Category: Uncategorized

WV law makes obstructing police, ‘causing death’ a felony

By JOHN RABY from the Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s governor on Monday signed a bill that makes interfering with a police officer and causing their death a felony punishable by up to life in prison.

The bill that passed unanimously in both chambers of the Legislature was named after Charleston Patrol Officer Cassie Johnson, who was fatally shot in December 2020 as she was responding to a parking complaint.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed the bill in his reception room before Johnson’s family and two dozen Charleston police officers.

“Losing Cassie, it’s touched everybody’s heart,” Justice said.

The law, which is effective in June, calls for the same possible penalties as a murder conviction. The distinction is the bill doesn’t require the state to prove the traditional elements of murder, which include premeditation or malice.

The law comes in the midst of a national uproar over police brutality prompted by the fatal beating in January of Tyre Nichols by police officers in Memphis, Tennessee.

The bill did not explain what would constitute obstruction, although state code defines it as someone who threatens, or forcibly or illegally interferes with, impedes or hinders an officer acting in their official duties. It allows for parole after 15 years in prison. It also applies to probation, parole and corrections officers, as well as courthouse security, firefighters, emergency medical service workers and fire marshal employees.

Joshua Phillips, of Charleston, was sentenced last year to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder in Johnson’s death. He also got six more months for drug possession.

A resident had said that Phillips parked his sport utility vehicle on her property, according to a police complaint.

Johnson, 28, was worried about her safety because Phillips had pulled a gun, prevented Johnson from getting to her service revolver and struggled with her before shots were fired, prosecutors said.

Phillips fired six shots, according to testimony at the trial. Johnson was shot in the neck.

Large fire battled at industrial facility in North Carolina

From the Associated Press

DUDLEY, N.C. (AP) — Firefighters responded to a large-scale fire that engulfed at least 30 acres early Saturday at the National Salvage and Service Corp. industrial site in Dudley, North Carolina.

Stacks of railroad ties are engulfed at the 30-acre site of the fire at the National Salvage yard on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023 in Wayne County, N.C. The Wayne County sheriff’s office says no injuries have been reported, and no evacuations have taken place in the area. (Aviel Smolka/The Goldsboro News-Argus via AP)

The Goldsboro News-Argus reports that firefighters from 23 departments responded to the fire, which was first reported at about 1:27 a.m.

“The caller said when they saw it, it was three stories high,” said Joel Gillie, Wayne County spokesman.

No injuries were reported but two homes off Genoa Road, in the vicinity of the fire, were evacuated to ensure the safety of residents.

“We ended up evacuating two homes just out of precaution,” he said.

The cause of the fire is unknown pending an investigation, Gillie said.

“We’re waiting to hear on that,” said Tim Rushenberg, spokesman for National Salvage and Service Corp., which recycles railroad ties at the site. “We want to know what happened as much as anyone else.”

The company, which employs a staff of four at the Dudley site, recycles railroad ties in coordination with railroad companies, including CSX, which operates the railroad near the industrial site.

New Zealand declares emergency as Cyclone Gabrielle eases

From the Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The New Zealand government declared a national state of emergency Tuesday after Cyclone Gabrielle battered the country’s north in what officials described as the nation’s most severe weather event in years.

People move away from flood water in Hastings, southeast of Auckland, New Zealand, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. The New Zealand government declared a state of emergency across the country’s North Island, which has been battered by Cyclone Gabrielle. (Paul Taylor /Hawkes Bay Today via AP)

A firefighter was missing and another was rescued with critical injuries after they were caught in a landslide overnight near the country’s largest city, Auckland, authorities said.

Auckland was swamped two weeks ago by a record-breaking storm that killed four people.

The national emergency declaration enables the government to support affected regions and provide additional resources, the government said. It is only the third national emergency ever declared.

The country was lashed by intense rainfall overnight that forced evacuations of 2,500 people and brought widespread flooding, road closures including the main route between Auckland and the capital Wellington, and left communities isolated and without telecommunications.

Weather conditions eased Tuesday as the weather system tracked southeast over ocean away from New Zealand, a nation of 5 million people.

But 225,000 homes and businesses remained without power and people were continuing to be evacuated, emergency services reported.

The power grid had not experienced such damage since 1988, when Cyclone Bola became one of the most destructive storms to ever hit New Zealand, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said.

Hipkins could not yet say how the scale of the latest destruction compared to Cyclone Bola.

“Certainly, the reports that we’ve had is that it’s the most extreme weather event that we’ve experienced in a very long time,” Hipkins told reporters in Wellington. “In the fullness of time, we’ll know how it compares with Cyclone Bola.”

Hipkins said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had phoned offering his country’s support and assistance. The Australian government also said New Zealand’s near-neighbor was ready to provide support where and if needed, Hipkins said.

The national state of emergency includes six regions where local emergencies had already been declared. They are Auckland, as well as the regions of Northland, Tairawhiti, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Hawke’s Bay.

A weather station in the Hawke’s Bay and Napier region recorded three times more rain overnight than usually falls for the entire month of February, MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris said.

“It’s going to be wet, sodden devastation around there,” Ferris said. “We’ve seen the worst of the storm now. We’ve just got to get through today.”

Hipkins said the military was already on the ground on the hardest-hit northern reaches of the North Island helping with evacuations and keeping essential supplies moving.

“I want to acknowledge the situation New Zealanders have been waking up to this morning,” Hipkins told reporters. “A lot of families displaced. A lot of homes without power. Extensive damage done across the country.”

“It will take us a wee while to get a handle on exactly what’s happened and, in due course, helping with the clean-up when we get to that point,” Hipkins added.

Much of Auckland ground to a halt Monday as train services were canceled, libraries and most schools were closed, and authorities asked people to make only essential trips.

Air New Zealand canceled all domestic flights to and from Auckland through Tuesday morning, as well as many international flights.

International and domestic flights had resumed Tuesday afternoon at Auckland Airport, but disruptions and delays were expected for the next few days, Hipkins said.


This story corrects the scope of New Zealand’s emergency declaration. It was nationwide, not just for North Island.

Trikke Positron Set to Make Global Debut at International Police Summit

From the Associated Press

The mobility vehicle offers several advantages over traditional forms of patrolling.

“Our vehicles offer law enforcement a mobility solution that bridges the gap between traditional squad cars and foot patrol.”— Gildo Beleski, CEO

BUELLTON, CA, UNITED STATES, February 15, 2023/ / — Trikke, the industry leader in reliable alternative transportation for law enforcement agencies, is thrilled to be an exhibitor at the World Police Summit, the self-described “world’s largest convention for policing and law enforcement officials,” from March 7-9, 2023, at the World Trade Centre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The summit will include over 200 speakers, 250 exhibitors, and more than 15,000 attendees who will explore emerging technologies and cutting-edge solutions designed to redefine the future of policing.

“Visitors will meet the best electric personal patrol vehicle in its category,” said Gildo Beleski, Trikke CEO and Chief Engineer. “Our flagship model, the Positron 72V Elite, has speeds of up to 44 mph, and can go as far as 35 miles on a single charge.”

Trikke has been a frequent exhibitor at law enforcement and security-related shows, including the annual gatherings of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriffs Association, and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. However, this will be the company’s first foray into a trade show on the world stage.

“We hope to expose our products and technology to quite a different market,” said Beleski. “Also, we want to establish commercial partnerships with local representatives and learn how we can customize our vehicles to their needs.”

Trikke Professional Vehicles are prevalent in the United States, but recently, the UAE Armed Forces obtained a fleet of Positrons. Additionally, the Dubai World Trade Centre — the home of the summit — deploys the Trikke Defender for its security patrols.

“Our vehicles offer law enforcement a mobility solution that bridges the gap between traditional squad cars and foot patrol,” said Beleski. “The Positron can navigate sidewalks, streets, parking garages, and hallways, and allows for a quicker response time than cars in congested areas.”

To learn more about Trikke Electric Patrol Vehicles, click here.

About Trikke Professional Mobility

Trikke Professional Mobility is a US-based manufacturer and distributor of rugged professional-grade personal patrol vehicles with all-wheel-drive and a proprietary cambering design for efficiently moving around large campuses, congested areas, and public events. Trikke vehicles are quiet and ergonomic, with high-torque electric motors and heavy-duty construction. The frame folds flat for easy deployment and storage in a small footprint, and the lithium-ion battery can be swapped out for quick recharging. These vehicles are designed for around-the-clock operations and are currently in use by many police departments around the US. Trikke leads the law enforcement industry in reliable alternative transportation.

Ana Lucia Darace
Trikke Professional Mobility

Arrest made in stolen yacht rescue, ‘Goonies’ fish incident

By GENE JOHNSON and RIO YAMAT from the Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — A stolen yacht. A dramatic Coast Guard rescue. A dead fish. And the famed home featured in the classic 1985 film “The Goonies.”

In this photo provided by the U.S Coast Guard Pacific Northwest, Coast Guard personnel help carry a swimmer from a rescue helicopter after he was rescued from the mouth of the Columbia River after his boat was capsized by a giant wave on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, at Coast Guard Base Astoria, Ore. A newly minted Coast Guard rescue swimmer saved the man’s life at the mouth of the river between Oregon and Washington state. (AET1 Kyle Turcotte/U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Northwest via AP)

Combined, Oregon police called it a series of “really odd” events along the Pacific Northwest coast spanning 48 hours that concluded Friday night with the arrest of a Canadian man.

Jericho Wolf Labonte, 35, of Victoria, British Columbia, was taken into custody in the northwestern Oregon resort town of Seaside, police said in a news release.

He’d been pulled from the ocean hours earlier by a Coast Guard swimmer, just after the yacht he was piloting capsized amid high waves. He was briefly hospitalized for mild hypothermia.

Labonte was discharged before authorities in nearby Astoria, Oregon, saw the rescue video and said they recognized him as the same person who covered over security cameras at the “Goonies” house and left the fish on the porch.

Police in Seaside, about 17 miles south of Astoria, said they found Labonte on Friday evening at a homeless shelter where he was staying “under an alias,” and arrested him on charges of theft, criminal mischief, endangering another person and unauthorized use of a vehicle.

He’s also wanted in Canada for “other cases,” Seaside police said.

It wasn’t immediately clear Sunday whether Labonte had an attorney who could comment on his behalf.

“It’s been a really odd 48 hours,” Astoria Police Chief Stacy Kelly said Friday.

Police had been looking for Labonte since Wednesday, when an acquaintance alerted them to a video Labonte posted on social media of himself leaving a dead fish at the “Goonies” house and dancing around the property, Kelly said. The Victorian home was recently sold to a fan of the film, after being listed for $1.7 million.

Friday afternoon, before Labonte’s arrest, the Coast Guard shared stunning video of the rescue by Petty Officer 1st Class Branch Walton, a newly minted rescue swimmer from Greenville, South Carolina.

The 35-foot (11-meter) yacht had been reported stolen by its owner Friday afternoon. As the swimmer approached, a large wave slammed into the vessel, rolling it over and throwing a man, later identified as Labonte, into the water.

The mouth of the Columbia, the largest North American river flowing into the Pacific Ocean, is known as “the graveyard of the Pacific” for its notoriously rough seas.


New Zealand police find 3.5 tons of cocaine in Pacific Ocean

By NICK PERRY for the Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand police said Wednesday they found more than 3 tons of cocaine floating in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean after it was dropped there by an international drug-smuggling syndicate.

In this undated photo supplied by the New Zealand police, a shipment of cocaine floats on the surface of the Pacific Ocean with Royal New Zealand Navy vessel HMNZS Manawanui behind. New Zealand police said Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023 they found more than 3 tons of cocaine floating in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean after it was dropped there by an international drug-smuggling syndicate. (NZ Police via AP)

While they had yet to make any arrests, police said they had dealt a financial blow to everyone from the South American producers of the drugs through to the distributors in what was the nation’s largest-ever drug seizure.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the cocaine had been dropped at a floating transit point in 81 bales before it was intercepted by a navy ship, which was deployed to the area last week. The ship then made the six-day trip back to New Zealand, where the drugs were being documented and destroyed.

Coster said the wholesale value of the 3.2 tonnes (3.5 tons) of cocaine was about 500 million New Zealand dollars ($316 million) and it was likely destined for Australia.

“We believe there was enough cocaine to service the Australian market for about one year, and this would be more than New Zealand would use in 30 years,” Coster said.

He said police, customs and the military found the drugs after launching Operation Hydros in December in collaboration with international partner agencies to identify and monitor the movements of suspicious vessels.

Coster said they were continuing to investigate the case with other international agencies.

Bill Perry, the acting comptroller of the New Zealand Customs Service, said the haul illustrated the lengths that organized syndicates were going to in order to smuggle drugs in the South Pacific.

“We see perhaps this is just an indication that the transnational organized crime groups are testing the market in different ways, so as agencies, we need to collaborate,” Perry said.

Amid soaring crime, Memphis cops lowered the bar for hiring


Memphis Police Director Cerelyn Davis speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Memphis, Tenn., Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in advance of the release of police body cam video showing Tyre Nichols being beaten by Memphis police officers. Nichols later died as a result of the incident. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn Davis speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Memphis, Tenn., Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in advance of the release of police body cam video showing Tyre Nichols being beaten by Memphis police officers. Nichols later died as a result of the incident. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Beyond the beating, kicking, cursing and pepper spraying, the video of Tyre Nichols’ deadly arrest at the hands of young Memphis police officers is just as notable for what’s missing — any experienced supervisors showing up to stop them.

That points to a dangerous confluence of trends that Memphis’ police chief acknowledged have dogged the department as the city became one of the nation’s murder hotspots: a chronic shortage of officers, especially supervisors, increasing numbers of police quitting and a struggle to bring in qualified recruits.

Former Memphis police recruiters told The Associated Press of a growing desperation to fill hundreds of slots in recent years that drove the department to increase incentives and lower its standards.

“They would allow just pretty much anybody to be a police officer because they just want these numbers,” said Alvin Davis, a former lieutenant in charge of recruiting before he retired last year out of frustration. “They’re not ready for it.”

The department offered new recruits $15,000 signing bonuses and $10,000 relocation allowances while phasing out requirements to have either college credits, military service or previous police work. All that’s now required is two years’ work experience — any work experience. The department also sought state waivers to hire applicants with criminal records. And the police academy even dropped timing requirements on physical fitness drills and removed running entirely because too many people were failing.

“I asked them what made you want to be the police and they’ll be honest — they’ll tell you it’s strictly about the money,” Davis said, adding that many recruits would ask the minimum time they would actually have to serve to keep the bonus money. “It’s not a career for them like it was to us. It’s just a job.”

Another former patrol officer-turned-recruiter who recently left the department told the AP that in addition to drawing from other law enforcement agencies and college campuses, recruits were increasingly coming from jobs at the McDonald’s and Dunkin’ drive-thrus.

In one case, a stripper submitted an application. And even though she didn’t get hired, it reinforced the message that “anyone can get this job. You could have any type of experience and be the police.”

“There were red flags,” said the former recruiter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel and hiring. “But we’re so far down the pyramid nobody really hears the little person.”

Many young officers, before ever walking a beat with more experienced colleagues, found themselves thrust into specialized units like the now-disbanded SCORPION high-crime strike force involved in Nichols’ arrest. Their lack of experience was shocking to veterans, who said some young officers who transfer back to patrol don’t even know how to write a traffic ticket or respond to a domestic call.

“They don’t know a felony from a misdemeanor,” Davis said. “They don’t even know right from wrong yet.”

Memphis police did not respond to requests for comment about their hiring standards.

Of the five SCORPION team officers now charged with second-degree murder in Nichols’ Jan. 7 beating, two had only a couple of years on the force and none had more than six years’ experience.

One of the officers, Emmitt Martin III, 30, a former tight end on the Bethel University football team, appeared to have had at least one arrest, according to files from the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, a state oversight agency. But the date and details of the case were blacked out.

The section for arrests in the agency’s file for another officer, Demetrius Haley, 30, who worked at a Shelby County Corrections facility before joining the force, was also redacted from the state records. Haley was sued for allegedly beating an inmate there, which he denied, and the case was dismissed because papers had not been properly served.

“If you lower standards, you can predict that you’re going to have problems because we’re recruiting from the human race,” said Ronal Serpas, the former head of the police in Nashville and New Orleans and the Washington State Patrol. “There’s such a small number of people who want to do this and an infinitesimally smaller number of people we actually want doing this.”

Memphis, in many ways, stands as a microcosm of the myriad crises facing American policing. Departments from Seattle to New Orleans are struggling to fill their ranks with qualified officers amid a national movement of mounting scrutiny and calls for reform in the wake of the 2020 killing of George Floyd.

Boosting staffing was a major goal of Memphis police Director Cerelyn Davis when she took over in June 2021, with her department announcing it was aiming to increase staff from 2,100 to 2,500, close to the size of the force a decade ago. Instead, the police ranks have dropped to 1,939 officers — like the city, majority Black — even as the population has increased and the number of homicides topped 300 in each of the past two years.

A big part of the reason for the dwindling ranks is that more than 1,350 officers either resigned or retired over the past decade — more than 300 in the last two years alone.

In an interview with the AP last week, Davis said a lack of supervisors was a particular concern, noting that 125 new supervisor slots have been approved by the city but still not filled.

Davis said the department is investigating, among other things, why a supervisor failed to respond to Nichols’ arrest despite department policy that requires a ranking officer when pepper spray or a stun gun has been deployed.

“If that had happened somebody could have been there to intercept what happened,” Davis said.

“Culture eats policy for lunch in police departments,” she added. “If you don’t have the checks and balances you will have problems.”

Michael Williams, former head of the Memphis Police Association, the officers’ union, said strict supervision is essential, especially for the specialized teams like SCORPION.

“Why would you have an elite task force that you know is designed for aggressive policing and you don’t cover your bases? They may have to shoot someone. They may have to kick someone’s door down. They may have to physically restrain someone,” Williams said. “You should have experienced people around to restrain them and keep them from going down a dark path.”

Longtime observers of the Memphis police say this is not the first moment of reckoning for a department with a history of civil rights abuses.

After the 2015 death of Darrius Stewart, a 19-year-old Black man fatally shot by a white police officer, activists and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, called on the U.S. Justice Department to conduct a “pattern or practice” investigation of civil rights violations in the department. Such inquiries often result in sweeping reforms, including staffing and training overhauls.

Carlos Moore, an attorney for Stewart’s family, warned the Justice Department at the time of a deadly trend that preceded Stewart’s death. “There have been over 24 suspicious killings of civilians by officers of the Memphis Police Department since 2009,” he wrote in a 2015 letter obtained by AP, “and not one officer has been indicted for killing unarmed, largely Black young men.”

The Justice Department decided not to open such an inquiry for reasons it didn’t explain at the time, and it declined to comment this week.

“The Department of Justice missed a golden opportunity to properly investigate the Memphis Police Department,” Moore said in an interview. “It was just as corrupt then as it is now.”

Thaddeus Johnson, a former Memphis police officer who is now a criminal justice professor at Georgia State University, said the missed chance for federal intervention allowed the problems of the department — soaring crime, community distrust and chronic understaffing — to fester until they exploded.

“A deadly brew came together,” he said. “But that same mixture is in many other places, too, where the bubble just hasn’t burst yet.”


Condon and Mustian reported from New York. News researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed.

Police chief of Huntington, WVa resigns, citing family

From the Associated Press

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — The police chief in Huntington, West Virginia, has resigned after a little more than a year on the job, the mayor announced Monday.

Mayor Steve Williams said Karl Colder resigned for undisclosed family reasons.

“Out of respect to him and his family, I will have no further comment,” Williams said.

Williams said Deputy Police Chief Phil Watkins has been promoted to police chief. His appointment will go before the City Council on Feb. 13. Watkins would be the Ohio River community’s third police chief in less than three years. Ray Cornwell served as police chief from April 2020 until his retirement in July 2021.

Colder became Huntington’s first Black police chief in November 2021. Before that he had a 32-year career with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration.

Powerful quake rocks Turkey and Syria, kills more than 2,500


ADANA, Turkey (AP) — A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked wide swaths of Turkey and neighboring Syria on Monday, killing more than 2,500 people and injuring thousands more as it toppled thousands of buildings and trapped residents under mounds of rubble.

A man carries the body of an earthquake victim in the Besnia village near the Turkish border, Idlib province, Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. A powerful earthquake has caused significant damage in southeast Turkey and Syria and many casualties are feared. Damage was reported across several Turkish provinces, and rescue teams were being sent from around the country. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

Authorities feared the death toll would keep climbing as rescuers searched through tangles of metal and concrete for survivors in a region beset by more than a decade of Syria’s civil war and a refugee crisis.

Residents jolted out of sleep by the pre-dawn quake rushed outside in the rain and snow to escape falling debris, while those who were trapped cried for help. Throughout the day, major aftershocks rattled the region, including a jolt nearly as strong as the initial quake. After night fell, workers were still sawing away slabs and still pulling out bodies as desperate families waited for news on trapped loved ones.

“My grandson is 1 1/2 years old. Please help them, please. We can’t hear them or get any news from them since morning. Please, they were on the 12th floor,” Imran Bahur wept by her destroyed apartment building in the Turkish city of Adana. Her daughter and family were still not found.

Tens of thousands who were left homeless in Turkey and Syria faced a night in the cold. In Turkey’s Gaziantep, a provincial capital about 33 kilometers (20 miles) from the epicenter, people took refuge in shopping malls, stadiums and community centers. Mosques around the region were opened to provide shelter.

The quake, which was centered on Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, sent residents of Damascus and Beirut rushing into the street and was felt as far away as Cairo.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said such a disaster could hit “once in a hundred years.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said official do not know how high the number of dead and injured will rise.

The quake piled more misery on a region that has seen tremendous suffering over the past decade. On the Syrian side, the area affected is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is home to millions of refugees from the civil war.

In the rebel-held enclave, hundreds of families remained trapped in rubble, the opposition emergency organization, called the White Helmets, said in a statement. The area is packed with some 4 million people displaced from other parts of the country by the war. Many of them live in buildings that are already wrecked from past bombardments.

Strained health facilities quickly filled with injured, rescue workers said. Others had to be emptied, including a maternity hospital, according to the SAMS medical organization.

The region sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 were killed in similarly powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkey in 1999.

The U.S. Geological Survey measured Monday’s quake at 7.8, with a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles). Hours later, a 7.5 magnitude one struck more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.

The second jolt in the afternoon caused a multistory apartment building to topple face-forward onto the street in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa. The structure disintegrated into rubble and raised a cloud of dust as bystanders screamed, according to video of the scene.

Thousands of buildings were reported collapsed in a wide area extending from Syria’s cities of Aleppo and Hama to Turkey’s Diyarbakir, more than 330 kilometers (200 miles) to the northeast.

In Turkey alone, more than 3,700 buildings were destroyed, authorities said. Hospitals were damaged, and one collapsed in the Turkish city of Iskenderun.

Bitterly cold temperatures could reduce the time frame that rescuers have to save trapped survivors, said Dr. Steven Godby, an expert in natural hazards at Nottingham Trent University. He added that the difficulty of working in areas beset by civil war would only complicate rescue efforts.

Offers of help — from search-and-rescue teams to medical supplies and money — poured in from dozens of countries, as well as the European Union and NATO. The vast majority were for Turkey, with Russian and even an Israeli promise of help to the Syrian government, but it was not clear if any would go to the devastated rebel-held pocket in the northwest.

The Syrian opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense described the situation in the enclave as “disastrous.”

The opposition-held area, centered on the province of Idlib, has been under siege for years, with frequent Russian and government airstrikes. The territory depends on a flow of aid from nearby Turkey for everything from food to medical supplies.

At a hospital in Idlib, Osama Abdel Hamid said most of his neighbors died. He said their shared four-story building collapsed just as he, his wife and three children ran toward the exit. A wooden door fell on them and acted as a shield.

“God gave me a new lease on life,” he said.

In the small Syrian rebel-held town of Azmarin in the mountains by the Turkish border, the bodies of several dead children, wrapped in blankets, were brought to a hospital.

Television stations in Turkey aired screens split into four or five, showing live coverage from rescue efforts in the worst-hit provinces. In the city of Kahramanmaras, rescuers pulled two children alive from the rubble, and one could be seen lying on a stretcher on the snowy ground.

In Adana, 20 or so people, some in emergency rescue jackets, used power saws atop the cement mountain of a collapsed building to saw out space for any survivors to climb out or be rescued.

“I don’t have the strength anymore,” one survivor could be heard calling out from beneath the rubble of another building in Adana earlier in the day, as rescue workers tried to reach him, said a resident, journalism student Muhammet Fatih Yavuz.

In Diyarbakir, hundreds of rescue workers and civilians formed lines across a mountain of wreckage, passing down broken concrete pieces, household belongings and other debris as they searched for trapped survivors while excavators dug through the rubble below.

More than 1,600 people were killed in 10 Turkish provinces, with more than 11,000 injured, according to Turkish authorities. The death toll in government-held areas of Syria climbed to over 539 people, with some 1,300 injured, according to the Health Ministry. In the country’s rebel-held northwest, groups that operate there said the death toll was at least 380, with many hundreds injured.

Huseyin Yayman, a legislator from Turkey’s Hatay province, said several of his family members were stuck under the rubble of their collapsed homes.

“There are so many other people who are also trapped,” he told HaberTurk television by telephone. “There are so many buildings that have been damaged. People are on the streets. It’s raining, it’s winter.”


Alsayed reported from Azmarin, Syria, while Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writers Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, Bassem Mroue and Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut, and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Albuquerque police tweets slammed by some as intimidation

From the Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Albuquerque Police Department is making no apologies for official tweets that have been criticized by some, including city officials, as inappropriate.

The department’s Twitter account has been questioned over biting responses such as “Calling out your b.s. is public service” and “You only complain and never offer solutions,” KOAT-TV reported Thursday.

Most of the tweets were in response to Doug Peterson, whose company is considered the largest landlord in the city. He recently took to Twitter to complain about crime and homelessness in downtown.

Police Chief Harold Medina said the department will “push back” on social media when it comes to people spreading misinformation and cyberbullying.

He told the broadcaster that although some of the tweets might not be in line with the city’s policy, others “bluntly point out differences.”

“And I’m okay with that,” he said.

Two city councilors who also are former police officers want the tweets toned down.

“The department thinks that harassing and intimidating people is community policing; they’re on the wrong path,” City Councilor Louie Sanchez said.

Peterson, the landlord, says he wasn’t trying to attack the police, just the policies of the mayor and police chief.

“I have supported APD, and I still support APD very much,” he said.

One tweet that generated controversy came in July after the death of a 15-year-old boy caught in a SWAT standoff in a home that later caught fire. Some used Twitter to blame the police for the boy’s “murder.” In response, the department account tweeted: “didn’t know a fire could murder someone.”

In that case, Medina said he told department spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos to take a different tone. But Medina continues to stand behind tweets that respond to seeming inaccuracies.

Mayor Tim Keller also echoed that sentiment.

“APD has its own social media policy,” his office said in a statement. “We support their efforts to pushback on misinformation on social media.”

The embattled department is in the middle of revamping its use-of-force policies under approval of the U.S. Department of Justice. Officers will begin training on the new policies over the next quarter, according to authorities.

The goal of city leaders is to see a decrease in officer-involved shootings. There were 18 shootings by Albuquerque police officers last year and 10 of them were fatal. That number caused Department of Justice attorneys and community stakeholders to raise concerns at a federal court hearing in December.