Tag Archives: federal case

Wisconsin citizens want legislative maps redrawn before next state elections

Wisconsin citizens have asked a U.S. District Court to redraw state legislative maps in advance of the next round of elections.

The request comes after a federal trial that resulted in the state’s district maps being ruled unconstitutional for being an illegal partisan gerrymander.

“The court’s verdict last month was clear — Wisconsin’s legislative maps are unconstitutional, and the GOP majority violated the rights of Wisconsin’s citizens when they adopted the map,” stated Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which organized and launched the lawsuit.

Chheda said on Dec. 21 the plaintiffs in the case “formally asked that the maps be replaced, so we can have free and fair elections in the state of Wisconsin. The citizens of Wisconsin should have a chance to elect a government which represents us.”

The recent ruling in Whitford v. Gill came after a May 2016 trial.

A majority of the federal three-judge panel overseeing the case ruled in favor of the 12 Wisconsin Democrats who filed suit more than a year ago.  The ruling represents the first time a map has been overturned by a federal court for being a political gerrymander.

In a separate filing this week, the state of Wisconsin — which lost the trial — asked for any further action in the District Court to be put on hold until its U.S. Supreme Court appeal is heard and decided.

The state wants the High Court to overturn the trial court’s decision and to allow the Legislature to redraw maps.

The citizen plaintiffs, in contrast, argue the redrawing process should take place during the appeal in order to ensure the maps are in place in a timely manner. The plaintiffs also asked the court to draw the maps, rather than allow another biased effort by a legislative majority to create the boundaries.

“Every Wisconsin citizen deserves the right to have their vote count,” said state Sen. Dale Schultz, a former Republican Majority Leader of the Wisconsin State Senate, who co-chairs the Fair Elections Project. “The plaintiffs won at trial, they won twice earlier in the process when the state tried to short-circuit this case, and now they are likely to win at the Supreme Court.”

“What happened in Wisconsin in 2011 was an egregious violation of our state’s moral values,” added Sen. Tim Cullen, a former Democratic Majority Leader of the Wisconsin State Senate, who serves as the other co-chair of the project. “Instead of voters choosing their elected officials, the Republican majority in Wisconsin decided they would entrench themselves in power despite the views of voters. The court has said clearly that will not stand.”

Filed in July 2015, the lawsuit demands district maps for the state Legislature be thrown out, calling the line-drawing process “secretive” and “partisan.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Peter Earle and Doug Poland as co-lead trial counsel, Prof. Nicholas Stephanopoulos of the University of Chicago Law School, Michele Odorizzi of Mayer Brown, and a team from the Campaign Legal Center, including Gerry Hebert and Ruth Greenwood.

Wisconsin man sentenced for sex trafficking

Monta Groce, 30, of Sparta, Wisconsin, was sentenced this week to 25 years in prison for using violence, threats and coercion to compel three young women suffering from heroin addiction to prostitute for his profit in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

In July, a  jury convicted Groce of three counts of sex trafficking by force, threats or coercion; one count of conspiracy to engage in interstate transportation for prostitution; one count of interstate transportation for prostitution; one count of maintaining a property for drug trafficking; one count of using a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking and one count of witness retaliation.

The sentence was announced by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with U.S. Attorney John W. Vaudreuil of the Western District of Wisconsin and Special Agent in Charge R. Justin Tolomeo of the FBI’s Milwaukee Division.

“Groce beat, tormented and enslaved vulnerable young women struggling with heroin addiction,” said Gupta.  “He treated them as sex slaves rather than human beings and his unconscionable actions offend the most basic standards of human decency.  Nothing can undo the harm Groce inflicted or the pain he caused, but hopefully this sentence provides some measure of closure and relief for the victims.”

“Sex trafficking is modern slavery, and cannot be tolerated in any civilized nation,” said Vaudreuil.  “These crimes, which took place in a small Wisconsin city, demonstrate that sex trafficking is not just a big city issue; it is a horrible problem in rural America too.  We will continue to work with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who violently exploit vulnerable victims in Wisconsin.”

“Sex trafficking has no boundaries and can occur anywhere,” said Tolomeo.  “When combined with drug addiction, the results are devastating.  Groce used heroin and violence to force victims into prostitution.  The FBI will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to target these predators.”

Evidence presented at trial included the testimony of the three victims identified in the indictment as Jane Does 1 through 3. They testified that Groce sold heroin in Sparta between December 2012 and April 2013.  During that time, he enticed the victims to begin prostituting for his profit by providing them with heroin .  As their dependency increased, he turned to violence and threatened to cut off their heroin supply if they disobeyed him, withheld money earned from prostitution or otherwise refused to prostitute.

Groce further kept some of the victims in perpetual debt by fronting them heroin and charging fines as punishment.

He advertised the victims on Backpage.com and paid other addicts to drive them from Wisconsin to Minnesota to prostitute.


The case was investigated by FBI’s Milwaukee Division with assistance from the Sparta Police Department and Monroe County, Wisconsin, Joint Investigative Task Force.

Judge rules against federal guidance to schools about protecting transgender students

A U.S. District Court judge on Aug. 22 issued a preliminary injunction against the federal government’s guidance to public school districts regarding their legal responsibility to allow transgender students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

The ruling came in the multi-state lawsuit, Texas v. United States.

Five civil rights organizations who had submitted a joint amicus brief in the lawsuit – Lambda Legal, American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Texas, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders – issued the following statement in response to U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling:

“A ruling by a single judge in one circuit cannot and does not undo the years of clear legal precedent nationwide establishing that transgender students have the right to go to school without being singled out for discrimination.

“This unfortunate and premature ruling may, however, confuse school districts that are simply trying to support their students, including their transgender students. So let us make it clear to those districts: your obligations under the law have not changed, and you are still not only allowed but required to treat transgender students fairly.

“The scope of this injunction has no effect on the ability of other courts or lawyers representing transgender people to continue to rely on the federal government’s interpretations of Title IX or on prior decisions that have reached similar conclusions about the scope of federal sex discrimination laws.

“The court’s misguided decision targets a small, vulnerable group of young people – transgender elementary and high school students – for potential continued harassment, stigma and abuse.

Texas v. United States was brought by Texas and 10 other states — subsequently joined by two additional states — against the United States, the Departments of Justice, Education and Labor and numerous federal officials.

The plaintiffs include the states of Wisconsin, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky (through its governor), Louisiana, Mississippi (through its governor), Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, the Arizona Department of Education, the Heber-Overgaard Unified School District in Arizona, Harrold Independent School District in Texas, and Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

Several of these plaintiffs lie in the 4th, 6th, 9th and 11th Circuits, which had issued binding appellate decisions consistent with the guidance of the federal agencies.

In May, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released the guidance because schools and districts requested clarification on their obligations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination in education programs based on sex.

Clarifying how schools can safeguard transgender students’ rights to privacy and safety, the guidance says transgender students have the right to be free from discrimination, including the ability to use gender-separated facilities (such as restrooms and locker rooms) that match their gender identity.

The guidance follows similar policies in states and school districts across the country, including many that have been treating transgender students with dignity and respect for more than a decade.

The lawsuit targets various federal letters, guides, memos and statements regarding Title IX of the Education Amendments that conclude that federal bans on sex discrimination encompass gender identity discrimination and that transgender individuals should be allowed to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

The lawsuit claims that that guidance is in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution.

Another lawsuit was filed recently by the state of Nebraska, joined by Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan (through its attorney general), Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, said in a statement, “As lawsuits on the scope of Title IX proceed, we believe that justice will prevail as courts continue to recognize that discrimination against transgender students is a form of sex discrimination.”

HRC pointed out that the judge who issued the preliminary injunction also also sought to block Family and Medical Leave Act rights for legally married same-sex couples despite the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in United States v. Windsor.

On the Web

The court’s order can be read here.

Wisconsin AG seeks stay in voting rights case

Wisconsin’s attorney general on Aug. 3 filed a motion seeking a stay of a federal ruling against parts of the state’s voter ID law and other Republican-backed limits on voting.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice, in its filing, said the federal injunction and ruling issued July 29 in One Wisconsin v. Thomsen require “a vast overhaul of Wisconsin’s election procedures.”

The state wants a stay of the injunction pending an expected review at the federal appeals court level.

“Not staying the current injunction would cause major disruption and voter confusion that would require changes to election procedures and informing the public of those changes, only to have the procedures change back,” read a statement from Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel’s office.


Back and forth

To date, there’s been a lot of back and forth in the fights over GOP-driven changes to Wisconsin voting and election laws, changes modeled after draft legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council-backed by the Koch brothers and other influential conservatives.

Proponents of the measures say they are needed to curtail voting fraud.

Critics of the measures say the intent is to make it more difficult for people who tend to vote Democratic — specifically people of color and students — to cast ballots. And Republicans have admitted as much in party memos.


One Wisconsin’s case

In late July, in a development in One Wisconsin v. Thomsen, U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson issued a sweeping 119-page ruling declaring unconstitutional parts of the state voter ID law, as well as reduced opportunity for in-person absentee voting and longer residency requirements.

Peterson said legislators tailored the restrictions to “suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African-Americans.”

Wisconsin has the authority to regulate elections and the responsibility to ensure election integrity, but the judge dismissed the state’s assertion that the restrictive laws are intended to prevent fraud.

“The evidence in this case casts doubt on the notion that voter ID laws foster integrity and confidence,” Peterson wrote. “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities. To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease.”

Parts of the measures enacted since Republican Gov. Scott Walker took office fail to meet the constitutional guarantee of fair and open elections, the judge said, calling the system for providing IDs a “wretched failure.”

He ordered the state to act to ensure that anyone eligible to vote can cast a ballot.

A look at the impact of Peterson’s ruling on the Nov. 8 general election:

  • Restrictions on early voting are overturned, except the day before the election.
  • Restrictions on the number of early voting locations are overturned.
  • The extension of the residency requirement from 10 days to 28 days is invalidated.
  • The voter ID petition process for acquiring an ID without basic documents must be replaced.
  • Some rules dealing with the use of student IDs and dorm lists are invalidated.
  • The prohibition against distributing absentee ballots by fax or email is overturned.


Reaction to the ruling

Walker, in a statement, called Peterson an “activist federal judge” and said he was disappointed.

“ Voters support common-sense measures to protect the integrity of our votes,” Walker stated. “Voting should be easy but cheating should be hard.”

At One Wisconsin Now, executive director Scot Ross said Walker tried to make it harder for Democrats to vote and easier for Republicans to cheat.

“And the judge agreed,” Ross said.

Ross hailed Peterson’s decision as a “huge victory” and pledged to see the case through the courts.

Citizen Acton of Wisconsin Education Fund joined One Wisconsin Now in the challenge to the GOP laws.

Citizen Action said Peterson’s finding that the voting restrictions violate the 15th Amendment a bombshell.

“The willingness of conservative politicians to deliberately disenfranchise African Americans, Latinos, young people and many others for crass partisan advantage is an affront to the fundamental principles of American democracy,” Citizen Action executive director Robert Kraig said.

Earlier in July and in a separate case, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman issued an order against the state voter ID law. Adelman said in the Nov. 8 election, people having trouble obtaining ID cards must be allowed to sign an affidavit to vote.

The state also will appeal this finding.


In other states

Elsewhere this summer, courts blocked North Dakota’s law requiring photo IDs to vote, halted strict citizenship voting requirements in Kansas and declared unconstitutional the anti-voting laws in Texas and North Carolina.

North Carolina’s legislation imposed stringent ID requirements, reduced same-day registration and constrained out-of-precinct voting.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said the law targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”

“And it sent a message that contradicted some of the most basic principles of our democracy,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “The ability of Americans to have a voice in the direction of their country — to have a fair and free opportunity to help write the story of this nation — is fundamental to who we are and who we aspire to be.”

Louisiana gay rights group sues to overturn anti-gay marriage amendment

Louisiana’s largest gay rights group and four couples are suing to overturn the state’s constitutional ban barring recognizing the out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.

The lawsuit that includes the Forum for Equality Louisiana as a plaintiff charges that the state’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages violates the U.S. constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.

The lawsuit also asserts that state officials infringe on the couples’ First Amendment rights by requiring them to claim that they are unmarried on state tax returns.

The New Orleans law firm of Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann filed the suit on behalf of the nonprofit and the couples in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The couples are Jacqueline and Lauren Brettner from New Orleans, Nicholas Van Sickels and Andrew Bond from New Orleans, Henry Lambert and Carey Bond from New Orleans, and Havard Scott and Sergio March Prieto from Shreveport.

The defendants are Louisiana Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield and state Registrar Devin George.

A news release said the basis for the equal protection violation claim is that Louisiana recognizes marriages legally performed elsewhere, including marriages that cannot be entered into inside the state, such as marriages between first cousins or common-law marriages. Louisiana singles out only same-sex marriages for unequal treatment, a violation of the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.

The couples are also forced to break Louisiana law requiring them to file their state income tax returns based on their federal returns. Instead of piggy-backing on their joint returns filed with the federal government as all other married couples, same-sex couples must go to the extra expense of creating fictitious federal returns in order to file their state return, and check of “single,” a violation of their First Amendment rights of free speech.

Earlier this month, the ACLU of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Wisconsin’s anti-gay constitutional amendment. The state bars same-sex couples from marrying in the state and refuses recognition to gay couples married out of state.

Presently, more than 40 lawsuits seeking marriage equality have been filed in 20 states.

“Louisiana’s disparate treatment of same-sex and opposite-sex couples who are married outside of Louisiana demonstrates that the purpose of the Louisiana Anti-Recognition Laws is to ‘impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages’ that were lawfully celebrated in other states,” according to the lawsuit, which frequently cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision overturning a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Dalton Courson, the lead attorney of the Stone Pigman team, said, “Forum for Equality Louisiana and these four couples are bringing this action to challenge the constitutionality of the 2004 Louisiana Defense of Marriage Amendment and laws which deny same-sex couples’ recognition.”

Courson added, “As the Louisiana DOMA neared final passage in the House of Representatives, one lawmaker compared its opponents to descendants of Judas Iscariot. In the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v Texas decision, the justices said that such moral condemnation of same-sex couples and relationships is not a legitimate constitutional justification for legislation. These laws demean and harm same-sex couples and their children.”

Forum for Equality Louisiana executive director SarahJane Brady said, “This is as basic as the Golden Rule. Treating others as one would want to be treated includes extending all the rights and privileges of marriage to lesbian and gay couples who are truly committed to each other. This lawsuit would uphold this very basic principle of freedom for all Louisianans.”

Income tax directives issued by Barfield’s office affect all four of the couples. Two of the couples are parents of children, but the   state refuses to list both parents on official documents.

“The way these laws are written, parents live in fear of what would happen to their child if the only legally recognized parent died,” Courson said. “No one should be forced by the state to lie on their tax returns, either.”

Meet the plaintiffs in Wisconsin’s marriage equality case

Judi Trampf and Katy Heyning of Madison: Trampf, 53, and Heyning, 51, met in college at the Girl Scout National Center in Wyoming. They were part of a group of women from the Midwest who would get together outside of summer camp.

“We were interested in each other, but fate would have it that one of us wouldn’t be free to date,” Trampf said. “After four years, we finally started dating long distance, and eventually we both wound up in Madison.”

In July, they women will celebrate their 25th anniversary. Both work at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where Trampf is director of human resources and diversity, and Heyning is dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies.

The women love boating, kayaking, traveling, and riding their BMW motorcycles – which, Heyning said, “are quite different from Harleys!”

After they had been together 15 years, Trampf’s family insisted the women have a ceremony to recognize and celebrate their commitment. Also, in 2009, they became domestic partners. However, the registered partnership does not provide the same rights, let alone societal status, as marriage.

In 2002, Heyning suffered a seizure while traveling with Trampf. The women had drafted power-of-attorney documents, but they weren’t carrying the papers. So hospital staff provided emergency care, but deferred further health care decisions to Heyning’s brother. And although Heyning had trouble concentrating and responding after the seizure, medical providers continued to question her, failing to address any questions to Trampf.

“If we were legally married, we’d know we have the same protections as other couples,” Trampf said. “We would have property, visitation and other rights. We wouldn’t have to wonder what was covered if one of us is ill or dies.”

“We want to know that if someone is in the hospital, we can see each other and have the right to make decisions for each other,” Heyning added. “Judi is the love of my life, and we’ve been together in sickness and in health. We want recognition of that.”

Roy Badger and Garth Wangemann of Milwaukee: Badger, 56, and Wangemann, 58, have been together 37 years. They met through mutual friends when they were students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and got together on Election Day in November 1976.

“Garth voted Carter and I voted Ford,” Badger said. “I was really rooting for Betty.”

Badger, who’s lived in Wisconsin since age 12, has worked as an editor at UWM for 32 years. Wangemann, a native Wisconsinite, was laid off last spring from his customer service position, but is temping for his old employer as he looks for a new job. The couple attends a United Church of Christ church and has two dogs, Daisy and Winston.

“We have a lot in common, and we always have a lot to talk about,” Wangemann said. “Roy is very gentle and giving, and he’s always been very honest and forthright.”

Added Badger: “Garth has a terrific heart.”

The men celebrated their relationship with a church commitment ceremony in 2009 with a couple of friends, their pastor and his wife. Looking back on it, Badger said, “It’s bittersweet because it felt like something we were doing in secret.”

A few years ago, Wangemann was diagnosed with lung cancer and had most of his right lung removed. At the suggestion of Wangemann’s surgeon, the men had papers drawn up, granting Badger power of attorney. Following Wangemann’s surgery in August 2011, he had a medical emergency, and his doctors put him into a medically induced coma to allow his body to stabilize.

Wangemann’s coma lasted more than three weeks. During that time, Badger included Wangemann’s father in meetings with the medical team to discuss treatment. The surgeon felt confident Wangemann would recover, and he was right — Wangemann is living cancer-free.

But the couple Badger later learned that while Wangemann was in the coma, his father tried to override Badger’s power of attorney to take Wangemann off life support. The son and the father no longer speak to one another.

“What upset me most wasn’t that he wanted to take me off life support,” Wangemann said. “What hurt the most was that my father still didn’t see Roy as my spouse after all this time.”

Charvonne Kemp and Marie Carlson of Milwaukee: Kemp, 43, and Carlson, 48, have been partners more than seven years and raised two sons together. Kemp is an accountant and Carlson is a raw material handler for a manufacturing company. They want to get married — and they want to do it in the state they call home.

“We’ve thought about going to Massachusetts or Canada, but we decided that if nobody else is going to recognize it, it doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean,” Carlson said. “I want to call Charvonne my wife and have people understand what that means.”

Kemp agreed: “I’m old fashioned in that way. I think a couple that commits to each other and lives together should be married. I love her with all my heart and soul, and I want to spend the rest of my life with her.”

Kemp and Carlson are involved parents. Together they’ve raised Alexander, 21, and Christopher, 11, who are Kemp’s sons from previous relationships. Kemp and Carlson were active in the PTA at Christopher’s school, holding offices and Kemp serving twice on search committees to pick new principals. The boys would like to see their moms get married. At the ceremony, Alexander is going to be Carlson’s “man of honor.”

Carlson’s employer doesn’t provide domestic partner benefits, so last year, when Kemp’s mother died, Carlson had to use vacation time to attend the funeral. Kemp’s company does provide some benefits, but she’s sure that if Carlson or she ever becomes seriously ill, they wouldn’t be able to take family medical leave.

“I feel that the commitment I’ve made to Charvonne and the boys, and the one they’ve made to me, should be allowed to be legal,” Carlson said. “I want to proudly walk with my family. I want to do it the right way and the right way is marriage.”

Carol Schumacher and Virginia Wolf of Eau Claire: Schumacher, 60, and Wolf, 74, both grew up in Kansas and together moved to Wisconsin in 1977. Schumacher worked as an elections administrator and city clerk, and is now retired. Wolf is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister and a professor emeritus of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, where she worked 24 years. The women live in Eau Claire with their border collie/Australian shepherd mix, Z.

They have been together 38 years, since their very first date in 1975. They were the first couple to join the Eau Claire domestic partner registry in 2009, and they got married on their anniversary in December by a judge in Minnesota. As Wolf put it, “We’ve been inching towards matrimony for 38 years.”

Schumacher and Wolf raised a son and daughter together — Wolf’s children from a previous relationship — and now have four grandchildren. Their granddaughters, in particular, very much want the couple’s marriage to be recognized in Wisconsin.

Schumacher and Wolf routinely have been denied benefits afforded to legally married couples. When Schumacher worked for the city of Eau Claire, she was denied family medical leave many times when Wolf had surgeries, illnesses and injuries. They’ve also even been denied a family membership at a local health club.

“The protections and benefits we’re missing out on are still really important to us,” Wolf said.

Schumacher added: “The main reason I want to marry Virginia is that it would be an affirmation of our relationship and our family.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit demanding marriage equality in the state on Feb. 3 in Madison.


Justice Department will review death of Wisconsin teen

The U.S. Justice Department plans to review the death of a 16-year-old who was restrained at a Milwaukee-area convenience store but says his family has not provided sufficient evidence so far of a civil rights violation.

U.S. Attorney James Santelle said in a statement over the weekend that his office will look into Corey Stingley’s death to determine if an “investigation is warranted, without any present commitment to or plan for prosecution.”

Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm decided not to charge three white men in the black teenager’s death. He said earlier this month there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove they intended to kill Stingley or knew their actions could lead to death.

Stingley died Dec. 29, 2012, two weeks after the three customers tackled him and held him down at a West Allis convenience store where he had been suspected of shoplifting alcoholic beverages. The youth was unconscious when police arrived.

Chisholm’s decision not to prosecute the three sparked a rally outside his office last week. About 150 people protested, some carrying signs reading “Justice for Corey Stingley” and “Bring his racist killers to trial.”

Santelle’s statement said Craig Stingley, the youth’s father, initially requested federal involvement in September. The department wrote back in December that the information Stingley had provided was “insufficient for us to determine the existence of possible federal criminal civil rights violations” and requested additional information from the father.

Stingley said he has been working to gather materials, such as video from the West Allis Police Department and transcripts from a hearing.

“I’m in the process of doing my part, which is to get them the information they requested,” he said.

The Milwaukee County medical examiner ruled Corey Stingley’s death a homicide, which, by that office’s definition, means death at the hands of another. The criminal charge of homicide carries a different standard that takes into account intent and risk of harm. The medical examiner’s report said the youth died of brain damage caused by lack of oxygen, which it said had been preceded by asphyxia, physical restraint and a violent struggle with individuals.

On Jan. 16, the NAACP Milwaukee Branch released the following statement on the investigation into the teen’s death:

The NAACP Milwaukee Branch is greatly troubled by the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Corey Stingley. While no one condones the kind of wrongdoing that he was alleged to have been engaged in, the actions of the three men who restrained Mr. Stingley resulting in his death, should be thoroughly examined. We grieve for and with his family and fully support their efforts seeking a civil or federal review of the circumstances that resulted in the most fundamental violation of civil rights – the loss of life. 

When a person loses his life at the hands of others, it would seem that a “chargeable” offence has occurred. If the District Attorney has determined that the traditional charge of manslaughter is not warranted under the circumstances, we believe that some other charge, under the facts as we understand them might nonetheless be appropriate. The family (and community) deserves to be satisfied that the investigation gave full consideration not only to the question of intent, but also to issues of criminal negligence and reckless disregard for life. 

The NAACP has had a long history of opposing vigilantism – taking the law into one’s own hands, for obvious reasons. Former National NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous recently cautioned (in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin death) how Stand Your Ground and other similar laws license vigilantism, adding that this should be a matter of grave concern to every enlightened citizen. It is one thing to act as a “Good Samaritan.” It is another to take a life. The stand that should be taken should be one of alerting the community that vigilantism can be a slippery slope and that vigilante justice must never be applauded or condoned. 

Pennsylvania governor compares gay marriage to incest

Pennsylvania’s governor says he’s sorry if he offended anyone when he compared same-sex marriage to the marriage of a brother and sister.

Republican Tom Corbett issued a statement saying his “words were not intended to offend anyone” after seeing negative reaction to an interview he gave on WHP-TV morning news.

Corbett’s administration is battling a legal campaign to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. In the interview, he said his attorneys made an error when they compared same-sex marriage to the marriage of children. The governor said a better analogy would be the marriage of a brother and sister.

An attorney for the plaintiffs in one freedom to marry case in the state, Mark Aronchick, said the governor was “insensitive, insulting and plainly wrong.”

Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign said, “Gov. Corbett proved today he is horribly out of touch with reality and does not represent the views of fair-minded Pennsylvanians. Americans of all political stripes are embracing marriage equality and the nation is moving forward on the issue while Gov. Corbett wants to turn back the clock.”

A hearing on a federal challenge to the same-sex marriage ban in the state is scheduled for next week.

Same-sex marriage is legal in the District of Columbia and 13 states. And efforts are underway in many other states – in every region of the country – to advance the freedom to marry.

Ex-priest indicted in crystal meth case

A former Roman Catholic priest is among five people who have been indicted by a federal grand jury in an alleged drug operation involving shipments of methamphetamine to Connecticut from California.

Federal prosecutors said Kevin Wallin, 61, former pastor at St. Augustine’s parish in Bridgeport, received the shipments and sold methamphetamine to an undercover officer six times since last September. Prosecutors say investigators also gathered evidence from court-authorized wiretaps.

The grand jury in Bridgeport indicted the five people on Jan. 15 on charges of conspiring to distribute 500 grams or more of a substance containing methamphetamine and 50 grams of actual methamphetamine. Wallin, of Waterbury, was also charged with six counts of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. The conspiracy charges carry 10 years to life in prison upon conviction.

All five are detained. It’s not clear if they have lawyers.

Also charged are Kenneth Devries, 52, of Waterbury, Michael Nelson, 40, of Manchester, Chad McCluskey, 43, of San Clemente, Calif., and Kristen Laschober, 47, of Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Wallin resigned as St. Augustine’s pastor in June 2011 after serving nine years in the post, citing health and personal issues, the Diocese of Bridgeport said in a statement. Officials with the Catholic Church granted Wallin a sabbatical the following month.

During the sabbatical, diocese officials became concerned about Wallin’s well-being and reached out to him, but he has never spoken directly to church officials, the diocese said in the statement, which did not elaborate.

Wallin’s faculties for public ministry were suspended in May 2012 and he has not been reassigned, the diocese said.

“News of Msgr. Kevin Wallin’s arrest comes with a sense of shock and concern on the part of the diocese and the many people of Fairfield County who have known him as a gifted, accomplished and compassionate priest,” the diocese said. “The diocese stands ready to help as it has throughout the past two years. We ask for prayers for Msgr. Wallin during the difficult days ahead for him.”