News briefs

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Atlanta mayor faces criticism after fired police officer who shot Rayshard Brooks is reinstated

ATLANTA — Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms faced criticism Wednesday after Atlanta’s Civil Service Board ordered the reinstatement of a police officer facing felony murder and other charges in the fatal June 2020 shooting of Rayshard Brooks.

The board ruled Garrett Rolfe was denied due process when he was fired less than 24 hours after Brooks’ death. The order reinstating Rolfe does not return him to active duty.

In a separate case earlier this year, two officers fired following the arrests of two college students during last summer’s protests were reinstated after the board determined the city violated its own procedures.

In both cases, the deadline for officers to respond to allegations against them coincided with news conferences where the mayor announced their dismissals.

Rolfe testified before the board that he didn’t find out about his “employee response hearing” until 3:45 p.m. on June 13,2020. He was more than an hour outside the city at the time and said he feared for his safety, as video of Brooks’ shooting had been widely circulated by then. At 5 p.m. that day, Bottoms announced his firing live before a global audience.

—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Texas Senate approves permitless carry of handguns in party-line vote

AUSTIN, Texas — Continuing down the path of loosening limits on Texas gun owners, a divided state Senate approved legislation Wednesday to allow holstered handguns to be carried in public, openly or concealed, without a state-issued permit known as a license to carry.

House Bill 1927 next returns to the Texas House to consider changes that senators made during almost seven hours of debate,including GOP amendments designed to win support from a handful of reluctant Republicans who, as of last week, were unsure about whether to support the bill.

One of those amendments would create stiffer penalties for illegal weapons carried by felons and those convicted of family violence offenses. Another change removed House language that banned law officers from questioning somebody based solely on their possession of a handgun.

Those and other changes — plus vigorous pressure applied by gun owners and GOP leaders — did the trick, as all 18 Senate Republicans supported HB 1927.

All 13 Democrats were opposed, including many who delivered passionate criticism about a bill they said would make it harder for police to tell legal gun owners from criminals, Several called the change short-sighted by eliminating the need to obtain a license to carry, which requires a criminal background check, training in safety and gun laws and demonstrated proficiency in firearm use.

—Austin American-Statesman

Federal charges filed against alleged boat captain in deadly smuggling wreck off San Diego coast

SAN DIEGO — A man accused of piloting the boat that broke up on the rocks of Point Loma in a deadly human smuggling attempt has been charged in San Diego federal court, according to a complaint filed Wednesday.

Antonio Hurtado faces charges of attempting to bring in undocumented migrants at a place other than a port of entry and assault on a federal officer, both felonies.

According to the complaint, several of the 29 survivors identified Hurtado in a photo lineup as the captain of the 40-foot trawler-style boat that ran aground about 50 feet offshore and broke apart on the rocks below Cabrillo National Monument midmorning Sunday. Many families visiting the iconic lighthouse and tide pools watched the horror unfold, and some bystanders joined the massive rescue effort.

Three passengers suffered blunt-force injuries and drowned — Victor Perez Degollado, 29; Maria Eugenia Chavez Segovia, 41;and Maricela Hernandez Sanchez, 35. All were from Mexico, according to the medical examiner's office.

Two passengers — a Guatemalan man and an unidentified Mexican man — remained hospitalized, the latter with critical injuries,according to the court affidavit signed Tuesday.

All but one of the 28 additional passengers, all from Mexico, are now in federal custody as material witnesses in the case.

—The San Diego Union-Tribune

Life sentences for 2 Americans accused of killing Italian police officer

Two U.S. students accused of killing an Italian police officer during a 2019 drug sting gone wrong were handed life sentences Wednesday, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 20, were convicted in the murder of 35-year-old Carabinieri police Officer Mario Cerciello Rega.

The sentences were handed out after 13 hours of deliberations, according to ANSA.

The pair were indicted on charges of homicide, attempted extortion, assault of the victim's police partner, resisting a public official and carrying a knife without just cause.

According to prosecutors, on July 26, 2019, the two police officers confronted the U.S. pair in Rome as part of a plainclothes operation to retrieve a stolen backpack.

Natale-Hjorth and Elder, both teenagers at the time, allegedly stole a backpack from a drug middleman who gave them aspirin instead of cocaine. They later demanded money and real cocaine to return the item.

The defense contended that the pair acted in self-defense, believing the two police officers were in fact criminals, while prosecutors said the Americans headed to the sting armed and with the aim to kill.

Elder had admitted stabbing Cerciello Rega 11 times, while Natale-Hjorth was convicted of helping him hide the weapon in their hotel room. Under Italian law, accomplices can also be charged with murder.