AP News in Brief: 06-02-21

  • In this April 20, 2021, file image from video, defendant, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, listens to verdicts at his trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin, convicted of murder in the death of Floyd is scheduled to make his initial appearance via videoconference, Tuesday, June 1, 2021, on federal charges that he violated Floyd's civil rights when he placed his knee on the Black man's neck, pinning him to the street. (Court TV via AP, Pool, File)

Chauvin makes appearance on federal charges in Floyd’s death

MINNEAPOLIS — The former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murder in George Floyd’s death made his initial appearance Tuesday on federal charges alleging he violated Floyd’s civil rights by pinning the Black man to the pavement with his knee.

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Derek Chauvin, 45, wore an orange prison shirt when he appeared in federal court via videoconference from Minnesota’s maximum-security prison in Oak Park Heights, where he’s being held as he awaits sentencing following his April conviction on murder and manslaughter charges.

Chauvin, in his first public appearance since he was escorted out of a Minnesota courtroom, was in a small room with a white brick wall behind him and a window in front of him. He wore a surgical mask at first but took it off when U.S. Magistrate Judge Becky Thorson said he could. He sat with his hands in front of him and occasionally took notes. He leaned forward and squinted slightly, as if he was listening intently, and leaned forward even more when he answered the judge’s questions.

Chauvin stated his name and age, and said he understood the charges against him and his rights. When asked if he knew he had a right to a detention hearing, he said: “I do now, Your Honor… Probably in light of my current circumstances I believe that would be a moot point.” After a brief off-record discussion with his attorney, Eric Nelson, he waived his right to a detention hearing and Thorson ordered him into federal custody.

Justices reject J&J appeal of talc verdict

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is leaving in place a $2 billion verdict in favor of women who claim they developed ovarian cancer from using Johnson &Johnson talc products.

The justices did not comment Tuesday in rejecting Johnson &Johnson’s appeal. The company argued that it was not treated fairly in facing one trial involving 22 cancer sufferers who came from 12 states and different backgrounds.

A Missouri jury initially awarded the women $4.7 billion, but a state appeals court dropped two women from the suit and reduced the award to $2 billion. The jury found that the company’s talc products contain asbestos and asbestos-laced talc can cause ovarian cancer. The company disputes both points.

Johnson &Johnson, which is based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, has stopped selling its iconic talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada, though it remains on the market elsewhere.

But the company faces thousands of lawsuits from women who claim asbestos in the powder caused their cancer. Talc is a mineral similar in structure to asbestos, which is known to cause cancer, and they are sometimes obtained from the same mines. The cosmetics industry in 1976 agreed to make sure its talc products do not contain detectable amounts of asbestos.

Firefighter kills colleague and wounds another at fire station

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — An off-duty Los Angeles County firefighter fatally shot a fellow firefighter and wounded another at their small community fire station Tuesday before going to his nearby home, setting it on fire and apparently killing himself, authorities said.

A 44-year-old fire specialist died and a 54-year-old firefighter was shot when the gunman opened fire shortly before 11 a.m. at Fire Station 81, which is about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Los Angeles, Fire Chief Daryl Osby told reporters. The wounded man was in critical but stable condition at a hospital.

The shooter was a firefighter specialist and engineer, authorities said. The fire chief said he could not speak to the motive for the attack and doesn’t know about any disciplinary actions.

“He was not scheduled to work today. He came back and confronted the on-duty personnel,” a visibly shaken Osby said. “I cannot speak to the mindset of the shooter. I can say that it’s very tragic and sad that would be a decision point of one of the members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.”

Texas GOP to revive voting bill, Democrats plot their next move

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Republicans pressed ahead with their push for tougher election laws Tuesday, vowing to ensure Democrats’ weekend victory over one the most restrictive voting measures in the country would only be temporary.

GOP Gov. Greg Abbott prepared to call lawmakers back for a special session to revive the voting measure that died when Democrats staged a dramatic walkout from the state Capitol just before end of the legislative session Sunday night. Bolstered by GOP majorities in both the House and Senate, Abbott also was weighing whether to use the extra session to take up other top conservative priorities that had failed during the session.

That left Texas Democrats facing the aftermath of their last-minute maneuver and confronting how — or even whether — they can turn it into more than just temporary roadblock in the GOP’s nationwide pursuit to impose tighter voting laws across the U.S.

“There are consequences,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, one of Texas’ longest-serving Democrats.

Democrats who pulled off the revolt in the state House of Representatives just before a midnight deadline Sunday did not leave indefinitely. Most were back on the House floor just 12 hours later for ceremonial business, and none are calling to boycott a special session.

Pelosi rules out having Pres. Biden create Jan. 6 commission

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is ruling out a presidential commission to study the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, telling House Democrats on Tuesday that having President Joe Biden appoint a panel is unworkable even after the Senate blocked an independent probe last week.

Pelosi laid out possible next steps after Friday’s Senate vote, in which Senate Republicans blocked legislation to create an independent, bipartisan panel to investigate the siege by former President Donald Trump’s supporters. She proposed four options for an investigation of the attack, according to a person on the private Democratic caucus call who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations.

The first option, Pelosi said, is to give the Senate another chance to vote on the commission. Six Republicans voted with Democrats to move forward with the bill, and a seventh missed the vote but said he would have backed it. That means Democrats would only need support from three additional Republicans to reach the 60 votes needed for passage. The commission would be modeled after a highly respected panel that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The other options involve the House investigating the attack, meaning the probes would be inherently partisan. Pelosi suggested that she could appoint a new select committee to investigate the siege or give the responsibility to a single committee, like the House Homeland Security panel, which wrote the original bipartisan bill to create the commission. Alternately, Pelosi said committees could simply push ahead with their own investigations that are already underway.

Meat producer JBS says expects most plants working Wednesday

CANBERRA, Australia — A ransomware attack on the world’s largest meat processing company disrupted production around the world just weeks after a similar incident shut down a U.S. oil pipeline.

Brazil’s JBS SA, however, said late Tuesday that it had made “significant progress” in dealing with the cyberattack and expects the “vast majority” of its plants to be operating on Wednesday.

“Our systems are coming back online and we are not sparing any resources to fight this threat,” Andre Nogueira, CEO of JBS USA, said in a statement.

Earlier, the White House said JBS had notified the U.S. of a ransom demand from a criminal organization likely based in Russia. White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the White House and the Department of Agriculture have been in touch with the company several times this week.

JBS is the second-largest producer of beef, pork and chicken in the U.S. If it were to shut down for even one day, the U.S. would lose almost a quarter of its beef-processing capacity, or the equivalent of 20,000 beef cows, according to Trey Malone, an assistant professor of agriculture at Michigan State University.

AP interview: Kremlin cracking down on dissent before vote

MOSCOW — Russian authorities are cracking down on dissent before a crucial parliamentary election in September, in what a leading Kremlin critic on Tuesday described as an attempt to sideline opponents.

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian tycoon who moved to London after spending a decade in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging President Vladimir Putin’s rule, said the latest moves against opposition activists reflected the authorities’ concern about the waning popularity of the main Kremlin-directed party, United Russia.

Khodorkovsky told The Associated Press in an interview over Zoom that the upcoming election is a “theatrical performance, in which any candidates that the government isn’t happy with will simply not be allowed to run.” He said that the authorities are increasing repression to stifle any critical voices before the Sept. 19 parliamentary election, including activists of the Open Russian movement that he financed.

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