Children Trafficked from Uganda “Adopted” in U.S.

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – The Davis family wanted to add to their family by adopting a child. After being in contact with Debra Parris of The European Adoption Consultants (EAC), Jessica and Adam Davis were told about a little girl named Mata. EAC said that Mata’s father was deceased and that her mother was severely neglecting her. The EAC informed the Davis family they had to decide quickly if they wanted to adopted Mata and so they quickly adopted her.

Mata and the Davises after they “adopted” her. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Davis.

As Mata’s English improved, the Davis’s learned more about Mata’s mother. The way Mata spoke of her mother did not reflect what the Davis’s were told. Jessica Davis then became suspicious. After a skype call between Mata and her mother, Jessica’s suspicions were confirmed. During the skype conversation, Mata’s mother revealed it was not her intention to give up Mata for good.

Instead, Mata’s mother explained how she was tricked into giving Mata up. Mata’s mother had been told that Mata would be given a great educational opportunity if she was sent away. Her mother was also told that Mata would one day return and that her mother would always be a part of her life. Mata’s mother unknowingly signed away her parental rights when she thought her daughter was being given a once in a life time experience.

When Jessica and Adam realized the information they had been told by the EAC was not true, they realized they had to reunite Mata with her mother. Jessica Davis contacted the U.S. State Department for guidance on how to proceed with the situation. The State Department told Jessica, “you can just keep her if you want.” She responded with, “I didn’t purchase her at Walmart.” Jessica was fearful that if the government notified EAC, something would happen to Mata’s mother. After a three-year journey, and $65,000, Mata was returned to her mother.

Mata reuniting with her mother and siblings after the Davis family brought her back to Uganda. Photo Courtesy of Keren Riley.

The Davis’s were crushed by this experience. They wanted to adopt a child as it was in line with their religious beliefs. Adam said, “We unwittingly placed an order for a child. The only trauma this poor kid ever experienced was because we essentially placed an order for a child.” The Davis’s had filed paperwork to vacate Mata’s adoption and the Ugandan government gave Mata’s mother her parental rights back. Jessica and Adam both believe that other Ugandan children like Mata are being trafficked without the American families who were “adopting” them being aware.

CNN investigated these claims and found that children were being taken from their homes in Uganda. Their mothers were being promised the same thing Mata’s mother was being promised, an educational opportunity for their children. The children were then placed in orphanages and sold for as much as $15,000. CNN also discovered that multiple families had been tricked by EAC. EAC was an adoption agency started by Margaret Cole. Cole started the adoption agency after she lost her child to SIDS.

EAC has been responsible for placing more than 2,000 children from overseas in homes across America since 1991. The agency continued to grow and handled adoptions from countries around the globe. CNN states, “tax records from 2000 to 2015 show that EAC reported more than $76.1 million in revenue and more than $76.3 million in expenses over that period.” In 2004, several families raised questions about their adoptions through EAC in story for Cleveland Magazine. Cole claimed back then that she had a “radar” for the shady businesses involved in adoptions but now stories like the Davis’s shows that this clearly is not the case. CNN has also been unable to locate Cole to receive commentary on CNN’s investigation.

EAC has been shut down by the State Department for 3 years. Since the shut down, the FBI has raided the building and taken away materials. The Ohio attorney general’s office filed suit in June to have the adoption agency ended for good. The EAC “failed to adequately supervise its providers in foreign countries to ensure” that they didn’t engage in the “sale, abduction, exploitation or trafficking of children,” according to the State Department. The Ugandan government shut down the orphanage that Mata had been placed in. In a letter to CNN, they said the orphanage had been closed for “trafficking of children,” “operating the children’s home illegally” and “processing guardianship orders fraudulently.”

The EAC building in Ohio has been abandoned since the agency has been debarred. Photo Courtesy of CNN.

A study done by the Ugandan government and sponsored by UNICEF in 2015 revealed that Ugandan parents were being deceived and bribed with financial incentives and orphanages were often complicit. The orphanages did not always verify information about children’s histories before putting them in the orphanage.

Mata’s story is similar to that of Violah. At 7-years-old, she was adopted by Stacey and Shawn Wells. Like the Davis’s, the Wells were coerced into making a decision quickly on whether or not they would adopt Violah. They paid EAC about $15,000 for the adoption. Violah lived with the Wells family for a year and during that time, they too saw inconsistencies with the adoption agencies story. They were told that Violah had been abandoned. But the longer Violah was with them, the more they learned how her mother took her to church and cooked dinner with her.

Violah also spoke about the day that she and her sister were taken away from their mother. After hearing Violah’s story, Shawn went on a Facebook page for the group Reunite. The page shared a post about a mother whose children were taken away from her against her will. Stacey knew that the woman in the post was Violah’s mother. The Wells thought they were adopting an orphan, but instead, Stacey says, “she was made an orphan.”

The Wells wanted to reunite Violah with her mother like the Davis’s reunited Mata with her mother. Stacey and Shawn reached out to Reunite’s Riley who told the Wells that Violah’s mother was lied to. She had been told Violah would get an education in America. It’s the same lie the traffickers told Mata’s mother. Violah’s mother had four children taken from her and she has only been reunited with two of them.

Violah and her mother are reunited in Uganda and embrace with each other and Stacey Wells. Photo Courtesy of Stacey Wells.

Violah and Mata are from the same village in Uganda. They have become friends since their return home. Mata’s mother said she was “very, very, very happy” that Mata has been returned to her. Violah’s mother also said she was “very happy and very grateful.” Now that the girls have been reunited with their mothers, they have kept in touch with the Davis and Wells families. The girls have blossomed since returning home.

Violah and Mata have become fast friends since returning to their mothers in Uganda. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Davis.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Kids For Sale: ‘My Mom Was Tricked’ – 13 October 2017

Ugandan Government – Information About God’s Mercy Children’s Home – 28 July 2017

Court of Common Pleas, Cuyahoga County, Ohio – EAC Lawsuit – 1 June 2017

Cleveland Magazine – Families In Crisis: When Foreign Adoption Goes Wrong – 2 March 2004

America’s Senior Citizens Sicker Than 10 Other Wealthy Counterpart Counties

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – According to a new report published by Health Affairs, United States senior citizens are sicker than the elderly in 10 other wealthy countries. The study found this despite the fact that American senior citizens have near universal health coverage through Medicare.  The Analysis also stated that America’s senior citizens are more likely to face financial barriers than the senior citizens of those 10 other countries.

Based on the results of the study, one conclusion is that creating universal health care in the United States through a “Medicare-for-all” program would not necessarily lead to Americans of all ages to be on par with their international counterparts when it comes to health outcomes and costs.

The Health Affairs report is based on the 1017 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults. The survey questioned over 23,000 people. It included individuals from the United States, Germany, France, Sweden, Australia, Canada, the U.K., the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. Of those that participated in the survey, one in eight older adults reported having three or more chronic health conditions. But the United States had the highest of these numbers with 36% of those reporting having three or more chronic conditions. This is almost half of what Australia, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland reported. They had only 17%  of those surveyed reporting three or more chronic conditions. New Zealand’s results were even lower at 13%.

America’s Seniors Citizens are happy with Medicare despite being sicker than their counterpart countries. Photo Courtesy of David Paul Morris.

Despite having Medicare, adults over the age of 65 frequently have trouble affording the care they need when they need it. The report stated that 23% of American senior citizens did not see a doctor when they were ill, skipped recommended treatment or tests and left prescriptions unfulfilled due to costs. Countries like France, Norway, Sweden and the U.K. only had 5% reporting the same because of costs.

Even still, Dr. David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund, said “Medicare is the most popular [health coverage] program in the United States in terms of satisfaction of the population that is covered by it.” He added that the level of satisfaction was high. He further stated that a significant share of the American senior citizens covered by Medicare are “underinsured” and/or do not have sufficient financial coverage for there medical needs.  The issue with Medicare is that while it does cover a large amount of beneficiaries’ health services, senior citizens are responsible for some out of pocket expenses.  The study suggests a lot of outcomes similar to this issue of Medicare.

For more information, please see:

CNBC – Older Americans Are Sicker, More Cash Strapped For Health Than Elderly In Other Countries Despite Medicare – 15 November 2017

Commonwealth Fund – Older Americans Were Sicker And Faced More Financial Barriers to Heath Care Than Counterparts in Other Countries – 15 November 2017

Health Affairs – Older Americans Were Sicker and Faced More Financial Barriers To Health Care Than Counterparts in Other Countries – 15 November 2017

Bernie Sanders – Medicare for All – 2016

Handicapped Parking Abuse Causes Problems for Those Who Need It

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

Almost all parking lots in the United States have handicapped parking spots. These spots are designated for people who have disabilities, whether they are visible or not. However, there are many people who are parking in these spots without needing them. Often times, people use the handicapped placard for someone who is not in the car or they have altered/ forged the handicapped placard.

Officers in Los Angeles are currently on the lookout for vehicles violating these traffic rules and ticketing them. In Los Angeles, police officer have the option of writing a parking ticket or a misdemeanor citations. Officer Yasnyi in particular, chooses to write parking tickets instead of misdemeanor citations because the parking ticket does not appear on the driver’s record. Regardless, the penalty for invalidly parking in handicapped parking is high. Typically, two tickets are written that can be about $363 a piece. One ticket is given for invalid use of a handicapped placard and another is for illegally occupying the space.

Officers in L.A. are on the lookout for the misuse of handicapped placards. Photo courtesy of Francine Orr of the L.A. Times.

The Department of Motor Vehicles in Los Angeles also writes citations for misdemeanors. At the L.A. County Fairgrounds in September 2017, the DMV wrote 477 citations for handicapped placard abuse.  The misdemeanor citations can cost the driver anywhere from $250 to $1000. Those that abuse the handicapped parking placard take away spots from those who truly need the handicapped parking spot. Officer Yasnyi says he would estimate that 30% of the time the placard is altered, stolen or issued to someone else (including the dead).

But L.A. is not the only city seeking to bust handicapped parking spot abusers. In Omaha, Nebraska, police are training civilians to be a part of the city’s handicapped enforcement. The civilians have volunteered to help keep enforce the traffic laws. Sgt. Erin Payne with the Omaha Police Department said, “this is really a win-win for us. For our community to be able to give back to our community, and then for them to be able to assist the police.” The volunteers are all certified to cite drivers. The Omaha Police Department said the handicap parking enforcement volunteers issue more than 1,000 citations each year. Like in L.A., the fines are heavy. First time offenders pay a $150 fine, second time offenders pay $300, and third time offenders pay $500 and risk jail time.

However, there are also people who need indeed possess a valid handicapped placard who are accused of abusing them. Lexi Baskin, a student at Kentucky University, is a cancer survivor who currently has to undergo radiation and chemotherapy that leaves her weak, tired and dizzy. She gets her treatments during her lunch break and heads back to school. Her handicap is not necessarily visible at all times, and someone who has been watching her decided to let her know their thoughts on the matter.

These signs were taped onto Lexi Baskin car after she parked in a handicapped spot. Photos courtesy of Lexi Baskin.

This person did not believe that Baskin was sufficiently disabled to deserve the parking spot. The person left signs taped all over Baskin’s car windshield and windows. Some of the signs called her “lazy” and said “shame on you.” One note in particular read, “There are legit handicapped people who need this parking space. We have seen you and your friend come and go and there is nothing handicapped about either of you. Your tag must be borrowed or fake. We will make every effort to see you fined or towed for being such a selfish, terrible person.”

The vandalism is under investigation by University police. Baskin says, “I want to get this out there to make people aware that just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean people aren’t going through it.” The misuse of handicapped placards creates a multitude of issues including taking handicapped spots from people who do need the spots to those who actually need the spots being accused of being lazy just because their handicapped is not necessarily visible.

For more information, please see:

Blaze – A Cancer Survivor Had Her Car Defaced For Using Disability Parking, But She Responded With Grace – 9 November 2017

KETV Omaha – Omaha Police Seek Volunteers for Handicapped Parking – 8 November 2017

L.A. Times – It takes a special arrogance to steal a parking place from a disabled person. And this cop is out to bust you – 8 November 2017

2 Detectives of NYPD Indicted for Rape

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

NEW YORK CITY, New York – On September 15, two New York City detectives stopped a car in Brooklyn under the pretense of searching its occupants for drugs. In particular, the drug at issue was marijuana. The detectives were dressed in plain street clothes and were driving an unmarked vehicle. Inside the car they stopped was an 18-year-old woman and two men.

The detectives searched the vehicle for drugs and asked the woman to lift her skirt “to make sure there is nothing under there.” The woman’s lawyer, Michael David, says “She was petrified, so she showed it. She said, ‘See, I’m not hiding anything.” Immediately after lifting her skirt, the detectives ordered the woman to get out of the car. She was then placed in handcuffs, put in the backseat of the detectives’ car and was told she would be driven to the 60th precinct. The precinct was about a mile and a half from where the woman was pulled over.

According to the woman, the detectives never drove to the precinct. Instead, they drove to a parking lot of a Chipotle that was nearby. It was at that point, the woman said the detectives raped her. She alleges that 45 minutes after, she was shoved out of the detective’s vehicle, not that far from the 60th precinct. The woman called her mother, who took her to Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park Brooklyn. Her attorney has called the incident a kidnapping. “I don’t think a gang rape has ever been reported in the history of the N.Y.P.D,” Mr. David said.

Two NYPD Detectives have been indicted on the rape of an 18-year-old woman. Photo Courtesy of Spencer Platt. 

The woman has become weary from waiting for weeks for some kind of action by prosecutors. “She was getting more frustrated by the day, this has been going on for six weeks already, and it just seemed she was crying for help,” Mr. David said. He adds that she has been crying and is depressed and that this alleged crime has placed a strain on the relationship she has with her parents.

Both the detectives, Edward Martins and Richard Hall, have been suspended without pay during the investigation. These actions are usually reserved for officers who have been charged with crimes. At this point, both of the officers has been indicted by a grand jury for the alleged rape as well as for bribery. The charge for bribery stems from telling the woman they would let her go if she did what they wanted. The detectives had been stripped of their guns and put on “modified duty” after the allegations emerged.

So far, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office has declined to comment. Mark A. Bederow, the attorney for Detective Martins said, “We are going to vigorously contest these charges in a court of law, rather than the court of public opinion.” “We look forward to defending any charges in a court of law rather than in the court of public opinion,” Bederow, said. The detectives’ supervisor has also been placed on modified duty after the woman’s allegations emerged. The detectives were also demoted to police officers last week.

Hall and Martin are said to be turning themselves in early next week, says sources of New York Daily News. The sources say this surrender is likely part of an agreement between the prosecution and detectives because they are not considered a flight risk.

For more information, please see:

Fox News – 2 NYPD Detectives Suspended Amid Probe of Rape Allegations – 28 October 2017

New York Daily News – Two NYPD Detectives Indicted In Rape of 18-Year-Old Woman They Busted For Pot – 27 October 2017

New York Times – Indictment Issued in Case of 18-Year-Old Who Said 2 Officers Raped Her – 27 October 2017

New York Times – Brooklyn Prosecutors Investigating Rape Charge Against Detectives – 1 October 2017

DHS to Decide on Continuation of TPS Program for Haitians in US

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — On November 6, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to make a decision as to the continuation of the Temporary Protected Status program that affects over 300,000 foreign nationals currently residing in the United States.

Men visiting a mass-grave of victims from the 2010 earthquake outside of Port-au-Prince. Photo Courtesy of Shannon Stapleton.

According to a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a provision within the Immigration and Nationality Act to protect foreign nationals currently in the United States.  The program grants a temporary legal status—typically for a period of six to eighteen months—to migrants 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.  This allows them to apply for a work permit and a driver’s license and prevents their deportation.  There are currently over 300,000 people from 13 countries under Temporary Protected Status, including individuals from Syria, El Salvador, and Haiti.  According to The Washington Post, TPS beneficiaries are the parents of around 190,000 US-citizen children.

Haitians were granted TPS in the US by the Obama administration in January 2010 following a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed around 200,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.  Haiti has suffered several crises since then, including an outbreak of cholera in late 2010 that infected close to 800,000 and killed over 9,000 people, sexual abuse of hundreds of people at the hands of UN peacekeepers dating back to 2004, as well as a 1,000-people killed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.  The recent hurricanes have also destroyed infrastructure and caused food shortages across the country.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended Haiti’s TPS several times, the last time being on May 24, 2017.  After a bipartisan effort from several Florida politicians, DHS Secretary General John Kelly approved a six-month extension of the July 22, 2017, deadline, but expressed that Haitians should begin preparations to return to Haiti come January 22, 2018.  According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website, “At least 60 days before Jan. 22, 2018, Secretary Kelly will re-evaluate the designation for Haiti and will determine whether another extension, a re-designation, or a termination is warranted, in full compliance of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

There are 59,000 Haitians living in the US under TPS, 80% of which are employed; $1.3 billion in remittances from US-based Haitians accounted for 15% of Haiti’s economy in 2015.

In contrast, Haiti is currently the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, with 6 million people—approximately 59% of the population—living below the national poverty line.

For more information, please see:

NBC News – Will Central Americans, Haitians ‘Protected’ by U.S. Be Sent Home? – 23 October 2017

NACLA – Temporary Protected Status in Limbo – 20 October 2017

The Washington Post – Tens of thousands of Haitian, Central American immigrants could lose protected status – 20 October 2017

Al Jazeera – UN peacekeepers leave Haiti: What is their legacy? – 6 October 2017

USCIS – Temporary Protected Status Designated Country: Haiti – 3 October 2017

Sun Sentinel – Hurricane Irma effects are one more reason to extend TPS for Haitians, lawmakers argue – 18 September 2017

The Intercept – The Trump Administration is Playing with the Lives of 59,000 Haitians – 26 September 2017

The New Yorker – A Harrowing Turning Point for Haitian Immigrants – 12 May 2017

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

Former HIV-Positive School Aide Accused of Sexually Assaulting 42 Boys

By: Sarah Louise Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America 

MARYLAND, U.S. – Carlos Bell, a former school aide and track coach has been accused of sexually assaulting 42 juvenile boys. Bell was a teaching aid at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School and a track coach at La Plata High School. Bell told police he was HIV positive and that he was HIV positive when he assaulted the boys and evidence corroborated the claim.

Maryland’s State Attorney’s Office has indicted Bell on 206 counts. This is the third time the indictment has been updated to reflect charges from additional alleged victims as more are discovered.

The boys are between the ages of 11 and 17. 28 of the alleged victim are identified while the remaining 14 alleged victims are unidentified according to the State Attorney’s Office for Charles County.  In December of 2016, police say an investigation was started on Bell after a tip that Bell was involved in inappropriate behavior with a student while coaching track.

Sheriff Troy Berry said, “A parent observed suspicious text messages on a child’s phone that were sexual in nature.”  The parent checked her child’s phone and found inappropriate text messages involving Bell. However, Bell was not arrested until July. At that time, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office said as many as 10 boys were assaulted, 7 of which were identified by video found in Bell’s home. During the search of Bell’s home, police also found computers and other electronics that linked him to the production of child porn. Among that evidence were graphic images of Bell sexually assaulting victims.

Carlos Bell has been indicted on 206 counts in relation to his sexual assault of students while working at a middle school in Maryland. Photo Courtesy of Charles Co. Police Dept.

Bell allegedly assaulted the boys without protection. So far, the State Attorney’s Office for Charles County stated that they are not aware of any of the alleged victims testing positive for HIV. The abuse is believed to have been committed from May 2015 through June 2017. Bell is accused of abusing the alleged victims at the Middle School, his home and possibly, other locations.

At this time, the State Attorney’s Office said charges against Bell include: 22 counts of sexual abuse of a minor, 19 counts of second-degree sex offense, 19 counts of second-degree sex offenses, 7 counts of third-degree sex offense, 97 counts of child pornography and other offenses. If convicted of these crimes, the State Attorney’s Office will seek life in prison. Currently, Bell is being held without bail and his next court date is January 8, 2018.

The Superintendent of Schools for Charles County, Kimberly A. Hill, said they have been cooperating with authorities in a letter dated July 3, 2017.  The letter also stated that Bell has not worked in any of the school buildings since December 22, 2016. Lastly, the note also stated “To our parents and our community, who put their faith and trust in us to safeguard their children, I apologize on behalf of Charles County Public Schools.”

For more information, please see:

Fox News – HIV-infected School Aide Accused of Sexually Victimizing 42 Children in Maryland – 24 October 2017

NY Daily News – Former Maryland School Aide Who Is HIV Positive Sexually Assaulted 42 Boys, Police Say – 23 October 2017

WJLA – HIV Positive Former Md. Coach Indicted on 206 Counts; 42 Alleged Victims Reported – 23 October 2017

WJLA – Former Md. School Coach Charged with Child Porn, Assault on Male Students, Has HIV – 28 July 2017

74 Foster Children Missing in Kansas

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

KANSAS, United States – More than 70 children are missing from Kansas’ privatized foster care system. In total, there are 74 children missing from the Kansas foster care system. KVC Kansas, the contractor for the cases in eastern Kansas has 38 of the missing children under its supervision and 36 more are under the supervision of Saint Francis Community Service’s in the western part of the state.

Three sisters, under the care of their great aunt, have not been seen since late August. Phyllis Gilmore, the head of the Kansas Department for Children and Families was not aware of the sisters’ disappearance before the Kansas City Star first reported it. Gilmore claims that tracking children in foster care is just one of the department’s responsibilities. She says the department has policies in place to attempt to find missing children and return them to their foster homes. “These children who run away are not under lock and key; they are generally in family foster homes, older youth, who attend school and activities, and they often miss their biological families,” she said.

Phyllis Gilmore, head of the Kansas Department of Children and Families was not aware three sisters in foster care have been missing since August. Photo Courtesy of HPPR.

Kansas has approximately 7,100 children in foster care as of August 2017. The missing 74 are 1% of the total children in the foster care system. That number is on par with the national average. The United States Department of Health and Human Services reported that during the 2015 federal government’s fiscal year, approximately 4,600 foster care children were listed as runaways which is about 1.1% of the almost 428,000 total.

Rep. Linda Gallagher said even if the number of missing children is on par with the national average, it is still too many. Chad Anderson, chief clinic officer at KVC Kansas, acknowledged to the child welfare task force that contractors can do a better job. “I don’t know that we as contractors have shared as much in terms of missing youth and the day to day as we probably should,” Anderson said. He added that contractors update the Department of Children and Families every 30 days on missing children.

During a meeting of an oversight panel at the Statehouse in Topeka, foster care contractors provided the information in response to questions about the disappearance of the three sisters. Rep. Steve Alford, chair of the task force, said he really was not surprised by the number of kids missing after the meeting. “There’s a break between DCF and the contracting,” he said. “Once the children … [go from the court] into the possession of the secretary, she hands them off to the contractors and it’s their responsibility, you know, it’s kind of like out of sight, out of mind in a lot of aspects.”

For more information, please see:

Fox News – More Than 20 Kids Missing From Kansas Foster Care System – 12 October 2017

HPPR – More Than 70 Kids Missing From Kansas’ Foster Care System – 11 October 2017

Time – ‘Flabbergasted.’ More Than 70 Children are Missing From Foster Care – 11 October 2017

US News – 70 Plus Children Missing From Kansas Foster Care System – 11 October 2017

Death Toll Rises to 12 at Florida Nursing Home

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MIAMI, Florida – On September 10th, hurricane Irma tore through Florida, causing the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center to lose some of its power. The home maintained some electricity, but lost the power to its air conditioning units when a tree knocked out a transformer. Three days after the hurricane hit, the nursing home called 911. Many of their patients had begun exhibiting cardiac arrest and respiratory failure. On September 13th, nearly 150 patients were evacuated. . Of the 150 patients that were evacuated on September 13th, a number of them were treated for heat-related issues.  As of September 18th, eight patients had died. That number has since risen to twelve.

Dolores Biamonte, 57, died September 28th according to a statement from the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office. Biamonte was the youngest of the residents who died as a result of the heat exposure. Currently, the dead range in age from 57 – 99. Some of those who died had body temperatures that reached 109.9 degrees Fahrenheit. CNN obtained a video that showed one woman sitting naked in a hallway on what looks like a hospital bed next to fans and spot coolers.

Across the street from the home is one of the largest hospitals in Florida. Investigators want to know why so many patients died even though the hospital was only across the street. The twelve deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills are now being treated as part of a criminal investigation, according to Hollywood police spokesman, Miranda Grossman. Federal and State agencies are also conducting administrative investigations.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is under investigation following the deaths of 12 residents from heat exposure after Hurricane Irma. Photo Courtesy of the Daily News.

Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office reported, even though the nursing home had multiple calls with state authorities, they never reported that the patients were in danger or needed to be evacuated.  That report also stated that the state advisors told the nursing home managers multiple times to call 911 if the patients were in danger or needed to be evacuated. The 159-page state report said that was “something [the nursing home] failed to do.”

The Governor said in a statement, “this facility is failing to take responsibility for the fact that they delayed calling 911 and made the decision not to evacuate their patients to one of the largest hospitals in Florida, which is directly across the street.” The nursing home said it is “fully cooperating with all authorities and regulators to assess what went wrong.” The nursing home has also expressed their sympathy for the families of those who died.

Several families have filed lawsuits. Pedro Franco, whose father, Miguel, died following Irma, said, “this is something that could have been prevented.” Franco is among those who filed a lawsuit against the nursing home. The lawsuit also alleges that the nursing home failed to provide proper care to Pedro’s mother, Cecilia Franco, who survived but was hospitalized in serious conditions.

The State Agency for Health Care Administration revoked the nursing home’s license and shut them down earlier this month. In addition, Governor Scott gave all Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities sixty days to comply with news rules which require them to have generators that can provide backup power for up to four days.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Florida Nursing Home Death Toll Reaches 12 – 29 September 2017

Daily News – Death Toll Reaches 12 at Florida Nursing Home Left Without Power After Hurricane Irma – 29 September 2017

NBC News – Florida Nursing Home Death Toll Rises to Twelve After Hurricane Irma Knocked Out A/C – 29 September 2017

Time – 12th Person Dies After being Taken From Overheated Florida Nursing Home – 29 September 2017

CNN – Video Shows Naked Woman in Sweltering Nursing Home Where 8 Died – 16 September 2017

NY Amends Elder Law to Prevent Elder Abuse

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

ALBANY, New York – Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law on September 13th that would help increase the protections against elder abuse. Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Binghamton) sponsored the bill which is now law. 11 of her fellow Assemblymen co-sponsored the bill. The new law requires state agencies to develop guidelines to help healthcare providers detect cases of elder abuse, self-neglect and maltreatment.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new bill into law strengthening the protections against elder abuse. Photo courtesy of Biography.

The Office for the Aging, the Department of Health, and the Office of Children and Family Services will develop the guidelines and will have the guidelines available on their websites. Lupardo said, “We want the Department of Health to be a resource for this information for healthcare professionals, where they can find information on signs and symptoms, screening tools, protocols and referrals for appropriate treatment.” Her hope is that by placing all the information in one place on each website will make the information more accessible.

10% of Americans over age 60 have experienced some form of elder abuse according to the National Council on Aging. Elder abuse has many forms including physical, financial and psychological. According to a 2011 study on elder abuse, for each reported incident of abuse, there are 24 unreported incidences.

The bill before the Assembly had included increased protections against financial abuse as well, but Lupardo said it has been difficult to get all the parties to come to an agreement. The suggestion that had been in the bill was to simplify the forms for power of attorney and to have banks offer the option of opening a convenience account when a customer wants a joint account. Governor Cuomo also recognized the financial abuse of our elders, calling it a “national issue.”

Some of the counties in New York have begun to address the issue on their own. The employees of Otsego County Office for the Aging have undergone regular training on elder abuse and will be attending more in the future. Many employees went to a training on September 26th in conjunction with the New York State Office for the Aging and the Broome County Family Violence Prevention Council. The training focused on financial abuse of seniors. Organizer Denise Shukoff said, “Elder abuse is a public health issue, and health professionals are seeing and recognizing this more and more.”

Advocates of the law say that the goal is to assist healthcare workers build relationships with their patients, detect signs of abuse, and report them to the authorities.

For more information, please see:

Daily Star – State Beefs up Laws to Fight Elder Abuse – 26 September 2017

Democrat and Chronicle – NY Installs Stronger Protections Against Elder Abuse – 15 September 2017

New York State Assembly – An act to amend the elder law, in relation to developing guidelines for identifying and reporting elder abuse in healthcare settings – 2 June 2017

Under the Radar – New York Elder Abuse Prevalence Study – May 2011

Deadliest Mass Shooting in Modern US history is the 273rd Mass Shooting in 2017

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LAS VEGAS, Nevada On Sunday night, October 1st, Stephen Paddock opened fire from his room on the 32nd floor upon concert-goers attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.  Police received the first reports of the shooting at 10:08 pm, according to the New York Times, and the shooter was found dead by the time SWAT entered his room.  As of October 2nd, 59 people were killed and 527 people were injured during the shooting.

Dozens of people were killed and hundreds were wounded during Sunday evening’s shooting in Las Vegas. Photo Courtesy of Vox News.

According to multiple law enforcement officials, 23 guns were recovered from the hotel room and an additional 19 guns and explosives were recovered from Paddock’s home in Mesquite, NV, 90 miles north of Las Vegas.  Stephen Paddock was a 64-year-old wealthy white man with “no significant criminal history.”

In a statement to The New York Times, FBI Special Agent Aaron Rouse dismissed claims that Paddock was associated with ISIS and stated that “[Paddock had] no connection to an international terrorist group.”

Sunday night’s tragic shooting, categorized by many as an act of domestic terrorism, has surpassed the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida as well as the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre as the deadliest shooting since 1949.

Mass shootings do not have a consistent definition: organizations may categorize a mass shooting by number of people injured, number of people killed, and may exclude certain kinds of violence.  These definitions may exclude the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 or the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, both incidents with a death toll in the hundreds. Under Vox News and the Gun Violence Archive’s definition of mass shootings (any incident where “four or more people were shot, but not necessarily killed, at the same general time and location”), this incident is the 273rd mass shooting in the US in 2017.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Las Vegas shooter named as Stephen Paddock – 2 October 2017

Al Jazeera – The deadliest mass shootings in the US – 2 October 2017

The Guardian – 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days: America’s gun crisis – in one chart – 2 October 2017

The Guardian – Mandalay Bay attack: at least 59 killed in deadliest US shooting – 2 October 2017

The New York Times – Las Vegas Shooting Live Updates: Multiple Weapons Found in Gunman’s Hotel Room – 2 October 2017

NPR – Las Vegas Shooting Update: At Least 59 People Are Dead After Gunman Attacks Concert – 2 October 2017

Vox – Is Las Vegas the worst mass shooting in US history? It’s surprisingly complicated – 2 October 2017

Reveal – Charlottesville underscores how homegrown hate is going unchecked – 21 June 2017

97-year-old Shipping Regulation Limiting Post-Hurricane Relief to Puerto Rico

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico On Wednesday, September 20, Category 4 Hurricane ‘Maria’ made landfall in Puerto Rico with winds reaching 155 miles per hour and covering parts of the island in over 10 feet of water.  It was the strongest hurricane to affect Puerto Rico since San Felipe Segundo in 1928.

The sun sets on a devastated neighborhood in Yabucoa in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Photo Courtesy of The Guardian.

As of September 27, 97% of the population did not have access to electricity and over 50% do not have access to drinking water with the daily temperature reaching over 90°.  Puerto Rico’s hospitals are dependent on diesel fuel to power their emergency generators, and despite their stringent fuel rationing, the majority of the hospitals are on the verge of running out.  Diesel is a necessary good imported to Puerto Rico from the mainland United States.

The existing poor infrastructure and the current difficulty in getting aid to Puerto Rico post-Maria have been blamed in a large part on the Jones Act.

The Jones Act—also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920—requires that the transportation of goods between points in the US be done in a ship (1) bearing the US flag, (2) built in the United States, (3) owned by US citizens, and (4) operated by US citizens or legal permanent residents.  This means that basic shipments of necessary goods must be imported to Puerto Rico from the US on Jones Act-compliant ships that tend to run four times more expensive than non-compliant ships.  This results in the cost of living in Puerto Rico is about 13% higher on average than in the contiguous United States.

Precedents for Jones Act waivers in the last 15 years have included exceptional situations of humanitarian need—Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Sandy in 2012, and Harvey and Irma in 2017—and have spanned three administrations: Bush, Obama, and Trump.

President Donald Trump has been hesitant to waive the Jones Act for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and told reporters on Wednesday: “We’re thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people, a lot of people who work in the shipping industry, that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”

Puerto Rico has a population of 3.4 million—roughly equivalent to the combined population of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Puerto Ricans still waiting for aid a week after Maria’s devastation – 27 September 2017

NBC News – What is the Jones Act? Opponents to 1920 Law Argue It’s Worsening Puerto Rico’s Crisis – 27 September 2017

The Guardian – Hurricane Maria pushes Puerto Rico’s struggling hospitals to crisis point – 27 September 2017

Vox – The Jones Act, the obscure 1920 shipping regulation strangling Puerto Rico, explained – 27 September 2017

The Washington Post – Feds rush aid to Puerto Rico amid growing pleas for help – 25 September 2017

Al Jazeera – Hurricane Maria strikes US territory of Puerto Rico – 21 September 2017

Department of Homeland Security – DHS Statement on Extending the Jones Act Waiver – 13 September 2017

Flint Water Crisis Causes Precipitous Fertility Drop

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

FLINT, Michigan – The lead-poisoned water of Flint, Michigan has had a major effect on the fertility rate in the city according to a working paper by Daniel Grossman of West Virginia University and David Slusky of Kansas University. The city of Flint switched to the lead-poisoned Flint River in 2014 in order to cut costs. However, the result was a “culling of the least healthy fetuses” leading to a “horrifyingly large” increase in both miscarriages and fetal deaths according to the paper’s authors.

During the Flint water crisis, free water was distributed at the Lincoln Park Methodist Church on February 3, 2015. Photo Courtesy of Business Insider.

In the paper, the authors estimate that among babies conceived from November 2013 to March 2015, “between 198 and 276 more children would have been born had Flint not enacted the switch in water.” Grossman and Slusky found that pregnancies that lasted at least 20 weeks but did not result in birth increased by 58%. The authors also found that fertility rates dropped by 12% compared to other economically similar cities in Michigan that did not have a switch in their water source.

The authors argue that the change in water supply has effects beyond just infants. They believe the drop in fertility is evidence of the effect of lead on the health of potential newborns in utero.  It is important to note that the authors list a number of limitations their study had. Lead builds up in the body over time so focusing on neonatal health could underestimate the overall effects of lead on human health and development. There are also several other contaminates that could have been in the water and affected the results.

This table from the working paper shows the moving fertility rate of Flint compared to other cities in Michigan. Photo Courtesy of Washington Post.

But lead is definitively one of the contaminates of the water. According to Reuters, the water from the river is so corrosive that it stripped the city pipes of lead and contaminated the city’s drinking water. Following the switch to the Flint River, residents began complaining about the appearance and odor of the water. Yet, the city assured residents that the water was safe to drink into 2015.

Water utilities typically point out that although a person has higher lead levels in their blood, the person can’t say definitively what caused the increase. They argue it could have been dust or old paint or lead contaminated dirt. However, most of the effects of water contaminated with lead can only be observed through analysis of the population.

Grossman and Slusky conclude that “failure to provide safe drinking water has large health implications.” It has been come common knowledge that children who have been exposed to lead can face harmful consequences. Some of these consequences are increased antisocial behavior, lower educational attainment, cognitive deficiencies, and many other problems that affect the liver, kidneys and brain.

What is not as well-known is the effects of lead on fetal health. Grossman and Slusky’s literature review shows that pregnant women exposed to lead are linked to “fetal death, prenatal growth abnormalities, reduced gestational period, and reduced birth weight.” At the time the lead exposure began, many Flint residents were unaware that there was lead in the water at all. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states pregnant women who are exposed to lead also expose their unborn child because lead can cross the placental barrier. According to the World Health Organization, there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered to be safe.

For more information, please see:

Business Insider – Fetal Deaths Rose 58% After Flint Switched to Lead-Poisoned Water – 22 September 2017

Huffington Post – Flint Water Crisis Likely Increased Fetal Deaths, Study Shows – 21 September 2017

Washington Post – Flint’s Lead-Poisoned Water had a ‘Horrifyingly Large’ Effect on Fetal Deaths, Study Finds – 21 September 2017

Working Paper – The Effect of an Increase in Lead in the Water System on Fertility and Birth Outcomes: The Case of Flint, Michigan – 7 August 2017

Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Health Problems Caused by Lead – 17 April 2017

Business Insider – Michigan is Urging Infants Take Lead Screening After Flint Water Crisis – 17 November 2016

World Health Organization – Lead Poisoning and Health – September 2016

 

Washington Sees Bipartisanship on Bill Against Sex Trafficking

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – On September 19, 2017 the Senate Commerce Committee heard testimony from victims’ families urging law makers to approve the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). The bill has bipartisan support as it was promoted by both Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut).

Human trafficking survivors and their advocates have been pushing Congress to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) for years. Courts around the country have been interpreting the act to afford immunity to individuals and companies who knowingly work with sex traffickers to create advertisements for the sale of women and children into sex trafficking.

The CDA was passed by Congress in 1996 to help families shield children form sexually explicit material. At the time, Congress also wanted the Internet to be successful. Taking both of these goals into account, Congress designed the CDA “to protect companies when they merely hosted content from third parties and when they chose in good faith to regulate explicit material on their sites — not when they knowingly engaged in clearly illegal activity.”

Yvonne Ambrose, who’s daughter Desiree Robinson was killed as a result of sex trafficking, speaks to the media after giving her testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, in favor of amending the CDA.

Today, individuals and companies utilized the immunity law of the CDA. California Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown stated, “until Congress sees fit to amend the immunity law, the broad reach of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act even applies to those alleged to support the exploitation of others by human trafficking.” One webpage it applies to is Backpage.com which is the website where most American victims of sex trafficking are sold.

Backpage is involved in 73% of cases of suspected child trafficking in America. Although this is a large percentage, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently dismissed three sex trafficking cases. The court ruled that the CDA’s immunity provision precluded the litigation even if they knowingly collaborated with sex traffickers to sell children. The court suggested that the victims seek legislative change to stop this issue.

Despite not taking ads from Backpage, Google “has emerged as its behind-the-scenes champion.” Google is concerned that closing the loophole created by the CDA would allow for frivolous lawsuits and investigations that will damage its’ interests and the freedom of the Internet. Senator Portman says they have nothing to fear.

Senator Portman said, “They have to be proven to have knowingly facilitated, supported or assisted in online sex trafficking to be liable in the first place.”  The Senator further declared, “Because the standard is so high, our bill protects good tech actors and targets rogue online actors like Backpage.”

While none of the members of the Commerce Committee have come out against the bill, some have indicated that they are open to revising it in order to address the concerns of the tech industry. It remains to be seen how the bill may be revised to address these concerns and effectively close the CDA loophole.

For more information, please see:

The Hill – Senators Hear Emotional Testimony on Controversial Sex-Trafficking Bill – 19 September 2017

Huff Post – Who Will Win in Congress – Trafficking Victims or Special Interests? – 19 September 2017

Washington Post – Mother of Slain Teen Makes Tearful Plea for Congress to Amend Internet Law – 19 September 2017

New York Times – Google and Sex Traffickers Like Backpage.com – 7 September 2017

Congress Considers Major Change to the Americans with Disabilities Act

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – Currently, Congress is contemplating the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620). H.R. 620’s protestors believe it would place major increases on the burden of people with disabilities. As the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) stands now, owners of businesses open to the public – such as hotels, restaurants and movie theaters – must make sure their businesses are accessible for people with disabilities. When a business fails to comply with these rules, a person with disabilities can either take them to court or file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.

H.R. 620 would change this process and allow businesses to delay fixing the problem for months at a time. The process under the new bill includes many more steps. These steps start with a written notice to the business owner of the inability of the disabled person to access their business. After that, the business has two months to respond and then another four months to actually begin addressing the violation. During that six-month period, the person with disabilities sees no relief.

In the 1990’s when the American’s with Disabilities Act was passed, it contained a provision that required businesses to “remove architectural barriers and other obstacles that impede access to the establishment,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union. This provision is known as Title III. The provision makes it possible for people with disabilities to have access to businesses such as groceries stores or shopping malls as well as facilities such as public restrooms and libraries.

Crowd comes together to support disability rights. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

The goal of H.R. 620 is to allow for businesses to opt out of Title III. By allowing businesses to opt out of Title III, the responsibility falls on the person with disabilities to make sure businesses have the proper accommodations. Essentially, the person with disabilities has to invest a considerable amount of time and effort to get the necessary accommodations from a business. Whereas, the way the bill stands now, businesses are much more likely to fix a problem sooner in order to settle cases or appease the U.S. Department of Justice.

Supporters of H.R. 620 believe that amending Title III would reduce the number of frivolous and unwarranted lawsuits. After Title III was instituted, there were many lawsuits against businesses for failure to comply with Title III. Those against H.R. 620 believe that there are many reasons for why the amendment is unwarranted.

Currently, the ADA offers free educational resources to businesses that explain how they can comply with Title III. According to Rewire, “an analysis of ADA lawsuits in 2016 identified just 12 individuals and one organization that have filed more than 100 lawsuits each.” Those who oppose H.R. 620 believe that shows most law suits are not abusing Title III. They also say that the ADA already has methods to deal with those frivolous lawsuits.

The passage of H.R. 620 will have a major impact on the lives of people with disabilities. Many believe their civil rights are on the chopping block. With 18 co-sponsors, the bill was voted to advance by the House Judiciary Committee on September 7th, 2017. Now, many wait to see if this bill will become a reality and if it does, how it affects their lives.

For more information, please see:

Romper – What is HR 620? It Could Threaten the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities – 14 September 2017

Human Rights Watch – Will the US Weaken its Disability Laws? – 13 September 2017

Action Together Massachusetts – Action: Protect the American Disabilities Act – Oppose H.R.620 – 12 September 2017

Rewire – Congress Makes Progress in Destroying the Americans with Disabilities Act – 11 September 2017

Rewire – The Americans with Disabilities Act is Under Attack in Congress – 30 May 2017

“Not one less:” Thousands Protest in Mexico Following the Murder of Mara Castilla

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PUEBLA, Mexico On Sunday, September 17, thousands marched in the streets of Mexico City and Puebla after the body of Mara Fernanda Castilla—a 19-year-old university student gone missing the week before—was found.

Protestors marching against femicides in Mexico. Photo Courtesy of CNN Español.

Mara had gone missing on September 8, after hailing a driver from a popular ride-sharing app called Cabify; she got in the vehicle and the driver drove to her home. Security footage showed that the driver idled in front of her house, ended the ride, and drove away, but Mara never got out of the car.

Her body was found a week later in a ditch near a motel.  She had been raped and strangled.

The Cabify driver has been arrested for deprivation of liberty and murder.

Sunday’s marches took place throughout the states of Mexico and Puebla, with people protesting a perceived disregard from the Mexican authorities toward femicides—killings of women and girls specifically due to their gender, usually accompanied with sexual violence.  As per the Observatorio Ciudadano Nacional del Feminicidio, only 25% of reported murders are investigated as femicides.

According to Luis Ernesto Derbez, director of Universidad de la Américas Puebla (UDLAP), in an interview with Forbes Mexico, a lack of judicial infrastructure is one of the greatest problems in combating impunity in Mexico today.  This means that less than 1% of reported crimes are seen through to their conclusion. The population ratio of judges to people is approximately 4.2 judges per every 100,000 people, while the international average is closer to 16.23 judges per 100,000 people.  UDLAP has conducted a multi-year study called the Global Impunity Index (Índice Global de Impunidad), in which Mexico scored 4th highest impunity in the world.

Mara was a political science major at Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla. She is the 82nd victim of femicide in the state of Puebla this year.

For more information, please see:
Al-Jazeera – “Mexicans march against femicide after teen’s murder” – 18 September 2017

BBC Mundo – “Femicidio en México: Mara Castilla, el asesinato de una joven de 19 años en un taxi que indigna a un país violento” – 18 September 2017

El País – “Mara no se fue, a Mara la mataron” – 18 September 2017

The Guardian – “Outrage as Mexican student killed after using ride-hailing service” – 18 September 2017

Observatorio Ciudadano de Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos – “Feminicidios en Puebla al 17 de septiembre de 2017” – 17 September 2017

CNN Español – “El trágico fin de Mara Castilla, la joven mexicana que desapareció tras tomar un coche de Cabify” – 16 September 2017

Forbes México – “México es el cuarto país con mayor impunidad en el mundo” – 28 August 2017