Archive for March, 2014

SACRAMENTO — If there has ever been a more nauseating corruption scandal in Sacramento, I’m not aware of it. Certainly not in the past 50 years.

The notion of a legislator masquerading as a gun control crusader while offering to help a mobster traffic in automatic rifles and rocket launchers is beyond hypocrisy. It’s sick.

The obligatory insert here: Everyone is presumed innocent until proved guilty in court.

But no one I’ve talked to presumes any innocence in this sordid case.

Especially not anyone who has read the 137-page FBI affidavit that summarizes an elaborate undercover sting leading to the arrest last week of state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) — “aka Uncle Leland” — on charges of conspiring to illegally deal firearms, public corruption and wire fraud.

Yee allegedly was teamed with his political fundraiser, consultant Keith Jackson, who also was charged in murder-for-hire and narcotics schemes. Jackson was aligned with convicted felon Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a San Francisco tong dragonhead — gang boss — accused of laundering money and trafficking in stolen cigarettes.

Back in the 1950s, there was a big bribery scandal involving the sale of liquor licenses by state Board of Equalization members, who then regulated alcohol. The board was stripped of that power and the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control was created.

Since then, we haven’t come close to anything like international gun running.

A 1980s FBI sting, which sent five legislators of both parties to prison, involved bribes for helping to pass legislation setting up a phony and innocuous shrimp processing plant. It was dubbed Shrimpscam. The FBI tipped off then-Gov. George Deukmejian, and he vetoed the bill.

In the last decade, two state elected officials — Republican Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush and Democratic Secretary of State Kevin Shelley — resigned amid heated but garden-variety political scandals.

Last month, Sen. Ronald S. Calderon (D-Montebello), following an FBI sting, was indicted on 24 felony counts that included accepting nearly $100,000 in bribes along with gourmet meals and pricey golf junkets. He has pleaded not guilty.

Also in February, a jury found Sen. Roderick D. Wright (D-Inglewood) guilty of lying about where he lives.

Nothing compares to Yee’s alleged chameleon trick of turning from gun control champion to international weapons trafficker.

A hero of gun regulators, Yee pushed unsuccessful legislation that would have closed a loophole in California’s assault weapons ban by making it mechanically impossible to quickly detach one empty magazine and insert a loaded replacement.

After the mass murder of children at a Connecticut elementary school in late 2012, Yee stood before cameras and said, “As a father, I have wept for the parents and families who lost their precious children.”

But at a San Francisco coffee shop in January, according to the FBI affidavit, Yee told an undercover agent pretending to be a mafioso seeking a $2-million arms deal: “Do I think we can make some money? I think we can make some money. Do I think we can get the goods? I think we can get the goods.”

The next month at a San Francisco restaurant, Yee allegedly took an agnostic stance about arms dealing, telling the agent: “People want to get whatever they want to get. Do I care? No, I don’t care. People need certain things.”

Yee allegedly told the agent he could arrange the arms sale from Muslim rebel sources in the Philippines and asked for a list of the desired weapons. “Mobile, light and powerful,” the agent replied.

And why was the veteran politician scumbagging on the dark side and risking prison, according to the FBI? Two reasons: to retire a $70,000 debt from his failed 2011 San Francisco mayoral campaign, and to help fund a bid this year for secretary of state, California’s chief elections officer.

Secretary of state? A second-tier ministerial job? Talk about a guy with warped priorities.

But Yee allegedly kept promising the supposed mobster that he could be of great help to him in the office. How? By fixing elections?

What gets into the twisted minds of such politicians?

Basically, I agree with Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who told me: “I think character and integrity are formed much earlier in life.

People are who they are. They come here pretty well formed. If anything, this atmosphere accentuates the positive character of many and the negative character of others.”

I’ve always thought that legislators pretty much represent the cross-section of society. There are rotten apples in all walks — embezzling accountants, Ponzi-scheming financiers, shady salesmen.

And there are earnest do-gooders. Steinberg is one, although he’s now facing a legacy of having inadvertently presided over a scandal-plagued Senate.

No question, anyone who has crooked tendencies confronts strong temptations in Sacramento.

My favorite explanation comes from the late Assembly Speaker Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh. He mused about people getting elected, entering the Capitol and believing they had become “invisible.”

Unruh famously observed that “money is the mother’s milk of politics.” But he ultimately concluded that “the milk has soured — turned to clabber.” And he advocated public financing of campaigns.

Longtime lobbyist George Steffes, whose Sacramento career dates to Gov. Ronald Reagan, points to legislators “surrounded by people catering to them, blowing smoke at them. And they believe it.”

There’s an arrogance of power, a sense of entitlement and a protective club atmosphere.

“They don’t police themselves well,” Steffes says. “And of course, very few industries and groups do. They reflect society.”

On Friday, the Senate suspended Yee, Calderon and Wright. By law, they still will get paid.

The Senate should have booted them permanently. Showed the public it won’t tolerate even a hint of corruption.

Fat chance.

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One Minnesota student’s legal battle over Facebook posts could send shock waves through schools across the country, redefining schools’ rights to search students’ devices and social media accounts without reasonable cause.

The Minnewaska School District has agreed to pay $70,000 to settle the 2012 case involving former sixth-grader Riley Stratton, now 15 years old.

In a phone interview with ABC News, Stratton said the ordeal began after she posted disparaging comments on her Facebook page about a teacher’s aide. She was at home at the time and not using school computers.

“I posted on my Facebook and said I didn’t like this Kathy person … I hated this Kathy person because she was mean,” Stratton said.

Though she was not using a school computer, Stratton says she received a detention and was forced to write a letter of apology. But it didn’t end there. Several days later, school officials received a complaint that Stratton and a male classmate were having explicit private conversations on Facebook – again, not on school computers. That’s when she says school officials made a demand.

“They interrogated me and told me to give them my password,” she said.

“I didn’t want detention, so I had to give them this.”

The American Civil Liberties Union took on the case, saying Stratton’s constitutional rights were violated, including the right to free speech and privacy. They sued for, among other things, “emotional distress.”

“Students have a lot of free speech rights on campus, but they are even more enhanced when they are off-campus. So that made it a more egregious violation of Riley’s constitutional rights,” said Wally Hilke, an attorney at Lindquist & Vennum, which represented Riley in the case.

The two sides settled, and while the school district is not admitting any wrongdoing, Superintendent Greg Schmidt says the district has updated its policies regarding the search of devices and social media accounts.

“[We'll] be certainly much more cautious about punishing people for things they say off-campus outside of school time,” Schmidt said.

Stratton simply wants to move forward.

“I lost trust in adults,” she said. “I’m just happy it’s over.”

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Almost 1 out of 5 drivers in Chicago are likely violating the city’s nine-year-old ban on using hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel, according to a state study that prompts questions about whether a new and stricter Illinois law will reduce accidents caused by distracted driving.

Chicago had the state’s highest rate of drivers visibly using electronic devices to either talk on the phone or send or read text messages, according to the statewide study conducted by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“The survey really told us a lot about what is going on every day,” said John Webber, IDOT’s communications director and the department’s former interim director of traffic safety.

The observational survey of more than 33,000 drivers was done on busy state highways, local roads and residential streets, officials said.

The purpose of the study, conducted in November and provided by IDOT to the Tribune, was to create a baseline to determine the effectiveness of a state law that went into effect Jan. 1 and is intended to further tighten restrictions enacted in 2013.

The new law prohibits drivers from using hand-held cellphones for any purpose. Hands-free technology such as Bluetooth headsets, earpieces and voice-activated devices are permitted.

The new provisions go further than a texting-while-driving ban that went into effect in Illinois last year and provide uniformity across the state, officials said. About 80 municipalities already had banned hand-held cellphone use while driving, IDOT said. That includes Chicago, which has had a ban since 2005.

In Chicago, nearly 18 percent of all drivers who were observed during the study — about 21 percent of female drivers and 15 percent of male drivers — were holding cellphones or other electronic devices close to their ears or faces.

The statewide rate was about 12 percent, the study found. There was a similar gender gap among the smaller portion of violators statewide, with about 14 percent of female drivers and 10 percent of male drivers.

Electronic device use by drivers in Cook County was 12 percent and almost 13 percent in DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Winnebago counties, the IDOT study found.

Six downstate counties (Champaign, Bureau, Effingham, Rock Island, Madison and St. Clair) had the lowest rate of illegal electronic device use, at 9 percent , the study reported.

IDOT officials said they could not provide definitive reasons for the regional differences, but they speculated that the lower average age of the population in the Chicago area and a higher average income might contribute to more drivers in northeastern Illinois owning smartphones.

In addition, slow-moving traffic on many Chicago-area roadways “may lead people to think they can text or phone safely,” resulting in higher use of hand-held devices than occurs downstate, IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller said.

“Just more opportunity, and frankly, if the population downstate tends to be older or lower in income, there are a lot of people middle-age and up who simply don’t get that engaged in the hand-held technology,” Miller added.

But other possible explanations abound, including that there are more cellphone reception dead spots in rural areas of the state.

In any event, the total ban on using hand-held devices while driving that took effect this year should help provide police with a more clear-cut enforcement strategy, said Webber, who initiated the IDOT study.

“The texting law was almost impossible to enforce. Police and state troopers said it was often in question whether a driver looking at a phone was actually texting,” Webber said. “Now a cop knows that if a driver is spotted with an electronic device in their hand while driving, it’s illegal.”

Still, the high rate of Chicago drivers disregarding a hand-held device law that’s been on the city’s books since mid-2005 “shows us challenges remain even with the new (state) law.”

Ian Savage, a Northwestern University professor who specializes in data-driven transportation research, left open the possibility that without the cellphone ban and accompanying fines, even more distracted drivers would be on the road endangering the public.

But “overall, I’m kind of skeptical about how much of a deterrent these kinds of laws actually are,” said Savage, who added that when he’s out walking his dog he often sees even police officers driving while talking on cellphones.

Savage said that when IDOT conducts a follow-up observational survey in a year to compare data from before and after the new law went into effect, researchers should be careful to go back to the same roads and at exactly the same times of day.

“What IDOT is doing sounds like it is scientifically defensible, but the opportunity to manipulate the outcome could be quite substantial,” he said.

The new Illinois law aimed at addressing the distracted driving problem and the thousands of injuries and deaths nationally that result is being supported by a new push from the federal government. The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to launch educational and enforcement efforts in April.

The campaign comes as newly released research shows virtually no change in the percentage of drivers text-messaging or visibly manipulating hand-held devices in the U.S. The percentage stood at 5 percent in 2012 — which means that at any given time during the day, an estimated 660,000 vehicles are driven by people using hand-held cellphones, according to the latest annual study conducted for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The study found that hand-held cellphone use continued to be higher among female drivers than male drivers; and highest among 16- to 24-year-olds and lowest among drivers 70 and older.

In 2012, more than 3,300 people were killed in distracted-driving crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In Illinois, fines for violations of the state hands-free rule start at $75. The penalty increases to $100 for a second violation, $125 for a third and $150 for each subsequent offense. After four violations, the Illinois secretary of state has the authority to suspend the driver’s license.

In Chicago, 32,141 cellphone violation tickets were issued by Chicago police in 2013 to drivers who failed to use hands-free devices, according to the Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings. The number of tickets has increased each year since 2005, records show. More than $3.6 million in fines were collected last year, although part of the revenue was for tickets issued in earlier years, city spokesman Bill McCaffrey said.

The average city fine is $100 and, since 2008, the violation, like a parking ticket, has not counted against a driver’s record. In 2005 through 2007, violations of Chicago’s hands-free cellphone law were treated as moving violations and cases were handled in Cook County Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, under state law, distracted drivers who are convicted of injuring others on the road face penalties of up to $2,500 in fines and less than a year of jail time. If deaths are involved, the fines could reach $25,000 and prison time could total up to three years.

Almost 6,000 crashes have occurred in Illinois from 2008 through 2012 in which driver distraction involving a cellphone was cited by police, according to IDOT, adding that 30 deaths resulted. A breakdown for 2013 is not yet available, officials said.

The good news is that total fatalities on Illinois roads so far this year are down from last year. Through March 23, 130 people have died in crashes. The toll was 199 fatalities for the same period in 2013, according to provisional data provided by IDOT.

But the short-term trend does not point to drivers putting more of a focus on their driving. Instead, traffic experts attributed the decrease primarily to this year’s severe winter.

“Fewer people ventured out during the extreme cold and stormy winter we experienced,” said Miller, the IDOT spokeswoman. “Nothing limits traffic crashes like unpredictable and severe weather.”

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The house where a shooting took place in Northfield early today is rented by the manager of troubled rapper Chief Keef, said Viktor Mehta, who manages the property for the owner.

It’s unclear if the rapper, whose real name is Keith Cozart, was present at the time of the shooting or otherwise involved.

Northfield police said this afternoon that the shooting remains under investigation, and asked anyone with information to contact the department at 847-441-3842. No one has been arrested, a police spokeswoman said, but police said the shooting “appears to be isolated and we believe the community is safe.”

One person is known to have been injured. Authorities earlier reported that the person was recovering in the ICU at NorthShore Skokie Hospital and later said the person is in stable condition.

The North Regional Major Crimes Task Force and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office have been brought in to help with the investigation.

Happ Road between Old Willow and Southgate is closed off to “facilitate an ongoing police investigation,” Northfield village officials said in an email. Residents will be allowed through to get to their homes.

Residents on the block have said that their neighborhood has been beset by noise and traffic problems that they blame on the residents of the home in question. Neighbors said Chief Keef fans will drive by, honk their horns and yell out his name.

Keef has had several recent scraps with the law. He had recently been released from court supervision in Cook County following earlier arrests and failed drug tests when he was arrested in Highland Park last week on suspicion of drunken driving, according to authorities.

Cozart could not be reached.

Mehta said, who manages the Northfield property, said he received a call from police this morning informing him that there had been a shooting at the house. Police were scarce on details, he said, adding that they told him the victim was recovering in the hospital, and they were still investigating.

Mehta said Chief Keef’s manager, who lives in the palatial home with his family, has been renting the house for about a year. Mehta said the manager was behind on rent and told him it was because his client was in rehab. He said he had no other problems with the tenants before this incident.

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Gunfire, police chase, crash in Logan Square

A police chase that began in Logan Square when officers witnessed gunfire ended a few blocks later when the fleeing car crashed into an SUV, authorities said.

The chase started about 2 a.m. at the intersection of Kimball, Diversey and Milwaukee avenues. Police saw gunfire coming from a car and gave chase south on Kimball Avenue. A gun was tossed from the car during the brief pursuit and recovered by police at Kimball and Schubert Street, officials said.

The chase ended at Fullerton Avenue, about half a mile south, after the fleeing car hit a parked SUV while heading south.

The SUV was pushed into a car in front of it, which hit another car, and the fleeing car spun around and ended up facing north in the intersection of Kimball and Fullerton avenues.

The crash left a trail of debris half a block long.

The car that fled, a gray four-door sedan, sustained major front-end damage. A woman’s purse sat atop the car as snow dusted the neighborhood about 2:30 a.m. A man and a woman in the car were arrested and taken into custody.

The car’s driver was not in custody.

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Eight people from Indiana have been arrested for allegedly stealing computer equipment, TVs and over-the-counter medication from freight trains in the Chicago area and northwest Indiana, officials said today.

In addition to the rail thefts, the eight-month investigation also uncovered an auto theft ring that stole at least 18 vehicles and two motorcycles valued at $291,000, said Lake County, Ind., Sheriff John Buncich. In total, authorities have recovered $2.8 million in stolen cargo and automobiles, he said.

“These guys really had an operation going,” he said.

Authorities have issued warrants for about a dozen more individuals from the Chicago area and Indiana in connection with the thefts, Buncich added.

After a rash of thefts from freight cars, authorities eight months ago began investigating and found individuals stealing from rail cars stopped overnight or for a brief period of time. They targeted rail yards in the Miller and Gary, Ind., areas as well as the Bedford Park and Western Avenue rail yards in Illinois, Buncich said.

The thieves targeted “high-ticket items” that they could move easily, such as televisions, computer equipment and more than $1 million in over-the-counter medication, like Tylenol and Rolaids, earmarked for Walgreens, said Buncich.

Afterward, the thieves sold the goods online and at Chicago storefronts, Buncich said. Firearms were also recovered during the investigation, he added.

The individuals arrested are Cleveland Neal, 35, Onrae Jordan, 29, Carl Rogers, 34, Larry Williams, 35, James Magee, 25, all of Gary; Triston Smith, 34, of Hammond; Derrick Frazier, 45, of Merrillville and Amanda Grove, 32, of Crown Point.

The felony charges against them include possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of a stolen firearm, possession of paraphernalia, possession of a retagged vehicle and fleeing.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office worked the case with the CSX railroad and the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

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Investigating Tax Refund Fraud

A Georgia woman was recently sentenced to 27 years in prison for stealing the identities of nursing home patients and using their information to apply online for about half a million dollars in fraudulent tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Criminals who use stolen personally identifiable information to line their own pockets perpetrate a wide variety of fraudulent financial schemes, like hacking into online accounts, submitting phony insurance claims, and applying for loans and credit cards. Increasingly, though, tax refund fraud using stolThe IRS has reported a significant increase in identity theft-related tax refund fraud over the past several years. This type of crime is perceived by criminals and organized criminal enterprises as relatively easy, seemingly low-risk, and, ultimately, pure profit which can be used to fund other criminal activities…like drug trafficking, money laundering, public corruption, or even terrorism.

Anyone with a Social Security number could become a victim. But criminals who commit tax refund fraud seem to focus more on people who don’t normally file tax returns—the elderly, low-income families, students, patients at long-term health care facilities, and even the homeless. Perpetrators also target public figures like celebrities, athletes, CEOs, and politicians, as well as law enforcement, military, and government personnel…including Attorney General Eric Holder.en identities is fast becoming a favorite money-making endeavor of the criminal element.

How a scheme works. The perpetrator fills out a federal tax return online with stolen identity information and phony wage and tax withholding figures, then informs the IRS how to provide the refund (a check mailed to a certain address, a direct deposit into a bank account he controls, or, more common these days, a deposit onto a debit card in his possession).

In simple tax refund schemes, one person usually handles everything—from obtaining stolen identities to collecting refunds. But in more sophisticated schemes, there are a number of individuals assuming different roles: “ringleaders” who organize entire operations, “sources” who steal identity information, “preparers” who file returns online, and “runners” who actually collect the proceeds.

Law enforcement response. The dedicated work done by IRS-Criminal Investigation professionals is a major component of that agency’s efforts to combat tax-related identity theft. And the IRS continues to make enhancements in fraud prevention, early detection, and victim assistance as well.

But the FBI—working with our partners at the IRS and U.S. Secret Service and through liaison efforts with banks—brings valuable investigative resources to the table: our years of experience investigating financial crimes, our focus on identifying and dismantling large criminal networks, and our use of sophisticated investigative techniques. We also share intelligence and information with other federal law enforcement partners to help link investigations of criminal organizations engaged in tax fraud schemes that may be tied to illegal drugs, weapons, terrorism, or other types of criminal activity.

All of these efforts are paying off—we’ve been part of many successful cases recently (see sidebar).

And the FBI will continue to work cooperatively to investigate stolen identity tax refund fraud—we take our role in identifying and arresting those responsible very seriously. These crimes not only victimize law-abiding individuals but all honest U.S. taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill for this stolen revenue.

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LOS ANGELES — Officers at thousands of law enforcement agencies are wearing tiny cameras to record their interactions with the public, but in many cases the devices are being rolled out faster than departments are able to create policies to govern their use.

And some rank-and-file officers are worried the technology might ultimately be used to derail their careers if, for example, an errant comment about a superior is captured on tape.

Most law enforcement leaders and civil liberties advocates believe the cameras will ultimately help officers because the devices give them a way to record events from their point of view at a time when citizens armed with cellphones are actively scrutinizing their every move.

They say, however, that the lack of clear guidelines on the cameras’ use could potentially undermine departments’ goals of creating greater accountability of officers and jeopardize the privacy of both the public and law enforcement officers.

“This is a brave new world that we’re entering here, where citizens and police both are going to be filming each other,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit police research and policy organization.

The U.S. Justice Department has asked Wexler’s group to help develop guidelines for the cameras’ use, from when the devices should be turned on to how departments can protect the privacy of those who are inadvertently captured on the footage.

Equipping police with cameras isn’t a new concept. For decades police have used cameras mounted to the dashboards of their patrol cars — initially referred to with suspicion by officers as “indict-o-cams” until they discovered the footage exonerated them in most cases.

As camera technology and data storage has become more affordable and reliable, the use of portable cameras has increased over the last five years. Now officers in one of every six departments are patrolling with them on their chests, lapels or sunglasses, according to Scott Greenwood, general counsel for the national American Civil Liberties Union and an expert on the cameras.

With the push of a finger, officers can show the dangers and difficulties of their work. Unlike dashboard cameras, body cameras follow the officer everywhere — when their cruiser stays parked at the curb, when they go into homes on search warrants or when they are running after a suspect.

The cameras, if they aren’t turned off, can go with officers into a bathroom or locker room, or capture private conversations between partners. Footage can become evidence in a criminal case, or be used to discipline officers or exonerate them of false accusations.

Without strong policies, experts say, departments could lose the public’s trust. The public needs to know cameras aren’t only being turned on when it’ll help officers. But there are certain moments such as during the interview of a sexual assault victim or talk with a confidential informant when filming may be sensitive or even compromise a case, said Bay Area attorney Mike Rains, whose firm often represents officers and has worked on body camera policies with departments.

The Los Angeles Police Department is now field testing cameras with an eye toward ultimately deploying them to all patrol officers — a move that would make its program the nation’s largest. For the six months of the test, underway now, there will be no official policy. Department officials say a policy will be created with input from the community and union, when they know more about how the cameras work in the field.

Union chief Tyler Izen, who represents more than 9,900 sworn officers, said that while there’ve been no complaints so far, the strategy is risky and could be problematic for his officers as well as the public, which has become an involuntary guinea pig in the trial. “They’re basically taking their chances,” Izen said.

There’s still very little research into the impacts of these cameras on policing and their ripple effects on the criminal justice system, said Justin Ready, assistant professor at Arizona State’s department of criminology and criminal justice. But more studies are underway, including two that Ready is involved in.

The police department in Rialto, Calif., concluded a yearlong University of Cambridge study last year that found an 89 percent drop in complaints against officers during the camera trial. The chief has since mandated its deployment to its roughly 90 sworn officers.

Rialto police Sgt. Richard Royce said he was exonerated by the footage during the study.

“I’d rather have my version of that incident captured on high-definition video in its entirety from my point of view, then to look at somebody’s grainy cellphone camera footage captured a 100 feet away that gets cropped, edited, changed or manipulated,” Royce said.

Greenwood of the ACLU said he’s provided input in drawing up the Justice Department guidelines. He said the proposed policy is pretty good, but gives officers more discretion than is wise.

“It’s a far better policy decision to mandate the encounter be recorded and deal with the unwanted video,” Greenwood said. Because if a situation goes bad quickly and there’s no footage, the officer is in trouble, Greenwood said.

Captured video could protect the department — and ultimately the taxpayer— from a false claim and expensive litigation or result in disciplining a problem officer.

One case, also in Oakland, is being used to educate officers in California about the technology. An officer chasing a suspect said he saw the suspect with a gun in his hand before fatally shooting him three times in ¾ of a second. A gun was later found in the grass.

It cost the city $10,000 to have roughly 15 seconds of video analyzed by an expert, and because of the angle of where the camera was placed — on the officer’s chest — no gun was seen in the suspect’s hand on film, said Rains, an attorney whose firm represented the officer.

Sgt. Barry Donelan, the police union chief in Oakland, said the department initially moved to terminate the officer for an excessive response, but he was ultimately exonerated because the video analysis backed up the officer’s account.

Donelan said the danger with such footage is it taps into a human tendency to over rely on video at the expense of other accounts of an event, and can be especially problematic in high-adrenaline situations.

When that happens, “it’s just about the camera,” Donelan said. “It’s the ultimate Monday morning quarterbacking tool.”

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Chicago voters weighed in on three city referendums Tuesday, with a majority coming out in favor of keeping firearms out of restaurants that serve alcohol and limiting the size of gun magazines, and most taking a dim view of raising taxi fares, according to preliminary results.

The three questions on the city’s primary ballots carry no official weight but serve as a poll on what voters think about the topics. The low election turnout in Chicago, thanks to a lack of top-of-the-ticket contested races among Democrats, raises questions about the value of even the nonbinding opinions in taking the pulse of the electorate.

On the question of whether the state’s concealed carry law should be amended to ban the possession of concealed firearms in any place that has a liquor license, nearly three-quarters of voters said yes, with 96 percent of precincts reporting.

The City Council already has adopted an ordinance to revoke liquor licenses from establishments that do not ban firearms. State law bans weapons only in bars or restaurants that make more than half their money from selling alcohol.

About 76 percent of voters said yes to a referendum asking whether the state should pass a measure to ban gun magazines with more than 15 rounds, again with 96 percent of precincts in. The proposal is backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn.

Just less than 40 percent of voters were in favor of hitting the pocketbooks of cab passengers by increasing rates, with 96 percent of precincts reporting. The referendum question asked whether fares should go up to “bring Chicago’s taxi fleet in line with other cities” and noted that it would be the first hike in eight years, but it did not specify to what the rate should be raised.

Cabdrivers have asked for an increase on the $1.80 per-mile charge but haven’t gotten a hearing since summer 2012, when aldermen declined to raise rates.

Voters in about 5 percent of Chicago precincts were asked if the minimum wage in the city should be increased to $15 per hour. With 90 percent of precincts counted, 87 percent of voters said yes.
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Two downstate firearms instructors have been decertified for failing to provide the required amount of training to students seeking concealed carry firearms permits, Illinois State Police announced today.

Ninety-eight students certified by the instructors did not get the full 16 hours of training required by the state to carry a hidden handgun in public, police stated in a news release.

The instructors’ names were not released, but their cases were referred to the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s office in Belleville, near St. Louis.

Prosecutors were reviewing a range of options, police said, including cease and desist letters, restitution or criminal prosecution. Police said students reported the short-cut.

“The people of good faith who have come forward believe in law abiding, responsible gun ownership and will ensure that the integrity of concealed carry training is upheld and not twisted into a means to defraud consumers,” State’s Attorney Brendon Kelly stated in the release.

While many concealed carry students may have had prior experience, police said, students are not eligible to get credit for prior training.

State police were in the process of notifying the students that their training is invalid and their applications will be denied.

“Anyone caught abusing the system could potentially face state and federal fraud charges,” state police Director Hiram Grau warned.

Statewide, about 52,000 people have applied for concealed carry licenses, and police have awarded more than 12,000.

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