Mass killings shake the Golden State
U.S. BRIEFS | Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park communities grieve shooting deaths
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A gunman on Jan. 23 killed seven workers at two agricultural businesses in Half Moon Bay, a rural, seaside town about 25 miles south of San Francisco. The massacre came as the state was still reeling from a mass shooting less than 48 hours earlier at a Lunar New Year celebration at a dance studio in Monterey Park that killed 11 people and rattled the Asian American community. The suspect in the latter case, Huu Can Tran, 72, shot himself before police could reach him. In Half Moon Bay, police arrested suspect Chunli Zhao, 67, a current or former employee at the two businesses where the shootings occurred. One week prior, a suspected gang-related mass shooting in Tulare County left six dead (see “Quotables” in this issue). Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 24, at least 40 mass shootings have occurred nationwide, accounting for 73 deaths, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The nonprofit research group labels mass shootings as attacks where at least four people are injured or killed. —Mary Jackson
A landmark case over the odor of marijuana went to trial in the District of Columbia on Jan. 9. Josefa Ippolito-Shepherd, 76, claims the pot smoked by a man living in the house adjoining hers is a public nuisance. “I have the right to breathe fresh air in my home,” Ippolito-Shepherd told The Washington Post. The district legalized recreational marijuana in 2015, but Ippolito-Shepherd says her aim is not to reverse legalization but to restrict the drug’s use in multiunit buildings. This is the first lawsuit over the distinctive smell of cannabis to make it so far in the legal system, and others are likely to follow. Recreational marijuana is now legal in 21 states. A Gallup poll last year found more Americans smoke marijuana than cigarettes. —Emma Freire
Former Hamline University adjunct art professor Erika López Prater is suing the private St. Paul school in a battle over academic freedom and Islamic images. A Muslim student at Hamline complained about depictions of Muhammad, Islam’s founder, used in López Prater’s course on global art. The teacher claims she warned students on the syllabus and before the actual class on Oct. 6 that the images would be shown. In response to the complaint, university leaders sent a campuswide email labeling the instructor’s actions “Islamophobic.” Administrators also did not offer López Prater renewed employment for the spring semester. The university later called its response and use of the word “Islamophobic” a “misstep.” —Kim Henderson
Is the state’s foster care system putting children who take psychiatric medications in danger? A federal class-action lawsuit filed Jan. 17 alleges the state did not properly oversee drugs given without a documented diagnosis or a complete medical history. The plaintiffs, a group of state and national nonprofits, including the American Civil Liberties Union, accuse the state of using the drugs to chemically restrain behavior. About one-third of Maryland’s foster children are prescribed psychotropic drugs—anything from sleep aids to antipsychotics—according to the lawsuit. The complaint states that nearly 75 percent of the children on medication do not have an official diagnosis, and more than half take more than one drug despite the possibility of dangerous side effects. In many cases, the state Department of Human Services and Social Services Administration failed to keep thorough medical records, the suit says. One physician recalled trying to piece together the prescription history of a child who had lived in 12 different places by examining his pill bottles. —Addie Offereins
Students at some of the state’s top universities began the spring semester with one less technology distraction. The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University have blocked access to the popular video sharing app TikTok on campus Wi-Fi networks. School administrators said they made the decision after Gov. Greg Abbott issued a Dec. 7 ban on state employees downloading or using the app on government-owned devices. Texas universities aren’t the only ones hitting pause on TikTok. More than half of U.S. states have issued similar bans. Those directives have spread to colleges and, in some cases, K-12 schools. President Joe Biden signed a bill ordering federal employees to stop using the app in late December. Security officials have warned for years that the Chinese developer ByteDance could use the app to spy on Americans, a claim the company denies. —Leigh Jones
A University of Kansas researcher accused of hiding his Chinese academic connections will serve no additional prison time after a federal judge concluded he didn’t benefit financially from those links. Feng “Franklin” Tao was arrested in 2019, spent a week in prison, and was convicted last year of three counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements. A judge later dismissed the wire fraud convictions and on Jan. 18 gave him the lightest sentence possible—time already served. University of Kansas representatives said Tao had not disclosed that he set up a lab for China’s Fuzhou University. Federal prosecutors added that Tao hid his Chinese contacts on federal funding applications. The chemical engineer was arrested under the China Initiative, a controversial Trump-era program intended to stop economic espionage. But U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson concluded, “This is not an espionage case. … If it was, they presented absolutely no evidence that was going on.” —Juliana Chan Erikson
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