North America & Oceania

Adult Children Question Elderly Father’s Marriage to Care Giver

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CALIFORNIA, USA – A local news station was contacted by the Hess family over their concern for their father’s recent marriage. James Donald Hess, Don lost his second wife in February of 2016. The family says Don became depressed and lonely. At that time, his health was also steadily declining.  The family filed  petition in probate court alleging Don’s new wife was  “physically and verbally abusing him, and asserting undue influence over him.”

Nicky Shepard, now Hess, had been married five times before she married Don. According to Don’s Daughter-in-law Dede, Nicky had been recently married when she met and began caring for Don. The family’s petition in probate court stated that Nicky had convinced Don to marry her after just a few months. Nicky and Don were married October 14, 2017, two weeks after Nicky’s previous divorce had been finalized.

“I think of her as a shark that smelled the blood in the water,” Dede Hess said. The family alleges in the petition that after the marriage, Nicky had convinced Don to “withdraw large sums of money from his investment accounts” and that she “forged [ his] name on documents.” The family also believes that Nicky put Don in “extreme” danger by withholding medication from him or giving him too much medication.

The news station the family brought their concerns to learned that Don is now in the hospital. The family informed them that Don’s heart had stopped for several minutes, he had renal failure and he had pneumonia. “I would love to see some justice on behalf of my father-in-law, especially if he’s ill,” Dede Hess said.

The family went to court in mid-March where the judge recognized that both sides had a difference in opinion when it came to this case.  Judge Julia Kelety said “I know that you have very different views about whether this is on one hand, a recent marriage of an elderly person to his caregiver and the vulnerability that that can present and the possibility of financial abuse versus, on the other hand, a person who is engaging in his right in his older years to find love and get married.”

The family seeks to have Don removed from a trust that was created last year. Don’s children do not believe he was competent at that time. Nicky told the news station, “All I need is love. I don’t even think about his money. His kids did not approve our marriage.”

Don’s lawyer denied the abuse and instead said, the “children were more concerned about their inheritance than his happiness.” Don is 86 and Nicky is 64.

The Judge decided to suspend Nicky as successor trustee until another court appearance scheduled for April 5th. “I don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Dede Hess said.

This is not an isolated case. Elder abuse is often unreported according to the National Council on Aging. According to a 2015 study, this kind of fraud and abuse can collectively cost America’s elderly $36.5 billion a year.

For more information, please see:

ABC 10 News – Family Questions Elderly Father’s Marriage to Caregiver – 30 March 2018

Forbes – 5 Ways to Spot and Stop Elder Financial Abuse – 30 March 2018

WTVA – Family Questions Elderly Father’s Marriage to Caregiver – 30 March 2018

Oakland Mayor Warned Bay Area Residents of Impending ICE Raid

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

OAKLAND, California — On Saturday, February 24, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a news release warning local residents that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be conducting operations in the Bay Area during the next 24 hours.  This warning was posted on Facebook and shared on Twitter.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials arrested over 150 suspected undocumented immigrants in Northern California in late February. (Photo Courtesy of

Mayor Schaaf’s February 24 news release detailed her rationale for disclosing her knowledge of the pending raids: “As Mayor of Oakland, I am sharing this information publicly not to panic our residents but to protect them.  My priority is for the well-being and safety of all residents — particularly our most vulnerable — and I know that Oakland is safer when we share information, encourage community awareness, and care for our neighbors.”

In a statement made on February 27, ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan said, “The Oakland mayor’s decision to publicize her suspicions about ICE operations further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens – making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold.”  The statement further asserted that “ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately, and the agency prioritizes public and national security threats, immigration fugitives and illegal reentrants.”  ICE arrested over 150 suspected undocumented immigrants, half of which do not have criminal records.

Mayor Schaaf defended her decision two days later on Twitter: “I do not regret sharing this information. It is Oakland’s legal right to be a sanctuary city and we have not broken any laws. We believe our community is safer when families stay together.”

During the weeks following the operation, ICE’s San Francisco spokesman James Schwab resigned, frustrated by repeated misleading statements made by officials, including Attorney General Sessions, alleging that roughly 800 undocumented immigrants escaped arrest due to Mayor Schaaf’s public warning.  In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he condemned the misleading statements: “To say that 100 percent are dangerous criminals on the street, or that those people weren’t picked up because of the misguided actions of the mayor, is just wrong.”

Across the United States, places like San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, New York, and Philadelphia have challenged the constitutionality of President Trump’s January 2017 Executive Order 13768 that says cities and counties would lose federal funding if local law enforcement did not cooperate with immigration agents.  All courts (except for Seattle, which is still pending) have granted preliminary injunctions halting the enforcement of the order. On March 6, the Department of Justice filed suit against the state of California.  The complaint alleges that three recently enacted “state sanctuary laws” are unconstitutional as they are preempted by federal law and seeks to block their enforcement.

Liam Brennan, a former federal prosecutor and head of Connecticut’s Public Corruption Task Force, described his own experiences as a federal prosecutor, sanctuary cities such as Los Angeles and New York City prioritized fighting crime instead of enforcing civil immigration violations, because “Solving a crime was clearly more important than deporting immigrants who came here looking for economic opportunity.”  The federal government (through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) may offer U-visas and T-visas to individuals who have been victims of a crime in the US and who choose to cooperate with law enforcement in certain criminal prosecutions.

For more information, please see:

Just Security – Reclaiming the Public Safety Mantle for Sanctuary Cities – 27 March 2018

Just Security – Does the Oakland Mayor Face Legal Liability for Warning About ICE Raids? – 15 March 2018

San Francisco Chronicle – San Francisco’s ICE spokesman quits, disputes agency’s claim that 800 eluded arrest – 12 March 2018

The Washington Post – Justice Dept. sues California over ‘sanctuary’ laws that aid those in U.S. illegally – 6 March 2018

The Washington Post – Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf tipped off immigrants about ICE raid and she isn’t sorry she did – 28 February 2018

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – ICE statement on immigration enforcement activities in northern California – 27 February 2018

SF Gate – Oakland mayor’s warning puts immigrants, advocates on high alert – 25 February 2018

The Los Angeles Times – California becomes ‘sanctuary state’ in rebuke of Trump immigration policy – 5 October 2017

Maryland School Shooting Victim Dies in Hospital

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MARYLAND, U.S. – On Wednesday, March 21, a 17 year old male student opened fire in a Maryland high school. At 7:55AM, Austin Wyatt Rollins used a handgun to shoot two classmates, a male and a female. Less than a minute later, school resource officer Blaine Gaskill responded and fired a shot at Rollins, who fired a round of his own. Gaskill was unharmed and Rollins was later pronounced dead. The female victim, a 16 year old, is in critical condition fighting life threatening injuries atUniversity of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center. The 14 year old male student who was shot is in stable condition.

The female victim has been identified by family as Jaelynn Willey. According to the St. Mary County Sheriff’s office, it is believed Rollins had a prior relationship with the female student. Her family wrote a statement that was distributed on Facebook by family friend, Lucinda Avis. According to the statement, they were “devastated to learn that our beautiful Jaelynn was one of the victims in a school shooting.” They further said, “It is hard for us not to see her shining, smiling face right now, and to see her light up the room with her presence. We know that many of you are anxious to hear about her condition, and we will update you when we can.”

Classmate Isiah Tichenor, 18, was in the hallway when the shooting happened. He stepped out into the hallway and saw Rollins with a gun to his head when Gaskill rounded the corner. Gaskill and Rollins both fired shots. It is unclear at this time if Gaskill’s shot hit Rollins or if Rollins shot himself. Tichenor then ran away from the closed classroom door to a backroom area. There, he and about 20 other students waited for around 10 minutes until an officer knocked on the door and told them they could come out.

Great Mills High students leave Leonardtown High School after being picked up by their parents. Photo Courtesy of Michael Robinson Chavez.

The shooting was notable because it followed a national debate over arming teachers and putting more officers in schools.  Authorities credit Gaskill with possibly saving lives because of his quick response. While authorities are reviewing the tapes from the school to understand how the incident unfolded, St. Mary’s County Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron said there was “no question” that the situation would have been worse if Gaskill had not confronted the shooter as quickly as he did.

The shooting happened just days before a national protest scheduled for Saturday March 24 in Washington D.C. called the March for Our Lives. The march is a stand against gun violence and school shootings. This is the 17th school shooting in the United States in 2018.

On March 23, the family of Jaelynn Willey announced that Jaelynn was taken off life support and died on Thursday, March 22 after doctors pronounced the 16-year old brain dead. 

For more information, please see:

NBC News – Maryland school shooting victim Jaelynn Willey dies after being taken off life support – 22 March 2018

Baltimore Sun – Maryland High School Shooting: 16-year-old Victim Remains in Critical Condition – 21 March 2018

CNN – Maryland School Officer Stops Student Who Shot Two Others – 20 March 2018

Washington Post – Student Gunman Dies After Maryland School Shooting; Two Other Students Injured – 20 March 2018

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