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16 Jun

O.J. Simpson launched a Twitter account with a video post in which the former football star said he’s got a “little gettin’ even to do.”

Simpson confirmed the new account to The Associated Press on Saturday, saying in a phone interview while on a Las Vegas golf course that it “will be a lot of fun.”

“I’ve got some things to straighten out,” he said.

He did not elaborate before he said he had to go and ended the call.

Simpson has generally kept a low profile since his release from prison in October 2017 for robbery and kidnapping over an attempt to steal back some of his sports memorabilia from a Las Vegas hotel room.

In the Twitter video, Simpson said his followers would get to read all his thoughts and opinions on “just about everything.”

“Now, there’s a lot of fake O.J. accounts out there,” he said, adding that this one would be official. He appeared to record the message himself and ended it with a grin.

The 71-year-old recently told the AP he was happy and healthy living in Las Vegas 25 years after the killings of his ex-wife and her friend. Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were stabbed to death on the night of June 12, 1994.

Simpson was ultimately acquitted of the crime after a televised trial that riveted the nation and raised thorny issues of racism, police misconduct, celebrity and domestic violence.

Relatives of the two victims have expressed disgust that Simpson is able to live the way he does. Simpson was ordered to pay $33.5 million for the wrongful deaths of the two victims, but most of the judgment has not been paid.

Simpson has continued to declare his innocence in the two slayings. The murder case is officially listed as unsolved.

In his recent interview , Simpson told the AP that neither he nor his children want to talk about the killings ever again.

“My family and I have moved on to what we call the ‘no negative zone.’ We focus on the positives,” he said.

———

Linda Deutsch is a retired special correspondent for The Associated Press. She covered all of Simpson’s legal cases during her 48-year career as a Los Angeles-based trial reporter.

Credit: Source link

15 Jun

FILE – In this July 20, 2017 file photo, former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev. Simpson has launched a Twitter account with a video post in which the former football star says he’s got a “little gettin’ even to do.” Simpson confirmed the new account to The Associated Press on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Simpson said in a phone interview it will be a lot of fun and that he had some things to straighten out. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool, File)


Credit: Source link

15 Jun

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The last thing Lauren remembered thinking was that she was going to die.

The man who’d offered her a lift a few minutes before at a busy Anchorage gas station was suddenly on top of her, his hands around her throat.

“I just remember trying to say something and I couldn’t get it out,” she recalled through tears. “I was trying to breathe and I couldn’t take one breath.”

She thought of her family. She thought of her mom, who was living up at one of the Alaska Native villages farther north. She thought of her brothers and sisters, of her little niece and nephews. She would never get to see any of them again.

“Right before I blacked out,” she said, “I just remember thinking, This is it.”

When Lauren woke up, he was zipping up his pants. The man who just moments ago had told her he was going to kill her was asking if she needed something to wipe her face.

“I was confused,” she said, “and when I stand up and I look in the reflection in the car, I see that he came all over my face.”

The man wasn’t really going to kill her, he tried to explain; he just needed her to think he was in order to fulfill his sexual fantasy. He let her grab her backpack from his truck and then he drove away, leaving her shell-shocked and alone in the lunchtime summer sun.

“I remember being just so shocked that he was brave enough to do this in the middle of the day. He was on his way to work,” Lauren said.

“The look in his eyes,” she recalled. “No soul. No nothing.”

The Aug. 8, 2017, attack on Lauren, whom BuzzFeed News agreed to identify with only her first name, horrified Alaskans when it made the local news. But the more shocking part — the part that would cause a political and legal firestorm — would come more than 12 months later.

Lauren’s attacker, a 33-year-old married father named Justin Schneider, has admitted that he had forced himself on Lauren. He admitted that he did it to satisfy his sexual desires. He admitted that he masturbated onto her. He admitted that he ejaculated on her face. But he was not charged with sexual assault. As a first-time offender, he accepted a deal to plead guilty to just a single count of second-degree assault, and he walked out of the courtroom a free man. “I would just like to emphasize how grateful I am for this process,” Schneider, who declined to speak with BuzzFeed News, told the court. He’d been working on himself, he said. “I’m very eager to continue that journey.”


Kirsten Swann / Anchorage Daily News via AP

Justin Schneider appears in Anchorage district court on Aug. 17, 2017.

The case soon became a viral sensation as media and celebrities railed online against the injustice of Schneider’s light sentence. In one meme shared 47,000 times on Facebook, he was called “the face of white privilege” who had a sexual assault charge “dropped.”

But the reality was much more complicated. The prosecutors didn’t drop the sexual assault charge. They never brought one in the first place — because, they said, the law would not allow them to.

In Alaska, sexual assault has a very narrow definition: It has to involve either “knowingly touching, directly or through clothing, the victim’s genitals, anus, or female breast,”  or knowingly causing the victim to touch either the defendant’s, or the victim’s own, genitals. So because Schneider touched only his own genitals but didn’t touch Lauren’s or force her to touch his, his actions didn’t qualify as sexual assault.

“While the facts of this case were particularly disturbing, Mr. Schneider’s offensive physical contact with bodily fluid such as semen is not categorized as a sex crime under Alaska law,” said John Skidmore, then director of the Criminal Division at the Alaska Department of Law, in a subsequent review of the case.

In the aftermath of Lauren’s case, Alaska lawmakers last month voted to close what has been dubbed the “Schneider loophole.”

But out of 54 US states and territories, 44 of these jurisdictions, including Alaska, do not have a legislated definition of sexual contact that explicitly mentions contact with semen, according to research by BuzzFeed News and AEquitas, a DC-based nonprofit group of former specialized prosecutors who focus on issues of gender-based violence and human trafficking. In Delaware, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Texas, to name just a few, Schneider might still slip through the same loophole.


BuzzFeed News

US jurisdictions where the law regards ejaculating on another person as “sexual contact” or “sexual acts.”

Jennifer Long, who runs AEquitas, said unwanted contact with ejaculate is a “humiliating” and “egregious” form of sexual assault.

“There is a past and in some ways present tendency to minimize contact or penetration that doesn’t meet the most stereotypical elements of assault: gunpoint, violence, penetration, ejaculation, injuries everywhere,” she said. “But that’s not necessary in order to be a crime of sexual violence.

“Just because a penis or vagina hasn’t physically touched someone but ejaculate has, it doesn’t lessen the crime or its impact on the victim.”

“Just because a penis or vagina hasn’t physically touched someone but ejaculate has, it doesn’t lessen the crime or its impact on the victim,” she said.

Schneider’s crime had a profound impact on Lauren. In the months after her brutal assault, and then again amid the media circus sparked by his sentencing, she chose to remain silent. But last month, Lauren made the decision to sit down with BuzzFeed News.

“Now that I’ve had time to process it all,” she said, “I’ve felt it is time for people to hear my side of the story.”


Brian Adams for BuzzFeed News

The site where Lauren was attacked, near the intersection of West 36th Avenue and Wisconsin Street.

Lauren is now 27 years old. A wave of long, dark hair sweeps down the side of the gray zip-up hoodie she’s wearing when we meet in a windowless room at her lawyers’ office in downtown Anchorage. She occasionally pulls the sleeves of her sweater over her hands to fiddle with the cuffs as she talks. She’s carrying a cracked iPhone and a plastic bag full of junk food: Reese’s Pieces and two bottles of a yellow energy drink. She radiates exhaustion.

Lauren’s lawyer Jim Davis had helped set up the interview, saying he felt she had reached “a more stabilized place” in her recovery and was ready to talk. But on the appointed day, she was extremely fragile and hesitant. “I wish you were here,” she texted her girlfriend. “I’m nervous.”

After a short pep talk, her lawyer introduced her only as Jane — as in Jane Doe, which is the way she’s identified in legal documents. She is guarded at first, but after 15 or so minutes, she decides to lower the gate. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Lauren.”

Her voice cracking as she sniffed back tears, and while stopping at several moments during the interview to compose herself, she began recounting the worst day of her life.

Lauren spent her first eight or so years in Anchorage, a city of roughly 300,000 people — the largest in Alaska — framed by the icy, muddy waters of the Cook Inlet to the west and, to the east, by a ring of glorious, snowcapped mountains that seem to jut up from nowhere. “I think when a lot of people come to Alaska, they’re just taken aback by how beautiful it is,” she said. “Especially up in the villages,” the vast, remote areas where she had moved in second grade, “where I’m from, there’s no trees anywhere. It’s just all tundra.”

Moving to her mother’s small Native village had been a big shock for a city kid. “It was very — almost like a culture shock for me because of how small it was,” she said. “I was used to being able to go to the mall and different high school pools, and at the village there’s one high school and no malls at all.”

Her grandmother lives in one of the Native American reservations down in the Lower 48, as Alaskans like to call the mainland states, along with lots of her cousins. “They would ask if I lived in an igloo,” she said of the people she met down south, “or if I rode dog sleds to school.”

Drawn back to Alaska’s big city as an adult, Lauren made a home for herself once again in Anchorage, where she still has family.

It was a visit to her uncle that brought her to the Spenard neighborhood on Aug. 8, 2017, but as it turned out, he wasn’t home, so she walked to a nearby gas station. She was cursing her luck, having just missed the bus back across town, when a white Toyota SUV pulled up.

“He says, ‘Hey, what’s your name again?’” Lauren recalled. “And I said, ‘Do we know each other?’ And he says, ‘I’m Dan.’”

The man was tall — over 6 feet 2 inches, she believed — and had a short, scruffy beard in the same reddish color as his hair. He was wearing a long-sleeved red shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His shirt was neatly tucked into his blue jeans. He looked smart, like he was heading to work.

“I just remember those eyes…those eyes,” she said. “You don’t forget the face of someone who you thought was going to kill you.”

She couldn’t remember if she knew him or not, but he was offering her a lift. She was reluctant at first, but he seemed friendly and she needed to get across town. Plus, she didn’t want to seem ungrateful. “Against my better judgment,” she said, “I got in.”

Rick Allen, who was Anchorage district attorney at the time of Lauren’s case, said that in Alaska, where distances are long and conditions can be harsh, picking up strangers is no big deal: “If someone approaches you and says, ‘Hey, can you take me 2 miles down the road?’ and you’re going that way, you just do that stuff.”

The man asked Lauren if they could make a brief stop so he could pick something up from his other car. She agreed, and he pulled onto a short, unpaved side street in a quiet residential area, where tall trees and leafy scrub provided plenty of cover.

He asked Lauren to get out while he loaded the SUV. “When I get to the back of the car, he tackles me down to the ground, and I remember just getting so scared,” she recalled through tears. “He just totally blindsided me.”

The man told her he’d kill her if she screamed. She promised not to. “Then he looks at me in my eyes and he says, ‘Let me kill you anyways,’” she recalled, tears streaming down her cheeks. “And then he starts choking me.”

When she regained consciousness, Lauren realized she’d lost her flip-flops in the struggle. Barefoot and extremely shaken, she moved to the side of the path, suddenly worried he was going to run her over.

But amid the terror, she displayed remarkable composure. When he gave her the cloth to wipe what police later called “a huge splotch of ejaculate,” she was careful not to wipe it all away, so there would be some left for police to test. She also remembered to ask for her bag, which had her cellphone inside. Then, as Schneider drove away, “I just remember thinking to myself, Get his license plate, get his license plate.” The moment his car rounded the bend, she reached into her bag, called 911, and blurted out the plate number.

At the hospital, a detective showed Lauren six photos of different men. She had no trouble picking him out.

“I just remember those eyes…those eyes,” she said. “You don’t forget the face of someone who you thought was going to kill you.”


David Mack / BuzzFeed News

Women in Alaska are in more danger of being murdered by a man than women in any other state. A 2016 study by the Violence Policy Center found the rate was nearly three times the national average. And one-third of Alaskan adult women have experienced sexual violence, according to a 2015 survey from the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center.

The statistics are even worse for indigenous women like Lauren. Murder is the third leading cause of death among Alaska Native women, according to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. On some reservations, women are 10 times more likely to be killed than in other counties. Almost half of them have endured rape, physical violence, or stalking, the federal government found in 2012. One in three Native women will be raped in their lifetime.

The problem is not confined to reservations or Alaska Native villages. The Urban Indian Health Institute, a division of the Seattle Indian Health Board, has found records of 31 indigenous women or girls who had gone missing or were murdered in Anchorage between 1975 and 2018. Only Seattle and Albuquerque, two cities with roughly double the population of Anchorage, had more cases.

“In terms of sexual assault and violence against women, unfortunately that’s a problem all over Alaska,” said Allen, the former Anchorage district attorney. “That’s a problem in rural Alaska, it’s a problem in urban Alaska, and it’s just something that we are all ashamed of and want to try to improve.”

Janel Gagnon, a volunteer with No More Mat-Su, an anti–domestic violence group operating in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley outside of Anchorage, moved to the state three years ago from Portland, Oregon, but was born in California. Before moving north, she had three big fears: cold weather, bears, and moose. “I’ve come to love the cold, I’ve never seen a bear, and I’ve only seen a handful of moose,” she said. “But do you know what I’m afraid of now? I’m really afraid of the people.

“Those statistics mean you have a lot of perpetrators walking around, and they must be perpetrators we all know,” she said. “Why aren’t we talking about them? Because then we’d have to talk about people that live next door.”


David Mack / BuzzFeed News

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

Following his assault on Lauren, Justin Schneider drove himself to his job at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, one of the busiest cargo airports in the world, where he worked as an air traffic controller. When he finished later that night, he drove the 30 minutes home to Eagle River to be with his wife and two children.

He was arrested the next day.

Lauren felt relief when she heard the news. Part of her had feared he would somehow find her and “finish off the job.”

But she was particularly shocked to learn what her attacker did for a living. “My first thought was this guy’s pretty much in charge of people in the air — this psychopath,” she said. “Obviously there’s something in his head that gets off on the act of killing, and it just blew my mind that he was in charge of all those lives in the air. It was just insane.”

Just a week after her attack, Lauren testified in front of a grand jury. Schneider was indicted on three felony charges: kidnapping, along with assault in the second and third degree. The kidnapping charge alone carried a sentence of up to 99 years in prison.

“I’m a lawyer who’s been doing this kind of work for 20 years, but I had never been faced with this kind of fact scenario before. None of us had.”

But he also faced a misdemeanor charge for what’s known as first-degree harassment. This, it turned out, was the only charge prosecutors felt they could bring against him for masturbating and ejaculating on Lauren’s face.

Under Alaska law, a person is guilty of first-degree harassment if they subject another to “offensive physical contact … with human or animal blood, mucus, saliva, semen, urine, vomitus, or feces.” As written, the law covers the act of being hit with ejaculate, but not of being masturbated on. (The statute, like many similar laws across the country, is primarily designed to protect prison guards from inmates hurling cups of bodily fluids at them from their cells. Some of these statutes explicitly limit the scope of victims to law enforcement officers and emergency responders.) Essentially, then, Alaska’s law regarded what Schneider did as equivalent to spitting in someone’s face.

Andrew Grannik, the then–assistant district attorney in Anchorage who handled the case, was not willing to speak about it, according to a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Law. But Grannik’s former boss, Allen, told BuzzFeed News he recalled Grannik coming to him to discuss the case.

“I think I might have even grabbed my statute book and said, ‘Surely that’s a sex offense. I mean, that has to be a sex offense, right?’” said Allen. “And he says, ‘No, Rick, I’ve looked at it every which way and it’s not a sex offense.’ And I went through the statutes with him and he was right.”

The prosecutors were at a loss.

“I’m a lawyer who’s been doing this kind of work for 20 years,” said Allen, “but I had never been faced with this kind of fact scenario before. None of us had.”

Cases like Lauren’s are rare but not unheard of. In 2005, three male college students at the University of Connecticut watched porn together, then took turns masturbating and ejaculating onto a woman student who was sleeping on the futon in one of their dorm rooms. The incident prompted Connecticut to change its laws so as to criminalize this conduct as a sexual assault.

In 2013, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Colorado Boulder was arrested after breaking into a woman student’s dorm room and masturbating over her as she slept. He ended up having to plead guilty only to invasion of privacy and one count of second-degree burglary — for the theft of her underpants.

At the time of Lauren’s assault, only nine states — Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin — had legislated definitions of “sexual contact” or “sexual acts” that explicitly included ejaculating onto another person. In Pennsylvania, it’s listed as the separate offense of indecent assault, while in Oregon, semen is classified as a relevant “dangerous substance” and forms part of the misdemeanor offense of third-degree sexual abuse.

But even in these states, lawmakers can’t seem to legislate fully against the scope of human aggression. In 2014, a Minnesota man was caught repeatedly ejaculating into his unsuspecting colleague’s coffee and on her desk over a period of six months. “I knew it. I have drank his semen,” the victim told police. “I just thought it was spoiled cream.” The man’s sexual assault charges were later dropped in favor of a misdemeanor count of engaging in lewd or indecent behavior. Prosecutors determined that Minnesota’s sexual assault laws only covered cases in which seminal fluid touched a victim’s clothing or body directly. Because the man’s semen had entered the woman’s coffee before she consumed it, this indirect contact wasn’t sexual assault.

In most states where contact with ejaculate isn’t expressly defined as “sexual contact,” thus allowing prosecutors to pursue sexual assault charges, these assaults are likely to be prosecuted under indecent exposure laws, which are usually misdemeanor offenses with much lower penalties.

Otherwise, in many states, it’s up to judges to determine whether the existing laws can be interpreted in such a way as to classify such contact as sexual in nature. So prosecutors may choose to take on cases that don’t quite fit the definition, and hope for a judge who is willing to interpret the statutes broadly.

But, as recent events in Colorado demonstrate, that approach can backfire.

A 2002 case in that state, People v. Vinson, established the precedent that it was possible to make sexual contact with another person’s intimate body parts through bodily fluids. In that case, a man ejaculated onto his stepdaughter’s jeans-covered buttocks while he thought she was napping in her bed. Although he argued he never physically touched her, the Court of Appeals of Colorado disagreed.

“Certainly the crime he committed doesn’t fit the punishment that he got.”

But last year, the same court reached a different decision in a particularly disturbing case. Senon Louis Ramirez had been convicted by a jury in 2016 of asking his 4-year-old foster daughter and her 6-year-old sister to approach him, masturbating into their hands, and then making them drink the semen. The act only came to light years later when the younger daughter told her new adoptive family what had happened. However, because she testified that Ramirez hadn’t made her touch his “private parts,” as the young girl called them, and that he hadn’t touched hers, the Court of Appeals threw out his conviction and 20-year jail sentence.

The relevant Colorado statute defined “sexual contact” as “the knowing touching of the victim’s intimate parts by the actor, or of the actor’s intimate parts by the victim” or the clothing covering these “intimate parts.” According to the two-person majority of appeals judges, Vinson had only established the precedent that semen could be used to touch these intimate parts, which in that case were the stepdaughter’s buttocks. But because the Colorado law defined “intimate parts” as “the external genitalia or the perineum or the anus or the buttocks or the pubes or the breast of any person,” Ramirez was not guilty of sexual assault under the law as it was written because he had ejaculated into the children’s hands.

“What he’s done to these little kids will traumatize them for the rest of their lives,” said Dave Young, the Adams County district attorney who prosecuted the case, “and now he has a misdemeanor conviction for indecent exposure, so certainly the crime he committed doesn’t fit the punishment that he got.”

The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, which lobbies Colorado lawmakers on criminal justice issues, called for an urgent change to the state’s laws. Colorado General Assembly Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet introduced a bill in January to expand the definition of sexual contact to include the knowing ejaculation of seminal fluid on any part of a victim. It was passed and signed by the governor in April, and that legal loophole is now closed.

“I think that since it’s been identified in enough states,” Michaelson Jenet told BuzzFeed News, “that each state should take a hard look at their laws and make sure they can prosecute a crime of this heinous sexual nature in the way that it should be prosecuted.”


Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News

Anchorage’s assistant district attorney Andrew Grannik had a decision to make.

He felt he was unable to prosecute Schneider for sexual assault, but he was also uncertain about his chances of convicting Schneider on the felony kidnapping charge. Lauren had entered and exited his car willingly, and the DA’s office wasn’t sure whether it could argue she had been “restrained” or moved against her will, as the law required. “Kidnapping under Alaska state law is very difficult to prove,” said Allen, the former Anchorage district attorney who was Grannik’s boss. “You have to have a pretty narrow set of facts and circumstances to be able to prove it.”

That left them with the felony second-degree assault charge for the strangulation and the misdemeanor harassment charge. Because Schneider had no previous convictions, the most he could get would be two years in prison.

So Grannik, a former engineer-oceanographer who fled the Soviet Union for freedom in the US, made a strategic decision. He offered Schneider a plea deal.

Under the terms of the deal, Schneider would have to plead guilty only to the felony assault charge. In exchange, the state would drop the kidnapping and harassment charges. Prosecutors would pursue the maximum sentence of two years on the assault charge, with one year suspended.

But Schneider would also have to agree to sex-offender probation conditions for three years, despite the absence of any sex-offender charge. This included undergoing treatment, as well as potentially being willing to sit for polygraph and psychological tests and potentially being banned from possessing pornography, among other conditions.

“Who would you rather have living next to you?” Allen asked in defending Grannik’s decision. “The guy who just did the two years on this and was right back out on the street? Or somebody who did one year and has another year hanging over his head and is required to jump through all these hoops and do counseling and go through sex-offender screening? I think when he made that analysis from a public safety perspective, that’s the decision that he made.”

But as part of his release on bail following several weeks in jail upon his initial arrest, Schneider had also spent the last year at his parents’ home four hours away in Homer, Alaska, wearing an ankle monitor for which his family laid out roughly $5,000. Under Alaskan law, Schneider’s time under house arrest could be credited toward his sentence. This meant that instead of heading to prison for a year, he would walk out of the sentencing hearing a free man.

“Had he been a poor guy from the east side of Anchorage” — someone whose family couldn’t spare the $5,000 — Allen said, “he probably would have spent his whole year in a hard bed in a jail somewhere.”

Davis, Lauren’s lawyer with the Northern Justice Project, a private law firm defending the civil rights of low- and middle-income Alaskans, railed against the plea deal and said he believed Schneider could have been convicted of kidnapping before a jury. But Davis also said he suspected race was a factor. “I know for a fact if the victim was Ivanka Trump, the guy would not have had the kidnapping charge just dismissed outright,” he said.

“Had you had a progressive woman DA or a DA that was a person of color that gave a shit about stuff like this,” he added, “you could have pushed on the kidnapping charge and got a deal, got either a deal where the guy went to jail or got a prison sentence where the guy went to jail.”

“I will like the gentleman to be on notice that this is his one pass.”

On Sept. 19, 2018, Schneider and his attorney appeared alongside Grannik before Superior Court Judge Michael Corey in downtown Anchorage to plead guilty under the terms of the deal.

Lauren was nowhere to be seen.

Grannik told the court his office had “tried to call” her but had received a “caller not available” message. Corey did not halt the hearing to ask prosecutors to try harder to reach Lauren. Instead, he determined that they had met their requirement to exercise “due diligence” in inviting the victim to attend.

Grannik spoke at length about the harm that had resulted from Schneider’s “extremely dangerous” conduct. But the suffering that Grannik focused on was not that of Lauren but, rather, of Schneider himself. “This gentleman destroyed his life. That’s what he did. He had an American dream kind of life and he decided to destroy it,” said Grannik in court, explaining that as a result of the case, Schneider had lost his job as an air traffic controller, and that amounted to “basically life punishment.”

Then, to explain that any future offenses Schneider might commit would not be met with a plea deal, Grannik said something that would haunt both him and the case in the months ahead. “I will like the gentleman to be on notice that this is his one pass,” he said.

“It’s not really a pass,” Grannik said, immediately trying to correct himself, “but given the conduct, one might consider that it is.”

Schneider’s lawyer, Mike Moberly, then told the court his client “very early on empathized” with the victim, saying this boded well for his prospects of rehabilitation.

This was the only time Lauren was mentioned.

“I think those that would learn about what is transpiring here today would find this result breathtaking.”

Corey at first appeared uncomfortable with the sentence before him. But he deferred to the prosecutor, saying he had never known Grannik to be a pushover. “He is a zealous advocate of the interests of the state and the community,” Corey said, “and I think it speaks volumes that an individual such as Mr. Grannik is advocating for the acceptance of what at first blush would really quite strike me as way too light a sentence.”

He acknowledged that the sentence favored Schneider’s rehabilitation over deterrence or community condemnation of the crime, but he agreed that rehabilitation was a worthy goal, so he accepted the plea deal.

“I would consider, quite frankly, this result an outlier,” he said. “You don’t come across this fact pattern, this set of circumstances, very often at all.”

As if somehow anticipating the storm that was to come, Corey told his courtroom, “I think those that would learn about what is transpiring here today would find this result breathtaking.”

“That,” he later told BuzzFeed News, “may have been the understatement of the year.”


Brian Adams for BuzzFeed News

Brother and sister Isaac and Elizabeth Williams, activists at No More Free Passes, based in Anchorage.

Lauren learned about the plea deal the next day from a story in the newspaper. A few hours later, she got an email about the restitution Schneider would have to pay her.

“That just blew my mind. Why would they send me an email the day after and not the day before, talking about the sentencing and everything?” she said. “Because if they’d sent me an email, I would’ve been on the phone. I would’ve been there.”

She said she’d changed her phone number in the months before, and amid the mess that her life had devolved into, she had forgotten to tell the DA’s office. But it had already used her email to contact her about Schneider’s bail hearings, she said, and she’d waited months for the office to email her about his sentencing hearing.

“I think someone picked up the phone and dialed my old number and that was it,” she said. “And to me that’s just sad and pisses me off.”

After being contacted by BuzzFeed News with Lauren’s allegations, Paul J. Miovas, the Criminal Division director at the Alaska Department of Law, reviewed the state’s files and said officials tried two phone numbers, once each. But he confirmed that no one at the DA’s office had tried to email her before the hearing in which Schneider changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced. “It was ultimately through that email address,” he said, “that the office was able to reach the victim in the days following the change of plea.” He declined to respond to further questions on whether the DA’s office should’ve done more to try to reach her.

Allen, the former Anchorage DA, said he wasn’t aware until after the case was over that Lauren hadn’t been involved in the sentencing hearing. “In hindsight, probably the Anchorage Police Department should’ve been asked to hit the streets and try to find her,” he told BuzzFeed News. “That probably should have happened. In future cases, I’m sure there will be more of those efforts.”

Still, both he and Corey, the judge, said they didn’t believe her presence in the court would have changed the sentence.

“If she had been there, it would’ve been a much more emotional event,” Corey told BuzzFeed News. “It would have heightened the awareness of the reality of the effect of these actions, these crimes on a person, but I don’t think it would’ve changed the outcome. It would’ve changed the emotion in the room, but it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.”

“I’m going to have to live with this shit for the rest of my life, while he’s not having any consequences whatsoever.”

Corey also defended his decision not to push prosecutors to locate Lauren. “The trouble with this is if you force the prosecutor’s hand in that regard, they may well have to divulge that the victim is not cooperative or can’t be found,” said Corey, “which of course leads the defendant to say, ‘Well, in that case I’m not pleading to anything,’ and he walks.”

But however the lawyers might justify it, Schneider’s free pass left Lauren feeling bereft, powerless, and robbed of justice. “My thought was just, Another white guy getting off and it’s unfair. I’m going to have to live with this shit for the rest of my life,” she said through tears, “while he’s not having any consequences whatsoever.”

She believes Grannik could have done more to try to punish her attacker. “If you think he’s a sexual predator, then what better than for him to be in jail? Why drop the more serious charge?” she asked. “I just think that’s their excuse for doing it the way they did.”

Lauren had to stop going on Facebook after Schneider’s sentencing because friends of hers would share media reports about the case — without realizing she was his victim. She had read some of the online comments and was horrified by one that accused her of making up the story to get revenge. It made her terrified of what people might say about her if she ever came forward.

But she also found support in an unlikely pair of strangers: siblings Elizabeth and Isaac Williams. Both had been shocked to read about the sentencing online. “I remember being dumbfounded. I thought there must be something I’m missing,” said Elizabeth, a 25-year-old Anchorage social worker. “That night I literally couldn’t sleep.”

Grannik’s comment in court about Schneider receiving a “pass” echoed in their minds. “I was just so shocked and horrified that someone would say that about a case that impacted the victim so much,” said Isaac, a 23-year-old engineer for a local hospital. So together the siblings resolved to form an anti–sexual violence activist group. They called it No More Free Passes.

“On Wednesday there was the sentencing,” said Elizabeth. “We started the Facebook group on the Thursday. By Saturday we had our first meeting and 50 people showed up. That is a huge number in Alaska terms.”

The siblings blamed the Schneider outcome on a failure of law and a failure of the legal system. In the short term, they focused their ire on Corey, the judge, who happened to be up for a retention vote in the midterm elections in November.

Although he had said he was as hamstrung by the law as the prosecutors were, the Williams siblings argued Corey should have delayed the hearing until Lauren was notified and rejected Schneider’s plea deal on the basis that the suspended sentence and credit for his house arrest were too lenient. “Yes, the laws were crappy,” said Elizabeth, “but even within those crappy laws, there was more that Judge Corey could’ve done.”

As the case gained more national attention, No More Free Passes gained more supporters. On Election Day, people shared selfies online with “I Voted” stickers, proudly proclaiming they’d voted to oust Corey. Later that night, he became the first judge in Alaska history to be removed from the bench by voters.

Corey, who is now back working as a civil litigation lawyer in Anchorage, still has strong feelings about the case, some of them personal. “There was a tremendous injustice done initially to the victim,” he said, “and secondarily to me and my family.”

“The easiest target of their outrage was me, and the timing was immediately before the retention election, so it was essentially just a perfect storm.”

Corey blames widespread misunderstanding of the underlying facts. “Once you start saying that this person committed a sexual assault — which, according to the statutes, they hadn’t — and then you say, ‘Well, the judge did all this in the face of the sexual assault,’ well, you can’t get that toothpaste back in the tube,” he said. “You just can’t do it, because people are so outraged. And the easiest target of their outrage was me, and the timing was immediately before the retention election, so it was essentially just a perfect storm.”

He blamed Elizabeth Williams for not appreciating the legal framework he says he was operating in — and for using him to “become politically relevant.”

“She got her trophy. I hope she’s proud of herself,” he said. “But what are we going to do? Every time a judge follows an unpopular law, we’re going to kick them out?”

Elizabeth Williams laughed at the suggestion that she had exploited the scandal. “I’m a social worker and I make, like, $50,000 a year. I didn’t get anything from this,” she said. “In fact, I lost a lot of friends. I lost my new job because of this. I got people threatening to rape me in my inbox. I got absolutely nothing from this.”

After their success taking on Corey, No More Free Passes began pushing the governor’s office to launch a review of the Department of Law and all Alaskan district attorneys’ handling of sexual assault cases. But it also lobbied and met with lawmakers and worked with former prosecutors and defense attorneys to craft new legislation that would close the Schneider loophole once and for all. “Once we started looking,” said Isaac, “we realized that basically this exact same loophole exists all over the country.”

House Bill 14 was introduced into the Alaska Legislature in February. The bill expands the definition of sexual contact to include “knowingly causing the victim to come into contact with semen.” It also makes strangling someone to the point of unconsciousness first-degree assault, as well as an aggravating factor in sentencing, and it stipulates a defendant can’t receive credit for time on house arrest or in treatment if convicted of a sex offense. Finally, it dictates that prosecutors must confer with sex offenders’ victims to determine, and subsequently notify the court, whether the victim is happy with any plea agreement.

After the bill passed the state House in April, all 20 Alaskan senators unanimously voted on May 8 for the bill to become law. Matthew N. Shuckerow, press secretary for Gov. Mike Dunleavy, told BuzzFeed News, “While a date has not yet been chosen, Gov. Dunleavy looks forward to signing this legislation in the near future.”

“This may be bigger than even Alaska. Other states may pick up on this and make similar law changes, because I’m confident that this loophole that exists here exists in many, many other states, if not most states.”

State Sen. Peter Micciche, a Republican who was one of the bill’s bipartisan sponsors, said in a statement that it would remove “every aspect of the Schneider loophole.”

“If this bill were in place two years ago, Justin Schneider would be in prison today,” Micciche said, “and the victim would have known that Alaskans will not tolerate free passes to violent sexual predators.”

Although he still maintains that prosecutors could have brought charges against Schneider, Jim Davis, Lauren’s attorney, is also relieved the bill passed. “I think it’s important to close the loophole so the next DA next year or two years from now doesn’t have the same excuse,” he said.

Allen, the former Anchorage DA, acknowledges the system let Lauren down. “She was the victim of such a horrible crime, such a horrible act, and then the fact that the law did not allow her perpetrator to be fully held accountable is insult to injury,” he said. “I feel terrible about that, and I think anybody who has had anything to do with this case feels the same way.”

But he said he hopes she knows that — because of her courage in speaking up — laws in Alaska have improved.

“This may be bigger than even Alaska,” he added. “Other states may pick up on this and make similar law changes, because I’m confident that this loophole that exists here exists in many, many other states, if not most states. So this could lead to change that could benefit people all around the country.”

Lauren’s life has mostly been on hold since the attack. She stopped studying and working and has focused on rebuilding herself. She had dreams of becoming a massage therapist and had briefly studied it down in the Lower 48. “Ever since I was younger, my mom would make me rub her back and rub her feet,” she said. “I’ve always been told I’m good with my hands.” Ever so slowly, she’s toying with the idea of going back to school.

She befriended Elizabeth Williams after the DA got in touch to let her know that No More Free Passes had set up a GoFundMe to assist her. It was Elizabeth who put her in touch with Jim Davis and his law firm, which has been representing her pro bono. Together, they filed a civil lawsuit against Schneider in November seeking damages for assault. “It ain’t going to make him go to jail or make you feel great at the end of the day,” Davis said he told Lauren, “but it will do something more than us just saying, ‘Oh well, we’re powerless. I guess he got away with one.’”

Through his lawyer, Schneider declined to speak with BuzzFeed News for this story. In his response to the civil suit, filed in December, he denied that he had tricked Lauren to convince her to enter his car or that she became unconscious during the assault. He did, though, admit to “tackling, strangling, and ejaculating” on her. He also admitted that his “extreme and outrageous conduct” had caused Lauren “severe physical injury and emotional distress.” They settled the case on May 17 under confidential terms.

Lauren hasn’t yet sought professional counseling to help in her recovery — she said she finds it hard to open up to strangers — but said her girlfriend has acted as a de facto “personal therapist.” (Lauren said she doesn’t identify with a particular sexuality but, rather, as a “lover.”) They met years ago but reconnected in January 2018 and have been together ever since. “She’s amazing,” Lauren said. “She’s been by my side since day one.”

Focusing on other positives, like the legal changes her case has sparked, has also helped. “I’m just glad it’s changing now,” she said, “and for the next person it happens to, they don’t have to go through their predator getting off like that.”

After coming face-to-face with death, she’s slowly making a plan for the rest of her life.

It’s a simple plan, but it’s a start.

“Just trying to be a happy me, because that’s been hard,” she said with a sigh. “Just trying to be the best person I can be and live the best life that I can.” ●

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15 Jun

RADFORD — Since at least 1981, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the New River Valley have called 639-1123 for help.

While that number remains a lifeline, last month the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley went live with one of the first browser-based chat help lines to open in Virginia at www.wrcnrv.org.

“We always say we serve everybody, but we have to reach everybody,” executive director Pat Brown said. “It’s just knocking down barriers. You go for the ones you can, barrier after barrier.”

Another has fallen. Now anyone struggling with domestic violence and sexual assault in the counties of Floyd, Giles, Pulaski and Montgomery and in the city of Radford can open a web browser and get help over a highly encrypted chat system.

The chat line can connect clients to a host of violence recovery and prevention services, including a 26-bed emergency shelter, a seven-unit transitional housing facility, a team of emergency response advocates and a host of counseling services for adults and children recovering from abuse.

With a staff of 37 and a $2.5 million budget serving women, children and men, Brown said WRC is the only organization of its scope between Lexington and Wytheville.

The WRC chat service works on any web-enabled device and comes without the worry of an abuser overhearing the phone conversation or finding the WRC number on phone bills or mobile phones.

Because it’s new, the chat line is being rolled out gradually, WRC assistant director Laura Beth Weaver said. Right now, chat help is available Monday-Thursday from noon to 4 p.m.

“We expect that to expand,” Brown said. “It must expand to be accessible.”

Weaver said she expects the program to appeal especially to younger clients, many of whom primarily communicate by text and social media messaging.

A lot of youth “aren’t going to pick up the phone to make a phone call,” Weaver said. “They don’t even call their mamas.”

Weaver said she also expects the chat system to draw more volunteers. Someone who wants to help but is uncomfortable with voice calls could instead staff the chat line, she said.

Over the past decade, voice-to-voice phone calls have become less popular in many quarters. Businesses funnel customers to automated help lines, email or web-based chat systems. Smartphones have trained users to depend on text messaging and direct messaging through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Unpleasant associations with phone calls may also play a role. Today, it’s estimated that up to 90 percent of them come from automated telemarketing systems or scam artists. All this, technology experts say, has broken the American habit of making and answering phone calls.

There have been signs that this trend is touching WRC.

“For years we’ve been seeing our hotline numbers decrease just a little each year. Nothing startling, but they’re certainly not increasing,” Weaver said.

Over the past decade, call volume has decreased from about 2,500 a year to about 2,000, according to figures.

Chat is “a new way to do it, and we’re just going to try it and see what happens,” Weaver said.

WRC is on the leading edge of a trend in the field. Weaver said a recent survey done by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance found 12 chat help lines operating across the country. And WRC’s service is the third in Virginia, according to Weaver.

Relevant staff at the Action Alliance could not be reached for comment on the survey.

“I’m pretty excited because as we all know, the way people communicate and search for information has changed,” said James Pritchett, executive director of New River Valley Community Services. “This is another venue for people to reach out.”

NRVCS runs a more general crisis hotline called RAFT.

Pritchett, who also serves on WRC’s board of directors, said WRC will continue to “evaluate and monitor [the chat line] to make sure it’s meeting the needs of people it serves.”

The WRC chat line, funded with a $5,000 anonymous donation, is part of the center’s outreach to underserved domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, Weaver said.

Weaver has spearheaded the project, which included chat line training for existing hotline staff and volunteers and finding a service provider.

“We were able to choose a system that had been designed with the needs of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors in mind,” Weaver said.

The WRC staff has been learning to offer the new service, which in some ways is very different from the traditional phone-based hotline.

“We’re not connecting to a voice, but a written version,” said Kelly McCoy, domestic violence program director.

Chat responders won’t have auditory clues, like whispers, noises in the background or tension in the voice to assess the situation, McCoy said. “We’ll have to try to get at safety in different ways.”

Weaver said she did the very first chat with a WRC client recently, and it went smoothly.

“I remember when Instant Messenger started when I was in college, and we started chatting with each other dorm to dorm,” Weaver said. “It was so good to be sitting at the [WRC emergency] shelter offering the same service to someone who because of their circumstances couldn’t talk over the phone.

“This is someone who would not have been able to communicate with us if chat had not been an option,” Weaver added.


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15 Jun

Families and friends of missing or slain American Indian women and girls are again calling for justice for their loved ones.

About 200 people gathered Friday near the headquarters of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Concho, Oklahoma. Many wore red and marched, holding signs with pictures of women on them.

Similar demonstrations have taken place in other states amid growing concern that police nationwide are not adequately identifying or reporting cases of missing and murdered Native American and Alaska Native women and girls. Those demographic groups have some of the nation’s highest rates of sexual and domestic violence .

Kateri Fletcher is a Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal government official who helped organize the event. She said it was designed to bring awareness and show support for families who still need answers.

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14 Jun

Law enforcement and domestic violence support groups had the rug pulled out from under them this week after a new Idaho Supreme Court ruling on misdemeanor arrests.

The Idaho Supreme Court determined unanimously that law enforcement officers cannot make an arrest if they believe the case is a misdemeanor unless the officer witnessed the crime or has a warrant.

Arrests based on probable cause often remove abusers from homes and reduce the risk of repeat and escalating violence, according to Teena McBride, the director of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center in Idaho Falls. While the suspect is in jail, the victim has time to come up with a plan to keep themselves and other family members safe.

“If you can’t address them at a misdemeanor level, you see an increase at the felony level,” McBride said.

Justice Joel Horton wrote in his opinion on the case that a 1979 law allowing warrantless arrests did not meet the constitutional standard against unlawful searches and seizures.

The 1979 law made exceptions for arrest rules in domestic abuse cases. Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Sgt. Bryan Lovell said the change meant law enforcement would have to approach domestic abuse like other misdemeanors.

“It doesn’t mean people can get away with these things,” Lovell said.

Both the sheriff’s office and Idaho Falls Police Department respond to multiple domestic violence calls daily.

Officers can still make a warrantless arrest if they believe the crime rises to a felony, typically when a weapon is used or the abuser causes a traumatic injury.

An arrest warrant can only be obtained during business hours when judges are available. The wait for a warrant can take several days if there is a weekend or holiday, or if all the judges are occupied with cases.

“We have a lot of vulnerable women, and it ties the police officers’ hands,” said Shane Dial, child abuse coordinator for the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center.

The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence put out a news release saying it is assessing the situation and attempting to find if other states have faced similar circumstances.

McBride is hoping the ruling will only have a temporary effect, and that the Idaho Legislature can propose an amendment to allow probable cause arrests for misdemeanors.

Such an amendment would have to pass both the Idaho House and Senate with two-thirds of the votes. If the Legislature did pass an amendment, it would then appear on the next general election ballot in November 2020, and if a majority of voters supported the amendment, it would become law.

Reporter Johnathan Hogan can be reached at 208-542-6746.

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14 Jun

LONDON — In an attempt to tackle domestic violence, the police in a British county came up with a startling plan: Replace the sharp knives in victims’ kitchens with blunt-tipped instruments to prevent their partners from stabbing them to death.

While the blunt-knives proposal was only one among many by the Nottingham City Council to tackle knife crime, it was immediately singled out for criticism by medical experts and advocates for domestic abuse survivors, who called it “ludicrous” and ill conceived.

The proposal by the Nottinghamshire Police, in the East Midlands of England, comes as Britain struggles with an epidemic of knife crime outside the home, which some analysts say is fueled by reductions in the nation’s police forces under austerity and cuts to social service programs.

In Nottinghamshire, the police say domestic abuse cases involving knives make up 17 percent of all the county’s reported knife crimes. In an effort to address the issue, the Nottinghamshire police bought 100 knives specifically manufactured without points to replace kitchen knives in the homes of Britons who have been attacked or threatened with a knife, a police spokesman said.

The initiative was part of a larger strategy to tackle the level of knife-related episodes taking place in homes across the county, officials said. The knives would still be sharp enough to cut food, the police said, and the results of the small-scale trial would be evaluated at the end of the year.

“It is only one small part of the whole range of what is done to safeguard and protect domestic abuse survivors,” Superintendent Matt McFarlane, who leads the Nottinghamshire police’s knife crime strategy, said in an emailed statement on Thursday. The police also said they were uncertain if this was the first time such a program was seriously considered anywhere.

But at least one critic said the proposal betrayed a lack of understanding about domestic-abuse issues that was literally laughable. Jessica Eaton, a psychologist and founder of VictimFocus, a research consultancy in forensic psychology, feminism and mental health, said that when she first read of the proposal, she thought it had come from an article in The Onion, the satirical newspaper.

“The problem is not the sharpness of the knife,” she said. “The problem is male violence.”

She said in a phone interview on Thursday: “The risk comes from the offender, not the knife. We know that blunt trauma can cause death. Just because a knife has been blunted doesn’t mean that it won’t pierce the skin or kill someone.”

Charlotte Kneer, the chief executive of Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid, a refuge and charity based in Surrey, England, agreed that the Nottinghamshire police’s approach was ill advised, further perpetuating the myth that domestic violence was a “crime of passion.”

“Domestic abuse is about control,” she said by phone. “Perpetrators know exactly what they’re doing.”

The number of domestic abuse cases recorded by the police in England and Wales has also increased, and reports estimate that two million adults across England and Wales ages 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse in the past year.

For years, social and domestic abuse has taken a hefty economic cost on society, expert say. In 2016, a report by the British government sought to quantify it. It put the estimated cost of domestic abuse in the year ending March 2017 at 66 billion pounds, or about $84 billion, in England and Wales.

This year, the British government published a landmark domestic abuse bill that advocates say has the potential to overhaul how the police and courts confront the issue head on. It would introduce a statutory definition of domestic abuse, establish a domestic abuse commissioner and ban the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in family courts.

A joint committee in Parliament is expected to publish a report on the draft legislation on Friday, when members of Parliament will scrutinize its contents.

As the negative reaction grew on social media, the Nottinghamshire police began walking back the proposal, saying, “It’s just a very early idea and may not ever be rolled out.” None of the blunted knives had been handed out yet. If the program does go forward, the authorities said, the knives would be place in “appropriate high risk domestic situations.”

Ms. Kneer said she doubted that the police plan would reduce knife-related domestic abuse crimes in the home, and that it would have no impact on knife crime in the streets.

She said the solution should not rely “on a blunt knife in the kitchen drawer.”

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14 Jun

The Kootenai County Prosecutor, Coeur d’Alene police, Idaho State Police and domestic violence advocates hosted a press conference Thursday regarding an Idaho Supreme Court ruling that limits law enforcement’s ability to make an arrest for a misdemeanor.

Published:

6:35 PM PDT June 13, 2019

Updated:

6:34 PM PDT June 13, 2019


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13 Jun

Set Free Alaska, a religious nonprofit that runs a state-certified addiction treatment center in the Mat-Su Valley, has found a new location for the facility it’s bringing to the Homer area.

The organization has been working to bring an inpatient addiction treatment center for men to the lower Kenai Peninsula for a few months. It won a $1.5 million grant from the state to make that happen. Set Free Alaska originally sought to renovate part of the building on Pioneer Avenue that houses the Refuge Chapel. The group applied for, and was granted, a conditional use permit to do so.

However, when a local resident gave the city notice that he intended to appeal the Advisory Planning Commission’s decision on the permit, Set Free Alaska withdrew its application. Executive Director Phillip Licht wrote in a letter to the city that the time delays and contention associated with an appeals process didn’t align with the group’s mission of being a blessing to the community.

On Tuesday, Licht said Set Free Alaska has found a new location for the treatment center and officially made an earnest money agreement with the owner of the building the organization seeks to buy. It’s a residential home in Kachemak City that’s for sale, and Licht said the group hopes to close on the property by the end of July.

“The facility itself is a beautiful home,” he said.

About 5 miles outside of Homer City limits, the property has a good amount of green space outside, and enough room inside for Set Free Alaska to keep to its original goal of having a 16-bed capacity. However, Licht said there will probably not be 16 men living there at all times.

Kachemak City does not have a zoning code that requires use permitting the way Homer does. The only permitting Set Free Alaska still needs to follow through with is what is required by the state fire marshal. Licht said the building will be made ADA accessible.

Other than that, Licht said he only anticipates a light remodel to the home before it opens — things like light fixtures and flooring.

Since the property is several miles outside of Homer out East End Road, staff will transport clients to and from town for things like shopping and doctor appointments. Set Free Alaska already has an official vehicle staff use in Homer, and Licht said the organization will probably get another one.

The facility will have 24/7 security measures in place and clients will not be able to leave without supervision at least during the early part of the program. These are things Licht has testified on at multiple city meetings in the past.

The timeline for the center is to finish renovations in time for an October open house, with services officially starting in November, Licht said. While one staff member for the facility is coming down from the Mat-Su, the rest will be hired from the local community, he said.

Set Free Alaska has also decided to allow more than just clients seeking sobriety to enter the center.

“We have decided to accept men with their children,” Licht said. “Which will be the first program in the state (to do that) that we’re aware of.”

Other treatment facilities, sober living homes and domestic violence shelters allow women with children, but Licht said that as far as he knows this will be the first addiction treatment program in Alaska to allow men to bring children with them.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.


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13 Jun

Updated

June 13, 2019 18:22:00

High-profile union boss John Setka has rejected ACTU boss Sally McManus’s call for him to resign from his role leading the Victoria branch of the CFMEU as a scandal surrounding him engulfs his union.

Key points:

  • ACTU boss Sally McManus confronts union heavyweight John Setka over alleged Rosie Batty comments
  • Labor leaders want Mr Setka to quit amid fears he’s damaging the party’s brand
  • CFMEU officials continue to back their Victorian leader as the saga lingers

Ms McManus emerged from a meeting with Mr Setka and called on him to resign in the interest of the broader union movement.

“So the point I made to John in what was a lengthy meeting was that he also needs to think about, not just his members, but all union members,” she said.

“Because when the behaviour of one of us can affect all of us … that is the current situation that we face.”

But a little over an hour later Mr Setka vowed he would continue in his role.

“As I said in my press conference yesterday, I will not be stepping down as secretary of the CFMEU,” he tweeted.

Ms McManus returned early from a trip overseas amid allegations Mr Setka said anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty had lessened the rights of men.

Mr Setka denied making those comments.

The Victorian branch of the CFMEU issued a statement Thursday evening, saying it had endorsed Mr Setka as its secretary, and demanded the national office of the union publicly back him.

“Delegates also demand an independent and detailed audit be performed on the phone records of all individuals who attended the last [national executive meeting] in an attempt to find out where the damaging and manufactured leaks came from,” the branch said in a statement.

“These leaks not only disable and weaken our union, but also distract us from what we are elected to do; to represent and protect the interests of our members and their families.”

Labor leaders past and present want Mr Setka expelled from the party, amid fears his conduct is causing ALP brand damage.

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on Tuesday moved to have Mr Setka’s Labor membership immediately suspended. He expects the national executive will officially expel the CFMEU boss in July.

Yesterday, Mr Setka vowed he would continue in his role leading the Victorian division of the union, insisting he had the support of CFMEU members.

“I think he has got new information to think about,” Ms McManus said after the meeting.

“I went through all of the issues, the effect it was having on the whole trade union movement and I think that he wasn’t fully across all of these issues and I would like him to think about that.”

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd earlier in the day said Mr Setka and the CFMEU’s leadership had damaged Labor’s reputation in recent years.

Ms McManus said Mr Setka gave her an assurance he would consider the information she presented to him.

But she would not be drawn on what would happen if he refused to resign.

“We will cross that bridge when we come to it,” she said.

“At the moment, I am expecting that John should consider what we put to him and to stand down.”

Mr Setka has attracted support from members of the CFMEU to retain his position.

Yesterday, a powerful union figure said Mr Albanese should consider resigning for accepting “false allegations” against Mr Setka.

Christy Cain, the national president of the Maritime Union, told the ABC Mr Setka did not say what had been alleged about Ms Batty during a union meeting.

Ms McManus said she had spoken with Ms Batty and said the alleged comments were just one of the reasons she wanted Mr Setka to resign.

But she denied her comments were the result of ongoing legal action Mr Setka is facing.

“I’m basing these actions on a whole lot of considerations,” she said.

“And in the end, however we get here, the union movement’s reputation has been damaged and the fact that the Government is also using this as an opportunity, as they would, to push through legislation they never even talked about during the election.”

The re-elected Government is using the saga for a renewed push to change laws to make it easier to deregister unions and disqualify officials in the wake of the controversy.

The Ensuring Integrity Bill failed to pass the last Parliament but Energy Minister Angus Taylor confirmed on Wednesday that it would be reintroduced when Parliament resumed next month.

Topics:

unions,

government-and-politics,

australia

First posted

June 13, 2019 15:12:53

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