National Roundup

State’s first black U.S. judge named new senior judge

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s first African-American federal judge will step down from full-time active status next year.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer will become a senior judge on March 25, 2014.
The move from active status means the 64-year-old Spencer can take a smaller caseload.
Spencer was appointed to the federal bench in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. He previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Richmond and in Washington.

Trial beginning for teen accused of killing mother

CLARION, Iowa (AP) — Jury selection in the trial of a 14-year-old Osage boy accused of fatally shooting his mother is scheduled to begin this week.
The Mason City Globe Gazette reports jury selection is expected to begin Tuesday in Wright County District Court in Clarion.
The trial was moved to Wright County from Mitchell County. A judge granted a change of venue request late last year after the boy’s attorneys cited negative pretrial publicity.
Authorities say the boy was 13 when he shot his mother with a rifle in March 2012 at the family’s rural home. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and first-degree assault with the intent to commit sexual abuse.
The Associated Press generally doesn’t name juveniles accused of crimes or their families.

College seeks dismissal of mother’s lawsuit

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Peru State College and various officials have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the mother of a missing student.
The lawsuit by LaTanya Thomas blames the college and officials for neglecting to protect her daughter, 19-year-old Tyler “Ty” Thomas, from what the lawsuit says was a December 2010 attack that killed her. The lawsuit says she should have been protected from fellow student Joshua Keadle, who has been imprisoned since for the 2008 rape of a Fremont teenager.
The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the dismissal motion says officials couldn’t foresee that placing Keadle in the same dormitory where Thomas lived would lead to an assault by Keadle.
He has not been charged in her disappearance.

Police say gangs are increasingly violent in Toledo

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Police say gangs in a northwest Ohio city have become increasingly violent over the past couple of decades even as gang-related homicides were reported to be down last year compared with 2011, a newspaper reported Sunday.
Toledo police Chief Derrick Diggs says seven of Toledo’s 36 homicides last year were gang-related compared with 13 gang-related ones among the 37 homicides in 2011, but Diggs also says the city’s gangs are “absolutely” more violent now than in the late 1980s, The Blade newspaper of Toledo reported.
“Most of our problems are gangs, guns, and drugs,” Diggs said. “It’s all related.
Police track known gang members in an electronic database. They won’t make the exact numbers public, but the lieutenant overseeing the gang unit said there are an estimated 2,000 gang members in Toledo. The “big, major gangs” number anywhere from 25 to 40, Lt. Ed Bombrys said.
Diggs says new data-driven initiatives, including surveillance cameras and software identifying crime hot spots, are working. He cites preliminary data that suggest gang-related crimes are down.
Veteran police officers don’t disagree, but remain cautious as summer nears, according to the newspaper.
Police records show Toledo had 78 shootings from June through August, 2011 with five of them fatal. There were 55 shootings over the same period last year with seven fatal ones. Police started tracking gang-related shootings in April, 2011, and 218 of a reported 897 shootings since then are considered gang-related. Police refuse to make additional statistics on gang-related crimes available, according to the newspaper.
The Blade filed a lawsuit in July against the city for refusing to make the department’s gang-territories map public. The ongoing lawsuit in an Ohio appeals court alleges police violated the Ohio Public Records Act by not disclosing the map. The city has said the map is used in active criminal investigations and is not a public record.
The newspaper has since created its own gang-territories map with gang members’ help and says its investigation found dozens of gangs, with each claiming territory for protection from rivals and to earn money from drug sales, burglaries, and robberies.
Paul Raczkowski, a Block Watch chairman in one neighborhood, said that while a gang can claim a territory, it might not be a visible problem until a gang needs to “act or react.”

Court cuts Corps back out of 17th St Canal lawsuit

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal appeals court ruling has added a new twist to a complicated legal property rights case along a canal that was breached during Hurricane Katrina, contributing to the floods over most of New Orleans.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has knocked the Army Corps of Engineers out of the lawsuit over access and damage to back yards along one side of the 17th Street Canal, The Times-Picayune reported.
The court ruled that any federal liability depends on the Orleans Levee District’s claim that it has a legal right to the levee and a six-foot space adjacent to it.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier Jr. must now decide whether remaining claims against the levee district should be returned to state court, since the only federal defendant has been removed.
Barbier ruled in 2011 that there was too little evidence to support the corps’ and levee district’s contention that they hold a right of way along the levee’s entire footprint.
Barbier must determine whether the remaining claims of the homeowners against the levee district should remain in his court, now that the only federal party to the case has been removed, or whether it should be returned to state court.
The corps was added as a defendant in state court, after the landowners challenged the levee district’s decision to let the corps mix cement with soil to strengthen it as they rebuilt part of the canal floodwall.