Friday, January 19, 2018

Inside the killing spree that left 9 people shot dead in 3 weeks: Police

January 19, 2018 by  
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A homicide suspect in Arizona is accused of committing nine murders in just three weeks, Phoenix police said Thursday.

Cleophus Cooksey Jr., 35, has been in custody since the last of the nine alleged killings on Dec. 17 when police say he shot and killed his mother and stepfather.

But after he was arrested, police kept “digging,” Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said Thursday, and discovered seven other fatal shootings in the area they say are connected to Cooksey.

The nine homicides spanned from Nov. 27 to Dec. 17 in Phoenix and nearby Avondale and Glendale, police said.

Phoenix Police Sgt. Jon Howard said police believe there may be more victims and said they were flooded with tips called in from the public.

Here is the timeline of crimes, according to police:

Nov. 27:

Two men — Andrew Remillard and Parker Smith — were found dead in a car in a parking lot. They were each shot once in the head, according to court documents. A motive has not been determined.

Phoenix Police Department
Parker Smith is one of nine victims in a homicide in Arizona.

Phoenix Police Department
Andrew Remillard is one of nine victims in a homicide in Arizona.

Dec. 2:

A man identified as Salim Richards was in a “physical struggle with the suspect during the shooting” that left him dead, according to court documents. A gun and a necklace were taken from the victim, and on Dec. 3 Cooksey posted a Facebook video showing him wearing a similar necklace, according to court documents. Cooksey was also wearing a similar necklace when he was arrested weeks later, according to court documents.

Cooksey stole the gun from Richards, a security guard, and used it in the following six murders, according to Howard.

Phoenix Police Department
Salim Richards is one of nine victims in a homicide in Arizona.

Dec. 11:

Cooksey allegedly killed his girlfriend’s brother hours after the girlfriend apparently broke up with him, according to court documents.

On Dec. 11 between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., Cooksey went into an Avondale apartment and used a stolen gun to fatally shoot a man named Jesus Real two times in the face at close range while Real was laying on his side, apparently sleeping, according to court documents. The gun used was stolen from a previous murder victim, court documents say.

Phoenix Police Department
Jesus Real is one of nine victims in a homicide in Arizona.

Real’s sister was dating Cooksey, and Cooksey stayed over at this Avondale apartment where the family lived several nights a week, according to court documents. Real’s sister told police Cooksey was her ex and they broke up the night before, and he left the house around 7 a.m. on Dec. 11, court documents say.

Dec. 13:

On Dec. 13, a man named Latorrie Beckford was found shot dead on the ground next to an apartment complex parking lot with two gunshot wounds to his head.

Phoenix Police Department
Latorrie Beckford is one of nine victims in a homicide in Arizona.

Witnesses told police they heard two gunshots and “when they approached they observed a dark-skinned black male” walking from “close proximity to where the victim was lying,” court documents state.

“Witnesses reported the black male pulled out a black semi-auto handgun after being seen by them,” the court documents say.

Witnesses said earlier in the day, Beckford was in an altercation with two other men, court documents state. A photo of Cooksey was later shown to one of the witnesses who said the photo was very close to the man she saw in an altercation with Beckford. That assault reportedly took place about three hours before the shooting, the court documents states.

Witnesses said Cooksey was known as “Playboy” at the apartment complex, and in an interview in January, Cooksey admitted to investigators “he goes by the nickname ‘Playboy’ because of how good he is with women,” court documents say.

Dec. 15:

A man named Kristopher Cameron was shot in the neck and abdomen at an apartment complex, court documents say.

Phoenix Police Department
Kristopher Cameron is one of nine victims in a homicide in Arizona.

When officers arrived at the west entry gate, a man told police “my cousin has been shot” and he directed officers to where the shooting victim was, according to court documents.

Witnesses said “a black male was observed removing the victim’s backpack from him then leaving on foot,” court documents say.

After Cooksey was identified as the suspect, that first responding officer “was interviewed and shown a photo of the person he spoke with at the west entry gate. That confirmed Cooksey was the person he spoke with who told him ‘my cousin has been shot,’” court documents state.

Cameron was hospitalized and later died. Authorities said Cameron had met Cooksey for a drug deal.

Dec. 15:

Also on Dec. 15, Cooksey was seen on surveillance cameras going into an apartment complex, court documents say. Victim Maria Villanueva was seen parking her car that apartment complex, where she was headed to visit her boyfriend, documents state. The suspect is seen going to her car and watching her, and after several minutes, interacting with her, documents state; at one point, they drive away together. Authorities said she was sexually assaulted. She was found shot to death in an alley, naked from the waist down, documents say.

Phoenix Police Department
Maria Villanueva is one of nine victims in a homicide in Arizona.

Cooksey later told police “he did not know how she was killed which he also said about all of the other victims related to these crimes,” the documents say.

Cameron and Villanueva were killed with the same gun, according to documents.

Dec. 17:

Cooksey’s mother and stepfather, Rene Cooksey and Edward Nunn, were shot dead at a home. When police responded, Cleophus Cooksey opened the door and said nothing was going on and no one else was home, according to court documents.

Phoenix Police Department
Edward Nunn is one of nine victims in a homicide in Arizona.

Phoenix Police Department
Rene Cooksey is one of nine victims in a homicide in Arizona.

Cleophus Cooksey came outside with blood on him, and when an officer tried to detain him, “he yelled out to the officer he controlled the gun, would slit the officer’s throat, he was the strongest man alive, and he took care of the snitches for Donald Trump,” according to the court documents.

Cleophus Cooksey was arrested that night and has been jailed since.

Suspect is ‘off the streets’

Glendale Police Chief Rick St. John said the cases came together thanks to a patrol officer who answered the call and was “doing the right things: Taking a person into custody, recognizing there were abnormalities to his behavior. He was trying to conceal what was going on. The officer very appropriately took the right actions. … And that all occurred before the agencies really started to collaborate.”

He said he is “proud as heck” that the suspect is “off the streets.”

When asked if there could be more victims, police said that is a “distinct possibility” and a “concern of our investigators.”

Police said Cleophus Cooksey had been in prison for about 16 years after being involved in an armed robbery. After his release from prison, he was in and out of jail, police said.

Officials said Phoenix is one of the few cities chosen by the Department of Justice for the National Crime Gun Intelligence Center Initiative, which allowed the Phoenix police to test shell casings at their headquarters; testing that used to take weeks can now take just hours.

Authorities said they expect people in the community to have information to help piece together the relationships and possible motives. Anyone with information is asked to call authorities.

In an interview in January, Cleophus Cooksey “denied having committed any murders but did admit to being in certain places which matched with” evidence from electronic devices, according to court documents.

Why Trump is targeting health workers’ religious objections

January 19, 2018 by  
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HHS Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino speaks at a news conference announcing a new division on Conscience and Religious Freedom at the Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 18, 2018, in Washington (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

The Trump administration announced Thursday a new division responsible for handling complaints from health-care workers who do not want to perform a medical procedure like an abortion or assisted death because it violates their religious or moral beliefs, a move that seemed to renew past culture war battles over “conscience protections.”

The new office, called the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, is seen by many as a win for conservative religious groups that complained President Barack Obama’s administration did not prioritize religious freedom concerns. Critics, however, worry that the language is broad and could lead to discrimination.

Health and Human Services did not introduce any rules, but the new office will focus on reviewing complaints from medical professionals under existing laws.

The new enforcement initiative represents the administration’s latest effort to elevate religious liberty claims when such personal beliefs come into conflict with priorities like access to medical care. Conservative groups, particularly those opposed to abortion, welcomed the move, while critics warned it could lead to discrimination on the basis of sex as well as gender identity and sexual orientation.

“We are saying, with the launch of this division, you do not need to shed your religious identity, you do not need to shed your moral convictions to be a part of the public square,” Roger Severino, who directs HHS’s Office of Civil Rights, said at the announcement ceremony Thursday morning. Severino said the office has received 34 complaints since President Trump took office when there were only 10 complaints under Obama.

“Conscience protections” have become a flash point in culture war debates, especially about contraception and LGBT rights, in recent years. In a high-profile battle with the Obama administration, the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns, objected to HHS’s mandate that employers must cover employees’ contraception. In October, HHS introduced rules that would allow businesses or nonprofit organizations to object on religious or moral grounds and obtain an exemption.

Many religious liberty watchdog groups on the right see the new HHS office as a big win, according to Asma Uddin, founder of and a fellow at the Initiative on Security and Religious Freedom at UCLA.

“It’s about implementing the religious liberties that are already there,” she said. “It’s significant in contrast to the years of litigations.”

A concern among many is that religious freedom is becoming a partisan issue dependent on whoever sits in office, said Michael Wear, who did religious outreach for Obama. The Trump administration, he said, has done little on religious freedom issues that will have much lasting change.

“The next administration could scrap this office their first day in,” Wear said. “It’s not necessarily putting [religious conservatives] in a better situation when they’re not in a favorable position politically.”

Wear said he would be more excited about this office if he felt as if the Trump administration prioritized civil rights issues more broadly, such as the Voting Rights Act.

“In the end, I think this office is going to be a target and more of a political firestorm than anything,” Wear said.

Some critics have raised the question of whether a medical professional could deny sex reassignment surgery to someone who is transgender. Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at Illinois College of Law, said it’s unclear what the law would cover because agencies within the Trump administration haven’t agreed on whether gender is protected as part of sex discrimination.

If doctors saw this and brought a transgender case to HHS, she said, “creative HHS lawyers would then have the opportunity to decide, for example, whether ‘bottom surgery’ counted as sterilization and triggered the protection.’”

HHS’s Severino co-wrote a 2016 report for the conservative Heritage Foundation expressing concern over an Obama-era HHS proposal that doctors could be liable if they refuse to provide or pay for such hormones for gender-transition reasons.

Under Obama, HHS replaced a rule from President George W. Bush’s term that was interpreted as allowing medical workers to opt out of a broad range of medical services. Obama’s narrower version left in place only long-standing federal protections for workers who object to performing abortions or sterilizations. HHS also kept the Bush rule’s formal process for workers to file complaints.

Trump nodded to “conscience protections” in his executive order in May 2017 that was lauded by religious leaders in a Rose Garden ceremony, but many conservative religious freedom advocates didn’t think it went far enough in changing actual policy.

Some religious groups praised the office, which is calling explicitly for these kinds of “conscience protection” cases.

“I am thankful that HHS recognizes how imperiled conscience rights have been in recent years in this arena and is actively working and leading to turn the tide in the other direction,” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s lobbying arm, said in a statement.

Some critics also fear that the language used on the office’s website could be interpreted broadly to include services more than abortions or sterilizations. The Secular Coalition for America denounced the decision, saying in a statement that the new office threatens to undermine trust between doctors and patients.

“This move by the Trump administration does not protect conscience but instead weaponizes it, turning religious belief into yet another barrier between vulnerable patients and the health care they need,” said Larry T. Decker, executive director of the Secular Coalition. “The right to conscience does not include the right to impose your conscience on others.”

Helen Alvare, a professor at George Mason University’s law school, said the idea that health-care workers would have conscience protections is not new. It goes back, she said, to when President George Washington allowed Quakers to abstain from fighting in the Revolutionary War.

“This isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card,” Alvare said. “Their objection has to be balanced with state interests, as always.”

These kinds of protections were cited in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark case that decided women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

“Neither physician, hospital, nor hospital personnel shall be required to perform any act violative of personally-held moral principles,” the court’s decision states.

Several existing laws include protections for health-care workers, including the Church Amendment of 1973, which gave health-care providers in certain federally funded programs the right to object to abortion or sterilization, and sometimes to any procedure, on moral or religious grounds. The Coats-Snowe Amendment, which was intended to prevent governmental discrimination against medical programs that declined involvement in abortion training, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

In Thursday’s announcement, several government officials cited the Weldon Amendment, which prevents governmental discrimination against health-care providers that decline to perform, refer for or pay for abortions.

Recent cases involving “conscience” include high-profile claims from Hobby Lobby, which wanted an exception from providing certain forms of birth control, and Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who declined to provide a marriage license to a gay couple. These claims have raised the question of how accommodations can be used to harm a third party, said Ira Lupu, professor of law emeritus at George Washington University law school. He pointed to Title VII from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which says employers have to provide accommodations to employees with religious objections so long as it doesn’t cause “undue hardship to the employer.”

“These new claims of conscience are typically about complicity in somebody else’s ‘sinful behavior,’” he said. “These new conscience claims are leaping beyond earlier ones and are not mindful of the harm to third parties.”

The existing laws have been pretty specific to abortion or end-of-life care, and it’s unclear, Lupu said, how the new office would treat cases that aren’t currently listed as possible scenarios.

“There’s going to be a question of how it’s going to work and who, if anyone, is going to be harmed by it,” he said. “Until we see how it’s applied, you can’t say anything definitive.”