Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blog post about shooting rampage leads to charges


BLAINE, Wash. – Jeffrey Gargaro says he was just expressing his opinion when he posted a blog on a newspaper Web site following this month’s Skagit County shooting rampage that left six people dead including a sheriff’s deputy.

Now, prosecutors have charged him with felony harassment because they say he threatened to shoot up a mall.

The day after the rampage, Gargaro logged onto the Bellingham Herald Web site and went to the community blog section where readers started sounding off on what caused it all.

"Blame single parents, drugs, schooling, maybe mental illness without looking at the facts. I thought that was wrong,” said Gargaro.

Frustrated, he decided to write this post:

"Also to all of you who blame drugs ... shut up as well. You know what, I am going to go shoot up Sunset Square today ... just for the hell of it. No drugs, no mental illness ... you can blame today’s episode on video games and George Bush's example of 'pay back' to society.

"Maybe I could have worded it differently,” said Gargaro. “but I'm not sorry for what I wrote because my intent wasn't harm. It wasn't a threat. It was to get people to think outside of the box and have an open and public debate.

The question is did anyone think he was coming to Sunset Square to do the shooting? Prosecutors say the police did and called it malicious harassment.

Gargaro’s attorney says it was taken out of context and now it’s an issue of free speech.

"This was a computer news media blog. There's no rules, and if you read these blogs, you'll see people make derogatory comments. These blogs are obviously notoriously bombastic,” said attorney Jeffrey Lustick.

Now, the married father of two young girls faces a felony charge. The irony is that now readers are sounding off about Gargaro’s arrest and many of them are voicing support.

"There are a lot of nice things that people said. My family and I read their messages and we appreciate it,” said Gargaro.

The Whatcom County prosecutor says it doesn’t matter if Gargaro meant to harm anyone and that what he wrote was perceived an imminent threat.

Trial is set for November.

Child actor setup costs Whidbey woman


Enamored with such shows as "Gossip Girl, 16-year-old Alexa wanted to be an actress, so her mother, Maria Best, sent her to a group home for budding child actors in Los Angeles last year.

Best, of Whidbey Island, paid more than $2,000 a month for rent, child care, acting lessons and audition scheduling.

But instead of breaking into the industry, Alexa became one of nine victims allegedly bilked by the home's manager, Bernadette Carter.

This week, the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office announced it had charged Carter, 42, with 13 misdemeanor counts, which included scamming children and their families and running an unlicensed group home.

Prosecutors said Carter's clients ranged from 7 to 17 years old. Investigators believe five to 15 children lived in her San Fernando Valley home at any given time, with three adults supervising. "Bernadette really destroyed these kids, as far as their confidence level," Best said Friday. She said she borrowed money to pay Carter and lost $10,000.

In the four months that her daughter lived there, she went on only two auditions, but spent a lot of time cleaning Carter's cat box and hearing threats of being evicted, Best said.

Many parents met Carter at child-acting conventions, according to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News.

"(Parents) are thinking, 'Gosh, I got some big entertainment mogul that's gonna bring me to L.A. and make my kid a star,' " Anne Henry, co-founder of the nonprofit BizParentz Foundation, told the newspaper. The foundation warns against agencies that want money upfront.

Prosecutors say Carter violated a California law that bars agencies from collecting a commission before an artist gets work and from selling classes and other products to clients. The law is intended to protect artists, especially children, from predatory service providers.

P-I reporter Vanessa Ho contributed to this report.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Budget cuts turn some felonies into misdemeanors


SEATTLE – The impact of King County’s budget cuts is already being felt by the people who put criminals behind bars as the county prosecutor is being forced to cut dozens of jobs, which means handing off more cases to lower courts.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of criminal cases are now winding up in Seattle Municipal Court because of the cutbacks. Some cases that the legislature defines as felonies will now be prosecuted as misdemeanors.

Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr is concerned about the change.

"My concern is that my constituents are going to be put at risk because the budget problems the county has and that's scary to me,”
said Carr.

But King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says he has no choice. His budget is being cut $5 million in 2009, which means 41 deputy prosecutors must go. As a result property crimes under $1,000 and identity thefts will go to municipal courts for prosecution, where sentences carry time in county jail but no prison time.

"If someone stole a thousand dollars from me, I think I'd want more than a couple days in the county jail from them,” said Carr.

Ironically, Seattle’s been making big headway on property crimes which reached their lowest level in ten years in 2007. Prosecuting these cases as misdemeanors will put offenders back on the street much faster.

That’s not good news in neighborhoods where property crimes are already high.

"If they're gonna take something of mine, they should be punished for it. I mean you work hard for your money,” said Laura, a concerned citizen.

"I think they should be prosecuted just like if they were robbing a store, major business or whatever,” said Melinda Anderson, another concerned resident.

Police search for clues in deadly Seattle shooting


SEATTLE – Police broughts in a search dog Thursday to search for clues after a man was shot and killed in north Seattle on Wednesday night.

Seattle Police say officers responded to a shots fired call in the 9700 block of 5th Avenue NE at about 7:30 p.m. They arrived to find a man in his 20s dead in the apartment building garage.

A 19-year-old resident of the apartments was arrested and his rifle recovered.

Neighbors say there have been several car prowls and thefts in the area, although police won't confirm what led to the shooting.
The apartment manager wouldn't comment, but a resident said car prowls are common.

"Maybe a week ago the manager called me about 10 o'clock at night and said don't leave anything in your car, make sure it's locked up, we've had problems," said Art Christensen.

Christensen said he was surprised that his neighbor was arrested for murder.

"He's a good young kid," he said.

The suspect is to appear in court on Friday.

The name of the victim has not been released.