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Aaron Showalter/New York Daily News

2 Feb

A throng of protesters Friday marched on a Bronx police station where a 7-year-old boy was handcuffed after allegedly mugging a classmate.

“Enough is enough — this is where it ends,” said Rev. Que English of the Bronx Clergy Roundtable, as about 60 demonstrators descended on the front doors of the 44th Precinct stationhouse to protest what they describe as irrational police tactics.

“What needs to happen is changes to our procedures that create the cessation of this practice … There is no justification for their actions.”

The protesters blasted cops’ treatment of third-grader Wilson Ramos, who was cuffed and held for about six hours inside the Morris Heights stationhouse after the mother of 9-year-old Seth Acevado called police to report that Wilson attacked her son.

Wilson allegedly punched Seth in the December incident and swiped $5 from him, police sources said.

Cops went to Public School 114 on Cromwell Ave. four days later and collared Ramos before bringing him back to the stationhouse, where they handcuff him to a wall.

Wilson’s mother, Frances Mendez, was able to snap a cell phone picture of her handcuffed son — and hired an attorney to file a $250 million lawsuit against the city and the NYPD.

The family’s suit claims the police went too far.


Anthony DelMundo/Anthony DelMundo/New York Daily

Janet Ramos kisses her son, Seth Acevedo, the 9-year-old who was allegedly bullied and robbed of $5 by a younger classmate.

And the demonstrators — who carried signs that read “Stop treating us like criminals” and “Bullying a 7-year-old does not teach him to stop bullying” — seemed to agree.

Some clergy members believe the 4-foot-7, 75-pound Wilson was restrained only because he lives in a community of color.

“We think this was wrong, and it’s symbolic of the culture that permeates in the police department,” said the Rev. Raymond Rivera. “It reflects a lack of training, a lack of sensitivity, a lack of options … it’s just an overall culture that says if you’re in communities of color, if you’re in the hood, people can be treated different.”

The city’s controller, John Liu, said police should consider different options when facing crimes committed by children.

“Sometimes kids get into trouble and we do have an ongoing bullying problem that’s happening in our schools,” Liu said. “But the way to deal with that is not by having the police come into the school and cuff these little kids and dragging them to the precinct and detaining them for hours.”

Wilson’s alleged victim defended the police.

“[Wilson] deserved to be cuffed,” Seth told the Daily News on Wednesday. “He acts like an animal … People are trying to say, ‘Poor Wilson,’ but he’s nothing but a big bully.”

Seth’s mother, Janet Ramos, said her son has been tormented by Wilson since the beginning of the school year.

“I would have handcuffed him, too,” she told the News.



EDITORIAL: Report on Otsu teen’s suicide offers vital lessons for all educators

2 Feb

An independent committee investigating the suicide of a 13-year-old junior high school student in Otsu who was brutally bullied by classmates has released a report criticizing teachers for failing to respond effectively to the abuse they knew was going on.

Teachers at the school were aware the student was a victim of bullying and they could have prevented the suicide if they had made serious efforts to stop the boy’s classmates ganging up on him, the report said.

The panel was set up last year by the Otsu municipal government in Shiga Prefecture to uncover the truth about the case.

The municipal board of education initially claimed that bullying was not the cause of the boy’s suicide. But the panel dismissed the claim after analyzing records at the school and the education board, including notes made by teachers. The members also questioned many students and teachers.

The panel deserves credit for producing a convincing report based on the facts.

The student suffered horrible mental and physical abuse from his classmates.

He was regularly beaten in the classroom and in the corridor. His textbooks and report cards were torn. He was forced to “practice” committing suicide and was verbally abused, being told to “Drop dead!” on occasion.

The report cited 19 kinds of abusive acts committed against the victim and concluded that relentless bullying triggered the suicide.

Many students entreated teachers to protect the boy. One week before he killed himself by jumping from his 14th-floor apartment, his class teacher witnessed violence against him by classmates but did nothing beyond saying, “Stop it.”

Some other teachers at the school recognized that the student was bullied. The class teacher and his colleagues held meetings to discuss the problem but took no action to stop the bullying.

By failing to respond to calls for help from students, the children effectively had no other people to turn to.

Among its proposals, the panel’s report called for the establishment of a relief institution for abused children outside school.

One possible model is the independent ombudsman system to protect the human rights of children that was set up in 1999 by the city of Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture.

Under the program, ombudsmen appointed by the city, including a university professor and a lawyer, answer requests for telephone counseling and carry out their own investigations into suspected violations of children’s human rights.

They advise the schools and other organizations concerned to take action when deemed necessary.

The mission of the counselors is to prevent the worst from happening. In 2011, they received 598 requests for counseling, 43 percent of them from children.

A growing number of local governments are adopting similar systems. To ensure the effectiveness of such systems, it is necessary to increase the numbers of counselors adequately trained to deal with children seeking help and of competent experts in fact-finding inquiries into such cases. It is also important to make sure that the systems fit local conditions and needs.

The panel’s report also revealed some disturbing facts about the moves made by the school and the education board after the student killed himself.

Making no serious efforts to identify the cause of the suicide, they instead made preparations to argue that it was not caused by bullying in case the family of the victim filed a lawsuit.

The municipal board of education initially asserted that the victim’s home environment was a factor behind the suicide. But the report took serious issue with this argument, saying there is no solid supportive evidence, and dismissed the claim as “a fictitious story.”

The board’s unfounded argument not only added to the pain of the victim’s family but also deprived the tormentors of an opportunity to do soul-searching on what they had done.

School bullying is a serious problem for the entire nation.

Teachers, parents and other adult members of society have a responsibility to learn lessons from Otsu’s reflection on the case and respond to children’s cries for help.

–The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 2


Bullying victim to share his story at SUNY forum

31 Jan

Jamie Nabozny will share his story as a victim of bullying during daytime and evening sessions at a SUNY Geneseo forum on bulllllllllllllllllll

SUNY Geneseo
Jamie Nabozny will share his story as a victim of bullying during daytime and evening sessions at a SUNY Geneseo forum on bulllllllllllllllllll

Bullying victim to share his story at SUNY forum

Jamie Nabozny, who as a middle school student was bullied for being gay, will present two programs Monday at SUNY Geneseo as part of an all-day community forum on bullying.

The forum, hosted by Center for Community at SUNY Geneseo, is aimed at confronting bullying in schools and workplaces. The forum will examine the problem through lectures, discussions, a film screening and other sessions.

“We are very fortunate to have Jamie with us for this important community forum,” Matthews said. “Bullying is a growing national issue all around us that is often made worse by the pervasive media in our society. We want to do our part to educate people on the problem.”

Programs during the day will focus on academic settings and bring about 300 elementary and high school students from about a half dozen area schools to the Geneseo campus, said Tom Matthews, associate dean of leadership and service at SUNY Geneseo.

The evening sessions will be aimed at adults.

“Bullying is not just a K through 12 phenomenon. It can happen in the workplace, too,” Matthews said.

Nabozny will present his first session from 10 to noon Monday in MacVittie College Union Ballroom.

“Bullied: The Jamie Nabozny Story” will be attended by students, faculty and administrators from Geneseo and invited school district students.

The program will relate how Nabozny, who grew up in the small northern Wisconscin town of Ashland, was targeted in middle school for being gay. Years of harassment ended with a beating that put Nabozny in the hospital and required abdominal surgery.

Nabozny later won a landmark lawsuit in federal court that established that all young people were entitled to a safe education experience.

The Southern Poverty Law Center produced the documentary “Bullied” that chronicles Nabozny’s life story.

Nabozny, recently named a Defender of Human Rights by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, shares his story so that no child has to endure what he endured.

Nabozny will reprise his presentation at 7:30 p.m., in a program open to the entire community.

Other sessions will examine how defending opinions can sometimes lead to uncivil behavior and bullying, how educating students with a social conscience can stop bullying, ways for school staff to recognize, prevent and intervene with bullying, and the role of student leaders in preventing bullying.

Here’s a list of the day’s events open to the public:

  • 10 a.m. “Bullied: The Jamie Nabozny Story” screening (MacVittie Union Ballroom)
  • 12:30 p.m. “Academic Freedom: Can Vigorous Debate Turn Into Bullying?” (MacVittie Union Ballroom)
  • 2:30 p.m. “Inspiring a New Generation: Educating Students With A Social Conscience to Stop Bullying” (MacVittie Union room 114)
  • 4:15 p.m. “Recognizing, Preventing and Intervening with Bullying for K-12 School Staff” (MacVittie Union Ballroom)
  • 5:45 p.m. “Preventing and Intervening With Bullying and Harassment: The Role of Student Leaders and RAs” (MacVittie Union Ballroom)
  • 7:30 p.m. “Bullied: The Jamie Nabozny Story” guest speaker (MacVittieUnion Ballroom)

The program is co-sponsored by SUNY Geneseo Residence Life, GOLD Program, Student Campus Life, Center for Community, Student Association, Activities Commission, Ella Cline Shear School of Education, Geneseo Chapter of United University Professions and New York State United Teachers.



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Former Romney Co-Chair Sues Mother Jones For Defamation

31 Jan

VanderSloot claims those corrections didn’t go far enough. He also points to a pair of tweets that the muckraking magazine sent out promoting the story, one of which dubbed him Romney’s “gay-bashing buddy.” That, according to VanderSloot’s very literal reading of the term, amounts to accusing him of committing a “hate crime”: “In my opinion, that’s what gay-bashing is,” he said. “The accusation is that I have bashed gay people.”


Federal judge dismisses Mentor High School bullying lawsuit

31 Jan

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Robert Rodriguez Sued For $11M For Allegedly Bullying Apple Co-Founder …

30 Jan

Robert Rodriguez was sued today for at least $11 million by an independent producer who claims the Machete Kills director used “threats and intimidation” to damage the film Danny Trejo’s Vengeance and a new Steve Wozniak-endorsed app related to the movie. “Rodriguez feared that the promotion of another film starring Danny Trejo would diminish the Machete Kills brand and would threaten box office numbers and thus set in motion a plan to diminish ITN’s reputation and stifle the success of the film and the App Game,” says the five-count complaint (read it here) from ITN Flix. The company is seeking $11 million in damages plus more to be determined by a jury trial. In a filing in federal court Tuesday in Utah, ITN’s lawyers claim that Rodriguez and Trejo’s longtime talent agent Gloria Hinojosa of Amsel, Eisenstadt Frazier “bullied, threatened and intimidated all people involved with Film and the App Game to damage sales and sever business relationships.”

As Deadline reported last November, ITN had developed the app Danny Trejo’s Vengeance: Woz With A Coz featuring Apple co-founder Wozniak as a way to promote the movie and create another revenue stream. As well, the company was trying to set up a campaign to promote Danny Trejo’s Vengeance on the marketing coattails of Machete Kills, which Trejo also stars in, by offering an 80-20 split with rival exhibitors of Open Road. Open Road picked up distribution for the Machete sequel in October and plans to release the film September 13, 2013. This is the second Machete Kills lawsuit Rodriguez has to face. In late November, Overnight Productions filed a suit to terminate their agreement with the director to make another movie about the rogue Mexican Federale. It successful, the case would revert all Machete rights back to Oversight and could stop the release of the movie.

Today’s suit claims Hinojosa called Wozniak just before the highly promoted app was set to debut on November 22, 2012, and told him that ITN CEO Gil Medina was a “con man” and had no contract with Trejo. The suit says Rodriguez instigated this call and that Hinojosa knew what she was saying was untrue because as Trejo’s agent she’d seen the various contracts the actor had signed with ITN since 2006. “Wozniak represented to his business associate Rick White, that Hinojosa’s and Rodriguez’s threats were the reason he backed out of his support of the Game App and his business relationship with ITN,” says the filing. ITN’s suit alleges that the loss of the Apple co-founder’s public support and association with the app cost them around $5 million a month starting in late November. As well as seeking financial damages, ITN wants an injunction and a restraining order against all the defendants from making any more defamatory statements and further interfering with ITN’s business relations.” The plaintiffs are represented by Joseph Pia and Sara Payne of the Salt Lake City firm Pia Anderson Dorius Reynard Moss.

Deadline’s Dominic Patten – tip him here.

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Tehachapi board approves anti-bullying curriculum

30 Jan

The district is under a federal mandate to provide such training after the suicide of Seth Walsh. The 13-year-old middle school student hanged himself two years ago after he was bullied at school for being gay. His family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the district.

Some parents worried last year that the elementary school curriculum might cover adult themes that were not appropriate for very young children. Others expressed concern that the training promoted homosexuality in violation of their religious beliefs.

The district held numerous meetings with parents to go over the sixth- through 12th-grade curriculum, designed, as was the earlier one, by the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. A committee of educators put off Tuesday’s presentation — originally scheduled for June — in order to consider parent feedback and make revisions.

The curriculum was broadened to cover other marginalized groups, and speaks generally about tolerance, the consequences of bullying, ethics in cyberspace, legal ramifications of discrimination and respecting differences, among other topics.

About 20 people showed up at the meeting. One of them was parent Bonnie Mata, who asked for a written guarantee that classroom discussions would not tread into judgments about whether certain preferences were morally acceptable, which she felt was best reserved for discussion at home.

Parents would feel “a lot more comfortable if there was something in writing on how far the conversations can go, something that said they can only discuss it to this level, and then they would refer back to a parent or a counselor. Something you could hold up to protect your rights and your moral and religious beliefs within your family,” she said.

District Superintendent Lisa Gilbert said she wouldn’t have a problem putting such a policy in writing, and said the district has already gone over with staff how to handle sensitive discussions.


Multinational Corporation Behind Keystone XL Pipeline Bullies Activists Into …

30 Jan

Tammie Carson, targeted by TransCanada’s lawsuit (Photo by Tar Sands Blockade)

TransCanada, which is currently constructing a tar sands oil pipeline that runs through Texas, reached a settlement with activists who have been protesting the pipeline. The settlement was the result of a lawsuit the multinational corporation brought to censor, intimidate and silence activists protesting construction by burdening them with a lawsuit where they would be preoccupied with defending themselves in court.

Lawyers from the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) represented the Tar Sands Blockade, Rising Tide North America and Rising North Texas and several other individuals. As part of the settlement, the activists agreed to “no longer trespass or cause damage to Keystone XL property including the easements within private property boundaries.”

The suit brought was what is known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Such lawsuits enable fascism by providing a mechanism for a corporation to go after individuals or groups engaged in protest or freedom of speech. They are often used against people who lack resources or cannot afford to pay the legal expenses necessary to stand up to a corporation in court.

CLDC cites one court in the case of Gordon v. Marrone that described SLAPP lawsuits as suits that:

…function by forcing the target into the judicial arena where the SLAPP filer foists upon the target the expenses of a defense…The purpose of such gamesmanship ranges from simple retribution for past activism to discouraging future activism…Those who lack the financial resources and emotional stamina to play out the “game” face the difficult choice of defaulting despite meritorious defenses or being brought to their knees to settle…Persons who have been outspoken on issues of public importance targeted in such suits or who have witnessed such suits will often choose in the future to stay silent. Short of a gun to the head, a greater threat to First Amendment expression can scarcely be imagined.

The activists had a choice: either settle or face a lawsuit in court where TransCanada would seek $5 million for alleged financial damages or a “draconian injunction” that could have much worse consequences.

According to the Toronto Star, Wood County District Judge G. Timothy Boswell “urged the sides to settle their differences out of court.” Also, the deal extends “beyond that single county to include demonstrations aimed at interfering with pipeline construction activities throughout Keystone’s entire southern leg.” So, the settlement gives TransCanada more power to go after Tar Sands Blockade, the Rising Tide chapters and known individuals who have been protesting.

What it does not do is stop individuals unknown to TransCanada and groups other than Tar Sands Blockade or Rising Tide chapters from engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience or disruptive activity. However, presumably, the corporation could take legal action against activists and claim in court that it has evidence tying people the Tar Sands Blockade claims are unaffiliated to the groups who were part of the settlement.

Lauren Regan, veteran attorney with CLDC, who helped coordinate legal representation for the activists, reacted to the settlement:

This is a David versus Goliath situation, where an unethical, transnational corporation is using its weight to crush First Amendment rights of people speaking out and resisting the irreparable destruction that will result from construction of this highly controversial XL Pipeline…But the resistance to the pipeline is growing, not shrinking; it’s coming from everywhere.  This is a national and global issue that will effect us all.

A Tar Sands Blockade press release included reactions from two individuals targeted by TransCanada’s lawsuit.

Texan grandmother Tammie Carson declared, “I took action for my grandkids’ future. I couldn’t sit idly by and watch as a multinational corporate bully abused eminent domain to build a dirty and dangerous tar sands pipeline right through Texans’ backyards.” But she said, “I had no choice but to settle or lose my home and everything I’ve worked for my entire life.”

Spokesperson and defendant from Fort Worth, Texas, Ramsey Sprague, stated, “TransCanada is dead wrong if they think a civil lawsuit against a handful of Texans is going to stop a grassroots civil disobedience movement. This is nothing more than another example of TransCanada repressing dissent and bullying Texans who are defending their homes and futures from toxic tar sands.”

The Tar Sands Blockade noted how TransCanada has been inconsistent, contending publicly the protests are not disrupting construction while at the same time pursuing this lawsuit where it suggested the protests were causing millions of dollars of damage. If you’re a multinational corporation in a country with city, state, federal governments and even a judicial system that will let you have your way with harassing and forcing people into selling land for a pipeline project, then you can be disingenuous and say whatever fits your agenda and suppress dissent.

These protests against TransCanada are not going to go away. Today was a World Action Day in solidarity with the indigenous sovereignty movement Idle No More in Canada that has been taking action in defense of their land and the environment. The Tar Sands Blockade has been mobilizing people since August of last year. Before that, over a thousand people were arrested in multiple actions in front of the White House while demanding President Barack Obama block TransCanada’s pipeline project from being built.

This may have the effect TransCanada wants on a few people who were undecided on whether to go protest in Texas against the pipeline, but in the long-term, it has the potential to galvanize more and more Americans to challenge the way TransCanada has been forcibly seizing land from low-income owners so it can build a dirty pipeline that is destined to pollute the environment and increase America’s contribution to climate change.


For Many Trapped in Religious "Cults," Steve Hassan Keeps Hope Alive

28 Jan

Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs. By Steven Hassan. Newton, MA: Freedom of Mind Press, 2012. 242 pp.

Author and mental health counselor Steve Hassan has made hundreds of television appearances in recent years to spread the alarm about the dangerous growth of “cults” in America. A former top lieutenant to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon — the charismatic founder of the Unification Church, the fanatical South Korean religious group known popularly as the “Moonies” — he clearly knows the perils of such groups from the inside. In Freedom of Mind, his fourth book, he presents an updated version of his practical handbook published in 2000 on how family members can approach and successfully “rescue” their loved ones from the clutches of groups that nurture extreme emotional and psychological dependency among their members to the point where many are prepared to do anything — even commit mass suicide — to fulfill their leaders’ mission.

But his latest book is much more than a rehash of Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves. In the intervening years, Hassan has worked with hundreds of families — scoring numerous successes, but sometimes encountering disappointments, including threats of lawsuits — and he’s gone to school on his experiences and kept abreast of the latest academic research. Here he offers a more subtle theory of how cults recruit and maintain themselves as well as more sophisticated strategies and techniques that families and counselors can use to convince those unwittingly trapped inside cults to leave.

Hassan categorically rejects the once-popular theory of “deprogramming” – which he himself advocated and practiced in his early years – that seems to legitimize the efforts of families to seize their loved ones forcibly – and illegally — to prevent them from associating with a cult. As he notes, even when such coercive “exit” strategies have worked, they have often left former cult members in a state of fear and trauma just as deep as the one induced by cult membership. In fact, rescued this way, it may take years before ex-members shed their lingering associations with the cult and trust their ability to think and act independently, Hassan argues.

Hassan acknowledges that under extreme circumstances, recourse to such measures may still be necessary. However, the bulk of the book is devoted to detailing a more patient and sophisticated method that he calls the “strategic interactive approach,” which relies on slowly re-establishing rapport between loved ones and cult members over time, and wherever possible, taking advantage of spaces that may open up to interact with cult members on neutral turf, away from the constantly probing eyes and ears of other cult members.

In one fascinating case he cites, a family invites a cult member home to help convince her alcoholic father to seek treatment. She does and after her father completes treatment, he asks his daughter to reciprocate by seeking help for her addiction to her cult. It works. Sometimes the results are fairly rapid, but just as often, family members and friends need to take time and care to engage in protracted dialogue to sow doubt about the integrity of the cult and its impact on their loved one. In contrast to past approaches, the idea is to reinforce the decision-making integrity and autonomy of the cult member. If he or she once “chose” the cult, he or she can freely “choose” to leave it — but only once its destructive influence is fully exposed, and alternate support is available.

Hassan’s approach is also striking for placing as much emphasis on first engaging the affected family in a form of group therapy so that it can ease the trauma, phobias, and emotional pain it has suffered and steel itself to sustain future interactions with its loved one — as well as formal “interventions” — in the most productive way possible. As Hassan notes, many families lack the emotional resources to address these issues on their own and, like the case cited above, there may be preexisting family issues — from substance addiction to sexual abuse — that help explain why a loved one found a cult environment more safe and supportive (at least initially).

Hassan’s work is not without controversy. Hassan himself acknowledges, for example, that what separates a “destructive” from what he calls a “benign” cult — or religious sect — is not always apparent. Some people join groups with a charismatic messianic leader with unquestioned supreme authority in which there is heavy peer pressure to conform. However, the cult members are not necessarily subjected to emotional abuse, bullying, physical threats, or other forms of behavioral control including excessive group “service,” sleep deprivation and various forms of hypnosis — often disguised as “meditation” or “psychic channeling” — that allow leaders to exert undue influence over the minds of their members.

Still, looks can be deceiving, Hassan argues. In some cults, members maintain their own residences and work regular jobs but their entire life is still devoted to building up and serving the cult, often at the expense of their own health or financial welfare. Hassan tries to walk a fine line in these matters. His web site contains a compendium of groups that others have referred to as cults or suspected cults. Others sometimes disagree with his designations. For example, in the global yoga movement, which has long featured cults, both supremely destructive and relatively benign, controversy in recent years has swirled around groups like Dahn Yoga, SYDA Yoga, Anusara Yoga, Geshe Michael Roach, and MISA. Hassan lists Dahn and SYDA, largely because of published exposés, but does not list the others. In the end, if there is a continuum of “cultishness,” it’s not always easy to determine when a group that is merely esoteric and wacky — to outsiders at least — crosses the line and becomes “destructive,” especially if no illegal activity or broader negative impact is apparent.

There are many myths about cults, Hassan notes. For example, many observers assume that cult members are typically lost or runaway youth and that those seeking to rescue them are their parents. Not so, he says. Many cult members are older parents themselves and quite often, it’s their children or siblings who are anxious to reclaim them. In addition, there’s the persistent myth that those with higher incomes and more education are less susceptible to cult recruitment than poorer, less educated individuals. In fact, intellectuals, including middle class college students, are often a prime recruiting demographic, in part, because they are fascinated by esoteric ideologies but also because they may have access to financial resources that cults hope to secure. In fact, many cult members do end up donating their life savings, or in the case of Dahn Yoga, turning over their student loans or maxing out their parents’ credit cards to help support group activities

Hassan ends his book with a “call to action,” asking that mental health professionals and lawyers educate themselves about cults and that the news media “step up” and help serve as “citizen watchdogs,” reporting on cults in their early stages rather than sensationalizing incidents like the mass suicides of the People’s Temple in Jonestown in 1979, David Koresh’s Branch Davidian movement in Waco, Texas in 1993, and the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult in San Diego, CA in 1997. These represent the extreme case of relatively small groups that ended up fulfilling their own “end of the world” doomsday prophecies. Hassan says they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Daily, tens of thousands of captive Americans are living under the radar of public detection and it’s critical to reach them before their cult group enters the danger zone.

Thanks, in part, to his steadfast efforts — and proven methods — there’s hope that someone will.


Activists settle lawsuit against Keystone XL Pipeline, TransCanada claimed $5 …

28 Jan

Tar Sands Blockade:

EAST TEXAS (KYTX) – On Friday, January 25th, a group of activists agreed to a settlement in TransCanada’s lawsuit against Tar Sands Blockade, Rising Tide North Texas, Rising Tide North America, and nineteen individuals. The SLAPP suit (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) alleged that nonviolent direct action against Keystone XL has cost TransCanada $5 million dollars. This contradicts frequent public statements by TransCanada’s spokespeople that blockaders were not impeding construction in any meaningful way.

The eight Texans who came to court to defend themselves on Friday, some of whom had not been actively involved with Tar Sands Blockade since protests in August, were threatened with losing their homes and life’s savings if the lawsuit went forward. In order to protect the livelihoods and dependents of brave activists like Tammie Carson, who locked herself to a truck carrying Keystone XL pipe, the activists agreed to settle the lawsuit. The corporation will not seek the $5 million in financial damages, and the named defendants and organizations agree to not trespass on Keystone XL property in Texas and Oklahoma or face additional charges.
Despite this legal setback, members of Tar Sands Blockade are as determined as ever to stop Keystone XL. The sustained direct action campaign will continue.

Defendants made the following statements in response to the settlement:

“I took action for my grandkids’ future. I couldn’t sit idly by and watch as a multinational corporate bully abused eminent domain to build a dirty and dangerous tar sands pipeline right through Texans’ backyards. I had no choice but to settle or lose my home and everything I’ve worked for my entire life,” said Tammie Carson, a lifelong Texan, grandmother, and defendant from Arlington, TX.

“TransCanada is dead wrong if they think a civil lawsuit against a handful of Texans is going to stop a grassroots civil disobedience movement. This is nothing more than another example of TransCanada repressing dissent and bullying Texans who are defending their homes and futures from toxic tar sands,” said Ramsey Sprague, Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson, and defendant from Fort Worth, TX.


Judge dismisses lawsuit over student bullying

28 Jan

A B.C. mother has lost her bid to hold the North Okanagan Shuswap school district responsible for  her son’s bullying.

The woman, who doesn’t want to be named because that would identify her son, filed an action in small claims court last year alleging the district had breached its duty of care to her boy, who was then in Grade 6. She asked for compensation for the wages she lost after she pulled him from Shuswap middle school and began teaching him at home.

But a judge dismissed her case Friday saying the student, not his mother, should have been the plaintiff, according to Global Okanagan. Watch the report by CHBC News reporter Robert Buffam here.

“I have turned to litigation just because my child and 300, 000 children per month that report bullying in Canadian schools are not being heard,” she said, after filing her statement of claim in October.

The school district denied the allegations.


Civil suit against GoDaddy: Revenge porn should be criminal

27 Jan

Ask me a question.

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 26, 2013 ― Seventeen women in Texas have sued a website called Texxxan.com, hosting giant GoDaddy, and unidentified defendants in response to nude images that were posted, ostensibly by their revenge-seeking ex-boyfriends and ex-husbands. 

The civil lawsuit alleges invasion of privacy. Certainly. To say the least.

Perhaps I am simply naïve. I was beyond shocked to learn of this sick and juvenile behavior. It should be criminal. Revenge sites have been around for quite a while. This seems to be the adult version of the middle school “slam books” that were (are?) passed around, that contained nasty comments about classmates. 

Hunter Moore is a well-known purveyor of porn. He took down his website that did much of the same thing as Texxxan.com. Moore’s site, IsAnybodyUp, featured nude photographs submitted without the consent of the subjects, and included real names and hometown identification. He allegedly made $10,000 per month from ad revenue.

In an interview with the New York Observer Moore said: “In a perfect world there would be no bullying and there would be no people like me and there would be no sites like mine … but we don’t live in a perfect world.”

Break-ups with your boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse used to subject you to being trash-talked to your circle of acquaintances by your ex. Maybe the ex would even talk to family about you. Now, the trash can be instantly communicated to the world. The internet takes vindictiveness and exposure of very personal information to an unthinkable level.

The repercussions can be devastating. A woman’s images and her private information as exposed could affect her social status or employment. Aside from repercussions from the “outside world,” exposure can and certainly does create mental anguish, emotional distress, embarrassment, depression and shock. There may be temporary and even long-term psychological harm.

Posting nude photographs, identifying and other private information without consent should be criminal. It should be a federal crime. 

State police tell us it is federal crime, if it is a crime at all, because the internet crosses state lines. The FBI says it is a civil matter. 

A new law should be created or the legal definition of battery should be enlarged. 

As defined everywhere, battery involves a physical touching of your body. It should be expanded to include “touching” or harming you psychologically. We recognize psychological harm can be much more devastating and longer lasting than physical harm. 

The following elements currently must be proven to establish a case for battery: (1) an act by a defendant; (2) an intent to cause harmful or offensive contact on the part of the defendant; and (3) harmful or offensive contact.

If battery’s definition cannot be changed, a new criminal law should be created.

The women in this case are seeking an injunction to have the website taken down, and unspecified monetary damages from the defendants.

They will not prevail with any of their claims. They have not named the correct defendants. They should be suing their ex-sleaze-balls for money damages, both compensatory and punitive. 

The women sued the website Texxxan.com, meaning in effect they sued the owner(s) of that site. Unfortunately, our country’s freedom of speech laws will allow the sleaze-ball owner(s) to keep the site. Negative publicity may well end the site’s existence.

The women sued “unidentified defendants that include the persons and/or entities hosting the site.” They also sued “all subscribing members” and GoDaddy. 

All of these defendants will prevail. The claims against the subscribers and GoDaddy are governed by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which shields internet providers and users, in effect giving them immunity, from civil liability for providing or using an “interactive computer service.”

The immunity provided by this law involves a three-prong test. Users and providers, as defendants, must prove each of the three things to have the immunity:

* The defendant must be a “provider or user” of an “interactive computer service.”

* The cause of action asserted by the plaintiff must “treat” the defendant “as the publisher or speaker” of the harmful information at issue.

* The information must be “provided by another information content provider,” i.e., the defendant must not be the “information content provider” of the harmful information at issue.

The attorney for the plaintiffs indicates that the immunity of the law does not apply in this case because there was knowledge that the content was posted without the consent of the women. This argument is not even legally close to being successful. Even if it can be shown that GoDaddy knew what it was hosting or that it could have taken the site down, GoDaddy will not be responsible here in any way.

The law’s immunity provision says nothing about consent, and there is no court that will expand the law to include such an inquiry. Imagine the number of claims that such an action would create.

Talk about opening the floodgates …

Since the law was passed in 1996, dozens of lawsuits have been filed and none have found success in making host providers civilly responsible. The categories of claims against host providers include Defamation, False Information, Sexually Explicit Content including minors, Discriminatory Housing Ads, and Threats.

Again, the reason for the failure to succeed against the host-provider is simply that the provider did not create the content. The messenger is not responsible. Neither is the audience.

The process of discovery, if this suit ever progresses that far, could potentially reveal who pays for access to the site to view the postings. The theory the women have in suing these individuals is that their funds assist in maintaining the site, that the site is somehow illegal, and therefore the subscribers are civilly responsible. The theory is a very long stretch and has no chance of success given the Section 230 law.

Having now trashed these women’s claims in the suit they filed, I return to my original thought. The actions of those sick ex-boyfriends and ex-husbands who posted the content should be criminal. The civil lawsuit should have named them as defendants, and if it did, the women would prevail against them. In the meantime, once again, our Federal elected officials and those in every state should take up this matter and create a criminal law that subjects those that post these images without consent to jail time, public lashing, salt being placed in the wounds thereafter, and permanent monikers similar to those of sex offenders.


Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics.  Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, in Washington, D.C., on the Andy Parks show, the featured legal analyst for America’s Radio News Network, heard in 165 markets nationwide, and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.

His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.


Is that the Egypt we dreamed of? – Al

27 Jan

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

Those who took to the streets of Egypt two years ago could not at the time see except a dream of the society they want to live in. This dream blinded them to the presence of a group that took advantage of them to achieve its own goals and not those of the people who staged the revolution. Now, when they stand and look around, don’t they feel they have been deceived?

What do we have now in Egypt after two years have passed since those who dreamt of change took to the streets? What we have now is the same old equation, only with a change in its components. Those who ruled are now in prison or in the opposition while the factions of political Islam, which constituted the main opposition bloc in the past 60 years under the leadership of its biggest group, are now in power and maintaining the tactics of the old regime. This group stole the dream of Egyptian average citizens who thought that the slogan they used will turn into a reality only to find out that it was just used as a tool of political victory on the part of the group. It is all over now, as one of the youths who took to the streets two years ago noted. The “freedom and justice” in the slogan were stolen by this group when it named its political party.

Lack of trust

 It is a big mistake to assume that the new rulers will offer any concessions or give precedence to the nation over the group, for their ideology does not make of the homeland a first priority 

Two years later, lying has become the norm. The new rulers have been lying from day one and continued to do so for two whole years. Lying has become a system of governance and a style of life. There are several examples to demonstrate that starting from the first constitutional declaration to deceiving youths several times then the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, then vowing to compete for only one third or half the seats of the People’s Assembly and not to compete for the presidency, let alone the talk about NASA and accusing us of understanding nothing. All this was before coming to power and when they did, lying became a virtue they practice all the time. The rulers lie and do not keep any of the promises they make to the people, who no longer believe them is if they have accepted the status quo.

The new rulers have adopted a bullying approach for the past two years and examples are too many to be listed here. The problem is that large portions of the people starting adopting the same approach as part of their daily lives. Why wouldn’t they? Isn’t this the common behavior of the rulers?

A few months after coming to power, the new rulers managed to undermine all the people’s dreams and nothing will stand in their way, for they are determined to seize control on all the state legislative and executive powers and even the judiciary is not safe from their grip. They drafted a constitution that guarantees that they remain in power and they threatened to hunt down all forms of opposition through the deformed laws they will pass. They will especially target the media, start filing a series of complaints and lawsuits against the opposition, and restructure al-Azhar so that it can be fully controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Economy is another disaster. The local currency is collapsing, reserves in the Central Bank are deteriorating, and tourism is falling apart. Furthermore, Egyptian businessmen are running away and foreign ones, except a certain nationality of course, are warned of coming to Egypt. This tactic aims at establishing a new businessmen class made up of the Brotherhood’s allies and making easy profit while completing the plan to get hold of all the state’s institutions. They will take Egypt to a stage where the utmost hope of Egyptians would be getting a loan or securing an aid.


It is a big mistake to assume that the new rulers will offer any concessions or give precedence to the nation over the group, for their ideology does not make of the homeland a first priority. Their allegiance transcends national boundaries or so they think.

A friend once told me that the real problem is that they stripped us of the ability to dream.

Two years ago, people took to the streets with big dreams that were aborted and with a slogan that only remained in the name of the ruling party. This is where “freedom” and “justice” went. As for “bread,” each citizen will get three loaves as per the new rulers’ plan.

Abdel Latif al-Menawy is an author, columnist and multimedia journalist who has covered conflicts around the world. He is the author of “Tahrir: the last 18 days of Mubarak,” a book he wrote as an eyewitness to events during the 18 days before the stepping down of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Menawy’s most recent public position was head of Egypt’s News Center. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom, and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. He can be found on Twitter @ALMenawy


Evander Holyfield hopes to help knock out bullying

27 Jan

VANCOUVER — Looking sharp and relaxed in blue jeans, a collared shirt and leather jacket, a fit Evander Holyfield walks into the back wine room of a Georgian Court Hotel restaurant and slides easily into a leather chair.

It’s the former five-time heavyweight boxing champion’s first visit to Vancouver. And as the 50-year-old Atlanta native launches into his anti-bullying message — a key reason for his three-day trip — we’re instantly struck by the fact his speech is clear, if not always concise.

Nothing like the slurred mumblings of Joe Frazier and other punch-drunk boxing legends who were here in recent years for pro fight cards at the River Rock Resort.

And as he talks, it’s darn difficult to keep from eyeing his famously chomped-on right ear, especially considering the effects of Mike Tyson’s crazed mid-round nibble are still evident.

Which can’t help but remind us of that hilarious line Tyson uttered in a commercial a few years back for Holyfield’s Real Deal BBQ sauce: “It’s ear-lickin’ good.�

The Real Deal Grill goes on the market in Canada next month and the BBQ sauce soon after. Legacy Partners Group — a Cheyene, Wyo., based marketing company — recently obtained exclusive right to promote Holyfield’s products in this country.

In a release, Legacy says partial proceeds are earmarked (yes, they actually used that word) for the Amanda Todd Legacy Fund, which was established after the Port Coquitlam teenager committed suicide last year following months of being bullied at school and online.

Real Deal BBQ sauce comes in “two knockout flavours.� But asked what makes it so good, Holyfield said the only thing he can tell people is that they have to try it.

“The idea with what BBQ is supposed to be, either it’s going to be hot or mild, do you like the taste? But I never met anybody who tasted the Real Deal sauce and didn’t like it. Mike Tyson even liked it.�

Holyfield, whose eponymous foundation helps underprivileged children, was the youngest of nine kids raised by a single mom. At age six, his mother, Annie, got him involved with the local Boys and Girls Club, a move that he says kept him out of trouble and helped him become who he is today.

“Everything in my life started because my mama made me stick to a game plan. My mama didn’t have no money so the Boys Club paid for what I did because I was a good athlete … and I had a good attitude.â€�

Holyfield says that like many kids growing up in the 1960s, he was taunted.

“It wasn’t called bullying back then, but my mama said ‘you got to have thick skin.’ There’s always going to be somebody point out you’re different. ‘You’re poor, I’m not. You’re clothes are raggedy.’

“In this program of (anti-bullying), I want to address the fact that success starts at home, with your parents telling you you can’t be overly concerned what people think about you. You can’t control somebody else’s mouth.�

Like many of his generation, Holyfield lamented the fact that today’s kids “are putting things on (Facebook and other online forums) and doing it to themselves, putting your whole business on a website.

“Who in the world wants to put your business on the website when it’s going to be on there forever? Somebody can be reminding you of everything you do wrong. People don’t understand what they doing to themselves by all this publicity.�

Holyfield has 11 kids of his own by six different women. Several of them, he put into private school, he says, to make sure they got every opportunity to succeed. Some of them jumped off the right path, he admits, “but they got back on. I don’t ever give up on ’em.�

Holyfield was 44-10-2 as a pro and last fought on May 7, 2011, when he beat 46-year-old Brian Nielson of Denmark with a 10th round TKO. He said on his 50th birthday in October that he was retired, but almost immediately “changed my mind … I still got one in me.

“I’m keeping myself in shape because I do want to fight one more time for a title. I have what it takes to beat the champions.�

The problem is, none of the champions, including the vaunted Klitschko brothers, want to fight him. They don’t want to hurt a senior citizen. Holyfield insists “that they don’t ever fight nobody they don’t think they can beat.�

Although he reportedly earned $250 million in his career, Holyfield, plagued by lawsuits alleging failed child support payments and foreclosures, had to declare bankruptcy last year and move out of his 109-room mansion in suburban Atlanta on which he owed $14 million.

“I had the wrong people (in charge of finances) and the wrong people did the wrong thing and they put me in a situation. They borrowed money off all the stuff that I own. The (banks) didn’t give me the break that Obama gave them and that’s the whole sad point.

�I made adjustments, though. I’m eventually going to get my house back.�

Holyfield spoke Friday night to the Afro News-sponsored Sage Foundation Awards. On Monday, he will be the guest of honour at a charity dinner and amateur boxing night at the Fraserview Hall, with proceeds going to the Amanda Todd Legacy Fund.



Bill Ackman And Carl Icahn Just Brawled On CNBC In The Greatest Moment In …

25 Jan

CNBC screengrab

Activist investor Bill Ackman, the founder of $12 billion Pershing Square Capital Management, and billionaire investor Carl Icahn brawled moments ago on CNBC’s “Halftime Report” hosted by Scott Wapner.

It was one of the greatest moments in financial television with two hedge fund titans, who have been feuding for a decade, going head-to-head. Watch the full video here

The segment was originally set up for Ackman respond after Icahn blasted him yesterday on Bloomberg TV

Yesterday, Icahn, who has publicly said before that he doesn’t like Ackman and has “no respect” for him, ripped into his ”holier than thou” short on Herbalife in an interview with Trish Regan. Icahn also called Ackman “disingenuous” and said he’s not shorting Herbalife “for the good of humanity.” 

Ackman then fired back yesterday evening in a press release saying Icahn is a good investor, but he doesn’t keep his word.  

He joined CNBC today to respond to his long time rival.

Earlier in the CNBC segment, Ackman told Wapner that he finds it interesting that Icahn thinks it’s a bad thing that he gave a short at a Ira Sohn event when Icahn also gave a short thesis in 2002 and 2003 at a Sohn Conference. 

Ackman’s Pershing Square is shorting more than 20 million shares of Herbalife — a multi-level marketing firm that sells nutrition products.  Ackman said at a Sohn Conference event last month that he thinks the company is a pyramid scheme and has a price target of zero. 

Minutes into the segment, Icahn called in after the first commercial break to respond to Ackman on live TV.  It couldn’t get any better!

He responded after Ackman basically called him a hypocrite.

“Listen.  You know, I’ve really sort of had it with this guy Ackman, you know,” Icahn told CNBC.

Icahn then started going over some history of a deal from back in 2003 over Hallwood Realty when Ackman ran Gotham Partners, which was being hit with redemptions and investigated by the SEC at the time over MBIA. (Ackman was never charged with any wrongdoing.)

If you’re not familiar with the story, Ackman called Icahn and asked him to buy shares of Hallwood Realty, a real estate company trading for about $60, but Ackman said was worth $140. Hallwood merged with another company for $137 a share, Icahn wouldn’t give Ackman a cut.

A lawsuit followed and Ackman won and Icahn paid him $9 million Ackman’s investors were owed. 

“I’m telling you he’s like a crybaby in the schoolyard.  I went to a tough school in Queens you know and they used to beat up the little Jewish boys.  He was like one of the little Jewish boys crying that the world is taking advantage of him…” Icahn said when Ackman called him up in 2003, adding “You rue the day I ever met the guy.”

He then started going over how Ackman’s old firm Gotham Partners was being investigated by Eliot Spitzer and the SEC at the time and how he didn’t realize that.

Icahn said this deal they did “cost him money.”  Ackman ultimately won in court.  What’s more is Ackman was never charged with any wrong doing on that SEC investigation over MBIA.

“He’s the quintessential example of if you want a friend on Wall Street, get a dog,” Icahn later said.

Wapner then let Ackman come into the conversation talking about his MBIA short.  MBIA alleged there was a “conspiracy to drive down its stock price.”  Ackman, who said MBIA didn’t deserve a triple-A rating, ended up being right when the credit crisis hit.

There were a lot of insults flying during the segment.  Ackman said that he wanted to defend his reputation.  He also said it’s not a “great use of CNBC air time.” 

Then, it went back to Icahn and Wapner asked if he’s long or not.

Icahn said he didn’t come onto CNBC to be “bullied” after asked him that.

“No one’s bullying you, Carl,” Wapner responded.

“Listen to me… I want to say what I want to say and I’m not going to talk about my Herbalife position because you want to bully me…I don’t give a damn about what you want to know. I want to talk about what I want to talk about…You can say what the hell you want.  I’m going to talk about what Ackman just said about me, not about Herbalife… I’ll talk about Herbalife when I goddamn want to…I’m never going on a show with you again, that’s for damn sure, OK.” Icahn shot back.

Throughout the segment, Icahn dropped some g-d bombs and “bullshit” and you could hear the floor traders at the NYSE reacting saying “Ooohhh!”  

He then proceeded to slam Ackman.  ”As far as I’m concerned, he wanted to have dinner with me.  I couldn’t figure out if he was the most sanctimonious guy I met in my life or just arrogant and that’s Ackman,” Icahn said.  

Wapner, who was basically a referee, tried to ask Icahn if he was long Herbalife.

“Let me finish what the hell I want to say,” Icahn snapped at Wapner. “You let Ackman talk.” 

“I will tell you one day I think HLF will be the mother of all short squeezes,” Icahn said claiming Ackman used the short to boost his return. 

“He talks about charity.  That’s complete bullshit!” Icahn said. 

Wapner gently reminded him that we’re on live television.  ”That was an interesting choice of words,” Wapner said. Again, you could hear NYSE floor traders say “Ohhhh!.”

Ackman then jumped in.

“The big issue about Carl Icahn, is he’s not used to someone stepping up to him,” Ackman said, “Especially like me in 2003.” 

Wapner asked Icahn again if he’s long Herbalife and what the motives are behind it.

Icahn said “bullshit” again and accused Wapner of “bullying” him.  Again, the NYSE traders reacted screaming “Ohhh!”  

The conversation turned back to the Herbalife short.

“If there’s ever a short squeeze, what the hell does he do?” Icahn asks.  ”Ask him!”

Ackman said, “Carl is free to make a tender offer for the company.”

“Hey, hey you don’t have to tell me what I’m free today,” Icahn shot back.

“What I thank Carl for is he helped highlight issues with Herbalife,” Ackman said accusing him of buying the stock and selling it.

The attacks continued, though.

“I appreciate you calling me a great investor, but unfortunately I cannot say the same,” Icahn said. 

“Bill, I appreciate you coming on. Carl, I hope you will come back,” Wapner said.

Before Icahn called in…

Ackman says that Herbalife has done harm to millions of people and it deserves scrutiny.  

He says the press wrote some “fun pieces” on Bill Ackman v. Dan Loeb or Bill Ackman v. Carl Icahn.  He says the goal is to shed the truth about the company and get the press dig into it. 

He’s talking about short selling in the market.  He notes that it’s unfortunate that they’ve lost some money so far. 

He says shorts play an important role in the market.  

CNBC’s Scott Wapner asked if Ackman is friends with Daniel Loeb of Third Point.  

Loeb took an 8.24% stake (8.9 million shares) on the long side after Ackman’s short calling Ackman’s accusations “preposterous.” 

Ackman said they’ve both been in the business a long time. 

“If he [Dan Loeb] stays long Herbalife, he will lose his entire investment,” he said later in the interview.

Loeb is also reportedly short Nu Skin.  Ackman says he doesn’t understand why he would be short Nu Skin when he’s long Herbalife.   

Ackman says that he doesn’t need to be “loved by everyone.” 

He’s also calling about Bob Chapman of Chapman Capital who he said came out and said he had a large position.  Ackman says that Chapman Capital has less than a $100 million AUM.

On His JCPenney Stake… 

Ackman, who is the largest shareholder of JCPenney, is talking about that investment.  He has taken a bath on the stock so far.

He’s says CEO Ron Johnson has done some “incredible things,” though. 

He said if Johnson can’t turn it around in three years, then he’s not the right guy. 

He does, however, expect the retailer to make progress. 

“Ron is going to work to solve the problems,” he said. “I have enormous confidence in him…He’s brilliant.” 

SEE ALSO: The Greatest Hedge Fund Brawl In Ages Is Happening Right Now — Here’s What You Need To Know


Soccer coach suspended in Maine West hazing case

25 Jan

Another soccer coach linked to hazing allegations on athletic teams at Maine West High School has been suspended without pay by the district while officials pursue his dismissal.

Maine Township High School District 207 officials moved to suspend freshman boys soccer coach Emilio Rodriguez at a special board meeting Thursday night, a month after reaching the same decision on the employment of head varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo.

“The board believes Mr. Rodriguez violated District 207 Board of Education policy and professional expectations by failing to adequately prevent, recognize, report and punish student hazing,” board President Sean Sullivan said in a statement read at the meeting.

Both men originally were placed on paid leave and reassigned from teaching duties this fall when allegations of hazing surfaced in early October on the Des Plaines school’s soccer and baseball teams.

Those allegations are the subject of a lawsuit filed on behalf of four alleged hazing victims on the soccer team and against the district, both coaches and Maine West Principal Audrey Haugan.

Rodriguez, a tenured applied arts and technology teacher, has 17 days to request a hearing on his dismissal through the Illinois State Board of Education, officials said.

Through an attorney, Divincenzo recently requested an appeal hearing with the state board. The appeal process could take up to a year, officials said.

Rodriguez could not be reached for comment Thursday night. But Des Plaines police reports show he and Divincenzo previously denied any knowledge of team hazing or initiation rituals.

District officials also fulfilled early promises made shortly after the hazing allegations surfaced by approving the hiring of former assistant U.S. Attorney Sergio Acosta to lead the district’s independent investigation into hazing allegations, and California-based consultant Community Matters to lead focus groups studying bullying and hazing prevention techniques.

Last week, district officials confirmed the receipt of grand jury subpoenas in the Cook County state’s attorney’s ongoing investigation. Officials reiterated their commitment to “cooperate fully with all agencies conducting their own investigations, including the Cook County State’s Attorney, Des Plaines Police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.”

One subpoena, dated Dec. 6 and obtained by the Tribune, directs Maine West’s Haugan to produce “personnel files, disciplinary records, reports, memorandums, summaries, interviews, investigations, notes, statements or other such writings or recordings for Michael Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriguez, and any and all other employees associated with coaching student athletes from 2007 to the present time.”

In another Dec. 6 subpoena, Superintendent Ken Wallace is directed to produce “any written materials describing or explaining” school, student athlete, coach or teacher conduct codes, “or rules or any other similar such writings including but not limited to the topics of hazing, sexual misconduct or physical misconduct in any manner associated with Maine West High School.”

Wallace, Haugan, Maine East Principal Michael Pressler and Maine South Principal Shawn Messmer also received subpoenas dated Dec. 7. Those subpoenas, which were partially redacted, seek “any and all letters, emails, reports, memorandums, call logs, writings, recordings, or other such material regarding” redacted information, “including any such documents from within the school records or school file for” redacted information.



Grinnell-Newburg Superintendent responds to bullying lawsuit

25 Jan

The Superintendent of the Grinnell-Newburg School District issues a statement today on the alleged bullying of a student by the school staff. Thirty-three-year-old Matt Gannaway and his wife filed a lawsuit Tuesday saying their son Ethan was bullied by his elementary principal, and a counselor after Ethan told them he had been subjected to verbal taunts by another student on the playground.

Gannaway’s suit also said Grinnell-Newburg Superintendent Todd Abrahamson used no-trespass orders against him as retaliation. Superintendent Abrahamson told Radio Iowa he cannot comment specifically on the lawsuit as they have not been served with the legal papers as this point.

But Abrahamson says in a statement that “Our school personnel followed proper protocol when they investigated the situation and determined it was an unfounded case.” He says student records on the incident are protected by federal law and cannot be released to the media.

Abrahamson says the district has an anti-bullying/harrassment policy and that the staff is dedicated to protecting each and every student. He concluded the statement by saying “the district administration and staff are continuing to work to create an atmosphere in our school system where students feel free to express themselves without fear of bullying or harassment.”

The Gannaway lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of damages from the district.

Reed Superintendent Abrahamson’s statemente here:  Grinnell-Newburg response PDF


COLUMN: Haley steps up to tackle education issues

24 Jan

COLUMBIA — It didn’t take long for Democrats to trash Gov. Nikki Haley’s invitation in her State of the State address to have “a conversation” about how to provide as good an education for children in poor school districts as for those in better-off districts.

We’ve been having that conversation for years, they huffed. We need action, not more conversation, they insisted.


Parents say son was bullied by school leaders at Grinnell-Newburg

24 Jan

Matt Gannaway

Matt Gannaway

A Grinnell couple has filed a lawsuit against administrators and a counselor in the Grinnell-Newburg school district alleging their eight-year-old son was bullied by the adults after he reported being bullied by another student.

Thirty-three-year-old Matt Gannaway says his son Ethan was subjected to verbal taunts by another student on the playground and reported it.

Gannaway says Davis Elementary School principal Jeff Kirby turned on his son during the investigation when Kirby said there were some discrepancies in the boy’s story.

“He had put Ethan in a chair in his office, or wherever Ethan had been sitting…and made Ethan repeat after him ‘I will not lie, I will not lie.’ And it just, number one it scared Ethan, and it upset him. And to this day it has traumatized him,” Gannaway says.

Gannaway says a school counselor, Nikki Tews, also accused Ethan of lying about what happened when the boy identified the other student who had called him names. The Gannaways and school district worked out a plan to try and deal with the situation.

Ethan Gannaway

Ethan Gannaway

Gannaway says Superintendent Todd Abrahamson refused to meet with him to discuss the issue, and so Gannaway tried to meet with him in person.

Gannaway says he went to Abrahamson’s office and was carrying his 18-month child along with him, and before he even had a chance to say anything, Abrahamson got on the phone and called police.

Gannaway says the superintendent filed two separate criminal trespass notices against him, preventing him from being on school grounds or attending parent-teacher conferences.

Gannaway and his wife Jessica eventually pulled Ethan out of Grinnell-Newburg and moved him to the East Marshall School District.

The lawsuit says the school administrators denied Ethan Gannaway due process in investigating the bullying claims, the no trespass orders were improperly used against Gannaway, the school breached its duty to act in behalf of the well being of Ethan, and the actions caused severe emotional stress.

Matt Gannaway says he can’t believe the district would act this way with all the attention that’s been placed on anti-bullying efforts in the state. “I wasn’t surprised that it happened from one student to another. I was very surprised that it happened from an administrator or a teacher to my child. It happens in every school, every day between students, it’s part of growing up, the name calling the pushing,” Gannaway says.

He says his family is seeking unspecified damages for the expenses they have incurred from the additional travel time caused by moving Ethan to another school, and for medical and emotional distress. Des Moines attorney, Roxanne Conlin is representing the Gannaways.

“We don’t want this to happen to any child anywhere. The whole philosophy of the anti-bullying movement is to keep children safe,” Conlin says. “And instead of being kept safe, when Ethan complained of bullying, he became the victim of bullying at the hands of adults in charge of the school district.”

Gannaway says he was not able to attend the school board meeting where the open enrollment was approved for Ethan to go to his new school. He says other parents stepped forward and represented him. Conlin says that action is telling.

“From the community response we have learned that this is not the first time that instances like this have occurred in the Grinnell school district. So there are problems there that need to be addressed,” Conlin says. The lawsuit file din Poweshiek County asks for a jury trial in the case.

Radio Iowa called Superintendent Abrahamson and a contact at the school said he was out of the office and she would pass along the request for a response.

Photo of Ethan provided by Matt Gannaway.


Town sued over bullying incident at Tomlinson Middle School

24 Jan



A student at Tomlinson Middle School was repeatedly bullied, even having her face and head slammed against a locker on more than one occasion, according to a lawsuit filed by her parents against the Town of Fairfield, the Board of Education, Supt. of Schools, Dr. David Title, Principal, Connee Dawson, Dean, Joshua Marko and Guidance Counselor, Vanessa Constanzo, on Nov. 8, 2012.

The suit says that the accused bully and other students began a pattern of bullying, ridiculing, harassing, humiliating, intimidating and acting violently toward a student with learning disabilities on a weekly basis, in September of 2011.

The lawsuit then details the following sequence of events.

In October or November of 2011, the bullied student and her mother “consistently informed” the Principal, the Dean, and the Guidance Counselor, that she was bullied and was afraid to go to school.

On Dec. 9, a group of female students grabbed the victims hair and ear and repeatedly slammed the bullied student’s head and face into a locker at the school. The child and her mother again informed the principal, dean, and guidance counselor.

On Dec. 22, three female students, including the accused bully threw food at the victim’s back in the lunchroom of the school. The students continued to laugh and ridicule the victim and were eventually sent to the Dean’s office.

At about 3 p.m., on the same day, the accused bully slammed the victim’s head against a wall and locker in the school, and then punched her in the nose. The victim “was left lying on the ground shaking, in her own blood, to be seen by the teachers and other students.” Her parents, who were at school that day for a PPT meeting about their child “heard the commotion and soon thereafter witnessed their daughter lying and shaking in her own blood.”

The suit says the injuries to the victim were caused by the Board of Education, the Principal, the Dean and the Guidance Counselor because they were negligent in failing to adequately supervise or monitor students in the lunchroom, hallways, or at dismissal time, and they failed to investigate reports of bullying, to prevent or intervene in instances of bullying or to provide a safe school environment. Those named violated Connecticut General Statutes by failing to require teachers and other school staff who witnessed or received reports of bullying to notify school administrators in writing, to notify either the parents of the bully, or parents of the bullied in writing, failed to direct the case-by-case interventions for repeated acts of bullying against or by a single individual that might include both counseling and discipline. They also failed to keep a list of the number of verified acts of bullying in the school.

As a result of the actions or lack of actions of those named, the victim suffered “serious and painful injuries,” all or some of which are permanent, said the suit. These include: concussion, lacerations and contusions, headaches, broken nose, sprained neck, acute stress disorder, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, suicidal tendencies, post-traumatic stress disorder and pain and suffering.

The bullied student has missed out on school and extracurricular activities, suffered emotional and physical trauma and her parents will continue to incur expenses for medical care, therapy, medication, specialized schooling and other expenses, said the suit. Continued…

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