Tag Archives: The Associated Press

Struggling man killed by Milwaukee policeman he knew from school

The man killed in a police shooting that sparked two nights of violence in Milwaukee suffered from cognitive and mental health issues, and he carried a gun because he had been shot more than once in the past, his grandfather said.

Sylville Smith had a lengthy criminal past, but was just trying to survive in the inner city, William Brookins told The Associated Press.

“In this city, there’s a lot of killings going on in the street,” said Brookins, who detailed Smith’s problems in a letter to a judge last year seeking mercy for his grandson. “He was afraid for his life. He was concerned about his safety and surviving.”

Smith, 23, was shot and killed Saturday after a brief foot chase that followed a traffic stop. Police say Smith was fleeing, and officials have said the officer’s body camera shows him being shot after he turned toward the officer with a gun in his hand.

CNN reported that the as-yet unnamed officer responsible for the shooting knew Sylville from high school.

“The officer knew him personally from high school and he still shot him,” Sylville Smith’s sister Sherelle Smith told CNN.

“He didn’t like my brother,” she said. “The officer had a career, but my brother was more popular. He used to harass Sylville.”

A source close to the family accused the young officer, who like Sylville Smith was a young African-American man, of having a “personal vendetta” against Smith.

A few hours after the shooting, violence erupted on the city’s largely black North Side, with protesters hurling rocks at police and burning six businesses. A lighter night of protests followed Sunday. Monday was calm, though 10 people were arrested. There were no reports of protesters gathering on Tuesday night.

The cost of damages to eight buildings during the riots could be in the millions, according to multiple sources. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, MPD Chief Edward Flynn and other leaders have blamed outside agitators, particularly from Chicago, for inciting the violence.

Flynn blamed a Chicago chapter of the Revolutionary Communist Party for upending what had begun as a peaceful demonstration on Aug. 13. Fourteen people were arrested. Three police officers and four sheriff’s deputies were hurt.

Run-ins with the law

Smith had several run-ins with the law dating to 2013, including speeding, driving without insurance, driving with a suspended license and having open alcohol in a vehicle.

In 2013, he was charged with felony retail theft for allegedly stealing $1,600 worth of DVDs from a Milwaukee Wal-Mart. According to a criminal complaint, Smith and another man were seen removing fans from their boxes and putting the DVDs in the boxes. Prosecutors later dismissed the charge.

A year later, he was charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, a misdemeanor. According to court documents, two officers on bike patrol approached Smith and his friends after smelling marijuana in their vehicle and found a loaded .45-caliber pistol under Smith’s shirt. Smith pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one day in jail.

In early 2015, Smith was charged with reckless endangerment, a felony. Investigators alleged he opened fire on a man in retaliation for the man’s role in a fight between some girls weeks earlier. According to a complaint, Smith and the man got into a car chase before the man finally stopped and ran on foot. Smith chased after the man and shot at him. He eluded Smith by hiding behind a house, according to the complaint.

As that case was pending, Smith was charged with felony intimidation of a witness — the man he was accused of shooting at. Prosecutors said he had his girlfriend call the man and pressure him to recant. The man did, according to prosecutors, who dropped both cases that year.

Brookins said his grandson’s criminal record was “nothing in comparison to other people.” He said Smith had never been convicted of a felony.

“That’s the law, OK,” Brookins said. “He’s not guilty.”

He described Smith as a good kid with a “beautiful personality.”

Smith was known for his hip-hop dance moves and trained in gymnastics when he was in middle school, Brookins said.

He also suffered from mental health issues, Brookins said. He declined to go into detail, saying only that Smith had problems with “comprehension and understanding” and spent time in special classes in elementary and middle school. In a letter to the judge in the reckless endangerment case, Brookins wrote that Smith was receiving Social Security payments because of his mental health problems.

Smith had been shot on more than one occasion, Brookins said. The last time was “a few years ago” when he was hit six times in front of his mother’s house. His grandfather did not have any information on what precipitated the shooting but said Smith still carried bullet fragments in his body.

Smith started carrying a gun after that incident.

“That really had a great effect on him and his fear of being hurt and the need to protect himself from people trying to do him harm,” Brookins said.

Milwaukee police could not immediately confirm Brookins’ account. A spokesman told The Associated Press to file a records request.

Smith’s mother, Mildred Haynes, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that her son had recently received his concealed-carry license because he had been shot twice and robbed four times, including a robbery in which he was stripped of all his clothes. He leaves behind a 2-year-old son.

“I’m not going to say he was an angel. He was out here living his life,” Smith’s godmother, Katherine Mahmoud, told the newspaper.

“It’s hard to grasp he’s no longer here,” Brookins said. “Oh, my God. This is terrible



Alleged Colorado shooter had been charged with animal abuse, domestic violence

A profile is emerging of the gunman in custody for a shootout yesterday in which three people were killed and nine injured at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

Armed with a military assault weapon, Robert Lewis Dear, 57, allegedly held police at bay for hours during a snowy afternoon shootout that started without warning.

Bearded, tall, stocky and wild-eyed, Dear reportedly had a history of run-ins with the law, including for domestic violence and animal abuse. People who lived near Dear said he frequently handed out anti-Obama literature but his ideology was hard to fathom due to the incoherent nature of his ramblings.

The Daily Beast obtained records from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina, where Dear was a longtime resident with a lengthy history of incident reports. Those included domestic battery, threatening and spying on neighbors, abusing animals and making unwanted advances toward a female neighbor.

Neighbors who lived beside Dear’s former South Carolina home in Walterboro told AP that he hid food in the woods as if he was a survivalist and said he lived off selling prints of his uncle’s paintings of Southern plantations and the Masters golf tournament.

John Hood said Saturday that when he moved to Walterboro, Dear was living in a doublewide mobile home next door. Hood said Dear seemed to be a loner and very strange but not dangerous. He pointed to a wooden fence separating their land and said he put it up because Dear liked to skinny dip.

Hood said that Dear rarely talked and, when he did, he tended to offer unsolicited advice such as recommending that Hood put a metal roof on his house so the U.S. government couldn’t spy on him.

“He was really strange and out there, but I never thought he would do any harm,” he said.

Dear also lived part-time in North Carolina, spending part of his time in a cabin in Black Mountain with no electricity or running water.

He tended to avoid eye contact, said James Russell, who lived a few hundred feet down the mountain from Dear’s cabin. “If you talked to him, nothing with him was very cognitive,” Russell said.

Other neighbors knew Dear too, but they didn’t want to give their names to AP because they said they were scared of him.

Russell and others said the only companion they saw with him was a mangy dog that looked to be in such bad shape they called animal control because they worried he was beating it.

Following the shootout, law enforcement officials closed off an address for Dear in what the Daily Beast called “the remote town” of Hartsel, Colorado, about 60 miles west of Colorado Springs.

There, about a dozen police vehicles and fire trucks were parked today outside a small white trailer belonging to Dear located on a sprawling swath of land, AP reported. Property records indicate Dear purchased the land about a year ago.

An official said authorities searched the trailer but found no explosives. The official, who has direct knowledge of the case, said authorities also talked with a woman who was living in the trailer. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.

Jamie Heffelman, owner of the Highline Cafe in Hartsel, said residents would occasionally see the 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound Dear at the post office to get his mail but he never said much.

“Nobody really knows him. He stays to himself,” she said.

Planned Parenthood under constant fire

Police have not disclosed a motive, but Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said people can make “inferences from where it took place,” referring to the clinic.

A Roman Catholic priest who has held weekly Mass in front of the clinic for 20 years, however, told The Associated Press that Dear wasn’t part of his group. Anti-choice groups picket PP clinics every day, carrying signs of bloody babies and dolls and accosting women entering the premises with dire warnings.

Planned Parenthood has been under increased attack since July — from Congress to state legislatures to the Republican campaign trail — over an undercover video made by virulent anti-choice activists and released to the press. The video appeared to show PP personnel negotiating the sale of fetal organs, but later it was determined that the piece had been misleadingly edited.

Investigations by states and Congress found no wrongdoing in connection with PP’s handling of fetal tissue. Instead, it was learned that PP and other abortion clinics allow pregnant women to donate their fetal tissue to researchers if they wish, and the researchers pay for the cost of maintaining and transporting the tissue.

Still, the National Abortion Federation, an association of service providers, has seen a rise in threats at clinics nationwide since the video’s release. Republican presidential candidates have made it a central issue in their campaigns.

Arsonists have attacked four PP clinics since September.

At a vigil Saturday at All Souls Unitarian Church, Rev. Nori Rost called the gunman a “domestic terrorist.” In the back of the room, someone held a sign that said: “Women’s bodies are not battlefields. Neither is our town.”

Vicki Cowart, the regional head of Planned Parenthood, drew a standing ovation when she walked to the pulpit. She promised to quickly reopen the clinic. “We will adapt. We will square our shoulders and we will go on,” she said.

Cowart told AP that the gunman “broke in” to the clinic Friday but didn’t get past a locked door leading to the main part of the facility. She said there was no armed security when the shooting began.

In the parking lot of the two-story building, one man said the gunman shot at him as he pulled his car out, blasting two holes in his windshield. Inside, one worker ducked under a table and called her brother to tell him to take care of her kids if she was killed.

At one point, an officer whispered reports into his radio as he crept through the building. Others relayed information from surveillance cameras and victims in hiding. “We’ve got a report of a victim texting from just east of the lobby,” someone said.

In the end, a six-year veteran University of Colorado police officer was killed. Two civilians also died, though their identities weren’t immediately released. Five other officers and four people were hospitalized.

Cowart said all 15 clinic employees survived and worked hard to make sure everyone else got into safe spaces and stayed quiet.

The attack marked the latest mass shooting to stun the nation, and drew the now-familiar questions about a gunman’s motives and whether anyone, from government to relatives, could have done anything to prevent an attack.

President Obama issued a statement today calling for gun control.

“If we truly care about this — if we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience — then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them,” Obama said.

Colorado Springs is home to a very large population of born-again Christians. The anti-gay hate group Focus on the Family is headquartered there.

In Illinois as in Wisconsin, tax breaks to corporations have failed to create the promised jobs

Tax giveaways to corporations are a key component of the Republicans formula for job growth. But they’ve failed miserably in Wisconsin and now there’s evidence they’ve flopped in Illinois as well.

The Chicago Tribune analyzed (http://trib.in/1GnWjHk ) 783 deals the state has made through the Economic Development for a Growing Economy program and found that two-thirds of the companies that completed agreements didn’t maintain agreed-upon job levels.

State officials also can’t say how many jobs have been created by the program, known as EDGE, which Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner wisely put on hold in June.

Since 1999, Illinois has promised more than $1 billion in EDGE tax breaks, which officials say helps lure new firms, hang onto employers who might move elsewhere and encouraging businesses to add jobs. Companies have so far collected about $450.3 million — money that, if collected, would help pay for public services such as education and health care.

Rauner’s move came this summer as he and the Democrats who control the General Assembly disagreed over a new state budget, though new deals the state reached with Amazon and ConAgra Foods before June have only been recently announced.

The Republican governor reiterated last week that, even when the EDGE program is restarted, the state won’t provide tax breaks unless companies create new jobs. At least 78 companies that have signed EDGE deals since 2004 were not required to add jobs, and at least 51 of those were made by the administration of Rauner’s predecessor, Democrat Pat Quinn.

But Rauner defended the tax breaks promised to ConAgra as crucial to the company’s plans to move its headquarters from Omaha, Nebraska, to Chicago. Neither ConAgra nor state officials have disclosed the terms of that deal beyond the requirement that the company add 150 new jobs.

“Getting corporate headquarters for a Fortune 500 company like ConAgra is a big deal long term to the economic growth in Illinois,” Rauner told The Associated Press. “And they will be adding jobs. We would not give them edge credits unless they were adding jobs.”

Recent headlines illustrate that some EDGE recipients not only don’t add new jobs, but cut employees. Mitsubishi received a new EDGE deal in 2011 but now plans to close its plant in Normal, cutting almost 1,200 jobs. Two more EDGE recipients also recently announced layoff plans: 500 jobs at Motorola Mobility in Chicago and 700 at Kraft Foods in Northfield.

Jim Schultz is the director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which oversees EDGE. He called the terms of many of the existing deals “very distasteful.”

David Vaught, a former Quinn budget chief and commerce director, told the newspaper that Quinn wanted to try “anything that could get us a job in a recession.” Some companies openly threatened to leave the state during the recession unless they received tax breaks.

When Quinn announced the $29 million deal with Mitsubishi, he proclaimed, “Illinois is Mitsubishi country and always will be.” But the company, which has received $5.2 million in tax breaks, plans to close the plant in November and move production overseas. A small staff will stay on through May, which could allow the car maker to avoid EDGE provisions requiring repayment if the company closes its Illinois facility within five years of signing the deal.

“When you’re in an economic emergency compounded by decades of financial recklessness, you fight to keep businesses and jobs in Illinois,” Quinn said in a statement defending deals he made.

Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat who’s a longtime critic of EDGE tax breaks, calls the program “deeply flawed.”

“We have no idea what we’re getting in return in for our investment, and we don’t even know if anything works,” he said.

Wisconsinites who blame Gov. Scott Walker for the failure of his Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation should consider the mounting evidence that such programs simply don’t work. In Wisconsin, they’ve been nothing but gifts for Republicans’ cronies. Perhaps in Illinois, Democratic officials were the ones who made out like bandits.

It’s time to end pointless tax breaks for large corporations and the wealthy. In 30-plus years, it has never trickled down. It’s only squirted up.

Tax breaks must target the middle-class people who generate economic activity. They must be used for funding education, infrastructure and social programs — all of which help people who actually need the help.

Associated Press bans the term ‘homophobia’

In an attempt to neutralize journalistic descriptions of people who actively oppose gay civil rights, The Associated Press has banned use of the word “homophobic” in its stylebook, which is followed by the majority of the American press.

AP said the word “homophobia” wrongly suggests that the hatred of LGBT people is irrational or represents a psychological problem.

In the latest revision of its stylebook, AP also bans the terms “Islamophobia” and other “phobia” words in “political and social contexts.” AP also categorized the term  “ethnic cleansing” as inappropriate.

“Homophobia … (is) just off the mark,” AP deputy standards editor Dave Minthorn told POLITICO. “It’s ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don’t have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case.”

The man of coined the word “homophobia” disagreed. George Weinberg, who used the word in his seminal 1972 book “Society and the Healthy Homosexual,” said, “It was a hard-won word.”

“(The word) made all the difference to City Councils and other people I spoke to,” Weinberg said via email to San Diego gay journalist Rex Wockner. “It encapsulates a whole point of view and of feeling. … It brought me some death threats. Is homophobia always based on fear? I thought so and still think so. Maybe envy in some cases. But that’s a psychological question. Is every snarling dog afraid? Probably yes. But here it shouldn’t matter. We have no other word for what we’re talking about, and this one is well established. We use ‘freelance’ for writers who don’t throw lances anymore, and who want to get paid for their work.”

The LGBT media watchdog and advocacy group GLAAD said its officials are reviewing the changes to the AP guide.

Wisconsin Gazette, which subscribes to AP and generally follows its guidelines for reporters, will continue to use the term.

Scott Walker broke high-profile campaign promise

Gov. Scott Walker broke his campaign promise to pay the full cost of his state pension immediately after taking office in January, The Associated Press has learned.

“As governor, I’ll pay my share toward my retirement because everyone should pay their own way, including me,” Walker vowed during his campaign. After his election, Walker enacted a law forcing public workers to pay more for their pensions.

But Walker’s pay stubs, provided today in response to an AP open records request made in September, showed the governor did not follow through on his promise. Neither did Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, an outspoken born-again evangelical Christian who made the same pledge.

The requirement that state workers pay their 5.8 percent contribution was part of a controversial bill pushed by Walker that also took away nearly all collective bargaining rights from most public employees. The fight over that measure resulted in protests as large as 100,000 people, led to all 14 Democratic state senators fleeing to Illinois to block the bill, and made Wisconsin the center of the fight over union rights.

It also led to the recall of two Republican state senators over the summer and now a campaign to recall Walker. Democrats, unions and others plan to start collecting signatures in November to force a recall election of Walker next year.

Walker’s spokesman Cullen Werwie did not offer an explanation for why the governor didn’t start paying for his pension until the law forced him to.

Wisconsin Democrats were quick to call Walker to task for his hypocrisy.

“You’re asking people to do what you won’t do,” Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski said. “It shows you this is a person whose priorities are warped.”

“It is indefensible Scott Walker promised to live by these rules and then broke his word to Wisconsin,” said Scot Ross, director of One Wisconsin Now. “Scott Walker tore Wisconsin in two to pass these unnecessary changes and then tells us ‘Do as I say, not as I didn’t.’”

Marty Beil, executive director of the 23,000-member Wisconsin State Employees Union that fought bitterly with Walker over the collective bargaining changes, said the governor’s broken promise wasn’t surprising.

“Apparently Rebecca and Scotty boy want the world to believe they’re working men and women and treat themselves like everyone else, but clearly they didn’t do that,” Beil said.

This isn’t the first time Walker has run into trouble fulfilling promises related to his pension, the AP reported.

Immediately after winning election as Milwaukee County executive in 2002, Walker promised that any staff under his control would waive all salary and benefit increases enacted after 2000. But his opponent in 2004 revealed that Walker’s staff had been taking a higher pension benefit for two years. Walker then asked the county board to reduce it.