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She Was Charged With Murder After Her Baby Was Stillborn. Now California’s AG Has Stepped In.

She Was Charged With Murder After Her Baby Was Stillborn. Now California’s AG Has Stepped In.For more than nine months, five of them during a global pandemic, a 26-year-old woman named Chelsea Becker has been sitting in Kings County Jail, under a $ 2 million bail, for giving birth to a stillborn baby.Becker has been there since November, when police arrested her and prosecutors charged her with murder. The District Attorney argued that Becker’s methamphetamine addiction had caused the stillbirth, citing a 50-year-old law that civil rights advocates say was never supposed to apply to pregnant women. It has put Becker at the heart of a national debate over criminalizing fetal death. On Friday, however, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra intervened. In an amicus brief to end the case against Becker, Becerra argued the prosecution’s legal interpretation would lead to “absurd—and constitutionally questionable—results.”“We believe the law was misapplied and misinterpreted,” Becerra said in a statement about the brief. “Our laws in California do not convict women who suffer the loss of their pregnancy, and in our filing today we are making clear that this law has been misused to the detriment of women, children, and families.” An American Surrogate Had His Baby. Then Coronavirus Hit.Back in September, Becker, then 25, was eight and a half months pregnant when she thought her water broke, only to discover it was blood. Becker’s mother called an ambulance to her home in the San Joaquin Valley, according to The Los Angeles Times. Three hours later, Becker gave birth in Adventist Health Hanford hospital to a boy with no pulse, whom she had planned to name Zachariah.Suspicious that the fetus suffered from drug exposure, hospital employees alerted the Kings County Medical Examiner’s Office, which conducted an autopsy. The exam found methamphetamine in the fetus’ system, a Times report states, that amounted to more than five times the level thought to be toxic. They ruled the case a homicide. Becker had grown up in Hanford, a working class town in Kings County, that serves as a trading hub in the agrarian San Joaquin Valley. The nearly half Hispanic town recently made headlines when 183 meatpacking workers came down with COVID-19. According to the Census Bureau, 18 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Before the pandemic, county unemployment levels hovered at 7.9 percent—they have since soared to 14.6 percent.Becker told the Times that as a teen, she spent some time living with her father in Minnesota, where she became addicted to methamphetamine. She came home to Hanford at 19, where she had two other children, both of whom were removed from her care. In early November, prosecutors charged Becker with murder, holding the mother on a $ 5 million bail, later reduced to $ 2 million. Their case hinged on an amendment, passed in 1970, to the state’s murder statute: Penal Code section 187. Earlier that year, the California Supreme Court had overturned the murder conviction of man who had assaulted his pregnant wife, causing the death of their fetus. The code, the court had concluded, only addressed the killing of “a human being,” making the man ineligible for a murder charge. In response, the legislature amended the statute to include the “unlawful killing” of a “fetus.” That was the language prosecutors seized on to charge Becker with murder.“The conduct of the defendant resulted in the death of a fetus, which is a crime in California,” said District Attorney Keith Fagundes told The Los Angeles Times. He did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on Saturday.At her arraignment, Becker pleaded not guilty, and later filed a motion calling the code’s application to a pregnant woman unconstitutional. The amendment had been made to protect victims of domestic violence, Becker’s lawyers argued, not criminalize women who miscarried, had stillbirths, or sought abortions. “Penal Code 187(b)(3) by its own plain terms,” they wrote, “precludes the prosecution of a woman for the consensual acts in which she may engage while pregnant.” Becker’s attorney, Roger Nuttall, and Becerra did not immediately return requests for comment. “Ms. Becker had experienced a stillbirth that the prosecutor claims (without scientific basis) was caused by her methamphetamine use during pregnancy,” the National Advocates for Pregnant Women wrote in a statement on Becker’s case. “Ms. Becker was charged with this crime despite the fact that §187 does not authorize, nor has it ever been interpreted to authorize prosecution of a woman in relation to her own pregnancy or any outcome of a pregnancy.”https://www.facebook.com/NationalAdvocatesforPregnantWomen/photos/a.190808107181/10157715445342182/?type=3&theaterIn the decades since 1970, California prosecutors have tried to charge women for stillbirths, but none has secured a conviction until 2018, when another woman was arrested for the same crime in the same town of Hanford.Like Becker, Adora Perez was in her late 20s and addicted to methamphetamine when she gave birth to a stillborn baby at Adventist Health. Also like Becker, hospital employees alerted the Medical Examiner’s Office when the fetus tested positive for the drug, according to reports in The Fresno Bee. Fagundes charged her with murder. Perez, however, took a plea deal. Now 32, she is serving an 11-year sentence in state prison for voluntary manslaughter—the first time in decades that a charge of this kind ended in jail time. The unprecedented charges against Becker and Perez have alarmed pregnancy advocates, medical professionals, drug policy organizations, and civil rights groups across the country. In April, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief in support of Becker. The same day, a coalition of 15 organizations, from the Drug Policy Alliance to California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, filed another.“Broadly accepted medical, public health, and scientific evidence supports the Legislature’s drafting of the statute to avoid criminalizing women with respect to their pregnancies,” the coalition wrote. “Pregnancy and use of controlled substances is a medical and public health issue, not an issue that should be subject to state intervention and control.”Attempts to criminalize pregnant women who suffer from addiction have backfired in the past. In 2014, Tennessee passed a wildly controversial bill, attempting to target what they called “fetal assault.” The bill allowed prosecutors to bring charges against women with drug addictions, if their fetuses were born still or disabled. It proved so polarizing that it was given a two-year trial phase and then, in 2016, deemed a failure and discontinued. “As a result of the law,” the National Advocates for Pregnant Women wrote in a statement, “women steered clear of prenatal care and drug treatment and avoided delivering their babies in hospital settings.”Nevertheless in June, the superior court denied Becker’s motion to have the case declared unconstitutional. The next month, she filed a writ of prohibition––a motion to stop the court proceedings––arguing that “a woman cannot be prosecuted for murder as a result of her own omissions or actions that might result in pregnancy loss.” In his amicus brief on her case, Becerra agreed: “The superior court erred in concluding otherwise.” “The Legislature’s purpose in adding the killing of a fetus to Penal Code section 187 was not to punish women who do not—or cannot, because of addiction or resources—follow best practices for prenatal health,” Becerra wrote. “The courts should not assume that the Legislature intended such a sweeping and invasive change to the criminal law affecting women’s lives without clear evidence of that intent. And such evidence is absent here.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.



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Chinese researcher charged with US visa fraud is in custody

Chinese researcher charged with US visa fraud is in custodyA Chinese researcher accused of concealing her ties to the Chinese military on a visa application she submitted so she could work in the U.S. was booked Friday into a Northern California jail and was expected to appear in federal court Monday. Sacramento County jail records show Juan Tang, 37, was being held on behalf of federal authorities after she was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service. The Justice Department on Thursday announced charges against Tang and three other scientists living in the U.S., saying they lied about their status as members of China’s People’s Liberation Army.



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Minneapolis police officers condemn former colleague Derek Chauvin charged with killing George Floyd in open letter

Minneapolis police officers condemn former colleague Derek Chauvin charged with killing George Floyd in open letterMore than a dozen members of the Minneapolis police department have condemned their former colleague Derek Chauvin in an open letter on the death of George Floyd.Fourteen officers signed the letter on Thursday which is addressed to “everyone — but especially Minneapolis citizens”, following the killing of Floyd on 25 May.



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Man charged in slaying of retired St. Louis police captain

Man charged in slaying of retired St. Louis police captainStephan Cannon was being held without bond on a first-degree murder charge in the death of David Dorn, 77, who was killed Tuesday on the sidewalk outside Lee’s Pawn and Jewelry. Dorn’s death came on a violent night in St. Louis, where four officers were shot, officers were pelted with rocks and fireworks, and 55 businesses were burglarized or damaged, including a convenience store that burned. The unrest came as cities across the U.S. have seen protests and violence since George Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after the handcuffed black man stopped moving and pleading for air.



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Buffalo Cops Who Shoved Elderly Man Charged With Second-Degree Assault

Buffalo Cops Who Shoved Elderly Man Charged With Second-Degree AssaultTwo Buffalo cops were arraigned on Saturday on one count each of assault in the second degree, after they allegedly shoved a 75-year-old demonstrator during anti-police brutality protests. Martin Gugino, a longtime peace activist in the upstate New York city, hit his head on the pavement and was left on the ground as blood pooled around his head on Thursday evening. He remained in hospital in a serious but stable condition on Saturday.Initially, city officials claimed Gugino had tripped and fell. However, a video surfaced showing riot police, who were clearing Niagara Square at the time, clearly pushing Gugino over and walking by his motionless body. The video had been viewed 78 million times by Saturday.When the two officers, Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, were suspended without pay on Friday, all 57 officers in the department’s Emergency Response Team quit the elite unit in protest. Hundreds of Buffalo police officers showed up to the courthouse to back the pair on Saturday, after the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association reportedly circulated text messages drumming up support. Police and other supporters reportedly cheered when one of the officers exited the courthouse.Some supporters wore “We Back The Blue” t-shirts and held up umbrellas to block news cameras attempting to show the pro-police protesters. Torgalski, 39, and McCabe, 32, both pleaded not guilty to a class D felony and were both released on recognizance after brief virtual appearances in Buffalo City Court.Shortly after, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said in a press conference that the two officers “crossed the line” and “violated the law.” He cited a New York State law which says if a victim is 65 or older, and is assaulted by someone at least 10 years younger, a felony can be charged.Flynn added that the officers could have arrested Gugino if he was committing a crime. “You arrest him. You don’t take a baton and shove him, along with the officer next to him… You properly arrest him, if he was committing a crime.”The Terrifying History of Bad Cops in BuffaloHe denied any suggestions of unfairly targeting police, pointing out that his office had prosecuted 39 “protesters that became agitators” as well.The city’s black mayor, though, stood by the police officers, saying he had not asked for them to be fired, and it was very important that they “know they are getting due process.”Byron Brown also argued that the 75-year-old man was an “agitator” who had been asked to leave previously. “What we were informed of is that that individual was an agitator,” Brown said. “He was trying to spark up the crowd of people. Those people were there into the darkness. Our concern is when it gets dark, there is a potential for violence.”John Evans, president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, said the officers were following orders to clear the square of all people, regardless of age. “They were simply doing their job. I don’t know how much contact was made. He did slip in my estimation. He fell backwards,” he told The Buffalo News on Friday.However, Erie County Executive Marc Poloncarz said Friday he was “exceptionally disappointed” by the mass resignation. “It indicates to me that they did not see anything wrong with the actions last night,” he said at a press conference.Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the video made him nauseous and he supported a criminal investigation by the Erie County District Attorney.“What we saw was horrendous, disgusting and, I believe, illegal,” Cuomo, a former attorney general, said Saturday.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.



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Sheriff’s Deputy Charged After Leading Armed Mob to Home of Black Teen: DA

Sheriff’s Deputy Charged After Leading Armed Mob to Home of Black Teen: DAA white sheriff’s deputy in North Carolina is facing criminal charges after allegedly leading an armed mob to the home of a black teenager and trying to force their way inside as part of a botched vigilante mission.New Hanover & Pender County District Attorney Ben David on Friday announced the charges against Jordan Kita, a New Hanover Sheriff’s Office detention officer accused of wearing his uniform while leading the group of people—one of whom was allegedly packing an AR-15—to confront a high school student at his home. Kita has since been fired from the sheriff's office. The teenager, Dameon Shepard, was playing video games late one evening when the group of men arrived at his door, demanding to know the whereabouts of a 15-year-old girl named Lekayda Kempisty who had been reported missing. Three in the group were said to be armed, carrying a shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle, and a handgun. Kita wore his New Hanover County Sheriff’s deputy uniform and gun, though he had not come to Shepard’s house on official business. The group said they were going to enter the house and question him, the Port City Daily reports. But in addition to having no legal authority to question or detain Shepard, they also had the wrong guy. The mob was in search of a man whose first name was Josiah. Josiah had reportedly previously lived in the neighborhood, but the only thing he apparently had in common with Shepard was being African-American in the predominantly white neighborhood. The armed group reportedly did not believe Shepard when he told them he wasn't who they were looking for. “There’s one in a police uniform, and he speaks to me first,” Shepard told the Port City Daily. “He says, ‘We’re looking for a missing girl. We were given this address, we were given your name, and we were told that she’s here. So we’re going to enter,’” Shepard was quoted as saying. He said he told the group they could not come inside and tried to shut the door, but Kita planted his foot so the door could not close. According to a letter from the Shepards’ attorney, James Lea, “Dameon became very frightened and hysterical, and kept repeating that his name was Dameon and that he attended Laney High School.”Shepard’s mother, awoken by the confrontation, then came to the front door. “The crowd was angry, and I still did not know what was going on,” Monica Shepard told the Port City Daily. “[Kita] kept saying, ‘I’m going to step inside, close the door, and talk to you,’ and I said, ‘No, you’re not.’”She told the vigilantes that her son was not named Josiah. Kita is said to have insisted he be allowed inside, but the mob eventually left. The missing girl, who had run away from home, was located later that evening.“The whole time, I was worried the worst would happen,” said Monica Shepard. “I’m still in shock. I don’t sleep well.” When Pender County sheriff’s deputies arrived later that night to investigate, they made no arrests and, according to Lea, took no names. Monica Shepard said, “Coming to the door like that with a mob of people with guns, what do we expect? What were their intentions? What if he was the person they were looking for or what if I was not home? What would’ve happened? I don’t want to have that conversation. I don’t want him to be a statistic. It’s scary.”Dameon and his mother Monica plan to file a civil lawsuit, according to their attorney. Lea called the sheriff’s department’s conduct an “outrageous and egregious violation.” “We obviously cannot have armed groups of citizens patrolling the streets of Pender County or New Hanover County terrorizing innocent families,” the lawyer wrote.Kita has been fired from the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, and the office is conducting an internal affairs investigation, The News & Observer reports. He’s charged with breaking and entering, forcible trespassing, and failure to discharge duties. A second man, Austin Wood, is charged with “going armed to the terror of the public.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.



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