17 Philadelphia police officers suspended over social media posts

Bastiaan Slabbers/iStock(PHILADELPHIA) -- The Philadelphia police commissioner has suspended 17 officers for 30 days and is moving to fire 14 of them over disturbing social media posts.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross made the announcement during a news conference Thursday, attended by Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney and the entire police department's command staff.

The disciplinary action stems from research uncovered by the watchdog group the Plain View Project, which examined more than 3,100 troubling Facebook posts made by 328 active Philadelphia police officers.

Ross said an investigation by an outside law firm contracted by the city found that the officers being suspended allegedly made racist and hateful posts.

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

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Texas teen arrested for spitting in Arizona tea bottle then returning it to supermarket shelf

Wolterk/iStock(ODESSA, Texas) -- A 15-year-old boy in Odessa, Texas, was arrested and charged after he was caught on supermarket surveillance footage spitting into an Arizona tea bottle then putting it back on the shelf.

Odessa police were dispatched Monday to Albertsons, a supermarket in Odessa, after a store employee witnessed the act, according to police Corporal Steve LeSueur.

An officer reviewed the store footage, where the boy was seen taking a drink of the Arizona tea bottle before putting it back.

The boy admitted to both store employees and police that he had spit in the drink and put it back.

"It was gross," the boy told police when explaining his rationale.

Gross or not, the offense is a second degree felony in the state of Texas. LeSueur said this is "something we take very seriously."

The 15-year-old was sent to be held at the Ector County Youth Center. He has been charged with tampering with a consumer product.

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Rescue of couple who slipped off Hawaiian cliff into ocean prompts new warning

artran/iStock(HONOLULU) -- After a dramatic rescue in Hawaii's high surf, ocean safety officials on the island have doubled down on the importance of adhering to posted warnings.

A married couple from Oklahoma on vacation in Oahu allegedly ignored warnings for a photo opp and got swept out to sea by one of the biggest swells of the year.

Witnesses told ABC News that the couple fell into the ocean after they went down a cliff, past warning signs to a remote area in hopes of taking photos. While witness Chevz Rafael took video, his wife, who did not want to be named, called 911.

The raucous waves separated the couple, and Rafael captured footage of the woman drifting away as waves began to crash overhead.

Lt. Kawika Eckart, who oversees the lifeguards that conducted the couple's rescue Sunday, told ABC News the team in Hanauma Bay was prepared for anything.

"We had a jet ski operator in the ocean already due to the high surf; they responded from around the coast and met up with the [other] two lifeguards," Eckart said. "We put them on our jet ski and brought them into Hanauma Bay."

Shayne Enright, the PIO officer for Honolulu Emergency Services Department, told ABC News she reached out to the couple, who has not been identified, and confirmed they are in stable condition.

Eckart, who has been a lifeguard for 30 years, said this is not the first time onlookers have risked their safety for a picture in unsafe conditions on a cliff coastline with no lifeguard on duty.

"People tend to want to take that picture and end up getting swept out into the ocean. For us to respond, it takes time. You're not at a guarded beach," he explained. "By that time there could be trouble."

The lifeguards, who arrived within nine minutes, credited the bystanders for keeping an eye on the couple and immediately calling for help.

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Massive heat wave spreads east as storms linger in Upper Midwest

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- More than 200 damaging storms were reported on Wednesday, with most of those in the Midwest or along the Interstate 95 corridor.

In Connecticut, lightning struck a tree, knocking a branch onto a car and killing a 21-year-old man inside. Six tornadoes were reported across Minnesota, Wyoming and Nebraska, while flash flooding was seen from South Dakota all the way into New York City.

The Upper Midwest could see severe storms on Thursday that include damaging winds, large hail and a few tornadoes.

More than 30 states, from New Mexico to New Hampshire, are under heat alerts Thursday morning, with the heat index in some parts of the Plains reaching 112.

The core of the hottest air is expected to spread from the Plains into Chicago and Detroit, where it should feel like more than 110 degrees.

By Saturday, the highest heat indices will hit the Northeast, where Philadelphia and New York City will feel about 110.

More heat is expected on Sunday as well.

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Connecticut man killed when tree branch struck by lightning hits car during storm

Slavica/iStock(FAIRFIELD, Conn.) -- A young man was killed in Connecticut amid stormy weather Wednesday evening when a large tree branch that was struck by lightning fell on his car, authorities said.

Jarrod Marotto, 21, was driving along a residential street in Fairfield, Connecticut, when lightning struck a nearby cottonwood tree, causing a large limb to fall and land on the driver's side of Marotto's vehicle, according to the Fairfield Police Department.

First responders found Marotto unconscious in the driver's seat. Marotto, of Southington, Connecticut, was taken to a local hospital where he died, police said.

There was no one else in the car at the time of the incident, which is still under investigation, policed said.

A severe thunderstorm watch was issued Wednesday night across the Northeast region for Wednesday night, from Philadelphia to Boston.

Forecasters warned of damaging wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour and potential flash flooding.

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Former Epstein contractor says he quit over unsupervised young women, topless photos

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A former IT contractor for Jeffrey Epstein who said that he ended their business relationship over personal concerns about gaggles of apparently unsupervised young women on the embattled financier's private island told ABC News that his reluctance to continue working there was underscored by what he said was an extensive collection of photos of topless women displayed throughout the island's compounds.

“There were photos of topless women everywhere," said contractor Steve Scully, who said he worked for Epstein for six years beginning in 1999. "On his desk, in his office, in his bedroom,” Scully, a 69-year-old father of three girls, said of the private island dubbed "Little St. James."

Scully told ABC News that he was the chief owner and operator of a telecommunications business on the island of St. Thomas when he was contracted by Epstein to set up a communications network on Little St. James. During his employment, he estimated that he visited the exclusive island more than 100 times.

He said his memories of Epstein remain vivid.

“He was the most intense person I ever met,” Scully said.

Epstein, 66 -- who at one time socialized with former President Bill Clinton, Great Britain's Prince Andrew, and President Donald Trump -- has been charged with alleged sex trafficking of minor girls in Florida and New York. Some of the charges date back to the early 2000s.

Epstein has denied the charges. An attorney for the financier did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Scully's claims.

A team of law enforcement officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the New York Police Department (NYPD) took Epstein into custody at the Teterboro Airport in Bergen County, New Jersey, after he returned to the United States by private jet from France, sources told ABC News.

Epstein wanted phone or internet access nearly everywhere on the 72-acre island, Scully said, including in a secluded cove that the financier referred to as “the grotto.” Given his work in high-volume financial trading, Scully said, Epstein “never wanted a call to drop” because of weak digital coverage on the island.

The island's primary compound was arranged in a “Danish style” layout -- with individual bedroom suites in individual buildings surrounding a courtyard, Scully recalled, including a pair of large cockatoo statues lording over the island's gardens. He said that at one point, he recalled Epstein wanting to change the name of the island from "Little St. James" to “Little Saint Jeff.”

The lush, secluded paradise off the eastern coast of the U.S. Virgin Islands remains well-maintained despite Epstein's incarceration, with imported palm trees that line the island’s sandy perimeter like toy sentries.

An ABC News producer that rode past the island on a rented boat this week witnessed employees wearing light blue polo shirts buzzing around the property on golf carts. The shoreline is dotted with little buoys marked with “LSJ” -- identifying the island “Little St. James.”

On a recent afternoon, a group of a dozen men and one woman, wearing the light blue polos, disembarked from a power boat docked at American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook. ABC News attempted to speak with them, but most declined for fear, they said, of losing their jobs. Other former or current employees who have worked on Little St. James refused to speak on the record, citing an existing NDA or fear of retribution.

A colorful building that some news reports have called the "temple" was actually a gym where Epstein worked out when he was on the island, Scully said, noting in an interview with ABC News that the gym had a memorable feature -- a massive framed photo of a topless woman.

Scully said he also recalled another notable feature of the island's residences.

“He had stacks and stacks of extreme martial arts DVDs,” Scully said.

But it’s what Scully said he saw on the island itself more than six years ago that led him to agree to an interview with ABC News: revolving groups of young girls that appeared to him to be minors who were guests on the island.

“They couldn’t have been more than 15 or 16 years old," he said.

Scully said that he would see them on the island whenever he visited for work, riding ATVs, or at times bathing topless on the island's pools and beaches.

Scully said he became increasingly alarmed by the presence of these groups of young girls that appeared to him to be without any visible parental supervision.

“The truth is, I was there for 6 years," he explained. "I really started seeing things weren’t normal in the first year. And I started ... I wear shame and guilt," he confessed. Because you know what? When you allow money to dictate your moral consciousness, you’ve lost all idea of moral consciousness. It’s not about the money. It can’t be.”

ABC News reviewed invoices provided by Scully during the time period of his employment, each billed to “Little St. James” -- one of Epstein’s corporations. Scully estimated that he did about $400,000 worth of business with Epstein -- something that he said he now regrets.

While he said that he hasn’t spoken to Epstein in more than a decade, Scully said that he still recalls some of the financier's more peculiar practices.

Scully described a storage room on the island with “stacks and stacks of brand new Lacoste white polo shirts, all size medium.”

When he inquired about the unusual supply of identical attire, he said that he was told that the shirts were for "Mr. Epstein."

He said that he was told by an employee on the island that Epstein only wears a shirt once, and then discards it, to be turned into rags for the housekeeping staff. A representative for Epstein could not immediately be reached for comment on Scully's claims.

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Police in Puerto Rico use tear gas after protesters toss fireworks

Jose Jimenez/Getty Images(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) -- Police in Puerto Rico deployed tear gas near the governor's mansion in San Juan late Wednesday after someone on the protesters' side tossed fireworks nearby.

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or deaths. Police earlier had requested protesters leave the area immediately in front of the mansion.

Residents, officials and authorities in San Juan earlier in the day were gearing up for large demonstrations in the Puerto Rican capital, as protesters went back to the streets to continue demanding the resignation of embattled Gov. Ricardo Rosello.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told ABC News in a call on Tuesday night that she expected Wednesday's planned protest to be the largest they have seen yet -- with 20,000 people marching from the Capitol building to the governor's mansion. She credited the involvement of musical artists who had called for protests.

On Saturday, the nonprofit journalism group Center of Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages of conversations from a leaked group chat between Rosello and several top aides that detail efforts to manipulate public narratives, operations to discredit negative press coverage and criticism of opposition leaders.

The conversations, made through the Telegram app, also contain sexist, homophobic and misogynistic comments from the members of the group, according to the report. These messages have not been independently authenticated by ABC News. After the revelation of the messages, Rossello announced the resignation of a number of government officials including Luis Rivera Marin, the secretary of state.

"I have not committed any illegal acts, or corrupt acts. I committed an improper act," Rossello said of the Telegram chat group messages.

But by Monday, the Old San Juan streets surrounding the governor's mansion were filled with hundreds of protesters calling for Rossello to leave. Clashes left nearly two dozen police officers injured.

On Tuesday, Rossello apologized for his involvement in the messaging but insisted that he would not resign.

"I'm not proud of what I did. Those were merely comments, but they were hurtful comments. And I apologize for what I've done. But, I need to move forward, continue on with the work I'm doing for Puerto Rico," he said.

He said he understood Monday night’s protests were a direct message against him and his administration.

"I will continue in my job," a defiant Rossello said from the governor’s mansion, adding "my commitment is to keep on working."

On Wednesday, Royal Caribbean said that a second cruise ship -- this time, the Harmony of the Seas -- would not be stopping in San Juan because of concerns about the demonstrations.

"Due to the ongoing civil unrest in San Juan, Puerto Rico, we have cancelled Harmony of the Seas’ call to San Juan. Harmony will now sail to St. Maarten, her next scheduled port of call. Concern for the safety and wellbeing of our guests and crew members is our top priority," the company said.

The previous day, Royal Caribbean said it that had canceled a planned stop to the city by its Empress of the Seas and would be rerouting to Tortola.

"Our guests will receive refunds for prepaid shore excursions. We continue to monitor the situation closely and will make adjustments as necessary," the company said in part.

In response to the news that the Empress of the Seas would not be docking in San Juan, Cruz told ABC News Tuesday night that there are times where one has to "forego a little today to ensure a lot tomorrow."

White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a written statement on Tuesday that the latest political developments on the island "prove the President’s concerns about mismanagement, politicization, and corruption have been valid."

The governor responded to the White House’s comments, saying "Corruption is a social evil. It’s a social evil in the private sector, it’s a social evil in local government, it’s a social evil in the federal government."

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Marine Corps to consider extending maternity leave to up to one full year

Nick J./iStock(NEW YORK) -- The Marine Corps will consider extending maternity leave to up to one full year, in what would amount to a significant policy change for the service.

In his planning guide to the force, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger called the service's parental/maternity leave policies "inadequate," and said they "have failed to keep pace with societal norms and modern talent management practices."

"We should never ask our Marines to choose between being the best parent possible and the best Marine possible," said Berger, who assumed the role of commandant last week.

The Defense Department provides a standard 12-week maternity policy -- the same amount of time mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which requires employers to provide "unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons." But the U.S. is one of only a handful of countries that doesn't mandate paid leave.

Even some of the most generous private sector maternity leave policies do not allow a full year of time off.

"We fully support the growth of our Marine families, and will do everything possible to provide parents with opportunities to remain with their newborns for extended periods of time," Berger said. "In the future, we will consider up to one year leaves-of-absence for mothers to remain with their children before returning to full duty to complete their service obligations."

Last year, the Marine Corps announced it would increase paternity leave, also called secondary caregiver leave, from 10 to 14 days and allow greater flexibility in how families use leave.

Compared to the Army, Navy and Air Force, the Marine Corps has the smallest force and the lowest percentage of women in the ranks.

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Minnesota truck driver was allegedly watching porn right before fatal crash

Hennepin County Sheriffs Office(MINNEAPOLIS) -- A Minnesota truck driver was allegedly watching pornographic videos on his cellphone just moments before he caused a deadly highway crash, prosecutors said.

Semi-truck driver Tate Doom, 47, was charged with criminal vehicular homicide over the 2018 crash on Interstate 94 in southeast Minnesota that left a construction worker dead and another injured, according to a criminal complaint obtained by ABC News on Wednesday.

Doom was allegedly speeding when he plowed into the back of a Ford pickup truck and an attached trailer in a construction zone.

The trailer separated from the truck during the crash and slammed into 59-year-old Vernon Hedquist, killing the construction worker on the scene. Another worker was stuck by debris and treated for injuries.

Doom allegedly deleted 14 pornographic video files from his cellphone shortly after the crash. Investigators, who recovered the deleted videos, said he opened the last video at 2:07:41 p.m., less than two minutes before the crash, according to a criminal complaint.

"A number of video files had been manually deleted from the phone prior to troopers taking possession of the phone," the complaint said. "As noted, forensic analysis of defendant's cellphone indicates the fourteenth such file was opened moments prior to impact."

Surveillance footage from the state's department of transportation shows the pickup truck merging into the center lane of the highway "well in advance of impact" at a speed of about 50 miles per hour, ABC affiliate KSTP-TV reported. Doom told police that he was traveling at 50 miles per hour when the collision happened, but investigators said he was doing about 72 miles per hour, according to the complaint. He also denied using his cellphone while driving.

Doom has not yet entered a plea. It is unclear if he has retained an attorney.

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DNA links veteran LAPD officer to cold case sexual assault: Police 

amphotora/iStock(LOS ANGELES) -- A veteran Los Angeles Police Department officer was arrested on multiple sexual assault charges after DNA from one case allegedly linked him to a different cold case from 2015, authorities said Wednesday.

Officer William Rodriguez, 33, was charged with two counts of forcible rape and relieved of duty this week after a woman claimed he sexually assaulted her last year, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors said evidence linked Rodriguez, a 10-year veteran of the police force, to a sexual assault involving an acquaintance of his who claimed she was assaulted at his home in November 2018.

The investigation led to the discovery of a second alleged sexual assault that occurred in 2015 "under similar circumstances," according to the DA's office. Both alleged offenses took place while the officer was off duty, prosecutors said.

"The investigation into the latter case uncovered a second, unsolved sexual assault from 2015 when the defendant’s DNA was entered into the state’s DNA database prompting a 'cold hit' notification," the DA's office said in a statement Wednesday. "That assault involved another female victim who allegedly was raped under similar circumstances."

Rodriguez is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday. Prosecutors have recommended that his bail be set at $1.2 million.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore said he was deeply disturbed by the allegations.

"When one of our own breaks the trust of the people we are sworn to protect and to serve, it tarnishes the badge we all wear proudly on our chests," Moore said in a statement Wednesday. "This arrest also reflects our commitment to pursue every lead no matter where the investigation takes us."

Rodriguez was most recently assigned to the Valley Traffic Division. He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years to life in prison if convicted as charged.

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