Dutchess County Schools Face Multiple Potential Threats

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

DUTCHESS COUNTY, New York – Following the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas, several schools in Dutchess County New York have dealt with potential threats. The week of February 19th, three Dutchess County School Districts dealt with threats. The following week, social media has brought to light more potential threats for several different schools. Among those schools, both junior high schools and high schools, have threats under investigation.

For Van Wyck Junior High School, a threat is currently under investigation by the East Fishkill Police Department. According to the Chief of Police, the students are safe and the child who is alleged to be making the threats was not in school on February 27-28. On the 26th, a parent was made aware of the student’s plan to shoot up the school by her daughter who came home and told her about it. They contacted the police who informed the parent that the investigation began last Monday. Social media is sparking rumors and gossip to run wild with these potential threats. Parents are anxious and posting on community pages and school pages trying to find out more information, but also fueling further rumors.

John Jay High School of Hopewell Junction is facing rumored threats. Photo Courtesy of Patrick Oehler.

On February 28th, rumors began about a threat to John Jay High School. A vague email went out to parents explaining that police were investigating but, at this time, it was still safe for children to come to school. Following that email, posts were made by parents on social media claiming the school was on lock down, but those allegations proved untrue. On Friday, February 23rd, John Jay had been under lock down after school hours. That alarm proved to be a glitch in the alarm system, but all the recent threats have parents on edge. Some have chosen to keep their children home from school or pick them up early.

In Poughkeepsie, the school district was closed on Wednesday February 28th due to the alleged threats made against the school. The Superintendent sent out an email saying the school was closed because of a social media post detailing a potential shooting at the high school. That threat was posted on social media site ‘snapchat’ and contained a picture of several guns and text stating that no one was safe. There was also a list of students who were named in that post. The School Board President said the threat is “beyond (the district’s) purview,” and that local police and the FBI are actively investigating the situation.

For more information, please see:

Poughkeepsie Journal – Threat Closes Poughkeepsie Schools as Officials Investigate – 28 February 2018

Poughkeepsie Journal – 2 More Dutchess School District Handling Threats, Police Say No Concern – 27 February 2018

News 12 Westchester – Van Wyck JHS Student Accused of Making Threats – 27 February 2018

Poughkeepsie Journal – John Jay High Goes into Friday Afternoon Lockdown Following Alarm Mishap: Police – 23 February 2018

Two Former Baltimore Police Officers Convicted in Federal Investigation

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

BALTIMORE, Maryland — On Monday, February 12, 2018, two former detectives from the Baltimore Police Department were convicted of racketeering conspiracy, racketeering, and robbery as a part of an ongoing federal investigation into widespread corruption within the department.

Federal Prosecutors spoke to the press following the guilty verdict of members of the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force. Photo Courtesy of The Baltimore Sun.

The two detectives, Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, face maximum sentences of 60 years each, are part of a larger group of eight police officers from the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force that was indicted on March 1, 2017.  The jury deliberated for 12 hours before delivering the guilty verdicts for each officer.

The officers were accused of falsifying hours worked for overtime pay, filing false court paperwork, and robbing and extorting citizens.  Allegations extended to officers reselling the drugs and guns that they had seized from the streets.  Six of the eight officers pled guilty to the charges, and the remaining two were tried in federal court.  These two detectives have been on unpaid leave since their indictment in March 2017. The Baltimore Police Department is moving to terminate their employment following their conviction.

According to reports from BBC News and AP News, four ex-officers testified for the prosecution during the trial in hopes of a reduced sentence.  Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, the leader of the Gun Trace Task Force since June 2016, pled guilty to stealing drugs from the people he arrested and admitted to planting heroin on a man who was sent to prison.  Other officers told the jury that Jenkins instructed officers under his command to carry BB-guns in their police cars to plant in the even the officers shot an unarmed suspect.

The officers’ testimony further detailed how the Gun Trace Task Force was actually “made up of thugs with badges who stole cash, resold looted narcotics and lied under oath to cover their tracks,” and spoke of officers conducting armed home invasions going back to 2008.  The testimony also alleged wrong-doing, ranging from active participation in crimes to the subsequent cover-ups, from a dozen other officers not involved in the proceedings.  Among those mentioned included the head of Internal Affairs, an unnamed Baltimore assistant state’s attorney, an officer assigned to the police training academy, and homicide detective Sean Suiter.  Detective Suiter was fatally shot with his own gun under mysterious circumstances the day before he was supposed to testify before a federal grand jury in connection with the case.

Following the March 2017 indictment, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said her office has identified 150 closed and adjudicated cases possibly tainted by the officers’ involvement and that of 50 active cases reviewed, 30 of them had the charges dropped.  More recently, public defenders alleged that there could be several thousand cases going back to 2008 tainted by the officers’ involvement.  As of the date of the verdict, 125 cases involving the indicted officers have been dropped.

The Federal investigations into the Baltimore Police Department were sparked by the acquittal of six officers connected to the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while handcuffed and transported in the back of a police vehicle.

For more information, please see:

The Baltimore Sun – Attorneys release video from Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force raid; criticize state’s attorney for inaction – 14 February 2018

AP News – 2 Baltimore detectives convicted of racketeering, robbery – 13 February 2018

BBC News – Who were the corrupt Baltimore police officers? – 13 February 2018

The Baltimore Sun – The Gun Trace Task Force trial has ended. What is Baltimore doing to prevent future police corruption – 12 February 2018

Los Angeles Times – Baltimore police officers found guilty of racketeering and robbery – 12 February 2018

NPR News – Baltimore Police Officers Convicted in Corruption Scandal – 12 February 2018

Newsweek – Police Unit Steals $100,000 in House Search Without Warrant in Rogue Cop Crime Spree, Prosecutors Say – 25 January 2018

The Baltimore Sun – Prosecutor who raised early questions about Gun Trace Task Force officer speaks out – 8 December 2017

The Washington Post – Convictions in cases involving 7 indicted Baltimore police may be overturned – 23 March 2017

The Baltimore Sun – Seven Baltimore Police officers indicted on federal racketeering charges – 1 March 2017

Options for People with Mental Illness in America Continue to Decline

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

Washington, D.C., U.S. – Psychiatric Services published a study that estimates about 3.4% of Americans suffer from some sort of serious psychological problems. That amounts to over 8 million Americans, roughly the population of New York City.  What’s worse is that there is a severe shortage of inpatient care in the United States which continues to rise wit the number of people suffering from psychological problems.

Psychiatric hospitals across America continue to shrink in number. Photo Courtesy of Paul Sancya.

The Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that works to remove treatment obstacles for people with mental illness, published a study finding that, in 2012, there were only 50,509 state psychiatric beds. In raw numbers, that means that there were only 14 beds available for every 100,000 people suffering from a mental illness.

“Many times individuals who really do require intensive psychiatric care find themselves homeless or more and more in prison,” said Dominic Sisti, director of the Scattergood Program for Applied Ethics of Behavioral Health Care at the University of Pennsylvania“Much of our mental health care now for individuals with serious mental illness has been shifted to correctional facilities.”

Of the facilities that are still up and running today, many do not accept insurance. Considering most cost upwards of $30,000 a month, many people cannot afford the care. For low income individuals, their only hope is that they qualify for Medicaid. But even Medicaid has its limits. A provision in the law prevents the government from paying for long term care in such institutions.

Since so many cannot afford the care that they need, many end up in the emergency room during a mental health crisis. “We are the wrong site for these patients,” Dr. Thomas Chun, an associate professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at Brown University, told NPR last year. “Our crazy, chaotic environment is not a good place for them.” Usually, hospitals only take people who need such care for up to 72 hours. At that point, they are released back into the community.

Over the last decade, the disappearance of such long term care facilities and psychiatric beds has increased. This is because of a trend in deinstitutionalization in the 1950’s and 60’s that has continued through today.”State hospitals began to realize that individuals who were there probably could do well in the community,” says Sisti. “It was well-intended, but what I believe happened over the past 50 years is that there’s been such an evaporation of psychiatric therapeutic spaces that now we lack a sufficient number of psychiatric beds.”

One place people may find new support is Nonprofits. NAMI Appalachian South, a regional chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness is one such nonprofit in North Carolina.

For more information, please see:

Smokey Mountain News – Nonprofits Offer Support, Funding to Mental Health – 21 February 2018

North West Herald – President Donald Trump’s Focus on Mental Health After School Shooting Denounced – 19 February 2018

NPR – How the Loss of U.S. Psychiatric Hospitals Led to a Mental Health Crisis – 30 November 2017

1 Tweet Brought 120 Volunteers to Shovel Snow for Elderly

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CHICAGO, United States – Many elderly people struggle to get out of their homes following snowy weather. Particularly, those with asthma, neuropathy, and oxygen tanks. This was the case after snowy weather in Chicago on the weekend of February 10th. Many of these senior citizens called Jahmal Cole about their inability to shovel their drive ways and side walks. “When you’re getting emails and calls, you don’t want to let people down,” said Cole. “I wasn’t trying to make a campaign. This was literally me trying to help out my neighbors. We had to organize on the spot,” he said.

Chicagoan Jahmal Cole is a community organizer in Chatham who runs the non-profit, My Block My Hood My City. He runs it without office space and only two full time staff members. My Block My Hood My City both organizes and brings teenagers from under-served communities on different field trips. With one tweet, Cole called for volunteers to help clear the snow of elderly neighbors in Chatham . That one tweet was retweeted more than 22,000 times and liked over 64,000 times.

What did that tweet say? “Meet me at the 79th St. Red Line stop at 10:00 am tomorrow. I got hoodies, hats and lunch for anybody that comes through.” The following morning, 120 people showed up offering to help shovel, some even bringing shovels of their own. “The people who showed up, they showed that whether people have privilege or don’t have privilege, everyone recognizes a need,” said Cole. Cole had brought 10 shovels and his 15 person van. With all the volunteers, he had to go buy more shovels. Then, he sent the volunteers to dozens of addresses that needed snow removal.

Jahmal Cole and 120 volunteers shoveled snow for the elderly in a Chicago neighborhood. Photo Courtesy of Jahmal Cole.

The volunteers came from all over, including Rogers Park, Roseland and even Indiana (a two and a half hour bus ride away). Men and women of all ages shoveled for more than four hours. The next day, 11 more people showed up. About his efforts, Cole said, “My mindset is always, ‘What’s something simple that I can do that’ll have a positive impact on my block and my neighborhood’? You don’t have to have a law degree to shovel your neighbor’s walkway.”

When all was said and done, Cole and the all of the volunteers went out to lunch at a neighborhood restaurant. “I’m proud of our city. We’re getting things done,” Cole said. “People could have been doing anything in the world. They could have been home with families or making snowmen, but they came out to help.”

For more information, please see:

KMOV – How 1 Tweet inspired 120 People to Shovel Snow for the Elderly – 14 February 2018

CNN – How 1 Tweet Inspired 120 People to Shovel Snow for the Elderly in a Chicago Neighborhood – 13 February 2018

Independent – Chicago Man’s Tweet Asking for 10 Volunteers to Help Clear Snow for Elderly Draws 120 After Going Viral – 13 February 2018

VA won’t Change Their Motto for Gender Neutrality

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA – A quote from America’s 16th President currently stands as the motto for Veterans Affairs. In his second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln stated, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The language of this quote has been under fire by many who believe it is outdated and/or sexist. IAVA Executive Director Allison Jaslow wrote a strongly worded letter in October of 2017. The letter went unanswered by VA Secretary David Shulkin. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also called on VA Secretary David Shulkin in November to change the motto.

For the last 59 years, the VA motto has been a quote from President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Photo Courtesy of Stars and Stripes/ Veterans Affairs.

Despite the outcry for change, a spokesperson for Secretary Shulkin’s office stated that the VA will continue to use it’s motto. “[The] VA is proud of Lincoln’s words as a historic tribute to all Veterans, including women Veterans, whose service and sacrifice inspires us all,” Secretary Shulkin’s spokesperson said. In response to the spokesperson,  Jaslow said, “They’re missing the point — that women don’t feel comfortable at the VA. That action enshrined not only a motto, but a culture too that often renders women veterans invisible at the agency, even to this day. Every day that the VA preserves this motto, it ignores and obscures the needs of far too many women veterans.”

There are many who think the VA has bigger problems to deal with right now rather than the currentness of the motto. Some of those problems include the long wait time for appointments and various scandals. Some of these scandals are centered around women. One such scandal was a Facebook group of over 30,000 members sharing pictures of nude female service members without their consent.

A study was also recently posted by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine which stated that many female combat veterans said that they weren’t believed about their war experience and often belittled by VA doctors. The study was conducted over 4 and a half years and focused on VA mental health services.

The director of the VA Center for Women Veterans, Kayla Williams, responded to the pleas from IAVA to change the motto. She unofficially has been using a modified version of the motto which states, “To care for those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors.”

“Recognizing that they can seem exclusionary to some women veterans, for many years I – along with other senior VA leaders – have honored the population we serve today by using a modernized version,” Williams said to Jaslow in a letter. “This symbolic update, which we are continuing to gradually incorporate alongside the original in digital and print materials, as well as spoken remarks, is an important acknowledgement of today’s veteran population.”

Jaslow calls for more change and for that change to be official. “I get it. The VA was designed for a male population, and culture change is hard,” Jaslow said. “But we’re talking 16 years we’ve been at war in Afghanistan. Women veterans are still feeling invisible and articulating they don’t feel comfortable at the VA. At what point are we going to get serious about addressing this?”

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Is the VA Motto Outdated and Sexist? The Head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Group Thinks So – 6 February 2018

Stars and Stripes – VA Disregards Request to Make Agency Motto Gender Neutral – 2 February 2018

Computer Glitch leaves 11,000 Disabled Student Vets with Delayed Payment of Stipend

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – 11,000 disabled student veterans are facing a delay with their stipends this month. These payments are subsistence allowance payments. They help to pay for living expenses while the students go to school. The program which pays the stipends is through the Department of Veterans Affairs as part of its Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program. The money is supposed to be disbursed on the last day of each month. The money should have been disbursed on January 31, but the students did not see the disbursement until February 6.  An internal memo obtained by the Washington Post called the problem a “computer glitch.” In the memo, VA employees were told to apologize to the students and tell them their money was on the way.

The program gained popularity because it helps disabled veterans get job counseling. It also helps them earn college degrees or learn technical skills. There are internship opportunities and resume workshops. Although the problem was fixed in a few days, it may create a multitude a problems for the students. They may be late on rent or other bills or may not be able to buy groceries for a few days.

Army Vet Rick Collins is one of the students whose stipend is being disbursed to him late this month. Photo Courtesy of Rick Collins.

One army veteran who did not receive his stipend on the 31st is Rick Collins of Portland Oregon. Because his stipend will be arriving several days late, he has had to put off paying some of his bills and will not have to pay late fees as well. Collin had served in Afghanistan and suffers from post traumatic stress, severe memory loss, and chronic back and shoulder pain.

“This was going to be my first month with money left over after bills, and now that will all go to late fees,” said Collin. He is a father to four children aged 9, 7, 2 and 9 months. He is also studying photography at Portland Community College.  He has also said that he is in his fifth week of the term and still has not received the computer he was promised. He only received the camera he was promised last week.

“Any large bureaucracy has their glitches, but anytime veterans are not getting their benefits on time, especially when on a program like this, it’s a real hardship,” said Garry J. Augustine, executive director of 1.3 million-member Disabled American Veterans.

According to VA spokesman Curt Cashour, The glitch “has been fixed and it won’t occur again the future.” He also said, “We apologize to the veterans affected by this inconvenience.”

Even still the VA is facing a lot of scrutiny lately for several issues including long waits for appointment times and medical malpractice.

For more information, please see:

Chicago Tribune – 11,000 Disabled Student Veterans Left Without Rent, Expense Money Due to Computer Glitch – 2 February 2018

Washington Post – 11,000 Disabled Student Veterans Left Without Rent and Expense Money Due to Computer Glitch – 2 February 2018

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)

Experts Ask Facebook to Pull Messenger Kids

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., U.S.A. – Last month, Facebook launched a new messenger app for kids as young as 6 years old. This is way below the previous minimum age that Facebook required users be for their apps, which was 13. Now, dozens of pediatric and mental health experts are asking Facebook to remove the app.

Facebook has created a messaging app for kids. Photo Courtesy of New York Times.

These experts composed a letter from the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood. Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood is an advocacy group which pushes companies to abandon marketing like the Pokemon Go app. The app sent children to all kinds of stores and fast food restaurants. McDonalds even advertised on children’s report cards in Florida.  But the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood says Facebook’s new app creates bigger concerns than those created by Pokemon Go.

“Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts,” the experts said in the letter. “A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development.”

In a study released in late January, the research stated that an increase in social media and smartphone use in children led to greater unhappiness in teenagers.

What is the Messenger Kids app? The app is a texting app that a parent can set up for their child. It works through the parent’s Facebook account. The parent sets up the account, but it is in no other way a part of the Facebook app. The app is missing “like” buttons and a newsfeed which are parts of what experts believe lead to depression and anxiety for teenagers on social media. What is included in the app are emojis, video chat, selfies and group texting.

Facebook argues that their new app provides a safer environment for children online than many other apps to social media sites. One such difference is that the app has no advertising. Facebook also says they worked with the National PTA before introducing the app. “Messenger Kids is a messaging app that helps parents and children to chat in a safer way, with parents always in control of their child’s contacts and interactions,” Facebook said in a statement.

Still, health advocates say that the app was created explicitly to hook users to keep using it and by allowing such a low age, they are giving themselves early access to the next potential generation of users.

Michael Brody, a former chairman of the media committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said, “Facebook is making children into a market, and the youngest children will be more likely to get hooked even earlier.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Facebook ‘No Place’ For Young Children – 30 January 2018

Telegraph – Health Experts Urge Facebook to Pull Children’s App – 30 January 2018

NYT – Turn Off Messenger Kids, Health Experts Say to Facebook – 30 January 2018

‘Horrific’ Elder Abuse in Georgia

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter

GEORGIA, United States – Dougherty county residents initiated the investigation of this case following a tip that was given to police officers. The tip came in after several Dougherty county residents were approached by some of the elderly outside of the Albany apartments, “begging for food.” Following the investigation, three people were arrested. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr described the case as a “horrific elder abuse scheme.’’ He went on to say that the elders were not given proper “health care, shelter and necessary sustenance.” Additionally, there appeared to be a scheme which included siphoning off the resident’s social security benefits.

This is one of many unlicensed care cases in Georgia. It has remained a problem in the state for years. Georgia personal care homes are supposed to provide food, lodging and if needed, personal care. The residents of these personal care homes are usually senior citizens and people with mental impairments.

Since 2010, Georgia has had over 3,000 people charged with elder abuse crimes in situations like that of the seniors in Albany.  This issue became more apparent after 49 individuals were rescued from supposed “dungeons” according to GBI Director Vernon Keenan. Despite what appears to be high numbers of such cases, Georgia is seen as having one of the nation’s strongest laws in place to protect the elderly and mentally impaired, says Keenan.

Michelle Oliver, Harold Hunt and Cynthia Riley were all arrested and were indicted on 17 different accounts. Photo Courtesy of Georgia Bureau of Investigations.

The Albany units in question have been condemned because living conditions in them are so poor. Those units were rented by Michelle Oliver, Harold Hunt and Cynthia Riley. The three were charged on a 17 count indictment including violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, neglect, exploitation and intimidation of the elderly and disabled. Oliver, 39, was arrested on September 20 for operating an unlicensed personal care home called Miracle One Care Center. After seven elderly and disabled individuals were triaged at the residence, Oliver was taken into custody at her home. Four elderly and disabled individuals were found in the home. Three more victims were found at an apartment in Macon.

“While this case is horrifying, it’s also gratifying to see the results of new laws and new funding passed in the last five years by the governor and the state Legislature,’’ Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging said. “Law enforcement and state agencies have more tools and training to fight elder abuse.” Peter Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said Tuesday that “the tentacles [of these crimes] go not only across county lines, but also state lines.”

“This has been an ongoing problem in our state,” said Melanie McNeil, the state’s long-term care ombudsman. “Georgia is a leader in the nation for recognizing this problem, developing training and collaborations among law enforcement, prosecutors, and state agencies to rescue residents and prosecute the perpetrators.”

For more information, please see:

CBS – Police: Elderly were Starved, Injected with Medicine and Victims of Fraud – 16 January 2018

Telegraph – Authorities Charge Neglect, Exploitation and Drugs Amount to ‘Web of Abuse’ in Macon Albany – 16 January 2018

WABE – ‘Horiffic’ Elder Abuse Case Highlights Crackdown on Unlicensed Georgia Facilities – 16 January 2018

Department of Homeland Security Ends Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C.  — On Monday, January 8, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen declared that El Salvador’s Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will end on September 9, 2019, affecting over 200,000 Salvadoran nationals residing in the US.  El Salvador has been part of the TPS humanitarian program since the 2001 earthquakes that significantly damaged the country’s infrastructure, and before that from 1990-1992 during its civil war.

El Salvador received Temporary Protected Status following the 2001 earthquakes that caused widespread damage across the country. Photo Courtesy La Prensa Gráfica, via Associated Press.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a provision within the 1990 Immigration and Nationality Act to protect foreign nationals currently living in the United States by designating criteria upon which relief could be granted.

Prior to the implementation of the TPS program, the executive branch would designate certain countries for Extended Voluntary Departure (EVD), where immigration courts could exercise prosecutorial discretion to not pursue removal of nationals from those countries.  However, critics called the process too partisan and subject to political whims, citing the Regan administration’s failure to designate El Salvador for EVD during the civil war in the 1980s.

The program grants a temporary legal status—typically for a period of six to eighteen months—to migrants currently in the US who do may not qualify as refugees, but whose home countries are in some sort of crisis, such as civil unrest, wide-spread violence, or a natural disaster.  Applications have a $495 processing fee for the initial application as well as subsequent renewals. TPS beneficiaries may apply for a work permit and a driver’s license, and the TPS prevents their deportation.  According to the press release from the Department of Homeland Security, “the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes [in El Salvador] no longer exist. Thus, under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated.” However, the US government cited the pervasive gang violence as a factor for choosing to renew El Salvador’s TPS in 2016, and El Salvador remains one of the deadliest countries in the world with an average of 15 reported homicides a day.

Former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly emphasized that TPS is ‘temporary’ after visiting Haiti in June 2017. Photo Courtesy Mark Wilson, Getty Images.

US foreign policy has itself severely impacted El Salvador’s current social climate.  During El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s and early 1990s, the US government backed a repressive right-wing military regime that left 75,000 civilians dead and forced 2 million people to flee to the US.  In the mid-90s, the US began deporting Salvadorans en masse, including gangsters incubated with the US prison system who would then go on to form the Salvadoran branch of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).  The rising gang violence began a new wave of refugees—primarily unaccompanied minors or women with their children—fleeing El Salvador for the United States.

Oscar Chacon, executive director of Alianza Americas—an immigrant advocacy group—said to Reuters, “Our (US) government is complicit in breaking up families — nearly 275,000 US-born children have a parent who is a TPS holder — and further destabilizing our neighboring countries.”

According to a 2017 report by the Center for Migration Studies, 51% of Salvadorans with TPS have lived in the US for more than 20 years, 34% have homes with mortgages and the majority of them live in California, Texas, New York and Washington DC.

Remittances to El Salvador from relatives abroad are at an all-time high and account for almost 20% of El Salvador’s GDP, while in 2016 the World Bank reported that economic growth had reached 2.4% and was the slowest growing economy of Central America.

El Salvador joins Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan as the fourth country in four months to lose its Temporary Protection Status.

For more information, please see:

Vox News – Thousands of Salvadoran TPS workers clean federal offices. Now their livelihoods are on the line. – 11 January 2018

The New Yorker – What the Salvadorans Being Kicked Out by Trump Face Back Home – 9 January 2018

Reuters – Salvadorans say going home not an option after U.S. axes protection – 9 January 2018

Vox News – Trump’s attacks on humanitarian immigration just became a full-blown war – 9 January 2018

The Guardian – US says 200,000 people from El Salvador must leave within 18 months – 8 January 2018

NPR – U.S. Ends El Salvador’s Protected Status, Affecting 200,000 Residents – 8 January 2018

The Intercept – Ignoring Violence in El Salvador, Trump Ends Years of Special Protective Status for Immigrants – 8 January 2018

The New York Times – Trump Administration Says That Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans Must Leave – 8 January 2018

Reuters – U.S. moves toward expelling 200,000 Salvadorans – 8 January 2018

The Washington Post – ‘We will lose practically everything’: Salvadorans devastated by TPS decision – 8 January 2018

Congressional Research Service – Temporary Protected Status: Current Immigration Policy and Issues – 17 January 2017

Google Glass May Help Kids with Autism

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., U.S.A – Google Glass had been considered a failure by many. Recently, however, a study was completed concerning Google Glass and children with Autism. In America alone, there are over 3.5 million people who have been diagnosed with some form of Autism. The potential benefits of Glass Enterprise Edition (Glass), the successor to Google Glass smart glasses, were explored in children with autism and their caregivers to evaluate its role within the condition.

The study contained 8 children in different places along the Autism spectrum and of all school ages (6 to 17).  The children were given the glasses to inspect and on the glasses were several different assisted-reality apps. The children were all able to take their time inspecting the glasses and becoming comfortable enough to progress to the next part of the study in the interview room. All 8 of the children in the study found Glass to be both useful and practical as communicated by them or when needed, by their caregiver. The children said they did not experience sensory overload or an overwhelming emotional experience.

Google Glass was a success in a study in its use for kids with autism. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Chiu.

Additionally, all of the children’s caregivers stated they believed the children appeared to enjoy using Glass. Dr. Ned T. Sahin, the study’s principal investigator was actually surprised at how well both children and caregivers embraced the concept.

“Parents and teachers routinely tell me they are surprised how well children with autism can use Empower Me on Google Glass! It is important to recognize that millions of autistic children and adults struggle to obtain the specialized services they need. This technology will augment the work of their human therapists and teachers, provide game-like, self-motivating ways to practice life skills and add sensor-based data that no human practitioner could otherwise incorporate. The future will be very empowering!”

Although this is a small study and was limited by a short exposure to Google Glass and its’ applications, it is an important movement in validating technology’s role in addressing and assisting with the needs of children with autism. This adds to the growing literature on feasibility and tolerability and together, help establish Glass as a useful clinical tool. Further, Brain Power has secured more than $110,000 in crowd funding to help further develop this kind of technology.

The use of Google Glass can offer real-world tools and assistance for children with autism.  The data also suggests that children and caregivers could potentially embrace Google Glass and similar technology in a way that just might make it fun for all.

For more information, please see:

Forbes – Google Glass is a Hit for Children with Autism – 4 January 2018

Science Daily – Google Glass App Helps Autistic Children with Social Interaction – 16 September 2017

STAT – Google Glass is Back – As a Tool to Coach Autistic Children, Train Doctors and More – 29 August 2017

Parents Arrested After Authorities Found Their 13 Children Chained and Malnourished

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PERRIS, California, USA – David and Louise Turpin were arrested on suspicion of torture and child endangerment. They are both being eld in lieu of a $9 million bail. Police were called by the couple’s 17 year old daughter who dialed 911 on a deactivated cell phone. She said she had escaped out a window of her parents house where she and her siblings had been kept. She also had photographs to back up her claims. The authorities were shocked by her size and emaciated appearance. Although she is 17, authorities thought she was only 10 based on her appearance.

David and Louise Turpin have both been arrested after their 13 children were found chained and malnourished in their home. Photo Courtesy of Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

Upon there arrival, authorities noted the home appeared dirty and had a foul stench. Three of the children were found in chains. The 13 children in total ranged from ages 2-29. Because of their malnourished appearance and small stature, authorities originally thought all of the children were minors. Authorities said the parents were not currently showing any signs of mental illness that would explain what they did to their children.

Susan Von Zabern said the 911 call received Sunday, which was cross-reported to social workers, was “the first opportunity we had to intervene.” Currently, it is unclear how long the abuse has been occurring but, she said, “their condition indicates it has been a prolonged period of time.” Social workers are trying to place them with family, but will put them through background checks to make sure that they are able and stable.

Local authorities had no prior contact with the Turpin’s. Additionally, the Police Department in Murrietta, where the family lived previously, also had no interactions with them during the four years they lived there.

The Turpin’s had registered their home as a private school as allowed by California law. Many who choose to homeschool their children in California do register their homes as private school. It first appeared in the state registry in 2010 as a private, nonreligious, co-ed institution when the family first moved there. But only six of the thirteen children were enrolled. The information contained in the registration likely gave authorities little insight into the children’s lives or even how many children there were.

“We really knew nothing about them,” said Grant Bennett, superintendent of the Perris Union High School District. “If they were in home school from the beginning, they wouldn’t have even been on our radar.”

The children are recuperating in the hospital, continuing to improve their health and hope for a better future from this point on.

For more information, please see:

L.A. Times – In Perris, a House of Horrors Hidden in Plain Sight – 17 January 2018

CNN – Found Shackled and and Emaciated, Children of Torture Suspects are Freed – 16 January 2018

ABC News – 13 Siblings Age 2-29 Held Captive by Parents, Some Shackled, Officials Say – 15 January 2018

Veterans are Experiencing CTE

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C.,  U.S.A. – Veterans put their lives on the line for America every day during their time in the military. Although we hope they survive their time of duty, many are unaware of the consequences of their services once they return home. One example of this is the traumatic brain injuries experienced by veterans as a result of combat.

According to a new study, U.S. veterans are likely to suffer the same kind of brain disease as concussion victims.  Boston University has been doing a study on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is the disease in question here. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people who have had repetitive brain trauma (often athletes), including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic sub-concussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms.

At the Veterans Affairs Center in Bedford Massachusetts, researchers study brains for signs of CTE which can only be done during autopsy. Photo Courtesy of Gretchen Ertl.

The repetitive brain trauma triggers the progressive degeneration of brain tissue, including a build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in a brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active duty or athletic involvement. Common symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicide, Parkinsonism, and ultimately progressive dementia.

Veterans from combat zones often experience different kinds of trauma from exposure to blast waves. At Boston University, neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee discovered CTE in veterans, which at this time can only be confirmed through brain autopsies. So far, 65 percent of the brains she has seen of deceased veterans exposed to combat blasts showed CTE.

Dr. McKee stated that a blast wave can damage a brain in the same way as a physical blow. “This blast injury creates a tremendous… ricochet or whiplash injury to the brain inside the skull.” The effects on the brain are not readily seen on images, she says, “This has been what everyone calls an invisible injury.”

Following in Dr. McKee’s footsteps, Dr. Sam Gandy, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, began using newly developed technology to find the markers of CTE in living veterans in order to alert those who may have the disease and help find a way to stop the disease’s deadly progress. These images from new technology will be crucial in his work with drug companies to develop a treatment.  “That’s step one,” he tells Alfonsi, “Just to stop it dead in its tracks. And then we can worry about making people feel better.”

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Combat Veterans Suffering From Same Brain Disease as Concussion Victims – 4 January 2018

CNN – Could Veterans Have Concussion Related CTE? – 6 April 2015

New York Times – Brain Ailments in Veterans Likened to Those in Athlete’s – 16 May 2012

BU Research CTE Center –FAQ 

How the Elderly and Disabled “Disappear”

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LITCHFIELD PARK, Arizona – The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than two million Americans use wheelchairs in their daily lives and approximately 6.5 million depend on canes, walkers or crutches. Right now, about 15% of the population in America is 65 or older. It is estimated that by 2060, 25% of the population will be 65 or older.  What those numbers do not tell, is how those people are treated by society.

Nancy Root is an 82, child-polio survivor who today calls herself a cripple. Five years ago, after the death of her husband, Nancy’s condition began to change. Her arms got weaker and her legs got wobblier. Nancy recounted when she disappeared. She was in a shopping mall that was rather large so she decided to use a wheelchair because her legs were not as good as they used to be. Nancy says during that shopping trip, she waited longer for service in the mattress store that she and her friend were shopping in.

Nancy Root can recall the occasion where she first disappeared. Photo Courtesy of Conor E. Ralph of the New York Times.

Nancy says after this, she began noticing how much people withdrew from her. When she was in the chair, people did not look at her. Instead, they looked around her, through her, or to whoever was pushing her chair. “They think I’m mentally incapacitated. I’m sure of that. I’d stake my life on it,” she said. She says doctors offices are the worst. The receptionists usually do not address her. Instead, they will address the person pushing the wheelchair with questions like, “Does this lady have an appointment?”

But Nancy still has her mental wit about her. People just assume that because she is in the chair, she is not as aware as someone who is not in a chair.  She said, “They don’t allow this lady to have a brain.” Nancy experiences this everywhere; at the movie theater, on airplanes, in restaurants. Nancy is not the only person to experience this. Many people who have disabilities or who are older experience this kind of treatment regularly. People often edit them out of the frame.

Part of the problem is that people do not want to bring attention to people’s disabilities or they are worried about saying the wrong thing. So, instead of being inclusive, it is easier to just remain in blissful ignorance to avoid a potentially awkward situation. But this phenomenon means people are being isolated and ignored which may negatively impact their lives and social interactions. It has been argued that it is inadvertently cruel to exclude part of the population simply because the interaction might be awkward. The first step toward changing this is bringing the issue to light.

For more information, please see:

National Review – Bruni “Gets It” About Disability Bias – Except for Assisted Suicide – 17 December 2017

New York Times – Are You Old? Infirm? Then Kindly Disappear – 16 December 2017

Salvadoran Tribunal Upholds 30-Year Sentence for Woman Jailed for Delivering a Stillborn Child

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — On Wednesday, December 13, San Salvador’s Second Court of Judgment in El Salvador upheld Teodora del Carmen Vasquez’s 30-year sentence for aggravated homicide against her unborn child.

Teodora Vasquez is escorted to her hearing to appeal her 2008 conviction for the death of her stillborn child. Photo Courtesy Oscar Rivera, Getty Images.

On July 13, 2007, Ms. Vasquez nine months pregnant and working when she began bleeding and feeling severe labor pains and called 911 to transport her to the hospital.  She waited for medical personnel for over four hours before fainting from blood loss in a restroom at work. She awoke to police accusing her of having killed the child—unaware that the child had already been born and that it was stillborn.  Ms. Vasquez was arrested and later convicted of aggravated homicide against her stillborn child.  The judge who convicted Ms. Vasquez in 2008 to the 30-year minimum sentence was the same judge who heard and denied her appeal in 2017.

During Ms. Vasquez’s appeal hearing, two medical experts testified to the child being born dead, and Ms. Vasquez not being responsible for the death of her child.  One testified that according to the results of the autopsy conducted by the Institute of Legal Medicine, the newborn had died of asphyxiation prior to birth due to complications from having been born outside of a hospital.  The second expert testified that the newborn was born dead and that the studies conducted during the criminal investigation by the prosecution were inadequate and incomplete.

The judge ruled that the defense’s medical experts did not present sufficient evidence to dispute the investigation carried out by the prosecution and that Ms. Vasquez’s appeal was denied.

Earlier in 2017, a 19-year old rape-survivor was sentenced to 30 years in prison after delivering a stillborn child at her home.  Prosecutors accused Evelyn Hernandez Cruz of not seeking prenatal care and alleged that she had aborted the fetus and thrown its remains into a latrine at her home.  The defense argued that Ms. Hernandez had not even known that she was pregnant, and had confused the labor pains with a stomach ache.  The defense is seeking an appeal following Ms. Hernandez’s conviction.

El Salvador, along with Malta, Andorra, Chile, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua, have criminalized abortion in any and all cases.  This law, enacted in 1998, allows women to be charged with murder and other related charges in cases of abortion or suspected abortion and extends liability to medical practitioners that fail to report suspected abortions.

According to Al Jazeera, 17 women in El Salvador have been convicted of aggravated homicide under this law between 1999-2011 for losing their babies.  “In most cases, these are women without resources who suffer obstetric emergencies or spontaneous abortions [miscarriages] and, when they go to hospitals, they are reported by the medical staff, because they are afraid of prosecution,” Katia Recinos, one of Ms. Velasquez’s lawyers, told Al Jazeera. These women have been sentenced from 12 to 30 years in prison as a result.

In 2016, the left-wing opposition party FLMA introduced a bill that would decriminalize abortion in cases of where the pregnancy would put the life and health of the mother at risk, where the pregnancy would produce an unviable fetus, or when the pregnancy was due to rape, incest, or human trafficking. The right-wing majority party ARENA—with support from the Salvadoran Catholic Church—countered the bill by petitioning Congress to increase the maximum penalty in these cases to 50 years in prison.  Both pieces of legislation are still pending within their respective committees.

Doctors who are suspected of aiding pregnancy terminations are also persecuted under the 1998 anti-abortion law.  Dr. Zulma Mendez, who leads the HIV program at the San Rafael Public Hospital of San Salvador, told the New York Times that she was threatened with criminal prosecution for her work.  “I wanted to help a woman whose emergency contraception didn’t work after she was raped.  Naively, I called the Institute of Legal Medicine and told them what had happened.  I was told not to get involved, as I could be put behind bars.”

Ms. Vasquez has served 10 years of her 30-year sentence and will be 57 years old when she is released.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – El Salvador rejects appeal in baby death case – 14 December 2017

The Guardian – El Salvador court upholds 30-year jail sentence in stillbirth case – 14 December 2017

El Nuevo Herald – Ratifican condena de 30 años de cárcel a mujer que abortó en El Salvador – 13 December 2017

El Salvador: Noticias – Tribunal ratifica sentencia de 30 años a mujer condenada por el homicidio de su bebé – 13 December 2017

Al Jazeera – El Salvador woman jailed after stillbirth seeks freedom – 8 December 2017

The New York Times – In El Salvador, ‘Girls Are a Problem’ – 2 September 2017

CNN – The people fighting the world’s harshest abortion law – 10 July 2017

Al Jazeera – El Salvador rape victim jailed 30 years for stillbirth – 7 July 2017

Independent – El Salvador jails raped teenager for 30 years under murder laws after she said she suffered miscarriage – 6 July 2017

The Guardian – El Salvador’s anti-abortion law makes criminals of mothers who miscarry – 30 November 2015

Miami Herald Publishes Investigation into Abuses of Florida Juvenile Justice System

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MIAMI, Florida — On Tuesday, October 10, the Miami Herald published a series of the results of a 2-year long investigation into the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s history of abuses toward juveniles in their care.

The entrance to the Palm Beach Youth Academy in West Palm Beach, FL. Photo Courtesy of Emily Michot, Miami Herald.

This investigation was launched following the death of 17-year-old Elord Revolte, who was beaten to death by fellow detainees on August 30, 2015, and was at least the twelfth questionable juvenile detainee death since 2000.  The investigation examined a 10-year span of records ranging from incident reports, investigations, court cases, archived surveillance tapes and interviews with former inmates, their families, guards, and other staff members.

Allegations range from fights between the detainees set up by staffers for their entertainment (Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility), to multiple counts of confirmed sexual relationships between staff and detainees, to a severe medical neglect of detainees.

Elord Revolte’s death was an instance of a ‘honey-bun hit’, where a staffer would offer a honey-bun—or some other kind of sweets, fast food, etc.—as a bounty in exchange for beating up the targeted inmate.  This food bounty would allow the staffers to avoid Abuse Hotline charges by turning detainees into enforcers in order to outsource discipline. The DJJ investigation estimates between 12 and 16 other detainees participated in the assault upon Elord.

According to the DJJ’s Investigation Report into the matter, Elord was placed on medical confinement for a “24-hour concussion precaution” following the August 30 assault. On the morning of August 31, he complained of a “crackling” chest pain and told a nurse that he needed to go to the hospital.  Around 4:45 p.m., Elord was taken by a nurse to the hospital in a state vehicle.  He was admitted to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s emergency room at 5:17 p.m. Elord Revolte died at 11:05 p.m., 30 hours after the assault as a result of a heart attack caused by his extensive internal bleeding.

Five juvenile justice officers were fired by the DJJ as a result of the investigation for poor performance, negligence, and failure to perform duties as assigned.

Following the publication of the Miami Herald series ‘Fight Club’, the Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice Christina Daly, issued a press release stating:

“DJJ has not, does not and will not ever tolerate or condone mistreatment of children in our care. Staff who are not well intentioned to help transform the lives of our children have no place within this agency. Anyone who is found to have encouraged, enticed, or ordered youth to engage in fights or assault other youth is, and will be, held accountable to the full extent of the law, including criminal prosecution. We consistently work to identify, investigate and hold fully accountable any staff member who does not meet our high standards – both within DJJ facilities and with our contracted providers.”

According to the DJJ, one of their biggest problems is a 60% turnover rate for entry-level officers due to low pay.  Other issues include inadequate background checks that result in the hiring of personnel with a history of violent and sexual abuses, as well as a tolerance for cover-ups.   However, in a presentation to the Senate Criminal Justice committee, Secretary Daly stated that the “crime rate among Florida youth has dropped by 37 percent since 2010, and the state has also seen a sharp drop in the number of children arrested or placed in DJJ custody,” and that the arrest rate for girls dropped by more than half.

The Miami Herald reports that over the past 10 years, “DJJ has investigated 1,455 allegations of youth officers or other staffers failing to report abusive treatment of detainees— or, if they did report an incident, lying about the circumstances. That’s nearly three times a week.”

For more information, please see:

Miami Herald – Despite challenges, Florida’s juvenile justice system continues to improve – 10 November 2017

Florida Politics – Juvenile Justice Secretary talks ‘Fight Club’ during Senate presentation – 23 October 2017

Miami Herald – Juvenile justice chief defends agency, calling abuses ‘isolated events’ – 23 October 2017

Tampa Bay Times – Fight Club: Dark secrets of Florida juvenile justice – 11 October 2017

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice – Setting the Record Straight: Miami Herald Omits Facts, Ignores Reforms in Series Targeting DJJ – 10 October 2017

Miami Herald – Dark secrets of Florida’s juvenile justice system: A Miami Herald investigation – 10 October 2017

Miami New Times – After Herald Catches Prison Guards Running Child “Fight Clubs,” State Attacks Reporters – 10 October 2017

Miami Herald – 5 fired at Miami-Dade lockup where teen died in beat-down – 30 September 2015