National News

Judge sets trial date to decide how much Giuliani owes 2 election workers for defaming them

Elijah Nouvelage for The Washington Post via Getty Images

(ATLANTA) -- A federal judge has ordered a Dec. 11 trial date to determine what damages Rudy Giuliani will have to pay two former Georgia election workers he was found liable for defaming.

Judge Beryl Howell last month found Giuliani liable for defamatory comments he made about the mother-daughter tandem of Ruby Freeman and Wandrea "Shaye" Moss.

The judge sanctioned Giuliani over erroneous remarks he made accusing the pair of fraudulently manipulating ballots on Election Day 2020 in Georgia, while Giuliani was contesting the 2020 election loss by then-President Donald Trump.

In the days after the election, Freeman and Moss became the subjects of a Trump-backed conspiracy theory that was later found to be "false and unsubstantiated," according to an investigation by the Georgia Elections Board. Giuliani, in an appearance before a committee of the Georgia state legislature, told lawmakers that a video circulating online showed "Ruby Freeman and Shaye Freeman Moss ... quite obviously surreptitiously passing around USB ports, as if they're vials of heroin or cocaine."

Giuliani has previously stated that he "does not contest the factual allegations" made by Freeman and Moss regarding his statements, but that his statements were "constitutionally protected."

The former New York City mayor is already on the hook for more that $130,000 in legal fees in the case.

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Chester County prison officials had 'concerns about the leadership' a year before Danelo Cavalcante's escape

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(WEST CHESTER, Pa.) -- Officials in Chester County, Pennsylvania, admitted Wednesday that there were failures in official communications following convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante's escape from their county prison on Aug. 31.

During the first public meeting of the board that oversees the prison since the two-week manhunt for Cavalcante drew national headlines, Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell told residents the ordeal was "something we never expected to happen here in Chester County, a place where people move to be and feel safe."

Officials stated that they started having "concerns about the leadership and operations" at the prison a year earlier.

"We want to find ways to earn your trust," Maxwell said. "It's going to take more than a day, more than a meeting today. It's going to take weeks and then months and then years without any incidents to earn the community's trust."

He added that Cavalcante was "one of the worst prisoners we have had in terms of crimes they committed."

Maxwell said the board's concerns a year ago prompted them to hire third-party consultants to evaluate conditions at the prison.

One consultant conducted an unannounced inspection over a three-day span in April, which led to recommendations being delivered in July.

"Those recommendations focused on what they believed to be the root cause of concerns, which was leadership within the prison administration," Maxwell said.

"Ultimately, corrective actions that were tasked to the previous warden were not satisfactorily undertaken."

One day prior to the escape, the board accepted the resignation of the jail's warden and named Howard Holland, a former police chief in nearby Downingtown, as the prison's interim warden. Maxwell said Holland had spent several months as a "special liaison" to the board during the investigations by consultants.

'Emergency communication was lacking'

Maxwell acknowledged that there were issues with how Chester County residents were informed about the escape from the prison, which is located at the edge of Philadelphia's suburbs in one of the wealthiest regions of Pennsylvania.

"We do understand and believe that notifications and emergency communication was lacking regarding this prison escape and the county's Department of Emergency Services will start to make changes immediately," he said.

Maxwell noted in the event of any future escape, ReadyChesCo, the county's notification system for residents, will be activated at the same time as the escape alarms.

"In the situation like this, that notification did not go out quick enough. We own that and will ensure that the Department of Emergency Services corrects that for any incident moving forward," Maxwell said.

Changes ahead in Chester County

During Wednesday's meeting, the Chester County Prison Board approved a $94,000 contract with TranSystems to design security upgrades to the prison, including enclosing the yard that was where Cavalcante's escape began.

The board also approved temporary fixes to the prison, including closing off the area above the entrance doors to the prison yard with a security metal soffit, removing basketball hoops and adding correctional officers to the prison yards to supplement the supervision from the guard tower.

During the meeting, representatives from TranSystems shared photos taken inside the prison and offered three possible options for solutions, with the main one being that the prison yards should be fully enclosed with roofing so that detainees cannot climb out of the yard as Cavalcante did.

Community pushes back, 'You had one job to do.'

Local residents voiced their concerns about Cavalcante's escape during the meeting.

"I'm livid," said Sheila Lerner of Westtown Township. "You had one job to do, which was to ensure the safety of the citizens and manage the prison properly, and you failed it."

Holland, acknowledged that more needs to be done.

"I have work to do," Holland told the board and attendees at the meeting. "The only way I can get that work done and make sure it's acceptable is, one, be clear and transparent about what we're doing at that facility."

Holland is seeking a number of changes to the prison, including adding more high-tech cameras, conducting more drills, improving community relations, adding a new alarm system for the perimeter fence and implementing surveillance by drone.

He said that after the May escape of Igor Bolte from the same facility, razor wire was added near the exterior exercise yards and overhang immediately and $155,000 worth of additional razor wire was recommended for the prison roofline.

"The reason for that was when Mr. Bolte escaped, he didn't use the same path as Mr. Cavalcante," Holland said. "He actually got up onto the prison roof, ran across the roof and over the front overhang."

Although the $155,000 project was authorized on Aug. 14, Holland said the vendor has been waiting on supplies to arrive and the work is not expected to be finished until November.

"The combination of the razor wire added after Bolte's escape and the fine mesh metal fencing added after Cavalcante's escape prevents anyone from accessing the roof from the exterior exercise yards," Holland said.

ABC News' Charlotte Greer contributed to this report.

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Heavy smoke blanketing San Francisco Bay Area

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(SAN FRANCISCO) -- A smoky haze is currently blanketing the San Francisco Bay Area due to wildfires burning in the northwest, creating unhealthy air quality for sensitive groups.

The smoke stemming from multiple wildfires that continue to burn in rural areas of Northwestern California is getting pushed southward across parts of Northern California, including the Bay Area. Much of the smoke and haze is located in the upper atmosphere.

Fire officials are letting them burn out since they are not threatening people or property.

The smoke was so thick on Wednesday that the San Francisco Bay Bridge was barely visible from the coastlines along the bay and the San Francisco skyline was barely visible across the bay from the Port of Oakland, ABC San Francisco station KGO reported.

The Air Quality Index for San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon was at 113, or "Code Orange," signifying unhealthy air pollution levels for sensitive groups.

Much of the smoke and haze is located in the upper atmosphere. The National Weather Service has not issued any air quality alerts for the region, but the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued a "Spare the Air" alert through Thursday, which bans burning wood, fire logs or other solid fuel to prevent from further contributing to the poor air quality.

A fire weather watch was in effect for much of Wednesday for the North Bay Hills and Solano County due to gusty winds and low humidity. Red flag warnings were also issued for portions of Napa County, according to the NWS.

San Francisco resident Sarah Ryherd told KGO that it smells like a campfire around the city.

Another resident told the station that they had put a mask on after he began to feel the effects of the air pollution in their throat.

Some schools in the region canceled sports activities due to the smoke, KGO reported. The fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, contained in wildfire smoke can cause serious health problems if inhaled, especially for vulnerable populations, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Air quality will likely not improve in the region until Friday, said KGO meteorologist Lisa Argen.

Residents were advised to stay indoors and keep their windows closed.

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Boston College suspends swimming and diving program due to hazing

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(BOSTON) -- Boston College has indefinitely suspended its men's and women's swimming and diving programs over what it said was hazing, the university announced Wednesday.

The suspension comes after university administrators "determined that hazing had occurred within the program," the Boston College athletics department said in a brief statement.

"The University does not -- and will not -- tolerate hazing in any form," the statement said.

The school did not provide any additional details on the alleged hazing incident or its investigation.

ABC News reached out to the program's head coach and diving coach for comment.

All students in the program will continue to have access to academic and medical resources available to all Boston College student-athletes, the athletics department said.

Any form of hazing is prohibited by the university and Massachusetts State Law, the Boston College handbook notes.

Examples of hazing cited in the handbook include alcohol use, as well as "personal servitude; sleep deprivation and restrictions on personal hygiene; yelling, swearing, and insulting new members/rookies; being forced to wear embarrassing or humiliating attire in public; consumption of vile substances or smearing of such on one's skin; brandings; physical beatings; binge drinking and drinking games; sexual simulation and sexual assault."

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Suspect pleads not guilty by reason of insanity in murder of LA sheriff's deputy


(LOS ANGELES) -- The suspected gunman in the fatal shooting of a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to murder with special circumstances.

Kevin Salazar, 29, was arrested on Monday in what authorities described as the "ambush" shooting of Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer.

During his arraignment on Wednesday, Salazar's attorney entered a plea of not guilty and a dual plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on his behalf. He is being held without bail and is scheduled to next appear in court on Nov. 7 for a preliminary hearing.

The three special circumstances alleged in the charges are that the killing was committed against a peace officer, the suspect was lying in wait and the firearm was discharged from a motor vehicle, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said during a press briefing Wednesday, calling it a "cowardly and senseless murder."

"The loss of any life is a tragedy. But when a sworn officer -- someone who was taken an oath to protect our communities -- is taken from us, it's an assault on the very fiber of our community and civilization," Gascón said.

Under California law, if the defendant in an insanity defense case is found guilty, a trial on the issue of sanity would occur. If a jury finds the defendant was insane while committing the crime, the defendant would be committed to a state hospital or facility for treatment. If found sane, the defendant would be sentenced as provided by law.

If convicted, Salazar faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, Gascón said.

Clinkunbroomer, 30, was on duty, in uniform and in his patrol car, when he was shot while stopped at a red light outside the Palmdale Sheriff's Station Saturday night.

Clinkunbroomer was "ambushed by a coward," Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said Monday.

Amid the search for the suspect, investigators said they were seeking a Toyota Corolla as a vehicle of interest in the case. Sharing details on the Corolla led investigators to the suspect and the car, the sheriff said.

Salazar was arrested Monday morning after barricading himself inside a house for several hours, Luna said.

Multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News Monday night that Salazar confessed to investigators.

The motive remains unclear.

Investigators said Wednesday they believe Salazar purchased a firearm in the weeks before the shooting, but could not say whether it was purchased legally. They also said they are investigating his mental health history.

Previously, two law enforcement officials briefed on the probe told ABC News on Tuesday the gun appeared to have been purchased legally.

Salazar's mother told ABC News she reported concerns over her son's mental health to law enforcement, but it remains unclear whether any such reports would have risen to a level that should have blocked her son from being able to legally purchase a gun.

No other suspects are believed to be involved, the sheriff said.

"We're hurting right now," Luna said during Wednesday's press briefing.

"We're hoping for nothing less than the maximum punishment available under the law," he added.

Clinkunbroomer, an eight-year veteran of the sheriff's office, was recently engaged.

"Ryan was the best guy I've ever met," his fiancée, Brittany Lindsey, said through tears at Wednesday's press briefing.

"I was so happy I was able to love him. It was not long enough," she said.

ABC News' Emily Shapiro and Josh Margolin contributed to this report.

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Judge orders Hunter Biden to appear in person at arraignment on federal gun charges

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(WILMINGTON, Del.) -- A federal magistrate judge on Wednesday denied Hunter Biden's effort to avoid appearing in person at his arraignment on federal gun charges, ordering him to appear at a hearing scheduled for Oct. 3.

Judge Christopher Burke wrote that the president's son "should be treated just as would any other defendant in our court."

Hunter Biden's legal team had sought to have him appear virtually, citing "the financial impact on government resources and the logistical burden on the downtown area of Wilmington" as reason enough to avoid an in-person appearance.

Prosecutors earlier Wednesday rebuffed that effort, arguing that an in-person arraignment is "important to promote the public's confidence that the defendant is being treated consistently with other defendants."

Judge Burke wrote that in his twelve years on the bench -- with the exception of the pandemic -- he "cannot recall ever having conducted an initial appearance other than in person."

"Any other defendant would be required to attend his or her initial appearance in person," Burke wrote. "So too here."

President Joe Biden's only living son was indicted last Thursday by special counsel David Weiss on charges that he lied on a federal form when he said he was drug-free at the time that he purchased a Colt revolver in October 2018.

Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Hunter Biden, has suggested they would push back on the gun charges, telling ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in an interview on "Good Morning America" last week that, "on the facts, we think we'll have a defense."

Lowell had filed court papers on Tuesday seeking to have his client's initial appearance in a Delaware court take place via video conference instead of in person, noting that virtual court appearances became commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic and arguing that "neither Mr. Biden nor the government would be prejudiced by an initial appearance conducted via video conference."

"No matter whether in person or virtual ... Mr. Biden also will enter a plea of not guilty, and there is no reason why he cannot utter those two words by video conference," Lowell wrote.

After a plea deal between federal prosecutors and Hunter Biden fell apart in July following a five-year probe, prosecutors said in court filings last month that they also intend to bring misdemeanor tax charges against Hunter Biden in California and Washington, D.C.

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Pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood to be prosecution witness in Georgia election case

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(ATLANTA) -- The Fulton County district attorney's office has secured pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood as a witness in its Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump and 18 others, according to a court filing Wednesday.

Other witnesses for the state include Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, former Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, members of the State Election Board, and members of the Georgia General Assembly, the filing said.

Trump and 18 others were charged in a sweeping racketeering indictment for alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state of Georgia. The former president says his actions were not illegal and that the investigation is politically motivated.

Wednesday's filing also sought to raise concerns to the judge overseeing the case about what prosecutors called "potential conflicts of interest" with a number of the defense attorneys in the case.

The DA's office said it identified six attorneys who are representing various defendants but have also had previous involvement in the case or related matters, including by previously representing witnesses for the state -- a situation they say could result in those witnesses being subject to cross examination by their former attorneys.

"The state has worked diligently to identify any potential conflicts of interest concerning attorneys who currently represent Defendants in this case and who previously represented material witnesses or parties before the special purpose grand jury and other prost-election proceedings," the filing states.

One attorney they note is defendant Kenneth Cheseboro's lawyer, Scott Grubman, who they say earlier, during the investigation by the special purpose grand jury, represented Brad Raffensperger and his wife Patricia -- both of whom are now witnesses for the state, the filing says.

"Mr. Grubman's former clients would be subject to cross-examination by him were he to remain counsel of record in this case," the filing states.

Grubman, in his own filing, said he did "briefly" represent the duo, but pushed back on the DA's characterization that it would be a conflict, saying that he has waivers from Cheseboro, Raffensperger, and his wife.

"Mr. Grubman is aware of his ethical and professional obligations and does not believe he has a conflict in this matter," Grubman's filing stated.

Regarding the waivers, Grubman said he "would have informed the District Attorney's office of such informed consent had they reached out before filing their notice. The state did not extend that typical profession courtesy."

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Fentanyl, guns found at another New York City home with child after death at day care

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- New York City police seized fentanyl and weapons on Wednesday during a search of a house in Queens where a 10-year-old lives, officials said.

Police executed a search warrant and found more than 5 pounds of suspected cocaine with traces of fentanyl; more than 2 pounds of suspected heroin with traces of fentanyl; several guns, including a high-capacity rifle; and four kilo presses, the NYPD said.

A 10-year-old was asleep inside when police came and has since been removed from the home, police said. The 10-year-old's bedroom was across the hall from fatal doses of drugs, Deputy Chief Jerry O'Sullivan said at a news conference, calling it "completely unacceptable."

"I don't know how anyone could think it's OK," O'Sullivan said.

Five people have been arrested for criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal possession of a weapon, acting in a manner injurious to a child, criminal use of drug paraphilia and criminal possession of a narcotic drug,

This discovery comes days after an unconnected incident in the Bronx where 1-year-old boy died and three other children were sickened from fentanyl exposure at a day care.

Nicholas Dominici, 1, died on Friday and three other children, ranging in age from 8 months to 2 years, were hospitalized and treated with Narcan and are now recovering, police said.

A kilogram of fentanyl was stored on top of children’s play mats used for napping, according to the federal court documents. Two people have been arrested on federal and state charges.

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Man formerly on death row gets murder case dismissed after 48 years

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(OKLAHOMA CITY) -- After 48 years, a man who says he was wrongfully convicted of murder has officially had his case dismissed.

Glynn Simmons was 22 when he was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1974 death of Carolyn Sue Rogers at a local liquor store. Simmons is now 70.

He received a death penalty sentence in 1975. However, his sentence was modified to life in prison in 1977 following a U.S. Supreme Court decision, according to Oklahoma County District Court Attorney Vicki Zemp Behenna.

In April, Behenna requested that Simmons’ conviction be vacated and retried after a review of the case found that “a lineup and certain police reports that were available at the time were not turned over to the defense.”

Behenna argued that the circumstances “cast a shadow over his right to a fair trial.”

In July, Oklahoma County District Court Judge Amy Palumbo vacated Simmons’ conviction and set the case for a new trial, allowing Simmons to be released for the first time in 48 years.

Behenna then asked for the case to be dismissed, arguing that the state will not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Simmons was responsible for the death.

Behenna said in a statement that this is because there is no longer physical evidence; the original investigators and detectives in the case are not available or deceased; and the surviving victims are not available or deceased.

Behenna added the defense alleges that their alternate suspect was identified in one of the lineups.

Palumbo ruled Tuesday that the case will be dismissed with prejudice, meaning the case cannot be retried.

“I plan to use my remaining time to help others who are still stuck where I was,” said Simmons in an online post. “We need to fix this system so that what happened to me will never happen to anyone else, ever again!”

He said he is currently undergoing chemotherapy for liver cancer.

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Husband charged with killing wife, throwing body into lake


(PITTSBORO, N.C.) -- A North Carolina man has been arrested and charged in connection with the death of his 34-year-old wife, who was found in Jordan Lake last month, according to the Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

Omar Matthew Ibrahim Drabick, 34, has been charged with first-degree murder and concealment of an unnatural death in the killing of his wife, Hadeel Ghadhanfer Hikmat. Investigators believe Drabick killed Hikmat and then tossed her body off a bridge into Jordan Lake, according to Durham ABC station WTVD.

Drabick, who was arrested Tuesday morning, is being held without bond in the Chatham County Sheriff's Office Detention Center. He is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 25.

A boater at Jordan Lake found Hikmat's body on Aug. 29 in the vicinity of a boat ramp.

Police were able to identify the victim as Hikmat through fingerprint analysis. Investigators determined that her death was not accidental or self-inflicted.

On Sept. 8, the Chatham County Sheriff Office along with the Apex and Raleigh police departments, executed search warrants at two locations in Wake County known to be frequented by Hikmat.

"Our thoughts and efforts are with Ms. Hikmat's family, and the other families who contacted us about their missing loved ones," said Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson.

"These kinds of incidents are a reminder of the tragedy of domestic violence," he continued. "It's a scourge that affects far too many lives and causes immeasurable pain and suffering. We urge anyone who may be in an abusive relationship to reach out for help and support."

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High school band director speaks out after getting shocked with stun gun by police

Birmingham Police Department

(NEW YORK) -- Johnny Mims, a band director at Minor High School in Alabama, is accusing Birmingham police of using excessive force against him after he was shocked with a stun gun three times after officers say he refused to comply with orders while they attempted to clear the field.

In an interview with ABC News' DeMarco Morgan that aired on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday, Mims accused police of using "excessive force" in the incident that took place on Sept. 14 and said that he feared for his life.

"I didn't deserve to be tased. I didn't deserve to be tased, regardless of how people say it or how people feel about it. I never deserved that. I'm a good citizen," Mims told "GMA."

"I was on the ground. So to go and tase me twice or three times … that's excessive," he added. "I'm a band director. I'm the bus driver. So I wasn't I wasn't running … I can't go nowhere. I got students that I'm accountable for."

Mims also spoke out at a press conference on Wednesday and said that he was placed on administrative leave by the Jefferson County School District following the incident.

He was joined at the press conference by his attorney, Juandalynn Givan, and members of the Alabama Education Association (AEA), of which Mims is a member.

"I know that my students are hurting," Mims said. "I know that they come to school every single day trying to figure out when their director is going to be back because I'm always there in the morning to welcome them, to say good morning, how you doing? Like, we have that type of bond."

AEA leaders voiced their support for Mims and called on the school to let him go back to work.

The incident occurred at P.D. Jackson-Olin High School in Birmingham during "fifth quarter" – a tradition that originates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities where school bands face off, taking turns to play music after a football game comes to an end.

"It is a big cultural thing that happens amongst bands. Something that everybody looks forward to," Mims said.

"A large proportion of our fans come just to see the bands and so it's something that's not uncustomary," he added.

Mims said that bands from both schools each agreed to play three tunes during fifth quarter and during the third song is when police approached him as he stood on the podium and asked the band to vacate the stadium. Mims said that he told them they would leave after the band finished its last song.

Body camera footage released by BPD shows officers attempting to clear the stadium following the game and as they approach Mims and ask him to tell the band to stop the music, he repeatedly says, "Get out of my face."

"Cut it! We got to go," a sergeant says.

"I know. We're fixing to go. This is our last song," Mims says in response.

After an officer says something to the effect of Mims going to jail, Mims gives a thumbs up and says, "That's cool."

The band continues to play as officers order them to leave, and the sergeant yells to put Mims in handcuffs.

While attempting to handcuff the director after the band stopped performing, an officer can be heard saying, "I'm fixing to tase you."

Another officer says, "He hit the officer, he got to go to jail."

"I did not swing on the officer, man," Mims says in response.

While attempting to detain Mims, an officer deployed his stun gun on him three times, the video shows.

Birmingham Fire and Rescue personnel treated Mims at the scene before officers transported him to a local hospital, per police protocol.

Upon being discharged, Mims was booked at the Birmingham City Jail on disorderly conduct, harassment and resisting arrest charges early Friday. He was bonded out within hours, online jail records show. Police allege Mims refused to place his hands behind his back and pushed an officer during the altercation.

Givan claimed in the press conference on Wednesday that the 8-minute body camera video released by the Birmingham Police Department is only part of the footage available.

She claimed that BPD did not release all of the body camera video related to this incident and said that she has acquired additional videos that allegedly show that Mims did not strike a police officer.

"They failed to give all versions of the bodycam information to your all," Givan said. "You will see that my client never struck or attempted to strike a Birmingham police officer."

ABC News has requested the additional video from Givan.

Asked if they have additional body camera video that they didn't share and about the allegation that Mims didn't strike police, a spokesperson for BPD told ABC News on Wednesday that "those are trial questions" and referred them to the Office of the City Attorney.

The city attorney's office did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Givan told "GMA '' in an interview that aired on Wednesday that her office plans to take legal action against the city of Birmingham and called for officers involved to be placed on administrative leave pending further investigation.

Asked if any of the officers have been disciplined, a spokesperson for the Birmingham Police Department's Internal Affairs Division told ABC News on Tuesday that an investigation is ongoing.

"I want these charges dropped against my client. His reputation has been impacted. They have impugned his character," Givan said. "We want justice for our client and we want his voice to be heard. We want him respected and we want an apology from the city of Birmingham."

Mims told "GMA" that as an educator, he is concerned about the impact the experience had had on the students, including the 145 band members that he was leading.

"Thear those kids cry … [that] is the most heartbreaking thing that anybody can ever experience," Mims said.

"My biggest prayer is that first of all, that these students will not hold a grudge that they will be able to overcome this – that they would one day be able to move forward and continue to be the great people that they are," he added.

According to BPD, Birmingham Police Chief Scott Thurmond met with the Birmingham mayor and superintendents from both school districts regarding the incident.

Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin told ABC News that they are reviewing the video, adding that it is "extremely upsetting to me that our students, our children, had to witness that scene."

Consoulin said that he can't comment further amid the ongoing investigation but added that counselors have been made available to students.

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Prosecutors push back on efforts by 3 Trump 'fake electors' to have their Georgia cases moved to federal court

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(ATLANTA) -- Fulton County prosecutors rebutted claims that three so-called "alternate electors" amounted to federal officials during a hearing Wednesday in District Attorney Fani Willis' Georgia election interference case.

Judge Steve Jones, for a third time, heard arguments during an evidentiary hearing in Atlanta on the issue of federal removal, this time from David Shafer, Shawn Still and Cathy Latham -- three of former President Donald Trump's so-called "alternate electors" who are charged in the conspiracy case.

The three are following in the footsteps of former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark, two federal officials who were charged in the case and have sought to move their cases based on a federal law that calls for the removal of criminal proceedings brought in state court to the federal court system when a federal official or someone acting under them is charged for actions they allegedly took while acting "under color" of their office.

Shafer, Still and Latham are charged with impersonating a public officer and forgery, among other crimes, after they allegedly met with 13 other individuals in December 2020 and put forward electors' certificates falsely stating that Trump won the state and declaring themselves the state's "duly elected and qualified" electors.

Attorneys for the three told the judge that their clients' efforts were legal and that their actions qualify them to have their cases removed to federal court.

But Fulton County prosecutors slammed the defendants' argument as a "fantasy" that was "untethered" to reality.

"These private parties did not transform into public officials by committing a crime," prosecutor Anna Cross told the court. "They were not federal officials. They were not electors at all."

Tensions in the courtroom flared briefly after one of Shafer's attorneys, Craig Gillen, accused prosecutors of targeting the electors over their support for former President Trump, which he called a "sad state of affairs."

As a defendant, Gillen said, "if you're for Trump, buckle up. You're in the danger zone."

Cross called the accusation "borderline offensive."

"That's an accusation that the state 100% rejects," the prosecutor said.

Attorneys for the three defendants laid out their arguments as to why their elector plan was legal, and why it places them under federal law and qualifies for removal.

"What bugs me is that these three have been labeled as 'fake' [electors]," Gillen said. "They served pursuant to federal law."

Gillen, in a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation, made his case that authority over the electors was turned over to the federal government after he said the state of Georgia "missed" the "critical" Dec. 8, 2020, safe harbor deadline for states to certify their results, by not resolving the pending litigation filed the Trump campaign by that date.

"They did their duty," Gillen said of the so-called alternate electors.

"When the state misses the safe harbor date," added Holly Pierson, another attorney for Shafer, "the power goes back Congress."

Pierson also pushed back on the state's claim that electors are not federal officers.

"Our clients did what federal law allows them to do," Pierson said.

Judge Jones took the matter under advisement and said he would try to issue a ruling as quickly as possible, but did not offer a timeframe.

The three defendants could face an uphill battle after Jones earlier this month denied Meadows' bid to have his case removed. Clark is awaiting a ruling on his motion, while Meadows is continuing his efforts on appeal.

Trump and 18 others were charged last month in a sweeping racketeering indictment for alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state of Georgia. All 19 defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Shafer previously served as the chair of the Georgia Republican Party, while Still is currently a Georgia state senator and Latham was the GOP chair for Coffee County.

None of the three are appeared in court for their joint hearing, after each submitted a waiver for their in-person appearances. Clark also did not appear for his hearing, while Meadows testified at his own hearing for over three hours.

Shafer, Still and Cathy Latham have argued in court filings that they qualify for removal because they were acting as federal officials, under federal authority, in their role as alternate electors.

"The role of presidential elector is a federal one -- created and directed by the United States Constitution and Congress," the motion from Still's attorney argued. "Thus, Mr. Still, acting as a presidential elector, was a federal officer."

But that argument has drawn sharp rebuke from the Fulton County DA's office, who said the individuals "falsely impersonated" real electors and do not qualify for removal.

"Defendants and his fellow fraudulent electors conspired in a scheme to impersonate true Georgia presidential electors," the DA's office wrote in a filing. "Their fiction is not entitled to recognition by the Court."

"'Contingent electors' are not presidential electors," the filing said, adding that "there is no prize for first runner up in the Electoral college."

Judge Jones, in denying Meadows' bid to move his case to federal court, said Meadows failed to show how the allegations in the indictment were related to any of his official duties as Trump's chief of staff.

Instead, Jones said Meadows' actions were "taken on behalf of the Trump campaign with an ultimate goal of affecting state election activities and procedures."

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Andrew Lester pleads not guilty in shooting of teenager Ralph Yarl, trial set for late 2024

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(NEW YORK) -- Andrew Lester, the Kansas City man charged in the shooting of Ralph Yarl after the teenager mistakenly went to the wrong house, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment on Wednesday morning after a judge ruled on Aug. 31 that his case will head to trial.

Lester waived his rights to have the charges read and his trial is expected to begin on Oct. 7, 2024, with a docket call on Dec. 15, according to ABC affiliate in Kansas City, KMBC-TV, who was in the courtroom.

Lester's attorney Steven Salmon confirmed to ABC News on Tuesday that Lester would plead not guilty.

ABC News reached out to Salmon for further comment.

Lester – a homeowner in Kansas City, Missouri – shot Yarl in the head and in the right arm on the evening of April 13, according to police, after the teenager mistakenly arrived at Lester’s home to pick up his twin siblings.

Lester, 84, was charged with one count of felony assault in the first degree and one count of armed criminal action, also a felony, Clay County prosecuting attorney Zachary Thompson said during a press conference on April 17.

During a preliminary hearing on Aug. 31, Clay County Judge Louis Angles ruled that Lester will stand trial because there was enough probable cause that a felony has been committed.

The ruling came following testimony from 12 witnesses, including Ralph Yarl and his mother Cleo Nagbe.

Yarl, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after the shooting, testified that he is still dealing with the physical and mental impact of the shooting and recounted the moments before he was shot.

He said that he rang the doorbell and waited "an amount of time I considered longer than normal” and eventually the main interior door opened and as he reached for the locked glass storm door, he was shot twice -- the first time in his head and once again when he was on the ground.

He said that he never said anything to Lester, but after the shooting Lester said, "don't come here ever again."

According to a probable cause statement obtained by ABC News, Lester, who is white, told police that he "believed someone was attempting to break into the house" and grabbed a gun before going to the door because he was scared.

"Lester stated he opened the interior door, and saw a Black male approximately 6 feet tall pulling on the exterior storm door handle. He stated he believed someone was attempting to break into the house, and shot twice within a few seconds of opening the door," the statement reads.

Yarl told GMA in an interview that aired on June 27 that he was shot through a glass door.

"He points [the gun] at me … so I kinda, like, brace and I turn my head," Yarl said. "Then it happened. And then I'm on the ground ... and then I fall on the glass. The shattered glass. And then before I know it I'm running away shouting, 'Help me, help me.'"


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Ten protesters arrested for blocking bus carrying asylum-seekers in New York City

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(NEW YORK) -- Protesters flooded the street outside a former senior living facility in Staten Island, temporarily blocking a bus carrying asylum-seekers, after local leaders said they learned it was slated to house New York City’s latest migrant shelter.

Ten people were arrested, nine of whom received summonses for disorderly conduct and were released, police said.

Vadim Belyakov, 48, was charged with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest and obstructing government administration after an officer was injured trying to arrest him, according to police. He will be arraigned in criminal court Wednesday. The police officer was treated for a knee injury.

City Councilman David Carr said the city Department of Social Services told him the shelter would be opening at the former Island Shores Senior Living Facility, which brought dozens of residents to protest, and police officers quickly responded to close the street in front of the former facility.

A bus taking about 20 asylum-seekers to the new facility turned around after it was met by protesters at around 8:15 p.m. Tuesday night.

The bus encountered protesters, temporarily blocking its path. Police were arranging an alternate route when the passengers asked to return to The Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, which is being used as a migrant intake center. The bus then turned around.

Mayor Eric Adams, appearing on several morning shows, described it as "an ugly display"

"The police department handled those small number of people and we are not going to allow ourselves to be bullied carrying out our responsibilities," Adams told local outlet NY1. "But I understand the frustration New Yorkers are going through and I understand the frustration that the asylum-seekers are experiencing as well."

Adams has been appealing for help from both the state and federal government due to a surge in migrants bused to the city since last year. About 130,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in the city in the past year and a half. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul met with President Joe Bien on Tuesday, saying she had a "very productive conversation" in regard to "specific requests for help with the migrant crisis."

An NYPD drone was used during the protest to survey the crowd, which included people hurling objects at the officers. Police called a Level 3 mobilization for crowd control.

The 288-bed senior living facility was put up for sale last year, and local residents have been protesting for the last month amid rumors that migrants would soon be placed there.


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Day care operator charged in baby's fentanyl death allegedly deleted more than 20K text messages

Courtesy DEA and the US Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York

(NEW YORK) -- A New York City day care operator allegedly deleted more than 20,000 messages between her and her husband sent from March 2021 to the day a 1-year-old boy died from fentanyl exposure at her facility, according to the federal criminal complaint.

Nicholas Dominici, 1, died on Friday and three other children, ranging in age from 8 months to 2 years, were hospitalized and treated with Narcan and are now recovering, police said. An analysis of urine from one of the victims confirmed the presence of fentanyl, officials said.

Before calling 911 about the unresponsive children, Bronx day care operator Grei Mendez allegedly made three other phone calls: one to a day care employee and two to her husband, according to the federal court documents.

Mendez and tenant Carlisto Acevedo Brito are now facing federal charges of narcotics possession with intent to distribute resulting in death and conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death, according to federal prosecutors.

A kilogram of fentanyl was stored on top of children’s play mats used for napping, according to the federal court documents.

In a case that's "shocked the conscience of the city," the defendants allegedly "poisoned four babies and killed one of them because they were running a drug operation from a day care center," Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for Southern District of New York, said at a news conference Tuesday.

"Every New Yorker should be outraged," said Frank Tarentino, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York Division.

Mendez and Brito were initially arrested on state charges, including murder, manslaughter and assault.

Since July, Mendez and Brito maintained large quantities of fentanyl "despite the daily presence of children, including infants," the complaint said. They also allegedly had machinery used to press and package drugs, prosecutors said.

Tarentino said fentanyl "is now in everything and everywhere, killing victims instantly and indiscriminately," and he called it "the most urgent threat in our nation."

Mendez and Brito were arraigned on the state charges Sunday night and held without bail. Williams said they are now in federal custody and face a maximum of life in prison if convicted.

Williams said authorities are still looking for a co-conspirator who has not been charged at this time.

"We're not done," Williams said. "Look out for more on that soon."

Mendez’s attorney said she was unaware drugs were being stored in her day care by Brito, her husband's cousin, to whom she was renting a room for $200 a week.

The day care was licensed on May 16 by the state’s Office of Children and Family Services, according to public records. It's listed as having a capacity for eight children from 6 weeks old to 12 years old.

City health inspectors conducted a surprise inspection of the facility on Sept. 6 and did not find any violations, according to City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan.

"I'm very sorry, but one of the things that my child care inspectors are not trained to do is look for fentanyl. But maybe they need to," Vasan said at a news conference Monday evening.

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