Also in the news this Thursday: First witnesses planned for public impeachment hearings and man dies in fall into lava tube.
911 supervisor streaming Netflix as dispatchers botched shooting call
A woman in South Florida called 911 after a bullet came through her car's windshield -- but dispatchers didn't send help right away. Police say they mishandled the call while their supervisor was streaming a Netflix movie.
Guadalupe Herrera was driving near a gas station in Coral Springs on June 9 when what she thought was an object that might be a bullet almost hit her head. She called 911 three times seeking help, but officers were not dispatched until 34 minutes after the first call, according to a Coral Springs police internal investigation, which was first reported by the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Monday.
"I don't know what to do," Herrera told a call taker in one call. "I don't know if I should get out of the car or drive away. What if they shoot again?"
Herrera called 911 a total of three times before she drove herself to the police station.
"It was a drive-by shooting," Herrera told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "My windshield was shattered. Nobody showed up — I had to drive myself to the agency."
Police said dispatchers failed to send help quickly because Herrera's call was logged as a "suspicious incident" instead of a shooting.
When investigators looked into the incident, they found that the shift supervisor, Julie Vidaud, had been streaming Netflix's film "I Am Mother" on her computer for about two hours during the time Herrera was trying to get help, a report of the investigation said. The supervisor told investigators that although it may have been streaming, she would not have been watching during the time in question.
Vidaud told her superiors she had been working on performance evaluations for her subordinates and Netflix was just playing in the background. The supervisor indicated Netflix is "constantly running in the background but she's not constantly watching movies," according to the report.
Investigators reviewed data from Vidaud's computer, which showed that her most used applications were Netflix, Hulu and Xfinity TV, the report said.
It was unclear what exactly Vidaud was doing at the time of the incident, the report said, but she failed as supervisor during the handling of the calls. "The investigation has established beyond a reasonable doubt that Vidaud missed a critical incident that was mishandled by the call taker and dispatcher," it said.
In a statement, Coral Springs police said Vidaud has been disciplined for "failure to supervise," which could result in a two-day suspension without pay. The two 911 operators who handled Herrera's calls are no longer with the department. One has been fired and the other was disciplined and later terminated, police said.
In the wake of the incident, the agency has changed its policy and will no longer allow any streaming of media services during their shifts.
Man dies after falling into lava in his yard
An elderly man died after falling into a lava tube on his property in Hilo, Hawaii, police announced on Wednesday.
The man was reported missing after he wasn't heard from or seen in several days, according to Hawaii Island police. When they went to his home in Kaumana on Monday they discovered the man had plummeted 22 feet below the surface through a soft area of ground on his property into a lava tube, according to a press release.
According to the US Geological Survey, lava tubes are natural channels through which lava travels beneath the surface. Tubes form by crusting over of lava channels and pahoehoe flows. Kaumana Caves Park near Hilo is a destination for hikers that can explore the lava tubes created by an 1881 flow from Mauna Loa.
Police Maj. Robert Wagner told Big Island Now that it appeared the man had been trimming branches when he fell through the soft ground.
Rescue teams were able to rappel into the lave tube and bring the man back up. He was transported to Hilo Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, the press release said.
Police have not released the man's name, as his family has not been notified. An autopsy Tuesday determined he died as a result of injuries consistent with falling, police said, and no foul play is suspected.
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US: Saudis recruited Twitter workers to spy on critics
Saudi Arabia, frustrated by growing criticism of its leaders and policies on social media, recruited two Twitter employees to spy on thousands of accounts that included prominent opponents, prosecutors alleged Wednesday.
The complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco detailed a coordinated effort by Saudi government officials to recruit employees at the social media giant to look up the private data of Twitter accounts, including email addresses linked to the accounts and internet protocol addresses that can give up a user's location. It appeared to link Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful 34-year-son of King Salman, to the effort.
The accounts included those of a popular critic of the government with more than 1 million followers and a news personality. Neither was named.
The complaint also alleged that the employees — whose jobs did not require access to Twitter users' private information — were rewarded with a designer watch and tens of thousands of dollars funneled into secret bank accounts. Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen, and Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen, were charged with acting as agents of Saudi Arabia without registering with the U.S. government.
The Saudi government had no immediate comment through its embassy in Washington. Its state-run media did not immediately acknowledge the charges.
The complaint marks the first time that the kingdom, long linked to the U.S. through its massive oil reserves and regional security arrangements, has been accused of spying in America.
The allegations against two former Twitter employees and a third man who ran a social media marketing company that did work for the Saudi royal family comes a little more than a year after the execution of Jamal Khashoggi. The Washington Post columnist and prominent critic of the Saudi government was slain and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Saudi Arabia under King Salman and Prince Mohammed has aggressively silenced and detained government critics even as it allows women to drive and opens movie theaters in the conservative kingdom.
Prince Mohammed also has been implicated by U.S. officials and a United Nations investigative report in the assassination of Khashoggi. The prince has said he bears ultimate responsibility for what happens in the kingdom's name, though he denies orchestrating the slaying.
The criminal allegations reveal the extent the Saudi government went to control the flow of information on Twitter, said Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher with Human Rights Watch.
The platform is the main place for Saudis to express their views, and about a third of the nation's 30 million people are active users. But the free-wheeling nature of Twitter is a major source of concern for its authoritarian government, Coogle said.
Plastic, pollution and death ravage Pacific bird sanctuary
Flying into the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Midway Atoll appears out of the vast blue Pacific as a tiny oasis of coral-fringed land with pristine white sand beaches that are teeming with life.
But on the ground, there's a different scene: plastic, pollution and death.
With virtually no predators, Midway is a haven for many species of seabirds and is home to the largest colony of albatross in the world.
But Midway is also at the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast area of floating plastic collected by circulating oceanic currents. The Hawaiian Islands act like a comb that gathers debris as it floats across the Pacific. A recent analysis found that the patch is accumulating debris at a faster rate than scientists previously thought.
Midway is littered with bird skeletons that have brightly colored plastic protruding from their decomposing bellies. Bottle caps, toothbrushes and cigarette lighters sit in the centers of their feathery carcasses.
"There isn't a bird that doesn't have some (plastic)," said Athline Clark, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's superintendent for Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which Midway is part of. They "fill their bellies up with plastics instead of food and eventually either choke or just don't have enough room for actual nourishment and perish."
Sharp plastic pieces can also perforate their intestines and esophagus.
Papahanaumokuakea, which quadrupled in size under President Barack Obama in 2016, is the world's largest marine conservation area and was inscribed in 2010 as a UNESCO mixed World Heritage site.
"Papahanaumokuakea is both a biologically rich and culturally sacred place," Clark said. "The Hawaiians call it a place of abundance, or aina momona."
But circulating currents now bring an abundance of plastic and other trash from all around the Pacific Rim to Hawaii's beaches. The debris ranges from tiny microplastics that nearly every animal in this marine ecosystem ingests to huge fishing nets that gather plants, animals and other debris while bulldozing across fragile coral reefs.
"The estimates are that there's about 57,000 pounds of marine debris that washes ashore within this part of the archipelago annually," Clark said.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Kelly Goodale lives and works on Midway, the site of a decisive World War II battle , and said the plastic that washes ashore there each year is just part of the problem.
"Not only are our beaches getting it, but also our albatross will bring it and feed it to their chicks," Goodale said.
Albatross spend much of their lives at sea feeding and flying thousands of miles across the oceans before returning to Midway each year to lay eggs and raise their young.
"So we estimate about 5 tons (4.5 metric tons) of plastic being brought to Midway every year just by adult albatross feeding it to their chicks," Goodale said.
Up first at public impeachment hearings: top Ukraine diplomat
Democrats announced they will launch public impeachment hearings next week, intending to bring to life weeks of closed-door testimony and lay out a convincing narrative of presidential misconduct by Donald Trump.
First to testify will be William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, who has relayed in private his understanding that there was a blatant quid pro quo with Trump holding up military aid to a U.S. ally facing threats from its giant neighbor Russia.
That aid, at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, is alleged to have been held hostage until Ukraine agreed to investigate political foe Joe Biden and the idea, out of the mainstream of U.S. intelligence findings, that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
The testimony of Taylor, a career envoy and war veteran with 50 years of service to the U.S., is what Democrats said Wednesday they want Americans to hear first.
Taylor has told investigators about an "irregular channel" that the Republican president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani set up for Ukraine diplomacy and how the White House was holding up the military aid, according to a transcript of his closed-door interview released Wednesday.
"That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the president committed to pursue the investigation," Taylor said.
He was asked if he was aware that "quid pro quo" meant "this for that."
"I am," he replied.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, and Republicans largely dismiss the impeachment inquiry, now into its second month, as a sham.
But Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee leading the probe, said that with two days of hearings next week Americans will have a chance to decide for themselves.
"The most important facts are largely not contested," the California Democrat said. "Those open hearings will be an opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses for themselves, to make their own determinations about the credibility of the witnesses, but also to learn firsthand about the facts of the president's misconduct."
Along with Taylor, the public will hear from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump fired after what she and others say was a smear campaign against her, and career State Department official George Kent. Taylor and Kent will appear Wednesday, Yovanovitch on Friday.
To prepare for what's ahead, the White House is beefing up its communications operations.
Trump ally Pam Bondi, the former attorney general of Florida, and Tony Sayegh, a former Treasury Department spokesman, are expected to join the White House team to work on "proactive impeachment messaging," a senior administration official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal staffing.
The Trump administration has ordered officials not to participate in the House inquiry. But lawmakers have spent weeks hearing from current and former government witnesses, largely from the State Department, as one official after another has relayed his or her understanding of events.
Lawmaker shuts down climate change heckler with 'OK, boomer'
A 25-year-old New Zealand lawmaker giving a speech supporting a climate crisis bill was heckled by an older member of Parliament. Her witty response baffled her audience, to the delight of millennials everywhere.
Chlöe Swarbrick was speaking about the Zero Carbon Bill, which would set a target of zero carbon emissions for the country by 2050. When she was heckled, she casually dropped a sharp-tongued retort — "OK boomer" — and, unfazed, continued talking amid the puzzlement and silence of the room.
The term, a viral meme among millennials and Generation Z, exploded this year on the TikTok social media app, where countless mocking videos are calling out what young people perceive as out-of-touch Baby Boomers and their patronizing opinions.
An article on the New York Times calls the "OK boomer" phenomenon "a rallying cry for millions of fed up kids." T-shirts and hoodies with the phrase have appeared on online marketing sites.
Swarbrick, a Green Party MP, was explaining Tuesday how the climate emergency will affect her generation and the generations to come, when she was interrupted by a heckler.
"Mr. Speaker, how many world leaders, for how many decades have seen and known what is coming but have decided that it is more politically expedient to keep it behind closed doors. My generation and the generations after me do not have that luxury," she said. "In the year 2050, I will be 56 years old. Yet, right now, the average age of this 52nd Parliament is 49 years old."
That's when she was heckled about her age, prompting her to reply, "OK boomer" without missing a beat, according to the Parliament's video of the speech. In the video, a man sitting behind her chuckles at her put-down.
Swarbick said later in a Facebook post that people were upset about her remarks.
"Today I have learnt that responding succinctly and in perfect jest to somebody heckling you about *your age* as you speak about the impact of climate change on *your generation* with the literal title of their generation makes some people very mad," she wrote. "So I guess millennials ruined humor. That, or we just need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and abstain from avocados. That's the joke."
In a text-message conversation with New Zealand's Stuff, Swarbick explained the phrase is a "simple summarisation of collective exhaustion."
She added that she was tired of hearing that millennials ruined everything, and they need to "pull our socks up, or something."
Swarbick went on to acknowledge that "you cannot win a deeply polarized debate - facts don't matter."