Alabama News Outlets Sued Over Wrong Photos in Sex Story

July 26, 2017
By David Lee

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) – An Alabama woman claims in court that local news outlets incorrectly identified her and her minor relative as being involved in a human trafficking and sexual assault case by publishing photos of them instead of the suspect.

Melissa Daw Preuss, 19, and her 14-year-old relative sued Central Alabama Media Group, Raycom Media and WVTM Hearst Television in Jefferson County Circuit Court on Tuesday. CAMG owns AL.com, Raycom owns Fox-affiliate WBRC and WVMT operates an NBC affiliate.

Preuss says that her sister, Amy Floyd Morgan, was the person arrested in January and charged with human trafficking and conspiring to commit sexual abuse of a child younger than 12. Morgan is accused of taking money for over a year from a man to have sex with her daughter.

“After Morgan was arrested, defendant AL.com – without permission and without fact checking – negligently and wrongfully imputed Morgan’s indictable criminal charges to Preuss by publishing the photographs and likeness of Preuss and the minor child as Morgan and the child who was involved in the human trafficking charges on its website and Facebook page,” the nine-page complaint states.

Preuss claims the two television stations “published a false statement of fact” when they posted photographs of the plaintiffs as Morgan and the alleged minor victim.

“After the negligent images and likeness of Preuss and the minor child were publicized, Preuss was forced to pull the minor child out of school to protect her from finding out that her likeness was used in the human trafficking story,” the complaint states.

Preuss says she later contacted the defendants to remove the photographs from the story.

“However, they failed to publicly retract and/or correct the public by publishing that their stories were in error and that the plaintiffs’ photographs used in the stories were not those of Morgan and the minor child but of Morgan’s biological sister,” the complaint states.

AL.com did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment Wednesday morning.

Preuss seeks actual and punitive damages for invasion of privacy, defamation, libel and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. She is represented by Charles E. Robinson and Meg W. Clements in Ashville, Ala.

From Courthouse News.

ExxonMobil Sues USA, Fighting $2 Million Fine for Violating Russia Sanctions

July 21, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – ExxonMobil sued the United States on Thursday within hours of being slapped with a $2 million fine for violating sanctions against Russia during its conflict with Ukraine.

The Irving, Texas-based oil giant sued the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, its director John E. Smith and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Federal Court.

Exxon says it was fined on “the sole basis” that eight documents it executed in 2014 with Rosneft Oil Company, a Russian state-owned oil company, were signed by Rosneft president and chairman Igor Sechin.

Rex Tillerson, now the secretary of state, led Exxon during this time.

Exxon claims that Sechin was subject to the sanctions in an individual capacity only.

“OFAC’s current position is that this fact alone suffices to render the conduct unlawful,” the 21-page complaint states. “That position is plainly incorrect. It relied on a new interpretation by OFAC that had not been announced at the time of the challenged conduct, contravenes the plain text of the relevant executive order, and is directly contrary to contemporaneous, authoritative guidance from the White House and Treasury Department, which repeatedly made clear, at the time Mr. Sechin was sanctioned, that the challenged conduct was lawful.”

Exxon says that when the controlling executive order was issued by President Barack Obama in 2014, the White House said the sanctions applied only to “personal assets” of the sanctioned individuals “and emphasized that the sanctions did not restrict business with the companies those individuals managed.”

It says it was not until months after the fact that the United States “adopted the novel and counterintuitive interpretation on which it now seeks to penalize” Exxon said.

Exxon issued a statement citing a March 2014 White House Fact Sheet that states: “Our current focus is to identify these individuals and target their personal assets, but not companies that they may manage on behalf of the Russian state.”

Exxon also cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 2012 involving drug maker SmithKline Beecham that states: “It is one thing to expect regulated parties to conform their conduct to an agency’s interpretations once the agency announces them; it is quite another to require regulated parties to divine the agency’s interpretations in advance or else be held liable when the agency announces its interpretations for the first time in an enforcement proceeding and demands deference.”

Exxon seeks a permanent injunction blocking collection of the fine and a determination that the fine is unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act and due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. It is represented by Shannon Ratliff with Davis Gerald in Austin, Nina Cortell with Haynes Boone in Dallas and Neil H. MacBride with Davis Polk in Washington, D.C.

From Courthouse News.

Acquitted of Manslaughter, Tulsa Police Officer Resigns

July 20, 2017
By David Lee

TULSA, Okla. (CN) — Tulsa police Wednesday accepted the resignation of the white police officer acquitted of killing unarmed black motorist Terence Crutcher last year.

Betty Shelby, 43, submitted her resignation letter on July 14. Police officials accepted the letter with “satisfactory separation,” the Tulsa World newspaper reported. Her last day at work will be Aug. 3.

Shelby was acquitted in May of first-degree manslaughter. She was recorded on dashboard and helicopter video shooting and killing Crutcher, 40, in September as he walked away from her with both arms in the air toward his disabled SUV in the middle of a street.

Shelby said Crutcher did not comply with her commands and she said she feared he was reaching for a weapon through the left-front window. No weapon was found on Crutcher or in the car.

Shelby also said she thought Crutcher was on drugs. A medical examiner determined that he had PCP, or angel dust, in his system when he died.

Shelby repeatedly blamed Crutcher for causing his own death, testifying that she had “no regrets” about what happened, and that she relied on her training.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Shelby said she is “sorry he lost his life” and that the shooting was a “tragedy for everyone involved.”

“I pray for healing for his family,” she said in the July 14 post. “I will continue to pray for the unity of our community, the safety of our citizens and our police officers.”

Shelby was reinstated after acquittal, restricted to desk duty.

“Since being reinstated, I have found that sitting behind a desk, isolated from all of my fellow officers and the citizens of Tulsa, is just not for me,” the post stated.

Crutcher’s estate has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and Shelby, claiming he was subjected to excessive force and deprived of his right to equal protection. The family says the police department’s training and customs “are known to be deliberately indifferent” to residents’ constitutional rights.

“Terence had not committed and was not suspected of committing any serious crime; he did not pose an immediate threat of great bodily harm or death to Officer Shelby, any other officers on the scene (who were there in sufficient numbers to control the situation), or the general public,” the June 15 complaint stated. “Terence was never told he was under arrest or warned he would be shot by Officer Shelby.”

Although they acquitted Shelby, jurors said later that they believe she is not “blameless” in Crutcher’s death and that she had “other options available to subdue” him.

From Courthouse News.

Key Suspect in Dallas Voter Fraud Case Arrested

July 13, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A key suspect in the West Dallas elderly voter-fraud investigation was arrested Wednesday after spending a month on the lam.

Miguel Hernandez, 27, is being held at the Dallas County Jail on $100,000 bond, according to jail records.  A grand jury indicted him on Monday on a second-degree felony illegal voting charge. He faces up to 20 years in state prison if convicted.

Residents have complained of a Hispanic man knocking on their doors asking for their absentee ballots. Prosecutors say a woman picked Hernandez out of a lineup after saying she handed him a blank ballot that he allegedly offered to deliver to elections officials on her behalf.

Prosecutor Andy Chatham – a former state district judge – said Thursday the next step depends on whether Hernandez wants to make a statement.

“He has the right to remain silent, and if he chooses to do that I certainly respect it, but I am hoping he will open a dialogue,” he told The Dallas Morning News. “But that remains between him and his attorney.”

Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson began the investigation in May after several elderly voters in West Dallas complained about receiving absentee ballots in the mail they did not request. Others complained they were unable to vote on Election Day as someone apparently had mailed in absentee votes in their names. Attorney General Ken Paxton – a fellow Republican – soon after joined the investigation, saying it was to “solidify” public trust in elections.

Hernandez was arrested by the Texas Attorney General’s Fugitive Unit, Chatham said.

Uncertainty over more fraudulent votes resulted in a state district judge sequestering several hundred absentee ballots during local runoff elections last month, a move that delayed election night results.

From Courthouse News.

Disgruntled Veteran Accused of Bombing Recruiting Office

July 13, 2017
By David Lee

TULSA, Okla. (CN) – A military veteran accused of detonating a pipe bomb outside a Tulsa-area Air Force recruiting office blames the federal government for his two years of unemployment, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday.

Benjamin Don Roden, 28, of Tulsa, is charged with two counts of destruction of federal property, one count of use of explosives to commit a federal felony and one count of malicious damage to federal property by use of explosives.

Roden joined the Air Force in 2012, and the Oklahoma Air National Guard two years later.

A pipe bomb was detonated Monday evening at a shopping center in Bixby, damaging windows and blasting a front door off its hinges into the parking lot. No injuries were reported and the office was closed at the time.

Roden is also accused of vandalizing a federal government vehicle at a second Air Force recruiting office, on July 9.

Loretta Radford, acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, told reporters after Roden’s first court appearance Wednesday that the evidence does not indicate domestic terrorism so far. She said there was no evidence so far that Roden received help from others.

Witnesses reported that a white man on a red motorcycle tossed a backpack at the Bixby recruiting office before it exploded. Prosecutors say Roden is the registered owner of a red Honda motorcycle and that two pipe bombs were found at his apartment.

“Roden has been described as being upset with the U.S. Air Force for not being accepted into the U.S. Marines in addition to being described as ‘hating the military,’” the four-count complaint states. “Roden’s apartment contained multiple items associated with the manufacturing and making of explosives.”

Federal officials said packages mailed to an Oklahoma Air National Guard base in Tulsa before the explosion contained printed comments from Roden’s Facebook profile, complaining that his passport had been destroyed and that he was being spied upon for being “too smart.”

“Any country willing to let me come over to you and get a job, let me know,” the comments said, according to the complaint. “A special warfare tactic was developed off of what I naturally do and I can teach what I do. I have knowledge of analog circuits, some electrician knowledge and natural mechanical and electrical ability. I think the U.S. government is trying to keep me from leaving because of my special warfare capability.”

From Courthouse News.

FBI Says Tulsa Explosion Not Act of Domestic Terrorism

July 11, 2017
By David Lee

TULSA, Okla. (CN) – Federal officials said Tuesday afternoon  that they are no longer investigating a pipe bomb explosion that damaged a northeast Oklahoma Air Force recruiting station as a possible act of domestic terrorism, adding that the blast could be the work of a disgruntled employee or a prank.

FBI agent Jessi Rice said the explosion in the Tulsa suburb of Bixby is not being called domestic terrorism because investigators have not determined a motive and have not identified a suspect.

Rice said the blast currently is a criminal investigation into the use of an explosive device.

“We don’t know if it was a disgruntled employee, an act of terrorism or someone playing games,” Rice said at a news conference.

A device was detonated at 10:30 p.m. at a shopping center in Bixby, damaging glass windows and blasting a front door off of its hinges and into the parking lot. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents spent up to six hours collecting evidence at the scene, the Tulsa World newspaper reported.

Witnesses said a person on a red motorcycle threw a backpack at the office that exploded, NBC-affiliate KJRH-TV reported.

FBI spokeswoman Jessi Rice said the agency will try to re-create the pipe bomb to find out how it was made and by whom. She said they do not have a motive or suspect.

The FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are leading the investigation, while Bixby and Tulsa police were the first responders to the explosion.

Rice said the bombing is “suspicious” given earlier reports of vandalism at another recruiting office nearby.

“There is no known connection,” she said. “But it is quite ironic that that happened.”

Rice said the federal criminal charges that will be filed depend on where the investigation goes, that weapons of mass destruction charges are possible.

Bixby police spokeswoman Many Vavrinak said the explosion was located near an “affluent suburban community” where this kind of event is not common.

“We do not have a lot of incidents where the FBI has to come investigate,” she said.

From Courthouse News.

Texan, on the Lam, Indicted on Vote Fraud Charge

July 11, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) — Texas officials are looking for a man who was indicted Monday on a charge of voter fraud in West Dallas, where a judge ordered hundreds of absentee ballots sequestered during local runoff elections in June.

A Dallas County grand jury indicted Miguel Hernandez, 27, with second-degree felony illegal voting. The indictment claims he knowingly marked a woman’s ballot without her consent in April.

Hernandez faces up to 20 years in state prison if convicted.

Prosecutor Andy Chatham – a former state district judge – said Monday the woman handed Hernandez a blank ballot after he offered to deliver it to elections officials on her behalf, and that it was submitted with her forged signature and the name of a Dallas City Council candidate.

Chatham told The Dallas Morning News the woman was able to pick Hernandez out of a lineup. Other residents have claimed a Hispanic man had knocked on their doors asking for their absentee ballots.

Chatham did not say if there are other people of interest in the investigation. He told the newspaper: “It’s all centered on getting Hernandez.”

Hernandez is “on the lam,” the Morning News reported Monday.

“I urge him to turn himself in, because things can go a lot better if he can provide assistance in this ongoing investigation,” Chatham said. “We are continuing to research and investigate whether this is a widespread problem or an isolated incident.”

Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson began the investigation in May after several elderly voters in West Dallas complained about receiving absentee ballots in the mail they did not request. Others complained they were unable to vote on Election Day as someone apparently had mailed in absentee votes in their names. Attorney General Ken Paxton then joined the investigation, saying it was to “solidify” public trust in elections.

Prosecutors asked state District Judge Carl Ginsberg to order the sequester of absentee ballots in the June 10 runoff election for cities and schools, resulting in election night results being delayed as the votes were not initially included in vote tallies.

From Courthouse News.