Court Digest

Woman charged with plotting to disable Baltimore power grid

BALTIMORE (AP) — A Maryland woman conspired with a Florida neo-Nazi leader to carry out an attack on several electrical substations in the Baltimore area, officials said Monday.

The arrest of Sarah Beth Clendaniel, of Baltimore County, was the latest in a series across the country as authorities warn electrical infrastructure could be a vulnerable target for domestic terrorists. It wasn’t immediately clear Monday whether she had a lawyer to speak on her behalf.

She conspired with Brandon Russell, recently arrested in Florida, to disable the power grid by shooting out substations via “sniper attacks,” saying she wanted to “completely destroy this whole city,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday. The complaint also included a photo of a woman authorities identified as Clendaniel wearing tactical gear that bore a swastika and holding a rifle.

U.S. Attorney Erek Barron praised investigators for disrupting hate-fueled violence.

“When we are united, hate cannot win,” he said at a news conference announcing the charges.

Authorities declined to specify how the planned attack was meant to fulfill a racist motive but suggested the defendants wanted to bring attention to their cause.

Russell has a long history of ties to racist groups and Nazi beliefs, as well as past plans to attack U.S. infrastructure systems, according to the complaint. It also wasn’t clear Monday whether he had a lawyer.

In recent months, concerns about protecting the country’s power grid have been heightened by attacks, or threatened attacks.

In Washington state, two men were arrested last month on charges that they vandalized substations weeks earlier in attacks that left thousands without power around Christmastime. One suspect told authorities they did it so they could break into a business and steal money.

A gunfire attack in December on substations in central North Carolina caused power outages affecting tens of thousands of customers. Law enforcement officials have said the shooting was targeted, though no arrests have been made. Lawmakers there have proposed legislation to toughen penalties for intentionally damaging utility equipment.

Baltimore Gas and Electric, which controls the local power grid, thanked law enforcement and said Monday that there was no damage to any substations, that service wasn’t disrupted and that there are currently no known threats to facilities.

“The substations are not believed to have been targeted out of any connection to BGE or Exelon, or because of any particular vulnerability,” BGE said in a news release. “We have a long-standing partnership with law enforcement and state and federal regulators of the grid to secure critical infrastructure; this work is even more important now as threats have increased in recent years.”


Teen pleads guilty to fatally stabbing female classmate

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida teenager pleaded guilty Monday to fatally stabbing a 13-year-old classmate 114 times in 2021.

The plea deal came as jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday morning in the first-degree murder trail of Aiden Fucci, who was 14 when Tristyn Bailey was killed, prosecutors said.

“I just want to say I plead guilty and I’m sorry for the Bailey family and my family,” Fucci, 16, told the judge in St. Augustine on Monday morning.

The judge accepted the plea deal and said Fucci’s sentencing would be scheduled at a later date. He faces up to life in prison.

The girl’s family reported her missing on Mother’s Day 2021, and her body was found in the woods following a daylong search. Evidence, including video surveillance, led investigators to Fucci. He was originally charged with second-degree murder, but the charge was upgraded because of the severity of the crime.

R.J. Larizza, the state attorney for Florida’s 7th Judicial Circuit, said during a news conference after Fucci’s arrest that Bailey was stabbed 114 times. He said at least 49 of the wounds were to the hands, arms and the head, and were defensive in nature.

In a statement sent Monday, St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick credited the work that investigators put into the case.

“This was an all out agency effort,” the sheriff said in a statement. “The trial preparation process is just as tedious as the investigation itself. The detectives have not stopped working this case since the initial call we received.”

Hardwick noted that investigators worked with the state attorney’s office in seeking a close to the case.


Inmate’s family settles wrongful death lawsuit 

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — The family of an inmate who died in a northern Virginia jail has reached a wrongful death settlement with the county sheriff and the jail’s former health care provider.

Darryl Becton died at the Arlington County jail at the age of 46 in October 2020. An autopsy determined that he died from heart disease complicated by opiate withdrawal.

The lawsuit filed by his estate alleged that the jail and Corizon Health, a contractor that provided healthcare services there, failed to treat his withdrawal symptoms and showed deliberate indifference to his medical needs.

The defendants said they placed Becton on a standard protocol to observe and treat withdrawal symptoms and that the heart arrhythmia that caused his death was unexpected.

On Jan. 31, the two sides filed a proposed settlement in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Neither the sheriff nor Corizon admit wrongdoing, but they agreed to pay $1.325 million to settle the case.

The settlement spells out that the estate’s lawyers will receive $325,000 plus expenses and that five children and beneficiaries of Becton’s estate will split the remaining $900,000.

The settlement still must be approved by a judge.

The sheriff dropped Corizon as its contractor in 2021.


Man given 16 years for shooting at kids throwing snowballs

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin man convicted of shooting at a group of children who threw snowballs at his car in 2020 received a 16-year prison sentence on Friday.

WITI-TV reports that prosecutors had asked for a 25-year prison sentence after jurors found William Carson guilty of two counts of first-degree reckless injury and five counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety in November.

According to court records, seven children were throwing snowballs at passing cars on Milwaukee’s north side in January 2020. A driver later identified as Carson turned his car around, got out and fired a gun at the group.

Prosecutors have said two of the children were hurt after being shot in the thigh and arm. A third child’s jacket was grazed by a bullet.

Judge Michael Hanrahan also included 10 years of extended supervision in Carson’s sentence.

“There is this other side of you that is impulsive, reckless, violent – I think self-centered,” Hanrahan said during a sentencing hearing on Friday in Milwaukee.


Man gets prison for fatal crash while fleeing Border Patrol

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A man who crashed a car while fleeing U.S. Border Patrol agents in Southern California, killing one of his passengers, has been sentenced to more than four years in federal prison, prosecutors said.

Two people were critically injured in the crash on Christmas Day 2021 when Kevin Antonio Quevedo-Moncada lost control during a pursuit and crashed into a tree in eastern San Diego County, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The 23-year-old from Orange County pleaded guilty last year. He was sentenced Friday.

According to prosecutors, the defendant picked up three people who entered the U.S. without authorization and were hiding in the Otay Mountain Wilderness, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

After Border Patrol agents attempted to pull his car over, Quevedo-Moncada drove off erratically through a campground, according to officials. He rammed a Border Patrol vehicle before reaching speeds of more than 90 mph (145 kph) and eventually crashing down an embankment, prosecutors said.

One of his passengers, 52-year-old Gaudencio Gerardo Luna-Vasquez, died at the scene. Two others were hospitalized.

According to court documents, he was to be paid $2,000 for the smuggling operations and had previously transported people who had entered the U.S. without permission.


Man sentenced for stealing police rifle at protests

SEATTLE (AP) — A 26-year-old Everett, Washington man was sentenced Friday to 16 months in prison for stealing a high-powered rifle from a Seattle police vehicle during protests after George Floyd was killed in 2020.

Jacob D. Little pulled the rifle out of a heavily damaged police car that was parked outside the Nordstrom store on May 30, 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a press release. He then sold the firearm to an acquaintance who suffered from mental health issues, prosecutors said.

Assistant United States Attorney Kate Crisham told the court at sentencing that Little “was one of a handful of people who hijacked the peaceful protest and made it dangerous.”

The gun buyer buried the gun on his grandparents’ property in Snohomish County and later dug it up after threatening his girlfriend, she said. Police were able to seize the weapon before it was used in a crime.

“You didn’t care (who you sold it to) as long as you got paid,” Judge Richard Jones said at the sentencing. Jones said the court needs to protect the community from similar actions.

Little has since been charged in a separate case, prosecutors said. Police say he fired a gun into a crowd of people in Renton in August 2020, killing one and injuring another.


New York
Trooper no longer faces murder charge in fatal Thruway chase

KINGSTON, N.Y. (AP) — A judge has dropped a murder charge against a state trooper in the death of an 11-year-old girl during a high-speed chase on the New York State Thruway.

Christopher Baldner still faces a second-degree manslaughter charge and other counts stemming from the Dec. 22, 2020 highway chase north of New York City that led to the death of Monica Goods.

Baldner pepper sprayed the vehicle during a stop for speeding and Monica’s father, Tristin Goods, drove off. Baldner pursued and rammed his police vehicle into the SUV twice. The SUV flipped over several times and came to rest upside down, according to prosecutors.

Monica was ejected from the vehicle and died.

Ulster County Judge Bryan Rounds ruled Thursday that evidence was unable to prove Baldner acted with “depraved indifference to human life” when he rammed the vehicle.

Evidence “supports only the conclusion that this defendant ignored agency protocols and exercised extremely poor judgment in a foolish attempt to perform his job,” Rounds wrote, according to the Times-Herald Record.

The attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the ruling.

Baldner is currently suspended without pay.