Man shot in New Mexico protest over conquistador sculpture

(Reuters) – A man was shot and wounded on Monday during a protest near a museum in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, police said, where demonstrators were reported to be trying to tear down a sculpture of a 16th-century Spanish conquistador.

“The victim is reported to be in critical but stable condition,” the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) said in a tweet, adding that the incident had ended.

The Albuquerque Journal newspaper reported that the shooting erupted during a clash between protesters trying to pull down a statue of Juan de Onate and several heavily armed members of a civilian militia group called the New Mexico Civil Guard.

Police chief of Albuquerque, Michael Geier, said in a statement that police were receiving reports about vigilante groups possibly instigating the violence.

The confrontation occurred outside the Albuquerque Museum in the heart of the city’s Old Town district.

According to the Journal’s account, one man involved in a physical altercation with the protesters appeared to draw a gun and fire five shots after he was pushed onto the street, sending members of the crowd scurrying for cover as one person yelled, “Somebody got shot.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is currently assisting APD violent crime investigators as they interview individuals who were involved in the shooting, the tweet said.

“Police used chemical irritants and flash bangs to protect officers and detain individuals involved in the shooting. The individuals were disarmed and taken into custody for questioning.”

Video footage posted to social media from the scene appeared to show one man lying on the ground as several other people tried to render assistance. A separate clip showed three men lying face down and spread eagle on the pavement as police in riot gear stood over them, apparently making arrests. Another officer appeared to be on the ground as well.

Anti-racism protesters venting anger over last month’s death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, have taken to destroying statutes honoring the U.S. Civil War’s Confederacy, as well as sculptures of imperialists, conquistadors and other historical figures associated with the subjugation of indigenous populations around the world.

The statue at the center of Monday’s protest in Albuquerque is part of a controversial sculpture called “La Jornada,” which depicts Onate, known for the 1599 massacre of a pueblo tribe, leading a group of Spanish settlers into what is now New Mexico.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additonal reporting by Aishwarya Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Michael Perry)

A picture and its story: A shooting in Seattle

SEATTLE (Reuters) – Stunned protesters surround a car that has driven into their ranks. A man is lying on the ground nearby. Another man exits the driver’s side of the vehicle brandishing a gun. The protesters back away from him and he runs off and melts into the crowd as medics rush to help the wounded man.

The dramatic scenes of a drive-by shooting on the streets of Seattle were captured by Reuters photographer Lindsey Wasson during protests against police brutality and racism that have rocked the city – and many other places across the United States – in recent days.

Wasson, a Seattle native, has been covering the protests in Washington state’s largest city since May 31.

She took the series of pictures on Sunday evening from the window of a local newspaper that has offices overlooking a street that became a flashpoint.

A combination picture shows Dan Gregory appearing to try and enter the vehicle of a man who tried to drive through the crowd during a protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, (top) and Gregory falling back and tended to by medics after being shot in the arm (bottom), in Seattle, Washington, U.S. June 7, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

“I had maybe just stepped to the main window, and I was looking over the crowd and seeing what was going on. I heard a scream and commotion and rushed to the dirty side window to photograph what was happening in a side street,” she said.

“The whole sequence probably took a minute, it happened very quickly.”

Video taken by others at the scene show that the man who was injured fell to the ground after he appeared to lean into the car. The shooter handed himself over to the police shortly after the incident.

“Suspect in custody, gun recovered after man drove vehicle into crowd at 11th and Pine. Seattle Fire transported victim to hospital,” Seattle Police wrote in a tweet.

A police report of the incident obtained by a local NPR radio station named the injured man as Daniel Gregory and said he had a gunshot wound to the arm.

A GoFundMe page set up for Gregory said he was recovering in the hospital. Reuters could not immediately reach Gregory for comment.

The demonstrations were sparked by the death of African-American George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis two weeks ago, and have evolved into a movement for racial equality and reforms to police departments across the country.

For Wasson, the protests in her home town have been of a size and intensity unlike others she has seen before.

“It has been very odd to see something like this where you grew up. What feels different this time is the scale and how sustained it’s been. I’ve never seen it happen for this long, this extended energy and purpose,” she said.

The majority of her coverage of the protests over the last week has been of more peaceful moments, said Wasson.

At those times, she has focused on how she will tell the story. But it is also important for a photographer on the ground to read the situation and be aware of exit routes if needed, she added.

In this case, she had an unusually high vantage point that gave her the perfect view. Taking photos through glass is never ideal, because of the challenges related to reflection. How the images turn out depends on the light and how close you can get, said Wasson.

“It’s not ideal but at that particular moment it was the only thing available to me.”

(Reporting by Greg Scruggs and Rosalba O’Brien; Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Man drives car into Seattle protest crowd, shoots bystander: police

Reuters) – A man drove his car into a crowd of protesters in Seattle on Sunday, then shot and wounded a demonstrator who confronted him as he came to a stop, according to police and eyewitness video.

Seattle police said firefighters took the man who was shot to the hospital and that he was in stable condition. No one else was injured, the police said.

Photojournalist Alex Garland helps apply a tourniquet to the arm of a gunshot victim after a man tried to drive through a crowd and shot one man during a protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Seattle, Washington, U.S. June 7, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

The suspect was seen in the video exiting his car as protesters began to surround it. He brandished what appeared to be a gun, dashed through the crowd and turned himself over to police.

The incident was in contrast to the mostly peaceful weekend protests sparked by the death of George Floyd last month while in Minneapolis police custody.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

Gunman kills five co-workers and himself in Molson Coors brewery shooting in Milwaukee

By Brendan O’Brien

Milwaukee (Reuters) – A gunman opened fire at the Molson Coors Beverage Co brewing complex in Milwaukee on Wednesday, killing five co-workers before he was found dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, the city’s police chief said.

No one else was injured in the violence at the sprawling campus of more than 20 buildings, where some 1,400 workers are employed by the beer company in Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said.

The entire Molson Coors property was placed under a security lockdown for several hours following the gunfire as police swept each building to rule out any further threats or victims.

“We can now say that the scene is secure. All employees who were on scene have been allowed to go home,” Morales told reporters at a late-night news conference several hours after the afternoon shooting.

Morales said the bloodshed was confined to the Molson Coors <TAP.N> complex west of downtown – a facility known to locals as the old Miller brewery – and that “no members of the general public were involved.”

Miller beer is one of the company’s leading brands, and Mayor Tom Barrett said the plant has been part of the city for 165 years.

Morales said the body of the dead gunman, who was believed to have acted alone, was found in the same building as his five victims.

The suspect was described by police as a 51-year-old Milwaukee resident and employee of Molson Coors. Details about the circumstances of the shooting, including what may have precipitated the carnage, were not provided by authorities.

“We are a family here at Molson Coors in Milwaukee, and this is an unthinkable tragedy for us,” company President and Chief Executive Officer Gavin Hattersley told reporters.

President Donald Trump, acknowledging the shooting hours earlier as he opened a White House news conference about the coronavirus outbreak, referred to the gunman as a “wicked murderer” and called the gun violence “a terrible thing.”

“Our hearts go out to the people of Wisconsin and to the families,” he said.

PRAYERS, CONDOLENCES, SOMBER TOASTS

At a news conference earlier in the evening, the mayor branded the shooting “an unspeakable tragedy.”

“There were five individuals who went to work today just like everybody goes to work. They thought they were going to work and return to their families. They didn’t, and tragically they never will.”

In the immediate aftermath of the bloodshed, the company advised employees in an email that the gunman had been located in or near a second-floor stairwell near a packaging facility, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Hours later at Spitfires on State, a tavern a few blocks from the shooting scene, patrons made solemn toasts to Miller, an iconic Milwaukee brand. A small group of employees, still wearing their protective gear from their shift earlier in the day at the brewery, huddled together inside the bar.

“Prayers and condolences,” one female employee said as she left the bar after hugging two co-workers.

The Milwaukee shooting seemed likely to reignite a contentious debate about gun control in the midst of the U.S. presidential election.

The campaign of Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, was set to host a roundtable discussion about gun violence at an event in Los Angeles on Thursday.

A campaign spokeswoman said the event, which Bloomberg was not planning to attend, was previously scheduled, but added, “recent events will likely be discussed.”

Last year saw 417 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive, the highest annual number since the nonprofit research group started keeping a tally in 2013. GVA defines a mass shooting as any in which at least four people, excluding the perpetrator, are shot.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Leslie Adler, Cynthia Osterman, Peter Cooney and Lincoln Feast.)

Four protesters, two policemen killed as Iraq unrest resumes

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Six Iraqis including two police officers were killed and scores were wounded in Baghdad and other cities on Monday in clashes with security forces, medical and security sources said, as anti-government unrest resumed after a lull of several weeks.

Three protesters succumbed to their wounds in a Baghdad hospital after police fired live rounds in Tayaran Square, security and medical sources said. Two protesters were shot by live bullets while a third was hit by a tear gas canister, they said.

A fourth demonstrator was shot dead by police in the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala, the sources added.

Protesters threw petrol bombs and stones at police who responded with tear gas and stun grenades, Reuters witnesses said.

“They (security forces) should stop shooting and aiming, who are they and who are we? Both sides are Iraqis. So why are you killing your brothers?” said one woman protester in Baghdad who declined to give her name.

In the Iraqi oil city of Basra, two policemen were struck and killed by a civilian car during the protest, security sources said. The driver was trying to avoid the scene of clashes between protesters and security forces when he drove into the two officers, they said.

Elsewhere in southern Iraq, hundreds of protesters burned tires and blocked main roads in several cities, including Nassiriya, Kerbala and Amara. They say Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has not fulfilled promises including naming a new government acceptable to Iraqis.

Baghdad police said its forces had reopened all roads that were closed by “violent gatherings”. It said 14 officers were wounded near Tahrir square, including some with head wounds and broken bones.

Traffic was disrupted on a highway linking Baghdad to southern cities, a Reuters witness said. Production in southern oilfields was unaffected by the unrest, oil officials said.

Mass protests have gripped Iraq since Oct. 1, with mostly young protesters demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and as keeping most Iraqis in poverty. More than 450 people have been killed.

Numbers had dwindled but protests resumed last week as demonstrators sought to keep up momentum after attention turned to the threat of a U.S.-Iran conflict following Washington’s killing of Tehran’s top general in an air strike inside Iraq.

The killing of Qassem Soleimani, to which Tehran responded with a ballistic missile attack on two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops, has highlighted the influence of some foreign powers in Iraq, especially Iran and the United States.

(Reporting by Iraq staff; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Janet Lawrence, William Maclean)

Special Report: Elite police force spreads terror in the barrios of Venezuela

Special Report: Elite police force spreads terror in the barrios of Venezuela
By Angus Berwick and Sarah Kinosian

CARACAS (Reuters) – Before daybreak on January 8, several dozen police officers swept through the streets of Barrio Kennedy, a hillside slum outside Venezuela’s capital.

Some of the officers came under fire from assailants, unprompted. They shot back, hitting five young men. The five were then taken to a hospital, where they died of their wounds.

That, at least, is the official account, detailed in a statement the next day by the elite unit that conducted the operation – the Special Action Force of the Venezuelan National Police.

The force’s version of events is contradicted by five eyewitness accounts gathered by Reuters. These people say the police killed one of the victims not in a street shootout, but in his home. The official story is also contradicted by video of that victim, reviewed by Reuters and reported here for the first time, that was obtained by investigators at Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly.

The 82-second clip shows the young man sitting shirtless and unarmed in a storage room inside his home, under police interrogation about a nearby car theft, begging officers to spare his life.

“Brother,” says Jose Arevalo, a 29-year-old shop worker who had been convicted of robbery earlier this decade but avoided legal trouble since. “Don’t kill me.”

“If you collaborate, you’ll go free,” responds an unidentified officer, wearing black fatigues and a balaclava. “Otherwise, you’re going to die.”

The footage was recorded in the final minutes of Arevalo’s life, his girlfriend told Reuters. The couple was at home with her two children, she said, when about 15 uniformed officers and an unidentified person in civilian clothes barged in. They ejected her and the kids from the house.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the girlfriend said she believes the video was shot by one of those people, all unknown to her, once she was outside.

From the street, she said, she heard the sound of Arevalo being beaten. A few minutes later, she heard gunshots. Next, she saw officers carry Arevalo out of the house, apparently dead and now fully dressed. The police then riddled the walls of the house with bullets, making it appear that a gunfight had taken place. Just before leaving, she said, they stole a carton of eggs and her kids’ bicycle.

“If my son had committed a crime, they should have charged him and taken him to court,” said Zuleica Perez, Arevalo’s mother, who later identified his body at the morgue. “Instead, they decided to execute him.”

The girlfriend’s account was corroborated by four other eyewitnesses who were near the scene. It is one of 20 cases Reuters has documented across Venezuela in which witnesses have described extrajudicial killings by the Special Action Force, or FAES, as the unit is known by its Spanish acronym.

Jose Dominguez, the chief commissioner of the FAES, declined to discuss Arevalo’s death or the other cases recounted in this story. Neither the Interior Ministry nor the Information Ministry responded to requests for comment on detailed descriptions of this article’s findings.

The FAES has been accused by the political opposition, the United Nations and many poor Venezuelans of conducting extralegal killings on behalf of the government of President Nicolas Maduro. In July, a U.N. report denounced FAES “executions” and called on Maduro to dissolve the force. The report didn’t detail specific cases of abuse or identify any of the individuals killed.

Maduro called the report “biased” and in a nationally televised speech shouted defiantly: “Long live the FAES!”

For months, Reuters, other media, international agencies and human rights groups have reported on allegations surrounding the FAES. Now, after a four-month investigation, Reuters contrasts the accounts of dozens of eyewitnesses, family members of the deceased, and official documents related to their deaths with FAES assertions that its officers killed only after being attacked.

The new reporting provides the deepest insight yet into the methods used by the force to snuff out perceived threats to Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

This portrait of the FAES, a force of some 1,500 officers, complements earlier reports in which Reuters examined other blunt instruments used by the leftist leader to control his hungry and impoverished populace – from a multitudinous and loyal cadre of senior military officers to a special intelligence service created with the help of imported security advisors from Cuba.

The FAES is a tool of Maduro’s own devising. He established the force in July 2017 as he faced a surge in violent crime that followed the collapse of Venezuela’s oil-based economy. The force was touted as a means to stem the crime wave.

Instead, according to opposition politicians and former Maduro supporters, the FAES became a means of social control in the country’s poor neighborhoods, wracked by hunger and joblessness, where criminal networks might stir upheaval and threaten government hegemony.

The aim, says one senior former member of the Maduro government, was to spread fear and keep Venezuela’s mean streets from spawning a new political opposition. “Maduro uses the FAES whenever he needs a unit that is completely under his control, to carry out whatever attack, whatever atrocity,” said Zair Mundaray, a former deputy chief prosecutor, who left Venezuela after falling out with Maduro two years ago.

The death of Arevalo shares many characteristics with other FAES killings. In all of the cases reviewed, the FAES followed a pattern, issuing a statement saying that an armed assailant resisted authority and was killed in a shootout. In each case, the official narrative was undermined by witness testimony, crime-scene photographs or official death certificates.

Reuters investigated six killings in Caracas, two in neighboring Miranda state, eight in the north-central state of Lara, and four in the central state of Guarico. This article chronicles five deaths, and an accompanying visual story details an additional six. In those 11 cases, and the other nine reviewed by Reuters, evidence suggests that FAES officers:

• beat or tortured the targets before their deaths.

• staged or altered the scene of the incident, often to create the illusion of aggression by those killed.

• looted the houses they raided or the personal belongings of those who died.

In every case, death certificates show that the deceased received similar, lethal gunshots to the torso – injuries that physicians, morgue workers, and current and former police officers told Reuters are more consistent with executions than with the chaotic ballistics of gunfights.

The wounds are “precise and in the same place,” said the director of a trauma unit where many victims of FAES shootings have been taken. The doctor, like many other local specialists consulted for this story, spoke on condition he not be identified.

International forensic doctors consulted by Reuters were also troubled by details and documentation surrounding the killings, including photographs of the bullet wounds in 10 of the victims’ bodies.

Derrick Pounder, a forensic pathologist in Cardiff, Wales, who has investigated torture and extrajudicial killings for groups including the United Nations and Amnesty International, said: “The number of gunshot wounds in the midline at the lower chest, upper abdomen is worrisome given that the deaths are said to have occurred in the dynamic context of shootouts.”

“THEY ARE NEUTRALIZED”

People familiar with the FAES’ methods say the force relies on a national network of neighborhood informants, often ruling party loyalists, to select targets and plan operations. It often goes after poor, young men with minor rap sheets – marijuana possession and theft are two of the priors among those mentioned in this story – or petty troublemakers who bother local leaders.

Afterwards, the FAES issues statements claiming to have eliminated “antisocial” or “highly dangerous individuals.”

“The community knows who robs, who sells drugs, who extorts,” said Maria Silva, state leader in Lara of the Revolutionary Tupamaro Movement, a militant organization that backs Maduro and provides local intelligence to authorities. “Once they are identified, they are neutralized.”

Venezuela’s government doesn’t publish official figures for FAES killings. Internal government data reviewed by Reuters show 5,280 people died at the hands of all the country’s police after “resisting authority” last year. That marks a 160% increase from 2016, the year before the FAES was created.

Some tallies are higher. The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a Caracas-based research organization affiliated with universities across the country, counted 7,523 police killings under those circumstances last year.

The FAES faces little outside scrutiny. Dozens of witnesses, as well as current and former police officers, told Reuters forensic investigators allied with the FAES often rubber-stamp the force’s fatality reports, without full analyses, and support its assertions that officers acted in self-defense.

In every case reviewed by Reuters, family members said the only documentation provided by authorities was a death certificate and a brief report, with little medical explanation, claiming their relative died “resisting authority.”

“You cannot take the documents at face value,” said Nizam Peerwani, chief medical examiner for Tarrant County, Texas, and a forensic advisor with Physicians for Human Rights who has worked in conflict zones including Rwanda, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. “Without autopsy reports, medical reports, x-rays, internal injury pictures, any other documentation, there is no way to corroborate what they are saying.”

Human rights groups and families of the dead have called for investigations of the force, but so far only a handful of court cases, all inconclusive, have delved into the accusations against FAES officers.

One homicide detective, who isn’t part of the FAES but is involved with their work, told Reuters the force is largely untouchable. Case files involving FAES violence, like the people who run afoul of the force, “are in eternal sleep,” the detective said.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

Crime has increasingly plagued Venezuela since Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, became president in 1999. High oil prices stoked economic growth for much of the following decade. But changes imposed by Chavez enabled a dramatic increase in violent offenses, critics say.

Pursuing his socialist “revolution,” Chavez stacked courts and police posts with allies who politicized law enforcement and the judiciary. The result, former police leaders say, was a collapse of professionalism. Many crimes went uninvestigated. Lawbreakers grew bold.

By the time Chavez died in 2013, the murder rate had quadrupled to one of the highest on the planet – nearly 80 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to the Observatory of Violence, or nearly 20 times that of the United States at the time.

Oil prices plummeted the following year. Venezuela’s economy withered. Crime spiked even further.

Maduro, a fiery former bus driver and union leader, took over in April 2013 and declared crime a priority. “Stop the violence!” he yelled during rallies.

He ordered security forces into poor barrios to root out criminals. Among those sent in was the Corps for Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigation, or CICPC. The CICPC, once the country’s top crime-fighting unit, soon drew criticism.

Foreshadowing the violence that would accompany FAES raids, the CICPC was accused by human rights activists and the United Nations of excessive force. But it was never as active as the FAES would become. The CICPC, moreover, wasn’t entirely loyal because it included some veteran officers who opposed Maduro’s government.

In June 2017, amid violent protests against Maduro’s rule, a CICPC officer named Oscar Perez commandeered a police helicopter and fired grenades at government buildings. Perez survived the episode and went into hiding.

The next month, the government unveiled the FAES at a ceremony in Caracas. The force, hand-picked by police officials who support the administration, would combat “terrorist groups encouraged by the criminal right wing,” Maduro said on state television. Opponents, he added, had turned Venezuela into a “war zone.”

The FAES soon pursued the CICPC. In January 2018, FAES officers found Perez and killed him.

After that, current and former officers from the CICPC and the National Police told Reuters, the CICPC became little more than a forensics team, mostly at the service of the FAES. Officials from the CICPC didn’t return calls seeking comment.

From an initial corps of about 640 officers, the FAES soon more than doubled in size. Some officers are selected from existing precincts, others directly from police academies. Recruits have also come from “colectivos,” pro-government paramilitary groups known for harassing political opponents.

The rapid expansion, aggressive mandate and spotty training are a dangerous mix, critics say. “They throw them straight onto the street to work, without basic policing skills, and innocent people end up dead,” said William Tovar, head of the main retirees’ association of the National Police.

Members of the force have also earned a reputation for pillaging. Like all civil servants in Venezuela, FAES officers earn miniscule wages that are continuously eroded by hyperinflation – now equal to about $12 a month, including food supplements.

One family in the state of Lara showed Reuters a list of 20 objects they said officers stole after killing their son, including a modem, an air-conditioner and six rolls of toilet paper. In its statement about the death last April, the FAES made no mention of entering the victim’s house, saying it shot the man in a garden after he opened fire on officers.

One senior FAES commander said the force seeks to work responsibly. But individual officers, he said, sometimes go too far. “There are no saints,” the commander said.

“YOU’RE CRIMINALS”

Jose Arevalo grew up in Barrio Kennedy, the slum where FAES agents shot him. Earlier this decade, he served three years in prison for robbery, according to a court document. His family doesn’t dispute that conviction. “When he made that mistake, he took responsibility, and paid for it,” said Perez, his mother.

Upon release in 2017, he worked briefly in Colombia. He returned to Venezuela last year and started working at an uncle’s gold exchange. Locals say he was popular and kind-hearted, helping older residents lug gas canisters through the neighborhood. But some of his friends still had criminal ties, his family said.

Last December, Arevalo posed for a photo with two of them on a rooftop. A pistol was on Arevalo’s lap. He told his family the gun wasn’t his. Several days later, his mother told Reuters, the family received a warning from an anonymous caller: Arevalo should be careful whom he associated with.

The morning of his death, FAES officers smashed open the door and dragged Arevalo naked from the bedroom, his girlfriend said. They ordered her to give them his clothes, then forced everyone but Arevalo out of the house.

In the video, an officer tells Arevalo, who is wearing only shorts, that the police were looking for a car thief. The officer said the thief’s description didn’t match Arevalo, but he wanted information nonetheless. “Stay calm and we won’t do anything to you,” the officer told him.

The cop orders Arevalo to put on his shirt. The young man again says he knows nothing about the theft. The video ends abruptly.

Peerwani, the forensic advisor in Texas, told Reuters clothes can be used to obscure smoke, gunpowder and other ballistic evidence indicating gunfire at close range. “There is no proof, but there is a deductive conclusion,” he said. “Why would a security officer make them put on a shirt and then shoot them?”

The girlfriend said she had been outside about five minutes when the gunshots rang out. The next day, the FAES published its statement, saying it had killed Arevalo and four others who had been “terrorizing” Kennedy. Reuters couldn’t determine in what circumstances the others died.

With its statement, the FAES published the photo of Arevalo with the pistol. It said officers had shot Arevalo in a part of the barrio that is half a kilometer away from the home. “Neutralized,” it wrote in red letters above Arevalo’s face.

Two weeks after the Kennedy raid, Juan Guaido, an opposition leader and head of the National Assembly, declared himself Venezuela’s rightful president. His bid to unseat Maduro, which so far has failed, convulsed the country. In the state of Lara, a hotbed of opposition, protests flared.

On January 25, a dozen FAES vehicles left Barquisimeto, the state capital, where the government last year had deployed hundreds of the force’s officers. The convoy drove to El Tocuyo, a town where demonstrators had burned tires by the residence of the mayor, a Maduro supporter. Local authorities said opponents tried to burn her house down.

In midafternoon, nine witnesses said some 30 FAES officers raided the house of Judith Cortez. Unemployed and with a disabled husband, Cortez lived with her sons, Anderson Torres, 18, and Jose Alfredo Torres, 27.

The elder brother had been arrested for marijuana possession several years earlier, she said, and the younger had spent a night in jail in 2017 after joining a crowd that looted food from a warehouse.

As Anderson sat outside on a beer crate drawing sketches, Cortez told Reuters, FAES officers broke down their gate. They pulled her from the house, drove her two kilometers away, and left her by a bridge.

The officers grabbed Anderson, Jose Alfredo and Cristian Ramos, an 18-year-old friend and neighbor, according to an eyewitness who remained near the house. They forced the men to kneel behind a shed out back and pull their shirts over their heads, the witness said.

One officer, the witness added, beat them for over an hour with a metal tube. “You’re criminals,” the witness said the officer yelled. Then another officer pulled his pistol and shot all three in the chest. Death certificates and photos of their bodies reviewed by Reuters confirm bullet wounds to the torso as the cause of death for each.

After the shootings, according to the family and neighbors, the officers stayed at the house until evening. They fired dozens of additional shots with various weapons, scarring a tree and an exterior wall of the house. They laughed and ate food from Cortez’s refrigerator, these people said.

One officer walked to the home of Ramos around 7 p.m. He asked Ramos’ mother, Lucia Escalona, for a glass of water. “This water isn’t poisoned, is it?” the officer asked, Escalona told Reuters.

“I don’t understand why they killed my son,” she said.

In a statement, the CICPC said police killed the three because the men had fired upon the officers. Kleyder Ferreiro, Lara state security secretary, told reporters the deceased were part of an “organized criminal group” and had taken part in the tire burning.

Family members of all three men denied the accusations.

Ferreiro is no longer with the state government and declined by text message to discuss the episode with Reuters. Gisela Rodriguez, the mayor whose house had been targeted by the protests, didn’t respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment.

After the killings, protests in El Tocuyo waned. “It’s as if the whole town died,” said Omar Escalona, Ramos’ uncle.

In late July, a video https://twitter.com/NTN24ve/status/1156953427441795073 circulated online showing a dozen unidentified young men firing guns into the air in Altagracia de Orituco, a town of 50,000 in the state of Guarico. The video, allegedly of members of a drug-trafficking gang known as the “Tren del Llano,” was widely considered a challenge by the gang to authorities.

Reuters couldn’t determine who authored the video.

On August 2, the FAES posted an Instagram video https://www.instagram.com/p/B0qdHkejMFU of heavily-armed officers patrolling the town. It said the FAES had launched a mission to “bring peace, tranquility and security” to the area. Over the next eight days, the FAES in statements said it killed 18 alleged criminals there who had resisted arrest.

One CICPC officer, who saw the scenes of the FAES shootings and is familiar with the Tren del Llano gang, said he didn’t believe those killed had anything to do with the group. FAES officers, he added, removed bodies from the scenes before he and other CICPC colleagues arrived.

The operation, which surprised even local police, was a FAES “media show,” the officer told Reuters.

Families of three of those killed, along with other witnesses, told Reuters that FAES officers grabbed their targets off the street without provocation and then killed them several kilometers away. The relatives denied that any of the three men were members of the gang. Reuters couldn’t independently confirm whether they in fact had any connections to the group or why the FAES may have targeted them.

One of the three men was 25-year-old Jor-Rafer Nares, a mechanic who repaired trucks used by nearby farms to haul crops. Nares was walking in the small town of San Rafael, just south of Altagracia, on August 5 at about 6 p.m. According to his mother, who was nearby, and another eyewitness, a black FAES pickup truck pulled alongside and ordered him to get in. The mother and the witness asked to remain anonymous.

Several hours later, Nares’ mother said, she went to a local police station to determine her son’s whereabouts. An officer told her, “FAES headquarters here is the morgue.” He suggested she go there to look.

There, the mother said, she found the body.

She saw two bullet wounds in her son’s chest, another in his head, and deep bruising along his ribs and arms. His house keys, a debit card and a few dollars he carried were missing, she said. The head wound is visible in a photo – reviewed by Reuters, the CICPC officer, and a physician – taken of Nares at the morgue.

A FAES statement the next day said officers shot Nares after he fired upon them in a rural area 6 kilometers north of where the police allegedly approached him. The site described in the statement is the area where the Tren del Llano video had been filmed.

The FAES, along with its statement, included a photo of a bloodstain and a shotgun on the ground at the scene. The weapon, however, was missing a trigger. The CICPC officer and another policeman told Reuters the gun wouldn’t have fired.

A death certificate reviewed by Reuters said Nares died at 9 p.m., three hours after the witnesses said he entered the FAES truck. The certificate lists the gunshots to his thorax, but not the bullet wound in his head.

Israel Nares, his father, didn’t see his son the day of his death. Like many other relatives of those killed, he sees a willful lack of accountability around the FAES and its operations. “There is an institutional and complicit silence here,” he told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Keren Torres in Barquisimeto and Shaylim Valderrama in Caracas. Editing by Paulo Prada.)

Texas woman shot by officer had picked up gun after hearing noises, warrant says

FILE PHOTO: Fort Worth Police Department officer Aaron York Dean is seen in a booking photo at the Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth, Texas, U.S. October 14, 2019. Tarrant County Jail/Handout via REUTERS.

(Reuters) – A Texas woman was shot dead by a Fort Worth police officer through the window of her home after she heard noises outside late at night and picked up her handgun, the officer’s arrest warrant showed on Tuesday.

Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew around 2:30 am on Saturday when she heard noises in her backyard, according to the warrant for former Fort Worth Police Officer Dean Aaron’s arrest for alleged murder.

The noises were Dean and his partner creeping around the back of her home after they were called to investigate why her front door was open.

Dean resigned on Monday before he was fired for breaching a string of police policies in shooting Jefferson dead with a single shot, according to Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus.

Jefferson’s death brought outraged calls for an investigation into Fort Worth Police, whose officers are accused by her family’s lawyer, Lee Merritt, of fatally shooting seven people in under six months.

“She heard noises coming from outside, and she took her handgun from her purse,” Jefferson’s nephew told police, according to the warrant. His name was redacted from the warrant.

“Jefferson raised her handgun, pointed it toward the window, then Jefferson was shot and fell to the ground,” the warrant said.

Dean’s partner, identified as Officer Darch, said she could see Jefferson when Dean shot her.

“She could only see Jefferson’s face through the window when Officer Dean discharged his weapon,” the warrant said.

The officers did not knock on the front door of the home or announce they were police before Dean fired his weapon, according to Kraus.

“It makes sense she would have a gun if she felt threatened or if there was someone in the backyard,” Kraus said, ending a press conference after eight minutes as he grew emotional talking about the impact of the killing on police morale.

Fort Worth has called in an independent panel of experts to evaluate the police department after the shooting.

Jefferson was killed the same month another former Texas police officer, Amber Guyger, was convicted of murdering Botham Jean, a black man, as he sat in his home eating ice cream.

Jefferson’s family has called for the swift prosecution of Dean, who was arrested on Monday and posted bond overnight.

“#AtatianaJefferson deserved to live in a world where she was safe from brutality playing video games in her home with her nephew,” Merritt tweeted.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Jury finds Dallas police officer guilty in shooting death of her neighbor

FILE PHOTO: Amber Guyger, who is charged in the killing of Botham Jean in his own home, arrives on the first day of the trial in Dallas, Texas, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Jeremy Lock/File Photo

By Bruce Tomaso

DALLAS (Reuters) – A Dallas jury found former police officer Amber Guyger guilty on Tuesday of murder when she accidentally walked into a neighbor’s apartment thinking it was her own and shot him dead as he ate ice cream.

The Sept. 6, 2018, killing of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black PwC accountant, by a white officer sparked street protests, particularly when prosecutors initially opted to bring the lesser charge of manslaughter against Guyger, 31.

“We the jury unanimously find the defendant Amber Guyger guilty of murder as charged in the indictment,” Judge Tammy Kemp read aloud to the courtroom from the jurors’ statement. A sob, which sounded like it came from Guyger’s bench, cut the judge off and Kemp paused to address the courtroom: “No outbursts.”

Guyger, who spent four years on the force before the killing, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison for the slaying. She took the rare step of testifying in her own defense during her trial, tearfully expressing regret for shooting Jean but saying she had believed her life was in danger when she pulled the trigger.

“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I have to live with this every single day,” Guyger told the jury of eight women and four men.

In cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus asked her, “When you shot him twice, you intended to kill him, didn’t you?”

“I did,” Guyger responded, in a calm voice.

Prosecutors also argued that Guyger did little to help Jean even after realizing her mistake, calling the 911 emergency phone number for an ambulance but not administering first aid.

Hermus also told the jury that Guyger missed blatant clues that she was not in her own apartment – including the smell of marijuana smoke – because she was distracted after a 16-minute phone conversation on her commute with her former police partner. Guyger testified that the call was in relation to work.

The shooting stood in contrast to cases like the killings of Michael Brown in Missouri and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Guyger shot Jean while she was off duty, rather than while responding to a reported crime.

In her testimony, Guyger told jurors that the shooting “is not about hate; it’s about being scared.”

Neither prosecutors nor the defense focused on race during the trial.

(Reporting by Bruce Tomaso in Dallas, additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)

Texas gunman fired from job before massacre; victim IDs emerge: media

People gather for a vigil following Saturday's shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Keith Coffman and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – The man who killed seven people and wounded 22 others in a rolling rampage across West Texas on Saturday was fired from his trucking job hours before the massacre, media and officials reported.

Details about the Labor Day weekend shooting and the names of some of the victims were emerging online and from officials on Sunday and early Monday. Police continued to comb through 15 different crime scenes in neighboring Midland and Odessa, Texas.

The gunman, identified by police as Seth Aaron Ator, 36, of Odessa, had been fired from his truck-driving job in Odessa on Saturday morning, the New York Times and other media reported.

Hours later, Ator was pulled over in Midland by Texas state troopers on Interstate 20 for failing to use a turn signal, police said.

Armed with an AR-type rifle, Ator fired out the back window of his vehicle, injuring one trooper. Then he drove away spraying gunfire indiscriminately, the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement.

At one point, Ator abandoned his vehicle and hijacked a U.S. postal van and mortally wounded the postal carrier, identified postal officials as Mary Grandos, 29.

Ator was later cornered by officers in the parking lot of a cinema complex in Odessa. He was shot and killed.

“There are no definitive answers as to motive or reasons at this point, but we are fairly certain that the subject did act alone,” Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said at a news conference.

Online court records showed Ator had convictions in 2002 for criminal trespass and evading arrest. The Midland Reporter-Telegram newspaper quoted a state lawmaker, Rep. Tom Craddick, as saying he had previously failed a background check.

Gerke offered his condolences to their families of the dead and wounded.

A man holds flowers and a candle as people gather for a vigil following Saturday's shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

A man holds flowers and a candle as people gather for a vigil following Saturday’s shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O’Hare

“My heart aches for them all,” he said.

Among the dead was Grandos, who various news media reported was at the end of her shift and on the telephone with her twin sister Rosie Grandos.

“She didn’t deserve this,” a tearful Rosie Grandos said in an interview with CNN late Sunday. “I was talking to her on the phone and she said she heard gunshots but didn’t know where they were coming from.

“I heard her screaming,” she said. “I was hearing her cry and scream for help. I didn’t know what was happening.”

Rosie Grandos said got in her car and drove to her sister. By the time she arrived, she saw her sister lying on the ground, she said.

The Washington Post reported that others among the dead were Edwin Peregrino, 25, who was killed outside of the home he moved into a few weeks ago.

Also killed was Leilah Hernandez, 15, who had just celebrated a coming of age party, the newspaper reported.

Joseph Griffith, 40, was killed as he waited at a traffic light with his wife and two children, the newspaper reported.

Among the wounded was a 17-month-old girl, Anderson Davis, who was shot in the face, according to officials and an online fundraising campaign started by her family.

In numerous media interviews, her family that the child underwent surgery and will recover.

Three police officers were shot and wounded – one from Midland, one from Odessa and one state trooper – and were in stable condition.

It was the second mass shooting in Texas in four weeks. On Aug. 3, a gunman from the Dallas area killed 22 people in another Saturday shooting at a Walmart store about 255 miles (410 km) west of Midland in the city of El Paso, Texas.

President Donald Trump called the Odessa-Midland shooter “a very sick person,” but said background checks on gun buyers would not have prevented recent U.S. gun violence.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver and Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Larry King)

Five killed, including gunman, 21 injured in West Texas rampage

People are evacuated from Cinergy Odessa cinema following a shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. in this still image taken from a social media video August 31, 2019. Rick Lobo via REUTERS

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – A white male in his 30s who was known to police killed four people and wounded 21 others on Saturday in a gun rampage between the West Texas cities of Midland and Odessa that started with a traffic stop and ended when he was killed by officers, authorities said.

The suspect hijacked a postal van and opened fire on police officers, motorists and shoppers on a busy Labor Day holiday weekend before being shot dead outside a multiplex cinema complex in Odessa, police said.

Authorities originally thought there were two shooters driving two vehicles, but Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke told a news conference on Saturday evening that he believed there was only one.

The gunman was heading from Midland to Odessa on Interstate 20 when he was stopped at 3:17 p.m. local time, Gerke said. He shot the police officer, took off west on I-20 and then exited at Odessa. There he drove to a Home Depot and opened fire on passersby.

“At some point, the suspect stole a mail truck and ditched his car,” Gerke said. He drove the mail truck back east, pursued by police, before crashing into a stationary vehicle behind the Odessa Cinergy multiplex complex, where he engaged in a gun battle with police and was shot dead, Gerke said.

Video shown by a local CBS affiliate showed the white postal van crashing into a vehicle at high speed outside the movie theater complex before the man believed to be the shooter was swarmed by police. Screaming theater goers ran from the complex.

Gerke said the suspect was known to him but declined to comment on a motive for the shootings.

The Medical Center Hospital in Odessa took in 13 victims, including one who died, the hospital’s director, Russell Tippin, told reporters. Seven were in critical condition, two serious, and two were treated and released. One “pediatric patient” under the age of 2 was transferred to another facility, he said.

“Grab onto your loved ones, pray for this town, stop and give your prayers for the victims,” Tippin said.

People are evacuated from Cinergy Odessa cinema following a shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. in this still image taken from a social media video August 31, 2019. Rick Lobo via REUTERS

People are evacuated from Cinergy Odessa cinema following a shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. in this still image taken from a social media video August 31, 2019. Rick Lobo via REUTERS

Midland Mayor Jerry Morales said hundreds of people were enjoying the holiday weekend inside the Cinergy complex when the gunman was confronted by officers who boxed in his vehicle in the parking lot before shots were exchanged.

He said the suspect used a rifle to shoot the Texas Department of Public Safety officer who had stopped his vehicle but did not know any more details about the weapon.

Morales said three police officers – one from Midland, one from Odessa and the Department of Public Safety officer – were wounded by gunfire. At one point, Midland police barricaded the highway to stop the suspect leaving Odessa, about 20 miles (32 km) away in the Permian oil boom area of West Texas.

“It was very chaotic,” Morales said by telephone. “There were rumors flying that the shooter was at shopping malls, the movie theater.”

Retail stores, a shopping mall and the University of Texas Permian Basin were locked down as rumors spread of the shootings and sightings, he said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said that as two state troopers made the initial traffic stop on I-20, the suspect pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots toward their patrol vehicle, hitting of them.

The wounded trooper is in serious but stable condition, and two other wounded police officers are in stable condition at a local hospital, the department said in a statement.

At one point armed police ran through the Music City Mall in Odessa, forcing anchors for television station CBS 7, located inside, to duck off-screen as the building went into lockdown.

Saturday’s shooting came after 22 people were killed at a Walmart store about 255 miles west of Midland in the city of El Paso, Texas on Aug. 3.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Additional reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston and Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Dan Grebler)