New York coroner ‘confident’ Epstein’s death was suicide: New York Times

An exterior view of the Metropolitan Correctional Center jail where financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

(Reuters) – New York City’s chief medical examiner is confident Jeffrey Epstein died by hanging himself in the jail cell where he was being held without bail on sex-trafficking charges, but is awaiting more information before releasing her determination, the New York Times reported on Sunday, citing a city official.

An autopsy was performed earlier in the day on the disgraced financier found unresponsive on Saturday in a New York City jail, chief medical examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson said. A private pathologist observed the autopsy on behalf of Epstein’s representatives, which she called “routine practice.”

A determination on the cause of death “is pending further information at this time,” Sampson said in a statement.

The suspicion in Epstein’s death was hanging, said a city official not authorized to speak on the record.

The Times did not say why it could not identify the source of information on the medical examiner’s likely determination of the cause of death.

Epstein, 66, was not on suicide watch at the time in his cell in the Special Housing Unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a source said.

Epstein, a well-connected money manager, was found hanging by his neck, according to the source, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The wealthy financier, who once counted Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic former President Bill Clinton as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14, from at least 2002 to 2005.

The FBI and the Department of Justice’s Inspector General opened investigations into his suicide while he was in federal custody.

Last month, Epstein was found unconscious on the floor of his jail cell with marks on his neck, and officials were investigating that incident as a possible suicide or assault.

Despite that incident, Epstein was not on suicide watch at the time of his death, and he was alone in a cell in the unit of the correctional center used to isolate vulnerable prisoners when his body was found.

It was not immediately clear why Epstein was taken off suicide watch, a special set of procedures for inmates who are deemed to be at risk of taking their own lives.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons, which operates the MCC, provided no explanation beyond its terse statement that Epstein was found dead in an apparent suicide.

His death touched off outrage from Attorney General William Barr, politicians and many of Epstein’s alleged victims, who fear that they may lose their day in court now that Epstein is dead.

That investigation into conduct described in the indictment, including the conspiracy count, will continue despite Epstein’s death, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, said on Saturday.

The indictment – which accused Epstein of knowingly recruiting underage women to engage in sex acts, sometimes over a period of years – came more than a decade after he pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor in a deal with prosecutors that has been widely criticized as too lenient.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Rigby)

Father of Sandy Hook victim found dead in apparent suicide: police

FILE PHOTO: Jennifer Hensel (L) and Jeremy Richman, the parents of Avielle Richman, 6, and David Wheeler (R), the father of Benjamin Wheeler, 6, victims of the December 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, attend the launch of The Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit created in response to the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin/File Photo

(Reuters) – The father of one of the children killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was found dead of an apparent suicide on Monday morning at his office in Newtown, Connecticut, police said.

Jeremy Richman, 49, was the father of Avielle Richman, one of 20 children, all 6 or 7 years old, killed along with six adult staff members by a man with a semi-automatic rifle at the school in Newtown. It stands as one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

Richman’s body was found shortly after 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) at his office, police said.

“The death appears to be a suicide, but police will not disclose the method or any other details of the death, only to state the death does not appear to be suspicious,” the Newtown Police Department said in a statement. Connecticut’s Chief Medical Examiner’s office is expected to confirm the cause of death later on Monday, police said.

After his daughter’s murder, Richman and his wife, Jennifer Hensel, created a foundation in her name that focuses on preventing violence by funding research on mental health and increasing access to treatment.

Richman, who was a neuropharmacologist, had written in a mission statement published on the Avielle Foundation’s website that his daughter’s death had left him “infinitely heart broken.”

In a statement, the foundation said that while its staff and directors were “crushed to pieces” at Richman’s death, it would continue its work of supporting research into brain abnormalities and promoting brain health.

“Tragically, his death speaks to how insidious and formidable a challenge brain health can be and how critical it is for all of us to seek help for ourselves, our loved ones and anyone who we suspect may be in need,” the foundation said.

U.S. Representative Jahana Hayes, who represents a congressional district that includes Newtown, said in a statement she was struck by how “optimistic” Richman had seemed about his foundation’s work at a recent meeting.

“These tragedies show that the trauma of gun violence extends far beyond the initial tragedy,” her statement said.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called Richman a “good friend, a dedicated father, an esteemed researcher.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Paul Simao and Bill Berkrot)

Suspected Arizona serial killer kills self as officers close in: police

A man suspected of killing four people in Phoenix, appears in this police sketch provided by the Phoenix Police Department, in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., June 4, 2018. Phoenix Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) – A man suspected of killing four people, including a noted psychiatrist who advised prosecutors investigating high-profile murders, killed himself on Monday as police closed in on the Phoenix-area hotel where he was staying, police said.

Investigators had been searching for the suspect since Steven Pitt, a 59-year-old psychiatrist who consulted on serial killings and the 1996 murder of child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, was found dead outside his office on Thursday, the first of a string of killings that left the Phoenix area on edge.

The suspect, who was not immediately identified, fatally shot himself in a hotel room as tactical units closed in to arrest him, police said on Monday.

The suspect also was wanted for murdering paralegals Veleria Sharp, 48, and Laura Anderson, 49, and Marshall Levine, a 72-year-old counselor and psychologist.

Officers heard several gunshots coming from inside the room as they were evacuating people from the extended-stay hotel in Scottsdale, said Sergeant Vince Lewis, a Phoenix police spokesman. No officers were injured, Lewis said.

He said police have evidence that links the four murders to the suspect, but declined to elaborate.

No motive was immediately released.

Pitt was discovered dead outside his office on Thursday, police said, noting that witnesses said they heard a loud argument followed by several gunshots.

Pitt had been a consultant in several high-profile cases, including the 2005-2006 Baseline Killer murders that claimed the lives of nine people. He also served as a consultant to prosecutors in the grand jury probe into death of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, who was found bludgeoned and strangled in her parents’ Boulder, Colorado home. No charges were ever filed in that case.

The two paralegals were shot and killed in their legal office in downtown Scottsdale on Friday, police said. One woman was found after she had walked to a nearby intersection to seek help and later died.

Officers followed the blood trail to the office and found the second woman dead at the scene from a gunshot wound.

Levine was found at about 12:10 a.m. on Saturday by an acquaintance, according to police.

(Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Scott Malone and Marguerita Choy)

Special Report: In Louisiana jail, deaths mount as mental health pleas unheeded

The outside of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is seen in Baton Rouge, Louisiana March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Melissa Fares and Charles Levinson

EAST BATON ROUGE, La. (Reuters) – The East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, a squat brick building with low-slung ceilings and walls sometimes smeared with feces, is the face of a paradigm shift: penitentiaries as mental health care providers. Across the United States thousands of jails are sheltering a wave of inmates accused of crimes and serving time while suffering from illnesses ranging from depression to schizophrenia.

The shift is a byproduct of the plunging numbers housed in psychiatric inpatient treatment centers, a total that fell from 471,000 in 1970 to 170,000 by 2014. In Louisiana, the fallout exacerbated after a former governor shuttered or privatized a network of public hospitals that provided medical and psychiatric care to the accused.

East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is where Louis Jonathan Fano, afflicted with bipolar disorder and haunted by demons, found himself on Halloween Eve 2016 after fleeing a Greyhound Bus and wandering city streets naked and crazed.

Booked into the jail on six misdemeanor charges, Fano, 27, slit his wrists hours later. Then he was sent to solitary confinement, where he spent 92 of his 94 days imprisoned with his thoughts.

Midway through his jail ordeal, the parish handed responsibility for inmate medical care to a for-profit firm that decided Fano was “exaggerating his condition.” On January 18, 2017, it ordered him taken off his antipsychotic medication.

Two weeks later, the onetime veterinary student, who crafted letters to his mother in longhand, hanged himself.

His family rushed from California to find him unconscious in a hospital intensive care unit, where he lay until his death.

“We touched his cold hands. I talked to him but he had no life – it was just machines,” said his mother, Maria Olga Zavala. “Even with all that, they had him there handcuffed with a guard.”

Replaying that image inside her Southern California home, she asked: “Why wasn’t that guard in the jail, looking after my son before he took his own life?”

It’s a question asked often of the parish jail, where 25 inmates died from 2012-2016, at least five of whom were diagnosed with a serious mental illness or showed signs of one, jail and court records show. Fano became the sixth inmate since 2012 to die amid a mental health crisis; none had been convicted of the charges that jailed them.

From 2012 to 2016, the jail’s rate of death was 2.5 times above the national prison average, a Reuters analysis found. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the jail, blamed most deaths on drug use, “poor health and pre-existing conditions,” and noted Louisiana has long ranked low on public health metrics.

A private consultant hired to assess treatment found the jail was substantially understaffed, with 61 percent of the psychiatric staff hours found in comparable jails. Isolation units, transformed into de facto inpatient mental health wards, were “woefully inadequate physical environments for the most unstable mentally ill.”

Men on suicide watch were given paper gowns and no sheets or blankets, but the unit was kept so cold some inmates risked hypothermia. One sought warmth by squeezing himself inside the plastic covering of his mattress.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is a vivid example of how local jails struggle to treat the masses of mentally ill filling their dank cells.

MENTALLY ILL AND INCARCERATED

Had a naked and hallucinating Fano stumbled off the Greyhound Bus a few years earlier, he likely would have received treatment at Baton Rouge’s Earl K. Long charity hospital. In the two years before its closure in April 2013, police brought 1,800 mentally disturbed detainees there for treatment, said Jan Kasofsky, Baton Rouge’s top mental health official.

Earl K. Long was part of Louisiana’s network of 10 public charity hospitals that provided medical and psychiatric care to the poor and the imprisoned. It cost the state $76 million a year to treat prisoners in these hospitals. In the spring of 2013, former Governor Bobby Jindal began privatizing or closing nine of the 10 and that $76 million cost has since been cut by two-thirds, said Raman Singh, until recently the corrections department’s medical director.

Jindal declined interview requests. Timmy Teepell, chief of staff during much of the Republican’s first term, said the system was closed for good reason.

“It was outdated, underfunded, and produced the nation’s worst healthcare results,” Teepell said. “I am surprised it lasted as long as it did into the 21st Century.”

But the shutting of the hospitals left local governments struggling to provide medical care behind bars. Cat Roule, who spent 12 years as a nurse supervisor at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, told Reuters, “Once Earl K. Long shut down, everything got much worse. There were people piling up in the intake unit. It was just madness.”

Dennis Grimes, the current warden, acknowledged the jail can’t properly treat those in need in a facility where some 800-900 of 1,500 inmates are currently on mental health medication.

“The prison is equipped to deal with disciplinary behavior, not mental health patients. It doesn’t have the things that it really needs in order to function for those who have a mental health problem.”

Medical staff, he said, “burn out, they don’t know what to do, they need some relief – and there are no mental health hospitals out there.”

FIVE MEN IN CRISIS WHO DIED IN JAIL

On February 13, 2013, as operations at Earl K. Long wound down, David O’Quin, a 41-year-old paranoid schizophrenic, was picked up by police after his father reported he was off his medications and behaving erratically. He was booked into East Baton Rouge jail on charges of disturbing the peace. Per jail policy for the mentally ill, he was placed in isolation, where inmates have little access to visitors and spend 23½ hours a day, court records show.

When O’Quin disobeyed orders, guards strapped him to a chair by his ankles and wrists and left him caked in feces and urine, the family alleged in a lawsuit. A jail nurse noted he suffered “serious psychosis” and needed to see a doctor. He didn’t see one for six days, the family said. Guards found him nude in his cell, ignoring orders and spitting, and stormed the cell with shields and mace, records say.

A day later, the jail’s psychiatrist diagnosed him suffering from serious psychosis. O’Quin spent much of the next seven days restrained to a chair in isolation. He died in that chair February 26.

An autopsy found he had died from a pulmonary embolism from a blood clot that developed in his lower legs, likely due to the prolonged period of restraint, as well as from bacterial infection likely from contact between his open wounds and feces. O’Quin’s family has reached an undisclosed lawsuit settlement with the sheriff’s office.

After his death, the sheriff’s office reviewed policies and procedures, said Casey Hicks, a spokeswoman for the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office. Among the changes: new guidelines for using the restraint chair. “It is still used when necessary, though it now requires approval directly from the Warden or designee,” she wrote.

Howell Andrews, a Senior Special Assistant to the Parish Attorney of East Baton Rouge, which was responsible for jail medical care at the time, pointed to a review panel’s findings: “The personnel of the Prison Medical Services acted within the standard of care within the regulations and restrictions in place in this environment.”

In July 2014, Antwoin Harden, 28, was picked up by police for trespassing on the grounds of the Drury Inn, telling officers he was homeless and would rather be in jail than on the streets. In jail, Harden refused to take his medication for bipolar disorder and sickle cell anemia, said his mother, Angelo Moses. He died that month from a blood clot in his lung, related to not taking his medications, she said.

Citing confidentiality restrictions, Andrews said he could not discuss Harden’s case. But he noted: “We are unable to forcibly medicate the individuals.”

Months later, on September 19, 2014, 72-year-old Paul Cleveland was arrested after verbally threatening a court clerk and booked into the jail. On his intake forms, the nurse noted he was bipolar and on antipsychotic medications, and suffered maladies including diabetes, heart pain and rheumatoid arthritis.

Once inside, Cleveland was unable to stand in the hours-long line for patient medications due to his arthritis. His doctor sent a note to the jail saying Cleveland needed a wheelchair, and his family brought one to the front gates. But jailers never let it inside, according to court filings in a family lawsuit against the city, jail and sheriff.

Cleveland filed eight emergency medical request forms, complaining of chest pain, trouble walking to get medication, and suicidal thoughts. When he felt the requests went unheeded, he filed three formal grievances.

Once, a doctor refused to see him because he was behaving belligerently, his medical records show. Other pleas were dismissed as the ranting of a madman. “Banging on window,” said a nurse, who assigned him to a lockdown cell “for his own safety.”

Cleveland’s prescribed daily medications included the antipsychotic Seroquel, Metformin for diabetes, and Cardura for blood pressure. When he was unable to rise and walk to receive them, a jail nurse told him to “stop playing and come get your medication,” a guard testified as part of the family’s ongoing lawsuit.

“Look, they killin’ me,” Cleveland told his family, in his last jailhouse call. “I can’t hardly stand no more.”

At 2:32 the morning of November 12, deputies found Cleveland naked on the floor of his cell, covered in feces. He said he was too weak to shower. A nurse told guards Cleveland was faking “because he wants to get back to the infirmary,” a guard testified in a deposition. Two hours later, at 4:05 a.m., he was found dead in his cell. An autopsy found extensive gastrointestinal bleeding likely caused by cardiovascular disease.

“If he had been transported to the emergency room and received a very simple blood transfusion, he would have survived,” said his lawyer, Amy Newsom.

Hicks said the sheriff’s office took “appropriate action” in dealing with each of Cleveland’s medical requests.

East Baton Rouge city attorneys dispute the family’s allegations, saying Cleveland was treated by medical personnel between 15-17 times during his 50-day stay. His wheelchair was denied because there was no necessary medical approval, said the city, which disputed allegations he was too weak to take his medication.

On May 25, 2015, Lamar Johnson, 27, was pulled over by police because the windows of his Honda Accord were illegally tinted. It was a minor infraction, but Johnson had an outstanding warrant in a neighboring parish, a four-year-old charge for passing a bad $900 check.

He was booked into East Baton Rouge. When guards refused his request for a blanket, he cursed them, according to deposition testimony by two inmates in the family’s lawsuit against the city, parish, warden, sheriff and others. The guards beat Johnson, handcuffed him and pepper-sprayed him, the inmates testified.

Johnson had never been previously diagnosed with a mental illness, his family said. But in jail, his mental health took a turn. Eyewitnesses described him pacing and paranoid, muttering, “I don’t want to live.” The guards moved him to the jail’s isolation wing. “The further back you go, the worse it is, with the smell and the noise,” another inmate testified.

At 10:22 a.m. on May 30, Johnson was found hanging from cell bars. He died days later.

When his father, Karl Franks, sought answers, he said Warden Grimes had little to say. “Well, Mr. Franks, it is what it is,” Franks recounted.

The sheriff disputes allegations in the family’s lawsuit, Hicks said, finding “no evidence” Johnson expressed suicidal thoughts or had been beaten by guards.

Prison Medical Services, the city-run entity responsible for jail health care, said it was “never notified of his presence prior to being called to respond to his suicide,” Andrews said. An inmate log form, he said, showed Johnson’s name had been struck through and marked as “released.”

‘A TICKING TIME BOMB’

Johnson’s death was the fourth involving a mentally disturbed inmate since the closure of East Baton Rouge’s charity hospital. Political pressure was mounting. In August, jail medical personnel testified before council members at a public hearing.

A jail nurse, Sharon Allen, told the council the jail was filling up with mentally ill inmates and described how a nurse had to leave early because an inmate foisted feces at her. “These are mentally unstable people and there’s not enough nurses,” she said.

“We do have a ticking time bomb,” said Dr. Rani Whitfield, a top medical official at the jail.

In response, the council hired Chicago-based consultants Health Management Associates to conduct a $95,000 study of the jail’s medical services.

Before the consulting firm could finish its study, the death toll rose. This time, it was 17-year-old Tyrin Colbert, arrested in November 2015 at his high school for an alleged sexual assault of two younger boys. The waifish teen – standing 5’11” and weighing 129 pounds – reported feeling suicidal soon after he was booked.

Placed in isolation, Colbert said he was hearing voices and told medical staff he needed help, court records show. Dr. Robert Blanche, a psychiatrist contracted to work part time at the jail, assessed Colbert through the bars of his cell. “He is not suicidal; not depressed; he was manipulating,” Blanche noted in the jail’s electronic record-keeping system. He ordered the suicide watch discontinued.

Blanche did not respond to requests for comment. He, Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux III and Warden Grimes are among defendants in the family’s lawsuit.

Four days later, another deputy said he found Colbert rocking back and forth and talking to a wall. Colbert said he had an imaginary friend named Jimmy. This time, Blanche concluded Colbert “may be psychotic (or he is malingering),” he wrote.

Hicks said Colbert requested to be taken off suicide watch. He returned to the general population and into a cell with another inmate, also 17, who choked him to death with a blanket on February 17, 2016. “Colbert did not report any threats or complaints concerning his cellmate,” said Hicks.

The private consulting firm’s findings, submitted to the Metro Council four months after this latest death, were damning.

Warden Dennis Grimes opens the doors to holding cells of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in Baton Rouge, Louisiana March 5, 2018. Picture taken March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Warden Dennis Grimes opens the doors to holding cells of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in Baton Rouge, Louisiana March 5, 2018. Picture taken March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

PRIVATE FOR-PROFIT PRISON CARE

The jail had just 36 percent of the physician staff hours found in comparable facilities. Jail staff failed to distribute prescribed medications nearly 20 percent of the time. A powerful anti-psychotic was being used widely to treat routine insomnia and keep inmates docile.

HMA concluded East Baton Rouge would need to double its $5 million annual budget to meet the minimal standard of inmate medical and psychiatric care.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, on January 1, 2017, the city hired CorrectHealth LLC, a private for-profit firm specializing in prison health care. The Atlanta-based firm promised to bring the jail’s medical care up to standard for $5.2 million a year, half of what the consultant cited.

CorrectHealth is among at least a dozen U.S. firms specializing in for-profit medical care behind bars. Today, it holds contracts to provide inmate healthcare at more than 40 facilities in the southeast, a spokesman said.

When it took over medical care in East Baton Rouge, Fano had been there two months.

Jonathan Fano, who committed suicide while in custody at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters May 15, 2018. Vanessa Fano/Handout via REUTERS

Jonathan Fano, who committed suicide while in custody at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters May 15, 2018. Vanessa Fano/Handout via REUTERS

His jail journey began as the Greyhound Bus idled at the Baton Rouge depot, amid a cross country journey from Miami to his California home. Sitting on the bus, he grew deeply paranoid.

“He said that all the people on the bus knew what he was thinking, that they were judging him, and that he felt sick,” recalled his mother. Fano, showing signs of schizophrenia, sometimes cleared his mind by walking the streets so long his bare feet blistered.

“‘Just focus your mind on coming home, don’t look at anyone, stay calm,’” Zavala told her son.

He fled the bus. Hours later, Baton Rouge police found him wandering the streets “naked and running around … hollering and cussing at imaginary people” and tearing down mailboxes, an arresting officer wrote.

Locked up, he begged for help. He filled out a medical request form November 25, 2016, complaining of anxiety and saying his antipsychotic meds weren’t working. “Feels as if the walls are closing in,” he wrote in December. Soon, a guard noted in all-caps that Fano “NEEDS TO SEE PSYCH.”

CorrectHealth took over New Year’s Day 2017. On January 11, an employee wrote Fano was “faking bad or exaggerating his condition.” Psychiatrist Blanche assessed Fano through the bars of his cell, concluding he “doubts serious mental illness, will begin tapering meds.” He ordered Fano’s anti-psychotic medicine reduced to 5mg and then discontinued after a week.

On February 2, Fano was found hanging from a torn mattress cover knotted to the bars of his cell. Under jail policy, the warden said, guards are supposed to check on inmates on suicide watch every 15 minutes and document what they see. But such checks didn’t come for Fano in the 11 hours before he hanged himself, video reviewed by Reuters shows. The reason: The warden said medical staff had months earlier taken Fano off suicide watch.

He died three days later. His mother now visits his grave every week.

John Ritter, a spokesman for CorrectHealth, said the company could not comment on pending litigation. He said company-run facilities “have been successfully audited against national correctional healthcare standards on numerous occasions.”

Warden Grimes defended the jail’s policy of placing inmates in isolation. But he said he had no easy answers to the jail’s challenges.

“The only way you’re going to stop someone from killing themselves is if there’s an officer there monitoring them 24/7,” the warden said. “And that’s just not possible.”

REFORM THAT LIVES AND DIES WITH POLITICS

As the deaths mounted, some city leaders began to feel pressure. O’Quin, whose last breaths came in a restraint chair, was from a prominent philanthropic Baton Rouge family. His father, Bill O’Quin, former president of a financial services publishing firm, mobilized business interests who joined the city’s first African-American mayor, Kip Holden, to push for a solution.

They drafted a plan to build a new mental health treatment center that would take in mentally ill people picked up by police. The center was modeled after one in Bexar County, Texas, where the sheriff said the facility saved the county $50 million over five years thanks in part to a sharp drop in incarceration rates of the mentally ill.

In Baton Rouge, winning approval for a tax to fund the center required support of the 12-member East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council. To muster support in the district, backers sought the endorsement of one of the parish’s most powerful forces: Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, who runs the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. “If he didn’t support it, then our prospects were zero,” said William Daniel, former chief of staff to then-Mayor Holden.

Gautreaux is a tough-talking career lawman who had long pushed the city to bankroll a new jail. “The plan was, let’s give the sheriff a new jail, and we’ll get our mental health center,” said John Davies, CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a philanthropic development fund that was among the driving forces for the mental health center.

Negotiations took place in Gautreaux’s office, adorned with taxidermied hunting trophies, animal skin rugs, and crossed rifles inmates had carved from wood, said those present.

The sheriff wanted the largest parish jail in Louisiana, a 3,500 bed facility, more than double the current size, attendees said. Mental health center supporters pushed back. Crime had been on the decline in Baton Rouge, they argued. Plus, the mental health center would divert many inmates from jail, citing the Texas example.

In Louisiana, sometimes dubbed the “world’s prison capital,” filling jailhouse beds means big money for sheriff’s offices. Any Louisiana sheriff with capacity to spare can house state prisoners and receive a fee of about $24 a day per inmate. Over 50 percent of Louisiana state prisoners are held in local jails, far more than in other states. Sheriffs boost their budgets by hiring out inmates as cafeteria workers at the statehouse, for instance.

“In Louisiana, anytime you want to pass a law moderating the drive to imprison people, you have this almost insurmountable opposition from the sheriffs,” said Jon Wool, with the Vera Institute for Justice, a nonprofit opposing mass incarceration.

Hicks said Gautreaux backed the mental health center from the start, and that the new jail size was determined by outside consultants. “The sheriff did not demand any particular size of the jail,” she said.

In the end, the package that went to the 12-member council for a vote in January 2015 included a 2,500-bed jail and package of new criminal justice facilities.

Advocates thought they had wrangled just enough support from the council’s tax-wary Republicans to endorse a $330 million bond measure. But at the last minute came defections from key Democrats. “This was just difficult to swallow with such a large prison component,” said council member Tara Wicker.

A mental health center was put again to a standalone citywide vote in 2016. It narrowly lost.

(Additional reporting by Ned Parker, Linda So and Grant Smith. Editing by Ronnie Greene)

Spurned advances provoked Texas school shooting, victim’s mother says

Candles are lit behind images of the victims killed in a shooting at Santa Fe High School during a vigil in League City, Texas, U.S., May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

By Liz Hampton

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – A teenage boy charged with fatally shooting eight students and two teachers during a gun rampage at a Houston-area high school had been spurned by one of his victims after making aggressive advances, her mother told a newspaper.

Sadie Rodriguez, the mother of Shana Fisher, 16, who was killed in the attack, told the Los Angeles Times that her daughter rejected four months of aggressive advances from Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, who is in jail accused of murdering 10 people early on Friday at the high school in Santa Fe.

Fisher finally stood up to him and embarrassed him in class, the newspaper quoted her mother as writing in a private message to the Times.

(For graphic on timeline of major mass shootings in the United States since 2007 click https://tmsnrt.rs/2LfKug6)

“A week later he opens fire on everyone he didn’t like,” she said. “Shana being the first one.”

Rodriguez could not independently be reached for comment.

If true, it would be the second school shooting in recent months driven by such rejection.

In March, a 17-year-old Maryland high school student used his father’s gun to fatally shoot a female student with whom he had been in a recently ended relationship.

Police said Pagourtzis confessed to Friday’s killings after he was taken into custody, but authorities have offered no motive yet for the massacre, the fourth-deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. public school in modern history.

The Santa Fe Independent School District (ISD) denied accounts from some classmates that Pagourtzis had been bullied, including by a football coach.

“Administration looked into these claims and confirmed that these reports are untrue,” it said on Saturday in a statement.

Classmates at the school, which has some 1,460 students, described Pagourtzis as a quiet loner who played on the football team. He wore a black trench coat to school in the Texas heat on Friday and opened fire with a pistol and shotgun.

Mourners attend a vigil in memory of the victims killed in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in League City, Texas, U.S., May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Mourners attend a vigil in memory of the victims killed in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in League City, Texas, U.S., May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

‘THE AFTERMATH’

In Santa Fe on Sunday, many churches and businesses had signs outside with messages such as “Santa Fe strong” and “Santa Fe ISD we are here for you.”

About 100 people attended an emotional service at the Aldersgate United Methodist Church. Service dogs were in a nearby hall to help console grieving victims.

Jared Black, one of the students killed, attended a youth group at the church, and many of its members embraced his mother Pam when the family arrived.

At a mosque in another Houston suburb, mourners crowded around the coffin of 17-year-old Sabika Sheikh, a Pakistani exchange student who died in the rampage.

It was the latest rampage to stoke a long-running national debate over gun ownership, three months after a student-led gun control movement emerged from a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 teens and educators.

Many of those student activists have taken aim at the pro-gun National Rifle Association.

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” NRA President Oliver North said students should not be afraid to attend class, but that his gun-rights advocacy group did not think the solution was to limit the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

“I believe that we can make sure kids are protected without taking away the rights of law-abiding citizens,” North said, calling for metal detectors in schools and more use of the NRA’s offer to schools of free security assessments.

Pagourtzis has provided authorities little information about the shootings, his attorney, Nicholas Poehl, said, adding: “Honestly because of his emotional state, I don’t have a lot on that.”

Texas’ governor, Greg Abbott, a Republican, told reporters that Pagourtzis obtained the firearms from his father, who had likely acquired them legally.

Abbott also said Pagourtzis wanted to commit suicide, citing the suspect’s journals, but lacked the courage to do so.

Pagourtzis’ family said in a statement it was “saddened and dismayed” by the shooting and “as shocked as anyone else” by the events. The family said it was cooperating with authorities.

(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Additional reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Rich McKay and Daniel Wallis; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Peter Cooney)

Teen gunman who killed 10 at Texas school planned suicide: governor

Police keep a roadblock on a main road to Santa Fe High School where police found explosives after an early morning shool shooting that left several people dead in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Trish Badger

By Liz Hampton and Erwin Seba

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – Texas officials charged a 17-year-old student with murder in the shooting of 10 people, including fellow pupils, at his high school on Friday in an attack similar to the massacre at a Florida high school earlier this year.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the suspect in the Santa Fe High School shooting is shown in this booking photo at the Galveston County Jail, released by the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, U.S., May 18, 2018. Courtesy Galveston County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via REUTERS

Students said a gunman, identified by law enforcement as Dimitrios Pagourtzis, opened fire in a classroom at Santa Fe High School shortly before 8 a.m. CT (1300 GMT) on Friday, and that they fled in panic after seeing classmates wounded and a fire alarm triggered a full evacuation. Ten people were hurt in the attack, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.

It was the latest in a long series of deadly shootings at U.S. schools. Seventeen teens and educators were shot dead at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, a massacre that stirred the nation’s long-running debate over gun ownership.

The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office identified Pagourtzis and said he had been charged with capital murder in a post on its Facebook page. More charges could follow.

Speaking to reporters before the teen was identified, Abbott told reporters that the suspect had used a shotgun and a .38 revolver taken from his father in the fourth-deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. public school.

“Not only did he want to commit the shooting, but he wanted to commit suicide after the shooting,” Abbott said, citing a police review of the suspect’s journals. “He didn’t have the courage to commit suicide.”

Two other people are in custody, Abbott said.

Investigators are talking to the suspect, Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said.

Abbott said that investigators had seen a T-shirt on the suspect’s Facebook page that read “Born to Kill.”

Explosive devices had also been found at the school, located about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Houston, and off campus, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted.

Police were searching two homes and a vehicle linked to the suspect, where they have found multiple homemade explosive devices, Abbott said.

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff's Office/via REUTERS

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff’s Office/via REUTERS

‘THE GUY BEHIND ME WAS DEAD’

Courtney Marshall, a 15-year-old freshman at the school, said the gunman came into her art class shooting.

“I wanted to take care of my friends, but I knew I had to get out of there,” Marshall said, saying that she saw at least one person hit. “I knew the guy behind me was dead.”

Orlando Gonzalez said that his 16-year-old son Keaton, fled the attack, but one of his friends was shot and wounded.

“I was really worried, I didn’t know what was going on … I almost couldn’t drive,” Gonzalez said. “I just imagine what he’s going through … He’s still scared.”

The school has some 1,462 students, according to federal education data.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the latest school massacre “absolutely horrific.”

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others,” Trump said at the White House.

Days after the Parkland shooting, Trump said that elected officials should be ready to “fight” the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group. Early this month he embraced that group, telling its annual meeting in Dallas “your Second Amendment rights are under siege.”

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms.

No major federal gun controls have been imposed since Parkland, though the administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people but have not played a role in other major U.S. mass shootings.

(Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton in Houston, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York and Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas)

 

Kuwait condemns Philippine president’s call to evacuate workers

Kuwait's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al Khalid Al Sabah attends the Kuwait International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq, in Bayan, Kuwait February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee

KUWAIT (Reuters) – A top Kuwaiti official condemned on Tuesday a call by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to evacuate his country’s workers from Kuwait, suggesting Duterte could damage ties between the two countries.

Duterte said last week that his government would ask private airlines to evacuate Filipino nationals from Kuwait within 72 hours, after the discovery of the dead body of a Filipino migrant worker in a freezer.

Two planes full of workers arrived in Manila from Kuwait on Monday on flights provided for free by commercial airlines at the president’s request. On Sunday, the Philippine labor minister said more than 2,200 Filipinos were ready to take up Duterte’s offer.

“We are surprised and we condemn statements from the Philippine president, especially as we are in contact with the Philippines on a high level to explain the workers’ conditions in Kuwait,” said Kuwait’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah.

He was speaking at a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a meeting in Kuwait of the global coalition against Islamic State.

“Escalation does not serve the ties between Kuwait and the Philippines,” Sheikh Sabah said, adding that 170,000 Filipinos “live a decent life in Kuwait … but separate accidents unfortunately happen, and we are providing our Filipino counterparts with the results of the investigations.”

The Philippines suspended sending workers to Kuwait in January after reports that abuse by employers had driven several to suicide.

(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy; Additional reporting by Martin Petty; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Andrew Torchia, William Maclean)

Trump to order mental health aid to prevent suicide among military veterans

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin (L) after signing the Veterans Affairs Choice and Quality Employment Act at Trump's golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S. August 12, 2017.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday was set to sign an executive order that will direct government departments to try to prevent suicide among military veterans by treating mental health problems before they become more serious.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told reporters on a conference call that Trump wants to address an alarming trend, that of 20 veterans a day taking their own life.

“That is just an unacceptable number and we are focused on doing everything we can to try to prevent these veteran suicides,” Shulkin said.

Trump’s order will direct the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs to develop a plan in 60 days to provide access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for uniformed service members in the first year following military service.

The new order will cost about $200 million year to implement, money that will be diverted from the agencies’ current budget, a senior administration official said.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by David Gregorio)

Facebook to expand artificial intelligence to help prevent suicide

A 3D plastic representation of the Facebook logo is seen in this photo illustration

By David Ingram

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc will expand its pattern recognition software to other countries after successful tests in the U.S. to detect users with suicidal intent, the world’s largest social media network said on Monday.

Facebook began testing the software in the United States in March, when the company started scanning the text of Facebook posts and comments for phrases that could be signals of an impending suicide.

Facebook has not disclosed many technical details of the program, but the company said its software searches for certain phrases that could be clues, such as the questions “Are you ok?” and “Can I help?”

If the software detects a potential suicide, it alerts a team of Facebook workers who specialize in handling such reports. The system suggests resources to the user or to friends of the person such as a telephone help line. Facebook workers sometimes call local authorities to intervene.

Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president for product management, said the company was beginning to roll out the software outside the United States because the tests have been successful. During the past month, he said, first responders checked on people more than 100 times after Facebook software detected suicidal intent.

Facebook said it tries to have specialist employees available at any hour to call authorities in local languages.

“Speed really matters. We have to get help to people in real time,” Rosen said.

Last year, when Facebook launched live video broadcasting, videos proliferated of violent acts including suicides and murders, presenting a threat to the company’s image. In May Facebook said it would hire 3,000 more people to monitor videos and other content.

Rosen did not name the countries where Facebook was deploying the software, but he said it would eventually be used worldwide except in the European Union due to sensitivities, which he declined to discuss.

Other tech firms also try to prevent suicides. Google’s search engine displays the phone number for a suicide hot line in response to certain searches.

Facebook knows lots about its 2.1 billion users – data that it uses for targeted advertising – but in general the company has not been known previously to systematically scan conversations for patterns of harmful behavior.

One exception is its efforts to spot suspicious conversations between children and adult sexual predators. Facebook sometimes contacts authorities when its automated screens pick up inappropriate language.

But it may be more difficult for tech firms to justify scanning conversations in other situations, said Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor who writes about tech.

“Once you open the door, you might wonder what other kinds of things we would be looking for,” Calo said.

Rosen declined to say if Facebook was considering pattern recognition software in other areas, such as non-sex crimes.

 

 

(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Susan Thomas)

 

Opioid abuse crisis takes heavy toll on U.S. veterans

Needles used for shooting heroin and other opioids along with other paraphernalia litter the ground in a park in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. October 26, 2017.

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Opioid drug abuse has killed more Americans than the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars combined, and U.S. veterans and advocates this Veteran’s Day are focusing on how to help victims of the crisis.

Veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die from accidental overdoses of the highly addictive painkillers, a rate that reflects high levels of chronic pain among vets, particularly those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to federal data.

U.S. government and healthcare officials have been struggling to stem the epidemic of overdoses, which killed more than 64,000 Americans in the 12 months ending last January alone, a 21 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About 65,000 Americans died in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump named opioids a national public health emergency and a White House commission last week recommended establishing a nationwide system of drug courts and easier access to alternatives to opioids for people in pain.

“Our veterans deserve better than polished sound bites and empty promises,” said former Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a recovering addict and a member of the president’s opioid commission.

Kennedy said in an e-mail that more funding was needed for treatment facilities and medical professionals to help tackle the problem.

One effort to address the issue has stalled in Congress – the proposed Veterans Overmedication Prevention Act, sponsored by Senator John McCain. That measure is aimed at researching ways to help Veterans Administration doctors rely less on opioids in treating chronic pain.

“The Veterans Administration needs to understand whether overmedication of drugs, such as opioid pain-killers, is a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths,” McCain, one of the nation’s most visible veterans, said in an e-mail on Thursday. He noted that 20 veterans take their lives each day, a suicide rate 21 percent higher than for other U.S. adults.

The VA system has stepped up its efforts to address the crisis, having treated some 68,000 veterans for opioid addiction since March, said Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Curtis Cashour.

The department’s Louis Stokes VA Center in Cleveland has also begun testing alternative treatments, including acupuncture and yoga, to reduce use of and dependency on the drugs, the VA said.

A delay in naming a Trump administration “drug czar” to head the effort, however, has fueled doubts about immediate action on the opioid crisis. Last month the White House nominee, Representative Tom Marino, withdrew from consideration following a report he spearheaded a bill that hurt the government’s ability to crack down on opioid makers.

 

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Dan Grebler)