More U.S. states push ahead with near-bans on abortion for Supreme Court challenge

Anti-abortion marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) – North Dakota Republican Governor Doug Burgum signed legislation on Wednesday making it a crime for doctors to perform a second-trimester abortion using instruments like forceps and clamps to remove the fetus from the womb.

FILE PHOTO:Governor Doug Burgum (R-ND) speaks to delegates at the Republican State Convention in Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S. April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

FILE PHOTO:Governor Doug Burgum (R-ND) speaks to delegates at the Republican State Convention in Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S. April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

The move came the same day that Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature passed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans – outlawing the procedure if a doctor can detect a heartbeat. The bill now goes to Republican Governor Mike DeWine, who is expected to sign it.

Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature in March also passed a ban on abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can often occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.

Activists on both sides of the issue say such laws, which are commonly blocked by court injunctions, are aimed at getting a case sent to the U.S. Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 5-4 majority, to challenge Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

The North Dakota bill, which Burgum’s spokesman, Mike Nowatzki, confirmed in an email that the governor signed, followed similar laws in Mississippi and West Virginia.

Known as HB 1546, it outlaws the second-trimester abortion practice known in medical terms as dilation and evacuation, but which the legislation refers to as “human dismemberment.”

Under the North Dakota legislation, doctors performing the procedure would be charged with a felony but the woman having the abortion would not face charges.

Similar legislation exists in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, but is on hold because of litigation, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group.

Abortion-rights groups challenging such bans argue they are unconstitutional as they obstruct private medical rights.

North Dakota has one abortion provider, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo. Clinic Director Tammi Kromenaker did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She previously said her clinic would wait for a decision in a case involving similar legislation in Arkansas before deciding on a possible legal challenge to HB 1546.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

CDC investigates E.coli outbreak in several states

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo

(Reuters) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and several other U.S. agencies are investigating an E.coli outbreak in five states, the CDC said on Friday.

The CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and several states are investigating the outbreak of toxin-producing E.coli O103 infections.

Escherichia coli, or E.coli bacteria, normally lives in the intestines of healthy people and animals. Although many strains of the bacteria are harmless, certain strains can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.

Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia are the five states that have reported E.coli infections relating to particular strain of the bacteria.

As many as 72 people from these states have reported infections and eight have been hospitalized as of April 4, 2019, the agency said. No deaths were reported.

The investigation is still going on and the reason for the outbreak is yet to be identified, the agency said.

(Reporting by Aakash Jagadeesh Babu in Bengaluru; Editing by James Emmanuel)

Court allows Ohio law blocking Planned Parenthood funding

FILE PHOTO: A sign is pictured at the entrance to a Planned Parenthood building in New York August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

(Reuters) – A divided federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the constitutionality of an Ohio law to block state funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, in a victory for anti-abortion advocates.

By an 11-6 vote, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati rejected arguments by Planned Parenthood affiliates that the law signed by Republican Governor John Kasich in 2016 barring funding for entities that perform abortions violated their due process rights.

“The affiliates are correct that the Ohio law imposes a condition on the continued receipt of state funds,” Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote for the majority. “But that condition does not violate the Constitution because the affiliates do not have a due process right to perform abortions.”

Tuesday’s decision overturned a lower court injunction against the law, which the appeals court had upheld last April 18.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)

CDC warns residents in eight U.S. states of cut-fruit Salmonella outbreak

Under a very high magnification of 12000X, this colorized scanning electron micrograph shows a large grouping of Gram-negative Salmonella bacteria. REUTERS/Janice Haney Carr/CDC/Handout

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Sunday urged residents of eight U.S. states to check for recalled pre-cut melon that is linked to an outbreak of Salmonella.

The FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control are investigating an outbreak linked to 60 illnesses and at least 31 hospitalizations in five states. No deaths have been reported and the agencies urged residents in the eight states to throw out any melon that may have been recalled.

On Friday, Caito Foods LLC, a unit of SpartanNash Co, recalled fresh-cut watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe and fresh-cut mixed fruit products containing one of those melons produced at a Caito Foods facility in Indianapolis.

The recalled products were distributed to Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio and sold in clear, plastic containers at stores including Costco Wholesale Corp, Kroger Co, Payless, Owen’s, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Walmart Inc, and Whole Foods, a unit of Amazon.com Inc.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a Twitter post late on Sunday urged people in the eight states to check the “fridge and freezer for recalled pre-cut melon linked to Salmonella outbreak.”

Of the 60 cases reported to date, 32 were reported in Michigan.

“Reports of illnesses linked to these products are under investigation, and Caito Foods is voluntarily recalling the products out of an abundance of caution,” the company said in a statement, adding it “has ceased producing and distributing these products as the company and FDA continue their investigation.”

Salmonella can result in serious illness and produce significant and potentially fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems the company said.

The CDC said evidence suggested that melon supplied by Caito Foods “is a likely source of this multistate outbreak.”

The investigation is ongoing to determine if products went to additional stores or states, the agencies said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Federal judge blocks Down syndrome abortion ban in Ohio

Supporters of Planned Parenthood (L) rally next to anti-abortion activists outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) – A federal judge on Wednesday blocked an Ohio law due to take effect later this month that would criminalize abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis, ruling that it violates a woman’s right to choose.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Black’s decision came after the Ohio state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court in Cincinnati, arguing the legislation violated the liberty and privacy clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“Because H.B. 214 prevents women from making the choice to terminate their pregnancy prior to viability, it is unconstitutional on its face,” Black wrote in his 22-page ruling.

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused when abnormal cell division results in an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21.

Under the legislation, signed into law by Republican Governor John Kasich last December, doctors would lose their medical licenses in the state and face a fourth-degree felony charge if they were to perform an abortion with that knowledge.

Mothers would not face criminal charges.

“The Down syndrome abortion ban violates four and a half decades of legal precedent that says a woman has the unfettered right to choose whether to end a pregnancy before the point of viability,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio said in a statement.

A spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Wednesday that his office was planning to defend the law passed by the state’s majority of Republican lawmakers.

“While we are reviewing this ruling to determine further action, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office will continue to vigorously defend Ohio law,” spokesman Dan Tierney said.

The Ohio law marks the 20th restriction on abortion and reproductive rights signed by Kasich since 2011, according to NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

Similar laws have been passed in Indiana and North Dakota. An Indiana District Court issued a permanent injunction on a similar Down syndrome abortion ban on Sept. 22, 2017.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker)

Two Ohio police officers shot dead responding to 911 call

Officer Anthony Morelli, 54, of Westerville Division of Police (WPD) is seen in this undated photo in Westerville, Ohio, U.S., released February 10, 2018. City of Westerville/

By Ian Simpson

Officer Eric Joering, 39, of Westerville Division of Police (WPD) is seen in this undated photo in Westerville, Ohio, U.S., released February 10, 2018. City of Westerville

Officer Eric Joering, 39, of Westerville Division of Police (WPD) is seen in this undated photo in Westerville, Ohio, U.S., released February 10, 2018. City of Westerville/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Two Ohio police officers were shot to death on Saturday while responding to a domestic disturbance in the Columbus suburb of Westerville, and a suspect was wounded and is in custody, officials said.

The two officers were immediately fired upon when they entered an apartment responding to a 911 call that had hung up, Westerville Police Chief Joe Morbitzer said at a news conference.

“These were two of the best we had. This was their calling and they did it right,” said Morbitzer, his voice halting and thick with emotion.

Officer Eric Joering, 39, died at the scene, and Officer Anthony Morelli, 54, died from his wounds at a hospital. Morbitzer said they had been responding to a “domestic situation.”

The suspect was wounded and taken to a hospital, a city spokeswoman said. The suspect’s condition and identity have not been released.

Columbus police are heading the investigation into the shooting, Morbitzer said.

Excluding Saturday’s shootings in Ohio, 12 U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty this year, nine in firearms-related incidents, according to the non-profit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

The Westerville shootings came a day after a Georgia police officer was shot and killed and two sheriff’s deputies were wounded by a gunman who was then killed.

U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter, “My thoughts and prayers are with the two police officers, their families, and everybody at the @WestervillePD.”

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by David Gregorio)

Supreme Court divided over Ohio voter purge policy

Activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of arguments in a key voting rights case involving a challenge to the OhioÕs policy of purging infrequent voters from voter registration rolls, in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2018.

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Conservative and liberal U.S. Supreme Court justices appeared at odds on Wednesday in a closely watched voting rights case, differing over whether Ohio’s purging of infrequent voters from its registration rolls — a policy critics say disenfranchises thousands of people — violates federal law.

The nine justices heard about an hour of arguments in Republican-governed Ohio’s appeal of a lower court ruling that found the policy violated a 1993 federal law aimed at making it easier to register to vote.

Conservative justices signaled sympathy to the state’s policy while two liberal justices asked questions indicating skepticism toward it. The court has a 5-4 conservative majority.

“The reason for purging is they want to protect voter rolls,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who often casts the deciding vote in close decisions. “What we’re talking about is the best tools to implement that purpose.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling, due by the end of June, could affect the ability to vote for thousands of people ahead of November’s midterm congressional elections.

States try to maintain accurate voter rolls by removing people who have died or moved away. Ohio is one of seven states, along with Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, that erase infrequent voters from registration lists, according to plaintiffs who sued Ohio in 2016.

They called Ohio’s policy the most aggressive. Registered voters in Ohio who do not vote for two years are sent registration confirmation notices. If they do not respond and do not vote over the following four years, they are purged.

Ohio’s policy would have barred more than 7,500 voters from casting a ballot in the November 2016 election had the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals not ruled against the state.

Voting rights has become an important theme before the Supreme Court. In two other cases, the justices are examining whether electoral districts drawn by Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin and Democratic lawmakers in Maryland were fashioned to entrench the majority party in power in a manner that violated the constitutional rights of voters. That practice is called partisan gerrymandering.

The plaintiffs suing Ohio, represented by liberal advocacy group Demos and the American Civil Liberties Union, said that purging has become a powerful tool for voter suppression. They argued that voting should not be considered a “use it or lose it” right.

Dozens of voting rights activists gathered for a rally outside the courthouse before the arguments, with some holding signs displaying slogans such as “Every vote counts” and “You have no right to take away my right to vote.”

“This is about government trying to choose who should get to vote. We know that’s wrong,” U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, said at the rally.

Democrats have accused Republicans of taking steps at the state level, including laws requiring certain types of government-issued identification, intended to suppress the vote of minorities, poor people and others who generally favor Democratic candidates.

A 2016 Reuters analysis found roughly twice the rate of voter purging in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods in Ohio’s three largest counties as in Republican-leaning neighborhoods.

The plaintiffs include Larry Harmon, a software engineer and U.S. Navy veteran who was blocked from voting in a state marijuana initiative in 2015, and an advocacy group for the homeless. They said Ohio’s policy ran afoul of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which prohibits states from striking registered voters “by reason of the person’s failure to vote.”

Ohio argued that a 2002 U.S. law called the Help America Vote Act contained language that permitted the state to enforce its purge policy. Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted noted that the state’s policy has been in place since the 1990s, under Republican and Democratic secretaries of state.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Deep freeze keeps grip on eastern United States; four die

Elena Barduniotis from Colorado waits in Times Square ahead of New Year's celebrations in Manhattan.

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – A record-shattering Arctic freeze kept its grip on much of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains on Tuesday but temperatures everywhere except the Northeast were expected to warm within 24 hours.

Many school districts shut their classrooms due to the cold snap, which claimed four lives over the long New Year’s weekend.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill warnings for Tuesday as dangerously low temperatures were due from eastern Montana across the Midwest into the Atlantic coast and the Northeast and down through the deep South.

School districts in Iowa, Massachusetts, Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina canceled or delayed the start of classes as bitterly cold temperatures, 20 degrees to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (11 to 17 degrees Celsius) below normal, were expected across the eastern half of the United States.

“Just the bitter cold which is just too dangerous to put kids out on the street waiting for a bus that may not come,” Herb Levine, superintendent of the Peabody Public Schools, north of Boston, told a local CBS affiliate television station.

The cold was blamed for the deaths of two men in separate incidents in Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A homeless man was found dead on a porch in Charleston, West Virginia, while another man was found dead outside a church in Detroit and police said he may have froze to death, local news outlets reported.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser urged residents to call the city if they saw people outside.

“We want every resident to have shelter and warmth,” she said in a tweet.

Many places across the United States experienced record low temperatures over the last few days. Omaha, Nebraska, posted a low of minus 20F (minus 29C), breaking a 130-year-old record, and Aberdeen, South Dakota, shattered a record set in 1919 with a temperature of minus 32F (minus 36C).

The cold should ease across most of the country after Tuesday, but the northeastern section of the country will see a repeat of the frigid weather on Thursday or Friday as another arctic blast hits the area.

Private AccuWeather forecaster said the cold snap could combine with a storm brewing off the Bahamas to bring snow and high winds to much of the Eastern Seaboard as it heads north on Wednesday and Thursday.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Jeffrey Benkoe)

U.S. life expectancy fell in 2016 as opioid overdoses surged: CDC

A used container of the drug Narcan used against opioid overdoses lies on the ground in a park in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Life expectancy in the United States dipped in 2016 as the number of deaths due to opioid drug overdoses surged and total drug overdose deaths rose 21 percent to 63,600, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.

Life expectancy fell to 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 year from 2015, the second annual decline in a row and the first two-year decline since a drop in 1962 and 1963.

Opioid-related overdose deaths have been on the rise since 1999, but surged from 2014 to 2016, with an average annual increase of 18 percent, to become a national epidemic. From 2006 to 2014 the rise was only 3 percent annually on average and between 1999 to 2006 averaged 10 percent per year.

In 2016, 42,249 people died from opioid-related overdoses, up 28 percent from 2015, while the number of deaths from synthetic opioids other than methadone, such as fentanyl and tramadol, more than doubled to 19,413, the CDC said.

The 2016 rate of overdose deaths was up across all age groups but was highest rate among people aged 25 to 54.

West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania had the highest age-adjusted drug overdose death rates in 2016.

The number of drug overdose deaths involving natural and semisynthetic opioids, which include drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone, was 14,487 in 2016.

As the U.S. opioid addiction epidemic has worsened, many state attorneys general have sued makers of these drugs as they investigate whether manufacturers and distributors engaged in unlawful marketing behavior.

President Donald Trump in October declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, which senior administration officials said would redirect federal resources and loosen regulations to combat abuse of the drugs. However, he stopped short of declaring a national emergency he had promised months before, which would have freed up more federal money.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer; editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jonathan Oatis)

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.)