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The Latest: Special counsel appointed to investigate Flint

The Latest: Special counsel appointed to investigate Flint

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The latest on Flint’s lead-tainted water (all times local):

11:15 a.m.

Michigan’s attorney general has named a former prosecutor as special counsel to investigate whether laws were broken during the process that left Flint with lead-tainted water.

Bill Schuette said Monday that former Wayne County assistant prosecutor Todd Flood will spearhead his office’s probe with assistance from Andy Arena, the former head of Detroit’s FBI office.

The Republican attorney general also said his office is reviewing what can be done to prevent Flint residents from being billed for water.

Schuette’s office represents both the people of Michigan and state government.

Schuette says appointing the special counsel will prevent conflicts between him, his investigation team and the team defending the state against water-related lawsuits.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has apologized for regulatory failures and other things that led to Flint’s crisis. Federal investigations also are underway.

5:50 a.m.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says a former prosecutor and a former head of the Detroit FBI will play key roles in his office’s investigation into Flint’s water crisis.

Schuette issued an update on the investigation Monday morning, saying in a statement that all involved “will do our job thoroughly and let the chips fall where they may.”

Schuette says Todd Flood, a former assistant prosecutor in Wayne County, will spearhead Schuette’s investigation and serve as special counsel. He’ll be joined by Andy Arena, who led Detroit’s FBI office from 2007 until 2012.

The announcement comes ahead of a Monday morning news conference.

Schuette, a Republican, announced Jan. 15 he would investigate what, if any, Michigan laws were violated in the process that left Flint’s drinking water contaminated with lead.

Lawmakers postpone hearing to question Martin Shkreli

Lawmakers postpone hearing to question Martin Shkreli

WASHINGTON (AP) — House lawmakers have postponed a Tuesday hearing to question former pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli, reviled for hiking the price of a lifesaving drug, due to the blizzard over the weekend.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform plans to reschedule the hearing on exorbitant drug price increases by Shkreli’s former company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, and other drugmakers.

The delay increases the likelihood that Shkreli will attend.

Lawmakers subpoenaed Shkreli earlier this month. But last week his lawyer requested he be excused from attending the hearing, since his terms of bail forbid him from leaving New York. The case involves a previous company he founded before Turing.

The Department of Justice requested Sunday that a New York judge allow Shkreli to travel to Washington, according to a legal filing.

Ohio agency seeks criminal probe into water plant problems

Ohio agency seeks criminal probe into water plant problems

CLEVELAND (AP) — The head of Ohio’s environmental agency is calling for a criminal investigation after the operator of a water treatment plant in northeast Ohio failed to tell the public that high levels of lead and copper had been detected in some homes last summer.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig Butler said in a statement Sunday that officials are “taking steps” to revoke the operating license of the plant operator in Sebring.

The statement says the EPA has “reason to suspect” that the operator falsified reports.

The water system serves about 8,100 customers in Sebring, about 60 miles southeast of Cleveland.

Sebring schools canceled classes Friday and Monday.

The city manager said last week that seven of 20 homes where the water is routinely tested showed the high levels of the contaminants.

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Mentally ill mans deadly shooting fits troubling pattern

Mentally ill mans deadly shooting fits troubling pattern

ST. MARTINVILLE, La. (AP) — On the day her son was killed, Barbara Noel saw familiar signs that the 32-year-old needed help: Michael Noel was guzzling coffee and growing agitated, kicking an ironing board and knocking over an ashtray.

Barbara waited until Michael left their home that morning before she dialed 911, a call she made many times during her son’s lifelong struggle with his mental illness. This time, her call for help led to a deadly encounter last month between Michael — who had paranoid schizophrenia— and two deputies from the St. Martin Parish sheriff’s department in south Louisiana.

Noel’s killing appears to fit a troubling, tragic pattern. Deadly confrontations between law enforcement officers and people with mental illnesses have remained a persistent problem for years, but experts see anecdotal evidence and limited data that suggests the problem has worsened as governments dismantle networks of health care services.

A December 2015 report by the Arlington, Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center says severe mental illness is believed to be a factor in up to half of all deadly law enforcement encounters. But the report says the link has been rendered “virtually invisible” by the government’s failure to accurately count and report fatal police encounters.

Standard police tactics tend to make a person in the grips of a mental health crisis more afraid, more agitated and less likely to comply with an officer’s commands, said Laura Usher, crisis intervention team program manager for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“It is unacceptable that people in mental health crisis get killed when they call for help. On the other hand, it’s unacceptable to put the burden on police when the mental health system should be responsible for them,” Usher said.

Investigators have released few details about Michael Noel’s fatal shooting on the evening of Dec. 21. A State Police report says Noel was killed during a struggle when he resisted deputies’ efforts to take him into protective custody and drive him to a hospital.

Michael’s mother and aunt, Sable Alex, say they witnessed the shooting in the living room of their home. Both said Michael wasn’t armed and never posed a threat before one of the deputies shot him once in the chest.

Barbara Noel recalls screaming, “They killed him! They killed him!” after her son collapsed and died on the floor.

“They never gave him no CPR. They never said they were sorry. They just wanted us out of the house,” she said.

Michael’s mother said he first exhibited signs of a mental illness when he was 8 or 9 and threatened to jump out a window. He was diagnosed at about age 13, when he spent six months at a state hospital in central Louisiana. Michael also spent three months at a different state hospital in his mid-20s.

Barbara Noel said her son lost his Medicaid coverage about two years ago. It’s unclear why, but she said that made it even harder to get the help he needed. She said Michael frequently relied on hospital visits to treat his illness and often couldn’t afford his medication. He also was treated at a mental health clinic in Lafayette, roughly 18 miles from their home.

A week before the shooting, a deputy responded to a “mental complaint” at the Noel family’s home and spoke to Michael, who said he “speaks to Jesus Christ,” an incident report says. Barbara Noel said she saw her son talking to the deputy but didn’t have any reason to be concerned.

A brief report on the Dec. 14 call says the matter was referred to “CIT,” apparently referring to the sheriff’s department’s Crisis Intervention Team. On its website, the department says its CIT members receive specialized training to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Barbara Noel said she doesn’t know if anyone from the sheriff’s department followed up on the call before her son’s death. A spokeswoman for the St. Martin sheriff’s department referred all questions to the State Police. A State Police spokesman said he could provide no information beyond the contents of its one-page report because the investigation hasn’t been completed.

Barbara Noel says her son, at 5-foot-6 and roughly 130 pounds, couldn’t have overpowered the two deputies. Noel and Michael’s aunt, Sable Alex, said he yelled “Murderers!” when he spotted the deputies outside the house and tried in vain to block them from entering.

Once inside, they said, the deputies wrestled Michael to the floor and managed to snap a handcuff link onto one of his wrists. The relatives said the struggle moved to a couch, where one of the deputies shocked Michael twice with a stun gun.

Noel and Alex give different accounts of what happened next. Alex said one of the deputies shot Michael from several feet away after telling him to stop moving toward him. Noel, however, said the deputy was standing behind her son when he reached over Michael’s right shoulder and shot him in the chest at point-blank range.

Lucretia Pecantte, a lawyer for the family, said those differences shouldn’t influence authorities’ determination of whether the shooting was justified. The family’s attorneys are preparing a lawsuit against the sheriff’s department.

Online:

http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/

Database of violence and severe mental illness: http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/problem/preventable-tragedies-database

National Alliance on Mental Illness: http://www.nami.org/

Crisis Intervention Training: http://cit.memphis.edu/aboutCIT.php

Police Executive Research Forum: http://www.policeforum.org/

Flight cancellations, delays persist in wake of US blizzard

Flight cancellations, delays persist in wake of US blizzardRyan Parks of Arlington, Va., talks on the phone as he waits for his flight to Boston at Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. Flights remained delayed or canceled in the aftermath of a massive weekend blizzard that slammed into the eastern U.S., wreaking havoc on travel in the nation?s busiest cities, with airports in the New York City and Washington D.C. metro areas were the hardest hit. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

NEW YORK (AP) — Airlines canceled around 1,600 flights Monday, and another 1,200 experienced delays, in the aftermath of a massive weekend blizzard that slammed into the eastern U.S., wreaking havoc on travel in the nation’s busiest cities.

Even as the airlines resumed operations, the remnants of the storm posed problems. For instance, Delta said snow continued to hamper operations at LaGuardia and Newark airports.

On Monday, airports in the New York City area and Washington D.C. metro areas suffered the highest number of cancellations. For some travelers in those locations, getting home continued to be an adventure.

Newark Liberty International listed 260 canceled flights and 48 delays as of Monday afternoon, the most of any U.S. airport, according to the flight tracking service FlightAware. Meanwhile, LaGuardia listed 177 canceled flights and 30 delays with John F. Kennedy airport listing 46 cancellations and 40 delays.

In Washington D.C., Washington Dulles International listed 128 cancellations and 5 delays. Reagan National had 124 cancellations. Baltimore/Washington International listed 74 cancellations.

John Escobar, 27, finished a three-month work contract surgical technician at New York Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital in Brooklyn on Friday and has been trying to get home to Fort Lauderdale ever since.

Escobar had flights canceled Saturday and Sunday. He booked a flight Monday on American Airlines, but there were no direct flights for under $1,000, “so I’m flying to Boston, then Charlotte, then home.”

Among the major airlines, United Airlines, which is owned by United Continental Holdings Inc., suffered the brunt of cancellations as it has key hubs at both Newark Liberty and Washington Dulles. There are already more than 200 flight cancellations for Tuesday, with the bulk from United Airlines’ regional carrier United Express at Washington Dulles.

Overall, airlines canceled about 13,000 flights for the five-day period Friday through Tuesday.

The storm dropped snow from the Gulf Coast to New England, with near-record snowfalls tallied from Washington, D.C. to New York City. At least 31 people have died as a result of the snowstorm. The deaths occurred in car accidents, from carbon monoxide poisoning, and from heart attacks while shoveling snow.

.___

William Mathis at LaGuardia Airport in New York City contributed to this report.

14 cadets disciplined at Citadel; some wore KKK-like garb

14 cadets disciplined at Citadel; some wore KKK-like garb

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A total of 14 cadets have been dismissed, suspended or are receiving on-campus punishments at The Citadel after several of them appeared in photos with pillowcases on their heads similar to Ku Klux Klan garb, the military college’s president announced Monday.

The photos of seven freshmen cadets dressed in white pants and shirts while wearing pillowcases surfaced on social media last month. An investigation found that the cadets were ordered by upperclassmen to sing Christmas carols dressed in costumes, college President retired Lt. Gen John Rosa said in a statement. The photos involved a “Ghosts of Christmas Past” skit.

Within an hour of the event, several other cadets reported it to leaders. Initially, eight cadets were investigated but the inquiry was later expanded to include 14.

“The investigation found that the cadets did not intend to be offensive. However, I am disappointed some recognized how it could be construed as such but didn’t stop it,” Rosa said.

He said the song sheets contained only the words to carols and nothing offensive and “at the outset, not all of the freshmen understood that the costumes could be construed by some as offensive.”

But Rosa said while the skit had no ill intent, “it did show poor judgment. It demonstrates that we must integrate an even higher level of diversity education into cadets’ daily activities.”

Civil rights leaders had called for Rosa to resign but dropped the call after they met with the Rosa last month and he told them the cadets were going through the college’s appeals procedure.

College spokesman Brett Ashworth Rosa also spoke with leaders of civil rights groups before the investigation results were released Monday.

Ashworth said one upperclassman has been dismissed from the college, meaning the student must leave for two semesters before asking to be readmitted. Two upperclassmen have been suspended, meaning they must leave for a semester.

The other cadets are being punished by marching tours. A tour is marching in the military school barracks shouldering a gun for 50 minutes.

Dot Scott, the president of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP, said it was appropriate there was no blanket punishment “simply because the younger people who are listening to those who are their seniors did what they were instructed to do.”

She added “I feel good about what’s happening now” at The Citadel but said that there is still a ways to go and that the Confederate flag needs to be removed from the college chapel.

The school’s Board of Visitors voted to have the flag removed after the Charleston church shootings in June. Dylann Roof, a white man who posed with a Confederate flag for online photos, has been charged with killing the nine black parishioners.

But under the South Carolina Heritage Act, removing the flag needs approval from the state General Assembly.

_____

Follow Bruce Smith at twitter.com/brucesmithAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/bruce-smith

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