Criminal Cases

Criminal Cases

Career criminal accused of killing K-9 police officer and wounding his dog

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Yarmouth Police officer Sean Gannon was killed Thursday by a career criminal who racked up at least 111 prior offenses. Gannon, 32, became Yarmouth Police Department’s first full-time drug detection K-9 officer in 2011. Thomas Latanowich, 29, is accused of killing Gannon with a handgun. Nero, Gannon’s drug detection K-9, was shot in the face and neck, and is scheduled to undergo surgery Friday, according to Dennis Veterinary Hospital.

The shooting occurred in Barnstable, when Gannon and other officers were serving an arrest warrant at a home. Latanowich was arrested after a prolonged standoff, and it is unclear if Latanowich has any connection to the initial arrest warrant. Local resident Jacqueline Machado told reporters that the police “were very good, very skilled and very in control of the situation.”

Latanowich is described by Yarmouth police as a “notorious and violent” career criminal who has 111 prior charges on his record. A timeline provided by the Boston Globe documents Latanowich’s criminal history, which includes a September 2005 assault with a deadly weapon charge, a string of charges in early 2006 including battery, assault with a deadly weapon, and violating a restraining order, and most recently, allegations of assault and battery in December 2016.

After his release from jail in June 2014, Latanowich was to remain on probation until November of this year. Latanowich missed a home visit and a drug test on April 4th and 5th, and after failing to appear for both check-ins, an arrest warrant was issued on April 6th. Latanowich appeared in court on Friday and pled not guilty to charges of murder. He is currently held without bail.

WBZ4 Boston’s I-Team discovered Yarmouth Police had attempted to stop Latanowich for a traffic violation just ten days before the shooting. The suspect allegedly failed to stop after flagged by state police, before veering into a residential area and abandoning his vehicle. State police did not closely pursue Latanowich due to adverse weather conditions and potential bystanders. Latanowich did not have an active warrant at the time, but he was known to officials in the area as a perennial and violent offender.

Marie Piotte, who is identified as Latanowich’s ex-partner in previous charges against him, remarked that he was a “whole different person” when angered. “He would grab me, he would choke me.” Latanowich’s criminal history includes multiple entries where he is alleged to have beaten Piotte.

Originally facing a maximum of seven months after opening fire on Gannon and his K-9 partner, Latanowich now faces life in prison if convicted.

Georgia elementary teacher arrested in murder of siblings

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Michael De’Sean White, 26, has been arrested in connection with a 2016 gang-related shooting. White’s arrest comes 17 months after Daveon Coates, 15, and his sister, Tatiyana Coates, 11, were found dead in their home on Libby Lane in Jonesboro. Both were shot in an apparent home invasion motivated by a gang rivalry. White was arrested Friday at Toney Elementary School, where he was employed as a fifth-grade teacher since last August.

Daveon and Tatiyana were not the alleged targets of a retaliation killing, investigators say another 15-year-old was the intended target of the killing and may have been present during the shooting. Clayton County police spokeswoman Maj. Tina Daniel confirmed that White is being charged with Daveon and Tatiyana’s murder, in addition to two other counts of murder, but refused to say if White was the shooter or an accomplice. “It is still an open and pending investigation at this time,” Daniel said. “It appears that there is more than one [shooter]”.

Authorities began investigating White after a weapon was recovered in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where gang violence flared up days after the Jonesboro shooting. “At this time, we do believe that the gun in Chattanooga was involved, somehow related in the incident.” Daniel said. Clayton County Police Chief Mike Register said the ballistics investigation is ongoing and the connection between the shootings in Jonesboro and Chattanooga was under way. Several Clayton County investigators were heading to Chattanooga, along with members of the FBI-Atlanta Safe Streets Gang Task Force to further investigate the weapons connection.

Little is known about White’s participation in the shooting or his potential gang affiliations. “We are still investigating his gang affiliations, but he is clearly associated with the men who were there that night and we know the shooting was gang-related. We are still working some very strong leads and we are committed to bringing justice to those two innocent children,” said Daniel. “It’s just unimaginable that someone who is entrusted to help mold children’s futures would be tied to something like this.”

White has been removed from Toney Elementary School until the criminal investigation is complete, district officials said. Before becoming a fifth-grade teacher, White was employed by the district as a paraprofessional starting in March 2017. DeKalb County Schools released the following statement after White’s arrest:

“On March 23, 2018, DeKalb County School District (DCSD) was made aware that an employee at Toney Elementary School was arrested and charged with a crime. The district is fully cooperating with law enforcement agencies in DeKalb and Clayton counties in a combined investigation. Per standard procedure, the employee was removed from his/her position until official results of an investigation are released. DeKalb County School District’s first priority is the safety of our students and staff. All employees must submit to a thorough background check with DCSD’s Public Safety division before being hired in any capacity. This specific employee was checked twice in 2017; and on both occasions, nothing indicated this employee may be involved in criminal behavior.”

17 Students Killed in Mass Shooting at Florida High School

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17 students were killed at a Florida high school where the shooter used to attend. The gunman, identified as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated first-degree murder, officials said Thursday. Cruz attempted to escape by blending in with a crowd of escaping students but was arrested in nearby Coral Springs. Fourteen students, including five with life-threatening injuries, were injured in the shooting.

Recently expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS for disciplinary issues, Cruz was re-enrolled at another school in Broward County, according to Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie. The morning of the attack, Cruz hailed an Uber to the Douglas campus with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle in tow, along with multiple ammunition magazines. Broward County Sherriff Scott Israel said it was not yet clear if Cruz possessed other weapons during the attack, nor is there evidence that Cruz collaborated with other potential suspects in the shooting.

Investigators are reviewing social media posts made by Cruz, which Sherriff Israel described as “very disturbing”. The FBI was made aware of a YouTube user named “Nikolas Cruz”, who posted a comment claiming “I’m going to be a professional school shooter”. Despite receiving this information six months before the shooting, the FBI did not act on the tip. The suspect was treated as a district hospital for “labored breathing” but quickly released.

Former classmates of Cruz described him as a loner, who was “off” socially. Brandon Minoff, who took two classes with Cruz his sophomore year, said he “wasn’t surprised” when Cruz was charged. “I got paired with him for a project, and he started talking to me about his life — how he was held back twice, expelled from two private schools.” Sebastian Toala, said he “never really got close to [Cruz], because I always had a feeling there was something wrong.”

“You come to the conclusion this is just absolutely pure evil,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, his hands clutched over his chest. Gov. Scott, who is rated highly by the National Rifle Association, did not answer the press’ questions over how Cruz obtained a semi-automatic rifle. “There is a time to continue to have these conversations about how, through law enforcement, how through mental illness funding, to keep people safe, and we’ll continue to do that,” the governor said.

President Donald Trump also tweeted “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

Larry Nassar gets another 40 to 125 years

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Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor who was accused of molesting professional and Olympic-level gymnasts for decades, was sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years in prison Monday. Nassar, accused of sexually assaulting at least 265 girls and women under the pretenses of medical examinations, apologized to his victims in Eaton County Court. He said the victim impact statements he heard over nine days of hearings “impacted [him] to [his] innermost core.”

Judge Janice Cunningham, however, did not believe he was remorseful. “I am not convinced that you truly understand that what you did was wrong and the devastating impact that you have had on the victims, families and friends,” Judge Cunningham said. “Clearly you are in denial, you don’t get it, and I do not believe there is a likelihood you could be reformed.” Monday’s proceeding is the presumed end of the criminal saga against Nassar, aside from an unexpected appeals process. Over 200 of Nassar’s ex-patients delivered written and verbal testimony over nine days of hearings during the trial.

Despite Nassar’s conviction, the growing scandal facing the US Olympic committee and associated governing bodies is poised to continue. Questions surround the US Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, and Michigan State University, where Nassar was employed for close to two decades, regarding whether credible allegations against Nassar were ignored or covered up.

Victims have allegedly come forward as early as 1997, and the two decades wait for justice was described as a “wake-up call” by Judge Cunningham. ‘”It is unfathomable to think about the number of victims that would have been spared had authorities acted upon the complaints they received years ago.”

Nassar’s sentencing follows the plea agreements made by Nassar’s attorney late last year, following previous convictions in Ingham County for child molestation and a federal conviction for possession of child pornography. Together, Nassar faces between 140 and 360 years in prison in all cases. The most recent conviction in Eaton county originates from abuse performed by Nassar at Twistar’s gym, were promising gymnasts trained.

The first public accusations against Nassar surfaced in September 2016 after an investigation by the Indianapolis Star. Initially, Nassar denied all charges brought in the Star’s article, but was found to be in possession of more than 37,000 images and videos of child pornography later that year. Nassar later pleaded guilty in both cases.

During plea proceedings, Nassar complained to Ingham County Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina about having to listen to his victim’s testimonies, although he later apologized during sentencing. Despite Nassar’s apology, one of his lawyers appeared on a local radio program and said she did not believe many of the girls’ testimonies – and that Nassar used “legitimate medical techniques” that his victims described as molestation. Nassar later disavowed his lawyer’s remarks through a statement issued by his defense team.

Judge Cunningham sealed Nassar’s case with a blistering assessment of Nassar’s legacy: “You have lived an idolized life. You were a prominent doctor in our society. You were the member of an Olympic team. You have been pampered and lived a high-class lifestyle… the result will be spending rest of your life in a small prison cell. I’m sure that is unthinkable to you. But you will be left to sit there with only the memories of destroying your own family. And I do not believe you will have the ability to shut out the words of the children and the young women and the adults who trusted you, and you let down.”

Shooting leaves four dead at Pennsylvania car wash

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A shooting in Melcroft, Pennsylvania left four people dead and one injured on January 28th. The gunman, Timothy O’Brien Smith, 28th, is on life support after sustaining a gunshot would to the head. It is unknown if the wound was self-inflicted at this time. Local news channels have reported that the shooting was linked to a violent domestic dispute involving Smith. The four victims were killed after being shot with an AR-15-style assault rifle and a 9mm handgun. Smith was also in possession of a .308 caliber rifle and was wearing body armor at the time of the shooting.

The four victims have been identified as Chelsie Lou Cline, 25; Seth Cline, 21; William Scott Porterfield, 27; and Courtney Sue Snyder, 23. Another woman whose name is being withheld survived the shooting by hiding in a nearby truck, and only sustained minor injuries from broken glass. The woman is cooperating with the investigation into the shooting.

Fayette County district attorney Richard Bower said that Smith “[is] not expected to survive” the wounds sustained during the shooting. Bower said that no motive has been established from facts gathered during the investigation, but a relative of a woman killed in the shooting told reporters from WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh that Smith was a former partner of one of the victims. Allegedly, Smith was upset from one of the victims breaking up with him.

A second local television station, WPXI, reported that the gunman had been romantically involved with one of the victims. The identity of Smith’s former partner is unknown at this time. Officials at the scene said two victims were discovered inside a pickup truck, and two others were found in the same parking lot as the truck. Three vehicles – including the pickup truck two of the victims were found in – were towed from the scene for further analysis.

This shooting was the 21st and deadliest high-casualty shooting to date, as tracked by the Gun Violence Archive. Public mass shootings in the United States frequently involve past domestic violence issues. Devin Patrick Kelley, the shooter who killed 26 people at a Sutherland Springs, Texas church, had a criminal record of domestic abuse. A similar shooting in Plano, Texas that claimed the lives of seven people, also listed domestic violence as a motivation for the shooting.

A 2017 report by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, found that over 50% of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 involved family or romantic partner violence. However, an analysis by the New York Times of 358 mass shootings in 2015 concluded that only one in ten high-casualty shootings related to domestic violence.

Former Michigan band teacher pleads guilty to sex crime

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Jeffrey Howenstine, 60, has plead guilty to one count of attempting to engage the services of a minor for prostitution. The plea, which came on January 17th in Ingham County Circuit Court, leaves the former Lansing school teacher facing 2.5 years in prison. Originally charged with sexually assaulting a former student, Howenstine will be compelled to register with the Michigan Sex Offender Registry for 15 years.

The case against Howenstine developed after officials investigated and charged Tyrone Smith with sex trafficking. Smith, 46, pled guilty to two counts of sex trafficking and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2016. Smith told Ingham County detectives that Howenstine was a former client of his.

When officers questioned Howenstine, he admitted to paying at least two of the women Smith trafficked for sex, one of whom is was a minor when the crimes were alleged to have occurred. While in custody, Howenstine told a detective he had a “sex addiction”, but said he was unaware that one of his victims was a minor. Ingham County Sheriff’s Office Detective Amber Kenny-Hinojosa told reporters that “(Howenstine) admitted when he looked for prostitutes, he looked for the age of 18 to 25 years.”

Howenstein recently testified in the sex trafficking trial of Amber Speed, a Lansing woman who was recently convicted of running a criminal enterprise involving the prostitution of minors. Howenstein told jurors that he was blackmailed by Speed after soliciting and paying Speed for sex with trafficking victims. He estimates that he paid “at least $20,000” to Speed over two years.

The former Otto Middle School band leader brought the school’s music program to national prominence but was accused of coercing a 15-year-old girl to perform oral sex acts on him in 2000. Howenstein denied the charges and was eventually acquitted by a jury on three counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2002.

Following the acquittal, Lansing School District paid Howenstine $120,000 to leave his job. He was then hired as a school band director in Melvindale, working there for nine years until he retired in 2013.

Frank Reynolds, Howenstine’s attorney, said that his client was “looking forward to sentencing in order to conclude [the trial]”. Reynolds also noted that he was not aware of any other pending charges, criminal investigations, or other legal movements against his client. Ingham County Circuit Court will formally sentence Howenstine on February 21st.

Michigan couple charged in torture, death of 4-year-old girl

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Two residents of Sumpter Township, Michigan, are facing charges of felony murder, second-degree murder, first-degree child abuse, and torture involving the death of a four-year-old girl. Candice Renea Diaz, 24, and Brad Edward Fields, 28, were arrested near Lake Park, Georgia, on January 11th following a multi-state manhunt. Diaz and her boyfriend were suspects in the death of Diaz’s daughter, Gabrielle Renae “Gabby” Barrett.

On January 1st, Sumpter Township Police responded to a 911 call involving an unresponsive child at the Rawsonville Woods Mobile Home. When officers arrived, family members were administering CPR to the infant victim, who displayed severe burns on their limbs. The girl was taken to Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but was pronounced dead shortly after arriving. The Washtenaw County Medical Examiner declared the death a homicide after discovering traumatic injuries and pathologies of abuse over a prolonged time period.

Responding to an email by the press, Sumpter Township Police said they had visited Diaz and Fields’ home before while responding to a domestic dispute in May 2016, but no children were home during the dispute. In the same statement, Sumpter Township Police Gabrielle was residing in her maternal grandmother’s custody at the time of her death, and only moved to Diaz’s residence the previous summer to attend a local school.

A GoFundMe page set up by Gabrielle’s paternal grandparents to pay for her funeral expenses. Jerry Barret, Gabrielle’s grandfather, responded to criticism that he failed to intervene in the girl’s abuse, wrote through the GoFundMe page that “If you have been watching close you would see that they have lied to us and would not give her to us to see only on few occasions.” Her paternal grandmother, Deborah Oulette Barrett, was deeply thankful for the flood of donations to the GoFundMe: ““In no way shape or form is this easy,” she wrote, “I wish it was a dream. Now hope we get justice and can put Gabrielle to rest as she was when she was with us beautiful full of smiles when we had her.”

A memorial service for Gabrielle is planned for Sunday, Saturday 13th in Westland, Michigan. The case against Diaz and Fields has been given to the Wayne County, Michigan Prosecutor’s Office. Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor, said there will be no extradition hearing for the couple, and they are expected to arrive back in Michigan in about three weeks.

Florida Man Allegedly Killed Stepson and Forced Brothers to Sleep Next To Slain Child

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Jack Junior Montgomery was arrested after a warrant was issued for the murder of his stepson. Authorities stated that Montgomery beat Brice Russel, 7, to death while Russel’s mother was at work.

In the warrant issued for Montgomery’s arrest, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office asserted that on Friday, December 21st, Montgomery began beating Brice as a punishment for sneaking out of bed and eating a cookie after his bedtime. When Brice’s siblings woke up to Montgomery beating him, they were threatened by Montgomery, even cajoled into joining in on their sibling’s “punishment”.

Montgomery allegedly hit Brice in the mouth, face, and stomach, causing Brice’s brain to bleed. He said that by playfully throwing Brice into bed with the other children, he didn’t mean to hurt him – stating that the beating was “only in fun” and not meant to inflict pain. However, a guest at the Seffner Masters Inn, where the family lived, overheard an adult man yelling to “beat the kid” and “push the kid over here” the night of Brice’s death.

According to the State Attorney’s Office, Brice would have died within seconds or minutes after the injury. One of Brice’s siblings even struck him out of fear for his own life. Montgomery claimed that Brice exhibited no signs of harm before going to bed with his siblings. Brice’s mother, Donya Shenita Russell, was working an overnight shift at the time.

After Montgomery stopped assaulting Brice, authorities allege that his siblings were forced to sleep with his body in their bed until the next morning. When Brice wouldn’t wake up, Montgomery attempted to wake him by pouring water over his head and slapping his face.

The next morning, Montgomery allegedly called 911 and claimed his stepson was unconscious and would not wake up, but when police arrived, they found Brice lying dead in his bedroom.

Assistant State Attorney Matthew Smith told a judge on Monday that “[Montgomery] chose to not only physically discipline this child himself, by not only repeatedly punching and throwing him on the ground but threatening bodily harm” to Brice’s siblings if they did not partake, according to WKRG.

Montgomery, 31, has been charged with first degree felony murder and three counts of aggravated child abuse. He has been assigned a public defender but not yet entered a plea deal. A guilty verdict for first degree felony murder carries the possibility of a death sentence in the state of Florida.

Connecticut Teen Expelled After Harassing Roommate; Court Not Considering It a Hate Crime

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In West Hartford, Connecticut, 18-year-old Brianna Brochu plead not guilty on December 19th after being accused of contaminating her roommate’s personal belongings as part of a hate crime. According to Brochu’s Instagram account, she rubbed used tampons on the backpack of Chennel Rowe, Brochu’s roommate. Brochu also claimed in the Instagram post to have licked Rowe’s eating utensils, as well as putting Rowe’s toothbrush “where the sun doesn’t shine”, presumably referring to her anus. Rowe says she believes Brochu also spit in her coconut oil and added “moldy clam dip” to other lotions over the course of the previous month. Brochu is awaiting a trial by jury, which is initially scheduled for January 29, where she will be officially tried on charges of criminal mischief and breach of peace

 

The crime was initially reported to potentially be one of a hateful nature, especially after Rowe told The Hartford Courant that Brochu “ignored her and treated her as a ghost.” Rowe is African-American and Brochu is Caucasian, so that factor combined with the general iciness demonstrated toward Rowe led the NAACP and other local civil rights groups to urge the courts to add a hate crimes charge to the processing. NAACP president Scot Esdaile later expressed disappointment at the lack of a hate crimes aspect in the charges, and believes that this was due in part to the prosecutors not considering the case as urgently as civil rights groups believed it to be.

 

Brochu’s legal team, for their part, has denied that Brochu’s actions were at all racially motivated. Brochu, who was expelled from the University of Hartford after reports of these incidents came to light, admits that there was no relationship between the roommates. Brochu says that Rowe was similarly cold towards her, exhibiting rudeness and posting videos of Brochu online without her consent. In the process of Brochu’s expelling, she lost the rights to an $80,000 scholarship she had earned that allowed her to attend the university for the next four years.

 

The evening after Brochu’s expelling and the circumstances surrounding that decision became public, the University of Hartford organized a student meeting led by Greg Woodward, the university’s vice president of student affairs and director of public safety. Woodward acknowledged in that meeting, as well as in a public statement, that the university still had work to do in the field of fostering a respectful on-campus environment. However, the statement also assured students and parents that the school took action as soon as the allegations against Brochu were raised to university officials.

 

Murder-Suicide At Penn State Beaver Over Domestic Issues

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52-year-old William Kelly has been identified as the man behind a murder-suicide on the campus of Penn State’s Beaver County affiliate on Wednesday, December 13. William Kelly reportedly shot his 49-year-old ex-wife Lesli Kelly with two handguns before pulling the trigger on himself. The attack was reported at 3:38 PM at the university’s food services building, which includes a student cafeteria.  However, it was later determined that the shooting happened outside, in the building’s parking lot. The police say that no students were affected by the shooting, and that the rest of the Kelly family is safe. In any case, at the time of the shooting, the university ordered an evacuation of the area and a dismissal of non-essential employees for the rest of the day.

 

According to State Police Lieutenant Eric Hermick, it is believed William Kelly arrived at the campus with the alibi of dropping off a Christmas present for Lesli, who was on her break during a shift at the food services building that afternoon. Lesli was reportedly waiting for William in a parked Subaru SUV, and William arrived in a similar-looking Chevrolet SUV. William approached Lesli with a wrapped present box before pulling out his weapons and committing the attack. Witnesses informed the police that there was some brief screaming and yelling before the shooting happened.

 

The Kellys had three children, who were staying with their relatives at the time of the shooting. The Kellys had recently gotten a divorce, and the police believe that this was “a domestic violence thing”, as Hermick put it. Lesli had filed several complaints to campus police in the past about William, although she failed to go through with a protection form abuse order. “We’re getting indications that there was domestic issues, child support issues,” Hermick elaborated. One of their children is an adult, but two are minors who were under shared custody, and police believe an argument over custody may have been a potential motive for the deadly dispute. This was initially a concern when the police found blood-stained documents inside the car, although it was later determined the children were safe.

 

As for the university, school chancellor Jenifer Cushman said that counseling would be available to students, facutly and staff. In the immediate, arrangements were also made for finals exams that were scheduled for the next day to be moved over to Friday. Campus authorities expressed some relief that the area was not as populated as it would usually be because of the winter break for many students.