For Immediate Release
Press Contact: Herb Mintz
Photos and Interviews: Steve Zeltzer
To view or participate, a Zoom registration is required.
After registration, participants will receive a Zoom invitation. Events are subject to change or cancellation due to COVID-19 related issues. Check our website at laborfest.net prior to each event or for a calendar of all events.
LaborFest is the premier labor cultural arts and film festival in the United States. LaborFest recognizes the role of working people in the building of America and making it work even in this time of COVID-19. The festival is self-funded with contributions from unions and other organizations that support and celebrate the contributions of working people.
Sincere Greetings of Peace:
The “In the Spirit of Mandela Coalition*” invites your participation and endorsement of the planned October 2021 International Tribunal. The Tribunal will be charging the United States government, its states, and specific agencies with human and civil rights violations against Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.
The Tribunal will be charging human and civil rights violations for:
• Racist police killings of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people,
• Hyper incarcerations of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people
• Political incarceration of Civil Rights/National Liberation era revolutionaries and activists, as well as present day activists,
• Environmental racism and its impact on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people,
• Public Health racism and disparities and its impact on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, and
• Genocide of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people as a result of the historic and systemic charges of all the above.
The legal aspects of the Tribunal will be led by Attorney Nkechi Taifa along with a powerful team of seasoned attorneys from all the above fields. Thirteen jurists, some with international stature, will preside over the 3 days of testimonies. Testimonies will be elicited form impacted victims, expert witnesses, and attorneys with firsthand knowledge of specific incidences raised in the charges/indictment.
The 2021 International Tribunal has a unique set of outcomes and an opportunity to organize on a mass level across many social justice arenas. Upon the verdict, the results of the Tribunal will:
• Codify and publish the content and results of the Tribunal to be offered in High Schools and University curriculums,
• Provide organized, accurate information for reparation initiatives and community and human rights work,
• Strengthen the demand to free all Political Prisoners and establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission mechanism to lead to their freedom,
• Provide the foundation for civil action in federal and state courts across the United States,
• Present a stronger case, building upon previous and respected human rights initiatives, on the international stage,
• Establish a healthy and viable massive national network of community organizations, activists, clergy, academics, and lawyers concerned with challenging human rights abuses on all levels and enhancing the quality of life for all people, and
• Establish the foundation to build a “Peoples’ Senate” representative of all 50 states, Indigenous Tribes, and major religions.
Endorsements are $25. Your endorsement will add to the volume of support and input vital to ensuring the success of these outcomes moving forward, and to the Tribunal itself. It will be transparently used to immediately move forward with the Tribunal outcomes.
We encourage you to add your name and organization to attend the monthly Tribunal updates and to sign on to one of the Tribunal Committees. (3rd Saturday of each month from 12 noon to 2 PM eastern time). Submit your name by emailing: email@example.com
Please endorse now: http://spiritofmandela.org/endorse/
Dr. A’isha Mohammad
– Coordinating Committee
Created in 2018, In the Spirit of Mandela Coalition is a growing grouping of organizers, academics, clergy, attorneys, and organizations committed to working together against the systemic, historic, and ongoing human rights violations and abuses committed by the USA against Black, Brown, and Indigenous People. The Coalition recognizes and affirms the rich history of diverse and militant freedom fighters Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Graca Machel Mandela, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and many more. It is in their Spirit and affirming their legacy that we work.
HIROSHIMA APPEAL OF 2021
Stop ongoing drive for nuclear war and constitutional revision!
Appeal for endorsement for and participation in August 6 Hiroshima Grand Action on the 76th Anniversary of Atomic Bombing on Hiroshima!
No to ongoing preparation for nuclear attack and aggressive war on China!
We are facing an impending nuclear war in 2021, 76 years after the Atomic Bombing on Hiroshima.
Japan-US Summit Talk in April has confirmed the defense of Japan with all possible abilities including nuclear weapons, and the need of buildup of Japanese own defense capabilities as well as exercise of the so-called “right of collective self-defense” in case of emergency of Taiwan.
In line with this decision, the US forces are constructing anti-China missile network in the first line of archipelago from Okinawa to Philippine, and Japan Defense Forces are dispatching intensified troops to Okinawa mainland and South Western Islands, meanwhile Japan-US joint military exercises are frequently repeated in these sea areas.
We are firmly opposed to the ongoing drive for nuclear war on China, Japanese participation in it and constitutional revision to legitimate all these schemes of war.
Let’s stand up for independent action to open up a brilliant future of our own!
While a large number of people are losing their lives, being deprived of necessary medical treatment, the Suga administration is putting all priority on carrying out the Tokyo Olympic Games in shameless disregard of devastating medical collapse. Anger of Japanese people is boiling up against his politics for the profit of 1% “wealthy capitalists’ class” with ignoring 99% people suffering under the concentration of accumulated contradictions of the
capitalist society in its deepening crisis.
Enough is enough, a society in which people are squeezed, scrapped and thrown on the street to die!
What we urgently need now is to stand up for independent action to open up a future for us 99% people. In recent years we have witnessed encouraging examples of struggles: The longtime struggles by the people exposed to the “black rain” (contaminated rain just after the atomic bombing on Hiroshima) has won the suit recognizing the health disorders due to internal exposure to radiation; the conclusion of the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty has been achieved as a result of the efforts of the victims of atomic bombing and nuclear casualties of the world; nationwide struggle has been developed headed by Fukushima people against the concealment of nuclear exposure, emission of contaminated water and all the governmental nuclear policy; Hiroshima struggle against war and nuke has been tenaciously continued. All these struggles have been organized under the active initiative of atomic bomb victims, labor unions, peace organizations, students and young people themselves.
We call on you to join us in Hiroshima in solidarity with the world-wide independent struggles of the people, such as in Myanmar, Hongkong and elsewhere for the future of 99% people of the world!
Raise our voice against war and nuke on August 6th!
In line with the move to constitutional revision by the Abe and Suga administrations, a continuous attempt has been made to suppress demonstrations on the Hiroshima Day with an aim of crushing the fighting history on August 6th. Resisting this reactionary trend, represented typically by the recent city assembly decision of pseudo “Peace Promotion Law”, which in its essence intends to prohibit the rally and demo as disturbances of the August 6th commemoration ceremony, victims of the atomic bombing and many people have expressed their firm opposition, headed by Mr Mimaki, acting director of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations of Hiroshima, who warns that this repressive measure brings us back to the political situation in Japan at the time of the atomic bombing, when people was silenced by the war-time brutal regulation of freedom of speech.
The Hiroshima municipal authority is still shamelessly intending to invite Prime Minister Suga to the August 6th ceremony in Hiroshima.
Let’s stop ongoing drive for nuclear war and constitutional revision of the Suga administration!
Down with the Suga administration by the people’s anger of August 6th of Hiroshima!
Location: Higashi Ward Community Cultural Center
Testimony by the victims of A-bombed victims
Meeting of youth and students
Lecture on the victim of the “black rain” by Professor Emeritus Megu Otaki
Assembly in front of the A bomb Dome
After silent prayer, demonstration to oppose the participation of Prime minister Suga in the ceremony (destination of the demonstration is the Head office of the Chugoku Electric Power Company)
August 6th Hiroshima Grand Assembly
At the arena of the Prefectural General Gymnasium
Demonstration in Downtown Hiroshima to Peace Memorial Park
Bus study tour: visits to monuments and old battlefield commemorating of A bombing
Start from the east gate of Hiroshima Castle, reservation needed
August 6 Hiroshima Grand Action Organizing Committee
Free Ruchell Magee
About the coalition
The Coalition to Free Ruchell Magee was founded in 2020 to support the freedom of Ruchell “Cinque” Magee. Ruchell Magee is an 82-year-old political prisoner currently incarcerated in the California Medical Facility. Ruchell has worked as a jailhouse lawyer to help prisoners fight for their freedom. The Coalition is building support to free Ruchell Magee, just like he’s helped other people win their release. Ruchell deserves to be free and spend his remaining time with his loved ones. 58 years is far too long - Free Ruchell Magee!
Support ruchell today!
Write to ruchell’s parole board
Ruchell Magee's next parole hearing is scheduled for Thursday, July 15th. That gives us 1 week to support him with as many letters of support as possible. Please take a couple of minutes to draft a letter using the guidelines below:
Write a one-page letter to Ruchell’s parole board about your support for Ruchell based on his length of confinement (over 58 years). People have committed horrendous crimes and gotten much less time than Ruchell. Mention that Ruchell was very young when he was arrested and he should be able to enjoy the rest of his life outside of captivity. Add that we as taxpayers pay to keep this elderly man incarcerated instead of in his community, where he could make a positive contribution toward community development.
Board of Parole Hearings
Post Office Box 4036
Sacramento, CA 95812-4036
Other quick actions:
· NEW: SIGN THE PETITION to Free Ruchell Magee: https://bit.ly/freeruchell
· NEW: WRITE THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE Requesting Commutation: https://bit.ly/write4ruchell
Free ’em all!
6109 S. Western Ave. Suite #206
Los Angeles, CA 90043
We hope all is well with you.
We are happy to announce that the video recording of "No Life Like It: A A Tribute to the Revolutionary Activism of Ernie Tate" is now available for viewing on LeftStreamed
Please share the link with your comrades and friends.
All the best,
Photo from San Francisco rally and march in support of Palestine Saturday, May 15, 2021
Stand with Palestine!
Say NO to apartheid!
Join the global movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Governor's Press Office
Friday, May 28, 2021
Governor Newsom Announces Clemency Actions, Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and 8 medical reprieves. In addition, the Governor signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s case as part of the evaluation of Cooper’s application for clemency.
The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing.
The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here:
The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation or reprieve. These clemency grants recognize the applicants’ subsequent efforts in self-development or the existence of a medical exigency. They do not forgive or minimize the harm caused.
The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.
A pardon may remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation. A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction.
A commutation modifies a sentence, making an incarcerated person eligible for an earlier release or allowing them to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which Parole Commissioners determine whether the individual is suitable for release.
A reprieve allows individuals classified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community consistent with public health and public safety.
The Governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors.
While in office, Governor Newsom has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations and 28 reprieves.
The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors, and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victims and Survivors Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. For general Information about victim services, to learn about victim-offender dialogues, or to register or update a registration confidentially, please visit:
www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/ or call 1-877-256-6877 (toll free).
Copies of the gubernatorial clemency certificates announced today can be found here:
Additional information on executive clemency can be found here:
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Bezos has at least $180 Billion!
9 minutes 29 seconds
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
An early estimate points to a huge die-off along the Pacific Coast, and scientists say rivers farther inland are warming to levels that could be lethal for some kinds of salmon.
By Catrin Einhorn, July 9, 2021
Dead mussels near Suicide Bend Park in West Vancouver, British Columbia. Credit...Christopher Harley/University of British Columbia
Dead mussels and clams coated rocks in the Pacific Northwest, their shells gaping open as if they’d been boiled. Sea stars were baked to death. Sockeye salmon swam sluggishly in an overheated Idaho river, prompting wildlife officials to truck them to cooler areas.
The combination of extraordinary heat and drought that hit the Western United States and Canada over the past two weeks has killed hundreds of millions of marine animals and continues to threaten untold species in freshwater, according to a preliminary estimate and interviews with scientists.
“It just feels like one of those postapocalyptic movies,” said Christopher Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia who studies the effects of climate change on coastal marine ecosystems. Dr. Harley calculated the death toll based on how many mussels live on a particular shoreline, how much of the area is good habitat for mussels and what fraction of the mussels he observed died. He continues to study the damage and plans to publish a series of papers.
Such extreme conditions will become more frequent and intense, scientists say, as climate change, driven by humans burning fossil fuels, wreaks havoc on animals and humans alike. Hundreds of people died last week when the heat wave parked over the Pacific Northwest. A study by an international team of climate researchers found it would have been virtually impossible for such extremes to occur without global warming.
Just before the heat wave, when Dr. Harley took in the eye-popping weather forecasts, he thought about how low the tide would be at midday, baking the exposed mussels, sea stars and barnacles. When he walked to the beach last week on one of the hottest days, the smell of decay hit him immediately. The scientist in him was excited, he admitted, to see the real-life effect of something he’d been studying for so long.
But his mood quickly changed.
“The more I walked and the more I saw, the more sobering it all became,” Dr. Harley said. “It just went on and on and on.”
The dead sea stars, usually the most eye-catching creatures in tidal pools, hit him particularly hard. But the obvious mass victims were blue mussels, an ecologically important species that feeds sea stars and sea ducks and creates habitat for other animals. Dr. Harley estimated losses for the mussels alone in the hundreds of millions. Factoring in the smaller creatures that live in the mussel beds — barnacles, hermit crabs and other crustaceans, various worms, tiny sea cucumbers — puts the deaths at easily over a billion, he said.
Scientists have only begun to consider the domino effects. One concern is that the sea ducks, which feast on mussels in the winter before migrating to their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic, will have enough food to survive the journey.
“It’s at least something that we’re starting to think about,” he said.
Species that live in intertidal zones are resilient, he noted, and the mussels on the shady north side of boulders seem to have survived. But if these extreme heat waves become too frequent, species won’t have time to recover.
While the heat wave over the Pacific Northwest has eased, punishing temperatures have persisted across much of the American West. Now, another heat wave appears to be building, only worsening the ongoing drought.
That means biologists are watching river temperatures with alarm. Salmon make an extraordinary migration, often hundreds of miles, from the inland rivers and lakes where they are born, out to sea, and then back again to spawn the next generation. A network of longstanding dams in western states already makes the journey perilous. Now, with climate change worsening heat waves and droughts, scientists say the conditions look grim without intense intervention, which comes with its own risks.
“We are already at critical temperatures three weeks before the most serious heating occurs,” said Don Chapman, a retired fisheries biologist who specialized in salmon and steelhead trout, talking about conditions along the Snake River in Washington, where four dams are the subject of longstanding controversy. “I think we’re headed for disaster.”
The plight of the salmon illustrates a broader danger facing all kinds of species as climate change worsens. Many animals were already struggling to survive because of human activity degrading their habitats. Throw in extreme heat and drought, and their odds of survival diminish.
As an emergency measure, workers with the Idaho Fish and Game agency have begun capturing a variety of endangered sockeye salmon at the Lower Granite dam, putting them into a truck and driving them to hatcheries as a stopgap measure to decide what to do next. (Idaho game officials first tried trucking the adult fish during a heat wave in 2015. It has been done for juvenile salmon on a variety of runs for a variety of reasons.)
In California’s central valley, Jonathan Ambrose, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said he wished he could do something similar. The chinook salmon he monitors historically spawned in the mountains. But since the Shasta Dam was built more than three quarters of a century ago, they have adapted by breeding just in front of the mammoth structure, which they cannot cross. The critical problem this year is that the water there is expected to grow too warm for the eggs and juveniles. Previous efforts to secure state or federal funding to transport them past the dam have failed.
“We’re looking at maybe 90 percent mortality, maybe even higher this year,” Mr. Ambrose said.
Elsewhere in California, for the first time since the state built the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery on the Klamath River in 1962 to make up for lost spawning habitat, state biologists will not release the young salmon they have nurtured back into the wild, because they would likely die. Instead, they are spreading a million young salmon among other area hatcheries that could host them until conditions improve.
“I want to find the positives and there are some, but it’s pretty overwhelming right now,” said Dr. Harley, the University of British Columbia marine biologist. “Because if we become too depressed or too overwhelmed, we won’t keep trying. And we need to keep trying.”
The blaze, at a seven-story building where fruit drinks, packing materials and plastic packaging were made, burned for nearly 24 hours.
By Saif Hasnat and Emily Schmall, July 9, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/09/world/asia/bangladesh-factory-fire.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
DHAKA, Bangladesh — At least 51 people died in a fire on Thursday evening at an industrial building outside the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, the latest disaster in a country with a long history of unsafe working conditions in its factories.
The authorities warned that the death toll could rise as firefighters continued to sift through the wreckage. At least 200 people were working in the building when the fire broke out, the police said.
The fire, at a seven-story building where fruit drinks and plastic packaging were made, burned for nearly 24 hours, filling the air with thick plumes of black smoke, until it was extinguished on Friday afternoon.
“We have worked so hard to control the fire,” said Dinmoni Sharma, the deputy director of the fire department in Dhaka. “Many are still missing, and we fear that there are more dead bodies. We are still working to recover them.”
It is unknown what the conditions were like inside the building, but some of Bangladesh’s biggest past disasters took place in factories where doors were chained shut to keep workers from slipping away.
Two people inside the building, in the district of Narayanganj, about 10 miles southeast of Dhaka, leapt to their deaths trying to escape the fire, officials said. Emergency workers recovered 49 additional bodies, and at least 25 people were rescued, most of them with injuries.
The police were preparing to file a case against the building’s owner, Hashem Food Limited, a division of the Sajeeb Corporation, a large Bangladeshi packaged foods conglomerate, according to the police superintendent, Jayedul Alam.
Mr. Sharma said that many missing-person reports had been filed by relatives of the factory workers, hundreds of whom gathered in front of the building overnight. Some, clutching photographs of missing relatives, protested, while others vandalized nearby shops and cars as they awaited for news of their loved ones. The police used tear gas to disperse the crowds, local media reported.
People continued to wait for news outside the building late Friday as firefighters searched the upper floors.
Some of the recovered bodies were so badly burned that identification will only be possible by DNA testing, said Gen. Sazzad Hossain, the director-general of the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense.
The district magistrate, Mostain Billah, said that an inquiry would try to determine the cause of the fire. Officials said they suspected that it started in a ground-floor storage area.
Deadly fires have plagued Bangladeshi factories, especially those in its garment industry, which accounts for about 80 percent of the country’s exports.
A large fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory killed 112 people in November 2012. Iron grills covered the factory windows, and the gate was locked. The next April, the collapse of the Rana Plaza building killed 1,134 people in the garment industry’s biggest disaster in Bangladesh.
After the Rana Plaza disaster, labor and safety standards improved in thousands of factories, with fire alarm and sprinkler systems installed and organized workforces securing slightly better working conditions and pay.
However, despite a public outcry after the tragedies, conditions in many factories have remained largely unchanged, and fires are common. The International Labor Organization said in a 2017 report that Bangladesh’s regulatory framework and inspections “had not been able to keep pace with the development of the industry.”
Between 2012 and 2019, there were more than 150 fire and other safety episodes connected to the country’s garment industry, according to the Solidarity Center, a workers’ rights organization.
A total of more than 1,300 people died in those incidents, and more than 3,800 people were injured.
July 10, 2021
Haitian officials took the extraordinary step of requesting that the United States send in troops to protect the country’s infrastructure. Fears grew that the fragile country may descend further into turmoil.
Follow live news updates about Haiti.
Here’s what you need to know:
· Colombia confirms that 13 of its former soldiers are among the assassination suspects.
· Haitian officials say they have asked for U.S. forces to stabilize the country.
· A tense return to normal: A Haitian reporter describes the mood in the streets.
· Two arrested Americans claim they were just ‘translators’ in the assassination plot, a Haitian judge says.
· Haiti urges the U.S. to impose sanctions on the people involved in killing.
· The president’s chief bodyguards will be called in for questioning next week.
· The prospect of U.S. military intervention in Haiti carries haunting echoes.
· In a video, assassins in Haiti claim to be agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
· Witnesses describe a scene of brutality where Haiti’s president lay dead.
Colombia confirms that 13 of its former soldiers are among the assassination suspects.
July 10, 2021
The police used extreme caution in moving suspects on Thursday in the assassination of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Credit...Jean Marc Herve Abelard/EPA, via Shutterstock
A clearer picture of the group that Haiti accuses of assassinating President Jovenel Moïse has emerged as officials in the Colombian defense ministry identified 13 suspects by name and said that all were former members of the Colombian military.
Two have been killed, the officials said, and the other 11 are in custody. They said some had traveled to Haiti as early as May.
In the past, some former members of the Colombian military, which receives heavy financial support and training from the U.S. military, have acted as hired guns after their service.
Colombians are attractive to those looking for military help, because they often have years of experience fighting left-wing guerrillas and drug traffickers inside their own country — and are often trained by U.S. experts.
Colombian officials condemned the attack and said they were doing everything possible to assist the Haitian government in its search for the truth. Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, the head of the national police, said that Colombian officials were investigating four businesses that they believed had recruited people for the operation.
One of the suspects, Francisco Eladio Uribe, was being investigated last year by the country’s special peace court for homicide, according to documents obtained by The New York Times. Mr. Uribe was accused of being involved in a scandal known in Colombia as “false positives,” in which hundreds of members of the military were accused of killing civilians and saying they were combat casualties in a bid to show success in the country’s long civil war.
In an interview with W Radio, a woman who identified herself as Mr. Uribe’s wife said that the two had been married for 18 years and had three children, and that he had left home one day after telling her that he had “a very good job opportunity.” She said her husband had been investigated but exonerated in the military scandal.
Colombian officials said that some of the accused had left Bogotá as early as May and flown to Panama before traveling to the Dominican Republic and then to Haiti. Others, the officials said, arrived in the Dominican Republic in early June, and then traveled to Haiti. The two countries share a Caribbean island, Hispaniola.
General Luis Fernando Navarro said that the accused people had left the military between about 2002 and 2018 and that they were involved in “mercenary activities” with “purely economic” motives.
It is not clear whether the people recruited for the operation knew the specifics of the task they were being assigned, according to John Marulanda, the head of the association for retired military officials.
Paul Angelo, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies security issues, said that Colombians had a history of being recruited into criminal tasks because they sometimes had limited options once they left the armed forces.
“Colombia is a country that for far too long had military conscription, which fell on the shoulders of the poorest men in the country,” he said. “When an economic underclass is taught how to fight and how to conduct military operations and little else, those skills don’t transfer readily to the civilian sector except in the private security realm.”
A former officer in Colombia’s army, who asked not to be identified, said that a mercenary who traveled abroad could easily be paid about $2,700 a month, compared with a military salary of about $300 a month — even for soldiers with years of combat experience.
“It’s not just Haiti, it’s Kabul, Mexico, Yemen, Emirates,” he said in a telephone interview, listing where former Colombian soldiers have gone.
Sofía Villamil and Edinson Bolaños contributed reporting.
— Julie Turkewitz and Simon Romero
Haitian officials say they have asked for U.S. forces to stabilize the country.
Haitian government officials took the extraordinary step of requesting that the United States send in troops to protect Haiti’s port, airport, gasoline reserves and other key infrastructure as the country has descended into turmoil in the wake of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse early Wednesday.
Haiti has a history of unwanted American military interventions. But fears have been growing that unrest in the streets and political turmoil after the attack could worsen what is already the country’s worst crisis in years. Haiti is plagued by political intrigue, gang violence, a public health crisis driven by the pandemic and difficulties delivering essential international aid.
The Haitian minister of elections, Mathias Pierre, said the request was made because President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken had promised to help Haiti.
A deputy State Department spokeswoman, Jalina Porter, told a news briefing on Friday that she could not confirm such a request. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said that the United States would send senior F.B.I. and homeland security officials to Port-au-Prince to determine how to assist Haiti. But a senior Biden administration official said there were no plans to provide U.S. military assistance at this time.
The Haitian authorities have said that the assassination involved “foreign” forces, and the police have identified more than two dozen people involved in the assassination of the president, including 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans.
Colombia’s president asked several of the country’s top intelligence officials and an officer from Interpol’s central office in Colombia to travel to Haiti to assist with the investigation, Colombia’s defense department said.
Mr. Pierre, Haiti’s minister of elections, said the country had already been facing a large problem with “urban terrorists” who might use the opportunity to attack key infrastructure in the country while the police are focused on their manhunt.
“The group that financed the mercenaries want to create chaos in the country,” he said. “Attacking the gas reserves and airport might be part of the plan.”
Robenson Geffrard, a reporter for Le Nouvelliste, one of the country’s leading newspapers, said a “sense of uncertainty” and the “shadow of violence” was looming over the capital, Port-au-Prince, raising fears that the situation would spiral out of control.
“In supermarkets and public markets, people are jostling” to stock up on basic goods such as rice and pasta, Mr. Geffrard said, and there are lines at stations selling propane gas, often used for cooking.
— Natalie Kitroeff, Catherine Porter and Michael Crowley
4) Who Paid for That Mansion? A Senator or the Haitian People?
Valued at $3.4 million, a Haitian senator’s Montreal villa has become a potent emblem of the growing gap between Haiti’s impoverished citizens and its wealthy political elite.
By Dan Bilefsky and Catherine Porter, July 10, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/10/world/canada/Haiti-Canada-Celestin-corruption.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=World%20News
Early morning in downtown Port-Au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, in January 2020. Credit...Damon Winter/The New York Times
Demonstrators held signs reading ”Down with the bourgeois dictatorship” during a protest against the government of President Jovenel Moïse in March in Port-au-Prince. Credit...Reuters
MONTREAL — He is one of the few lawmakers left in Haiti, a close ally of the assassinated president who has kept his seat while the country’s democratic institutions have been whittled away.
As one of only 10 remaining members in all of Haiti’s Parliament, Rony Célestin, a swaggering figure who styles himself as a self-made multimillionaire, belongs to a tiny circle of leaders with the legal authority to steer the nation out of crisis now that the president is dead.
But to many Haitians, Mr. Célestin is also a symbol of one of their biggest grievances: a ruling class that enriches itself while so many go hungry.
In recent months, as the country erupted in protest over abuse of power by the political elite, Mr. Célestin has been parrying accusations of corruption from Haitian activists over his purchase of a mansion almost 2,000 miles away in Canada.
The sprawling $3.4 million villa, with its sweeping driveway, home cinema, wine cellar and swimming pool overlooking a lake, was among the most expensive homes ever sold in one of Quebec’s most affluent neighborhoods, and the purchase set off a corruption investigation into Mr. Célestin by officials in Haiti.
The villa has become emblematic of the chasm between the gilded lifestyles of Haiti’s elite and the majority of the population, who on average earn less than $2.41 a day. Mr. Célestin’s ownership has incited outrage over capital flight — legal and illicit — that drains money from Haiti and weakens the country’s institutions.
Mr. Célestin vehemently denies any wrongdoing, describing himself as a savvy entrepreneur whose success and donations to the election campaign of the assassinated president, Jovenel Moïse, have afforded him a variety of privileges, including the ability to pay for the villa and get his wife a job at the Haitian consulate in Montreal.
“I have enough influence, if I wanted to make her an ambassador, that would happen,” he told The New York Times.
But The Times found little or no indication in Haiti of the thriving businesses that Mr. Célestin cites as the source of his great wealth. Some appear to operate on a much smaller scale than he claimed, if at all in some cases.
His lawyer declined to provide details about his businesses with the anticorruption inquiry in Haiti underway. Anger over the mansion became so pitched that some members of Montreal’s Haitian community hid in the bushes around the home in Laval, an affluent suburb, and sneaked onto the grounds, hoping to confront Mr. Célestin and his family.
“Haiti is a poor country where people are dying of hunger, and here you have rich people trying to take their money out of the country and buying mansions in cash,” said Frantz André, a leading Haitian human rights advocate in Montreal, who has led protests outside the Haitian consulate in recent months.
Because Haiti, a country of 11 million people, has so few functioning institutions, Mr. Célestin could help play a pivotal role in the nation’s future. Only 10 senators out of 30 remain in Parliament, and Mr. Célestin is one. The terms of the other 20 expired, and new elections were never called. The lower house of Parliament is entirely vacant, and the head of the nation’s highest court died of Covid-19 in June.
That leaves senators like Mr. Célestin among the few remaining elected officials in Haiti, with a powerful say in determining how the country should be led after the brazen assassination of Mr. Moïse on Wednesday.
But critics call the Senate dysfunctional. And as the country has spiraled into turmoil in recent months, members of the political elite have prospered abroad in places like the Dominican Republic, the United States and Canada, investing their money — and in some cases laundering it, the authorities say — through real estate.
Despite billions of dollars in reconstruction aid after a devastating earthquake in 2010, the country has not rebuilt, and many contend it is worse off. Armed gangs control many areas, poverty and hunger are rising and officials like Mr. Célestin have been accused of enriching themselves while failing to provide the country with even the most basic services. Transparency International, the anticorruption monitor, ranked Haiti 170th out of 180 countries for perceived levels of corruption in 2020 — tied with North Korea.
In a rare interview in late March, Mr. Célestin, 46, said he amassed his wealth in farming, importing and other legitimate businesses that earned him millions of dollars a month. He gave his wife, Marie Louisa Célestin, the money to buy the mansion in late 2020, he said, so that she and their children could enjoy the “social advantages” of living in Canada.
“I don’t have to justify myself, I’m sick of having to do it,” Mr. Célestin said.
A son of farmers who grew up in a rural area, Mr. Célestin said he began his business career by importing products in a rented truck, sometimes sleeping on the sacks of sugar and flour he was shuttling. He is now a member of the assassinated president’s Bald Head Haitian party.
“I came from nowhere, and I became who I am with no support,” he said. Referring to his critics, he added: “I don’t have to be scared of a bunch of vagabonds, bastards and criminals.”
But the traces of Mr. Célestin’s business empire on the ground in Haiti differed greatly from the image he painted.
He said he owned a giant henhouse in the Haitian city of Léogâne with 800,000 hens valued at about $60 million, but did not provide any supporting documentation. A reporter hired by The Times who visited the city could not find such a vast henhouse or anyone who had heard of it. Patrice Dumont, a senator from Léogâne, told The Times that Mr. Célestin’s project had been planned but never begun.
Mr. Célestin said he also had a radio station called Model FM, which he started in a rural region but which grew to the point that he installed it in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the capital. The station does have a small, discreet office in the suburb of Petionville, with no signs. On the two occasions when The Times visited, the office was closed, or a single person was there who could provide no information about the station — not even an advertising rate sheet.
Mr. Célestin said he also owned a gas company called PetroGaz-Haiti, but by his own description, it appeared to violate legal prohibitions against profiting from state funds. While politicians are permitted to own businesses, the Constitution forbids them from having contracts with the state, which Mr. Célestin said he had had for four years through the company.
With outrage brewing, the Haitian government’s Anti-Corruption Unit launched an investigation into the purchase of the Célestin home in Canada in February. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the national police force, said it could not disclose whether it was also investigating the transaction. But under Canadian regulations, the purchase should have raised a red flag, said Garry Clement, the former head of an R.C.M.P. unit that investigates money laundering.
As a senator, Mr. Célestin is considered a “politically exposed person” under Canadian money-laundering regulations, which means financial institutions are required to perform due diligence to determine the source of any transferred funds greater than $100,000. These rules would also apply to Mrs. Célestin as the wife of a “P.E.P.,” Mr. Clement explained.
Mr. Célestin said everything about the purchase was above board. “If I wasn’t clean, I would have had a lot of trouble with the banks in Miami,” he added, saying that he routinely transferred between $20 million and $30 million to Turkey to buy iron for what he described as one of his import businesses. “I would be scared if my money wasn’t clean.”
But Mr. Célestin and his lawyer in Montreal, Alexandre Bergevin, declined to answer follow-up questions or provide the names of his import company or his farm. His wife, a counselor at the Haitian consulate in Montreal since 2019, did not respond to a request for comment.
“I am no longer at this level, the one where my wife or I am looking for work to live,” Mr. Célestin said, emphasizing his wealth by adding that his chef in Haiti earned $4,000 a month.
Despite the investigation into Mr. Célestin in Haiti, many activists there and in Canada were skeptical that it was being conducted in earnest. One said he had asked about the case just last week and was told by officials that they were not following through.
A 2020 report by the State Department on human rights in Haiti said that despite many reports of government corruption, wrongdoers operate with impunity. The country’s Senate has never prosecuted a high-level official accused of corruption as required by the Constitution, the report said.
In 2019, Willot Joseph, a senator with the assassinated president’s party, admitted on the radio that he had accepted a $100,000 bribe from a candidate for prime minister in exchange for a “yes” vote on his nomination.
Three damning reports by the country’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes revealed in lengthy detail that much of the $2 billion lent to Haiti as part of a Venezuela-sponsored oil program, PetroCaribe, had been embezzled or wasted over eight years by a succession of Haitian governments.
Since 2008, all elected officials in Haiti have been legally required to disclose their financial assets upon taking and leaving office. But a 2019 report by the Clear Eyes Foundation, a Haitian human rights group, revealed that few had done so over the previous 10 years, and that there had been no penalties or repercussions.
Over the years, Mr. Célestin has faced multiple accusations of fraud and corruption, both in his election campaigns and in his role as a public servant.
In 2010, when he was elected to Parliament’s lower chamber, the elections were marred by allegations of corruption and fraud. Seven years later, when he won a Senate seat, his opponent said the vote had been rigged.
In 2016, Mr. Célestin was living in a mansion when it was seized by the police during a drug trafficking investigation. Mr. Célestin denied the house had links to a drug dealer and said the accusations had been concocted by political enemies.
Even before the president’s assassination this week, senior Canadian officials had expressed alarm over the deteriorating situation in Haiti and the country’s poor governance.
“We are concerned about corruption, and rising insecurity involving kidnappings,” said John Babcock, a spokesman for Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an April email. “We are very aware the population is suffering.”
Senior Canadian officials also said Canada had been strengthening legislation to combat money laundering and adding resources to fight it. A 2019 report by the State Department designated Canada a “major money laundering country,” citing weak law enforcement and gaps in its laws, putting it on a list of countries that included Afghanistan, China and Colombia.
Money laundering experts said too few banks, notaries and real estate agents were reporting suspicious activities in Canada, and that money laundering cases seldom resulted in convictions.
“People think Canada is the Boy Scout of countries, but when it comes to real estate, that is not always the case,” said Andy Yan, an adjunct professor of urban planning at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
Haiti’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked Mrs. Célestin to make herself available for questioning by the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit, said the consul general in Montreal, Fritz Dorvilier. But Haitian activists say they have little faith in the inquiry.
Pierre Espérance, executive director of the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network, has called for Mr. Célestin to reveal records documenting his assets and expenses, such as custom slips from his imports of merchandise and his tax returns.
“He must pay a lot of taxes to the state if he is earning millions of dollars a month,” Mr. Espérance said from his office in Port-au-Prince. “He must show us the proof.”
Mr. André, the Montreal-based Haitian human rights advocate, posted photographs of the home’s lavish interior on his Facebook page, urging fellow Haitians to pay the family a visit. “If you are of Haitian origin, this is your home too,” he wrote.
“I suggest you ask for the lake view,” he wrote. “Have a good stay.”
Harold Isaac contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Markendy Simon and Nasuna Stuart-Ulin from Montreal.
Record-breaking heat was expected throughout the West Coast this weekend, days after a deadly heat wave struck Oregon and Washington State.
By Sergio Olmos and Shawn Hubler, July 9, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/09/us/heat-wave-deaths.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
PORTLAND, Ore. — Western states braced for another extreme spike in temperatures this weekend after a recent heat wave in Oregon and Washington State killed nearly 200 people and endangered laborers in fields and warehouses.
Excessive heat warnings were in effect across inland California and the Southwest through the weekend, and the National Weather Service predicted that temperatures would approach an all-time high by Saturday in Las Vegas. A high of at least 130 degrees — which would be one of the highest temperatures reliably recorded on earth — was forecast for Death Valley.
In California, the agency that runs the state electrical grid asked residents on Thursday to set their thermostats at 78 degrees or higher to reduce power usage, and Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded a regional drought emergency to cover all but eight of the state’s 58 counties. He also asked Californians to cut their water consumption by 15 percent.
Three weeks into a brutal summer across much of the nation, the heat has claimed lives in the Pacific Northwest in record numbers, threatened water supplies and set the stage in the West for what is expected to be another catastrophic fire season.
In Washington, the state health department reported that extreme heat had played a role in the deaths of 78 people since late June, while Oregon’s medical examiner raised the heat-related death toll in that state to at least 116.
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The large number of deaths in a part of the country where summers historically have been temperate and heatstroke has rarely been a danger underscored both the sweep of climate change and the vulnerability of vast swaths of the population. Many of the deaths in the Pacific Northwest were among homeless people and those who were older or had medical issues.
The hazards have been particularly acute on job sites where manual labor is being done outside in the sun or in workplaces where a lack of air-conditioning has historically not been an issue.
On Friday, Oregon officials were investigating a possible heat-related workplace fatality at a Walmart warehouse.
A middle-aged man who was a trainee at Walmart’s distribution center in Hermiston, Ore., “began stumbling and having difficulty speaking” at the end of the afternoon shift on June 24, said Aaron Corvin, a spokesman for Oregon Occupational Safety and Health. The man, who has not been identified, was transferred first to a hospital and then to a medical center in Portland, where he died.
The cause of the man’s death has not yet been determined, and it could take several months to complete the investigation.
The man’s co-workers, who said he was in his 50s and had underlying health problems, said he had been with Walmart for about two weeks, earning about $18 an hour, and was working inside a hot trailer in which a fan was the only cooling mechanism. The National Weather Service reported a high that day of 97 degrees.
“We are devastated by the loss of one of our associates and are doing everything we can to support those affected,” Scott Pope, a spokesman for Walmart, said. “The details surrounding the associate’s passing are being assessed by medical professionals and OSHA. Out of an abundance of caution, we provided all information available to Oregon OSHA and are cooperating fully in their investigation.”
The distribution center, a landmark in a community of about 17,000, employs about 1,000 people and serves more than 100 Walmart stores in the Pacific Northwest. State records indicate the facility was cited by Oregon OSHA after a February 2020 inspection, but the violation — a damaged floor grating — was not deemed serious and was subsequently repaired.
For the past week, temperatures in the Pacific Northwest have dipped more toward their usual cool levels. But global warming has dramatically amplified the region’s hot spells.
On June 26, two days after the death of the Walmart employee, a farmworker on an irrigation crew collapsed and died in 104-degree heat while moving irrigation lines in a field at a plant nursery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
The following day, managers at an Amazon warehouse complex in Kent, Wash., became so concerned about the rising heat that they handed out iced scarves and scattered floor fans around the building to augment the facility’s usually sufficient climate control measures, workers told The Seattle Times.
Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon directed Oregon OSHA to adopt emergency rules before the incoming heat wave, including requirements for employers to provide workers with shade, rest time and cool water during extreme heat events. The state had been working since last year to adopt permanent heat regulations for employers, but the effort was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“No one should have to decide between their health and a paycheck,” the governor said in a statement. “I am concerned that our recent record-breaking heat wave in the Willamette Valley is a harbinger of what’s to come.”
The Entomological Society of America will no longer refer to common species of insects as “gypsy moths” and “gypsy ants,” because their names are derogatory to the Romani people.
By Sabrina Imbler, July 9, 2021
The moth Lymantria dispar. Credit...Les Gibbon/Alamy
On Wednesday, the Entomological Society of America announced it was removing “gypsy moth” and “gypsy ant” as recognized common names for two insects. For Ethel Brooks, a Romani scholar, the move is long overdue.
As a child in New Hampshire, Dr. Brooks loved watching worms and caterpillars crawl across her hand. But one particular caterpillar, the hairy larvae of the species Lymantria dispar, terrified her. The larvae would swarm and strip the leaves from a tree, leaving behind so much destruction that people sometimes called them a “plague.” But no one blamed L. dispar. Instead they blamed “gypsy moth caterpillars,” the species’ common name.
“That’s how they see us,” Dr. Brooks remembered thinking as a child. “We eat things and destroy things around us.”
Dr. Brooks, now chair of the department of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has spoken out against the use of the pejorative in fashion and college parades, she said. But Dr. Brooks never imagined the pejorative could be stricken from its use in the more staid realm of science.
“It’s hideous and super racist and it’s hurtful,” she said. “But what can you do about it?”
The move by the Entomological Society is the first time the group has removed a common name from an insect on the grounds that it is offensive to a community of people, according to representatives from the society.
“If people are feeling excluded because of what we call something, that’s not acceptable,” Michelle Smith, the society’s president, said. “We’re going to make changes to be a welcoming and inclusive society for all entomologists.”
The news of the renaming came as a welcome surprise to many in the scientific community, with some praising the decision on Twitter. “WOO!” tweeted the entomologist Kevin Liam Keegan from his handle @MothPotato.
Though each species has a unique binomial scientific name, such as Lymantria dispar, many are better known by their common names. “No one calls a house fly Musca domestica,” said Chris Stelzig, the executive director of the Entomological Society.
In the 20th century, the Entomological Society of America formally recognized a list of approved common names in an effort to standardize what many insect species were called. The society maintains a committee that reviews proposals and makes recommendations for new or revised common names.
The group was aware that the moth Lymantria dispar’s common name was derogatory, and it received its first formal request to remove the moth’s name from its list in 2020, Mr. Stelzig said. The proposal went to the common names committee, which proposed revising its policies for acceptable common names. The committee also reached out to Romani scholars including Dr. Brooks, Magda Matache and Victoria Rios to hear their thoughts.
In March, the organization’s governing board approved those policies. In June, they elected to remove the pejorative names from the moth and the ant species. “They turned the recommendation around really quickly,” Ms. Smith said.
In the intervening months, staff at the Entomological Society put together the Better Common Names Project, a task force to review and replace offensive or inappropriate insect common names. The project plans to recruit community-driven working groups to propose new names, involving people who study the insects or are from or live in the region where the insects originated, Mr. Stelzig said. The project invites anyone to submit insect common names that should be changed.
In the past few years, many scientific fields have opened up conversations about renaming species with offensive common or scientific names, or even whole publications. In 2020, a scientific journal changed its name from Copeia — a name derived from the racist scientist Edward Cope — to Ichthyology and Herpetology. In 2020, a naming committee of the American Ornithological Society removed the name of a Confederate general from a bird, a proposal the committee initially rejected the year before.
Bird Names for Birds, a campaign to remove all eponymous names — such as Bachman’s sparrow, which is named after a white man who enslaved people — submitted a letter to the American Ornithological Society with more than 2,500 signatures in June 2020. In 2021, the society announced the formation of an ad hoc committee to look into nomenclatures.
Some birders, like Navin Sasikumar in Philadelphia, praised the Entomological Society’s “relatively swift” decision on the moth and ant, and said the group’s five-step process was a commendable way of changing common names.
Though the pejorative “Gypsy” has now been stricken from one entomology group’s records, it still appears in another scientific field: genetics. In February, Dr. Brooks received a message from Kevin Wei, a postdoctoral fellow working with fruit flies at the University of California, Berkeley.
Dr. Wei studies transposable elements, often called “selfish” or jumping genes for their abilities to make copies of themselves and insert them back into the genome. A large family of these jumping genes are commonly called “Gypsy jumping genes,” he said. As he stared at the names of these genes, he kept thinking, This is actually not OK.
“When Kevin reached out, I just found that an incredible act of solidarity,” Dr. Brooks said.
Dr. Brooks, Dr. Wei and other researchers are now working on a paper calling for the slur to be removed from the field of genetics. They happened to have scheduled a meeting to plan their project the day the Entomological Society of America announced the name changes, and were excited by the news, Dr. Wei said.
Lymantria dispar and Aphaenogastedriven araneoides will most likely remain without a common name for some time (though if you have suggestions, the society would like to hear them). In the meantime, if you see a hairy, defoliating caterpillar in New Hampshire, you can call it by its scientific name.
Hervis Rogers was ineligible to cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential primary because he was still on parole, according to the state’s attorney general. He now faces four decades in prison.
By Isabella Grullón Paz, Published July 10, 2021, Updated July 11, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/10/us/texas-primary-voter-arrested.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage
This week Republicans in the Texas Legislature presented plans to overhaul the state’s election apparatus for a second time this year. Credit...Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images
A 62-year-old Texas man who waited hours to cast a ballot in last year’s presidential primary was arrested this week on charges that he had voted illegally.
The man, Hervis Earl Rogers of Houston, waited seven hours outside Texas Southern University to vote in the state’s presidential primary in March 2020. On Wednesday, he was arrested and charged with two counts of illegal voting, a felony. According to court documents, the charges stem from ballots that Mr. Rogers cast on March 3, 2020, and on Nov. 6, 2018, while he was still on parole and not legally permitted to vote.
Tommy Buser-Clancy, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and one of the lawyers representing Mr. Rogers, said that Mr. Rogers thought that he could vote during the primary.
“Mr. Rogers’s prosecution really shows the danger of overcriminalizing the election code and the process of participating in a democratic society,” he said. “In particular, it raises the danger that criminal statutes in the election code are being used to go after individuals who at worst have made an innocent mistake. That’s not what any laws should be doing.”
Mr. Buser-Clancy said that the A.C.L.U. was conducting its own investigation into the charges.
Texas election code states that a person convicted of a felony can register to vote and participate in elections only once his or her sentence — including parole — is fully completed. Texas’ election laws also stipulate that a person must knowingly vote illegally to be guilty of a crime.
The Sentencing Project, a criminal-justice nonprofit, estimates that 5.2 million Americans remain disenfranchised because of felony convictions, a disproportionate number of them Black. According to a report the group released last year, over 6.2 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised, compared with 1.7 percent of the non-African American population. In Texas, 2.8 percent of voters cannot vote because of felony convictions.
Experts say that disparities in sentencing can make felony voting laws inherently discriminatory against minorities and people with low incomes. And the process for former felons to return to the voter rolls can be confusing, with muddled and frequently changing rules, making it difficult for people trying to vote legally to know what to do.
Mr. Rogers’s story ricocheted around social media after he was identified as the very last person in line to vote at his polling place. Houston Public Media reported at the time that Mr. Rogers arrived at the polls just before 7 p.m. and waited roughly six hours to vote, long after the polls had closed and many others had left the line.
“It is insane, but it’s worth it,” Mr. Rogers told Houston Public Media while waiting in line.
Mr. Rogers had been held at the Montgomery County Jail with bail set at $100,000. The Bail Project, a national nonprofit that offers free bail help and pretrial support for low-income people, bailed him out.
He could face upward of 40 years in prison — 20 years for each charge, according to Mr. Buser-Clancy, who added that Mr. Rogers’s past criminal record meant that the sentence could be even higher.
“He’s facing the possibility of an extremely harsh sentence,” he said. “Second-degree felonies are normally reserved for aggravated assault, and to apply it to Mr. Rogers’s case, it just shows how unjust that is.”
Texas’ attorney general, Ken Paxton, who is under investigation for professional misconduct after he challenged President Biden’s win in court, brought the charges against Mr. Rogers. He has made it a mission of his office to prosecute voter-fraud cases, which are very rare in the United States and tend to be minor mistakes when they do happen.
“Hervis is a felon rightly barred from voting under TX law,” Mr. Paxton wrote on Twitter. “I prosecute voter fraud everywhere we find it!”
Republicans in Texas and other battleground states have been pushing aggressively to restrict voting laws since former President Donald J. Trump began making false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. On Thursday, Republicans in the Texas Legislature presented plans to overhaul the state’s election apparatus for a second time this year. They outlined a raft of proposed new restrictions on voting access that would be among the most far-reaching election laws passed this year.
For some, Mr. Rogers’s case evoked another recent prosecution in the state.
In 2017, Crystal Mason was sentenced to five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 presidential election while she was on supervised release for a federal tax fraud felony. Her provisional ballot was not counted, and her case is pending before Texas’ highest criminal appellate court after Ms. Mason filed for an appeal.
After she was convicted, Ms. Mason served 10 months in federal prison for violating her supervised release, but she has remained free on a $20,000 bond in her voting case, as she pursues her appeal in state court, her lawyer, Alison Grinter, said. If Ms. Mason loses her appeal, she will have to begin serving her five-year sentence, Ms. Grinter said.
Mr. Rogers and Ms. Mason may meet in the coming weeks, Ms. Grinter said.
“They share a bond that neither of them wanted at this point,” Ms. Grinter said. “She really feels for him, and knows what it feels like to be made political sport of like this.”
On Friday, Ms. Mason expressed support for Mr. Rogers.
“I wish this had never happened to you,” Ms. Mason wrote on Twitter. “I’m sorry that you’re going though this. Welcome to the fight.”
Michael Levenson contributed reporting.
Pentagon officials noted that the request was broad and did not specify the number or types of forces needed.
“The administration has said it will send officials from the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security to Port-au-Prince to assess how they might help assist the government’s investigation into the murky circumstances of Mr. Moïse’s killing. ...For now, Biden officials are focused on other ways to assist Haiti with its security needs short of military forces. That could include stepped up training and assistance for Haiti’s police and military provided by the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security."
By Michael Crowley, Michael D. Shear and Eric Schmitt, July 10, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/10/us/politics/biden-haiti-troop-request.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Haitian citizens ask for asylum in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tabarre, Haiti, on Saturday. Credit...Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Haiti’s request for U.S. troops to help stabilize the country following the assassination of its president presents a difficult choice for President Biden: send forces to aid a neighbor even as he is trying to pare down America’s military footprint overseas, or refrain and risk allowing the chaos unfolding there to escalate into a refugee crisis.
Thus far, administration officials have expressed caution about any deployment to Haiti, reflecting the fast pace of events since attackers killed President Jovenel Moïse in his home on Wednesday, but also a broader shift in American attitudes toward military interventions as the 20-year war in Afghanistan winds down.
Biden administration officials, while sympathetic to the humanitarian misery unfolding some 700 miles south of Florida, and mindful of a potential mass exodus of Haitian refugees like one that occurred in the 1990s, nevertheless show no immediate enthusiasm for sending even a limited American force into the midst of politically-based civil strife and disorder.
The administration has said it will send officials from the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security to Port-au-Prince to assess how they might help assist the government’s investigation into the murky circumstances of Mr. Moïse’s killing.
But Pentagon officials were taken off guard by the Haitian request late Friday. While they said it would be dutifully reviewed, there is little appetite among senior military leaders to dispatch U.S. troops.
“We are aware of the request and are analyzing it,” John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said in a telephone interview on Saturday, noting that the request was broad and did not specify numbers or types of forces needed.
One senior administration official put it more bluntly late Friday: “There are no plans to provide U.S. military assistance at this time.”
For Mr. Biden, the prospect of a deployment of American forces amid the chaotic aftermath of the brutal killing runs against his core instinct to consolidate America’s overseas military presence, not expand it. The request from the Haitians came just hours after Mr. Biden delivered remarks defending his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after a 20-year mission that came to be ill-defined and entangled with dysfunctional Afghan politics.
For now, Biden officials are focused on other ways to assist Haiti with its security needs short of military forces. That could include stepped up training and assistance for Haiti’s police and military provided by the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security.
Whether that can make a real difference is questionable in a country where endemic poverty and corruption have largely proved impervious to billions of dollars in international aid over decades. Haiti is “infested” by gangs, as its ambassador to Washington put it this week, the violence has worsened since Mr. Moïse’s assassination, with many residents afraid to leave their homes.
On Saturday, dozens of men, women and children seeking to flee the country packed into a courtyard of the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Port-au-Prince, as competing claims to power by the interim prime minister and a group of senators seeking to establish an alternative government remained unresolved.
The sense of chaos has been exacerbated by the continuing mystery over who was behind the attack on Mr. Moïse’s residence. The authorities have arrested at least 20 people, most of them former Colombian soldiers, but have not shed much light on the plot. Investigators have summoned four of the president’s chief security officers for questioning next week.
Given the uncertainty over who is leading the country and its already weak institutions, the risk is that conditions could deteriorate further, setting off a mass refugee flight by sea for Florida. That would pose a humanitarian and political crisis for Mr. Biden, who is already trying to manage a surge of migrants crossing into the United States at the Mexico border.
The prospect of a refugee crisis weighed heavily on President Barack Obama when he deployed troops and $100 million in aid to Haiti after a devastating earthquake there in 2010.
But even limited military deployments come with risks. A small American peacekeeping deployment to Somalia in 1992 led to an October 1993 gun battle in the streets of Mogadishu during which 18 American soldiers and at least hundreds of Somalis were killed in a political crisis for President Bill Clinton. The episode was later memorialized in the movie “Black Hawk Down.”
Biden officials are not insensitive to the plight of Haitians who have struggled for decades to escape poverty, corruption and political dysfunction; many served in the Obama administration when thousands of U.S. troops were dispatched for several months to provide security.
That deployment was considered a success even if it did little to resolve Haiti’s deep-seated problems. But it did run “the risk of mission creep,” according to a 2013 study by the nonpartisan RAND Corporation, which said that Haiti would have welcomed the mission “to continue indefinitely” and that it “could easily have evolved” into a longer commitment.
Mr. Biden would confront other problems with the deployment of American soldiers. It is one thing to send troops to the aftermath of an epic natural disaster. It is another to step into an environment of political chaos, intrigue and dueling claims to power — not to mention marauding armed gangs. Many Haitians, well aware of their country’s history of colonialism and slavery, already complain that their politics are shaped by mostly white foreign powers.
In 1915, the assassination of a Haitian president led President Woodrow Wilson to direct U.S. Marines to invade the country, beginning a two-decade American occupation, and years of unrest.
Some prominent Haitians were quick to denounce their government’s request.
“Absolutely not. We do not want U.S. troops, U.S. boots, U.S. uniforms, none of that,” Monique Clesca, a Haitian writer and civil society activist, told CNN on Saturday. “Because in Haiti, Haitians have been traumatized by the occupation of the country during 34 years by the United States, we do not want U.S. intervention or troops or anything.”
“The international community is complicit in what is going on in Haiti,” Ms. Clesca added.
Another disincentive for Biden is the seemingly vague nature of Haiti’s request, including what it is American troops would be expected to do.
“The best approach in Haiti is for the United States to turn to either the United Nations, the Organization of American States or a coalition of Latin American nations for a stability force ,” said James G. Stavridis, a retired four-star admiral and a former head of the Pentagon’s Southern Command.
“But going into the island is very unlikely from a military standpoint, especially as we are wrapping up operations in Afghanistan,” he added.
It was under the auspices of the United Nations that the United States sent troops to Somalia in 1992, and Haiti in 1994, when Mr. Clinton approved an American force to depose a military junta on the island and restore a democratically-elected president.
For decades, the United States has sought to assist Haiti as part of the “Core Group,” an ad hoc collection of ambassadors and envoys from major Western nations and international bodies like the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
But multinational missions come with their own risks and political baggage: U.N. peacekeepers based in the country from 2004 to 2017 introduced cholera and were reported to have committed widespread rape and sexual abuse.
At the same time, Mr. Biden may also face pressure to act, especially if Haiti’s political and security situation further deteriorates.
Demands for Mr. Biden to help Haiti quickly began to build among the small community of Haitian Americans and Haitian refugees living in the United States, including in the politically important state of Florida.
About 1 million Haitians live in the United States, according to 2018 census estimates, many of them having fled earlier periods of violence and instability in their country. In the last decade, about 56,000 Haitians have been living in the United States under a program called Temporary Protected Status, which was first granted in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.
The Department of Homeland Security renewed the T.P.S. designation this year, citing “serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Now, activists are pushing Mr. Biden to ensure that America does not stand on the sidelines as the country descends further into chaos.
One development that would intensify pressure on Mr. Biden to act would be if Haitians began fleeing the country in numbers resembling the wave of refugees that headed toward Florida in the early 1990s. President George H.W. Bush detained some refugees at the Guantánamo Bay naval base, drawing liberal outrage, and Mr. Clinton later directed the Coast Guard to repatriate Haitians intercepted at sea.
Admiral Stavridis said that a Haitian refugee wave could change the Biden administration calculus, adding that the military has developed contingency plans to handle a sudden influx of people.
Natalie Kitroeff contributed reporting from Mexico City, and Jesus Jiménez from Dallas.
By Brent Staples, July 10, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/10/opinion/sunday/white-newspapers-african-americans.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Newspapers that championed white supremacy throughout the pre-civil rights South paved the way for lynching by declaring African Americans nonpersons. They embraced the language once used at slave auctions by denying Black citizens the courtesy titles Mr. and Mrs. and referring to them in news stories as “the negro,” “the negress” or “the nigger.”
They depicted Black men as congenital rapists, setting the stage for them to be hanged, shot or burned alive in public squares all over the former Confederacy. These newspapers entered their bloodiest incarnations during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, inciting hellish episodes of violence during which white mobs murdered at will while sometimes destroying entire Black communities.
African Americans who fled these Southern horrors found the white Northern press only marginally less hostile. Yankee papers that congratulated themselves for opposing lynching in the abstract justified it in practice by depicting the victims as naturally disposed toward heinous crime.
As the historian Rayford Logan writes in his iconic study of this period, the white Northern press cemented the stereotype of the Negro barbarian by making Blackness synonymous with crime. Headlines included phrases like “Negro ruffian,” “colored cannibal,” “dissolute Negress” and “African Annie.” By portraying Black people as less than human, the white popular press justified the reign of terror that the South deployed, while stripping African Americans of the rights they had briefly enjoyed during the period just after the Civil War known as Reconstruction.
Since the early 2000s, historically white newspapers in Alabama, California, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and North Carolina have apologized with varying degrees of candor for the roles they played in this history. When read end to end, these statements of confession attest to blatantly racist news coverage over a more than century-long period that encompasses the collapse of Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, the two world wars, the civil rights movement, the urban riots of the 1960s, the Vietnam era and beyond.
The Raleigh News & Observer in North Carolina has admitted to engineering a landmark episode of racial terrorism — the 1898 white supremacist coup that overthrew the government of the majority-Black city of Wilmington. The Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama, once the voice of the Confederacy, acknowledges being complicit in racial terrorism through the 1950s. The Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky could well have spoken for hundreds of newspapers when it confessed that it had “neglected” to cover the civil rights movement at a time when that movement was changing the face of the country.
The Orlando Sentinel touched on a familiar theme of the struggle for racial justice when it repented for supporting the wrongful prosecution of Black defendants, known as the Groveland Four, who were charged with rape in 1949. The paper was known as The Orlando Morning Sentinel when its bloodthirsty coverage featured a front-page editorial cartoon that depicted four empty electric chairs under the headline “No Compromise!” A threatening editorial warned that “innocent Negroes” might suffer if civil rights lawyers sought to free the defendants based on “legal technicalities.”
The Los Angeles Times apologized for being “an institution deeply rooted in white supremacy” for most of its history and admitted to a record that included indifference and “outright hostility” toward the city’s nonwhite population.
The Kansas City Star confessed that it had “disenfranchised, ignored and scorned generations of Black Kansas Citians” and “robbed an entire community” of “dignity, justice and recognition.” While showing keen interest in military operations abroad, the paper noted, it remained silent when bombs exploded in the homes of Black people not far from its own offices.
The Star shut out even world-famous Black Kansas Citians like the saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker, who did not get a significant headline in The Star until he died, in 1955 — “and even then, his name was misspelled and his age was wrong.” When a flood devastated the city in 1977, The Star and its sister paper focused on businesses and suburbs, all but ignoring the fact that the flood had also swallowed homes of residents in Black areas. The newspapers showed more concern for missing pets than for Black citizens whose lives had been swept away in the torrent.
The apology movement is historically resonant on several counts. It offers a timely validation of the besieged academic discipline known as critical race theory — by showing that what news organizations once presented as “fair” and “objective” journalism was in fact freighted with the racist stereotypes that had been deployed to justify slavery. It lays out how the white press alienated generations of African Americans — many of whom still view the leading news outlets of the United States as part of a hostile “white media.”
The movement illustrates what President Lyndon Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders — also known the Kerner Commission — was talking about in 1968 when it criticized the press for writing and reporting “from the standpoint of a white man’s world.” It also vindicates the hundreds of African American men and women who established anti-racist newspapers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and engaged in open combat with the white press over how Black life would be represented.
The ‘Threadbare’ Lie
The white press in the South dictated how anti-Black atrocities were viewed all over the country by portraying even the most grotesque exercises of violence as necessary to protect a besieged white community. White news organizations elsewhere rubber-stamped this lie. The editors of small, struggling Black publications often risked their lives to refute what they rightly saw as white supremacist propaganda masquerading as news.
Ida B. Wells of the fiery Memphis weekly known as The Free Speech was the best known of these Black press paladins. Her investigations showed that mobs regularly lynched innocent victims as part of a terror tactic that was intended to keep the Black community on its knees. Her most explosive finding was that the Black men who were charged with raping white women were often involved in consensual relationships with them.
Her editorial calling the common rape charge a “threadbare lie” conveyed more truth than the white aristocracy could bear. The white-owned Daily Commercial called for the writer of the editorial to be lynched without using the term. The Evening Scimitar presumed the editorial writer male and called for him to be tied to a stake at the intersection of Main and Madison Streets, his forehead branded with a hot iron and castrated “with a pair of tailor’s shears.” Ms. Wells was fortunately out of town when a mob destroyed the Free Speech office.
John Mitchell Jr. of The Richmond Planet, a Virginia weekly, had been born into slavery, as had Ms. Wells. He was known in his time as the “the fighting editor” — a posture that The Planet reflected with a logo depicting a muscular Black arm whose clenched fist radiated lightning bolts. During the late 19th century, Mr. Mitchell was acutely aware of the connection between the lynching fever that was sweeping the former Confederacy and the fact that Southern cities were filling their public squares with monuments to Confederate soldiers who had plunged the country into war with the goal of preserving slavery.
Speaking of a monument erected in Richmond to the Confederate general Robert E. Lee, Mr. Mitchell said that it would “ultimately result in handing down to generations unborn a legacy of treason and blood.” He foresaw more than a century ago that this and other monuments to white supremacy might not stand in perpetuity. Speaking of the African American labor used to erect monuments, he said of the Black man, “He put up the Lee Monument, and should the time come, he’ll be there to take it down.”
Mr. Mitchell and his Virginia contemporaries were no doubt watching when the white press in North Carolina began to campaign for the interracial government of Wilmington to be overthrown. On the eve of the coup, the majority-Black city was a stronghold of African American economic and political success and home to a thriving community of Black craftsmen and businesses owners, as well as African American public servants who included aldermen, magistrates and mail carriers.
The News & Observer rallied the white press beyond the carnage by relentlessly equating Black voting rights with corruption, anti-whiteness and, inevitably, the rape of white women. The paper ran infamous editorial cartoons like the ones depicting a giant Black foot crushing a white citizen and another showing a Black vampire bat labeled “Negro Rule” hovering over the state.
This toxic campaign yielded fruit on the morning of Nov. 10, 1898, when a mob marched into the city and burned the offices of The Wilmington Daily Record, widely thought to have been the only Black-owned daily newspaper in the United States at the time. The vigilantes swept through the streets shooting some African Americans and exiling others, along with their “white nigger” allies, from the city.
The New York Times referred obliquely to the overthrow of the Wilmington government as necessary for restoring “law and order.” The Richmond Planet — under the headline “Horrible Butcheries at Wilmington” — made clear that the coup was aimed at removing Black officeholders and restoring white control of the city.
The Planet described unarmed Black people being shot dead in the streets or driven into the woods, making clear that the carnage had resulted from “a concerted conspiracy which has been underway for several weeks,” with the goal of securing “the reins of the city government by treasonable practices.” In his characteristically acid tone, Mr. Mitchell admonished President William McKinley for failing to restore the legally elected government of the city and observed that the “good white people” of the Wilmington vicinity had either acted as “aiders and abettors of murder” or fallen “painfully silent” in the face of a treasonous attack on democracy.
A similar scenario — complete with distorted news accounts — played out two decades later after the massacre of Black sharecroppers in Elaine, Ark. The sharecroppers had angered their white landlords by banding together to demand a fair price for the crop. After a shootout instigated by whites, as the historian David Levering Lewis has written, “enraged white planters and farmers chased down Black men and women in the high cotton of Phillips County in a frenzy lasting seven days, until the count of the dead approached 200.”
It was widely — and falsely — reported in the white press that the sharecroppers had intended to kill every white person they could and take control of the county. The African American press pointed out soon after the bloodletting that the sharecroppers had been slaughtered for contesting a form of slavery under which white overlords swindled them out of their earnings.
The white Southern press degraded African Americans in a variety of everyday ways. One of the humiliations that continued into the 1950s involved denying Black adults the courtesy titles Mr. and Mrs., and referring to them by first name only, at a time when African Americans could be beaten or even lynched for addressing white people in this fashion. By identifying married Black women by their first names, instead of as Mrs., white newspapers denied the legitimacy of African American marriage and reinforced a racist slander that labeled women of color morally “loose.” Jim Crow society used this defamation to justify the rapacious conduct of white men who targeted Black women for sexual assault.
Black newspapers like The Baltimore Afro-American, The Chicago Defender and The Pittsburgh Courier served as a haven against white press hostility, while incubating and advancing the early civil rights movement.
At a time when African Americans had to commit crimes to appear in the white press, The Defender and its sister papers filled their society pages with scenes of the Black middle class succeeding at business, convening civic organizations or taking their leisure at tony vacation spots. In other words, the Black press was a century ahead of the news media generally in discovering the African American middle class as a marketable subject of journalism.
Black news organizations started to wither as segregation eased and the white press became interested in the civil rights movement. Nevertheless, it would take decades for that interest to extend beyond stories about crime. The Kerner Commission underscored this problem when it admonished the news media to “publish newspapers and produce programs that recognize the existence and activities of the Negro, both as a Negro and as part of the community.”
News organizations that were not moved to address this problem when the business represented a license to print money have come to see things differently since the business model began its collapse. The apology movement represents a belated understanding that these organizations need every kind of reader to survive. The challenge is that the gap news providers are eager to close is vast and was generations in the making.
Brent Staples joined the editorial board in 1990 after working as an editor of the Book Review and an assistant editor for metropolitan news. In 2019, Mr. Staples won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, The New York Times’s first winner for editorial writing in 23 years. Mr. Staples holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Chicago. @BrentNYT
The close ties between coroners and law enforcement have fueled an unusual and unregulated industry: for-profit forensic examinations.
By Erika Hayasaki, Published July 8, 2021, Updated July 11, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/08/magazine/the-police-called-it-an-accident-she-turned-to-1-800-autopsy.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Vidal Herrera at the 1-800-Autopsy facility. Credit...Bethany Mollenkof for The New York Times
Katrina Eisinger awoke early one morning in March 2018 to a phone call from West Anaheim Medical Center in Orange County, Calif. “We have your son here,” the voice said, instructing her to come right away. It was still dark outside, and Katrina changed out of her nightgown, pulled on workout clothes and rushed to the hospital. Her son, 35-year-old Christopher Eisinger, was in a coma. She looked at the tubes attached to his body. She saw what looked like blood in one of them. A former X-ray tech and pharmaceutical sales representative, Katrina noticed the urine in another tube was brown and thought his kidneys were shutting down. His right eye was swollen.
No one could tell her exactly what happened to him. Katrina learned that Christopher had been dropped off by an ambulance after an incident involving the Anaheim Police Department. “We don’t know how long he was without oxygen,” a nurse told her. At some point before he arrived, Christopher’s pulse stopped. After intubation, it came back with an irregular beat. Now he was in respiratory failure.
The physician on duty, Dr. Jennifer Mason, said she had been told that Christopher was in an “altercation” and had to be restrained. “While sitting in handcuffs, the patient became unresponsive, thus prompting their call to 911,” Mason wrote in her medical report. An officer told her, “The patient had to be held down by his head to the concrete because he was wiggling.”
Five days later, detectives showed up to Christopher’s bedside, inquiring about whether he had used drugs. “I’m asking them, ‘What happened?’” Katrina recalled. “They’re just like, ‘We’re asking the questions here.’”
Christopher was brain dead, and the family made the wrenching decision to take him off life support. “It was very difficult,” Christopher’s father, Jay, who lives in Indiana, said. “Katrina and I both agreed. We didn’t want him to live that way.” Katrina had heard that the last sense to go before death was hearing. So she played gospel music, along with Whitney Houston and songs from “Frozen” and “Phantom of the Opera,” which he enjoyed singing throughout his life. As a boy, Christopher loved being pampered. Katrina used to take him with her to get mani-pedis and facials. In the hospital, Katrina stroked his head and clipped his toenails. In those final moments, his friends told stories of their favorite memories of him. Eight days after being hospitalized, on March 9, 2018, he died in his mother’s arms, surrounded by loved ones.
Christopher’s mother had worked in a corporate job for 30 years, saving money to send her two sons to private schools. She raised them in the church. The family lived a middle-class life, taking summer boat trips on a lake and snowboarding in the winters. But as Christopher grew older, he struggled with drug use. Katrina kicked him out of the house at one point, an act of desperation and love. She was hopeful that he would find a better path. The day before he ended up in the hospital, he sent her a text: “Trying to get my responsible on,” he wrote, asking her to pray for him. “God’s plan!”
In the days after he died, Katrina’s mind flashed to the bruises on her son’s body, the handcuff marks on his wrists, his busted and bulging eye. She thought of the phone call she received the day after he ended up in the hospital, from someone demanding to speak to Christopher. She lost her temper: “He’s in a [expletive] coma!”
To her, the clues were piling up, all pointing to excessive force by the police. But this revelation did not come easily. She is Black, and Christopher’s father is white. She was well aware that Black men died violently at the hands of police officers in America all the time. But she never thought it would happen to her son. For most of their lives, Katrina said, she lived in denial, thinking her ascendancy into a particular level of privilege would somehow shield them. “I blame myself,” she said. “I should have had my head out of the sand.”
Four days after Christopher died, Dr. Nicole Ellis, a forensic pathologist contracted by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Coroner’s Division, conducted the official autopsy. Six other people attended the procedure, including four members of the Sheriff’s Department forensics team and, to Katrina’s dismay, two officers from the Anaheim Police Department.
Ellis noted that Christopher had an enlarged heart and blocked arteries. She concluded that the cause of his death was “sudden cardiac arrest” due to heart disease and the “effects of methamphetamine.” The manner of death, Ellis wrote, was “accident.”
Katrina did not buy it. Don’t tell me he blew a clot and had a heart attack, she thought. How did you determine that?
Katrina knew she wanted a second opinion; she felt that another, independent expert would uncover the truth. Her lawyers agreed and decided to call 1-800-Autopsy, well known among legal circles in the area and the first place that pops up online when searching “private autopsy Los Angeles.” The company’s motto: “The deceased must be protected and given a voice.”
Vidal Herrera, owner of 1-800-Autopsy, is a towering man who hands out red baseball caps that read, “Make ‘Autopsies’ Great Again.” He operates his business out of an unmarked building not far from the California State University Los Angeles campus. It has a nondescript gated exterior, accessed through a long back alley. In a parking lot sits a van emblazoned with painted images of yellow crime-scene tape, a dead body under examination and the words “Private Autopsies,” “Medical Mal Practice” and “Wrongful Death Specialist.” On one end of the building, inside a bright and heavily ventilated examination room, two forensic doctors conduct autopsies day and night.
Suspicion lies at the heart of many of the calls that come in — a feeling that loved ones don’t have all the answers and don’t trust the ones they’ve been given. Along with a steady stream of police-related inquiries and general concerns over medical malpractice, this past year has brought scores of Covid-related cases to 1-800-Autopsy. It is among dozens of private-autopsy services that operate across the country in commercial buildings, laboratories and in the backs of funeral homes. Some cater to hospitals, medical examiner’s offices or legal firms, while others market to the general public. Some mobile autopsy services even come directly to their customers, carting along instruments and cleaning materials.
For families like the Eisingers, and their legal teams, private-autopsy experts are an imperfect solution. They are largely unregulated: The National Association of Medical Examiners offers a list of private-autopsy services for paying customers but warns it has not verified the training or experience of those on it (“Please conduct your own investigation and assessment of the qualifications,” its site suggests). But in the absence of faith in a system run by the police, the city, the county or the local coroner, they are seen by many as a necessary check on the system.
Inside 1-800-Autopsy, Herrera’s décor veers toward the morbid. A stairwell is lined with framed movie posters: “Doctor Death,” “The Night Stalker,” “Heat Wave.” Floor rugs bear images of human skulls. Herrera’s sofas resemble the plush interior of coffins. As a side hustle, he rents out his equipment as props for movie and television shoots, but his main business is autopsies. Herrera’s wife, Vicki, fields calls to 1-800-Autopsy at all hours from her home office, 20 minutes away in La Crescenta, Calif.
Families wonder if an autopsy might settle their fear that a loved one received the wrong medicine. Some relatives have called requesting to have their loved ones exhumed, unable to put their skepticism to rest. Last fall, Vicki dialed the family of a man who was given convalescent plasma treatments for Covid-19. He died, and the family grew suspicious. They told her that the nurse was rude. Desperate to know more, they paid the $3,600 autopsy fee, spreading it across three credit cards.
Herrera said the volume of exam requests and autopsies quadrupled last year alone, largely as a result of Covid. Inside the facility, the gleaming cooling units have been newly upgraded and expanded to handle the rising number of inquiries. The business conducts up to 25 autopsies a week.
There is a shortage of certified forensic pathologists in the country, with only around 500 of them working full time in 2,400 jurisdictions in the United States. Before the 1970s, between 40 to 60 percent of people who died in a U.S. hospital received autopsies. That rate has since plummeted to 4 percent. If a death is not deemed suspicious or unusual, the body will not go to a local medical examiner or coroner for an examination. Doctors also do not promote or conduct autopsies in-house as they might have in the past.
“Hospitals don’t get paid for an autopsy,” said Dr. Sally Aiken, chairwoman of the National Association of Medical Examiners, who also serves as a forensic pathologist in Washington State. “It’s not going to be a profit center for them.” Hospitals were once also required to perform a certain number of autopsies for accreditation. But that practice has gone away. Advances in medical technology like magnetic resonance imagining, which do not require cutting open a body, bolster a belief that autopsies are less necessary. But pathologists say there’s no substitute for a traditional examination.
In some states, medical examiners, who are board-certified forensic pathologists, are appointed to oversee local autopsies. But many death investigations rely on coroner-led systems. Coroners are not required to have medical degrees and may have little experience. They are elected or appointed positions, often working with private pathologists. Dr. Ellis, the initial pathologist for Christopher’s autopsy, was contracted by the Orange County sheriff-coroner through a company, Juguilon Medical Corporation. In 2011, ProPublica found that one of Juguilon’s doctors had failed the certification exam at least five times. Within this patchwork of death-investigation systems nationally, there is a long history of mistrust over tangled relationships between elected county coroners and local law enforcement. In California’s 58 counties, 48, including Orange County, have coroners who are also elected sheriffs.
In March, a damning 188-page report conducted by a commission of lawyers, professors and human rights experts from 11 countries characterized a history of police violence against Black people in the United States as a violation of international law. The commissioners’ inquiry found that medical examiners and coroners have “worked in tandem with the police to obstruct justice.” When Linwood Lambert Jr. died after being tased about 20 times by the police in South Boston, Va., in 2013, according to the report, the medical examiner’s office concluded that he died of “acute cocaine intoxication.” An attorney for Lambert's estate, who was interviewed by the commissioners, said the medical examiner testified in her deposition that a Virginia state trooper was present during the autopsy. The medical examiner also said she did not know there was video footage of the incident or that Lambert had been tased several times. The footage was withheld until Lambert’s sister filed a wrongful-death lawsuit.
In California’s San Joaquin County, Steve Moore, an elected sheriff-coroner, was stripped of his coroner duties in 2018 after two pathologists resigned, including Dr. Bennet Omalu (known for his findings on brain damage in N.F.L. players). They claimed he was ignoring opinions of forensic pathologists and interfering with their work. In his resignation letter, Omalu accused Moore of protecting officers. Omalu said Moore certified some law-enforcement-caused deaths as accidents when they should have been ruled as homicides. Moore has denied interfering with forensic investigations, but the San Joaquin coroner system was disbanded and replaced by a medical examiner’s office model led by a board-certified forensic pathologist. Mistrust in the system still lingers.
The human rights report cited a National Association of Medical Examiners survey in which one in five respondents reported being pressured by a public official to change cause-of-death determinations or manner-of-death determinations. Commissioners found evidence of a pattern of complicity in cover-ups by state examiners, as well as private death investigators hired to reach independent findings. Medical examiners and coroners have at times “endorsed demonstrably false causes of death to exonerate police officers and minimize the role of excessive force in the victim’s death.”
When Christopher Eisinger’s body arrived at 1-800-Autopsy in late March 2018, the doctor on the morning shift was John C. Hiserodt, a wiry man with snowy white hair who often wears Hawaiian shirts. Hiserodt also operates his own office in Garden Grove, Calif., where his staff conducts pathology lab tests. His degrees hang on his office wall: the University of California, San Diego; U.C. Irvine for his Ph.D.; and U.C.L.A. for his doctorate of medicine. His bookshelves hold copies of “Principles and Practice of Surgical Pathology and Cytopathology,” alongside Tupperware containers and glass jars containing embalmed human organs.
Over the course of roughly two hours, Hiserodt presided over the autopsy from a nearby stool, clipboard in hand. He examined Christopher’s body externally first, front and back, photographing extremities. A second autopsy, Hiserodt explained, is more difficult than a first exam. “All the organs have been already removed, cut up and put in a bag,” he said. “Especially gunshot wounds, where they might even remove the wound, so you don’t know which is the entrance and which is the exit.”
Christopher had no gunshot wounds, so Hiserodt watched as his forensic technician undid the sutures, opening the incisions made by the coroner’s office, examining each organ. When a case is listed as an “in custody” death, Hiserodt also checks for marks on the wrists, knees or hands, as well as abrasions. They reopened the back incisions made at the coroner’s office, and he looked for deep bruising on the muscles. “There may not be any evidence of bruising,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean someone didn’t sit on their back.”
Hiserodt also eventually watched the body-camera footage of Christopher’s struggle with the police. In an autopsy, the body itself does not always tell the entire story. The events leading up to a death can be just as relevant to a pathologist’s investigation. Hiserodt, like other forensic pathologists, takes into consideration information about the scene, witness statements, state of mind and toxicology tests.
Five officers had apprehended Christopher, their knees and hands on his body. At one point in the footage, Christopher says he can’t breathe. “In an in-custody death, where the decedent has methamphetamine in his blood,” Hiserodt told me, “it’s always a battle between what did he die from?” Was it the drugs? Or the weight and restraint used by officers “when you’re handcuffed, on your abdomen, prone position, and they sit on your chest on your back to restrain you, hog tie you and you can’t breathe. Which is it?”
In Hiserodt’s final report, he noted cardiovascular disease, an enlarged heart, 70 percent occlusion in the coronary artery, pulmonary edema (caused by fluid in the lungs), blunt-force trauma to the head, proptosis (bulging right eye), swelling and contusions on Christopher’s left cheekbone and blood in his sinuses. He determined the cause of death was from an “altercation with multiple officers during restraint or arrest.”
“There’s a physiological response called air hunger,” Hiserodt told me. “You need oxygen. Otherwise, you’re going to pass out. So you say, ‘I can’t breathe.’” But your chest is moving. Air is coming in and out, but you can't feel it. It’s like drowning. “You’re breathing, but you’re not getting any oxygen.” You black out, he added. “You’re going to die.”
In deaths like Christopher’s, lawyers for the police might argue that a person could actually breathe if he could talk at all, Hiserodt said. Attorneys might even ask jurors to hold their breath and try to speak at the same time to prove their point. (Derek Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, used that same argument during his closing arguments over the murder of George Floyd. “If you can talk, you can breathe.”) In Christopher’s case, Hiserodt called it a hypoxic death, caused by police restraint.
With Covid delays, the civil case against the city of Anaheim would not go to trial for another half a year. But Hiserodt was preparing for the Christopher Eisinger case anyway. “I’m getting my deposition lined up,” he told me. “I’m going to whack ’em.”
In serving the private-autopsy market of Greater Los Angeles, 1-800-Autopsy is hardly the only game in town. Edgar Artiga runs On Demand Autopsy, one of Herrera’s biggest competitors, out of a leased back room inside Destiny Funeral Home in Long Beach. Artiga learned the business of autopsies from Herrera and eventually broke off to start his own venture, first as a mobile autopsy technician in 2015, then opening his own headquarters in 2019. As for Herrera, the focus for Artiga is on working with families. “They want an independent set of eyes to go in and validate or inform them of the truth,” Artiga said. “That’s what we do.”
Unlike Herrera, though, Artiga manages the bodies, runs the business and does all the cutting himself. His colleague, the pathologist Stephan Grigorian, leads the autopsy analysis and medical results. “Right now, I’m reviewing an autopsy,” Grigorian told me. “It’s, like, done by a moron.” A hospital was being sued because of it. Families can pay thousands of dollars and initiate lawsuits, all based on reports that turn out to be flawed. Grigorian explained he can’t afford to make such mistakes.
“I’m going to do my autopsy,” Grigorian told me. “Then, I’m going to review theirs.” His secondary exam will try to determine if the first pathologist “did something wrong, something they were not supposed to do. It’s like a critique,” a kind of death peer review.
Aiken, of the National Association of Medical Examiners, uses a more cautious metaphor, comparing second autopsies to getting another opinion on a knee injury: One doctor might suggest physical therapy, while another recommends surgery, but “it may not be that either one of them was wrong.” Differences in opinion in the autopsy world might come down to each individual pathologist’s training and experience, Aiken explained, without it necessarily being clear whose viewpoint deserves to carry more weight.
Even so, Aiken says she welcomes additional critiques of her own forensic work. “When cases of mine go out, as they frequently do, for review, I really like to know what the other person said,” she said. “That’s quality improvement. That’s feedback. Many times, they just agree with you. There are times when their slant might be a little different.” Either way, she added, it’s valuable to have multiple perspectives. “That’s why I like the system we have. It’s adversarial.”
Every expert might agree that a person died while hanging from a rope, for example, based on marks on the neck and evidence at the scene. But pathologists may differ on the manner of death. One pathologist might call it suicide. Another might conclude that the person was strangled before being hanged by a rope (as the forensic pathologist hired by Jeffrey Epstein’s brother is claiming). In the absence of clear video footage or eyewitnesses, there is still room for interpretation — the particular angle of a neck-bone break does not prove, without a doubt, what caused it.
The fact that there is room for interpretation at all allows for competing findings and dueling expert witness testimonies in court, and the relatively low bar for entering the field attracts people willing to profit from that gray area. Shawn Parcells, who assisted in the autopsy of Michael Brown, started a private-autopsy business in Kansas in 2012. Prosecutors claim that he performed autopsies, though he had no medical degree, and lied to coroners about doing so. Parcells has been banned from the autopsy business since March 2019, until the charges against him are settled.
In the trial of Derek Chauvin, David Fowler, the former chief medical examiner of Maryland, testified on behalf of the defense. Fowler said that Floyd did not die of asphyxia, but other important factors included cardiac arrhythmia, heart disease, drug use and potential exposure to carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe. A few years before, in 2018, Fowler determined that the death of 19-year-old Anton Black, which occurred after an encounter with the police, was an accidental sudden cardiac incident. Black’s family filed a federal lawsuit in December against Fowler and officers, claiming that Black was held in a prone position for roughly six minutes after he had been tased and handcuffed as he “struggled to breathe, lost consciousness and suffered cardiac arrest.” The police claimed drugs were involved, according to the complaint, although toxicology tests showed no evidence of that. Black’s mother watched her son plead for help while officers pinned him down in front of her home.
In February, The Journal of Forensic Sciences published a study that measured bias in forensic-pathology decisions. Fowler disputed the study, which looked at 133 decisions and found that nonmedical information, like race, can influence their manner-of-death conclusions. Fowler and other medical examiners called for a retraction, but the journal declined. Now Maryland’s attorney general is conducting an independent review of reports of deaths in police custody during Fowler’s tenure.
In their March report, the international human rights commissioners called for the United States to require more independent death investigations, conducted separately from government-run coroner or medical examiner’s offices. But the unregulated nature of the private-autopsy field means it can also be a refuge for doctors with checkered résumés. Hiserodt himself falsified data in a federal grant application during his tenure as a cancer researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 1989. A federal office later found him guilty of scientific misconduct. But by then, Hiserodt had already entered the field of pathology, working for a period at the Allegheny County coroner’s office to conduct autopsies.
In 1997, as an assistant professor of surgical pathology at U.C. Irvine, he created what he believed could be a treatment to save the life of a girl dying from a brain tumor. Without obtaining any federal or university approvals, he delivered his unapproved cancer vaccine to the 8-year-old’s family in Florida, to be injected into her brain. Hiserodt believed he obtained the necessary approvals, but as The Los Angeles Times reported, this resulted in an F.D.A. investigation. He left the university and went back into forensic pathology.
This past March, the civil trial on behalf of the family of Christopher Eisinger finally began, in socially distanced proceedings at Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, Calif. A handful of demonstrators stood outside the courthouse holding signs. One read, “Stop Orange County police brutality.”
“Now, you’re going to hear the coroner testify,” Annee Della Donna, an attorney representing Christopher’s family, told the jury in her opening statements on March 18. The defense, she explained, would argue “he had a bad heart.” But there were five officers on top of him, Della Donna continued. “It’s amazing this coincidence. This is what they always say: It’s not the officers’ fault.” The problem was, she said, ''13 minutes with no oxygen. You're brain dead. Chris never woke up.”
The judge warned the jurors not to pay attention to the protesters outside the courtroom and to ignore any other trials similar to this one. In Minneapolis, Chauvin’s trial was taking place at the same time.
Throughout the six-week trial, Katrina refused to watch the body-camera footage of her son, even as it was played and replayed from every angle. Each time, she quietly stood up and walked out of the courtroom.
In the footage that jurors watched, a flashlight cuts through bushes, leading to a dim porch. Officers catch up to Christopher, and he is on the ground, muttering and grunting under their bodies. They tell him to stop resisting. They continue to pin him down.
“Let go of my arm,” an officer says.
Minutes pass. Christopher seems to garble: “I can’t breathe.” He goes silent.
Officers cuff him, roll him over and prop him up. His head slumps. An officer checks his pulse. Christopher’s eyes close.
Officers carry his unconscious body off the porch, closer to the street. They sit him upright, hands behind his back, his mouth hanging open.
“Have you used any drugs?” an officer asks twice. Christopher does not respond.
“OK, I’m not feeling a pulse now,” an officer says.
A group of officers surrounds Christopher, his limp body spread across the grass, waiting for paramedics to arrive.
In the end, attorneys for Christopher’s family decided not to call Hiserodt to testify. After 1-800-Autopsy conducted the exam, the attorneys researched Hiserodt’s background and discovered his history of scientific misconduct. “He had a lot of problems,” Della Donna told me. “We can’t have anyone walk into that court who isn’t sterling clean.” (Hiserodt, defending his record, said, “If a person makes a mistake in their past, if they paid their dues, they should be forgiven. I pride myself in how I do my forensic work.”)
The attorneys asked the jury for $30 million in damages against Anaheim and its Police Department. A week later, on April 20, the guilty verdict against Chauvin came in as Katrina and Jay still awaited the decision in their case. Katrina took a sleeping pill that evening and sat on her bed staring at the news. Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, appeared on the screen, talking about supporting the many mothers who have lost children to police violence. Katrina felt as if Carr were talking directly to her.
Nine days after the Chauvin verdict, the jurors announced they had reached a decision. Christopher’s father listened via cell phone. Katrina squeezed Della Donna’s arm as it was read aloud. Jurors found that the Anaheim Police Department used excessive force. They placed 78 percent of the responsibility for Christopher’s death on the officers and awarded his parents $2.275 million in damages.
Katrina felt vindicated but also exhausted and traumatized. “They didn’t expect us to fight so hard.” She still wished the officers would face criminal charges. Katrina thought of the cases that don’t get their day in court. The ones not caught on video.
She could not know if including the testimony of an independent pathologist would have led to a more decisive victory, would have swayed the jury to believe that the police were completely responsible for her son’s death. Her heart told her that to have an expert refute the coroner’s report might have made even more of a difference.
The Eisinger family’s attorneys never told Hiserodt why they didn’t ask him to testify, but he nonetheless called the verdict “excellent.” He has conducted hundreds of autopsies in the three years since examining Christopher’s body: Covid cases, celebrity deaths, nursing-home patients and police victims, including that of 29-year-old Dijon Kizzee, who was killed by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies last August after riding his bike on the wrong side of the street. Law enforcement claimed Kizzee reached for a gun before he was shot. Hiserodt concluded that Kizzee was struck 15 times, including seven in his back side.
Any secondary autopsy involving the police is particularly daunting, Hiserodt told me. There is objective methodology involved in forensic analysis: handcuff marks, the location of bruises, heart occlusion. “You’ve got a body,” he said, “and you’ve got to figure out what happened.”
But at the end of the day, Hiserodt said, subjectivity also plays a key role. When multiple pathologists end up with varying conclusions, “it’s not so much the discrepancy of the findings,” he said. “It’s the interpretation.”
When a Northern Cheyenne family questioned their daughter’s untimely death, official indifference deepened their pain — and their suspicions.
By Elizabeth Williamson, July 11, 2021
Aiyanna Highwolf, one of Allison Highwolf’s daughters, tending to her mother’s grave on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. Credit...Tailyr Irvine for The New York Times
NORTHERN CHEYENNE RESERVATION, Mont. — The knock on the door came at 3 a.m., when Pauline Highwolf opened it to see a police officer from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “Don’t tell me,” she said, backing away.
The body of her 26-year-old daughter, Allison Highwolf, had been found alone in a motel room in Hardin, the officer said. It was February 2015, and Ms. Highwolf, who had been living in the motel with her boyfriend, had died of smoke inhalation from a fire of unclear origin.
The state medical examiner’s report said the manner of her death was undetermined, but suggested suicide. Ms. Highwolf’s family suspected foul play, given the strange circumstances. Ms. Highwolf had struggled with alcohol, her family members acknowledged, but she was a mother of four and they did not believe that she would take her own life.
The boyfriend told police he had returned to the motel that night to find the room filled with smoke and Ms. Highwolf’s body blocking the door.
Six years later, the circumstances of Ms. Highwolf’s death remain a mystery, one of many involving Native women who disappear or meet violent ends with alarming regularity. Her family and the local authorities agree that the case was shoddily handled and the initial investigation haphazard, as is often the case for Native Americans.
“They put her in the category of ‘just another drunken Indian,’” said one of Ms. Highwolf’s sisters, Rhea New Holy. “But she wasn’t.”
Today, under pressure from her family and an advocacy group in California, Ms. Highwolf’s case is under review. Pauline Highwolf is relieved it has been reopened, but she says a six-year effort to get there underscores the need for change in the way such cases are handled.
“We want to keep fighting, until we are heard,” she said. “And we want everyone who lost someone to keep fighting and know they’re not alone.”
In Montana, Native Americans, mostly young women, accounted for one-third of the 110 active missing persons cases in the missing persons’ clearinghouse at the end of 2019, according to a 2020 study by the state’s Justice Department. Big Horn County, where Ms. Highwolf’s body was found, and neighboring Rosebud County, home of the Northern Cheyenne reservation, lead the state for the number of missing people reported per capita. Last year, in the same town where Ms. Highwolf died, the body of Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, 18, who had been missing, was found in a backyard. Her case remains open.
Nationally, similar cases often linger unresolved for years. The authorities cite lack of evidence, lack of resources or confusion among Indian, local and federal jurisdictions. Victims’ families and their supporters blame discrimination, apathy and incompetence by law enforcement.
Underreporting and poor record-keeping obscure the dimensions of the problem, but data that does exist suggests the risk of rape or sexual assault is 2.5 times higher for Native women, and murder is their third leading cause of death, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute.
“There’s a hesitancy within our communities to work with law enforcement because law enforcement doesn’t care about us,” said Abigail Echo-Hawk, a Pawnee Nation member who is chief research officer at the Seattle Indian Health Board and directs the Urban Indian Health Institute.
The Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act, two bills signed in late 2020, proposed channeling more federal resources and attention to these cases, improving cross-jurisdictional enforcement and data collection. But putting the change into action has been slow, advocates say, despite stated support from President Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo citizen who has made missing and murdered Indigenous women a policy priority.
Instead, a patchwork of committed people and groups helps families search for missing loved ones and plead for full investigations of unexplained deaths.
Mary Kathryn Nagle, a lawyer who represents pro bono the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, calls the effort “the most hopeless line of work you can do in America.”
“No one in a position of authority is going to help you,” said Ms. Nagle, who is a Cherokee Nation citizen. “I think a lot of families give up.”
Not the Highwolf family.
“I went on a rampage of anger,” Pauline Highwolf said. “I want to live to see justice for my baby.”
A Strange Fire
Pauline Highwolf described her daughter as her “miracle baby,” born amid complications mother and daughter both survived. Growing up, Allison Highwolf had an effervescent personality, her mother said, and worked sporadically at the Boys & Girls Club in Lame Deer. Sometimes she joined her mother at powwows.
“She was humble and loving,” Pauline Highwolf recalled. “And forgiving, no matter what anybody did to her. She would see people making fun of people with addictions on the street, and she would get mad and say, ‘Don’t laugh at them. Don’t make fun of them. What if it’s one of us?’ It made us think. It made everybody think.”
Allison Highwolf had the first of her four daughters, Rayven, while still in her teens. Three more daughters followed, but Ms. Highwolf’s connection to the girls’ two fathers soon frayed. The daughters now range in age from 8 to 15.
“I was digging through her stuff and the letters she would write to her babies, and I just sat here and cried,” Pauline Highwolf recalled. “She was a good mother, a good mama. She loved her kids so much. It was just her relationships that went bad.”
At the time of her death, Ms. Highwolf and her boyfriend were living at the Rodeway Inn in Hardin, in part because neither of their families approved of the relationship. The boyfriend, Stephen Auker, worked nights. Police said the fire in the motel room started sometime between his departure for work in the late afternoon and the time Ms. Highwolf was found dead, around midnight.
In a phone call, Mr. Auker responded by offering to connect The Times with his attorney, but he did not provide the attorney’s name or respond to subsequent efforts to reach him.
The county coroner did not allow Ms. Highwolf’s family to see her body, which was covered in soot. She was autopsied at the state medical examiner’s office in Billings. A few days later, a mortician delivered her body, dressed in a white lace blouse, pants and moccasins her family chose for her, to the front room of Pauline Highwolf’s single-story house on the Northern Cheyenne reservation, where most of her family still lives.
Mourners arrived at the house for her wake. Some brought earrings for Ms. Highwolf to wear. Ms. New Holy would play Dani and Lizzy’s “Dancing in the Sky,” a song about young, untimely death that Ms. Highwolf loved. But when the family opened the coffin, they gasped in horror.
Ms. Highwolf’s face looked injured, with a scuff on her cheek and a bulging bruise on her forehead. The family folded down her lace collar and pulled up her sleeves. Pauline Highwolf used her cellphone to photograph marks on her daughter’s face, neck, wrists and hands. Fears that she had been beaten or strangled tormented them.
A toxicology report had confirmed the presence of alcohol and methamphetamine in Ms. Highwolf’s blood. Her family did research on their own, unsure whether the levels were high enough to have rendered her unable to escape the smoke that filled the small motel room. Pauline Highwolf appealed to the police for information but was rebuffed.
“Just because your daughter died, the world doesn’t revolve around you,” she said one officer told her.
Efforts to pursue a wrongful-death lawsuit against the motel fizzled, Ms. New Holy said. Private investigators cost more than the family could afford.
By 2019, four years after Ms. Highwolf’s death, another sister, Kim Red Cherries, used Facebook to contact the Sovereign Bodies Institute, a nonprofit in California that helps Indigenous people who are the victims of sexual violence. Last month, after nearly two years of effort, Annita Lucchesi, the organization’s director, who had publicly declared Ms. Highwolf’s death a murder, arranged a meeting with the Montana state medical examiner and other authorities to begin a review of Ms. Highwolf’s case.
The nearly four-hour meeting, held late last month and described to The New York Times by participants, raised more questions.
Jay Harris, the Big Horn County Attorney, reviewed copies of police reports in the meeting, including one that said the police found an entry in a journal in the motel room that could be interpreted as a suicide note. It was the first time the family had heard of such a note, and Pauline Highwolf remains skeptical of it. She has since seen a photograph of it and said she was unsure whether the handwriting was her daughter’s.
Pauline Highwolf also strongly objected to a statement in the post-mortem report that her daughter had “a prior history of suicide attempts.” That was not the case, she said. Mr. Harris said the information came from a Big Horn County law enforcement officer on the night of Allison Highwolf’s death, but could not explain why the officer included it. The officer has since left the department, and did not respond to messages left on his cellphone.
The medical examiner, Dr. Robert Kurtzman, and a member of his staff who conducted Ms. Highwolf’s autopsy, reviewed the post-mortem report. They told Ms. Lucchesi, who represented the family in the meeting, that the marks that Ms. Highwolf’s family photographed on her face and neck did not appear in photos taken before her autopsy.
The funeral home’s “preparation of the decedent for the viewing was inadequate, and did not conceal common post-mortem artifacts which are commonly mistaken for traumatic injury,” Dr. Kurtzman, who reviewed the family’s photos, told The Times, recounting what he told Ms. Lucchesi in the meeting.
“There were no internal or external injuries indicative of strangulation,” he said. “The cause of death was clearly due to carbon monoxide intoxication, as a consequence of smoke and soot inhalation.”
Pauline Highwolf, the state medical examiner and the Big Horn County Attorney agree that there were substantial gaps in the initial investigation. Of three cellphones found in the motel room, the county lawyer and Ms. Lucchesi said information in the file suggests only one phone was searched. The motel surveillance video, though mentioned in the case file, is missing.
Without further answers, resolution remains elusive.
“I still feel they’re in the wrong, and committed a lot of violations that they’re not admitting,” Pauline Highwolf said of law enforcement.
She wants to participate in future case review meetings. The Big Horn County Attorney’s office expects that the review will not be completed until the fall.
In a statement on Friday, Mr. Harris said his office would oversee a re-review “to ensure that best efforts have been made to uncover any criminal activity associated with Highwolf’s death.”
“In addition to working with law enforcement investigators, my office is working with representatives of the family to conduct a full prosecutorial review of all evidence available,” the statement said. It concluded that “there is no statute of limitations in Montana for homicide, but time is always of the essence when the interests of justice and closure to family and loved ones is at stake.”
On one recent afternoon, Ms. Highwolf’s four daughters clustered around their grandmother’s kitchen table, making a decoration for their mother’s grave: a depiction of a red dress, a symbol of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s movement.
Ms. Highwolf is buried in a parched hilltop cemetery where several generations of her family lie, her grave strung with lights that her family can see from their front window at night.