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Wednesday
May172017

Fight breaks out at Tennessee high school graduation

stockce/iStock/Thinkstock(ARLINGTON, TN) -- A handful of adults in the audience of a high school graduation in Tennessee temporarily stole the spotlight from the students on Tuesday.

Graduating seniors from Arlington High School near Memphis were walking in their caps and gowns at Bellevue Baptist Church when two women appeared to start lunging and hitting each other as several others attempt to restrain them.

One of the videos, posted to Instagram, was taken by Kasidy Landry, who was there to watch her sister, Tayler Landry, graduate. It is unclear what prompted the fight.

In a statement, Arlington County Community Schools Chief of Staff Jeffery Mayo said it was "unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did" and "caused a distraction" from celebrating the departing class.

"It is our hope that the focus will shift to our students and their accomplishments instead of the poor decisions by adults in attendance."

The incident happened before the ceremony began and did not affect it, Mayo said. The 500 students who graduated earned some $30.6 million in college scholarships, he added.

According to the Shelby County Sheriff's office, the incident was handled by church security. A spokesperson for the Bellevue Baptist Church did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

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Wednesday
May172017

Philadelphia police investigate 2nd incident of vandalism of Jewish graves this year

MarcBruxelle/iStock/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) -- Five Jewish headstones were knocked over in a Philadelphia cemetery this week, the second time Jewish graves have been vandalized in the city this year, police said.

No arrests have been made in either case, the Philadelphia Police Department said, adding that they consider this week's incident to be a random act of vandalism, not anti-Semitism.

A groundskeeper at Adath Jushurun Cemetery -- a predominately Jewish cemetery -- found five tombstones knocked over on Tuesday afternoon, Philadelphia Police Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum said.

It appears all five of the headstones that were knocked over marked the graves of Jewish people, Rosenbaum said. Two additional stones were dislodged but didn't tip over, he added.

In February, another Jewish cemetery about half a mile away from the Adath Jushurun Cemetery was desecrated. Over 100 headstones were discovered toppled and cracked at Philadelphia's Mount Carmel
Cemetery.

Rabbi Yosef Goldman of Philadelphia's Temple Beth Zion–Beth Israel remembered seeing "row upon row of toppled tombstones" following the February incident.

"Many of them weighed several hundred pounds," he said. "What I saw was devastating."

Although a $74,000 reward was offered for information about the February incident, no arrests were made, police said.

Police are also investigating if the two incidents this year are connected, Rosenbaum said.

But the police department said there is currently no information that leads them to believe this week's incident was an act of anti-Semitism.

Steve Rosenberg, an official with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, told ABC News today, "We are following the lead of the police that this is a random act of vandalism."

Rosenbaum said the cemetery where this week's vandalism occurred spans two square blocks in a residential area. The police department is collecting home surveillance video from neighborhood
residents and are looking at video from a 24-hour window between Monday to Tuesday, he said.

"We're working with the neighborhood, the Jewish Federation here who raised a lot of the reward money [in the February incident]," Rosenbaum said. "We're hoping someone will come forward and give
us information."

Police said they are also hoping that any leads that emerge in this case could also help them solve the February case.

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Wednesday
May172017

Chelsea Manning released, tells ABC News the past 'is only my starting point, not my final destination'

Obtained by ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Chelsea Manning was released from military prison Wednesday after seven years of incarceration at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a free woman after President Obama commuted her sentence three days before he left office. Her imprisonment was longer than any whistleblower in U.S. history.

An Army spokesperson confirms that Chelsea Manning left Fort Leavenworth's disciplinary barracks at 2 a.m. central time Wednesday.

In an exclusive statement to ABC News, Manning said, “I appreciate the wonderful support that I have received from so many people across the world over these past years. As I rebuild my life, I remind myself not to relive the past. The past will always affect me and I will keep that in mind while remembering that how it played out is only my starting point, not my final destination.”

In the summer of 2013, Manning was convicted by a military tribunal under the Espionage and Computer Fraud and Abuse Acts and sentenced to 35 years in prison for releasing approximately 750,000 documents to WikiLeaks, of which only small amount of those documents ultimately lead to her conviction (some of them were published by The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel).

Manning at that time was a 22-year-old United States Army private named Bradley Manning. The information she disclosed included low level battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, evidence of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo prison camp detainee profiles and U.S. diplomatic correspondence.

After he commuted her sentence, President Obama said, “It has been my view that given she went to trial, that due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime, that the sentence that she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received and that she had served a significant amount of time, that it made sense to commute, and not pardon, her sentence.”

“I feel very comfortable that justice has been served,” Obama added.

Two days after her commutation, Manning tweeted: “Thank you @BarackObama for giving me a chance. =,).”

While Manning cannot physically tweet from Fort Leavenworth, she is in editorial charge of her Twitter handle as well as her website, Luminairity.com, per her legal team.

Manning began a tweet countdown to freedom starting with “105 days and a wake up =) To soft sheets, puffy blankets, and foam pillows. ^_^."

She gave a nod to Star Wars on May 4, posting: “12 more days! Celebrating a new hope, and a return of the sun. <3 #MayTheFourthBeWithYou.”

Her 35-year sentence was the heaviest handed down to a whistleblower or leaker in U.S. history. She was convicted of 17 of the 22 charges against her but acquitted of charges alleging she aided the enemy or that she intended to harm the national security interests of the country.

Lauren C. Anderson, a former FBI executive and international consultant, is a 29-year veteran of the agency who worked extensively in national security arena. She told ABC News, “I understand why Chelsea was outraged about the mistreatment of people in U.S. custody… but (leaks) put people at risk,” adding, “(Chelsea) didn’t have the authority to decide which classified information should be in the public, because she didn’t understand the bigger picture… in terms of impact, of releasing all that classified information.”

Days after Manning was sentenced, she came out as transgender on Aug. 22, 2013. The military would not provide her with any treatment for her gender dysphoria, which she claimed resulted in her escalating distress. Her ACLU lawyer, Chase Strangio, filed a lawsuit on her behalf in September 2014.

“Ultimately, we negotiated with the military and Chelsea was provided with cosmetics, grooming items available to other women in custody and hormone therapy,” Strangio told ABC News. On Feb. 11, 2017, Manning tweeted: “Wow, I can't believe today marks two years since starting hormones =o.”

“The military continued to enforce the male grooming standards against her, forcing her to cut her hair every two weeks. The part of the lawsuit challenging the restrictions on her hair is ongoing but will become moot once she is released,” Strangio added.

According to Strangio, Manning became “the first military prisoner to receive health care related to gender transition and was part of a shift in practice that lead to the elimination of the ban on open trans service in the military.” Strangio has been a part of her advocacy team for the past four years providing support on a range of issues from prison disciplinary matters to the petition for clemency to general support around her transition.

Manning was held in solitary confinement for most of the time following her arrest in May 2010 until she was sent from Quantico to Leavenworth in March 2011. She was held in solitary in Kuwait and at Quantico. She was also placed in solitary confinement several times during her incarceration at Leavenworth following her sentencing.

In her letter to Obama asking to commute her sentence, Manning wrote: “The Army kept me in solitary confinement for nearly a year before formal charges were brought against me. It was a humiliating and degrading experience - one that altered my mind, body and spirit. I have since been placed in solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for an attempted suicide despite a growing effort - led by the President of the United States - to stop the use of solitary confinement for any purpose.”

Manning attempted to end her life two times in the years since her 2013 sentence.

Strangio noted that while Manning herself has been the key force behind the campaign for her freedom, she was greatly aided by a team who have fought relentlessly, from her court martial attorney, David Coombs, to her appellate team of Nancy Hollander, Vince Ward, and Dave Hammond. Christina DiPasquale, founder of Balestra Media, has also been working for Manning pro bono for years to help elevate her story and as have friends across the country, including Evan Greer from “Fight for the Future.”

In December 2013, Manning wrote Hollander a letter asking if she would handle her appeal of her conviction and her sentence through the military courts. Hollander and her partner Ward immediately agreed. Manning later asked them to also assist her in applying for clemency, which they did.

Ward believed representing Manning was “simply the right thing to do.” Ward noted that Manning “took responsibility for disclosing classified information, a fact many people forget. What she fought was the allegation that she disclosed the materials to aid the enemy or to harm the nation’s national security interests. The evidence indisputably shows she thought she was doing the right thing.”

On Jan. 17, 2017, Hollander was in her office when she got a call from Obama’s counsel at the White House: “He asked if I was Chelsea Manning’s lawyer and I said yes. He then said ‘the President has commuted her sentence to time served plus 120 days and will announce it in two minutes.’ I think I screamed 'Oh my God!'”

Hollander expressed her gratitude to Obama saying “the military claims to always take care of its Soldiers but no one ever had taken care of Chelsea until her Commander-in-chief commuted her sentence.”

Manning is still considered to be on active duty in the Army until her criminal appeal is complete. Hammond explained that when service members are sentenced to a punitive discharge (in Manning’s case, a dishonorable discharge), that part of the sentence is not executed until the appellate process is complete. Thus, Manning’s dishonorable discharge is not effective until the Army Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a decision and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has either denied a petition or granted it and issued a decision.

According to Hammond, Manning is “in the middle of her appeal, she is still very much in the Army, on active duty, subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” When soldiers are in the middle of an appeal and not in confinement, the Army places them on “involuntary excess leave,” otherwise known as “appellate leave” i.e. unpaid leave. They are not “discharged” until the appeal is done.

Manning is now Private E-1, explained Hammond. Part of her sentence reduced her in rank from a PFC (E-3) to a PVT (E-1). According to Hammond, Manning will have all of the military benefits of an active duty soldier upon her release because she will not be dishonorably discharged until her appeal is complete (and that is assuming the appellate court affirms the punitive discharge).

Not many people can talk about Manning on a personal level. The Army prohibited visitors -- with the exception of her lawyers -- unless they knew her prior to her arrest. Nevertheless, she accrued, while behind bars, staunch supporters and friends.

DiPasquale worked pro-bono for the past year and a half with Manning. “I believe in her and I believe in everyone’s right to open and affordable communications,” she explained. “Chelsea fought to communicate and her ability to stay connected and express herself was, in many ways, key to her survival and freedom,” noted DiPasquale.

She described Manning as a person “driven by her values and her conscience. Despite everything she has been through, she starts every call by asking how I am doing. Her laugh is contagious and her spirit is unbreakable.”

Strangio is one of the few who speaks to Manning regularly and has met her in person. He sees her as a “funny, kind, and brilliant person who unusually empathetic and earnest. Despite all she has been through she retains a positive attitude and a beautiful and hopeful vision for the future.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
May172017

Officials search for driver who allegedly caused school bus crash in Pa.

WPVI-TV(LANCASTER, Pa.) — Police near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, are searching for a driver who authorities say caused a school bus to crash Wednesday morning, sending 15 students and the bus driver to the hospital.

Police said a driver in a sedan hit the back of an escort vehicle in East Lampeter Township. The escort vehicle was then pushed into another lane, side-swiping the school bus.

The collision tipped the bus on to its side and trapped one student underneath; the student was transported to the hospital via helicopter, police said.

Fifteen students and the school bus driver were hospitalized, a Lancaster General Hospital spokesperson said. Three of the students were admitted to the trauma unit. All other injuries were considered minor, a hospital spokesperson said, and five students have since been released.

Police are looking for a late model, white sedan with front-end damage in connection with the crash. The driver was last seen heading east on Route 30, police said.

The students were from the Lancaster Mennonite School, police said.

East Lampeter Township is about 65 miles west of Philadelphia.

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Wednesday
May172017

New Orleans removes third Confederate monument

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW ORLEANS) -- Masked city workers in New Orleans dismantled a massive horseback statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard early Wednesday as the city attempts to rid itself of public works that celebrate the memory of the Confederacy, officials said.

The statue -- which honors the man who led a Confederate army in the attack that launched the Civil War -- is the third of four Confederate-era monuments vowed to take down, according to the city.

"Today we take another step in defining our city not by our past but by our bright future," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement late Tuesday. "While we must honor our history, we will not allow the Confederacy to be put on a pedestal in the heart of New Orleans."

Three statues have been removed since New Orleans voted in 2015 to dismantle four Confederate monuments that it said were built to "celebrate the 'Cult of the Lost Cause.'"

"'The Lost Cause' was known for espousing a number of principles, including that the war was fought over states' rights and not slavery, that slavery was a benevolent institution that offered Christianity to African 'savages,'" the city said in Tuesday's statement.

The monuments, which were erected between 1884 and 1915, are seen by many residents as symbols of white supremacy and racism.

The statues could eventually make their way to a museum, or another site, "where they can be placed in their proper historical context from a dark period of American history," the city said.

The city started the removal process late last month, beginning with the dismantling of the monument to the Battle at Liberty Place, which Landrieu said was put up to celebrate the murder of police officers by white supremacists.

Then, last Thursday, workers took down a statue honoring Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.

Citing the threat of violence and the protection of public safety, the city has kept the timing of its removals secret, thus far working under the cover of darkness to take down monuments and protecting masked workers with a significant police presence.

The last remaining monument, a statue to Gen. Robert E. Lee, is set to be removed at an undetermined date in the near future.

Citing the same safety concerns as it did before, the city said it would "not share details on a removal timeline for the Robert E. Lee statue."

Proponents and opponents of the removal plan have butted heads as a part of sometimes heated protests at monument sites in the past.

Multiple protesters were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace earlier this month after a fight broke out at an event held to celebrate the removal of the Liberty Place monument. The demonstration attracted more than 700 people, including counter-protesters who carried Confederate flags.

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Tuesday
May162017

'Likely' expansion of 'laptop ban' not impacted by Trump's sharing of classified intel

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The United States Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that department leaders will meet in Europe this week to discuss expanding the current ban on laptops aboard international flights to the U.S. -- a move unaffected by the report President Donald Trump shared classified intelligence related to the ban with Russian officials last week.

In March, DHS issued a directive restricting electronic devices larger than a cellphone on flights to the U.S. from eight countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, among others.

On Wednesday, DHS Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke and the Transportation Security Administration's Acting Administrator Huban Gowadia will meet with European partners to discuss the "likely" expansion of the ban due to "heightened and evolving threats," according to DHS spokesperson David Lapan.

"We don't believe that threat is going away," said Lapan.

A final decision on the ban has not yet been made -- DHS Secretary John Kelly continues to consider input from partners, including airlines, the U.S. and European governments, and the "scale and scope" of what the ban might entail, said Lapan.

The spokesperson noted that any action was not affected by Trump's reported discussion about the threat with Russian officials.

"It's not changed our timeline,” said Lapan, adding that any action by the president didn't "change the nature of our discussions with our partners about the nature of the threat."

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Tuesday
May162017

At least 1 dead, dozens injured after tornado hits northwestern Wisconsin

iStock/Thinkstock(CHETEK, Wisc.) -- At least one person is dead and 25 injured after a suspected tornado caused massive damage to a mobile home park in northwestern Wisconsin on Tuesday.

Injuries ranged from minor to major and about forty mobile homes were destroyed at the Prairie Lake Estates in Barren County, Wisconsin, according to Tod Pritchard of Wisconsin Emergency Management.

"We've been very fortunate over the last couple of years to not have any kind of really devastating serious tornadoes," he said. "This looks like it's going to be the worst one we've had in several years."

Barron County Wisconsin Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said the tornado it "at a time when a lot of people were home."

“I would describe it as total destruction,” the sheriff said, adding that it was at a level he had never seen during his time in law enforcement.

Rescue crews, fire, police, and state patrol were at Barron County and neighboring Rusk County. Pritchard said six homes were either damaged or destroyed in Rusk County and officials were checking to see if there were injuries.

Rescue teams are expected to stay on site overnight, according to the sheriff.

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Tuesday
May162017

Secret Service detains bike rack jumper outside White House

Trey Yingst/OANN(WASHINGTON) -- The United States Secret Service apprehended an individual who jumped a bike rack outside the White House Tuesday afternoon, the agency tweeted.

The White House immediately went into a brief lockdown and reporters were ushered into the press briefing room.

The suspect is now in custody.

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Tuesday
May162017

A look back at Baruch College student's hazing death

Handout(NEW YORK) -- Four former fraternity members from New York City's Baruch College pleaded guilty Monday to voluntary manslaughter for their roles in the hazing death of pledge Chun "Michael" Deng.

Deng, a 19-year-old Baruch College freshman, was pledging the Pi Delta Psi fraternity in 2013 when he died after a hazing ritual at a home the fraternity rented in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains.

The Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department said Deng was injured while participating in a ritual called the "glass ceiling," in which pledges, blindfolded and wearing a 30-pound backpack, must "get through a line of brothers while fraternity members shove and take the pledges down and resist the pledge from getting through the line."

Police said "Deng was [tackled] and then was complaining about his head hurting. Deng was eventually knocked out ... Deng was then carried inside unconscious. It was reported that Deng was having trouble breathing."

Authorities said fraternity members called the national fraternity president, who allegedly told them to hide all fraternity items. Police said that during that time some members changed Deng's clothing and conducted internet searches for phrases like, "concussion can't wake up."

The students waited more than an hour before driving Deng to a hospital 45 minutes away, police said.

Deng suffered trauma to the head, torso and thighs, a forensic pathologist said, according to police. The 19-year-old died from multiple traumatic injuries and "the delay in treatment of 1-2 hours significantly contributed" to his death, the forensic pathologist said.

"He suffered a serious head injury and it was clear he needed to go to the hospital," Deng family attorney Doug Fierberg told ABC News Monday. "He needed emergency attention and they delayed for several hours... and during that time, Michael’s opportunity to survive was extinguished."

Jim Swetz, the defense attorney for one of the defendants who pleaded guilty Monday, said his client has accepted responsibility. But Swetz also said this was not an intentional act of violence.

"This was not an intentional act. This is a tragedy for all concerned," Swetz told ABC News Monday, adding, "We recognize the tragedy to the Deng family."

The four defendants who pleaded guilty to felony manslaughter and hindering apprehension charges Monday had been charged with third-degree murder.

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Tuesday
May162017

Suspect who set fire to Florida mosque seen in surveillance video, police say

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office(THONOTOSASSA, Fla.) -- Deputies in Hillsborough County, Florida, are searching for a male suspect seen in a newly released surveillance video setting fire to a local mosque.

The incident occurred on February 27, 2017 at approximately 2:00 a.m. local time at the Islamic Society of New Tampa in Thonotosassa. Hillsborough County Fire Rescue received a call just a few minutes later, around 2:09 a.m., about the fire. Firefighters put out the blaze and no one was hurt, though the building, commonly referred to as the New Tampa Mosque, suffered some property damage, officials said.

Deputies from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office released the video, she said, in hopes someone will recognize the person in the captured footage and come forward with any leads.

Officials from CAIR Florida, the state’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, held a news conference with officials outside the mosque shortly after the February fire took place. Debbie Carter, Public Information Officer with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, told ABC News that the surveillance video of the February incident was released months later because the original footage was of poor quality that required a lot of editing.

In the video, the male subject is seen entering the property of The Islamic Society of New Tampa while carrying a large container and a rope. The suspect laid the rope as a trailer to the large container and attempted to set fire to the rope with an ignitable liquid accelerant, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office explained in a statement. After the rope failed to catch fire, the suspect then poured what appeared to be ignitable liquid accelerant on the sidewalk, causing the sidewalk to catch fire. However, the sidewalk fire failed to ignite the large container.

The male subject then moved out of the camera's view and ignited the large ignitable liquid accelerant container, which led to damages to the mosque.

After igniting the fire, the subject is seen running from the property toward Morris Bridge Road, according to Hillsborough County officials. Laboratory results confirmed that gasoline was present at the scene.

Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, an attorney and the communications director for CAIR Florida, called the fire a "hate crime" and an "act of terror."

"CAIR-Florida urgently call [sic] all local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to be on top of the investigation of what appears to be a heinous act of terror against the Muslim community,” Ruiz said in a statement.

The sheriff's office is asking anyone with information in regards to the suspect to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at 813-247-8200 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477). A $3,000 cash rewards is being offered to anyone who comes forward with leading information.

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