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Tensions Flare In Texas Capitol Over New Sandra Bland Video
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas authorities on Friday denied withholding a cellphone video of Sandra Bland's confrontational traffic stop, responding to a Democratic legislator's heated questions about why the 39-second clip never publicly surfaced until now.
Bland, a 28-year-old black woman from outside Chicago, had used her phone in 2015 to briefly film a white state trooper as he drew a stun gun and yelled "I will light you up!" while ordering her out of the car. She was dead three days later, hanging in her jail cell outside Houston.
"The Department of Public Safety has not illegally withheld evidence from Sandra Bland's family or her legal team," said Phillip Adkins, general counsel of the agency.
The video had not been publicly seen until it was aired this month by a Dallas television station, and both lawmakers and Bland's family say they had also never seen the clip . They say the video proves that Trooper Brian Encinia had no reason to fear for his life and questioned whether he should have faced charges beyond perjury.
Democratic presidential contenders in the crowded 2020 field have also reacted to the video with calls for accountability and criminal justice reforms .
Explanations by state officials were challenged, often sharply, by Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman, who said he never received the video despite asking for all evidence two years as chairman of the House Committee on County Affairs. He told Adkins he was handed a jumbled "data dump" of four discs and said the description of Bland's cellphone video in the state's investigative report wasn't an honest account.
"I disagree with you. I think it's a fair and accurate description of the video," Adkins said.
Coleman interrupted, talking over him.
"You can disagree all day long, because I don't have lying eyes, sir," he said. "I've looked into this more than anyone."
Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal of Chicago, attended the hearing at the Texas Capitol but did not testify. She told reporters afterward she heard "a lot of discrepancies" at the hearing but declined further comment.
Encinia, the trooper, was fired after being indicted for perjury and said he came to fear for his safety after stopping Bland for failing to signal a lane change. The perjury charge was later dropped in exchange for Encinia agreeing to never work in law enforcement again.
Coleman said Encinia "got off light" and accused state officials of not being ethically forthcoming with their handling of the video. Adkins said they have documents showing that a thumb drive with the cellphone video had been sent by prosecutors in 2015 to Cannon Lambert, the Bland's family attorney. Lambert has said he never saw the video in evidence that was turned over.
The hearing had been quickly arranged before the Texas Legislature adjourns Monday until 2021. One proposal that could still reach Gov. Greg Abbott's desk would make it more difficult to jail people for low-level misdemeanors, which some lawmakers have sought in the wake of Bland's death. Law enforcement groups, however, are fighting the measure.
In 2017, Coleman passed a "Sandra Bland Act" that included de-escalation training, independent investigations of county jail deaths and more racial profiling data. Advocates for criminal justice reforms have praised the changes, but the end product disappointed Bland's family, who felt it didn't address the circumstances leading up to her death.
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber
Texas GOP Conservative Temporarily Blocks $19B Disaster Bill
WASHINGTON (AP) — A conservative House Republican complaining of Washington's free-spending ways has temporarily blocked a long-overdue $19 billion disaster aid bill.
Texas Republican Chip Roy objected to speeding the measure through a nearly-empty chamber on Friday. He also complained that the bill does not contain any of President Donald trump's $4.5 billion request for dealing with a migrant refugee crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The House will return to the bill, perhaps as early as next week.
The relief measure would deliver money to Southern states suffering from last fall's hurricanes, Midwestern states deluged with springtime floods and fire-ravaged rural California, among others. Puerto Rico would also get help for hurricane recovery, ending a months-long dispute between Trump and powerful Democrats.
Wildfire Severely Damages Historic Big Bend Complex
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, Texas (AP) — A wildfire that ignited in Mexico jumped the Rio Grande into Big Bend National Park and severely damaged a historic border ghost town and former Army border post.
Posts on the park's Facebook page say shifting wind gusts Wednesday night blew embers onto the barracks, officers' quarters, visitors' center and restrooms at the Castolon Historic District. Firefighting crews from the park, Texas A&M Forest Service and nearby Terlingua Fire and EMS were able to save the officers' quarters with minimal scorching, but the La Harmonia frontier trading post and Castolon Visitor Center were damaged severely.
The park officials' statements said shade temperatures were near 109 degrees with single-digit relative humidity when the fire entered the park about 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Texas Governor Announces $1.6B Deal For Teacher Raises
AUSTIN (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that $1.6 billion in teacher raises are coming in a deal partly driven by classroom unrest across the U.S. and Republicans who sharply changed course on public education ahead of 2020 elections.
Abbott trumpeted the pay hikes near the end of an unusually muted session of the Texas Legislature, where a weakened GOP majority largely retreated from culture wars that had made the state Capitol a recurring national battleground over abortion, immigration crackdowns and LGBT rights.
But after losing more than a dozen seats in the 2018 midterms — and barely hanging onto others — Texas Republicans who have angered teachers over spending cuts and appeals to religious and private campuses announced they would prioritize public education. The system of funding schools for more than 5 million students was declared barely constitutional in 2016.
"In the inauguration I made some pretty bold promises to the people of Texas," said Abbott, who was sworn into a second term in January. "I said we must reward teachers in school districts that achieve results, we've done that. I said we must prioritize spending in the classroom, we've done that."
A spending bill is not yet signed but is expected to reach Abbott's desk before lawmakers adjourn Monday until 2021.
It makes Texas the latest state — and now the largest — to pour significant new dollars into classrooms in wake of teacher revolts across the U.S. since 2017. Public school teachers in Texas don't collectively bargain and never went on strike, but teacher unions said they made their resentment known at the ballot box last year.
Teacher salaries in Texas are currently about $7,000 below the national average, according to the National Education Association. Lawmakers who worked on the new spending plan says the raises amount to roughly $4,000 for teachers with more than five years in the classroom, and that raises will also be given to librarians and school staff.
Teacher unions met the news with caution, saying they needed to see details.
But they also found reason for optimism just two years after Texas' last legislative session was upended by failed efforts by Republican leaders to pass a "bathroom bill" targeting transgender students .
"We've been working to elect a new Legislature that would take schools seriously and not give us bathrooms and vouchers, and it appeared that was the direction we were moving in," said Louis Malfaro, president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.
Low teacher pay has also become an issue in the crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates, with some calling for a federal investment in classroom salaries.
Republicans said the changes in Texas include a merit pay program that could pay exceptional teachers even more.
"Eventually they could make a six-figure living and not have to go into being a principal or administration," said Republican state Rep. Dan Huberty, the Texas House chairman over public education.
Abbott announced the raises as part of a broader deal that includes a school finance overhaul and reforms to slow rising property taxes. That the plan includes $5 billion for tax relief and $4.5 for classroom dollars left some education observers disappointed.
"Very clearly the priority of this bill was tax cuts and future tax cuts, not education," said Chandra Villanueva, an education policy analysis for the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.
Gov Abbott, Lt Gov Patrick, Speaker Bonnen roll out The Texas Plan to fix the school finance system including teacher pay raises, $5-bill in property tax relief, $3.6-billion in recapture reduction. Finalized at midnight Wednesday. @KRLD pic.twitter.com/JS59wD9NBC— Chris Fox (@chrisfoxtsn) May 23, 2019
Top Texas Baby Names In 2018
DALLAS (KRLD) - If you welcomed a baby daughter into the family last year, chances are good her name ends in the letter A.
The Social Security Administration released the lists of the most-popular baby names in Texas in 2018. Among girls, the top nine all end with A.
Emma was the No. 1 name for female babies across the state last year, with 2,152. Isabella was a distant second, with 1,834.
Olivia claimed the third spot for girls, followed by Mia, Sophia, Camila, Ava, Sofia and Victoria. Evelyn rounded out the top ten.
For baby boys born last year in Texas, Liam was the most-popular name. A total of 2,149 male babies received the name in 2018. Noah was the runner-up choice, with 1,902.
Sebastian was third among boys. Mateo was next, with Elijah in fifth place. The rest of the top ten included Daniel, Jacob, Ethan, Matthew and Alexander.
It's also interesting to look back and see how the top names have changed in Texas over the years:
In 1968, the most-popular names were Michael and Lisa.
In 1978, Michael and Jennifer topped the charts.
In 1988, it was Christopher and Jessica.
In 1998, Jose and Emily took the respective crowns.
In 2008, Jose and Emily were still on top.
Jose ranked 12th among boys last year. Michael was 17th and Christopher was 33rd. For girls, Emily was 14th in 2018. Lisa, Jennifer and Jessica no longer rank in the top 100.
D-Day Veterans Revisit Normandy, Recall Horror And Triumph
Planes spread out across the sky, nearly wingtip to wingtip. A sniper's bullet whizzing by the ear. Squeezing a dying soldier's hand, so he knew he was not alone.
Across three quarters of a century, the old veterans remember that epic day on the beaches of Normandy. For historians, D-Day was a turning point in the war against Germany; for men who were among the 160,000 Allied fighters who mounted history's largest amphibious invasion, June 6, 1944, remains a kaleidoscope of memories, a signal moment of their youth.
Not many of those brave men remain , and those that do often use canes, walkers or wheelchairs. Few are willing or able to return to Normandy for the anniversary. But listen to the stories of some who are making that sentimental journey that spans thousands of miles — and 75 years.
The day before Dennis Trudeau parachuted into Normandy, he wrote his parents a letter saying he was about to go into battle but they shouldn't worry.
"Everything is going to be fine and dandy," he wrote. "After all, I'm not scared."
Trudeau had joined the Canadian military at 17 and became a paratrooper, in part because they were paid an extra $50 a month.
He's 93 now, living in Grovetown, Georgia. But his memories of D-Day — and the day before D-Day — are undimmed.
On June 5, 1944, he and the other paratroopers sat on the tarmac and joked about how they'd be in Paris by Christmas. But when they climbed into the plane, the chatter stopped.
Trudeau's position was by the open jump door; he could look out across the vast array of planes and ships powering toward Normandy. Planes were strung out across the horizon.
He prayed: "I just kind of told the Lord, 'Let me see one more sunrise.'"
And then, he jumped.
Trudeau landed in water up to his waist in a flooded field. In the dark, he rendezvoused with other paratroopers. They were on the way to their objective when friendly fire hit — an Air Force bomb.
Thrown into a ditch, Trudeau heard a dying friend nearby, calling out for his mother.
"You train with him and you ate with him and you slept with him and you fought with him. And in less than three hours, he was gone," he said.
Within hours, combat would be over for Trudeau, as well. He was captured by German forces, and spent the duration in a prisoner-of-war camp. By the time the war was over he had gone from 135 pounds to about 85.
He returned to Normandy in 1955 to see the graves of eight platoon members who didn't survive. This time, he'll say a prayer over their graves.
"They're the heroes. They're the ones who gave everything they had," he said.
There had been a number of false starts ahead of the invasion of Normandy. But Vincent Corsini knew June 6 was different. There was a certain feeling in the air — an "edge," as he describes it. Chaplains on deck encouraged troops to pray and troops were given a good breakfast.
Certain other D-Day memories are crystal clear: peeking out over the edge of the landing craft with amazement at the U.S. firepower directed at the beach. Machine guns splattering the water as he unloaded. The weight of the 60mm mortars he carried.
Tucked against the bottom of the hill overlooking Omaha Beach, he heard someone yelling for help from the water. Taking off as much equipment as he could, he ran back to the waves and found a stranded officer.
"As I was standing there looking at him, somebody up on the hill pulled the trigger," he said. The bullet narrowly missed his ear, feeling like a "sonic boom," as it passed. Corsini grabbed the officer and pulled him to safety.
Corsini went on to fight through the dense hedgerows of Normandy with the 29th Infantry Division until they captured the strategic city of Saint-Lo. At his home in a retirement community in Burlington, North Carolina, a plaque on the wall — "D-Day to St. Lo" — commemorates his efforts. Another marks his receipt of the National Order of the Legion of Honor, France's highest decoration.
He went back for the 50th D-Day anniversary and looked across a cemetery's field of white crosses. His wife and members of the French Club he meets with monthly encouraged him to go on the 75th anniversary, at age 94.
His wartime experiences affected his life forever, he said.
"I wouldn't change my experience for a million dollars," he said, adding: "I wouldn't go through it again for a million dollars."
Frank DeVita remembers the moment he froze.
He had wanted to join the Air Force but had no peripheral vision. He wanted to join the Navy but it would take weeks to start basic training. That's how he ended up in the Coast Guard on D-Day, ferrying troops to Omaha Beach.
His job was to lower the ramp when the craft got to shore and then raise it after the troops clamored out. But in the early morning hours, as machine gun fire rained down on the boat, that ramp served as DeVita's shield, protecting him and the other men inside. The coxswain screamed at him to lower the ramp, and in the roar of the cannons and the craft's diesel engines, DeVita couldn't hear him. The coxswain screamed again.
"I froze. I was so scared because I knew when I dropped that ramp the bullets that were hitting the ramp were going to come into the boat and I'd probably be dead in five minutes," said DeVita, 94, speaking from his home in Bridgewater, New Jersey. When he finally dropped the ramp, he said 14 or 15 troops were immediately raked by machine gun fire.
One soldier fell at his feet, his red hair full of blood: "I reached down and I touched his hand, because I wanted him to know he wasn't alone."
Then, when he tried to lift the ramp, it was stuck. DeVita had to crawl over dead bodies lining the bottom of the landing craft to fix it.
Again and again, the landing craft ferried men to the beach. When there were no more men to ferry, DeVita and the other sailors pulled bodies from the choppy seas.
For decades — until recently — he never spoke of these things. This June he'll make his 12th trip back to Normandy. Eager to keep the memory of what happened there alive, he has often brought others along to places like the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer .
"Pick out a tombstone, any tombstone. Place your hand on that white marble and say to yourself, 'Six feet down is a boy.' .... He gave his life for his country and then you lift your eyes up and you see 9,400 white marble tombstones," he said. "They all gave their lives for their country."
At 93, Norman Harold Kirby looks back at D-Day and the months of fighting that followed and finds it hard to remember exactly what happened.
"A lot of it, I tried to forget," he said.
The Canadian, who now lives in Lions Bay, British Columbia, had joined the army when he was only 17 and was barely a 19-year-old private when he climbed into the landing craft that would take him to shore. The landing craft hit a mine, blowing a hole in the ship. His ears ringing from the explosion, Kirby abandoned the heavy gear he was carrying, his Bren machine gun and ammunition, and climbed over the side. Many who couldn't swim died in the water.
"I landed on the on the beach with my knife, fork and spoon," he said.
On Juno Beach, he remembers an intense cacophony of sounds. Aircraft flying overhead. Navy shells rocketing toward the German positions.
"The noise was just unreal...You couldn't hear anything, anybody talking or anything. People were yelling," he said. "You couldn't hear them because of all the racket going on."
Kirby went back to France and Europe several times after the war as a tourist but for years never returned to Juno Beach.
"I would not go to the beach. I always stayed away from it. I didn't want to go," he said. Finally his wife sent him on a trip to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of the invasion. This time, she'll accompany him to the 75th anniversary.
Climbing into the plane that would take him to Normandy, Eugene Deibler had no idea what to expect. The 19-year-old had joined the paratroopers to avoid being a radio operator, trained for months and survived a broken ankle in jump school, but had yet to see combat.
Gathered at Merryfield Airfield in southwest England, the paratroopers had already gotten geared up to jump the night before, and then the operation was called off due to bad weather. All that pent-up energy had to go someplace, and Deibler remembers troops getting into fights.
The second night, it was a go. Climbing into the plane, Deibler remembers telling himself that if his buddies could do this, so could he.
"If you weren't scared something was wrong with you," he said. "Because you're just a kid, you know?"
As they arrived at the French coast, he remembers heavy antiaircraft fire and tracer bullets from machine guns lighting up the sky like fireworks.
"We said 'Let's get the hell out of this plane,'" he said. The jump light went on, and out they went.
On the ground, their job was to secure a series of locks on the Douve River to prevent the Germans from opening the locks and flooding the fields. But they ran into such fierce resistance trying to secure another objective — a set of bridges — that they had to fall back.
Deibler went on to fight across Normandy, Holland and Belgium, in the Battle of Bastogne.
This will be his first time back to Normandy since the invasion, and he'd like to see what's changed. At his Charlotte, North Carolina, home, the 94-year-old retired dentist has a collection of World War II books. He's afraid that the great conflict will be forgotten.
"How many people remember the Civil War? How many people will remember World War I? And now it's the same with World War II," he said. "World War II will fade away also."
Of all the medals and awards that Steve Melnikoff received as a 23-year-old fighting his way across Europe, the Combat Infantry Badge means the most to him. It signifies the bearer "had intimate contact with the enemy," he said.
And Melnikoff certainly did.
When he landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day-plus-1 — June 7, 1944 — victory was far from secure. His unit was part of the bloody campaign to capture the French town of Saint-Lo through fields marked by thick hedgerows that provided perfect cover for German troops.
He remembers the battle for Hill 108 — dubbed Purple Heart Hill — for its ferocity. His job was to take up the Browning Automatic Rifle should the man wielding it go down. The Germans had shot and killed his friend who was carrying the BAR, and Melnikoff picked it up. About an hour later, he too was shot. As he went down, he looked to the side and saw his lieutenant also come under fire.
"He's being hit by the same automatic fire, just standing there taking all these hits. And when the machine gun stopped firing he just hit the ground. He was gone," Melnikoff said.
"That is what happens in war," he said, speaking from his Cockeysville, Maryland, home.
For decades he didn't talk about the war and knows some men who went to their graves never speaking about it again. But he feels an obligation now to talk about what he and others went through. In his hundredth year, he works closely with The Greatest Generations Foundation which helps veterans return to battlefields where they fought. This year on June 6, he'll go back to the cemetery and pay his respects.
"This prosperity and peace that we've had for all these years, it's because of that generation," he said. "It can't happen again and that's why I go there."
Associated Press reporters David Martin in Bridgewater, N.J. and Tom Sampson in Cockeysville, Md. contributed to this report.
Texas 8th-Grader Wins National Geographic GeoBee
WASHINGTON (AP) — Nihar Janga, an eighth-grader from Austin, Texas, with an already impressive array of awards, took home top honors Wednesday in the 31st annual National Geographic GeoBee, an elite test of geographic knowledge.
Janga triumphed during a competition at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington. The student from Austin's Canyon Ridge Middle School was also a co-champion of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee and a top-ten finalist in the 2018 GeoBee.
The society also held the first-ever national-level competition of the GeoChallenge, a team competition that asked for innovative solutions to modern problems. This year's challenge: plastic pollution in our waterways.
A team from Flushing Christian School in Flushing, New York, won by building a model filtration device to clear plastic debris from the Hudson River.
The winning team will receive $25,000 plus support to implement their project. Janga will receive a $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and an expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour ll.
Texas Law Would Enhance Penalty For Certain Murders
AUSTIN (1080 KRLD) - Lauren's Law, a measure headed to Governor Abbott's desk would carry stronger punishment for those who kill children over the age of ten and under the age of 14.
Killing a child under ten is a capital homicide. Those convicted face either the death penalty of life in prison with no chance of parole.
In September of 2016, 13 year old Lauren Landavazo was shot to death in Wichita Falls while walking home from school.
Under Lauren's Law, killers who's victims are between ten and 15 would face the same charge but execution would not be an option. Lauren's father Vern Landavazo says she was always trying to help others. "That to us is an amazing legacy to carry on, and this is the perfect opportunity. She's helping to protect who would be her peers. Her 13 and 14-year-old friend would not be protected when they weren't."
The bill passed the house 132-8 and was unanimously passed by the senate. The man who killed Lauren was given a sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 30 years
It was carried by Wichita Falls Republican representative James Frank and Republican state senator Pat Fallon of Prosper.
Census: Big Cities In US Aren't Growing Like They Used To
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Big cities in the U.S. aren't growing like they used to.
Most of the nation's largest cities last year grew by a fraction of the numbers they did earlier in the decade, according to population and housing unit estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The previous growth big cities had experienced in the first half of the decade was fueled by millennials who delayed home-buying in the suburbs after the recession and stuck it out in large cities, said William Frey, a senior fellow at The Brooking Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program.
The recession's aftermath "stranded a lot of millennials in cities rather than their moving off to the suburbs," Frey said.
The Census data released Thursday looked at changes in cities and towns from mid-2017 to mid-2018. The data don't reflect changes in metropolitan areas comprising multiple cities, towns, suburbs and counties.
The weakening in growth appears to have started two years ago, and accelerated last year.
Perhaps no other city offers as stark an example of the trend than New York City, the nation's most populous city with just under 8.4 million residents last year. Even though the city has grown by 223,000 residents since 2010, the most of any city over the past eight years except Houston, most of the growth was in the early part of the decade. At its height, New York City grew by more than 82,000 residents in 2011, but it lost 39,000 residents last year.
Last month, when the U.S. Census Bureau released county-level data that showed identical population loss, New York City's planners took umbrage with the federal agency's methodology, saying international migrants were undercounted.
"While population growth has likely slowed, the Census Bureau's methodology is not robust enough to precisely quantify the magnitude of these year-to-year changes," the planners said on the city website.
With the exceptions of Phoenix and San Antonio, the phenomenon of slowing growth in the nation's largest cities also has hit Sunbelt cities including Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas, where the populations grew, but at a fraction of their growth six years ago. San Jose, California, lost more than 2,000 residents last year.
"There is a growing moving away from cities," Frey said. "The first part of the decade was an aberration. Cities were growing faster than suburbs. That is starting to turn around."
Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP
Texas Lawmakers Vote To Raise Age To Buy Cigarettes
DALLAS (KRLD) - Members of the Texas House and Texas Senate have approved a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy cigarettes and e-cigarettes to 21.
"Raising the minimum legal age to 21 for this would help keep cigarettes, e-cigarettes and tobacco products out of Texas public schools...by creating more of a social distance between younger high school students and of-age purchasers," said State Senator Joan Huffman, one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 21.
The House sponsor, State Rep. Dr. John Zerwas, hopes it can reduce the percentage of teens who smoke. "The primary goal is to prevent or delay adolescents and youth from ever starting to use tobacco products," he said.
Hospital executives are applauding the move by the Legislature. "We give kudos to Sen. Huffman and Rep. Zerwas. We're really excited," said Stephen Love with the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council. "We thank Gov. Abbott in advance, hoping he's going to sign this piece of legislation."
Similar measures have been passed in other states, including Arkansas and California. There are indications that raising the smoking age can impact the percentage of people who smoke. "People that don't smoke prior to age 21 likely will not smoke. The percentages go way down as to people who become smokers after age 21 if they haven't smoked previously," Love said. As for the impact of the legislation in other states, Love said, "The data I have seen is...it's been positive. But for some it's too early to tell, because it has just been enacted."
Illinois lawmakers approved a similar measure this year that will take effect in that state on July 1st. Arkansas recently passed a law that would gradually raise the age for buying tobacco products to 21. It will take effect this fall.