In Brief: July 4, 2020

More fireworks in Americans’ hands for July 4 raises risks

ATLANTA — For many Americans, the Fourth of July will be more intimate this year. It also could be riskier.

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Saturday will be unlike any Independence Day in recent memory. From Atlanta to San Diego, hundreds of fireworks shows have been canceled as officials restrict large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, especially as infections surge across the U.S.

With fewer professional celebrations, many Americans are bound to shoot off fireworks in backyards and at block parties. And they already are: Sales have been booming. Some public safety officials say consumer fireworks in more hands means greater danger of injuries and wildfires in parts of the country experiencing dry, scorching weather.

“The general public is buying more than ever before,” said Steve Houser, president of the National Fireworks Association.

While it’s not clear exactly what is driving people to shops, some sellers think fireworks are a diversion for people who have been stuck at home during the pandemic.

Cops fired over photos of chokehold used on Elijah McClain

AURORA, Colo. — Three officers were fired Friday over photos showing police reenact a chokehold used on Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died last year after police stopped him on the street in a Denver suburb.

One of those fired is Jason Rosenblatt, a white Aurora officer who helped stop McClain in August for wearing a ski mask and “being suspicious.” Police put McClain in a chokehold, paramedics injected him with a sedative and McClain suffered cardiac arrest before later being taken off life support.

Aurora Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson told reporters that officers sent the photos to Rosenblatt and others two months after McClain died to “cheer up a friend,” without explaining who that was. Rosenblatt responded with a text saying, “Haha.” Officer Nathan Woodyard, who put McClain in a chokehold, also got the photos but he was not disciplined because he didn’t respond.

“We are ashamed, we are sickened, and we are angry,” Wilson said. The officers may not have committed a crime, but the photographs are “a crime against humanity and decency,” she added.

McClain’s death has become a rallying cry amid a national reckoning over police brutality and racial injustice, with the state reopening the case for possible criminal charges and federal officials looking into a civil rights investigation. In several places, the chokehold has been banned and other police reforms passed after nationwide protests.

Epstein cohort’s arrest becomes new test for plea deal

NEW YORK — Before Jeffrey Epstein’s jailhouse suicide last year, his defense hinged on a 2008 deal with federal prosecutors in Florida over his alleged sexual abuse of multiple teenage girls. His lawyers said it prevented him from being charged with further crimes.

Could that same deal now help Ghislaine Maxwell, the Epstein confidante arrested Thursday, evade charges she helped lure at least three girls into sexual liaisons with him?

Maxwell’s lawyers haven’t outlined their defense strategy, but her legal team is bound to raise the issue in the months ahead.

The British socialite was arrested Thursday in New Hampshire on charges that she acted as a recruiter of underage girls for Epstein, usually under the guise of hiring them to perform massages, and sometimes participated in his sexual abuse of the teens.

The allegations against the couple date back many years, but Epstein, for a while, appeared to have resolved them under a deal with federal and state prosecutors in South Florida in which he pleaded guilty to lesser state charges and served 13 months in jail and a work-release program.

Can Trump’s anti-mail-voting crusade hurt him in key states?

DES MOINES, Iowa — President Donald Trump’s campaign and allies have blocked efforts to expand mail-in voting, forcing an awkward confrontation with top GOP election officials who are promoting the opposite in their states.

The rare dissonance between Trump and other Republican elected officials also reflects another reality the president will not concede: Many in his party believe expanding mail-in voting could ultimately help him.

Trump’s campaign has intervened directly in Ohio, while allies have fired warning shots in Iowa and Georgia, aimed at blunting Republican secretaries of state in places that could be competitive in November.

“There is a dimension to legislatures underfunding or undercutting election officials that could ironically backfire and hurt Republicans,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor and director of the nonpartisan United States Election Project.

Action by these three secretaries of state, who are the top election officials in their states, was designed to make ballot access easier during the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has repeatedly made the unfounded claim that voting by mail could lead to fraud so extensive it could undermine the integrity of the presidential election.

From wire sources

8-year-old killed, 3 injured in shooting at Alabama mall

HOOVER, Ala. — An 8-year-old boy was killed Friday in a shooting at an Alabama shopping mall that left three other people injured, police said.

Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said the child was killed in the afternoon shooting at the Riverchase Galleria. The police chief said a girl and two adults were also hospitalized after the shooting.

The Bessemer City School system identified the 8-year-old victim as Royta Giles Jr. (pronounced Roy-TAY Jyles), who would have been a third grader this fall at Jonesboro Elementary School.

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The school system described him as “a smart child, who was a jewel, with big dreams of someday entering the music industry.”

“He was bright, articulate, and very convincing. We even tried to convince him to become a lawyer,” former assistant principal Van James said in the school system statement.

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