by Reuters

Ohio politicians call for inquiry into jail stun-gun abuses cited by Reuters

By Jason Szep and Linda So

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) – In one video, Sergeant Mychal Turner stunned a mentally ill inmate with a Taser multiple times after the inmate defied an order to stand in his cell at Ohio’s Franklin County jail.

In another, Turner fired the Taser’s electrified barbs into an inmate’s chest after he refused to remove a piece of jewelry. In a third, he pulled the trigger five times on a handcuffed inmate who wouldn’t sit on a bench.

Each incident violated the jail’s Taser policy, and each was cited in a class-action lawsuit the county settled that accused jail guards of “sadistic” and unconstitutional use of Tasers from 2008 to 2010, court records show.

Yet neither Turner nor any other deputies were disciplined, according to internal county jail records reviewed by Reuters.

Instead, Turner was promoted to major. He’s now commander of Franklin County Corrections Center II, the largest of the jail’s two main facilities.

Reached by phone, Turner declined to comment. In court documents, he has defended his actions, saying he feared for his safety in some incidents and wanted to avoid potentially dangerous physical struggles in the small confines of a cell. Jail officials also declined to comment, though the county said it instituted reforms in 2011 under the lawsuit settlement.

Now, following a Reuters report this month that included publication of more than a dozen stun-gun videos, the jail faces escalating calls for investigation.

Two United Nations torture experts called for a criminal inquiry into the cases documented by Reuters. Local political leaders say they agree.

Ohio State Senator Charleta Tavares, a Democrat whose district includes the jail, said she planned to call on the county prosecutor’s office to investigate. She said she was disturbed by the video footage published by Reuters.

“Any time a stun gun is used inappropriately – particularly in the video, where it looks as though it is just used over and over and it’s more like a prod that people would use on animals – that is criminal in my opinion,” Tavares said.

Ohio Democratic State Representative Kristin Boggs also urged a closer look. A criminal investigation would be appropriate, she said, if an officer was found to have used excessive force that violated jail policy. “I certainly think it’s worth investigating to determine what we can be doing to make our system better,” Boggs said.

Deputies who misused Tasers should be held to account, said relatives of the inmates.

“It was absolutely abuse,” said Logan Amburgey, whose brother Patrick was stunned multiple times and pistol-whipped with a Taser by another deputy after defying orders to sit on a bench in his cell on June 12, 2009. Patrick, a 21-year-old college student at the time, had been arrested for passing out intoxicated on the front porch of a local residence.

“UNCOOPERATIVE”

From 2008 to 2010, 22 deputies at the Franklin County Jail used Tasers on 80 inmates, according to a Reuters review of the jail’s “use of force” reports. No jailer pulled the trigger more times than Turner.

In all, Turner delivered 28 shocks for a total duration of 126 seconds over the course of 12 incidents. One other guard, Sergeant Andrew Eing, fired his Taser 26 times for a total of 114 seconds. Most other deputies who used the weapons pulled the trigger fewer than a dozen times.

Like Turner, Eing was promoted – to lieutenant in the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, responsible for investigating officer misconduct. Now supervisor of the detective bureau, he did not return calls seeking comment. In internal reports, Eing denied abusing the Taser, saying he aimed to prevent injury to staff and inmates.

In one case, Eing shocked a 23-year-old mentally ill inmate, Jibril Abdul-Muwwakil, 14 times for 64 seconds while he lay bleeding on the floor, surrounded by 10 officers. An internal investigation concluded the Taser use was “justified” to control a “violent, dangerous, resisting inmate.” Experts for the plaintiffs described the incident as “excessive” and a violation of Taser product-safety and health warnings.

Sixty percent of the 80 Taser incidents involved people classified by the jail as intoxicated or mentally ill, Reuters found.

In January 2009, Turner and four deputies tried to move Ralston Distin, a 47-year-old inmate classified as “mentally disabled,” to another location. When the jailers opened his cell door, Distin shielded his body with a sleeping mat, speaking unintelligibly. Turner shocked him repeatedly for refusing to stand up. Once in leg irons, Turner shocked him again for not letting go of the mat.

Turner feared he would get “entangled in a wrestling match” or be kicked if he didn’t use the Taser, he testified in court documents.

In another video, Turner fired the Taser’s electrified barbs into the chest of Kevin Carey in May 2009 for refusing to remove a nipple ring. Carey, 25, had been charged with drunk driving and resisting arrest.

Turner said he stunned Carey to “make sure that he doesn’t become uncooperative” and because he failed “to follow directions.”

He also stunned a handcuffed Gregory Esmile five times after the 46-year-old failed to sit down on a bench. Esmile was jailed on trespass charges after failing to leave a nightclub, court records say.

Turner said he worried Esmile was “getting ready to charge.”

“UNLAWFUL USE”

According to the jail’s Taser policy at the time, Tasers were allowed for self-defense, protection of another inmate or staff, disarming an inmate, preventing self-harm to an inmate, or controlling a combative inmate.

Tasers could not be used on inmates in handcuffs, leg irons or a restraint chair, or on pregnant women. So several cases violated the policy, the lawsuit against the county alleged. One video cited in the case showed a pregnant woman, Martini Smith, being shocked. She later miscarried, and was among plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit.

Axon Enterprise Inc, the stun gun manufacturer, said its guidelines suggest proper practices and that it does not “condone torture of any kind.”

In separate statements, the office of Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien and the Franklin County sheriff’s department said no one officially sought a criminal investigation in the cases.

The statements said the U.S. Department of Justice did not recommend criminal charges when the DOJ intervened in the civil lawsuit on grounds that Franklin County “engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful use of Tasers against detainees and inmates in their custody.”

After that case, the county agreed to pay eight inmates a total of $102,250 in damages, strengthened its Taser policy and expanded training.

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division does not recommend that jurisdictions prosecute cases, according to DOJ rules.

O’Brien’s office said neither the inmates’ lawyers nor its expert witness, Steve J. Martin, sought charges.

Disability Rights Ohio, a legal group representing inmates, said that’s not its role. The nonprofit group “is not an enforcement agency,” said advocacy director Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt.

Martin, who has inspected more than 500 U.S. prisons and jails, said urging investigations is not his role. He was “surprised” at O’Brien’s comment.

The cases were ultimately investigated by the special litigation section of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. Under DOJ rules, litigation lawyers can refer possible crimes to the unit’s criminal section.

Justice spokesman Devin O’Malley said he couldn’t “comment on the existence or non-existence of investigations.”

(Additional reporting by Tim Reid in Columbus and Grant Smith in New York. Editing by Ronnie Greene.)

Exclusive: U.N. watchdogs call for probe of Taser assaults in U.S. jails

Exclusive: U.N. watchdogs call for probe of Taser assaults in U.S. jails

By Stephanie Nebehay and Jason Szep

GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. special rapporteur on torture urged U.S. authorities to investigate and weigh criminal charges against jail officials in Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas for the “clearly gratuitous infliction of severe pain and suffering” from the use of Tasers on inmates, citing a Reuters report this week.

After reviewing footage of jail incidents obtained by Reuters, Nils Melzer said the “grave abuse” from Taser use in some U.S. jails violated the United Nations’ prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and, in some cases, amounted to torture. He cited video footage Reuters published of 22 incidents in four jails: in Franklin County, Ohio; Cheatham County, Tennessee; Franklin County, Arkansas; and McCurtain County, Oklahoma.

“In my view, all of the incidents shown in this video require independent investigation and most of them are likely to merit prosecution,” Melzer said in an interview. “Clearly gratuitous infliction of severe pain and suffering … constitutes a grave violation of human dignity and of the universal code of conduct for law enforcement officials.”

His criticisms were echoed by the head of the United Nations watchdog panel that monitors U.S. compliance with an anti-torture treaty, who said the cases documented by Reuters “need to be investigated thoroughly.”

In an article and accompanying video report published Wednesday, Reuters identified 104 cases of prisoners who died after being shocked with Tasers. Some of the in-custody deaths were deemed “multi-factorial,” with no single cause, and some were attributed to pre-existing health problems. But the Taser was listed as a cause or contributing factor in more than a quarter of the 84 inmate fatalities in which the news agency obtained cause-of-death findings.

Of the 104 inmates who died, just two were armed when shocked and nearly 80 percent hadn’t been convicted of a crime. A third were in handcuffs or other restraints when stunned. In more than two-thirds of the 70 cases in which Reuters was able to gather full details, the inmate already was immobilized when shocked – pinned to the ground or held by officers.

“When you use a tool like this on an incapacitated person, to me it certainly amounts to cruel and degrading treatment,” Melzer said.

Read the original Reuters investigation here https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-taser-jails/

The weapon’s manufacturer, Axon Enterprise Inc, said stun guns can help jailers and inmates avoid injuries when used properly. Axon issues guidance on proper use and warns of the risks associated with its weapons, but the company said it is up to local jail administrators to set their own policies on how and when the weapons are deployed.

“We do not condone torture of any kind,” Axon spokesman Steve Tuttle said in response to Melzer’s call for an investigation. “Our technology is designed to protect life and reduce harm to all parties involved during high risk, violent, and response-to-resistance situations.”

Melzer agreed Tasers “can be a justifiable tool for prison guards as an alternative to a gun to incapacitate a person who poses a threat.”

Melzer cited two of the 22 cases identified by Reuters to explain his belief that an investigation is warranted. One was the 2009 stunning of Martini Smith at the jail in Franklin County, Ohio. Previously unpublished video footage showed the Taser’s electrified darts striking the woman’s chest.

Smith, who was pregnant and lost her baby after being stunned, was one of nine inmates who filed a lawsuit against the county. Guards used Tasers at least 180 times from January 2008 to May 2010, often on prisoners posing “no threat,” the lawsuit contended.

In its own reviews, the sheriff’s office found no wrongdoing by guards and said the Taser use “did not constitute excessive force.”

“That looks like a case of torture,” Melzer said. “She was threatened she would be Tased if she didn’t comply with an order. It’s not that she physically resisted or would have been dangerous to the officer.”

The Smith footage was among dozens of videos Reuters examined of Taser incidents at the Ohio jail. Nineteen were featured in the Reuters video story. Melzer said they revealed “grave abuse.” No deputies at Franklin County have been charged.

The Franklin County Prosecutor’s office said the U.S. Department of Justice did not recommend criminal charges against jail officials when the DOJ intervened on behalf of inmates in the civil lawsuit stemming from the Taser incidents. The inmates’ lawyers also did not seek charges, it added.

Disability Rights Ohio, a nonprofit legal group representing the inmates in the class-action lawsuit against the Franklin County jail, however, said its role is not to seek charges.

“Disability Rights Ohio is not an enforcement agency and has no ability to pursue criminal investigations or charges,” said its director of advocacy, Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt.

Asked for comment, the DOJ said it was unable to immediately respond.

Melzer also cited footage Reuters obtained of deputies in a jail in Cheatham County, Tennessee, who repeatedly stunned 19-year-old Jordan Norris on November 5, 2016, while he was strapped to a restraint chair. That footage also was evidence of “torture,” Melzer said.

One deputy, Mark Bryant, was charged in September with four counts of aggravated assault and one count of official misconduct. Bryant has pleaded not guilty. Neither he nor his lawyers could be reached for comment.

Jens Modvig, chairman of the U.N. Committee against Torture, a panel of 10 independent experts, also said the incidents documented by Reuters represented “blatant abuse” that may violate laws. The United States, as a signatory to the U.N. Convention against Torture, is obligated to investigate the cases, he said.

“Once you introduce them,” Modvig said of stun guns, “it is difficult to avoid cases of misuse.”

(Szep reported from Washington. Additional reporting by Peter Eisler, Charles Levinson and Linda So. Editing by Ronnie Greene and Michael Williams.)

Britain preparing to transfer 400 million pounds to Iran – Telegraph newspaper

Britain preparing to transfer 400 million pounds to Iran - Telegraph newspaper

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is preparing to transfer over 400 million pounds ($527 million) to Iran as it seeks the release of a jailed Iranian-British aid worker, The Telegraph newspaper reported, citing unidentified British sources.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was sentenced to five years after being convicted by an Iranian court of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment. She denies the charges.

Britain has sought legal advice over whether it could transfer the funds which it owes as a result of a disputed arms deal in the 1970s. Diplomats told the newspaper that any payment should not be linked to the fate of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters. It operates independently of Reuters News.

A spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office could not be reached for comment out of normal business hours.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Kate Holton)