FBI arrests 5 from New Mexico compound on firearms charges
By MORGAN LEE
Sunday, September 2
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The FBI on Friday arrested five former residents of a ramshackle compound in New Mexico on firearms and conspiracy charges as local prosecutors dropped charges in the death of a 3-year-old boy at the property.
Taos County District Attorney Donald Gallegos said his office will now seek grand jury indictments involving the death.
He said seeking indictments will allow more time to gather and analyze evidence, and enable his office to avoid calling juveniles from the compound as witnesses in court.
Three of the adults from the compound had been released Wednesday after state judges dismissed child neglect charges, noting that prosecutors missed deadlines to present evidence and that charges may have been improperly filed by the sheriff and prosecutors.
Deadlines loomed in state court next week to show evidence backing up charges of child abuse resulting in death against Jany Leveille and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, the father of the boy whose body was found in an underground tunnel at the compound near the Colorado border.
Those charges were subsequently dropped Friday in lieu of taking the case to a grand jury set to convene in late September.
“Going to a grand jury allows us to get that information and vet it and not be under the 10-day window, which is quite burdensome,” Gallegos said, describing state rules on due process for jailed defendants that require a quick showing of probable cause that a crime was committed.
All five people arrested by the FBI will remain in custody pending a Tuesday hearing in federal court.
Joe Shattuck, an Arizona-based criminal defense attorney who has practices in New Mexico, described the firearms possession and conspiracy as “low hanging fruit” that keeps all five defendants behind bars.
“The feds are looking to get their thumbs into the pie — they may want to get deeper into the case later,” said Shattuck, who is not involved in the case.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque said Leveille has been charged with being an alien unlawfully in possession of firearms and ammunition.
The other four people are charged with conspiring with Leveille. They include Lucas Morton; his wife, Subhannah Wahhaj; and her sister Hujrah Wahhaj
Federal immigration authorities have accused Leveille, a native of Haiti, of residing illegally in the U.S. for 20 years after overstaying a visitor’s visa, though she was authorized to work in the U.S. from April 2017 through April 2018.
In federal court filings on Friday, the FBI said handguns, rifles and a shotgun found at the compound were purchased by Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj, while one rifle had no purchaser information.
Some firearms were transported in a vehicle registered to Leveille during a portion of the family’s journey from Georgia to New Mexico in late 2017, and guns were later stored under Leveille’s bed. An unnamed child at the compound saw Leveille train with a gun once and fire it, the FBI said.
Kelly Golightley, a defense attorney for Leveille, said she was unfamiliar with the new charges and could not immediately comment.
“I need to investigate my cases more thoroughly to determine if charges were properly filed,” she said.
Eleven children were taken into state custody in an Aug. 3 raid on the squalid compound, where a half-submerged camper was surrounded by walls of used tires and adobe walls topped with broken glass.
Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said the property was under surveillance since May, and that he launched the raid based on an intercepted message that children were starving. A district court judge says authorities have failed to provide evidence that the children were physically neglected.
Authorities say that Abdul-ghani, the deceased boy found at the property, initially was reported missing by his mother last year from Jonesboro, Georgia, after Siraj Ibn Wahhaj said he was taking the child to a park and didn’t return.
Forensic medical investigators have not yet identified the cause and manner of the boy’s death.
Law enforcement officials previously accused Wahhaj and Leveille of denying the boy proper medicine and health care before he died in December 2017 during a religious ritual aimed at casting out demonic spirits.
In filings in federal court on Friday, an FBI agent reiterated accusations drawn from accounts by children at the compound that Leveille expected Abdul-ghani to be resurrected as Jesus and provide instruction to “get rid of” corrupt institutions that involve teachers, law enforcement and banks.
Medical marijuana considered for treating opioid addiction
By ANNE SAKER and SHELLY SCHULTZ
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Saturday, September 1
CINCINNATI (AP) — Leanne Barbee says she spent much of her adulthood treating her chronic illnesses with opioids. Desperate to kick those drugs, the Newark, Ohio woman turned to marijuana five years ago, and today, “I am a whole different person.”
“My entire family was completely opposed to marijuana before they found out what a difference it made in my life,” said Barbee, 37. “I’m not this long-haired hippie person. I’m a mom of a college student. I have a house and two dogs. I’m your average, typical cannabis consumer.”
Barbee and other advocates of Ohio’s coming medical-marijuana program say they hope to enlist the drug not just to help individuals avoid opioids for pain treatment but to break the addiction epidemic’s hold on the Buckeye State.
“It’s a great idea,” said Dr. Will Sawyer of Sharonville, who is certified to recommend medical marijuana. “The trick here is not to be afraid. It’s just another tool in the toolkit.”
Ohio’s medical-marijuana program is scheduled to begin Sept. 8, but growing and processing are behind schedule, so the product will not be available until later this year. Ohioans with at least one of 21 qualifying conditions can obtain a doctor’s recommendation to purchase marijuana at state-licensed dispensaries.
Opioid addiction is not one of Ohio’s qualifying conditions. But it could become one, perhaps as soon as later this year.
This summer, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania became the first of the 31 states with medical marijuana programs to allow doctors to treat opioid use with medical marijuana. The Ohio Patient Network, an advocacy organization, intends to ask the state to add it when the list is reviewed in November.
“It’s absolutely a lifesaver,” said Rob Ryan, the group’s executive director. “It’s a safer alternative to opioids. . I’m not going to say all patients, because all is a very powerful word. But a lot of patients can find they can use a whole lot less opiates if they’re using medical marijuana.”
Northside resident Chris Berger, a Cincinnati accountant, said he used opioids and alcohol to treat pain for years. After years of addiction, he got some marijuana from a friend two years ago, and, “It completely changed my life.”
“I take care of myself, as far as health goes, in ways I didn’t before,” he said. “I eat healthfully. I’ve lost weight. I exercise. I have really good relationships with my family, with my extended family, and I’d had almost no relationships with them.”
“This has to be a better alternative than when I was addicted to narcotics and drinking,” Berger said. “There is a real social cost to opiates.”
But people who are not crazy about the idea point out there is little clinical research directly measuring medical marijuana’s impact on opioid use. “I haven’t really seen anything that this would be somehow the savior of addiction,” said Mary Haag, president and chief executive officer of PreventionFirst!, the Cincinnati nonprofit that combats substance abuse among children and teenagers.
Haag said marijuana’s own addictive power complicates its usefulness as a weapon against opioid addiction. “People seem not to be paying attention to that or are discounting that,” she said. “That is part of the concern that we have, in Ohio anyway, in unleashing marijuana this way.”
Echoing those concerns was Dr. Mark Hurst, who last month was named the new director for the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. While calling medical marijuana “interesting,” Hurst said, “There is no scientific evidence that marijuana is an effective treatment of opioid addiction.”
Yet the body of research on medical marijuana and opioid addiction is growing, with promising trends:
— A 2014 study from the University of Pennsylvania found a 25 percent lower rate of opioid overdoses in states with medical marijuana than in those that didn’t. The drop in overdoses “generally strengthened over time,” the study said.
— A 2016 University of Michigan study of 185 medical-marijuana patients found a 64 percent reduction in their opioid use. The patients also reported fewer opioid side effects and a major improvement in quality of life.
— A RAND Corp. study in March said the benefit depends on accessibility of medical marijuana. The tighter the state regulation of the drug and of dispensaries, the less benefit that medical cannabis has on opioid addiction in a population.
Sawyer, Barbee and Berger said medical marijuana can fight the opioid epidemic by being the first choice for pain treatment, before opioids. Medical marijuana could also complement opioids, making both drugs more effective on pain. Patients also could use marijuana like methadone, as a way to wean away from opioids.
Barbee said she is on Social Security disability for Crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia. Marijuana treats her pain well enough that she can function every day. She has even become an activist and is eager for the Ohio program to begin.
“Every day that it’s not ready for patients to have, somebody’s dying,” she said. “I know from experience that marijuana will help people.”
Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com
City councilor pushes for more electric scooter oversight
CINCINNATI (AP) — A few days after an electric scooter rider injured a pedestrian and fled the scene, a Cincinnati city councilor is pushing to make the scooter company responsible for such crashes.
California-based Bird Rides Inc. launched their scooter program in Cincinnati in July. Councilman David Mann said he has filed a motion requiring Bird to cover damages resulting from misuse of the scooters, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
That would include riding on sidewalks, running red lights or leaving scooters on their sides, a tripping hazard for pedestrians. Bird has already agreed to protect the city from lawsuits pertaining to such misuse.
“Because otherwise, they don’t have any real incentive to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen,” Mann said, citing the hit-and-run a few days prior.
The company said in a Wednesday statement that “we are constantly evolving our service, and want to work with the City to provide comprehensive rider education and technology tools that encourage the responsible and safe use of our sustainable transportation option.”
Nationwide, Bird’s ride-share model and lack of advance warning before launching have given city leaders headaches. Recently in Milwaukee, the company was required to remove its scooters until a regulatory framework was put in place.
Cincinnati set up a pilot program for Bird, but officials were blindsided by the company initially. Emails among city officials showed they were not aware ahead of time that Bird was coming and were unsure how to respond.
Mann said he is approaching the situation as a lawyer. “How can Bird be required to assume serious responsibility that will cause them to take serious steps? I’m all for having fun, but let’s understand that the sidewalks are a shared space,” he said.
The motion will be circulated among other city council members this week for discussion, Mann said.
Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com
Ohio prison still grips fans 25 years after movie’s release
By CLINT O’CONNOR
Akron Beacon Journal
MANSFIELD, Ohio (AP) — A prison movie shot in Ohio continues to grip fans nearly 25 years after its release.
The Shawshank Redemption, with wily inmates Andy (Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman) surviving long sentences and ultimately thriving, first hit theaters in September of 1994. It’s one of the most enduring films of the late 20th century. So much so that it’s hard to flip TV channels many nights without hearing Freeman’s honey-toned voice chattering on about “my friend, Andy Dufresne.”
In 2019, for three days starting on Aug. 16, the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, where director Frank Darabont and crew shot the drama, will celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary. There will be events at the former prison, now a museum, and in and around the Mansfield area.
“I can’t say yet which actors are coming back, but the 25th is a big deal and we want to make it as fun-packed and interactive for people as we can,” said Dan Smith, the reformatory’s creative marketing director.
The film, based on Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, took over the reformatory in the summer of 1993. It was nominated for seven Oscars including best picture, but lost to Forrest Gump.
The reformatory opened in 1896 and housed prisoners until 1990. It draws thousands of tourists annually from Ohio and around the world. In addition to Shawshank tours, it hosts paranormal ghost walks and Halloween haunts, and in July held a music and tattoo festival, Inkcarceration.
Last fall, Sylvester Stallone was at the reformatory filming action movie Escape Plan 3: Devil’s Station.
“It was a very big deal when Stallone entered the set,” Smith said. “We got to talk with him a little bit about the history of the building. He was great. He had been here before, shooting Tango & Cash with Kurt Russell (in 1989).”
The film, directed by John Herzfeld and co-starring Dave Bautista, 50 Cent and Jaime King, is slated to hit theaters next year.
“Escape Plan utilized as much of the prison as possible,” Smith said. “Everything is 4K and high-def now so I think it’s going to look really cool.”
A host of music videos and feature films have used the haunting surroundings. Harrison Ford thriller Air Force One dressed up the reformatory as a Russian prison (the oversized Stalin and Lenin posters are still hanging there). Last year, American Idol Season 9 winner Lee DeWyze performed Paranoia for a Facebook Live session in April, then came back in August for an acoustic concert in the prison’s chapel, amid peeling plaster and cracked walls.
Though the prison has a lot to offer in its 250,000 square feet, Shawshank is still the main draw. It has intrigued authors and researchers alike.
The Shawshank Experience: Tracking the History of the World’s Favorite Movie is now out in paperback from Palgrave Macmillan. The book, by Maura Grady, an assistant professor at Ashland University, and Tony Magistrale, a professor at the University of Vermont, was first published in 2016 and grew out of an Ashland University study of fans flocking each year to Greater Mansfield.
Next year, closer to the 25th anniversary, Rowman & Littlefield will publish Mark Dawidziak’s book Our Shawshank Redemption. Dawidziak, the Cuyahoga Falls author and former Beacon Journal critic, has interviewed King and Robbins along with extras who worked on the film.
“It’s going to be a celebration of all things Shawshank, spotlighting Stephen King’s original novella, the making of the film, the importance of Mansfield and Ohio to the story, the movie’s amazing afterlife and the reasons for its enduring popularity,” said Dawidziak in an email.
Why Shawshank has stood out from the thousands of films released before and since, is an interesting question for fans, writers and academics. Dawidziak points to its major theme of hope. Andy Dufresne believed deeply in hope, and never let go of it in his nearly 20 years of incarceration.
“When The Shawshank Redemption was released in 1994, we were in a very different place as a nation and a world. The economy still was pretty good. It was a pre-9/11 world. We weren’t as divided as a country as we are now,” Dawidziak said.
“With each passing year, that message of hope has taken on increased resonance with people of all ages. At a time of runaway uncertainty, the film says hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.”
Why it’s hard for blacks to pull themselves up by bootstraps when it comes to health
September 4, 2018
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health, University of Michigan
Shervin Assari does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Michigan provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Many Americans deeply believe that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. After all, individual responsibility is a core American value. Too much emphasis on an individual’s responsibility, however, may result in overlooking the societal and historically causes that keep racial minorities such as blacks at an economic and health disadvantage.
As a member of University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, Poverty Solutions and Department of Psychiatry, I study racial inequalities in health. My research has shown that it is not lack of personal responsibility, low motivation or culture of poverty but deeply entrenched societal factors such as racism and discrimination that cause such disparities.
In fact, my research indicates that society differently rewards blacks and whites with the very same level of self-reliance and education attainment. As long as such society treats social groups differently, any policy that over emphasizes individual responsibility has the potential to unintentionally widen the racial health inequalities.
Bootstraps better serve whites than blacks
In my research, I have compared the effects of three indicators of individualism and self-reliance on blacks and whites. Specifically, I looked at: the sense of control over one’s life; self-efficacy, or a person’s belief in his or her ability to produce certain performance standards; and mastery, or a sense of feeling competent at life’s tasks. Together, these indicators reflect one’s ability to constructively control life and the environment, which has a direct effect on the quality of their health.
What I have found suggests that the idea of using bootstraps to pull oneself from poverty which is useful for whites is not similarly applicable to blacks in United States.
In a national sample of older Americans, having a high sense of control was associated with living longer, but this was the case for whites only and not blacks. That is, while a high sense of control was giving whites extra years to live, blacks were dying regardless of their sense of control over their lives.
In a 25-year longitudinal study of adults from 1986 to 2011, I found similar results for the effects of self-efficacy on mortality. Again, only whites, but not blacks, lived longer if they had high self-efficacy.
I found similar results for the link between depression and sense of mastery, or a feeling of having command of one’s life. While whites with a high sense of mastery experienced less depression, blacks with a high sense of mastery still showed symptoms of depression.
Although indicators of individualism are beneficial to the health and well-being of whites, according to several studies by my team, these indicators fail to protect blacks. Ironically, a high sense of desire to take control over their lives puts blacks at an increased risk for mortality.
So, it appears that, due to systemic, persistent injustice and pervasive inequalities, the health gain from being able to pull oneself up by the bootstraps is considerably smaller for blacks compared to whites.
Whites gain more from better jobs, income and education
My results also show that health gains do not accrue to all races equally. For example, health gains due to education, employment, and income are systemically smaller for blacks than whites. For example, the effects of education on smoking, drinking and diet are smaller for blacks than whites.
Black men gain very little life expectancy from being employed. The largest gain from employment goes to white men.
In the same manner, blacks’ physical and mental health benefit from marriage is smaller compared to whites.
Also, there is a smaller gain with increased income for blacks when it comes to health. Typically, as income increases, the number of chronic diseases and risk of depression decreases. The protective effect of income on depression and chronic disease, however, are smaller for blacks than whites. In other words, the same dollar buys less physical and mental health for blacks than whites. While white children from wealthy families are protected against obesity and asthma, family wealth fails to protect black children against same conditions.
Thus, highly educated racial minorities are not enjoying the fruits of their labor, with the returns of their investment being minimum for them. My studies suggest that when a minority family climbs the social ladder, the system holds them back by giving them smaller economic and health returns for their investment.
Studies have shown these patterns also hold across generations; parents’ socioeconomic status does not beget tangible health outcomes for their children.
Wealthy and highly educated black men are more depressed
And, blacks sometimes face further hurdles when they succeed. For example, black youth and adults, high socioeconomic status sometimes means more discrimination. This explains why securing more education and wealth means a higher, not a lower, risk of depression for black families who do achieve higher education and wealth.
For example, in a nationally representative study of black boys, high income was a risk factor for depression. In a 25-year follow-up study, most educated black men showed an increase in their depression. In the same study, education was protective for other race by gender groups.
These findings are also replicated in other studies I have conducted and those done by others.
It could be the case that LeBron James was onto something when he said, “No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough.” Just because the U.S. had a black president does not mean racism is dead.
There is little doubt that blacks have to fight existing racism and discrimination at many levels. Police shootings, mass incarceration, residential and job segregation, and concentration of poverty and crime in urban areas are some examples of the barriers that many blacks, particularly black men deal with on a daily basis. My research indicates that these structural barriers to social advancement manifest themselves in health, notably how long people live and the health they enjoy during their lifetimes.
I believe that good policies are those that are designed based on evidence, not political ideologies and values. The idea of pulling oneself up by own bootstraps does not equally apply to all race and ethnic groups, given the history of slavery and Jim Crow as well as the existing racism and segregation.