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One of the most gut-wrenching stories of 2014 is arguably that of Bounkham "Baby Bou Bou" Phonesavanh.  He and his family were staying in Cornelia, Georgia--an hour north of Atlanta-- after their house in Wisconsin burned down.  Just days before they were due to go back to Wisconsin, Bou Bou was nearly killed when a stun grenade thrown by a Georgia SWAT team landed in his playpen and exploded in his face.  The SWAT team was there on a no-knock warrant for his meth-dealer cousin--who, as it turned out, didn't even live there.  Despite overwhelming evidence that the SWAT team ignored what amounted to announcements in capital letters that there were kids at that house, no indictments were issued at the state level (though a federal investigation is underway) and Habersham County refuses to pay medical bills that now stand at over a million dollars.  When ABC's 20/20 profiled Bou Bou on Friday night, it briefly touched on an equally ghastly story of a drug raid gone horribly wrong.  

Back in 2009, Jonathan Ayers, a young pastor in Toccoa, was counseling Kayla Barrett, a young woman trying to kick a cocaine habit.  That September, the woman was on the verge of being thrown out of the hotel where she was living.  While Ayers was going to an ATM to get some money for her hotel rent, several members of a multi-county drug task force rolled in behind him on in an unmarked SUV.  They had put the woman under a microscope after she sold cocaine from an undercover officer, Habersham County Deputy Chance Oxner, and had turned their attention to Ayers after they saw him alone in the car with her.  Apparently thinking they were robbers, Ayers threw his car into reverse, nicking Oxner.  Another member, Stephens County Deputy Billy Shane Harrison, shot Ayers in the abdomen.  Although Ayers was mortally wounded, he was somehow able to drive several yards before the pain became unbearable, causing him to wreck his car.  He died at the hospital hours later.

Although Ayers had no drugs in his system and there was no evidence he was even remotely involved in drug activity, law enforcement basically blamed him for his own death, saying he should have known that he was dealing with cops.  However, while they were wearing badges around their necks, a picture of what Harrison was wearing that day shows the badge could have easily been mistaken for a necklace when put against the background of his shirt.  They also claimed that he was paying the woman for sex.  Later that year, the Georgia Board of Investigation cleared the officers of wrongdoing, and a grand jury agreed.

That wasn't enough for Ayers' widow, Abigail.  In 2010, she sued Harrison, Oxner, the sheriffs of Habersham and Stephens Counties, and the drug task force for wrongful death and civil rights violations.  She made this move after a private investigator made several alarming discoveries.  Most notably, Harrison had lost his legal authority to serve as a law enforcement officer in Georgia as early as 2008, when he failed to complete the basic firearms training required to keep his certification.  He also had no training on the use of lethal force.  It also emerged that Harrison was known to be a frequent marijuana user and had been suspected of stealing from a previous employer.  Oxner had a checkered history as well.  Abigail's private investigator discovered that he had a history of alcohol abuse and was suspected of illegal drug activities, and had been convicted of theft.  It simply defies belief that none of these details were found by the GBI during its investigation.  

There are a couple of grisly twists in this. The sheriff of Habersham County at the time was Joey Terrell--who is still the sheriff today.  It was Terrell who gave the green light for the raid in which Bou Bou was injured.  The district attorney for the three counties that formed the task force is Brian Rickman--who still holds his post today.  

Soon after Bou Bou's injuries, the task force was disbanded.  But from the looks of it, this task force should have been shut down as early as 2010.  Had that happened, it's a pretty safe bet Bou Bou would not have been hurt that night.  Now, because of the failure to realize the task force was a serious liability, as well as Habersham County's bullheadedness, taxpayers could potentially be on the hook for another million-plus in damages.  

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As many of you know, North Carolina state house speaker Thom Tillis is in a bit of trouble after a 2012 interview surfaced that caught him in a macaca moment.  Tillis, who is trying to derail Kay Hagan's bid for a second term, said the Republican Party needed to do a better job of selling itself to minorities, especially since the "traditional"--read, white--population of both North Carolina and the nation is stagnant.  It was a classic case of a dog whistle being blown into a megaphone.  But you wouldn't know it if you read a major North Carolina newspaper or watched television in this state.  While this story has been burning up the national political press, unless I'm very wrong it hasn't been mentioned by a single mainstream outlet in North Carolina.

Simply put, this is a colossal fail.  How in the world can you adequately cover this race and not mention such a blatant gaffe?  The press here was asleep at the switch when this interview ran just over a month before the 2012 elections.  Had this been known, it's safe to say that Tillis and his friends wouldn't have their precious supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature.  After all, things like this can overcome even gerrymanders as blatant as the one they created after taking control of the legislature in 2010.  And it looks like this state's mainstream press is still asleep at the switch.  Can you imagine if Virginia's press had failed to cover George Allen calling S. R. Sidharth a "macaca"?

If the local press won't cover this story, it's up to us in North Carolina and the nation to make sure Tillis can't run from it.  Hagan is narrowly ahead in most polling, and we need to make sure this blows up in Tillis' face the way Liddy Dole's "Godless Americans" ad backfired in 2008.

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North Carolina's odious Amendment One, which wrote a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution, could be deep-sixed later this year when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on whether to uphold a Virginia federal judge's order striking down that state's gay marriage ban.  The chances are pretty good that the Fourth Circuit will let that ruling stand, given that it has a majority of Democratic-appointed judges.  But three North Carolina couples aren't wanting to wait for the Fourth Circuit.  Citing health concerns with one partner in each couple, earlier today they filed suit in federal court seeking an immediate end to North Carolina's ban.

he appeals court decision, which legal experts say likely would apply to the Carolinas and West Virginia, could come by fall.

Given the health issues affecting the couples, that’s too long to wait, said Chris Brook, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, which helped file a motion today for immediate court relief.

“While we are exceptionally encouraged and heartened by the Virginia case, there’s no set timeline on when the Fourth Circuit could rule,” Brook said.

“These couples are being harmed now. That’s why we’re filing. We believe their marriages should be recognized today. Not in a few months. Not in a few years. That may be too late.”

One of the plaintiffs is Esmerelda Mejia, a Desert Storm veteran from Hickory who has battled cervical and lung cancer since 1992.  She and her partner of 19 years, Christina Ginter-Mejia, have a seven-year-old adopted son.  However, North Carolina only recognizes Christina as the boy's mother, even though they were legally married in Maryland.  They can't get any of Esmerelda's veterans' benefits as long as North Carolina refuses to recognize their marriage even though they were legally married in Maryland last year.  Additionally, Christina has not been able to go on family leave to be there for Esmerelda's numerous procedures.  Esmerelda fears she may not survive the next one, and wants North Carolina to recognize her as Christina's wife.

The stories of the other two plaintiffs, profiled here, are no less gut-wrenching.  One of the nominal lead plaintiffs, Pearl Berlin, has been hospitalized several times in the last three years.  However, her partner of almost 48 years, Lonnie Gerber, hasn't been able to be with her in the hospital for much of that time even though they were legally married in Maine last year.  Jane Blackburn and Lyn McCoy have been together since 1991 and were legally married in DC in 2011.  Blackburn has Stage IV breast cancer, and wants North Carolina to recognize her marriage to McCoy before she dies.

There's already a challenge to Amendment One pending before federal judge William Osteen.  By all accounts, though, Osteen is waiting for the Fourth Circuit to rule on the Virginia case.  That ruling may not come until the fall, though.  Hopefully this latest suit will go somewhere.

Discuss

Duke Energy is in hot water again over coal ash.   Earlier this month, local environmentalists noticed Duke was pumping down coal ash lagoons at a retired power plant.  That triggered an investigation that ended yesterday, when the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced that Duke had illegally pumped 61 million gallons of coal ash-tainted wastewater into the Cape Fear River.

DENR says it has notified downstream cities of the illegal discharge from the pumping into the Cape Fear River, but so far has not heard of any problems with water quality. The river provides drinking water for Sanford, Dunn, Fayetteville and other communities.

The 61 million gallons, pumped into a tributary of the Cape Fear River, is more than twice the size of the Feb. 2 Dan River spill, but it happened over several months instead of days, and it didn’t include the 39,000 tons of coal-ash sludge that accompanied the disaster in Rockingham County.

This latest saga began on March 10, when Waterkeeper Alliance happened to be flying a plane above the Cape Fear Steam Station in Chatham County, half an hour west of Raleigh.  The plant, inherited from what eventually became Progress Energy, operated for 89 years until its shutdown in 2012.  The next day, state inspectors came to inspect the plant as part of its in-depth inspection of all of the state's ash ponds, and found the pumps shut down.  Since last fall, Duke has lowered the levels of the ponds in order to perform maintenance on the vertical spillway pipes.  However, Duke workers bypassed the pipes and diverted the wastewater into a canal, which prevented the water from being treated.  According to Tom Reeder, director of the Division of Water Resources, this resulted in a level of pumping that "far exceeded what could be considered routine maintenance."  Now Duke is staring down the barrel of as many as $25,000 per day.

As if this wasn't enough trouble for Duke, DENR has also determined that Duke's pumping cracked an earthen dam in one of the ponds.  The dam is not in any danger of failure--yet.  No homes or roads are close to it either.  Duke is working on a short-term fix for the crack, and will have to develop a permanent one later.

DENR had reached a much-criticized settlement with Duke of two lawsuits related to Duke's coal ash stockpiles.  But these disclosures are apparently the last straw for DENR.  It now wants a judge to take those settlements off the table.

To put it mildly, what has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month for the nation's biggest utility may be about to get a lot worse.

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Last week, Duke Energy was slapped with a demand from the North Carolina governor's office to come up with a plan to shut down its coal ash ponds across the state.  Yesterday, Duke CEO Lynn Good indicated that its customers should foot the bill for ash removal.

McCrory’s demand added to the pressure on Duke, after a disastrous spill last month on the Dan River, to move millions of tons of ash away from water supplies such as Charlotte’s Mountain Island Lake.

Duke is making it just as clear that closing its ponds will be an expense – likely to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars – that customers should pay. Duke has said the company and its stockholders will pay the costs of cleaning up the Dan River.

Good, in a brief interview after receiving the BusinessWoman of the Year award at Queens University of Charlotte, gave no hint of how Duke would respond to McCrory.

Asked whether Duke expects its customers to pay for closing its ponds, including removing ash, she indicated it did.

“Ash pond closure has been a plan for a very long time,” she said. “And because that ash was created over decades for the generation of electricity, we do believe that ash pond disposal costs are ultimately a part of our cost structure.

“But the determination of payment will be up to the North Carolina Utilities Commission and how that they handle that, so I think that’s something that will unfold over time.”

Watch the interview here.
 

Although Duke has been allowed to recover the cost of environmental measures in the past, it's not likely such a request will be successful in this case if its ash ponds are found to violate state standards.  Duke has already been cited for violations at the Dan River plant in the wake of the coal ash spill there, and has also been slapped with violations at five other plants.

Even so, this is an unbelievably crass stance from Duke.  Good has some nerve to even consider shifting the bill to Duke's customers after initially stonewalling on the safety of those ash stockpiles--one of which is only three miles upstream from Charlotte's water supply.  Duke only turned over documents related to the safety of those ponds after state regulators demanded them earlier this week.

While the state utilities commission and McCrory's office are noncommittal about whether Duke will be allowed to make customers pay for cleanup, state attorney general Roy Cooper--who is all but certain to run for governor in 2016--rushed out with a burning statement that he will oppose any efforts to make customers pay cleanup costs.  The way I'm reading this, Duke is already planning to eat the cost of cleaning up the Dan River.  Basic decency says it should also eat the cost of cleaning up its ash ponds as well.

Tell Duke Energy what you think of this idea on their Facebook page.

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The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced late yesterday that it will inspect all of Duke Energy's coal ash ponds next week--and also demanded that the nation's largest electric company let it see documents about those ponds that state law previously allowed it to keep private.

The agency wants Duke to provide engineering and emergency-action plans with maps showing the flood impacts if the ponds’ dikes fail. Utilities have not previously been required to produce those documents.

“Having a more comprehensive look at everything that’s out there will aid us in moving forward” with regulating the ponds, said DENR spokesman Jamie Kritzer.

Legislation passed in 2009, after a massive ash spill in Tennessee, placed ash-pond dam inspections under the state dam safety office.

The legislation deemed all ash ponds “approved” by the state at that point. It said Duke and Progress Energy, separate companies at that time, did not have to provide documents connected with their continued operation and maintenance.

The utilities have cited that provision in refusing to turn over some documents the state requested, state dam safety engineer Steve McEvoy has told The Observer.

As part of those inspections, DENR will inspect the discharge points at all 14 of Duke's active and retired coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.  It will also check the structural integrity of all pipes, and take water samples and review videos of the inside of those pipes.  The state appears particularly interested in reviewing the pipes since the Dan River spill was triggered by a failed stormwater pipe located under an ash pond.  In a letter to Duke construction chief John Elintsky, DENR said that notwithstanding the 2009 law, public-safety considerations require the state to have this information on hand.  While the emergency action plans and flood-inundation maps will be kept confidential for security reasons, the overall results of those inspections will be public record.

Wednesday's move didn't come without some prodding.  On Sunday, the Charlotte Observer revealed that the water supply for Duke Energy's hometown of Charlotte is only three miles downstream from five billion pounds of coal ash at a recently-retired power plant.  And yet, it's been very hard to verify how safe the ash ponds are--largely due to that law.  Meaning that in essence, the nation's 17th-largest city may have the water-quality equivalent of an H-bomb pointed at it.  And the day before, the New York Times ran a devastating piece on how DENR has had its wings clipped since the GOP gained total control of state government.  Amazing what a little journalistic prodding will do.

Discuss

There's a frightening story on the front page of today's Charlotte Observer.  The water supply for the nation's 17th-largest city is only three miles downstream from a massive stockpile of coal ash at a recently-closed power plant.  And yet, it's been hard to get information about how safe these ash ponds are--even though that plant is operated by the same company responsible for the Dan River ash spill.

A pair of 80-foot-high earthen dams, one of them built in the Eisenhower era, stand between Charlotte’s water supply and more than 5 billion pounds of coal ash.

Duke Energy promises the dikes at its retired Riverbend power plant on Mountain Island Lake are safe. The latest detailed inspection, ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency after a huge ash spill in Tennessee in 2008, deems them “satisfactory.”

But it’s hard for the public, or even state inspectors, to learn much beyond that. Clouded by protective legislation, company secrecy and security concerns, the paper trail about Duke’s ash ponds is a foggy path.

As bad as the Dan River spill was, it could have been much worse.  Danville, Virginia is the nearest drinking-water user to the Dan River, but Danville is 25 miles from the spill site--far enough away that the city was able to filter out any ash that made it that far downstream.  However, the intake for Charlotte's water supply is so close to the Riverbend plant that, in a major understatement, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities director Barry Gullet says any coal-ash spill into Mountain Island Lake would be "catastrophic."

Despite this and fallout from the Dan River spill, Duke Energy refuses to release its internal assessments of the dikes.  It refuses to comment beyond the last state inspection of the ponds at Riverbend, which operated from 1929 until last April.  That inspection, in 2012, deemed the ponds "satisfactory."  Additionally, when the state made the dam-safety office responsible for ash pond inspections, it didn't require utilities to provide backup documents such as construction drawings and emergency action plans in order to continue operating them.  That really came into sharp focus after the Dan River spill, which was apparently triggered by a failure in a stormwater pipe that state officials didn't know was under the ponds.

Charlotte officials recently asked Duke for more information about the ash ponds.  Officials from Gastonia, a Charlotte suburb, also want answers; Gastonia also uses Mountain Island Lake for its water supply.  Additionally, the Southern Environmental Law Center is suing to force Duke Energy to remove the ash from Riverbend and another plant.  Incredibly, it was the SELC's threat to sue that prompted the state to take over the suit and propose a settlement that would have called for a $99,000 fine and continued inspections--but no requirement to remove the ash.  That settlement was taken off the table after Dan River, prompting the SELC to press for internal documents about Riverbend.  Either way, hopefully some answers will come soon.

Discuss

The proposed law in Arizona that would allow businesses to discriminate against gays and others for religious reasons is a legal and economic disaster waiting to happen.  Well, apparently some lawmakers in Georgia haven't gotten the memo.  A bill is apparently sailing through the Georgia legislature that is alarmingly similar to the Arizona bill.

The proposal, dubbed the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, would allow any individual or for-profit company to ignore Georgia laws—including anti-discrimination and civil rights laws—that "indirectly constrain" exercise of religion. Atlanta, for example, prohibits discrimination against LGBT residents seeking housing, employment, and public accommodations. But the state bill could trump Atlanta's protections.

The Georgia bill, which was introduced last week and was scheduled to be heard in subcommittee Monday afternoon, was sponsored by six state representatives (some of them Democrats). A similar bill has been introduced in the state Senate.

When I saw this story roll across my Facebook feed (via Chris Hayes), I thought it was snark.  But sadly, it isn't.  Read the state house version here and the state senate version here.  

The bill, introduced by Sam Teasley, a Republican from Marietta, is simply breathtaking in its lunacy.  It would allow a person or business to disregard any law that "directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails, or denies the exercise of religion by any person or that directly or indirectly pressures any person to engage in any action contrary to that person's exercise of religion."  And it would apply "whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or requirement of the person's religious tenets or beliefs."

The way this law is written, gays aren't the only ones who have something to fear from this bill.  Atlanta Journal-Constitution political blogger Jay Bookman asked the Anti-Defamation League to take a look at it.  Its verdict?  This bill opens up a can of worms.

"It would create a strong new affirmative for criminal defendants charged with drug-related crimes, sexual assault or rapes of spouses or children, or child endangerment.
        It would allow law enforcement to refuse assignments that they find religiously offensive such assisting or guarding a religious institution of a different faith, a pharmacy that sells prescription contraception, a liquor store, a butcher shop selling pork or beef,  or a casino.
        It would allow public hospital employees including physicians, nurses, or administrators to refuse to assist patients, even on an emergency basis, or process any paper work that they find to be religiously offensive such as in-vitro fertilization, blood transfusions or psychiatric care.
        It would allow any public employee adhering to an extremist religion, including Nation of Islam, Christian Identity, or Odinism to refuse providing service to an Asian, White, Black, Jewish or Hispanic person."
In what has to rank as an understatement, Bookman thinks that if this bill passes, "it would seriously stain the reputation of Georgia and the Georgia Legislature."  I'd go one better.  The fact this is even being debated is an embarrassment to the state of Georgia and to any fair-minded American.
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For those who missed it, there was a major development this weekend in the case of the vandalizing of James Meredith's statue at Ole Miss.  It turns out the three freshmen who pulled this stunt were members of Ole Miss' chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.  When this came to light, the chapter voted the bottom-feeders out in short order, and the national organization suspended the chapter's operations pending an internal investigation.  I diaried on this here.

On Sunday, the chapter's president made his first public comments on the incident.  Apparently he learned on Wednesday that the three freshmen were SigEps--and before the day was out, all three of them were gone.

"I learned about their involvement on Wednesday afternoon. By Wednesday night, the chapter had voted to expel all three, and we reported the information to the university and authorities," said SigEp president Jeremy Smith in written answers released by the fraternity's national headquarters.

Smith, of St. Petersburg, Fla., said members of the brotherhood were "offended and outraged" at the knowledge that the three students who tied a noose around the neck of the Meredith statue and draped an old Georgia flag which features the confederate battle flag on it were SigEps.

"That three students who previously identified with our fraternity could do something like this has been a humbling experience," Smith said. "It has forced us to reconsider the process we use to evaluate new members and the assumption that this kind of behavior couldn’t occur in 2014."

SigEp takes great pride in being the first national fraternity to open its doors to all races.  This happened in 1959.  Smith said in no uncertain terms that anyone who vandalizes a monument to a national civil rights leader "has absolutely no place in our fraternity."  He also vowed to ensure that this never happens again.

There are some who think the national office may have been too heavy-handed in suspending the local chapter since the local house acted so quickly in throwing these bottom-feeders out.  But to my mind, a suspension was the only acceptable response.  It's very likely that somebody at the fraternity knew what these bottom-feeders were planning to do and did nothing to stop it.  You cannot tolerate that, ever.

Local officials aren't sure if they can find a state charge to levy against the three freshmen--though to my non-lawyer's mind, this would seem to be a case of vandalism.  Federal officials are looking into hate-crimes charges, though it may be difficult to prove that a threat was intended.  But I don't think anyone would have a problem at all with these three, and any other individual member who knew about this and didn't report it, being smacked down hard by the student judicial system.  Even if no criminal charges are handed up, anything Ole Miss can do to hold people accountable for this could sting just as much in the long run as criminal charges.  Try explaining to a potential employer why you pulled this stunt, or why you knew about it and didn't report it.

Discuss

Yesterday, it emerged that the three freshmen at Ole Miss who vandalized a statue of James Meredith with a noose and a confederate flag had all recently joined the school's chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon.  When this came to light, SigEp struck fast and hard.  The Ole Miss chapter voted to expel all three freshmen, and the national organization has indefinitely suspended the chapter pending an internal investigation.

"We won’t allow the actions of a few men to undermine the more than five decades of leadership this fraternity has demonstrated in the fight for racial equality and diversity on our college campuses,” said SigEp CEO Brian C. Warren.

The fraternity expressed shock and embarrassment at the behavior of the three.
“It is embarrassing that these men had previously identified with our Fraternity. SigEp as a national Fraternity has championed racial equality and issues on diversity since 1959 when it became the first national fraternity to invite members of all races, creeds and religions to join its membership,” said Warren. “For this to occur in 2014 is an insult to the legacy of James Meredith, The University of Mississippi community, and the SigEp alumni who fought for racial equality in the late 1950s.”

When the three freshmen's involvement came to light, the chapter voted all three of them out in short order and turned over their identities to investigators.  Apparently they didn't help their cause by skipping out on a planned meeting with investigators on Thursday morning.  A patently stupid move in my view--all they had to do once they showed up was plead the Fifth.

It may seem like suspending the whole chapter is a bit harsh after it drummed these three out.  But what if someone else knew about it and didn't do anything?  You simply cannot tolerate that.  

School officials say that they have enough evidence to bring charges against them in the student judicial system.  Criminal charges are still possible, though it will be pretty difficult to prove that a threat was intended or implied.  Still, I'll be content with these three being booted off campus.

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Surprised no one's noticed this, but one of the nation's most virulent homophobes is in a fight to keep his day job.  Eugene Delgaudio is best known as the head of Public Advocate of the United States, and is best known here on dKos as the jerk who stole a wedding picture and used it on anti-gay flyers in Colorado two years ago.  At last report, a lawsuit against both Delgaudio and his organization is still pending.  But Delgaudio may have concerns nearer and dearer than that lawsuit.  Since 1999, Delgaudio has been a member of the Board of Supervisors (county commission) in Loudoun County, representing the Sterling area.  But several of his constituents are trying to use a little-known Virginia law to have him removed from office for gross misconduct--including using county money to run Public Advocate.

The story began in September 2012, when one of his former aides, Donna Mateer, claimed that Delgaudio forced her to raise money for his campaigns on Loudoun County's dime.  She also claimed Public Advocate footed the bill for several courses she attended, as well as fundraising lists she was told to use.  She also claimed that at one point while she worked for Delgaudio, Public Advocate essentially took over his office.  Mateer also said the working environment in that office was extremely hostile--to the point that several people quit.  

Mateer's allegations were serious enough to trigger a criminal investigation by Theo Stamos, the commonwealth's attorney (district attorney) for nearby Arlington County.  The investigation concluded last June.  Ultimately, the grand jury declined to indict Delgaudio--but only because Loudoun County supervisors serve part-time, and therefore aren't covered by state laws governing misuse of public money.  Read the full report here.  When Delgaudio's colleagues on the all-Republican Board of Supervisors read the report, they dropped the hammer on him.  Delgaudio was formally censured, stripped of his committee seats (though he got one of them back in January) and lost control of his district's budget to the full board.  One of the supervisors, Ralph Buona, said--rightly--that Delgaudio had only escaped being brought up on criminal charges due to a technicality.

That didn't go far enough for several of Delgaudio's constituents.  Two weeks ago, a group called "Sterling Deserves Better" filed a petition asking the Loudoun County circuit court to remove Delgaudio from office.  Under Section 24.2-233 of the Virginia Code, constituents can petition a court to remove an elected official from office for "neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office."  The text of the petition largely echoes the grand jury's findings.  In essence, Sterling Deserves Better is saying that even if Delgaudio's actions didn't technically break the law, based on the grand jury report he is manifestly unfit for office.  The case is currently on hold because the judge slated to preside over it wants the entire bench of Loudoun County recused.

Delgaudio has, true to form, played the persecution card.  In a story on OneNewsNow, he claims that those evil libruls are trying to boot him out because he opposes gay rights.  No, Eugene.  You're fighting for your job because your constituents don't want to be represented by someone who's corrupt.

Stay tuned.

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It's been over a year since Kendrick Johnson was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes County High School in Valdosta, Georgia.  According to sheriff's investigators and the county medical examiner, Kendrick fell into the mat and suffocated.  However, his family paid for an independent autopsy which suggested he died from a blow to the neck.  It turned out that the EMTs had actually seen signs of blunt-force trauma to the neck when they responded to the scene--but it wasn't mentioned in the medical examiner's report.  To add insult to injury, the pathologist that the Johnsons hired to conduct the second autopsy found several of Kendrick's organs had been removed, and the cavities stuffed with newspaper.  Now the Johnsons are suing the Valdosta funeral home that handled Kendrick's remains, accusing him of willfully hindering the investigation into Kendrick's death.

Roy Copeland, a lawyer for Harrington Funeral Home and its owner, Antonio Harrington, said his client had not been served as of Wednesday and could not comment on something he has not seen.

In the lawsuit, filed January 31 and amended Wednesday, the family alleges that not only did the funeral home mishandle the organs, it disposed of them to thwart an investigation into Johnson's cause of death.

"This lawsuit challenges the morally despicable, fraudulent, unlawful and unfair business practices" of Harrington Funeral Home, the court document states.

The suit effectively challenges the findings of a state investigation that found Harrington did nothing illegal.  According to the Johnsons, Harrington willfully disposed of Kendrick's organs in an effort to thwart the investigation.  If this is true, this guy deserves to be driven out of business by all legal means possible.

While CNN has been in the driver's seat for this story from the beginning, CBS has also picked up the story and has more details on the suit.  Apparently Harrington had some doubts about the official finding that Kendrick's death was an accident.

Johnson’s remains were delivered to the Harrington Funeral Home on Jan. 14, 2013, four days after the teen’s death. Upon receiving the remains, Antonio Harrington expressed concerns to Johnson’s parents about the explanation for their child’s death, according to court documents obtained by Crimesider.

Harrington “recommended that [Johnson’s parents] should get a ‘second opinion’ as to the cause of death notwithstanding the then-unknown-findings of official autopsy,” the court documents say.

Harrington also told the Johnsons that Kendrick's clothes weren't delivered with his body.  The Johnsons had hoped to obtain his clothes in order to dispute the results of the original investigation.  In truth, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, all of Kendrick's personal effects, including his clothes, were sent to the funeral home in a body bag along with Kendrick's remains.  No one knows what happened to Kendrick's clothes.  The Johnsons also say that Kendrick's face was so badly decomposed that he recommended a closed casket--but the Johnsons refused.  

After the second autopsy suggested Kendrick had been murdered, Kendrick's dad asked Harrington whether the organs had been missing at the time the body arrived at the funeral home.  Harrington reportedly told the Johnsons that only a couple were missing--but in an earlier letter, Harrington said that his organs had been destroyed by "natural process" and had been discarded by the GBI before the body was sent to the funeral home.  One thing is beyond dispute--Harrington has a lot of explaining to do.  And in all likelihood, he'll have to do so under oath.

The missing organs are one of many things in this case that strongly indicate a massive cover-up.   When deputies arrived, they found a bloodbath--so much of one that when a former FBI agent reviewed crime scene photos, he concluded Kendrick had been murdered.  According to a well-respected forensic video analyst, at least an hour of surveillance video from the gym is missing.

Federal prosecutors have been investigating this case since October.  When all is said and done, hopefully everyone responsible for this cover-up--and I mean everyone, including Harrington if he was in on it--ends up going to jail.

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