Tag Archives: punishment

Wisconsin hunger strikers to take aim at long-term solitary confinement

About a dozen Wisconsin prisoners plan to launch a hunger strike aimed at ending a form of indefinite solitary confinement that officials use to keep order in the institutions, according to an inmate advocacy group.

One Wisconsin prisoner, LaRon McKinley Bey, says he has been held in this “non-punitive” administrative confinement status for at least 25 years. McKinley Bey sued the state Department of Corrections in April, alleging that the long-term isolation has created or exacerbated mental illness among prisoners, including himself.

Ben Turk, with the Industrial Workers of the World in Milwaukee, said the effort is set to begin June 10 and is based at Waupun Correctional Institution but could spread to other prisons. The push will include rallies in Madison and Milwaukee, an online petition and a letter writing campaign, according to IWW, a worker advocacy group whose activities including supporting the rights of prisoners.

“The overarching demand is to end administrative confinement — to not allow long-term solitary confinement,” Turk said.

In addition, the prisoners are asking for a one-year limit on stints in solitary, also known as restrictive housing; increased oversight of the state’s use of isolation; improved mental health treatment for inmates in solitary; and a federal investigation into what some prisoners describe as a “mind control program.”

— PHOTO: Wisconsin Department of Corrections
— PHOTO: Wisconsin Department of Corrections

As of late April, 116 Wisconsin prisoners were held in administrative confinement, DOC spokesman Tristan Cook said. Such confinement is used for inmates who pose a threat to staff, self or other inmates or the “security or orderly running of the institution.”

Cook said the agency is aware of the planned hunger strike and “will continue to evaluate and monitor the situation to ensure the health and safety of inmates.”

In June 2015, the state Department of Corrections reduced the maximum stint in solitary confinement for violating prison rules from 360 days to 90 days, with longer stints possible under certain circumstances.

But those limits do not apply to inmates deemed to be violent or hard to manage who are in administrative confinement — a form of isolation that can go on for years, even decades. The status of each inmate in administrative confinement is reviewed every six months, but McKinley Bey charges in his lawsuit that those reviews are a “sham.”

Colorado has banned the use of such indefinite solitary confinement, as has California, which agreed to end it after a legal challenge and a large hunger strike.

In his handwritten lawsuit, McKinley Bey said he is held in a small cell at Waupun for four days a week, 23 hours a day. The other three days a week, McKinley Bey stays in the cell, alone, with meal trays slid through a slot in the door.

Contact with other people consists mostly of correctional officers who take him shackled to and from the shower and recreation in an indoor caged area or occasional sessions with mental health staff. Visits are done remotely by video screen.

LaRon McKinley Bey has sued the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, alleging his 25 years in a form of solitary confinement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. — PHOTO: Wisconsin Department of Corrections
LaRon McKinley Bey has sued the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, alleging his 25 years in a form of solitary confinement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. — PHOTO: Wisconsin Department of Corrections

McKinley Bey’s description of conditions in administrative confinement matches that of Cesar DeLeon, another Waupun prisoner who plans to participate in the hunger strike. Both say they are never allowed to go outside.

Constitutional challenge

In his lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee, McKinley Bey charges long-term solitary confinement violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment. He cited a lack of “meaningful human contact” and “severe environmental and social isolation” and no “bright-line” criteria for how to get back to the general prison population.

“Many mentally ill prisoners cry and act out because they’ve been broken by the effects of isolation,” the complaint states.

McKinley Bey also alleges in the suit that officer Joseph Beahm — whom he and two dozen other inmates at Waupun have accused of physical and psychological abuse — repeatedly subjected him and the other prisoners in administrative confinement to cold showers in November 2015. In 2014, a federal jury rejected an earlier lawsuit by McKinley Bey alleging that Waupun correctional officers, including Beahm, had mistreated him.

In his latest complaint, McKinley Bey argues he and other inmates in administrative confinement are suffering from a syndrome caused by prolonged solitary confinement.

Former Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Grassian, in a 2006 Washington University Journal of Law and Policy paper, “Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement,” wrote that prisoners held in long-term isolation can develop a “delirium” that includes decreased alertness, fearfulness, paranoia and agitation and random, impulsive and self-destructive behavior.

The Department of Corrections has not yet responded to McKinley Bey’s latest suit. A message seeking comment on the suit was not returned.

History of violence

Self-described as “one of the most dangerous people in prison,” McKinley Bey is serving a 262-year sentence for crimes including robbing and tying up two elderly Madison women in their homes in 1984, and a 1987 escape in which he shot a sheriff’s deputy and another was injured.

McKinley Bey, who added the name “Bey” after he was imprisoned, continues to be held in isolation because he is considered a threat to the institution after several violent encounters with staff and inmates, according to records from his unsuccessful 2013 lawsuit against the department. Most recently, he was convicted in Dodge County Circuit Court in 2014 with a felony for throwing feces on a Waupun correctional officer.

One clinician who examined McKinley Bey in connection with that case concluded he is a sociopath — a condition known as antisocial personality disorder which is difficult to treat.

Psychologist Brooke Lundbohm of Behavioral Consultants Inc., said McKinley Bey has demonstrated a “long pervasive history of antisocial behaviors and attitudes for which he has been imprisoned throughout much of his adult life.” However, Lundbohm concluded McKinley Bey understood the wrongfulness of his actions when he threw waste on the officer.

McKinley Bey’s long stint in administrative confinement began after a 1987 incident in which he convinced a female Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputy to smuggle a gun to him in jail that he used to escape during a transfer to Dane County. According to news reports, he shot a Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputy; a second deputy was injured when he jumped out of the squad car in which all three were riding.

Milwaukee County was ordered to pay $5.3 million to the two injured deputies. The deputy who smuggled the gun was sent to prison.

McKinley Bey is not the only prisoner claiming long-term administrative confinement is cruel.

Waupun inmate Norman C. Green, who also calls himself Prince Aturn-Ra Uhuru Mutawakkil, said he has been in solitary in Wisconsin for about 18 years. He described his long-term isolation in a 2012 blog post as “a holocaust” that “leaves the body static but alive” but “incinerates the mind and spoils the soul.”

Prisoner advocate Peg Swan of Blue River said she has found it difficult to generate sympathy for inmates in administrative confinement, some of whom are suffering from severe mental illness.

“I think it’s the ‘worst of the worst’ myth,” Swan said. “I have not been able to get anyone to look at them — to look at these guys.”

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s reporting on criminal justice issues is supported by a grant from the Vital Projects Fund. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Maximum stints in solitary cut, but Waupun inmates left in dark

Waupun Correctional Institution officials failed to notify inmates for months that Wisconsin had dramatically lowered the maximum time in solitary confinement for rule violations, Department of Corrections records and interviews show.

One inmate, Markell Simon, charged he was tricked into agreeing to six months in seclusion because he was unaware the DOC had cut maximum sentences by 75 percent for individual offenses — from 360 days to 90 days. Another inmate, Hurcel Staples, who was released from Waupun Oct. 6, also told the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism that he had never been notified by prison officials of the changes in solitary confinement.

Records released to the center by the DOC in December show Waupun officials were told to post a copy of the new policy for inmates on Aug. 13 — 10 weeks after it had been enacted. The center had filed a public records request on Sept. 29 seeking verification that Waupun inmates had been notified of the new approach to solitary confinement.

DOC spokeswoman Joy Staab declined to answer a question about why Waupun inmates were not notified of the new policy when it was enacted June 1, saying only that staff implemented the changes at that time.

Wisconsin is among several states, including New York, that are reducing use of solitary confinement, largely in response to lawsuits and research showing that spending up to 23 hours a day with little or no human contact and little constructive activity can cause lasting psychological damage. A top United Nations official has said more than 15 days in isolation is tantamount to torture.

Wisconsin’s new policy has reduced the number of prisoners in so-called restrictive status housing by more than 200, from 1,098 at the beginning of 2015 to 892 as of Dec. 31, Staab said.

Waupun inmate Simon said in a Sept. 21 letter to the center that he voluntarily agreed to serve 180 days in solitary confinement “only because I was under the assumption and understanding that if I went to my hearing and contested the time, I would be risking receiving 360 day(s)” — the former maximum penalty. In fact, under the new policy, Simon’s maximum punishment for assault, disruptive conduct and disobeying orders could have been as little as 120 days.

Part of DOC’s new policy involves “one-on-one negotiations between an officer and an inmate,” a top DOC official told the center in a July interview. The DOC’s mental health director, Dr. Kevin Kallas, said the agency was encouraging such negotiations so discipline “could take effect now and start now rather than needing to wait for some formal process for every little thing.”

But for at least two and a half months, Waupun inmates were at a distinct disadvantage: They were not notified that maximum terms had been sharply reduced. In addition, mitigating factors, such as a documented history of mental illness, can reduce time in solitary while enhancers, such as repeat violations, can add time to the punishment, according to the new rules.

DOC records show Simon pleaded guilty in July, agreeing to serve 180 days in solitary for assault, disobeying orders and disruptive conduct after fighting with two other inmates. Under the new policy, the maximum penalty without enhancers for Simon’s offenses would have been between 120 and 180 days, depending on whether disruptive conduct was treated as a “lesser included offense” to assault that does not carry additional time.

Records provided by the DOC show at least two other inmates also may have voluntarily agreed to longer-than-maximum punishments.

Simon said he found out about the new policy through news coverage around Aug. 25 while he was still in isolation. He found the revelation “shocking.”

“In my opinion, the Waupun administration is attempting to circumvent the new policy changes made by Madison by preying on the ignorance of the inmates incarcerated here,” wrote Simon, who is serving a two-year sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. “None of us were aware of these revisions because there was never a memo or mention of them whatsoever by the administration.”

Staples told the center he also was unaware of the new policy while he was incarcerated at Waupun.

“They didn’t let me know any of them (changes),” Staples said. “I saw something on the news that the DOC made an agreement about how they’re going to do segregation.”

Waupun warden led changes

The lack of notification is noteworthy given that then-Waupun Warden William Pollard was co-chairman of the work group that devised the new DOC policy. Pollard, who is now the warden at Dodge Correctional Institution, has since been replaced by Brian Foster, former warden of Green Bay Correctional Institution.

In 2014, the center documented dozens of allegations of physical and psychological abuse of prisoners in solitary confinement by correctional officials at Waupun, 55 miles northeast of Madison. Corrections officials have said the inmates are lying.

Asked why Waupun failed to notify inmates of the rule changes in a timely way, Staab responded in an email, “This policy for staff to follow was implemented immediately upon completion in June.” She made no mention of inmate notification.

Staab did not answer when asked via email what steps, if any, Waupun had taken to modify disciplinary sentences that were meted out before inmates were made aware of the new policy.

The email and disciplinary records showed that Oct. 19, three weeks after the center’s public records request, Pollard did overturn two disciplinary actions taken in July and August for inmate Demetrius Thompson.

Pollard wrote that officials had failed to consider mitigating circumstances as required under the new rules that would have resulted in shorter terms in isolation. Sentences can be shortened for factors including a documented history of mental illness or if the inmate stopped the misconduct after directed by staff.

In one of those cases from July, the records show, Thompson had agreed to 150 days in solitary — 60 days longer than the maximum amount for any one offense. No other details of either incident were included in the DOC records.

The records show that another inmate, Theodore Duerst, agreed July 31 to 90 days in isolation, although the new maximum penalty for his offense, disobeying orders, is 30 days. On Aug. 25, Duerst agreed to a punishment of 120 days for again disobeying orders — four times the maximum under the new rules. Duerst’s offenses were refusing to move into a cell he deemed too hot and refusing to continue rooming with an inmate with whom he had trouble, according to the records.

Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said the lack of notification of Waupun inmates could provide a basis for shortening their time in solitary.

“A person still in solitary should be able to challenge the continuation of a sentence that is longer than what was authorized at the time the sentence was imposed,” Dupuis said.

The Rev. Jerry Hancock said the incident demonstrates the DOC “is not sincere” in enacting the less punitive rules. He added the lack of notification by Waupun bolsters the call by his faith-based group, Wisdom, for “effective, independent oversight” of the agency.

“It proves conclusively a need for an outside monitor for the … implementation of solitary confinement policies in DOC,” said Hancock, a minister of Madison’s First Congregational United Church of Christ and a former prosecutor. “Without an outside monitor, there is no reason to trust the DOC when it comes to implementing this policy.”

Funding for this report came from the Vital Projects Fund. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Sanders wants end to death penalty

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called on Oct. 29 for an end to the death penalty, a day after rival Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped short of saying the United States should end capital punishment.

“We are all shocked and disgusted by some of the horrific murders that we see in this country, seemingly every week,” said Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont. “And that is precisely why we should abolish the death penalty. At a time of rampant violence and murder, the state should not be part of that process.”

Clinton’s remark a day earlier to take a “hard look” at abolishing capital punishment gave Sanders an opening to distinguish himself from the former secretary of state, who is the party’s frontrunner in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sanders also called for reforming the criminal justice system, which he said puts more people in jail than any other country on Earth and makes it harder for Americans to get back on their feet once they’re out of jail.

“A criminal record stays with a person for his or her entire life-until the day he or she dies,” Sanders said. “If a person has a criminal record, it will be much harder for that person later in life to get a job. Many employers simply will not hire somebody with a criminal record. A criminal record destroys lives.”

Clinton said she thinks there are certain “egregious cases” in which the death penalty should be considered, “but I’d like to see those be very limited and rare.”

Vatican unexpectedly ends crackdown against U.S. nuns

The Vatican has unexpectedly ended its controversial overhaul of the main umbrella group of U.S. nuns, cementing a shift in tone and treatment of the U.S. sisters under the social justice-minded Pope Francis.

The Vatican said on April 16 it had accepted a final report on its investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and declared the “implementation of the mandate has been accomplished” nearly two years ahead of schedule. The umbrella group for women’s religious orders had been accused of straying from church teaching.

The brief report stated the organization would have to ensure its publications have a “sound doctrinal foundation,” and said steps were being taken for “safeguarding the theological integrity” of programs. But no major changes were announced and the direct Vatican oversight that the sisters considered a threat to their mission was over.

“I think there are still some questions about how this is going to play out, but that it concluded early was an overwhelming affirmation of what the sisters do,” said Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a religious studies professor at Manhattan College.

The report’s tone stood in stark contrast to the 2012 Vatican reform mandate, which said the nuns’ group was in a “grave” doctrinal crisis. Vatican officials said the Leadership Conference had over-emphasized social justice issues when they should have also been fighting abortion, had undermined church teaching on homosexuality and the priesthood, and had promoted “radical feminist” themes in their publications and choice of speakers. The nuns’ group called the allegations “flawed.” But Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle was appointed to conduct a top to bottom overhaul of the conference.

Just last year, the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, sharply rebuked the nuns’ group for its “regrettable” attitude and behavior during the process. He accused the LCWR of being in “open provocation” with the Holy See and U.S. bishops because they planned to honor a theologian, Sister Elizabeth Johnson, whose work had drawn sharp criticism from the U.S. bishops.

But this week, leaders of the umbrella organization and the Vatican officials in charge of the overhaul released statements of mutual respect, and the sisters met in Rome for nearly an hour with Pope Francis. The Vatican released a photo of the nuns sitting across a table from a warmly smiling Francis.

The turnabout suggested possible papal intervention to end the standoff on amicable grounds before Francis’ high-profile trip to the United States in September. The investigation, and a separate but parallel review of all women’s religious orders, prompted an outpouring of support from the public for the sisters, who oversee the lion’s share of social service programs for the church.

The review of the Leadership Conference emerged from decades of tensions within the church over the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Many religious sisters shed their habits and traditional roles, taking on higher-level professional work in hospitals and schools, with sisters increasingly focused on social justice issues. Theological conservatives grew concerned that the sisters were becoming too secular and too political, instead of focusing on traditional prayer life and faith. The tensions worsened as the number of American nuns dwindled from about 160,000 in 1970, to less than 50,000 today, and church leaders searched for a way to stem the losses.

Conservative-minded Catholics argued a return to tradition would help.

The investigation of the sisters’ group began about seven years ago under Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, a German theologian who spent a quarter century as the Vatican’s doctrine watchdog, after complaints from conservative U.S. bishops and influential Catholics about the organization’s doctrinal soundness.

The first sign of a different outcome for the nuns’ group came in December, when the Vatican’s investigation of all women’s religious orders ended with sweeping praise for the sisters for their selfless work caring for the poor.

On Thursday, Mueller said in a statement he was confident that the LCWR is now clear in its mission of showing its members a Christ-centered vision of religious life that is “rooted in the tradition of the church.” Sister Sharon Holland, president of the nuns’ group, said in a statement the process had been “long and challenging” but “we learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences.”

The Vatican asked the sisters and church officials not to comment on the report for a month.

“Given the current moment in the church, with Francis emphasizing mercy and not judging and trying to see the best of what people are doing, they had to find a quiet way out of this,” said Michele Dillon, a University of New Hampshire sociologist specializing in the Catholic Church. “What you’d love to hear directly from LCWR leaders is what exactly this oversight means. Who decides what’s really the authentic doctrine?”

North Carolina University suspends fraternity over racist, sexist entries in notebook

North Carolina State University has disbanded a fraternity chapter over a notebook filled with sexist and racially offensive entries.

The punishment comes amid recent cases of bad behavior at the University of Oklahoma, Penn State and other schools put fraternities in the national spotlight.

University Chancellor Randy Woodson announced that the Tau Chapter of the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity was disbanded, effective immediately. The fraternity was ordered to immediately vacate its on-campus house.

“I hope today’s action makes it clear that there is no place for intolerance, sexism and racism at N.C. State,” Woodson said. “I know the poor behaviors we’ve seen recently by a few in no way represent the strong character and values of our larger student body. N.C. State will work hard to ensure these outlying actions never become accepted or tolerated at our university.”

Woodson’s announcement came a week after the notebook containing sexist and racist remarks attributed to Pi Kappa Phi fraternity members was found at a restaurant near campus.

A different N.C. State fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega, was suspended earlier in March after details of drug paraphernalia seized from its house surfaced in a search warrant following a report of an alleged sexual assault.

N.C. State responded by temporarily suspending all social events involving alcohol for more than 20 fraternities on campus.

Woodson also called this week for a “thorough review” of the university’s Greek system. The review will assess whether fraternities and sororities are meeting the core values and high behavioral standards of the university, and will focus on a range of issues including sexual misconduct, substance abuse and diversity and inclusion.

Pi Kappa Phi accepted the punishment and may be allowed to return to campus with new membership in 2018.

“We appreciate the support and collaboration with the N.C. State administration,” said Mark E. Timmes, the chief executive of Pi Kappa Phi. “Together, we acted quickly to address this situation and reaffirm our commitment to maintaining an environment where everyone feels safe, respected, and valued.”

Boycott urged of sultan’s hotels after Brunei advocates stoning of gays

The Human Rights Campaign is urging a boycott of American hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei after Brunei advanced a series of changes to its penal code that would allow for the stoning of LGBT people. 

The tiny Southeast Asian nation began phasing in a version of Shariah this week that allows for penalties such as amputation for theft and stoning for adultery. Most of the punishments can be applied to non-Muslims, who account for about one-third of the 440,000 people in the oil-rich country.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah introduced the law as a “great achievement” for Brunei. “The decision to implement the (Shariah penal code) is not for fun but is to obey Allah’s command as written in the Quran,” he said in a speech earlier this week.

After May 1, Brunei citizens can be fined or jailed by Islamic courts for offences like not performing Friday prayers, pregnancy out of wedlock, propagating other religions and indecent behavior. More severe punishments such as flogging, amputation of limbs and stoning for offences such as theft, adultery and sodomy will be introduced in phases over the next two years.

Human Rights Watch said the move was a “huge step backward for human rights” in Brunei.

HRC, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, called for a boycott of The Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel Air, which are part of the Sultan’s Dorchester collection.

As of May 2, the Aviva Family and Children’s Services, the Beverly Hills Bar Association, Cedars-Sinai Medical Hospital’s Helping Hand of Los Angeles, Colleagues Helpers in Philanthropic Services, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs, the Partners in Care Foundation and Teen Line in collaboration with Sony Pictures all had events scheduled at the Beverly Hills Hotel over the next month.

Many charities and foundations that raise money and awareness for a variety of important causes use the hotels for events. HRC said it supports many of the efforts, but encouraged the organizers of the events to find new locations.

In a letter to organizations with events at the Beverly Hills Hotel, HRC president Chad Griffin wrote, “There are a number of hotels and venues in the Los Angeles area that aren’t owned by foreign leaders and governments that allow for the execution of its LGBT citizens. We’re encouraging members of the LGBT community and our allies to consider those options instead of the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air––which are part of the Sultan’s Dorchester Collection. In addition, we’re calling on organizations that have upcoming events scheduled at these hotels to move them to other locations.”

Griffin continued, “I have attended various events at both hotels over the past several years.  But given the extreme nature of these developments, I feel strongly that we in the LGBT community and our allies should take our business elsewhere.”

Milwaukee police: Dogfighting owners hard to track

The dogfighting matches described this week by Milwaukee County prosecutors allegedly took place in residential neighborhoods, not in far-flung rural communities.

If true, it raises the question of why neighbors never reported seeing or hearing anything out of the ordinary.

The answer hints at why dogfighting remains so persistent in Milwaukee: Perpetrators go to such lengths to hide their actions that neighbors may not even know dogs are living next door. To combat the scourge, police have begun teaming up with animal-welfare groups to spot signs of dogfighting, and community groups have set up a telephone hotline where residents can report anything that seems the slightest bit suspicious.

Authorities arrested 13 Milwaukee-area residents Thursday and recovered 22 pit bulls, the culmination of an investigation that began with a tip of dogfighting in 2011. Police acknowledge that other perpetrators may still be out there.

Dogfighting operations can be highly sophisticated. Dog owners might build elaborate fighting pits in their basements, and they’ll often breed or pay top dollar for pit bull puppies genetically predisposed to be vicious toward other dogs. Owners also put their dogs through rigorous training regimens that build up their stamina through hours on a treadmill or long walks while dragging heavy weights.

But the owners are also part of a secretive, highly insular community, Milwaukee police Officer Ivan Wick said Friday. Matches are often planned hours in advance, and participants might arrange two or three meeting points beforehand so they can ensure they’re not being followed. They might keep their animals locked in the trunk, only taking them out when their vehicle is inside a closed garage.

Many matches are also held late at night or during pre-dawn hours, and basements can be soundproof.

So even if three or four matches are being staged in one night in a residential area, neighbors might not have a clue.

Even so, Wick said neighbor vigilance is one of the best ways to combat dogfighting.

“If you see a bunch of people showing up at a house, taking dogs in and coming out with injured dogs or not as many dogs, please call us,” he said. “There are many people who’d like to have the opportunity to investigate.

Some owners fight their dogs for the pride that comes with owning a “gamer,” Wick said. But often they’re more interested in making money. Some owners make $20,000 or more in matches in wagers with other owners, through carefully managed matches that comply with a sophisticated set of rules and regulations.

“Some people are in it for the money. Then there are some people who just like to see blood,” Wick said. “The problem posed by dogfighting is larger than I think most people realize.”

It’s hard for authorities to know how widespread the issue is. Officers often have to rely on neighbors to phone in tips, and police have begun seeking investigative advice from groups such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The nonprofit ASPCA provides free training to police departments across the nation. It helps officers spot signs of dogfighting and recognize otherwise-benign objects that are actually props used in training or fights. Those might include treadmills modified for small dogs, or wooden bite sticks used to pry a dog’s jaws open during a match.

“These things by themselves aren’t definitive evidence,” said Tim Rickey, the vice president of the ASPCA’s field investigations team. “But they’re things that hopefully raise their awareness level so they can begin investigating further,”

Wick said the training has been valuable for his officers, who are now more thorough in their searches. For example, even when they’re investigating something unrelated they might examine walls for signs of spattered dog blood.

Community groups are also trying to spread the word about dogfighting. Brew City Bully Club, a group highlights the positive aspects of pit bulls, announced an anonymous tip line Friday where residents can call in their concerns. The number is 414-688-0899.

Merck joins companies phasing out chimp research in labs

Drugmaker Merck & Co. is joining two dozen other pharmaceutical companies and contract laboratories in committing to not use chimpanzees for research.

The growing trend could mean roughly 1,000 chimps in the U.S. used for research or warehoused for many years in laboratory cages could be “retired” to sanctuaries by around 2020.

That’s according to Kathleen Conlee of the Humane Society of the United States, which seven years ago began urging companies to phase out all chimp research.

The trend is driven by improved technology, animal alternatives and pressure from animal rights groups, the National Institutes of Health and Congress.

Last June, reacting to an Institute of Medicine study Congress had requested that concluded nearly all chimp research is unnecessary, the NIH announced it would retire and send about 90 percent of government-owned research chimps to the Chimp Haven sanctuary in Keithville, La. It’s now home to about 160 chimps, with nearly 60 more to arrive soon.

After several years, the NIH plans to decide whether the remaining chimps in government labs can also be moved to sanctuaries. Roughly 450 other chimps are owned by private labs that do research under contract for drugmakers and other companies.

“It’s been a long road in trying to end the use of chimpanzees in research, and we’re now at a turning point,” Conlee told The Associated Press. “We’re going to keep on (advocating) until the chimpanzees in laboratories are all in sanctuaries.”

Merck spokeswoman Caroline Lappetito said the company, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., decided late last year to stop research on chimpanzees and switch to alternative types of testing.

“The science has advanced, and we don’t really need it,” Lappetito said.

Merck, the world’s third-biggest drugmaker, is the largest to make the switch.

Companies that develop medicines and consumer products such as cosmetics have long used animals to test safety and effectiveness. In the case of experimental medicines, drugmakers must test on animals before the Food and Drug Administration will let them do the human testing needed for approval of a new therapy.

Nearly all animal experiments in the U.S. involve mice, rats and guinea pigs, although some are done on dogs and great apes, almost always chimpanzees.

But animal research, particularly on primates and pet species such as dogs and rabbits, has long drawn criticism from animal rights groups, including protests outside laboratories and at annual shareholder meetings. Besides calling the practice inhumane, activists often have alleged — and sometimes proven — that animals were being abused.

Many companies previously said it was necessary to test potential medicines and vaccines on nonhuman primates because they needed an animal in which the anatomy and disease course were very similar to that in humans.

That thinking changed as technology allowed researchers to do initial testing via computer simulations, in bacteria or cells, and in animals as small as fish. Many drugmakers also found ways to do testing on far fewer animals and to limit the discomfort of experiments by using painkillers and tranquilizers. And many of the companies pledging not to use chimps in the future never did so.

British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline PLC was one of the first to stop research in chimps, back in 2008.

“Research we did on nonhuman primates was kept to a minimum” even before that, said spokeswoman Melinda Stubee.

Because chimpanzees used for commercial medical research generally are confined in the labs of contract testing companies, Conlee said the Humane Society is trying to convince them that there’s no longer enough demand to continue warehousing chimpanzees for potential future work. She hopes they’ll pay to support those chimpanzees in one of five U.S. accredited sanctuaries for former research chimps.

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US pastor who performed gay wedding suspended

A United Methodist minister convicted under church law of officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding was suspended for 30 days but remained defiant, saying he refuses to change his views, even if it means permanently losing his credentials.

The same jury of fellow pastors that convicted Rev. Frank Schaefer on Nov. 18 of breaking his vows told him he must surrender his credentials if he can’t reconcile his new calling to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community with the laws from the church’s Book of Discipline.

Schaefer told reporters afterward that he had no intention of changing his mind and said he expects to lose his credentials in 30 days.

Before the punishment was announced this week, Schaefer, who was convicted for officiating at his son’s 2007 wedding ceremony in Massachusetts, told the jury that he is unrepentant and refused to promise he wouldn’t perform more gay unions.

Rather than beg for mercy, the pastor upped the stakes.

The church “needs to stop judging people based on their sexual orientation,” he told jurors. “We have to stop the hate speech. We have to stop treating them as second-class Christians.”

After the jury pronounced its sentence, Schaefer’s supporters began overturning chairs in the courtroom — symbolizing the biblical story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers — and held an impromptu communion service.

Schaefer’s trial rekindled debate within the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination over church policies on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but it rejects the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Schaefer donned a rainbow-colored stole on the witness stand and told jurors it symbolized his commitment to the cause.

“I will never be silent again,” he said, as some of his supporters wept in the gallery. “This is what I have to do.”

Jon Boger, who filed the initial complaint against Schaefer, was outraged by the pastor’s recalcitrance. The career Naval officer grew up in Zion United Methodist Church of Iona, the church that Schaefer has led for 11 years.

“Frank Schaefer sat here and openly rebuked the United Methodist Church, its policies, standards and doctrines,” Bolger said when called as a rebuttal witness. “He should no longer be in service as a minister of the United Methodist Church, not at Iona, not anywhere else.”

Earlier, the Methodists’ prosecutor called former members of Schaefer’s church who said his conduct split the congregation, and experts who said the punishment should serve as a deterrent to other like-minded clergy.

Christina Watson said her family left Schaefer’s church because they no longer wanted to be “subjected to the preaching and teaching” of Schaefer.

“To me, it wasn’t a good Christian example for ministers to say it’s OK to break the rules of your church,” she testified.

The Rev. Paul Stallworth, who leads a United Methodist task force on sexuality and abortion, testified that church law requires jurors to “openly rebuke” Schaefer so that fellow clergy will think twice before breaking it.

Schaefer had previously testified that he performed his son’s 2007 wedding out of love, not a desire to flout church teaching on homosexuality.

But his testimony made clear he has had a change of heart.

“I have to minister to those who hurt and that’s what I’m doing,” said Schaefer.

The prosecutor, the Rev. Christopher Fisher, invited Schaefer to “repent of your actions” and pledge never again to perform a same-sex union.

“I cannot,” Schaefer replied.

His son, Tim Schaefer, told jurors he knew he was putting his father in a difficult position by asking him to officiate his wedding. But he concluded he would hurt his father’s feelings if he didn’t ask.

Schaefer said he hoped his father’s trial would start a larger conversation in the denomination.

United Methodist jury convicts pastor for officiating at his gay son’s wedding

A United Methodist pastor was convicted on Nov. 18 of breaking church law by officiating his son’s same-sex wedding and could be defrocked after a high-profile trial that has rekindled debate over the denomination’s policy on gay marriage.

The Methodist church put the Rev. Frank Schaefer on trial in southeastern Pennsylvania, accusing him of breaking his pastoral vows by presiding over the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts.

The 13-member jury convicted Schaefer on two charges: That he officiated a gay wedding, and that he showed “disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church.”

The jury was to reconvene today (Nov. 19) for the penalty phase, where Schaefer faces punishment ranging from a reprimand to losing his ministerial credentials.

“Obviously I’m very saddened. What we’re hoping for tomorrow is a light sentence,” said Schaefer’s son, Tim Schaefer, 29, whose wedding led to the charges.

Testifying in his defense, the 51-year-old pastor said he decided to break church rules out of love for his son. He said he might have lost what he called his “ritual purity” by disobeying the Methodist Book of Discipline, but that he felt he was obeying God’s command to minister to everyone.

“I love the United Methodist Church. I’ve been a minister for almost 20 years and there are so many good things about the United Methodist Church except for that one rule,” said Schaefer, of Lebanon.

Schaefer, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, could have avoided the trial if he had agreed to never again perform a same-gender wedding, but he declined because three of his four children are gay.

The nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but it rejects the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The church’s lawyer, the Rev. Christopher Fisher, told the jury that Schaefer clearly violated the Book of Discipline. He said the complainant, Jon Boger – a member of Schaefer’s congregation – was dismayed and shocked when he learned this year about the ceremony.

Fisher used his closing argument to condemn homosexuality as immoral and said Schaefer had no right to break a Methodist law that bans pastors from performing same-sex marriages just because he disagreed with church teaching. He told jurors they were duty-bound to convict.

“You’ll give an account for that at the last day, as we all will,” he told the jury, to audible gasps from spectators.

Dozens of Schaefer’s supporters stood in silent protest as Fisher spoke, then linked hands and sang “We Shall Overcome” after the jury left to begin deliberating.

Boger, the church’s sole witness, testified Monday that he felt betrayed when he found out that Schaefer, who had baptized his children and buried his grandparents, had presided over a gay wedding.

“When pastors take the law of the church in their own hand … it undermines their own credibility as a leader and also undermines the integrity of the church as a whole,” Boger said.

“It’s his son. He loves his son. In a way I felt bad for him. But he’s also shown no remorse or repentance, nor has he apologized to anyone.”

When Schaefer chose to hide the marriage from the congregation, Boger said, “It was a lie and a broken covenant.”

But Schaefer testified he had informed his superiors of his part in the marriage. He said he kept it from his conservative church’s congregation because it would be divisive.

“I did not want to make this a protest about the doctrine of the church. I wasn’t trying to be an advocate,” Schaefer said. “I just wanted this to be a beautiful family affair, and it was that.”

Schaefer faced no discipline until April – less than a month before the church’s six-year statute of limitations was set to expire – when Boger filed a complaint.

Schaefer’s son came out to his parents at age 17, revealing he had contemplated suicide over his struggle with sexual identity and the church’s stance on homosexuality.

“He had heard messages that were hateful from the church, from the culture around him, that told him you’re not normal, you’re not valid, you’re a freak,” Schaefer testified.

The pastor said he and his wife told their son he was a “beloved child of God.”

Years later, Tim Schaefer asked his father to marry him.

“To say no to his request would have negated all the affirmations I gave him over the years,” he said.