Saturday, January 15, 2011

Winkler County Officials Indicted

From the New York Times:

A state grand jury in Winkler County, Tex., has indicted the sheriff, the county attorney and a hospital administrator for their roles in orchestrating the prosecution of two whistle-blowing nurses after they had reported allegations of malpractice.

The sheriff, Robert L. Roberts Jr., and county attorney, Scott M. Tidwell, each face six counts, including misuse of official information and retaliation, which are third-degree felonies. Stan Wiley, the administrator of Winkler County Memorial Hospital, in the dusty West Texas town of Kermit, was indicted on two counts of retaliation.

The case was investigated by the state attorney general after a jury last year acquitted one of the nurses of charges that she had misused official information by providing patient case numbers to the Texas Medical Board. In 2009, the nurse, Anne Mitchell, and a colleague, Vickilyn Galle, included the case numbers in an anonymous letter to the board about the practices of Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr., who had recently joined the small hospital in Kermit.

The case against Ms. Galle was dropped before trial. Dr. Arafiles, who was arrested last month, faces four criminal counts, and has been charged civilly by the medical board with a variety of practice violations.

The charges issued by the grand jury on Thursday stem from Dr. Arafiles’s approach to Sheriff Roberts after the doctor learned the medical board was investigating him. The sheriff, who was a patient and friend of the doctor, opened an investigation and, according to the indictment, used deceptive means to obtain the anonymous letter from the medical board.

The letter included details that implicated the nurses. Mr. Wiley fired the two women, who had a combined 47 years at the hospital, and Mr. Tidwell handled their prosecution.

The nurses sued the county and settled last year for a shared $750,000.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What's Going On In Arkansas?

From the New York Times:

Published: January 3, 2011
Times Square had the ball drop, and Brasstown, N.C., had its descending possum. But no place had a New Year’s Eve as unusual, or freakishly disturbing, as Beebe, Ark.

Around 11 that night, thousands of red-winged blackbirds began falling out of the sky over this small city about 35 miles northeast of Little Rock. They landed on roofs, roads, front lawns and backyards, turning the ground nearly black and terrifying anyone who happened to be outside.

“One of them almost hit my best friend in the head,” said Christy Stephens, who was standing outside among the crowd at a party. “We went inside after that.”

The cause is still being determined, but preliminary lab results from the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission revealed “acute physical trauma” in samples of the dead birds. There were no indications of disease, though tests were still being done for the presence of toxic chemicals.

Karen Rowe, the bird conservation program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said the prevailing theory was that the birds had been startled by New Year’s Eve fireworks and suddenly dispersed, flying low enough to run into chimneys, houses and trees. Pyrotechnics are used to scatter blackbirds for bird control, though only during the day, given the birds’ poor vision.

Beebe (pronounced BEE-be) is a congregating spot for blackbirds, and one witness told Ms. Rowe that he saw the birds roosting earlier in the day and heard them again at night just after the fireworks started.

“It was the right mix of things happening in a perfect time sequence,” Ms. Rowe said.

At most recent count, up to 5,000 birds fell on the city. Sixty five samples were sent to labs, one of which is at the Livestock and Poultry Commission and the other in Madison, Wis.

Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the commission, said he was not aware of a case this large. “About nine years ago we had some ducks,” he said, “but that was only a couple of dozen.”

The town contacted an environmental cleanup firm, which by Monday afternoon had picked up nearly all the birds, some of which were bagged and left at the end of driveways by residents.

“It just looked as if it had rained birds,” said Tracy Lightfoot, a member of the City Council, declining to speculate on the reason. “There’s lots of theories running around. I have no idea. I just don’t have a clue.”

State scientists believe one thing to be almost certain: that the bird deaths were not related to the roughly 85,000 fish that died a few days before near Ozark, in the western part of the state, the biggest fish kill in Arkansas that anyone can remember. They were spotted by anglers along the Arkansas River last week and reported to the Game and Fish Commission, which spent New Year’s Eve measuring and counting dead fish that had spread out for nearly 20 miles.

In that case, the victims were almost all drum, and almost all younger ones. That suggests the culprit was disease, said Mark Oliver, the chief of fisheries for the commission. He said fish kills were not uncommon, especially in winter when the fish are packed more closely, but he did not recall one of this size.

Meanwhile roughly 500 dead birds were found on Monday outside New Roads, La. Those birds were much more varied, with starlings and grackle in addition to blackbirds, and a few samples picked up by James LaCour, a wildlife veterinarian with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, did not show any signs of trauma, he said.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Saints of the Drug Cartel

(I find this fascinating but I don't know why. My thanks to Liz for doing all the research for this post.)

Santa Muerte is thin.


U.S. Marshal: Religious items can be used to help target drug lords

by Audrie Palmer
Midland Reporter-Telegram

Nearly 200 agents and officers from West Texas law enforcement groups took part Thursday (12-16-2010) in a daylong training class geared to helping them recognize religious tools criminals use in the Mexican drug underworld.

"A lot of these officers are not aware they're using this as protection. (The class is) to help them become familiar with the different images and icons and to enhance their safety," U.S. Marshal Robert Almonte said. "The bottom line is the criminals pray for protection from law enforcement. They pray all the way up to God and all the way down to the devil."

Almonte has been traveling around the state of Texas giving the presentation to area agencies and setting up displays of religious sentiments, including candles and crosses, he's collected over the course of his career. A model replica statue of Santa Muerte -- the "saint of death" -- stood on a folding table near the front of the classroom.

Authorities say that many involved in drug rings continue to add different religious elements to their homes and the use of these elements are spreading around the United States.

"It's another weapon the cartel is using, and they've been using it for awhile," Almonte said.

Investigators believe recognizing religious elements and sacred items used for rituals will help to aid officers working in the field and alert them to possible criminal activity.

The popularity of such elements presents a challenge to many officers, Almonte said, and law enforcement should not rely solely on the religious aspects but conduct further investigations into the crimes.

Still, recognizing one or more of the items displayed could be a possible indicator of criminal activity.

Many who own the icons and images also have the beliefs embedded into their hearts, souls and minds, Almonte said, and they continue to believe in their faith even after they've been arrested.

Authorities are hoping their investigators and officers will make the association between some of the images and illegal activity happening inside community.

"This is an additional tool I want to leave with you guys. I think we all agree criminal activity is evil. I want to take you on a journey to the dark side of that activity," said Almonte, starting the Powerpoint presentation for the class. "The things you are going to see are of importance. It could be a matter of life and death."

Audrie Palmer can be reached at


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...