October 20, 2020

Lawyers enlisted to identify migrant families separated at the U.S. southern border during the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy said in a court filing on Tuesday they have not yet tracked down the parents of 545 children, and about two-thirds of those parents have been deported to Central America without their kids, NBC News reports.

The policy of separating migrant children from their parents went into effect in 2018, but under a pilot program that launched in 2017, more than 1,000 families were separated. A federal judge in California set up a "steering committee" of advocacy groups and law firms and told them to find the parents separated from their children in 2017. They have been able to contact the parents of more than 550 children, NBC News reports, and believe 25 more parents may be able to come back to the United States for reunification.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, told NBC News that some parents have been contacted but are worried for their child's safety in their home countries, and want them to remain in the United States. "People ask when we will find all of these families and, sadly, I can't give an answer," Gelernt said. "I just don't know. But we will not stop looking until we have found every one of the families, no matter how long it takes. The tragic reality is that hundreds of parents were deported to Central America without their children, who remain here with foster families or distant relatives."

The group Justice in Motion is on the ground in Mexico and Central America, trying to reach the affected families. "It's an arduous and time-consuming process on a good day," the organization said in a statement. "During the pandemic, our team of human rights defenders is taking special measures to protect their own security and safety, as well as that of the parents and their communities." Catherine Garcia

July 20, 2020

The son of a federal judge was shot and killed at their home in North Brunswick, New Jersey, on Sunday evening.

Judge Esther Salas' husband, a criminal defense attorney, was also shot, and his condition is unknown, Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone told ABC News. Salas, the first Latina to serve on the federal bench in New Jersey, was not hurt in the attack.

North Brunswick Mayor Francis "Mac" Womack is friends with Salas, and told ABC News her son, a freshman at Catholic University, died after being "shot through the heart." As a judge, Salas received "threats from time to time," Womack said, "but everyone is saying that recently there had not been any."

Law enforcement officials told ABC News it is believed that at around 5 p.m., someone dressed in a FedEx uniform arrived at the home, and authorities are now trying to determine the make of the vehicle they were driving. The FBI, New Jersey State Police, North Brunswick Police, and Middlesex County Prosecutor's office are all investigating the attack. Catherine Garcia

July 16, 2020

In 2019, close to 71,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, with 36,500 of those deaths due to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, according to preliminary numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

This is a new record, and comes after 2018 showed a slight decline in overdose deaths, The Associated Press reports. More than 30 states saw a jump in overdose deaths, with both methamphetamine and cocaine deaths rising.

Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir said in a statement the increase in overdose deaths is "a very disturbing trend," and there is "an extraordinary amount of work to do, especially now as we are also dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that could markedly affect our nation's mental health and risk of substance use."

Brendan Saloner, an addiction researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told AP that in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont — states where drug users are being taught ways to prevent overdoses and treatment is more readily available — there was a decline in overdoses. Overall, he is still concerned that the coronavirus pandemic will make a bad situation worse, since people are "feeling a lot more despair, anxiety, and rootlessness, that leads to more problematic drug use and more risk of overdose." Catherine Garcia

June 3, 2020

David Dorn, a 77-year-old retired police captain, was shot and killed by looters early Tuesday in St. Louis, with the shooting broadcast on Facebook Live.

Dorn died on the sidewalk outside of Lee's Pawn & Jewelry after being shot in the torso. His wife, Ann Marie Dorn, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the pawn shop was owned by one of her husband's friends, and he would go down to the store when its burglar alarms would go off. Police said they do not have any suspects, and are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Dorn was a police officer in St. Louis for 38 years, retiring in 2007, and later served as police chief in Moline Acres. The Ethical Society of Police said he was "the type of brother that would've given his life to save them if he had to."

Facebook briefly took the shooting video down, but said in a statement it was put back up as it did not expressly violate company policy on graphic or violent content. "Under our policies, the video has been covered with a warning screen but remains on the platform so that people can raise awareness or condemn this event," a spokesperson said. One person who watched it was state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge (D), who told the Post-Dispatch he was "very traumatized." Catherine Garcia

March 2, 2020

A 5-year-old gelding named Chosen Vessel was euthanized on Saturday after suffering a fracture while racing at Santa Anita Park in Southern California, becoming the ninth horse to die since the racing season began on Dec. 26.

Chosen Vessel was running in the ninth race of the Santa Anita Breeders Cup when he was injured. Veterinarians determined there was no way to help him, and he was euthanized, the park said on its website.

Since December 2018, at least 45 horses have died at Santa Anita Park. Last spring, racing was suspended so the park could test and evaluate its tracks. New safety measures were enacted in June, including giving independent veterinarians the authority to stop horses from racing if they are at a higher risk of being injured. At this time last year, 19 horses had died at the park, and Santa Anita's owner, the Stromach Group, said the decline in numbers in 2020 shows the new safety rules are working.

Animal rights activists have been calling on the state to end horse racing in California, citing the deaths at Santa Anita as just one reason why it should be banned. Catherine Garcia

July 9, 2019

Dozens of migrant children held at a border station in Yuma, Arizona, have shared with government case managers incidents of misconduct at the facility, including sexual assault and retaliation after kids spoke out against poor conditions, NBC News reports.

In one report obtained by NBC News, a 15-year-old girl from Honduras said during a pat down, a Customs and Border Protection agent groped her as he put his hands inside her bra and pulled down her underwear. He did this publicly, the girl said, and she felt "embarrassed as the officer was speaking in English to other officers and laughing."

A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy said after he complained about the taste of the water and food being served, agents took the mats out of his cell, and everyone was forced to sleep on the concrete floor. Another teenager, a 17-year-old boy from Guatemala, said kids would often get scolded for standing too close to a window, and agents would call them offensive names in Spanish.

The children also said they were not offered showers, the lights were on all the time and they never knew what time it was, and dinnertime was 9 p.m.; one girl said she would go to bed hungry because she fell asleep before food was served. Under the law, migrant children cannot be held at border stations for more than 72 hours, but all of the kids were in Yuma for longer than that, NBC News reports. A Customs and Border Protection spokesman told NBC News the "allegations do not align with common practice at our facilities and will be fully investigated," and the sexual assault accusation "is under investigation." Catherine Garcia

June 17, 2019

The cousin of a man shot and killed by an off-duty police officer in a Corona, California, Costco described him as being a "gentle giant" who was nonverbal and had an intellectual disability.

Kenneth French, 32, was fatally shot Friday night by an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer, the Corona Police Department said. Authorities say that while holding his child, the officer was suddenly attacked; he fired his weapon, hitting French and two of French's relatives.

French's cousin, Rick Shureih, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that French "has always been very cooperative and kept to himself." Shureih said French's parents, Russell and Paola French, were hit during the shooting, and both have been hospitalized in intensive care, with Paola in a coma. The officer, whose name has not been released, sustained minor injuries, the LAPD said.

Police have not released any additional information on what occurred before the shooting, but Shureih told the Times that his cousin was no longer able to speak, and "it could have been that he bumped into somebody but couldn't communicate the fact that he was sorry." Shureih is asking that witnesses come forward and Costco release surveillance tapes. "These are things we need to pursue to make sure justice is done," he said. Catherine Garcia

June 29, 2018

Prisons in the U.S. are often used as recruiting grounds for sex traffickers, an investigation by The Guardian found Friday.

Traffickers and pimps target incarcerated women by posting their bail, making the women indebted to them, or by financially supporting them through their time in prison, often creating an obligation of loyalty. Inmates' personal information is posted publicly online, and anyone can send money to any inmate. For vulnerable women who have no other place to turn, the recruiting pushes them into sex work, the investigation found.

To identify victims, traffickers sometimes employ women who are also in prison, who scout potential inmates who could be groomed and recruited. Women recall receiving letters from pimps who woo them with promises of financial and emotional security upon release, and describe feeling like there was no choice but to go along with the trafficker at the end of their sentence.

"[The pimps] bail you out and when you walk out of jail that's it, you owe them," one trafficking survivor told The Guardian. "You'll do anything not to go back to jail, and so you go out and you have to work it off — and more than likely, you're then never getting away from this man. He's got you now." Many women say that they were arrested for crimes they committed while under the control of a trafficker, further entrenching the cycle.

"Some of the most vulnerable, high-risk individuals in our society," says Nicole Bell, a trafficking survivor and anti-trafficking advocate, "are just trapped in a continuous loop of abuse and exploitation." Read more at The Guardian. Summer Meza

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