Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Massachusetts may expand parole options for people with murder convictions … Chicago mayor proposes consolidating departments to close budget gap … Christmas parade reinstated in West Virginia after backlash.
A white Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a 28-year-old black woman inside her home Saturday morning resigned from the police department and later was jailed on a murder charge. The arrest of Aaron Dean in the death of Atatiana Jefferson came after Mayor Betsy Price told reporters the shooting wasn't justified and interim Chief Ed Kraus said he had been prepared to fire the officer before he resigned. “Nobody looked at that video and said there’s any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately," Kraus said. At a Sunday evening vigil, hundreds of people mourned Jefferson and urged authorities to prosecute Dean. Jefferson's family has also called on police to hand the investigation over to an independent agency. Officers had gone to Jefferson’s home on a welfare check, sent there by a neighbor who called a non-emergency line to report that the door was open in the early morning hours. Body camera video was released of the shooting, which showed that Dean did not announce himself as police and fired from outside the house through a bedroom window. The officer was checking the backyard, when the video captured him yelling, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” and then firing his gun. Police initially said he “perceived a threat,” but haven’t said what it was. They also said there was a gun in the home, but didn’t release more information about the weapon and where it was found. On Monday, Price said the gun was irrelevant and Jefferson had a right to have it in her home. Kraus said his agency's criminal investigation would continue and the FBI has been briefed, while City Manager David Cooke said the city will conduct an outside review of police policies and training, as well as assemble a team of experts to assess use-of-force. The city also plans to hire a police monitor. Jefferson, a graduate of Xavier University, had been playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew when she was killed. The child was in the room during the shooting, said Lee Merritt, an attorney representing the family. Merritt said Jefferson was very close with her family, taking care of the house because her mother was very ill. "She was the auntie that stayed up on Friday night playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew," Merritt said. Adarius Carr, Jefferson's brother, said it is clear that the officer "should be arrested.” The fatal shooting of Jefferson, the sixth since June by a Fort Worth officer, comes less than two weeks after a Dallas police officer was sentenced to 10 years in the shooting of 26-year-old Botham Jean while he was eating ice cream inside his apartment. The officer, Amber Guyger, said she thought it was her apartment. [Fort Worth Star Telegram, Dallas Morning News; WFAA; USA Today]
PAROLE | In Massachusetts, first-degree murder convictions come with a mandatory sentence of life without parole. But state lawmakers are now considering a change, the outgrowth of broader criminal justice reform efforts. There are 1,084 people serving that sentence. Under a new proposal, people convicted of first-degree muder would be eligible for a parole hearing after 25 years of incarceration, and every five years after that. Family members of murder victims, including Donald Harty, whose father was killed in 2016, have spoken out against the change. “Had the writer of this bill been more accurate, I think it would be titled, ‘An Act to Put Murderers Back on the Street,’” he testified before the legislature. State Rep. Jay Livingstone, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, said that the bill would only offer a hearing, not guarantee parole. “It would simply allow people the chance to prove they could be a positive addition upon return to society,” he said. [Boston Herald; Daily Hampshire Gazette]
BUDGET GAP | Chicago is facing an $838 million budget gap, leading Mayor Lori Lightfoot to suggest an unusual merger between two city departments, which would save $1 million. Lightfoot proposed merging the Department of Innovation and Technology with the Department of Fleet and Facility Management, a move that would have to be approved by the city council before going into effect in 2020. “The proposed consolidation will retain all current technology and data talent and services provided by DoIT today, aligning them with a department focused on supporting other city departments in providing the most efficient and effective services to neighborhoods," said mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Huffman. The proposal has drawn criticism from some in the city’s technology community, including Tom Schenk Jr., who served as the city’s chief data officer under former mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Today, City of Chicago has made a terrible decision to merge IT operations with fleet and facility (who manages properties and city vehicles). That’s right, someone is going to have to manage cars, buildings and IT in one job,” he tweeted. Derek Eder, president of Chi Hack Night, a civic tech organization, similarly tweeted his concern. “This seems like a bad idea. From my understanding, the roles and responsibilities of these two departments don't really overlap at all,” he said. [Chicago Tribune; Chicago Sun-Times]
CHRISTMAS PARADE | The mayor of Charleston, West Virginia reversed a decision made a few days earlier to change the name of the city’s annual December parade from the “Christmas Parade” to the “Winter Parade.” The move was intended to make the parade more inclusive, and to recognize the diversity of religious beliefs held by residents of the city, Mayor Amy Schuler Goodwin said. Conservatives and Christian leaders quickly voiced their criticism though. State Senate President Mitch Carmichael, a Republican, issued a statement rebuking the city and the mayor. "We are calling on Mayor Goodwin and her liberal allies to end this madness and allow our citizens to freely and fully exercise their Freedom of Religion with a CHRISTMAS PARADE," he said. Goodwin reversed her decision within three days. "After much consideration and conversation with religious leaders from all faiths and community members, we have decided to keep the name, 'Charleston Christmas Parade.’ We understand the history and tradition of the parade and we want to continue that for years to come,” she said. [Associated Press; WOWK; WHSV]
REDUCING CONGESTION | A proposal in the New York state legislature would stagger the start times for state employees who work in and around the capital. Assemblymember Angelo Santabarbara, a Democrat, wants the legislature to consider staggering start times in an effort to reduce congestion on crowded highways in Albany and the surrounding area. He pointed to a recent study that found commuters in New York’s capital region spent an average of 49 hours stuck in traffic per year. “Congestion on these major roadways will only get worse if we don’t begin looking for solutions now. Staggering the time state workers begin and end their workday is one solution that has the potential to decrease the number of cars on...key roadways during the morning and evening rush hour,” he said. The capital region of New York was ranked 41st on a list of cities with the worst congestion delays for commuters. [Albany Times-Union]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty and Laura Maggi is the managing editor.