by Jim Salter and Eric Tucker, AP
(St. Louis) (AP) – Police antagonized crowds who gathered to protest in Ferguson after Michael Brown’s death last summer, violated free-speech rights and made it difficult to hold officers accountable, according to a Justice Department report that found across-the-board flaws in law enforcement’s response.
The report summary, which covers the two-week period of unrest that followed a white officer fatally shooting the unarmed black 18-year-old in August, also faulted officers for inappropriately using tear gas, withholding information that should have been made public and relying on military-style equipment “that produced a negative reaction” in the community.
The summary is part of a longer after-action report to be released in the coming weeks focusing on the actions of police in Ferguson, St. Louis city and county and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Details of the summary were first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Tuesday. The Associated Press later obtained a copy.
The report suggests that the protests after Brown’s death on Aug. 9 were aggravated by the community’s hostility toward Ferguson police and worsened when authorities didn’t quickly divulge details of his death.
“Had law enforcement released information on the officer-involved shooting in a timely manner and continued the information flow as it became available, community distrust and media skepticism would most likely have been lessened,” according to the document.
A grand jury and the Justice Department both declined to prosecute officer Darren Wilson, who is white and later resigned, but another Justice Department report released in March was critical of Ferguson police and the city’s profit-driven municipal court system.
The after-action report was announced in September by then-Attorney General Eric Holder and is separate from the other federal civil rights inquiries.
The summary, which includes 45 findings, identified a slew of poor policing tactics: The use of dogs for crowd control incited fear and anger, tear gas was sometimes used without warning on people who had nowhere to retreat and officers were inconsistent in using force and making arrests, the Justice Department said.
More broadly, though, the report chastised the Ferguson Police Department for failing to manage the community reaction and develop a long-term strategy, as well as for maintaining poor relationships with the black community – a problem that “over time led to devastating effects.”
“The protests were … also a manifestation of the long-standing tension between the Ferguson (Police Department) and the African-American community,” the report summary stated.
The report was prepared by the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services office, a component that works to build trust between police departments and the communities they serve. The office, which also conducts after-action reports on high-profile police responses, said Tuesday it’ll release its final report on the Ferguson response in coming weeks.
St. Louis Police spokeswoman Schron Jackson told the AP that department officials “are interested in the final report to identify what we did well and what we may need to improve upon.
“The department reached out to COPS to inquire about a blueprint for handling similar situations,” Jackson said in an email. “We were told none exist and we were forging new ground. Now, agencies around the country look to our region for input on issues relating to civil unrest.”
Representatives from the other police agencies who were analyzed either declined to comment Tuesday or did not return messages from the AP seeking comment.
Among the problems singled out in the report summary is the “highly elevated tactical response” that police used from the beginning, which set a tone that “limited options for a measured, strategic approach.” It acknowledges that a tactical response was sometimes called for, but an “elevated daytime response was not justified and served to escalate rather than de-escalate the overall situation.”
The report also found that police “underestimated the impact social media had on the incident and the speed at which both facts and rumors were spread and failed to have a social media strategy.”
In repeating “vague and arbitrary” commands for protesters to keep moving, the police wound up violating demonstrators’ First Amendment rights.
“While law enforcement must meet its duty to protect people and property during mass demonstrations and protests,” the Justice Department said, “it can never do so at the expense of upholding the Constitution and First Amendment-protected rights.”
by David Pitt, AP
(Des Moines) (AP) – A record 85.1 million acres of soybeans are in the ground, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Tuesday, but it’s not clear whether they’ll all sprout because persistent rain in some Midwestern states has flooded fields and slowed plant development.
The planted soybean acreage is 2 percent more than in 2014, with the largest increases found in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Tennessee. However, just 89 percent of soybean seeds nationally have emerged from the ground – about 5 percentage points behind the five-year average.
Corn and soybean conditions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Ohio have shown deterioration in recent weeks with the heavy rain. And in the soaked states, farmers who won’t get their soybeans fields planted by Wednesday may be forced to use crop insurance to cover the lost production.
Missouri and Illinois have experienced the wettest Junes since the National Weather Service began keeping such records in the late 1800s. More than a third of Missouri’s intended soybean crop has gone unplanted, and Kansas has 14 percent that’s unplanted.
“Any chance I could get between rains, I went ahead and got things planted,” said Jim Boerding, 46, who farms more than 1,600 acres near St. Charles, Missouri, west of St. Louis and near the rain-swollen Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
He started planting his 750 acres of corn later than normal in April, which went smoothly, thanks to a dry spell. When he pivoted to soybeans, the rains rolled in.
“It’s sad watching the rain keep coming down,” he said. “All your hard work getting the planting in, and something like this comes along. We’ll take what we can get.”
Boerding figures as much as half of his corn crop might be negatively impacted by the moisture that has made some of his fields soupy – or looking like miniature ponds. Bouts of hail and winds haven’t helped, snapping many of the young plants.
Even in states like Iowa, where crops have gotten off to a good start, severe weather has taken a toll.
“The strong storms and heavy rains that rolled through Iowa last week have stressed crops, flooded some fields and limited farmers’ ability to get needed work done,” Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said Monday.
With a month of rain, Indiana’s crops have gone from among the best in the nation to among the worst, Purdue Extension agricultural economist Chris Hurt said. The USDA said 19 percent of Indiana’s 5.7 million acres of soybeans and 21 percent of its 5.7 million acres of corn in very poor or poor condition.
Hurt estimated Tuesday that production could decline by $475 million in the state.
“The current ratings can still improve during the rest of the growing season, and they can decline even more if weather remains harmful,” he said in a statement.
While planted soybean acres are at record levels, the USDA said planted corn acres in the U.S. are the lowest since 2010 at 88.9 million acres.
Iowa, the nation’s leading corn producer, has 13.7 million acres planted in corn, the same as last year, but its soybean acres grew by 100,000 acres to 10 million.
Illinois leads the nation in soybeans planted with 10.1 million acres in the ground, 300,000 more than last year. It’s second in corn acres with 11.8 million, 100,000 less than last year.
Nebraska also has planted the same amount of corn as last year with 9.3 million acres; soybean acres dropped 200,000 acres to 5.2 million.
Wisconsin and Texas were two of a few states to increase planted corn acreage from 2014, 4.1 million and 2.25 million respectively.
by Jill Colvin and Steve Peoples, AP
(Livingston) (AP) – A tough-talking New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie launched his 2016 campaign for president Tuesday with a promise to tell voters the truth even if it makes them cringe.
The Republican governor, a one-time GOP favorite who faded and now tries to climb back, lashed out at “bickering leaders” from both political parties in a kickoff rally in the gymnasium of his old high school. And in his trademark blunt style, he told voters – and warned Republican rivals – that he’s ready to be aggressive in the 2016 contest.
“You’re going to get what I think whether you like it or not, or whether it makes you cringe every once in a while or not,” Christie declared. He added: “I am now ready to fight for the people of the United States of America.”
Christie enters a Republican presidential field that already has more than a dozen GOP candidates. Not all draw as much attention as Christie, who will compete for the same slice of the electorate as pragmatic-minded White House hopefuls such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
But it’s an accomplished lineup of governors, senators and business people. Christie’s effort is largely driven by his outsized personality, and his resume, while notable, contains scattered land mines that have given many Republicans pause.
Four years ago, some of Christie’s backers tried to persuade him to challenge President Barack Obama. In the years since, he won re-election with ease, but also struggled to revive New Jersey’s moribund economy and fought with the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature over pensions and the state budget.
While Christie’s turn as head of the Republican Governors Association was widely viewed as a success in the 2014 midterm elections, he’s also faced the fallout from the actions of three former aides, charged with creating politically motivated traffic jams at a bridge to retaliate against a Democratic mayor who declined to endorse Christie’s re-election.
Christie has not been tied directly to wrongdoing, denies he had anything to do with the bridge closing and has seen no evidence emerge to refute that.
Still, the episode deepened the sense that he may surround himself with people who will do anything to win. He declared early in the scandal that “I am not a bully” to counter the public perception that he is just that.
The governor faces a tough sell with many conservatives, but has seemingly found his stride at times in visits to early voting states with the lively town hall meetings he’s known for at home. There will be plenty more of those now that he’s an affirmed candidate.
Emboldened by his political successes in heavily Democratic New Jersey, he seems himself as a leader who can work across Washington’s bitter partisan divide.
“We need this country to work together again, not against each other,” he said with his wife, Mary Pat, and their four children standing behind him. He promised to lead a White House that would “welcome the American people no matter what party, no matter what race or creed or color.”
Yet Christie also jabbed President Barack Obama’s “weak and feckless foreign policy” and called Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton the president’s “second mate.”
“America is tired of hand-wringing and indecisiveness and weakness in the Oval Office,” he said. “We need to have strength and decision-making and authority back in the Oval Office. And that is why today I am proud to announce my candidacy for the Republican nomination for president of the United States of America.”
In 2012, Christie was seen as the charismatic, pragmatic governor who burst onto the scene in made-for-YouTube moments. He gained national attention with a landmark deal in which the state’s public sector unions agreed to higher health care costs and retirement ages in exchange for promised payments into the state’s chronically underfunded pension season.
Christie’s fortunes have certainly changed.
Now, Christie has been eclipsed by others in a pack of more than dozen rivals. And his poll numbers at home have sunk to record lows. New Jersey’s economy is lagging and there have been nine credit downgrades on Christie’s watch.
Christie grew up in Livingston, a town about 20 miles west of New York City, and served as class president at the high school. His high school friends were among the first to receive word that Christie would be launching his campaign at their old school.
by Elena Bectatoros and Raf Casert, AP
(Athens) (AP) – Greece slipped deeper into its financial abyss on Tuesday, when the bailout program it has relied on for five years was set to expire and the country was due to become the first developed nation to miss a payment to the International Monetary Fund.
After Greece made a last-ditch proposal to extend its bailout, the creditors decided in a teleconference that there was no way they could reach a deal.
Greece’s international bailout expires at midnight central European time, after which the country loses access to billions of euros in funds. At the same time, Greece has said it will not be able to make a payment of 1.6 billion euros to the IMF.
An EU official said Greece’s creditors would not agree Tuesday night on a new bailout deal or extension and would instead, starting Wednesday, focus on a new plan for the country.
There was “clearly no agreement tonight,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement was not official, adding the eurozone’s finance ministers would reconvene Wednesday to discuss “a follow-up agreement.”
The brinkmanship that has characterized Greece’s bailout negotiations with its European creditors and the IMF rose several notches over the weekend, when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced he would put a deal proposal by creditors to a referendum on Sunday. He is advocating a “no” vote.
The move increased fears the country could soon fall out of the euro currency bloc and Greeks rushed to pull money out of ATMs, leading the government to impose restrictions on banking transactions on Monday for at least a week.
Greeks are now limited to cash withdrawals of 60 euros ($67) a day and cannot send money abroad or make international payments without special permission.
European officials and Greek opposition parties have been adamant that a “no” vote in Sunday’s referendum will mean Greece will leave the euro and possibly even the EU.
The government says this is scaremongering, and that a rejection of creditor demands will mean the country is in a better negotiating position.
Hopes for an 11th-hour deal before the deadline were raised when the Greek side announced it had submitted a new deal proposal Tuesday afternoon, and the eurozone’s 19 finance ministers held a teleconference to discuss it.
But those hopes were quickly dashed.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said she ruled out further negotiations with Greece before Sunday’s referendum on whether to accept creditors’ demands for budget reforms.
“Before the planned referendum is carried out, we will not negotiate over anything new,” the dpa news agency quoted Merkel as telling members of her party.
Earlier, she had said talks could continue after Tuesday night’s deadlines expired.
Greece’s latest offer involves a proposal to tap Europe’s bailout fund – the so-called European Stability Mechanism, a pot of money set up after Greece’s rescue programs to help countries in need.
Tsipras’ office said the proposal was “for the full coverage of (Greece’s) financing needs with the simultaneous restructuring of the debt.”
“Tonight we have sent a letter (to the eurogroup) that narrows the differences further,” Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis said in an interview on state television. “We are making an additional effort. There are six points where this effort can be made. I don’t want to get into specifics. But it includes pensions and labour issues.”
Speaking about the latest Greek proposal, the EU official said the creditors insist that loans must come with conditions. Over the past five years of Greece’s bailout, the creditors have insisted on budget cuts, tax increases and economic reforms.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing.
In Athens, more than 10,000 “Yes” vote supporters gathered outside parliament despite a thunderstorm, chanting “Europe! Europe!”
Most huddled under umbrellas, including Athens resident Sofia Matthaiou.
“I don’t know if we’ll get a deal. But we have to press them to see reason,” she said, referring to the government. “The creditors need to water down their positions, too.”
The protest came a day after a similar-sized government supporters advocating a “no” vote held a similar demonstration.
On Monday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made a new offer to Greece. Under that proposal, Tsipras would need to accept the creditors’ proposal which was on the table last weekend. He would also have to change his position on Sunday’s referendum.
Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the offer would also involve unspecified discussions on Athens’s massive debt load of over 300 billion euros, or around 180 percent of GDP. The Greek side has long called for debt relief, saying its mountainous debt is unsustainable.
A Greek government official said Tsipras had spoken earlier in the day with Juncker, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi and European Parliament president Martin Schulz.
Meanwhile, missing the IMF payment will cut Greece off from new loans from the organization.
And with its bailout program expiring, Greece will lose access to more than 16 billion euros ($18 billion) in financial support it had not yet tapped, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because talks about the program were still ongoing at the time.
On the streets of Athens, long queues formed again at ATM machines as Greeks struggled with the new restrictions on banking transactions.
The elderly have been hit particularly hard, with tens of thousands of pensions unpaid as of Tuesday afternoon. Many also found themselves completely cut off from any cash as they do not have bank cards.
The finance ministry said it would open about 1,000 bank branches across the country for three days from Wednesday to allow pensioners without bank cards to make withdrawals. But the limit would be set at 120 euros for the whole week.
Casert reported from Brussels. Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
(Willow Springs) – Congressman Jason Smith will headline the 21st annual 4th of July parade in downtown Willow Springs.
Any and all entries are invited to take part in the parade, which will line up at Booster Field in Willow Springs at 9 AM and starts at 10 AM on Saturday, July 4.
Willow Springs Chamber of Commerce officials say that Smith’s office confirmed his appearance last week. Also scheduled to appear is Representative Shawn Rhodes, who represents Willow Springs and West Plains in the Missouri House of Representatives.
Officials added that the 1138th Military Police unit of the Missouri National Guard has confirmed that they will have their Color Guard to lead the parade, and will bring members of the unit and equipment for the viewers enjoyment.
Also on Saturday, a collection of Willow Springs groups, including administration from the Willow Springs School District, the Ministerial Alliance and the Willow Springs Rotary Club, will host a cook-out from 11 AM to 1 PM at Booster Field. All proceeds from the event go to fund the back to school supply effort in Willow Springs, which provides school supplies for over 200 children in the Willow Springs School District.
(Willow Springs) – Five new Highway Patrol officers have been assigned to the local Troop G region.
Trooper Michael A. White has been assigned to Zone 3, which covers northern Howell and Shannon counties. Trooper White is a native of Washington, Missouri, and a graduate of Parkway South High School in Ballwin. He is a military veteran and worked as a commercial vehicle inspector in the Troop C area before becoming a trooper.
Trooper Blake C. Rowden has been assigned to Zone 10, covering northern Howell and Shannon counties. Trooper Rowden is a native of Meta, Missouri, and a graduate of Vienna High School in Vienna. He holds an associate’s degree from Columbia College, Columbia, Missouri. He is a military veteran and worked for the Missouri Department of Corrections before joining the Patrol.
Trooper Joshua M. Kenyon has been assigned to Zone 3, covering northern Howell and Shannon counties. Trooper Kenyon is a native of Forsyth, Missouri, and attended Bradleyville High School in Bradleyville. He holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Missouri State University in Springfield, and was employed by Hirsch Feed and Farm Supply in West Plains before joining the Patrol.
Trooper Dillon F. Wales has been assigned to Zone 5, covering Douglas and Ozark counties. Trooper Wales is a native of Webb City, Missouri, and attended Webb City High School. Prior to joining the Patrol, he was employed by Heart of America Beverage Company in Joplin.
Trooper Christian J. Mendez has been assigned to Zone 11, covering Douglas and Ozark counties. Trooper Mendez is a native of Chino, California, and attended Riverside Christian High School in Riverside, California. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri.
The five new troopers were members of the 100th Recruit Class of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The 100th Recruit Class began training on January 5, and graduated on June 26. They will report for duty on July 13.
(Bismark) (AP) – Thirteen states led by North Dakota filed a lawsuit Monday challenging an Obama administration rule that gives federal agencies authority to protect some streams, tributaries and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the “Waters of the U.S.” rule by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers is a “federal power grab” that is “unnecessary and unlawful and will do nothing to increase water quality.”
The rule – a response to calls from the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress for the EPA to clarify which smaller waterways are protected – was published in the Federal Register on Monday and takes effect Aug. 28.
According to the EPA, the waters affected would be only those with a “direct and significant” connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected. It says the aim is to protect the waters from pollution and development and to safeguard drinking water.
The EPA did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Bismarck, asks for the rule to be thrown out. The other states involved are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Stenehjem told reporters that the rule “illegally” gives authority to the EPA and the Corps and will add “red tape and other obstacles” to farmers, ranchers and landowners. Failure to get permits under the new rules will result in “steep penalties and even jail time,” he said.
He said farmers and other landowners could be subjected to federal oversight for even dry ditches on their land. The thousands of small ponds in the Upper Midwest known as prairie potholes also will be regulated, he said.
(West Plains) – City offices in West Plains will be closed on Friday due to the Independence Day holiday. City clerk Mallory Hawkins also told Ozark Radio News that trash routes will be affected for some residents:
If you have any questions, call West Plains City Hall at 417-256-7176.
(St. Louis) – With Independence Day festivities taking place this weekend, the Humane Society of Missouri is offering a number of tips to keep your furry friends safe and secure during fireworks and other activities. Brett Stevens has more:
(Little Rock) (AP) – A new study has concluded that children in Arkansas are at an increased risk for drowning.
Research conducted by the Arkansas Infant and Child Death Review Program at Arkansas Children’s Hospital indicates Arkansas ranks 7th in the U.S. for drowning-related deaths among children under 17. In addition, the state’s drowning rate is 60 percent higher than the national average.
Since 2010, the Arkansas Infant and Child Death Review Program has reviewed cases of unexpected deaths of children ages birth to 17. Local review teams found that of all the drowning cases reviewed, over 5 percent involved children between the ages of 1 and 4 who drowned in either a bathtub or a bucket of water.
The research found that most recreational drownings occurred among young people ages 10 to 17.