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Thursday
May252017

Reporter allegedly body-slammed by Republican candidate speaks out

William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Reporter Ben Jacobs of The Guardian said he's still in shock after Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in Montana's special House election, allegedly body-slammed him on the eve of the nationally-watched election.

"It's still been a surprising, shocking set of events," Jacobs told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America Thursday. "But I'm recovering."

Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault following the purported incident, according to the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office website.

"Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault," the sheriff's office said in a statement Wednesday night.

The statement added that the "nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault."

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Thursday
May252017

Montana GOP candidate charged with misdemeanor assault after run-in with reporter

William Campbell/Getty Images(MISSOULA, Mont.) -- The Republican candidate for the Montana at-large U.S. House of Representatives special election, Greg Gianforte, has been cited for misdemeanor assault after he allegedly assaulted a reporter Wednesday -- less than 24 hours before polls are to open in the state -- law enforcement officials said late Wednesday night.

Sheriff Brian Gootkin announced the charge on the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office website.

"Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault," he said. The statement added that the "nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault."

At a press conference earlier in the day, Gootkin said that four people were present for the alleged incident.

As a result of the citation, Gianforte is schedule to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7.

Ben Jacobs, a political reporter for The Guardian, approached former technology executive Gianforte at a meet-and-greet event at the candidate's office in Bozeman, according to Jacobs, fellow reporter Alexis Levinson of Buzzfeed News, who was nearby and heard the commotion, and journalists with Fox News who witnessed the incident.

Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna said she and two members of her production crew -- field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey -- witnessed the incident first hand.

"Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him," Acuna wrote in a Fox News report on Wednesday, summarizing the incident.

"Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter," she said, confirming Jacobs' account of the incident.

As Levinson recounted in a series of posts on Twitter and in audio of the encounter later posted by The Guardian, Jacobs approached Gianforte as he was preparing for a television interview and asked for his opinion on the Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the American Health Care Act.

"We'll talk to you about that later," said Gianforte. After Jacobs asks again, Gianforte refers him to a spokesman and then a scuffle ensues.

"I'm sick and tired of you guys," said Gianforte on the audio recording. "The last guy who came in here ... did the same thing. Get the hell out of here."

At one point Gianforte asks, "Are you with The Guardian?"

After the alleged incident Wednesday, Jacobs wrote on Twitter, "Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses."

In an interview on MSNBC Wednesday evening, Jacobs elaborated, saying that he had "been pressing the campaign for a few days to grab Gianforte one-on-one" and after being rebuked, attempted to ask about the CBO score "while he was just standing around."

After detailing the moments on the audio recording, Jacobs said, "And next thing I know, I'm being body slammed."

"He's on top of me for a second. My glasses are broken," said Jacobs. "It's the strangest... moment in my entire life reporting."

The reporter said he then left and called police before being brought to the hospital where he was to have his elbow X-rayed. He has since been released, the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office said during a press conference Wednesday night, adding it was not aware of the specifics of his injuries.

The Guardian's U.S. Editor, Lee Glendinning, issued a statement supporting Jacobs: "The Guardian is deeply appalled by how our reporter, Ben Jacobs, was treated in the course of doing his job as a journalist ... We are committed to holding power to account and we stand by Ben and our team of reporters for the questions they ask and the reporting that is produced."

Before the charges were filed, Gianforte's spokesman Shane Scanlon had issued a statement placing the blame on Jacobs and claiming the candidate's actions were a response to Jacobs pushing a phone in his face during "a separate interview in a private office" that he entered "without permission."

"Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined," read the statement, which was issued before Gianforte was cited for a misdemeanor. "Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ."

But fallout from the incident was swift. The editorial boards of three state newspapers -- the Missoulian, the Billings Gazette and the Independent Record -- announced late Wednesday night that they were rescinding their previous endorsement of Gianforte.

"Greg Gianforte should not represent Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives," wrote the Missoulian. "The Republican candidate for Congress not only lost the endorsement of this newspaper Wednesday night ... he should lose the confidence of all Montanans... Gianforte violated that pledge when he attacked a reporter for doing his job Wednesday night."

And the Billings Gazette wrote, "We're at a loss for words. And as people who wrangle words on a minute-by-minute basis, that doesn't happen often. What happens even less — hopefully never again — a Montana candidate assaulting a reporter. While there are still questions left unanswered about GOP House hopeful Greg Gianforte's altercation with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, eyewitness accounts, law enforcement investigations and records are all shocking, disturbing and without precedent."

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Thursday
May252017

An arrest warrant is issued for yoga guru Bikram Choudhury

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) — A judge in Los Angeles, California, has issued an arrest warrant for Bikram Choudhury, the founder of "hot" yoga who was ordered in 2016 to pay more than $7 million in a sexual harassment suit.

Choudhury has not paid the judgment. Authorities believe that he has hid his assets and left the country.

According to ABC station KABC-TV, the warrant allows authorities to arrest him if he returns to the U.S. or, possibly, in Mexico.

In January 2016, a jury determined that Choudhury had sexually harassed and then unfairly fired Minakshi "Miki" Jafa-Bodden, his onetime lawyer. He was ordered to pay nearly $6.5 million in punitive damages in addition to $924,000 in compensatory damages.

Jafa-Bodden was general counsel to Bikram's Yoga College of India but was fired after refusing to cover up allegations that Bikram had raped and sexually assaulted a yoga student.

"I feel vindicated," she told ABC News in 2016. "I'm elated."

She convinced the jury that the 69-year-old guru had repeatedly sexually harassed her and subjected her to obscene comments about women.

She also claimed she was fired after she tried to investigate another woman's sexual harassment and rape allegations against him. During the trial over Jafa-Bodden's allegations, Bikram strongly denied sexually assaulting any women. He also denied to ABC News ever having any sexual contact with his students or followers.

Choudhury was one of the pioneers of yoga in the United States, setting up shop in Beverly Hills in the 1970s. His client list is a who's who of the rich and famous. Now his yoga studios are franchised worldwide.

Bail was set at $8 million.

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Wednesday
May242017

Kentucky Gov. decries 'huge cultural problem' after 7-year-old killed by stray bullet

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin spoke out against gun violence in his home state in a Facebook video posted Monday that decries the recent killing of a 7-year-old boy who was struck by a stray bullet while inside his home.

Bevin said that the 7-year-old's death -- the 49th homicide in Louisville this year -- exposes a disregard for human life.

"We've got a huge cultural problem here in Kentucky, we truly do. And in America for that matter," Gov. Bevin said in his Facebook message. "The lack of appreciation for human life, the disregard for human life from beginning to end, is becoming increasingly evident as we see people who use guns as toys, guns as a way of expressing their emotion and their anger at things."

The governor, who is a supporter of gun-ownership rights, said he will announce a solution next week to combat violence in Kentucky communities.

"It has nothing to do with spending more money," he said. "It has nothing to do with more police on the streets. It has everything to do about engaging you as members of our communities."

Dequante Hobbs Jr. was killed Sunday after being shot in the head by a stray bullet fired in a nearby altercation. The boy was struck as he played on his iPad and ate cake at his kitchen table, police said.

Relatives in the home did CPR until police and EMS arrived, according to the Associated Press. No one else was injured in the shooting, but Hobbs was later pronounced dead after being taken to a local hospital.

"They call themselves men, but men don't go around shooting somebody over petty stuff," the 7-year-old's grandmother, Tonya Hobbs Gough, told the AP Monday. "You're not a man," she added. "You're a child if you've got to use a gun to do anything."

Louisville Metro Police Department tell ABC News that the case is still under investigation and no arrests have been made.

"We had a 7-year-old who fell victim to the senseless violence that's going on here in our city," Louisville Metro Police spokeswoman Lt. Emily McKinley said, according to the AP. "If this doesn't wake anybody up, then I don't know what will."

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Wednesday
May242017

Alaska man charged with murder after a bullet from a failed suicide attempt killed his girlfriend, DA says

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A 21-year-old Alaska man has been charged with murder after the bullet from his failed suicide attempt hit and killed his girlfriend.

In the early morning hours of April 19, the Anchorage Police Department responded to a 911 call from a man who reported that he had shot himself, the Anchorage District Attorney's Office said in a press release. When officers arrived on the scene, they found Victor Sibson with a gunshot wound to his head and found Sibson's 22-year-old girlfriend, Brittanymae Haag, lying on the floor with a "significant amount of blood on her chest," the Anchorage District Attorney's Office said.

Haag was breathing when officers arrived and first responders transported her to the Providence Alaska Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 2:51 a.m., less than 30 minutes after the initial 911 call was made, according to the district attorney's office.

Based on the physical evidence, it is a "fair explanation" that it was possible that Sibson attempted to commit suicide, Anchorage District Attorney Clinton Campion told ABC News. The evidence also reflects that the bullet exited Sibson's head and struck Haag, Campion said.

The couple had been dating for a number of years, Campion said.

Sibson was indicted on a second-degree murder charge in connection with Haag's death on May 16. He turned himself into police three days later, Campion said. He pleaded not guilty in his arraignment in Alaska superior court Tuesday. He has not yet retained an attorney, and his trial has been set for Aug. 21.

If convicted, Sibson faces a sentence of 15 to 99 years in prison for second-degree murder. He is currently being held at the Anchorage jail on $250,000 bond, Campion added.

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Wednesday
May242017

Long Island cesspool collapses, trapping man

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A cesspool collapsed on Long Island, New York, this afternoon, leaving a man trapped, according a spokesperson for the town of Huntington.

The cesspool was being built, and dirt collapsed on top of a man who was working inside, according to A.J. Carter, the spokesperson.

Multiple police and fire units are on the scene, fighting to save the man, Carter said.

The man's condition is not known at this time, but the situation is believed to be serious, according to Carter.

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Wednesday
May242017

Innocent Pennsylvania man freed after spending 24 years in prison

WPVI-TV(FRACKVILLE, Pa.) -- A convicted murderer was declared innocent and set free this week after spending more than two decades in a Pennsylvania prison.

Shaurn Thomas, 43, was released from the State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday afternoon after being jailed for 24 years for a murder he did not commit, his attorneys said.

Thomas was sentenced to life in prison for the slaying of Domingo Martinez, a Philadelphia businessman who was shot in 1990 while trying to cash a $25,000 check, according to news reports covering the killing. Thomas had maintained that he was at a correctional center for youth offenders in connection with an unrelated case on the day of the murder, but that did not sway the jury.

The law firm Dechert LLP, which represented Thomas on a pro bono basis, said in a statement that sign-in logs at the center had "vanished by the time of the trial."

In an interview after his release, Thomas told ABC's Philadelphia affiliate WPVI-TV that his imprisonment taught him how to keep fighting.

"I feel wonderful, a free man. I can't feel no better," Thomas said. "Hey man, just got to believe in God, and had the right legal team, and keep fighting."

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said it agreed to vacate the conviction.

"We will continue to review this case and make a decision regarding retrial in the very near future," the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office said in a statement Tuesday.

Dechert attorney James Figorski, a former police officer with the Philadelphia Police Department, said he decided to take on Thomas' case in 2011 after reviewing several cases as a volunteer with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization.

The organization has helped to free or win new trials for nine people since its founding in 2009, according to Dechert.

"Shaurn engaged in a decades’ long struggle to prove his innocence," Figorski said in a statement. "I joined him in that struggle, and many times it seemed that we would never succeed and he would remain in prison for the rest of his life."

Figorski said it was "gratifying" to know that he was able to help Thomas obtain freedom.

As for Thomas, he said he is simply trying to remain positive and move on with his life.

"I don't got no animosity towards nobody. What for? Life's too short for that," Thomas told WPVI. "I just move on forward. It's a tragedy that happened to me, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one."

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Tuesday
May232017

DHS official: No plans to change security measures following Manchester attack

moodboard/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Following Monday's bombing that killed 22 and injured 59 at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, there are currently no plans to make significant security changes in the United States, according to a Department of Homeland Security official.

The DHS official said that the federal security posture in the U.S. is already at high levels and that there is not much more to be done in the aftermath of the attack, allegedly carried out by 22-year-old Salman Abedi with an improvised explosive device outside the concert at the Manchester Arena.

The official did insist that federal authorities will continually assess whether any new measures are warranted.

ABC News has additionally learned that state and local fusion centers across the country -- which include representatives from local, state and federal agencies -- are working to identify potentially vulnerable "open venues" and upcoming events in their regions, so that they can help local police put together their latest security plans for those events and venues.

The FBI is also holding a call later this afternoon with law enforcement across the country to lay out what they know so far about the Manchester attack and urge vigilance. The call will be hosted by FBI headquarters, and it will include the heads of FBI field offices across the country, as well as leaders from state and local law enforcement agencies across the country.

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Tuesday
May232017

Newark Airport temporarily closes after plane engine fire

WABC-TV(NEWARK, N.J.) -- Newark Liberty International Airport was temporarily closed on Tuesday night after a plane engine caught fire.

Emergency chutes were deployed from United 1579 and passengers evacuated after "flames were reported coming from the right side of the engine," according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Boeing 757 was headed to San Francisco from Newark, New Jersey, when the control tower notified the United Airlines crew of the apparent flames while the plane was taxiing, United spokesman Jonathan Guerin said in a statement.

"Customers are being transported back to the terminal," the statement said. "We are working to get our customers to San Francisco as soon as possible.”

There were five minor injuries, according to Newark Airport.

The airport said it was closed for the safety of passengers and to expect delays. It was reopened a few hours later.

 

 

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Tuesday
May232017

Food stamps a casualty of President Trump's proposed budget

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The budget released by the White House Tuesday contains proposed changes for the program that provides access to food for Americans who otherwise might not be able to afford it.

And anti-hunger advocates aren't pleased. Lucy Melcher, associate director for advocacy with the anti-hunger group No Kid Hungry, argues that the proposed cuts are “devastating” to a program that research shows lifts people out of poverty.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps or SNAP, is the “hunger safety net” for Americans in poverty or out of work. Americans who make up to 130 percent of the poverty level, which is a monthly income of $2,600 for a family of four, are eligible for food stamps.

More than 44 million Americans participated in the food stamp program in 2016, according to the USDA. The number of people using the program increased during the economic recession and have fluctuated since 2010.

The decreased proposal in Trump’s budget is based on their estimate that fewer people will be on food stamps next year, but it also includes reforms that estimate it would reduce funding for SNAP by $190 million over the next ten years.

That much bigger cut is proposed under legislation that the administration plans to bring to Congress. The changes would tighten requirements for waivers that allow people who are considered capable of working but can’t find a job to stay on the program.

More than 75 percent of households who participate in SNAP have worked a job in the year before or after the receive benefits, according to the USDA. They are limited to three months of benefits unless they get a waiver from the state, such as if they live in an area where there are not enough jobs available. The administration was not clear on how it's proposal would restrict these waivers but it could mean that people who are capable of working but can't find a job have a harder time qualifying for benefits.

Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney said the cuts were an effort to get more people back to work, saying that people that needed food stamps during the recession are still on the program.

“If you’re paying for it isn’t it reasonable for you to at least ask that question aren’t there people on that program who shouldn’t be on there?” Mulvaney asked during a briefing with reporters on Tuesday.

But No Kid Hungry's Melcher said the budget doesn’t invest in programs to help people find work or help people

“You are instead pulling the rug out from people and leaving them with no safety net to provide for their most basic needs,” Melcher said.

The White House also proposed cuts to the Meals on Wheels program operated through the Department of Health and Human Services in its earlier budget proposal, which led to backlash and a surge in donations to the program.

That legislative proposal also proposes that states cover up to 25 percent of the cost of SNAP programs over the next 10 years, which would ultimately cut about $190 million from the program.

Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Young said he did not know if USDA had reached out to states for input on whether they could take on more of the cost of providing food stamps.

Some states that supported Trump in the election had the highest percentages of their populations receiving SNAP benefits in the 2016 fiscal year, according to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, including Louisiana, West Virginia and Mississippi.

Of the 26 states, plus Washington, D.C., whose populations receive SNAP benefits at a rate higher than the national average, 18 chose Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue said just last week that he did not think the administration planned any changes to the SNAP program.

“As far as I’m concerned we have no proposed changes, you don’t try to fix things that aren’t broken and when the motto is 'do right and feed everyone,' I view that as very, very inclusive,” Perdue said in a hearing with the House Agriculture Committee last week.

Michael Young said much of the budget was put together before Perdue was confirmed on on April 24.

Members of Congress have emphasized that the president’s budget is just a starting off point and rarely passes as is. Melcher said No Kid hungry will be working with members of Congress to restore funding for food stamps.

“We plan to work closely with congress to make sure cuts of this level never see the light of day,” she said.

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