Former Deputy Charged in Flashbang Raid that Nearly Killed Toddler

Originally published on July 23, 2015, at NationofChange.org

The former Habersham County sheriff’s deputy responsible for the botched drug raid that nearly killed an 18-month-old toddler was indicted by a federal grand jury on Wednesday for providing false evidence to obtain a “no-knock” search warrant. Instead of following procedures, former deputy Nikki Autry allegedly cut corners and provided false information, which resulted in a SWAT team raiding an innocent family’s house and tossing a flashbang grenade into the face of their young child. Although the county initially refused to pay the toddler’s medical expenses, officials eventually reached a settlement with the family after evidence emerged of Autry’s lies and the SWAT team’s negligence.

On the evening of May 27, 2014, Deputy Autry, who was also an agent of the Mountain Judicial Circuit’s drug unit, presented an affidavit to Judge James Butterworth falsely swearing that a trusted informant had recently purchased methamphetamine from a residence in Cornelia, Georgia. According to the indictment, Autry had used an unofficial and unreliable informant who never actually entered the residence or purchased any drugs from anyone inside the house. Based on Autry’s false information, Judge Butterworth issued a “no-knock” search warrant for the residence and an arrest warrant for the alleged drug dealer, Wanis Thonetheva.

After catching him stealing several valuables from her, Thonetheva’s mother had kicked him out of her house months earlier. When a fire destroyed her brother’s house in Wisconsin, she invited her brother, Bounkham Phonesavanh, his wife, Alecia, and their four young children to temporarily move in with her. Six weeks later, they found a new house in Wisconsin and were planning to return home when a SWAT team raided their bedroom in the middle of the night.

Around 2 a.m. on May 28, the SWAT team broke down their door as Habersham Deputy Charles Long threw a flashbang grenade into their bedroom. The grenade landed in the crib of 18-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh Jr., blowing a hole through his chest and leaving third-degree burns along his face and torso. After slamming her husband to the floor, deputies ordered Alecia to sit down and shut up as she asked to hold her screaming child.

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Revised Dash Cam Video Shows Arrest of Alleged Suicide Victim

Originally published on July 23, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Pulled over for making a lane change without signaling, Sandra Bland was forcibly removed from her car and arrested because she refused to put out her cigarette. Three days later, Bland was found dead inside her jail cell hanging from a metal hook. On Tuesday, Texas officials released the dash cam video of Bland’s arrest, but some of the footage appeared to be edited and missing. To dispel any speculation that the video had been doctored, the Texas Department of Public Safety recently released the dash cam footage in its entirety.

Around 4:30 p.m. on July 10, Sandra Bland was driving through Waller County, Texas, when Officer Brian Encinia pulled her over for failing to signal during a lane change. After giving her driver’s license and insurance card to Officer Encinia, Bland remained in her vehicle while Encinia spent several minutes in his patrol car running a background check on her. After exiting his patrol car, Encinia approached Bland’s vehicle and began writing out a warning.

According to the dash cam footage, Encinia immediately observes that Bland is irritated. Bland explains that she doesn’t understand why Encinia is giving her a ticket for getting out of his way when he was speeding up behind her. When Encinia asks Bland to put out her cigarette, she responds, “I’m in my car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette?”

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Washington Post Reporter Remains Held in Iranian Prison for a Year

Originally published on July 22, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Arrested one year ago on espionage and propaganda charges, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian remains imprisoned as his trial continues in a closed Iranian court. An infamous judge known for committing human rights abuses presides over his trial and has only permitted Rezaian to consult with his defense attorney once since his arrest. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sent a letter on Monday to the head of the Iranian judiciary requesting the immediate release of Rezaian, while the U.S. State Department has called for the release of Rezaian and three other Americans detained in Iran.

Born and raised in Marin County, California, Rezaian worked as a journalist in San Francisco before moving to Iran and later becoming The Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent in 2012. On the evening of July 22, 2014, Iranian government security forces raided Rezaian’s home in Tehran and arrested the Washington Post bureau chief and his wife, who was also a journalist. After two and a half months in prison, Rezaian’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, was released on bail on October 6, 2014, but is prohibited from discussing the case against her husband and barred from leaving the country.

Charged with espionage, collaborating with hostile governments, propaganda against the establishment, and allegations that he gathered information about internal and foreign policy, Rezaian remains in custody at Evin Prison, a detention center in Tehran known for housing intellectuals and political prisoners. Initially denied access to his blood pressure medication and held in solitary confinement for several months, Rezaian’s mental and physical health continues to deteriorate while enduring frequent interrogations and psychological abuse. According to his family, Iranian officials have taunted Rezaian with the possibility of freedom but have repeatedly taken it away from him.

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Corrupt Congressman Sentenced to 8 Months in Prison

UNITED STATES - JULY 19: Candidate Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., July 19, 2010. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call via Getty Images)

Originally published on July 18, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Former FBI agent and New York Congressman, Michael Grimm, was sentenced on Friday to eight months in prison after pleading guilty to tax fraud. In connection with his guilty plea, Grimm also admitted to exploiting immigrant workers, underreporting wages, and repeatedly lying under oath. Although he had been elected to a third term, Grimm resigned from Congress earlier this year to avoid an investigation by the House Committee on Ethics.

“Former Congressman Grimm made a conscious decision to break the law and benefit personally by underreporting $900,000 in restaurant gross receipts and lowering payroll taxes through ‘off-the-book’ payments, then lying under oath to conceal his criminal activity,” stated IRS-Criminal Investigation Chief Richard Weber. “Tax crimes are not victimless crimes and Grimm’s actions harmed the very citizens he was elected to serve. We expect all taxpayers to follow the law—whether you are a business owner, individual, or elected official—we all must play by the same rules.”

From 2007 through 2009, Grimm owned a health food restaurant in Manhattan called Healthalicious. Overseeing daily operations, Grimm underreported earnings, hired illegal immigrants, and often paid employees in cash to avoid scrutiny. Taking advantage of their illicit legal status, Grimm paid some of his employees as little as $4.60 an hour. By underreporting the restaurant’s payroll, Grimm also managed to lower the monthly workers’ compensation premium paid to the New York State Insurance Fund.

On December 1, 2011, two former Healthalicious deliverymen filed a lawsuit against Grimm and the restaurant. They asserted Grimm had paid them less than minimum wage, refused to pay them for working overtime, and usually paid them in cash in order to cheat taxes. In January 2012, the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board ordered Healthalicious to pay $88,000 for not carrying workers’ comp insurance.

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Judge Releases Videos of Police Shooting Unarmed Men

Originally published on July 16, 2015, at NationofChange.org

After remaining sealed for over two years, the videos of police officers shooting two unarmed innocent men were released to the public by a U.S. district judge on Tuesday. Although several law enforcement organizations fought to keep the footage suppressed, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson decided to release the videos in favor of the public’s interest. After watching the videos, the families of the victims have called on the Department of Justice to investigate the Gardena Police Department.

At 2:30 a.m. on June 2, 2013, Sgt. Christopher Cuff responded to a 911 call regarding a possible robbery. Although the caller had simply reported a stolen bicycle, the dispatcher misinterpreted the theft report as a robbery with unknown weapons involved. Observing two men riding in front of a Carrows restaurant, Sgt. Cuff mistook them as thieves and ordered them to stop.

After encountering the police sergeant, Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez and Garcia Jose Amado put their hands in the air while attempting to explain to the officer that they were helping their friend look for his stolen bike. Although Sgt. Cuff had been wearing his audio recorder at the time, he did not turn it on because he later claimed that activating the device would have distracted him.

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NYPD Cop Arrested on Federal Drug Charges

2/4/13 The trial of Lamont Pride and Michael Velez continued today for the murder of police officer Peter Figoski. Here, NYPD logos from cop uniforms who attended the trial today. (pictured) 320 Jay Street, Brooklyn Supreme Court, Brooklyn, NY. Please credit Gregory P. Mango.

Originally published on July 15, 2015, at NationofChange.org

An NYPD officer was arrested on Monday for allegedly supplying oxycodone to a drug dealer in Vermont for three years. The officer’s accomplice hid the pills inside bags of Skittles that he mailed to the drug dealer’s infant niece to avoid detection. Unbeknownst to the officer and his accomplice, the drug dealer had secretly been cooperating with the DEA.

According to the multi-count indictment, NYPD Officer Andre Clarke began illegally supplying his accomplice, Michael Foreste, with oxycodone pills in 2011. Instead of operating directly with the drug dealer in Vermont, Officer Clarke reportedly supplied the opiate painkillers to Foreste, who personally brought the pills to Dannis Hackney of Burlington, Vermont. Foreste also sent the pills through the U.S. Mail by hiding them inside bags of Skittles addressed to Hackney’s infant niece.

On supervised release for a December 2008 federal drug conviction, Dannis Hackney began secretly working for the DEA while Foreste continued personally delivering and mailing oxycodone pills concealed inside resealed Skittles bags to Hackney’s two-month-old niece. During a traffic stop in Vermont two years ago, officers found 650 oxycodone pills hidden inside Foreste’s boxer shorts. Convicted of possession with intent to distribute, Foreste was sentenced in December 2013 to one year and one day in federal prison but remained free pending his appeal.

On May 16, 2014, Hackney was arrested with 300 oxycodone pills in his possession. Hackney agreed to cooperate with law enforcement officials but neglected to inform them about the drug packages to his niece. On June 10, 2014, DEA agents obtained a search warrant to seize a package addressed to Hackney’s infant niece. Inside the package, the DEA agents discovered a stuffed animal, infant’s clothing, a baby’s bib, a small purse, and two bags of Skittles candies. One of the Skittles bags contained 305 oxycodone pills.

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Doctor Sentenced to 45 Years for Providing Medically Unnecessary Chemo to Patients

Originally published on July 12, 2015, at NationofChange.org

An oncologist was sentenced to 45 years in prison on Friday after administering medically unnecessary chemotherapy to patients who did not have cancer in order to overbill their insurance. Instead of saving lives, Dr. Farid Fata purposely misdiagnosed his patients so he could order more expensive treatments and invasive tests without concern for their health. After collecting millions of dollars from fraudulent claims to Medicare and private insurance companies, Dr. Fata was finally caught when two employees uncovered his crimes and decided to become whistleblowers.

After noticing an abnormality in her blood work, Monica Flagg’s primary care physician referred her to Dr. Fata, who owned and operated a cancer treatment clinic called Michigan Hematology Oncology (MHO) with multiple locations throughout Detroit and a diagnostic testing facility, United Diagnostics PLLC. In July 2012, Dr. Fata lied to Flagg and told her that she had aggressive multiple myeloma. Flagg endured numerous tests, three painful bone marrow biopsies, and copious amounts of immune boosters before undergoing a round of chemotherapy on July 1, 2013.

On the same day of her first and only chemotherapy treatment, Flagg later tripped over a suitcase in her bedroom and broke her leg. While recuperating at the hospital, Flagg met Dr. Soe Maunglay, who was another doctor in Dr. Fata’s practice taking care of his patients while Fata was on vacation in Lebanon. Concerned for Flagg’s health and suspecting his boss of purposely misdiagnosing his patients, Dr. Maunglay conducted a series of tests to determine whether or not Flagg even had cancer.

“He told me, ‘You don’t have cancer. You are 51 years old. You’re healthy. Don’t ever go back to Dr. Fata. Find a new doctor,’” Flagg recalled.

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FBI Investigating Police Cover-Up After Officers Killed Man Holding Air Rifle

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 12: Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 12, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. Ferguson has experienced two days of violent protests since the killing but, tonight's protest was peaceful. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Originally published on July 9, 2015, at NationofChange.org

The FBI is launching an investigation into allegations that Florida deputies tampered with evidence and lied under oath after killing a man walking home with an unloaded air rifle. The Justice Department decided to look into the accusations when a photograph appeared revealing that the officer who fired the fatal shots had lied to investigators and possibly tampered with evidence to justify the shooting. Although the deputy was caught lying under oath, the sheriff blames the victim for his own death and gave the deputy a bravery award while the shooting was still under investigation.

On the afternoon of July 31, 2013, a 33-year-old computer engineer named Jermaine McBean was walking home after purchasing a Winchester Model 1000 Air Rifle from a local pawn shop. Uncertain whether McBean was balancing a real gun or a BB gun on his shoulders, three witnesses called 911 to report the incident. While driving his van down the road, Michael Russell McCarthy called 911 and informed the dispatcher that he was following a man possibly carrying a .22 caliber rifle or a pellet gun.

“He had a white plastic bag around the center of it, but the barrel was sticking out one end and the stock was sticking out the other end,” McCarthy recalled. “It was obvious it was a rifle. To be honest with you, the gun was painted camo but I wasn’t sure if it was a fake gun or a BB gun.”

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Over Two Dozen Witnesses and Suspects Mysteriously Die in Indian Cheating Scandal

In this Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo, Indians climb the wall of a building to help students appearing in an examination in Hajipur, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. Even with police presence, parents and relatives are reported to scale building walls in order to pass notes to help students cheat in their exams. (AP Photo/Press Trust of India)

Originally published on July 8, 2015, at NationofChange.org

At least two dozen suspects, whistleblowers, and witnesses linked to a $1 billion cheating scandal continue to die under mysterious circumstances. Although many high-level government officials in central India have been accused of accepting bribes, law enforcement officials have primarily been targeting students and lower officials involved in the test-rigging scam. In response to the numerous deaths and the recent demise of an Indian reporter investigating the Vyapam scandal, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has instructed the Indian government to thoroughly investigate these suspicious deaths.

Since 2007, tens of thousands of students and job applicants in the central state of Madhya Pradesh have paid large bribes to manipulate their test results for entrance into medical schools and government positions. Students reportedly paid bribes between $15,000 and $40,000 for admission to medical schools because they could not pass the exams. While investigating complaints of imposters taking entrance exams for various medical schools, police in the city of Indore discovered multiple tests being rigged including recruitment exams for food inspectors, forest rangers, medical officers, police officers, and teachers.

After whistleblowers tipped them off, Indore Police raided a test center and arrested eight imposters taking a medical school entrance exam in July 2013. High-scoring students equipped with fake IDs were paid to impersonate applicants with lower scores. Many test proctors were bribed to allow applicants to sit next to the imposters so they could easily cheat off them. Other applicants left their answer sheets blank so bribed scorers could fill out their exams later with the correct answers.

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24th Correctional Officer Sentenced to Prison in Jail Racketeering Conspiracy

Originally published on July 2, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Caught participating in a racketeering conspiracy involving drug smuggling, assault, and money laundering, 24 correctional officers have been convicted for colluding with the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) gang in the Baltimore City Detention Center and several connected facilities. Altogether 40 correctional officers and BGF gang members or associates have been convicted for their participation in the wide-ranging conspiracy. On Wednesday, former correctional officer Ashley Newton was sentenced to 51 months in prison for smuggling contraband, money laundering, and allowing BGF gang members to assault other inmates.

Beginning as early as 2008, Newton began smuggling drugs and other contraband into prison for a succession of BGF leaders and had long-term sexual relationships with at least two BGF inmates, including Duron “Pinky” Young. On a daily basis, Newton smuggled prescription pills, marijuana, and tobacco for Young in exchange for payments, gifts, or a share of the profits. Newton also opened inmates’ cell doors to allow BGF members to assault other prisoners.

On May 19, 2011, Newton unlocked a door allowing a large number of BGF inmates to attack and repeatedly stab a prisoner. After Young targeted another inmate for selling contraband without his permission in 2012, Newton opened the door of the inmate’s section to permit Young and another BGF member to assault the inmate. Newton warned the BGF of upcoming prison searches by correctional officers and arranged for money to be sent to BGF inmates. She also facilitated phone calls between inmates, including calls from other prisons to BGF leader Tavon White.

“We’re about to go into a strange place, an upside-down world where inmates ran the prison and correctional officers took directions from the gang leader,” Prosecutor Robert Harding told jurors in his opening statements.

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