Crime and Public Safety

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — As schools around the country brace for student walkouts following the deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida, principals and superintendents are scrambling to perform a delicate balancing act: How to let thousands of students exercise their First Amendment rights while not disrupting school and not pulling administrators into the raging debate over gun control.

Some have taken a hard line, promising to suspend students who walk out, while others are using a softer approach, working with students to set up places on campus where they can remember the victims of the Florida shooting and express their views about school safety and gun control.

Since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, demonstrations have sprung up on school campuses around the country. But the first large-scale, coordinated national demonstration is planned for March 14, when organizers of the Women’s March have called for a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each of the 17 students and staff members killed in Florida.

National demonstrations are also planned for March 24, with a march on Washington, D.C.; and on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.

No matter how schools decide to deal with the demonstrations, students have been reassured by Harvard, Yale, MIT, the University of Connecticut, UCLA and dozens of other colleges and universities that their participation won’t affect their chances of getting admitted.

But for middle-school and high-school administrators, figuring out how to allow the demonstrations during school hours has proven challenging. In some cases, it hasn’t gone smoothly.

In Needville, Texas, near Houston, Superintendent Curtis Rhodes was castigated on social media after he warned that students who leave class would be suspended for three days, even if they get parental permission.

“SHAME, SHAME, SHAME ON YOU,” wrote one woman.

In Garretson, South Dakota, administrators canceled a student walkout planned for April 20 after a Facebook posting about the plan drew more than 300 negative comments from adults.

And in Arizona, dozens of students at Ingleside Middle School, near Phoenix, were given one-day suspensions after they left campus on Feb. 27.

Layla Defibaugh, an eighth-grade student at Ingleside, said she wanted to participate in the walkout, but didn’t because of the threatened suspensions. She does plan to join the March 14 walkout, even it means getting suspended.

“It’s important for me to speak my mind on this topic,” she said. “At the end of the day, they shouldn’t be able to punish us for exercising our First Amendment rights.”

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, has fielded dozens of calls and emails from school administrators asking for advice, while the American Civil Liberties Union has received hundreds of inquiries from students about what their rights are and if they can be disciplined for participating in the protests.

The answer depends on each school’s code of conduct and disciplinary policies. Generally, the ACLU has been advising students that because they are required to go to school by law, administrators can discipline them for unexcused absences. But the ACLU also told students in an online training video that administrators can’t punish them more harshly because of the political nature of their demonstrations.

The superintendents association — which is supporting the April 20 walkout— has drafted a list of suggestions for school administrators, including holding a teach-in, a school-led walkout to a spot on campus, or a session on bullying.

“There are ways to engage and harness the students in civic engagement without compromising policies in place on attendance, participation and student safety,” said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate director for policy and advocacy.

Some schools have embraced the walkouts.

In Mooresville, Indiana, administrators met with 10 high-school student leaders to work out a plan. Mooresville High School Principal Brian Disney said the students plan to use the school’s public address system to read short statements about mental illness, the importance of kindness and standing up against all school violence before inviting all students to gather in a school hallway for 17 minutes of silence.

In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, administrators are still talking with students about how they can participate without violating school rules.

“I think we all realize that for folks who are teenagers right now, this could well be a defining moment in their lives. We want to very much encourage and empower student voices. That said, it has to be done in ways that are safe and appropriate,” said spokesman Bob Mosier.

Some schools are taking a middle ground, neither encouraging nor discouraging students from participating. In Henrico County, Virginia, near Richmond, administrators sent an email to parents saying they are not sanctioning the March 14 walkout, but feel obligated to manage the event because of its heavy promotion on social media. Middle-school principals asked parents to sign a Google document stating whether they give their children permission to participate. Schools plan to provide campus locations for the walkout.

In Somerville, Massachusetts, students say they won’t stop after a single walkout. They’ve started a weekly movement they hope will keep public attention focused on school safety and put pressure on lawmakers to pass stricter gun control laws. The walkouts will be held every Wednesday, said Anika Nayak, 16, a student organizer.

“We’re really just fed up with the lack of action that’s been taken in our country,” Nayak said.

“We don’t think enough people are listening.”

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — As schools around the country brace for student walkouts following the deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida, principals and superintendents are scrambling to perform a delicate balancing act: How to let thousands of students exercise their First Amendment rights while not disrupting school and not pulling administrators into the raging debate over gun control.

Some have taken a hard line, promising to suspend students who walk out, while others are using a softer approach, working with students to set up places on campus where they can remember the victims of the Florida shooting and express their views about school safety and gun control.

Since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, demonstrations have sprung up on school campuses around the country. But the first large-scale, coordinated national demonstration is planned for March 14, when organizers of the Women’s March have called for a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each of the 17 students and staff members killed in Florida.

National demonstrations are also planned for March 24, with a march on Washington, D.C.; and on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.

No matter how schools decide to deal with the demonstrations, students have been reassured by Harvard, Yale, MIT, the University of Connecticut, UCLA and dozens of other colleges and universities that their participation won’t affect their chances of getting admitted.

But for middle-school and high-school administrators, figuring out how to allow the demonstrations during school hours has proven challenging. In some cases, it hasn’t gone smoothly.

In Needville, Texas, near Houston, Superintendent Curtis Rhodes was castigated on social media after he warned that students who leave class would be suspended for three days, even if they get parental permission.

“SHAME, SHAME, SHAME ON YOU,” wrote one woman.

In Garretson, South Dakota, administrators canceled a student walkout planned for April 20 after a Facebook posting about the plan drew more than 300 negative comments from adults.

And in Arizona, dozens of students at Ingleside Middle School, near Phoenix, were given one-day suspensions after they left campus on Feb. 27.

Layla Defibaugh, an eighth-grade student at Ingleside, said she wanted to participate in the walkout, but didn’t because of the threatened suspensions. She does plan to join the March 14 walkout, even it means getting suspended.

“It’s important for me to speak my mind on this topic,” she said. “At the end of the day, they shouldn’t be able to punish us for exercising our First Amendment rights.”

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, has fielded dozens of calls and emails from school administrators asking for advice, while the American Civil Liberties Union has received hundreds of inquiries from students about what their rights are and if they can be disciplined for participating in the protests.

The answer depends on each school’s code of conduct and disciplinary policies. Generally, the ACLU has been advising students that because they are required to go to school by law, administrators can discipline them for unexcused absences. But the ACLU also told students in an online training video that administrators can’t punish them more harshly because of the political nature of their demonstrations.

The superintendents association — which is supporting the April 20 walkout— has drafted a list of suggestions for school administrators, including holding a teach-in, a school-led walkout to a spot on campus, or a session on bullying.

“There are ways to engage and harness the students in civic engagement without compromising policies in place on attendance, participation and student safety,” said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate director for policy and advocacy.

Some schools have embraced the walkouts.

In Mooresville, Indiana, administrators met with 10 high-school student leaders to work out a plan. Mooresville High School Principal Brian Disney said the students plan to use the school’s public address system to read short statements about mental illness, the importance of kindness and standing up against all school violence before inviting all students to gather in a school hallway for 17 minutes of silence.

In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, administrators are still talking with students about how they can participate without violating school rules.

“I think we all realize that for folks who are teenagers right now, this could well be a defining moment in their lives. We want to very much encourage and empower student voices. That said, it has to be done in ways that are safe and appropriate,” said spokesman Bob Mosier.

Some schools are taking a middle ground, neither encouraging nor discouraging students from participating. In Henrico County, Virginia, near Richmond, administrators sent an email to parents saying they are not sanctioning the March 14 walkout, but feel obligated to manage the event because of its heavy promotion on social media. Middle-school principals asked parents to sign a Google document stating whether they give their children permission to participate. Schools plan to provide campus locations for the walkout.

In Somerville, Massachusetts, students say they won’t stop after a single walkout. They’ve started a weekly movement they hope will keep public attention focused on school safety and put pressure on lawmakers to pass stricter gun control laws. The walkouts will be held every Wednesday, said Anika Nayak, 16, a student organizer.

“We’re really just fed up with the lack of action that’s been taken in our country,” Nayak said.

“We don’t think enough people are listening.”

SEATTLE (AP) — Recent mass shootings have spurred Congress to try to improve the nation’s gun background check system that has failed on numerous occasions to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.

The problem with the legislation, experts say, is that it only works if federal agencies, the military, states, courts and local law enforcement do a better job of sharing information with the background check system — and they have a poor track record in doing so. Some of the nation’s most horrific mass shootings have revealed major holes in the database reporting system, including massacres at Virginia Tech in 2007 and at a Texas church last year.

Despite the failures, many states still aren’t meeting key benchmarks with their background check reporting that enable them to receive federal grants similar to what’s being proposed in the current legislation.

“It’s a completely haphazard system — sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t,” said Georgetown University law professor Larry Gostin. “When you’re talking about school children’s lives, rolling the dice isn’t good enough.”

In theory, the FBI’s background check database, tapped by gun dealers during a sale, should have a definitive list of people who are prohibited from having guns — people who have been convicted of crimes, committed to mental institutions, received dishonorable discharges or are addicted to drugs.

But in practice, the database is incomplete.

It’s up to local police, sheriff’s offices, the military, federal and state courts, Indian tribes and in some places, hospitals and treatment providers, to send criminal or mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, but some don’t always do so, or they may not send them in a timely fashion.

Some agencies don’t know what to send; states often lack funds needed to ensure someone handles the data; no system of audits exists to find out who’s not reporting; and some states lack the political will to set up a functioning and efficient reporting process, experts said.

“The system is riddled with opportunities for human error,” said Kristin Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

A proposal in Congress seeks to establish a structured system for federal agencies to send records to the NICS database. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas says the legislation — often referred to as “Fix NICS” — will save lives.

“We should start with what’s achievable and what will actually save lives, and that describes the ‘Fix NICS’ bill. It will help prevent dangerous individuals with criminal convictions and a history of mental illness from buying firearms,” the Republican said.

Often left out of the debate in Washington is the fact that similar legislation passed after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, but many records are still not being sent to the database.

The Justice Department even set up a new grant program that offered states help with their reporting system, but many didn’t even bother to apply. In 2016, only 19 states and one tribe received funds totaling $15 million. The number of states currently participating is 31.

Several states aren’t eligible for the grant because they haven’t set up a system that allows a person who was prohibited from having a gun due to mental health issues get their rights restored. The National Rifle Association has long-pushed for those types of restoration requirements, Brown said.

Important mental health records that would have kept Seung-Hui Cho from getting the guns he used to kill 32 people at Virginia Tech were never entered into NICS. The gunman who killed dozens at a Texas church in November was able to purchase weapons because the Air Force didn’t send his domestic violence conviction to the database.

And the father of a teenager who killed himself and four classmates at a Washington state high school in 2014 was able to purchase several guns, including the one his son used, because the Tulalip Tribal Court had not shared his domestic violence protection order with Marysville, Washington, authorities, who would have sent it to the background check system.

Since then, the tribe received a $333,841 grant to help improve its criminal records reporting.

The man who walked into a Carson City, Nevada, IHOP restaurant with an assault weapon in 2011 and killed four people had a history of mental illness, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had been taken into custody by police in nearby California under the state’s involuntary commitment law. But under federal law, people are only prohibited from having a firearm if they have been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or committed to a mental institution.

The federal law doesn’t include involuntary commitments.

Some states have enacted their own laws that limit gun ownership based on mental health issues, but they’re all different, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Experts say many agencies don’t know what type of mental health information to send to NICS. Brown said many agencies, hospitals and treatment providers are under the mistaken impression that federal medical privacy laws prevent them from sharing information with the system.

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong, who handled the IHOP mass shooting, said the biggest roadblock to creating a comprehensive NICS system is privacy concerns. Some are afraid that if they report their family members, they’ll be arrested, he said, and agencies feel stifled by privacy laws.

“When someone is in crisis, why are we waiting to respond?” Furlong asked. “We have a public safety responsibility to prevent something from happening before we have to use force.”

The federal legislation being considered in Congress might help ensure more criminal records reach the background check database, but it has limitations because Congress can’t force states to enact laws. And it doesn’t address gaps in mental health commitment reporting, said Gostin.

“Because mental health records are critical to the integrity of the system,” he said, “the bill leave a significant gap.”

Some states have passed their own laws requiring agencies to report to NICS, but few keep track of whether that’s happening and most don’t have penalties for failing to submit records.

“They’re not reporting but there are no repercussions,” said Cassandra Crifasi, with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “What is there to encourage people to follow the law?”

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) – An eight-month investigation into a gang-related drug ring has yielded more than 40 arrests.
The Virginian-Pilot cites a Thursday release from Norfolk police saying officers seized $190,000 worth of drugs – including 3 pounds of cocaine, 11 ounces of heroin, 3 pounds of marijuana, 24 ecstasy pills and 9 grams of methamphetamine – as well as 12 guns and $85,000 in cash during the course of the investigation.
The multiagency investigation began when an informant told the Drug Enforcement Administration about large amounts of heroin from New York being trafficked in Virginia.
Several of the 44 people charged were in gangs, and Norfolk police spokesman Cpl. Will Pickering says detectives plan to dig further into unearthed criminal networks.
Thirty-nine suspects were charged in state courts, while five were charged federally.

From News Release: Botetourt County Sheriff Ronnie Sprinkle reports that at 5:35 pm the Botetourt County 911 Communications Center received a call from a female who said she had been shot and stabbed by her husband and that he then shot himself. Deputies and EMS were dispatched to the 17000 block of Lee Highway in the Buchanan area of Botetourt County. Upon their arrival Deputies located three wounded subjects, two males and one female, after securing the scene Deputies had rescue come in and attend to the wounded people. All three wounded were transported to a local hospital with various degrees of injuries. The incident seemed to stem from an ongoing domestic situation. The Investigation is ongoing but no suspects are being sought in reference to this incident. No additional information is available at this time and we will send out an update as more information is available.

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) _ Police in northern Virginia are looking for a teenager they consider armed and dangerous in connection with social media threats directed toward a high school.
The City of Fairfax police said in a statement Saturday that warrants were obtained for 18-year-old Ishmael O’Brien Lionel Harrison for threats to commit serious bodily harm to persons on Fairfax High School property and for possession of child pornography.
City and county police tried to serve the warrants, but couldn’t find him. Police say Harrison should be considered armed and dangerous.

From Appalachian Power: Great progress was made on Saturday and early Sunday to restore power to Appalachian Power customers affected by wind storms, which damaged electrical facilities and left a peak of 75,000 customers without electric service in Virginia.

More than 30,000 customers were restored yesterday and this morning. Although much headway was made, there are still more than 1,200 outage cases and about 23,000 customers without power.

Work is ongoing in areas most impacted by the storm, including repairs to broken poles and transmission lines. But assessments in the hardest hit areas continue and we expect to find more broken poles and spans of wire down.

Weather

In Virginia, today’s weather should be clear with diminished wind gusts, which will aid in power restoration efforts.

Outages

More than 23,000 customers are currently without power in Virginia. Areas in the state with large numbers of customers affected by outages include:

Counties # of Customers Out
Henry 5,154
Amherst 3,429
Franklin 3,201
Patrick 3,072
Lynchburg (City) 1,685
Carroll 1,208
Albemarle 1,103

The company is working to identify schools which are out of power. We will assessthe line feeding these schools and, if possible, restore power so they can reopen on Monday. Restoration of schools will be on a case-by-case basis and cannot be guaranteed.

Storm Restoration Efforts

More than 1,300 workers, including local line employees, tree crews and contractors, are working to restore electric service. As outages are cleared, crews are moving into more heavily damaged areas to assist in restoration.

Restoration Estimates

Restoration is expected to be complete by late Sunday night for customers in areas served by the company’s Christiansburg, Floyd and Woodlawn service centers.

In the Roanoke, Rocky Mount, Moneta, Fieldale, Stuart, Lynchburg and Lovingston areas, restoration should be complete Monday by midnight. Scattered outages could continue past the midnight Monday deadline, if additional issues or problems are discovered during the restoration process.

However, the vast majority of customers will see their power restored sooner. Today and tomorrow, crews are completing damage assessments in these hardest hit areas. This information will help determine more specific power restoration times for each area.

Safety Message

Never remove debris that’s within 10 feet of a power line. Additional safety tips are posted at https://www.appalachianpower.com/outages/faq/OutageSafetyTips.aspx.

For More Information

Customers can get specific information about their outages via text message and/or email by subscribing to Appalachian Power outage alerts. To sign up, please visit www.appalachianpower.com/alerts.

A snapshot view of current outages is available at www.appalachianpower.com/outagemap.

Grayson Hamlett

A Moneta-area man faces drug charges after a traffic stop in the Westlake area of Smith Mountain Lake. Franklin County officials say 46-year-old Grayson Hamlett was a passenger in the vehicle. Charges include suspicion of possessing meth.

From the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office: While on routine patrol in the Westlake area of Franklin County, a deputy with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office observed a blue Chevy Trailblazer being operated by a suspended driver. The deputy initiated a traffic stop in the area of Smith Mountain Building Supply, located at 13080 Booker T. Washington Hwy.  The deputy conducted a search of the vehicle and located a loaded handgun as well as several small baggies containing a white crystalline substance. the substance was tested and determined to be methamphetamine. The passenger in the vehicle, 46-year-old Grayson Scott Hamlett of Moneta, was arrested and charged with; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession of a firearm while in possession of a schedule I or II drug, and possession of marijuana. Hamlett is currently being held in the Franklin County Jail without bond.  Additional charges may be pending following results from the forensics lab. This is an ongoing investigation.

The Richmond chapter for “Moms Demand Action” – a national organization created after the school massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School – met with U.S. Senator Tim Kaine earlier this week to talk about school safety – and gun control. Kaine then co-sponsored a bill that would ban 205 military-style assault weapons and large ammo magazines. WFIR’s Gene Marrano also spoke to Virginia’s junior Democratic senator on the gun issue – here is a “Longer Listen”:

3-2 Kaine-Guns Longer Listen-WEB