AP News in Brief 12-31-17

Men charged in deaths of two women and two children

TROY, N.Y. — Two men were arrested Saturday on murder charges in the deaths of two women and two children who were found dead in their upstate New York apartment.

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Justin Mann and James White were arrested in their hometown, Schenectady, and pleaded not guilty in Troy City Court.

According to the Times Union , Troy Police Chief John Tedesco said one of the defendants knew one of the victims. He declined to elaborate.

Information given in court said the killings took place at about 9 p.m., Dec. 21. It wasn’t until Tuesday, five days later, that a property manager found 36-year-old Shanta Myers; her children, 11-year-old Jeremiah Myers and 5-year-old Shanise Myers; and 22-year-old Brandi Mells in a basement apartment along the Hudson River, just north of Albany. Meyers and Mells became engaged earlier this year, Mells’ cousin, Sharonda Bennett, told the newspaper.

‘Make America Gay Again’ sign greets Pence in Colorado

ASPEN, Colo. — Neighbors of the home where Vice President Mike Pence has been staying in Colorado this week have a message.

They’ve placed a rainbow-colored banner on a stone pillar at the end of the driveways to both homes near the posh ski resort of Aspen. The banner reads “Make America Gay Again” — a play on President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy Michael Buglione tells the Aspen Times that Secret Service agents weren’t bothered by the sign.

Pence has described himself as a “Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” He has opposed legislation prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in the workplace.

Pence and his family arrived in the Aspen area Tuesday and plan to leave Monday.

Efforts grow to help students evaluate what they see online

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Alarmed by the proliferation of false content online, state lawmakers around the country are pushing schools to put more emphasis on teaching students how to tell fact from fiction.

Lawmakers in several states have introduced or passed bills calling on public school systems to do more to teach media literacy skills that they say are critical to democracy. The effort has been bipartisan but has received little attention despite successful legislation in Washington state, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Mexico.

Several more states are expected to consider such bills in the coming year, including Arizona, New York and Hawaii.

“I don’t think it’s a partisan issue to appreciate the importance of good information and the teaching of tools for navigating the information environment,” said Hans Zeiger, a Republican state senator in Washington who co-sponsored a bill that passed in his state earlier this year. “There is such a thing as an objective source versus other kinds of sources, and that’s an appropriate thing for schools to be teaching.”

Extreme cold to test New Year’s revelers; some events iced

Dress in layers, lay off the booze and bring some hand warmers. Those are some of the tips offered for the huge crowd of revelers expected in Times Square for what could be one of the coldest New Year’s Eve ball drops on record.

Brutal weather has iced plans for scores of events in the Northeast from New Year’s Eve through New Year’s Day, but not in New York City, where people will start gathering in Times Square up to nine hours before the famous ball drop.

“Hundreds of thousands have withstood very cold weather over the years for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we expect this year to be no different,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance which puts on the event.

The coldest New Year’s Eve in Times Square came in 1917, when it was 1 degree at midnight. This year, the forecast is for 11 degrees with a wind chill around zero, which would tie for second with 1962.

City and state health officials are advising people to cover all exposed skin, and wear a hat, scarf and gloves. Drinking alcohol is discouraged because it causes the body to lose heat faster.

Brother-in-law of Martin Luther King Jr. dies at 83

ATLANTA — The brother-in-law of Martin Luther King Jr. and a founding member of The Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change has died.

Isaac Newton Farris Sr., who suffered from prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease, died at his Atlanta home on Saturday morning, his daughter Angela Farris-Watkins told The Associated Press. He was 83.

Farris married Christine King in a ceremony performed by Martin Luther King Jr. and their brother A.D. King on Aug. 19, 1960.

“He wasn’t caught up marrying into a prominent family,” Farris-Watkins said by phone. “He was secure in his own right.”

Farris was a successful entrepreneur and founder of Farris Color Visions. He also served a project manager for the construction of The King Center.

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California man arrested after fatal Kansas police shooting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police in Los Angeles have arrested a man they suspect made a hoax emergency call that resulted in a SWAT police officer fatally shooting a man at the door of his own home in Kansas, law enforcement officials said Saturday.

Wichita Deputy Police Chief Troy Livingston on Friday characterized the hoax call as “swatting” in which a “prankster” called 911 with a fake story about a shooting and kidnapping to draw a SWAT team to the victim’s address. Authorities haven’t released the name of the man who was killed Thursday, but relatives have identified him as 28-year-old Andrew Finch.

Tyler Barriss, 25, is suspected of making that call and was arrested in Los Angeles on Friday, according to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Wichita Police Department in statements emailed early Saturday afternoon.

Officer Paul Cruz, a spokesman for the Wichita police, said the two city police departments are working with the FBI on the case, but provided no further details including on possible charges or extradition.

In audio of the 911 call played by Wichita police at a news conference on Friday, a man said he shot his father in the head and that he was holding his mother and a sibling at gunpoint. The caller, speaking with relative calm, also said he poured gasoline inside the home “and I might just set it on fire.”

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Australian diplomat’s tip a factor in FBI’s Russia probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — An Australian diplomat’s tip appears to have helped persuade the FBI to investigate Russian meddling in the U.S. election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told the diplomat, Alexander Downer, during a meeting in London in May 2016 that Russia had thousands of emails that would embarrass Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, the report said. Downer, a former foreign minister, is Australia’s top diplomat in Britain.

Australia passed the information on to the FBI after the Democratic emails were leaked, according to The Times, which cited four current and former U.S. and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians’ role.

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“The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the FBI to open an investigation in July 2016,” the newspaper said.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb declined to comment, saying in a statement that the administration is continuing to cooperate with the investigation now led by special counsel Robert Mueller “to help complete their inquiry expeditiously.”