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Gunfire erupts downtown just before, after Detroit fireworks show; 3 injured, 2 in custody

Gunfire Erupts Downtown Just Before, After Detroit Fireworks Show; 3 Injured, 2 In Custody CLOSEGunfire Erupts Downtown Just Before, After Detroit Fireworks Show; 3 Injured, 2 In Custody

Michigan has some pretty strict rules when it comes to fireworks. Hasan Dudar/Detroit Free Press

Gunfire Erupts Downtown Just Before, After Detroit Fireworks Show; 3 Injured, 2 In CustodyBuy Photo

The 2017 Ford Fireworks happened on the Detroit River in downtown Detroit on Monday, June 26, 2017. (Photo: Mary Schroeder, Detroit Free Press)Buy Photo

The annual fireworks celeberation in Detroit Monday night was marred by two shootings downtown, the first one sending scores of spectators running through the streets. Police said the first shooting occurred when a group of teens began arguing at Woodward and Jefferson and one pulled out a weapon.

Gunfire Erupts Downtown Just Before, After Detroit Fireworks Show; 3 Injured, 2 In CustodyBuy Photo

Detroit police secure an area near Woodward and Jefferson Monday night after a shooting during the fireworks show. (Photo: Allie Gross / Free Press)

Detroit Police Media Relations Director Michael Woody said multiple shots were fired and one bullet struck a woman bystander in the stomach. He said she was transported to an area hospital where she was listed in serious condition. Woody said police have two suspects in custody. Assistant Chief Arnold Williams said a weapon was recovered away from the scene where the suspects were apprehended.

“The fireworks is what we would call a success,” Williams said.

“…When you have a family environment where people are trying to enjoy a special event, they get into an argument and they have resolve their argument by drawing a weapon, it’s just idiotic,” Williams said.

In order to create a space for medics to transport the woman, police began barricading parts of the newly formed Spirit of Detroit Plaza near the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building. The plaza, which opened earlier this month to great fanfare, was created by closing off Woodward at Jefferson. Just as the shooting occurred, the rain paid a return visit — this time it grew from a drizzle to a brisk shower, sending even more spectators running for cover as emergency vehicles forced their way through the crowded streets; their emergency lights clashing with the lighted sky. About an hour after the downtown incident, another shooting occurred in the area of Fort and Cass, near the People Mover. Police said an argument took place involving occupants of a vehicle with some people outside of the vehicle. Those outside fired shots into the vehicle, striking the two inside. They were taken to the hospital.

“This shooting scene as far as we know has nothing to do with the fireworks,” Williams said.

Police barricade downtown Detroit after an alleged shooting on Jefferson[1]

Allie Gross (@Allie_Elisabeth) June 27, 2017[2]

The shootings come one day after three people were shot early Monday morning outside a party bus in the area of Congress and St. Antoine in downtown. Police had beefed up patrols downtown recently after a chaotic scene involving eight men attacking another man was captured on video in Greektown. Several arrests have been made in that incident. Though most recent years the fireworks show has gone off without any serious incidents. But there have been years when the show, attended by thousands of families with young children, has been sullied.

In 2013 a 37-year old man was killed near the Martin Luther King Apartments about a mile from Hart Plaza during the fireworks show. In 2011, a 16-year old girl was shot in the leg as she and her friends walked near Atwater and Beaubien near the Renaissance Center. And in 2004, nine people were shot in Hart Plaza following an argument.

In some years the city has instituted curfews for minors 17 and younger unaccompanied by an adult. But neither the shooting nor the rain Monday kept the fireworks show from going on as scheduled. And thousands stayed for the 59th annual Ford Fireworks show downtown tonight but that didn’t last for long. Just minutes before the start of the fireworks show, the rain made a return visit, first as a sprinkle, then as a brisk shower.

Added to the rain was the sound of reported gunfire near Woodward and Jefferson, just moments before the start of the show. Though police had yet to verify the source of the sound, nevertheless, it sent spectators in that area dashing through the streets. But before the rain hit, Mike Lewis, 63, and Linda Burns, 60, siblings from Highland Park, came prepared and brought an umbrella which they huddled under to hide from the brief rain.

“I hope it clears up,” Burns said around 5 p.m., adding that if it rains through the night there might not be a fireworks show.

More: Here’s everything you need to know about Detroit’s Ford Fireworks[3]

The fireworks on the Detroit River didn’t begin until 9:55 p.m., but crowds were already gathered early on Hart Plaza to grab the best spots to view the show. And even after the rain, the show went on, with booms that mimicked thunder accompanying the rain. Linda Stokes, of Detroit had been downtown since about 2 p.m. She had reserved a room downtown at the Renaissance Center but decided to settle in on a grassy, tree-covered spot along the riverwalk with her grandchildren instead.

“There’s really nothing like having a nice view of the riverfront, really relishing the vibe, and being out in the open air,” Stokes said.

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Ralph Sanders, 25, and Erin Sanders, 22, with their 4-year-old son Aaden. (Photo: Allie Gross/ Free Press)

Ralph and Erin Sanders brought their 4-year old son Aaden to the fireworks. Ralph Sanders works at Quicken Loans and was already downtown, so his wife, who works at a neurology office in Dearborn, came down to meet him for the fireworks. It was Aaden’s first time seeing them in downtown Detroit.

“It’s pretty cool,”‘ said Ralph Sanders. Erin Sanders turned to her son to see what he thought. “Want to say anything about the fireworks,” she cooed. Aaden smiled and just nodded. Entry to Hart Plaza will close once it has reached desired capacity, and there will be no re-admittance, according to the Parade Company, the group that organized the festival. Sonya Dabney, 47, and her daughter Mercedes Fitzpatrick, 22, were sitting downtown since 7:30 p.m. to watch the fireworks. Fitzpatrick, a physical therapy assistant student at South University, is so dedicated she is working on her kinesiology homework, due Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., while she waits for the fireworks.

“I don’t work well in silence,” she laughs, noting that, yes, this may not be the most usual place to get her homework done. She and Dabney have been coming downtown for the firework for years.

“I love the fireworks and just the holiday time,” Dabney said.

Devin Polaski, 27, and his wife, Noelle Polaski, 28, and in-laws Renee Evans, 65, and Tim Evans, 57, came to the fireworks together. Devin and Noelle Polaski live blocks away from Hart Plaza and decided to walk down with Noelle’s parents, who live in St. Claire.

“It’s super nice that we live next to everything and that we don’t have to drive, that’s the biggest benefit,” said Devin who runs a video and animation company called He said last year he and Noelle rode their bikes to Belle Isle to watch the fireworks, which was also super convenient.

In terms of what the city feels like tonight, Devin noted that there are a lot more than usual. “It feels more like we live in a “real city”” he said making air quotes. But some who had come downtown with blankets in tow were surprised to find out they couldn’t access Campus Martius Park’s grassy area without a Facebook invitation. Marcus Brooks, 21, found out about the exclusive Campus Martius firework event through an office e-mail. Brooks says everyone at Ernst & Young where he works received an e-mail Friday inviting them to watch the firework in Campus Martius.

He invited his girlfriend Kayla Haber-Bates, 22, as soon as he found out, saying he liked the idea of watching the fireworks in a secure area. “It’s already set up, you don’t have to worry about finding a spot.”

While he ran into one colleague already, he notes that the park is pretty roomy.

“I know a deterrence was someone saying they didn’t know you could actually see the fireworks from here,” he said.

A security guard confirmed that this was the case. You’d be able to hear the noise but not see anything.

More: State to inspect every fireworks seller for illegal pyrotechnics[6]

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Judge places Oregon refuge occupier Geoffrey Stanek on home detention, 2 years probation

A federal judge on Monday sentenced Oregon refuge occupier Geoffrey Stanek, described as one of the more minor players indicted in the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, to two years of probation, including six months of home detention. U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown said the home detention was warranted, partly to ensure Stanek doesn’t respond again to a “call to arms” from Facebook acquaintances on behalf of “We the People.”

Geoffrey StanekMCSO

“You’re free to think what you choose, but your conduct crossed the line,” the judge said. “I need to be sure you won’t take it upon yourself to answer that type of call again. … You need to put this chapter behind you. You need to respect the law, whether you agree with it or not.”

The judge said she considered that Stanek entered a guilty plea early to a federal conspiracy charge last year and that he didn’t withdraw his plea after occupation leaders who went to trial were acquitted last fall. The fact that he heeded the FBI’s request that he and others leave the refuge the night of Jan. 26, 2016, after the arrests of Ammon Bundy and others leaders, also worked in his favor, the judge said.

“On the other hand, you were part of the problem,” Brown told Stanek. Stanek, 27, brought an AR-15 rifle and a body armor vest to the refuge on Jan. 7, 2016, after learning of the takeover on Facebook. There, he performed armed guard duty in the watchtower and at the refuge entrances. He also blocked a refuge entrance with an ATV belonging to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Stanek thought the takeover of the refuge was a “constitutional protest,” his lawyer Benjamin Andersen said.

“He didn’t really have a concept of what was actually going on,” Andersen said. Stanek, who served in the Army from about 18 until 21, said he also had medic training and thought he could use his medic skills at the refuge if things got out of hand.

“It’s hard to wrap your head around,” the judge said. “Somehow you were preparing for a bloodbath.”

Stanek was allowed to leave the refuge through an FBI checkpoint and was arrested two weeks later in Forest Grove. Stanek’s lawyer argued against home detention and found it unfair that Stanek wasn’t allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor trespass offense as three other co-defendants later did, including Sean and Sandra Anderson who were among the last four holdouts at the refuge during a tense standoff with federal agents.

But the judge found Stanek more “culpable” than the Andersons, who got a year probation for a misdemeanor plea to trespass. The Andersons traveled back and forth to the refuge several times and didn’t perform guard duty as often as Stanek, the judge said.

“You came, you stayed and stayed and stayed and then you left,” Brown said to Stanek. Federal prosecutors didn’t allow Stanek to plea to a misdemeanor because of a threatening Facebook message he had with co-defendant Corey Lequieu in the days after he left the refuge, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel told the judge.

Lequieu and Stanek talked about killing federal agents on social media at a time when the FBI was concerned about refuge occupiers returning to the west encampment where four people remained holed up during the last two weeks of the standoff, Gabriel said. Gabriel also acknowledged that prosecutors learned from the trial of Ammon Bundy, his older brother, Ryan Bundy and five co-defendants. They were all acquitted of federal conspiracy and weapons charges last fall. Prosecutors also paid attention to the concerns of a juror from the first trial who spoke to The Oregonian/OregonLive shortly after the verdict.

“The government took a lot of lessons from the first trial, your honor, to be candid,” Gabriel said, noting that jurors concluded that “whatever was happening at the west encampment was not part of a conspiracy.” That’s partly why Sandra and Sean Anderson were given a chance to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, he said.

Eleven people pleaded guilty to the felony of conspiring to impede federal employees through intimidation, threat or force from doing their work. Sentences for those who enter guilty pleas to the felony are expected to range from home detention and probation to three years and five months in prison, Gabriel said. Stanek and four others, Wesley Kjar, Eric Lee Flores, Travis Cox and Jason Blomgren, are considered “low-level defendants” facing similar probationary sentences, Gabriel said.

The government will recommend Ryan Payne receive three years and five months in custody, the longest sentence of those who entered guilty pleas to conspiracy, Gabriel said. Others who have pleaded guilty to the felony charge are Lequieu, who got two years and six months in prison, and Brian Cavalier, who received time served with about nine months in custody. No federal employees spoke Monday. What’s important to them, Gabriel said, are conditions set for Stanek and others not to occupy, reside in or camp on any federal land or enter land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service or the U.S. Forest Service without a probation officer’s approval.

“It was very costly to the government financially and to employees emotionally,” Gabriel said. “The victims continue to suffer because of the occupation in this case.”

Brown, who is retiring next month, said the case “has been the most challenging legal experience of my career.” She noted the wide range of legal perspectives and motivations in the case, and the constant second-guessing. As Stanek stood beside his lawyer, the judge asked him what his plan was going forward.

“Plan on working hard to be a father to my daughter,” said Stanek, dressed in black pants and a short-sleeved plaid button-down shirt with a pocket Constitution in his left shirt pocket.

“You’re going to have to get a job, plan for a career and a life,” Brown replied, and urged him to seek out veterans’ services to help find employment. Stanek has no prior criminal history. He previously worked as a security guard and was in the process of becoming a firefighter when he went to the refuge last year. He’s had trouble finding a job since his conviction, his lawyer said.

The judge told Stanek if he does well on home detention after three months, his probation officer can request the court reduce or eliminate the it.

“I think you’ve earned the chance to play it out this way,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t want to see you again, Mr. Stanek.”

“No offense, I don’t want to see you again either,” Stanek replied.

“It’s a deal,” the judge said. “Make it work.”

— Maxine Bernstein


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Alabama death row inmate to get new hearing on challenge to witness

Alabama Death Row Inmate To Get New Hearing On Challenge To Witness CLOSEAlabama Death Row Inmate To Get New Hearing On Challenge To Witness

Alabama uses midazolam in its three-drug execution procedure. The drug has been present in botched executions and drawn controversy. Wochit

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday ordered a new hearing in the case of Alabama death row inmate Toforest Johnson, sentenced to death in 1998 over the 1995 murder of a Jefferson County deputy sheriff.

Alabama Death Row Inmate To Get New Hearing On Challenge To Witness

Toforest Johnson (Photo: Alabama Department of Corrections)

It was a decision both Johnson s attorneys and the Alabama Attorney General s Office sought, though for different reasons. Hardy was working as a private security guard at a Birmingham hotel when he was shot and killed in the hotel’s parking lot early in the morning of July 19, 1995. Johnson, who maintains his innocence, was arrested a few hours later. No physical evidence linked Johnson, now 44, to the murder. Yolanda Chambers, a witness who was with Johnson the night of the murder, claimed to have seen the shooting but changed her story many times, at some points claiming Johnson or other men killed Hardy and at others denying that she had been at the hotel.

The defendant s attorneys targeted the testimony of Violet Ellison and her daughter Katrina. Both testified that Katrina Ellison had conducted three-way phone conversations in the summer of 1995 to speak with a friend incarcerated at the time. According to court records, Ellison began listening in to her daughter s conversations and at one point heard a man who identified himself as Toforest say he shot the deputy and I saw his head go back and he fell. The jury could not reach a decision in Johnson’s first trial. A jury convicted Johnson at the second, in which his defense attorneys put Chambers on the stand. Johnson’s current attorneys wrote in a brief filed in federal court last year that the decision to put Chambers on the stand was “inexplicable,” because of the inconsistencies in her story and the fact she contradicted alibi witnesses called by the defense. According to court records, Johnson s attorneys found after the trial that Violet Ellison approached the police in response to a reward offered for information on Hardy s shooting, and that the state later paid her $5,000. The defense filed a motion known as a Brady claim; a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Brady v. Maryland, held that prosecutors cannot withhold evidence that might exonerate the defendant.

If defense counsel had known that Violet Ellison came forward and testified with the expectation that she would receive a substantial cash reward if Johnson were convicted, they would have used that information to undermine Ellison s credibility and cast doubt on her motivations, Johnson s attorneys wrote in their brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the Brady claim, ruling that evidence to impeach a witness was not enough to allow the claim to go forward. Later, though, the Alabama Supreme Court decided in a separate case, In re Beckworth, that courts must consider Brady claims under a different rule than the one that led to the dismissal of Johnson s. The Alabama Attorney General s Office sought rehearing because of the state Supreme Court s ruling, saying there could be other reasons to deny Johnson s claim.

The trial court also suggested that, based on the fact-specific record in this case, there was no reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different had the information been known, the office wrote in a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in May. The state appellate court should have the opportunity to evaluate whether any alternative grounds support the post-conviction court s decision to deny the Brady claim.”

Despite the defense and the state both seeking a new hearing, the U.S. Supreme Court divided 5-4 over the issue, along partisan lines. In a brief dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts — joined by justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas — wrote that the state courts declined to upset the decision in Johnson s case despite the Beckworth ruling, and said the majority s decision to vacate Johnson s conviction was truly extraordinary. Justices Stephen Breyer; Ruth Bader Ginsberg; Elena Kagan; Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor ordered the new hearing. The majority did not issue a separate opinion.

The high court last week ordered a new hearing in the case of James McWilliams, convicted and sentenced to death in the 1984 rape and murder of Patricia Vallery Reynolds. The majority held that McWilliams did not have the chance to use a psychiatric evaluation in his defense[1].

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