Court Digest

Special prosecutor to probe alleged beating of Black man

LYNN, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts district attorney has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the arrests of three Black men and the alleged beating of one of them while in police custody.

Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett in a statement Thursday said he had appointed Daniel Bennett, the former head of the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, to look into the case to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Victor White, 32, told The Boston Globe that Lynn Officer Matt Coppinger, who is white, beat him inside a police station holding cell on June 16 when White refused to take off his sanitary mask for fear of catching COVID-19. Coppinger has since resigned.

"I was curled into a ball on the floor, screaming for help," White said.

The Lynn Police Department's internal affairs investigation, including video of the incident, has been forwarded to the special prosecutor.

Three officers responding to a noise complaint had arrested White and two others for drinking in public, even though they say they were sitting on the front porch of White's apartment. Coppinger was not involved in the arrest, according to court records.

The district attorney's office also said it was dropping the public drinking charge as well as charges of resisting arrest, assault on a police officer and disorderly conduct.

Patrick Gioia, an attorney for White and another of the men, said his clients feel vindicated.

"The case never should have been brought to begin with," Gioia said.

White said he was relieved.

"We still want the officers involved held accountable for what they did. My civil rights were violated," he told The Daily Item of Lynn.

Coppinger declined to comment when contacted by the Globe. But he previously told the newspaper he has been made a scapegoat. He said he was wrongfully forced out and has appealed his resignation to the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission.

Coppinger in his report of the incident said White refused a request to take off his mask, which are not allowed in the cells, according to The Daily Item.

"We gave him one final chance and told him it would be removed from him by us if he did not do so," Coppinger wrote. "I then moved towards White to remove his mask from around his neck. When I reached for it, White grabbed my wrist, pushed me away and continued to hold onto my forearm with a firm grip."

Judge tapped for trial in killing of 2 police officers

BROOKHAVEN, Miss. (AP) — A retired judge will preside over the capital murder trial of a man charged in the 2018 shooting deaths of two Mississippi police officers.

Judge Richard W. McKenzie of Hattiesburg was appointed Thursday by Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph. Two circuit judges, Michael M. Taylor and David H. Strong Jr., recused themselves from the case July 24.

A spokeswoman for the state court system said Friday that a trial date has not been set for Marquis Flowers. District Attorney Dee Bates has said he will seek the death penalty.

Brookhaven Police Department Cpl. Zach Moak, 31, and patrol officer James White, 35, were shot to death Sept. 29, 2018, while responding to a call about shots being fired at a home in the city.

Flowers  has been in the Adams County jail since March 23. He was moved there from Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

Flowers was on parole for a vehicle burglary conviction when Moak and White were killed. After Flowers was arrested and charged in the killings of the officers, he was sent to the state prison system to finish serving that sentence.

On Oct. 28, more than a year after the killings, Flowers was indicted on two counts of capital murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He pleaded not guilty Nov. 12 to all three counts.

Flowers is charged in Adams County with stealing a vehicle and leading officers on a high-speed chase in 2017.

Man gets 20 years for threatening Trump, prosecutor

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — A northeastern Pennsylvania man who was convicted of threatening President Donald Trump and a district attorney has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Authorities charged 28-year-old Shawn Christy of McAdoo with threatening to "put a bullet" in Trump and then-Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli and threatening "lethal force" against police. He led police on a three-month manhunt through several states before his September 2018 capture in Ohio.

In November, a federal jury convicted Christy on a dozen counts of threatening the president, making threatening communications and taking stolen firearms and vehicles across state lines.

U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani sentenced Christy on Thursday.

Victims of fatal pipeline explosion sue line operator

DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A lawsuit filed on behalf of those who were injured or who had property damaged in a fatal Kentucky pipeline explosion alleges the operator failed to maintain and repair the line.

The lawsuit filed Thursday by Danville attorney Ephraim W. Helton listed more than 80 people affected by the blast last August near Junction City, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

Lisa Denise Derringer, 58, died and at least five others were hospitalized following the explosion, according to a federal report.

The lawsuit accused operator Texas Eastern Transmission LP, a subsidiary of Canadian energy company Enbridge, and others of "failing to properly build and maintain the line, failing to identify and correct hazardous conditions, operating the pipeline at a dangerously high pressure and not having an adequate emergency plan," among other allegations, the newspaper said, citing the lawsuit.

The 30-inch-wide (76-centimeter-wide) pipeline moved natural gas under such high pressure that the flames reached about 300 feet (91 meters) in the air and could be seen throughout the county, Kentucky State Police spokesman Robert Purdy said at the time.

The flames damaged or destroyed more than a dozen homes and scorched 30 acres (12 hectares) of land, according to authorities.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating whether corrosion could have caused the blast, and the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced in an April report that there were defects in the pipeline that the operator missed, the Herald-Leader said. The agency ordered the operator to review two decades' worth of tests to determine whether there could be additional remaining defects in the line.

An Enbridge spokeswoman said the company had no comment on the lawsuit, according to the newspaper.

The investigation by federal authorities remains ongoing.

New York
Lawsuit: Trump still blocks Twitter critics after court loss

NEW YORK (AP) — An organization that successfully proved President Donald Trump violated the law when he blocked Twitter critics sued him anew on Friday, saying he continues to reject some accounts two years after losing in court.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued Trump a second time in Manhattan federal court over use of his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, saying the president and his staff continue to block some accounts.

Some individuals identified in a lawsuit filed in 2017, along with dozens of others who were blocked on the basis of viewpoint, have been unblocked, the lawsuit said.

But lawyers say the White House has refused to unblock those who can't identify which tweet led them to be blocked and others who were blocked before Trump was sworn in more than three years ago.

"It shouldn't take another lawsuit to get the president to respect the rule of law and to stop blocking people simply because he doesn't like what they're posting," said Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute, in a release.

A message seeking comment was sent to the Justice Department.

The lawsuit identified as plaintiffs five individuals who remain blocked, including a digital specialist with the American Federation of Teachers, a freelance writer and researcher, a former teacher, an actor and Donald Moynihan, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University.

Moynihan could not point to a specific tweet that caused him to be blocked because he periodically deletes tweets, the lawsuit said. It added that when the institute pressed the White House to unblock Moynihan, the request was rejected.

The lawsuit said the Knight Institute was told: "Donald Trump does not intend to unblock persons who were blocked prior to his inauguration or who cannot identify a tweet that preceded and allegedly precipitated the blocking."

It said at least 27 other Twitter accounts remain blocked.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan last July concluded Trump violated the First Amendment whenever he blocked a critic to silence a viewpoint. The three-judge panel had concluded that the president's daily pronouncements and observations were overwhelmingly official in nature.

It rejected arguments by Justice Department lawyers that the actions of the president's @realDonaldTrump account didn't violate the Constitution because it is a personal account he created in 2009, long before he became president. The government lawyers had argued it should be treated like any personal property belonging to Trump.

Circuit Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote that Trump's tweets were overwhelmingly official in nature.

"Twitter is not just an official channel of communication for the President; it is his most important channel of communication," Parker said.

Death row inmate denied request for new hearing

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma appeals court has rejected a request for a new hearing by a death row inmate convicted in the 2012 burning death of a woman he had dated.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday turned down the request by Donnie Harris Jr. for post-conviction release because of lost evidence, including a cigarette lighter prosecutors allege was used to set 25-year-old Kristi Ferguson of Pocola on fire, causing her death.

The court said information about missing evidence would have made no difference in the outcome of the trial because of the strength of other evidence against Harris.

The court previously rejected an appeal of his conviction and sentence, noting testimony of his threats to kill Ferguson and her statements as she was being taken to an ambulance that Harris "threw kerosene on me and set me on fire."

An attorney listed for Harris did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on Friday.

Man charged with providing drug that caused date's overdose

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A man is charged in Ramsey County with murder and manslaughter after a woman he met on a dating app overdosed on a drug he gave her, according to authorities.

The Ramsey County medical examiner determined 43-year-old Thea Renae Toles died of toxicity caused by a narcotic commonly known as a "date rape" drug.

Police responded to Edward Zappa's Mounds View home on Nov. 29 after he called 911 to report that the woman wasn't breathing, according to a criminal complaint. Toles was pronounced dead at the scene.

Zappa, who said he met Toles on Tinder, told officers that the two had spent the night together and that he wasn't aware of any drugs that she may have taken, the complaint said.

But, investigators say they found texts between Zappa and others indicating that Zappa used the drug and provided it to others, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

Zappa's criminal record includes several felonies, including convictions for first and second-degree burglary, domestic assault involving strangulation and second-degree assault.

He was on probation at the time of the incident, authorities say.

Zappa's next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 25.