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Breonna Taylor: Police files raise new questions, renew outrage

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Louisville, Kentucky, the United States – Nearly seven months after police shot and killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, the city’s mayor has publicly released hundreds of pages of documents and materials from a police investigation into the case.

The trove of materials from the police department’s public integrity unit (PIU) raises new questions – and renews outrage – about the information used to obtain the “no-knock” warrant that ultimately led to Taylor’s death.

Taylor, an unarmed Black woman, was killed in the early hours of March 13, when plainclothes Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers conducting a narcotics investigation barged into her home while serving a “no-knock” warrant, which allows officers to enter a premises without first making their presence known.

Police say that despite the warrant, they knocked and announced their presence several times before entering the apartment. But Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, and several neighbours said they did not hear police announce themselves.

Walker said he fired one shot, mistaking police for intruders. Police then unleashed more than 30 rounds, hitting Taylor several times. She died in her hallway. One police officer was injured. No drugs, money or paraphernalia were found.

The PUI files

Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, was one of the main targets of the investigation that led to the raid on March 13.

Detective Joshua Jaynes, the officer who applied for the warrant, swore in an affidavit that he had “verified through a US Postal Inspector that Jamarcus Glover has been receiving packages” at Taylor’s home.

But Jaynes later admitted he did not speak directly to the postal inspector, instead relying on another officer, Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly, who had connections to the postal service, according to the PIU files.

Mattingly contacted the police department in Shively, a suburb of Louisville. The Shively Police Department was told by the postal inspector that “no boxes” were delivered to Glover at Taylor’s address. That message was then delivered to Mattingly and other officers, the PUI files show.

“I could have worded a little bit differently in there,” Jaynes told investigators, referring to the affidavit used to obtain the warrant.

Protesters march against racial injustice following the grand jury decision in Louisville’s Breonna Taylor case [Kevin Mohatt/Reuters]

“The wording on the affidavit is misleading,” Sergeant Jason Vance wrote in a summary of the investigation. Vance also said that “given Jaynes’s statement related to the information, [it] should be reviewed for criminal actions”.

Jefferson Circuit Judge Mary Shaw, who signed the search warrant, previously told The Courier-Journal that she was concerned Jaynes lied to obtain the warrant after reports surfaced raising questions about the case.

But the PIU documents released this week marked the first time the public learned the extent to which Jaynes may have misled the judge.

The PUI files also include body camera footage, transcripts and audio of interviews with officers and witnesses, additional reports written by investigators, and photos and videos that may be “disturbing and traumatic” to some individuals, the LMPD said.

“Some items have been redacted, blurred or withheld for privacy or legal reasons,” the department added.

We have so much momentum that if we stop now, we won’t get any of the change that we’re seeking.

Travis Nagdy, protester in Louisville

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement on Wednesday that “It was important to release the PIU files as quickly as possible to the public, after making necessary redactions”.

Fischer has been criticised by protesters for not sacking all the officers who fired their weapons on the night Taylor died.

He noted that much of the information found in the files was included in the records of the grand jury proceedings, which were released last week following pressure from Taylor’s family and protesters.

Attorney General criticised again

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron examined the materials gathered by the PIU, but also conducted his own investigation into the case. Additional documents that may be part of Cameron’s investigation were not included in the material released on Wednesday.

“The scope of our investigation did not include the obtainment of that warrant by LMPD’s Criminal Interdiction Division. Federal law enforcement partners are conducting that investigation,” Cameron said last month after presenting his findings to a grand jury.

The grand jury declined to indict any officers on charges related directly to Taylor’s death, but it did indict former officer Brett Hankison, who was fired from the police department in June, on three counts of wanton endangerment for “blindly” firing into neighboring apartments.

Cameron said Sergeant Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, who also fired their weapons, were “justified” in their actions because Walker fired his weapon first.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has faced a barrage of criticism for his handling of the Breonna Taylor investigation [Timothy D. Easley/AP]

Following the announcement of the grand jury indictments, an anonymous grand juror asked the court to allow him or her to speak freely about the case, accusing Cameron of using the jurors “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility”.

Cameron on Wednesday filed a motion to dismiss that case, saying he has “no concerns with a grand juror sharing their thoughts or opinions about me and my office’s involvement in the matter”.

But he does have “concerns with a grand juror seeking to make anonymous and unlimited disclosures” about the grand jury proceedings. “The grand jury process is secretive for a reason,” he added.

A man holds up a sign after a grand jury voted to indict one of three white police officers for wanton endangerment in the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was shot dead by police in her apartment, in Louisville, Kentucky, the US, on September 23, 2020 [Bryan Woolston/Reuters]

Sam Aguiar, the Taylor family’s Louisville-based lawyer, said on Facebook that Cameron “knows that grand jurors feel betrayed. He knows he lied to the public and placed it on the grand jurors”.

He noted that “Deliberations are done. The witnesses already testified and the audio was released already. Everyone already knows who was under investigation.”

Benjamin Crump, Aguiar’s co-counsel and prominent civil rights lawyer, said on Thursday that “with each day that passes and with every action of Daniel Cameron, it becomes more and more evident that the attorney general has something to hide”.

He called Cameron’s motion Wednesday a “slap in the face to Breonna’s family, and yet another attempt to conceal the corruption of his office”.

‘So much momentum’

Meanwhile, protesters who have been in Louisville’s streets for more than 130 consecutive days have vowed to continue demonstrating until justice is served.

Many say all the officers involved in Taylor’s death must be fired, some demand the case be reopened, and others hope an ongoing FBI investigation into the case will yield new charges.

Travis Nagdy, who has participated in the demonstrations since day one, said there is no reason to stop protesting yet. “We have so much momentum that if we stop now, we won’t get any of the change that we’re seeking,” Travis told Al Jazeera late last month.

“We’ve already made a lot of change,” he added, pointing to the citywide ban on no-knock warrants and other police reforms the department is required to implement.

“We’re ready to keep making change in this city because it’s not our city, it’s not the people’s city anymore,” Nagdy said. “We need it to be the people’s city.”

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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Classic toy tie-up: Etch A Sketch maker to acquire Rubik’s Cube

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Spin Master Corp., the company behind the Etch A Sketch and Paw Patrol brands, has agreed to acquire Rubik’s Brand Ltd. for about $50 million, tying together two of the world’s most iconic toy brands.

The merger comes at a boom time for classic toymakers, as parents turn to familiar products to entertain kids stuck in lockdown. Like sales of Uno, Monopoly and Barbie dolls, Rubik’s Cube purchases have spiked during the pandemic, according to the puzzle maker’s chief executive officer, Christoph Bettin. He expects sales to jump 15% to 20% in 2020, compared with a normal year, when people purchase between 5 million and 10 million cubes.

By acquiring Rubik’s, Toronto-based Spin Master can better compete with its larger rivals, Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. All three companies have pivoted to become less reliant on actual product sales, diversifying into television shows, films and broader entertainment properties based on their toys. Spin Master CEO Anton Rabie said he wouldn’t rule out films or TV shows based on Rubik’s Cubes, but he was focused for now on creating more cube-solving competitions and crossmarketing it with the company’s other products, like the Perplexus.

“Whoever you are, it really has a broad appeal from a consumer standpoint,” Rabie said in an interview. “It’s actually going to become the crown jewel; it will be the most important part of our portfolio worldwide.”

Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube in 1974, a solid block featuring squares with colored stickers that users could twist and turn without it falling apart. It gained popularity in the 1980s and has remained one of the best-selling toys of all time, spawning spinoff versions, international competitions of puzzle solvers, books and documentaries.

The toy has been particularly well-suited to pandemic conditions. During lockdowns, parents have sought to give kids puzzles that boost problem-solving skills useful in math and science careers. Normally, toys tied to major film franchises are among the most popular products headed into the holidays, but studios have delayed the release of major new movies because of coronavirus. So classic products are experiencing a mini-renaissance.

“The whole pandemic has really increased games and puzzles,” Rabie said. “But whether the pandemic existed or didn’t exist, we’d still buy Rubik’s. It’s had such steady sales for decades.”

Rubik’s CEO Bettin said it was the right time to sell the company, with the founding families behind it ready to move on. London-based Rubik’s Brand was formed out of a partnership between Erno Rubik and the late entrepreneur Tom Kremer, while private equity firm Bancroft Investment holds a minority stake in the company.

Early on, Bettin felt Spin Master was the right home for the puzzle toy, he said. Spin Master, which was started by a group of three friends in 1994, has expanded through the purchase of well-known brands, including Erector sets and Etch A Sketch. Rabie says he works to honor the “legacy” of those products, which Bettin cited as a key reason to sell the brand to Spin Master over larger companies that were interested.

“It was important for us to not be lost in the crowd, and to be sufficiently important and cared for,” Bettin said. “And there’s a balance between being with someone large enough to invest, and agile enough to ensure you are key part of their plans.”

Spin Master won’t own Rubik’s Cubes in time for the holiday season – the transaction is expected to close on Jan. 4. At that time, the company will move Rubik’s operations from a small office in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood to Spin Master’s new games operations center in Long Island.

Some of Rubik’s Brand’s 10 employees will be part of the transition, but they won’t stay permanently, Bettin said.

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