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Bay Area News Briefs

By Mike Aldax

February 8, 2008

Civil rights groups sue Homeland Security

Two civil rights groups sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in federal court in San Francisco Thursday in a bid for information on government policy on questioning and searches of travelers entering the United States.

The lawsuit was filed by the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus and Electronic Frontier Foundation under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

The groups' lawyers said the suit was in response to growing complaints about border agents' allegedly intrusive questioning on travelers' religious and political beliefs and the inspection and copying of private information on computers and cell phones.

Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Marcia Hoffmann said, "The public has the right to know what the government's standards are for border searches. Laptops, phones, and other gadgets include vast amounts of personal information."

Asian Law Caucus attorney Shirin Sinnar said, "The fact that so many people face these searches and questioning every time they return to the United States, not knowing why and unable to clear their names, violates basic notions of fairness and due process."

The lawsuit says the department and its subsidiary, Customs and Border Protection, failed to meet a 20-day deadline for responding to a request for information. It seeks a court order requiring the agencies to provide records on questioning and search policies.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland.

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner said she couldn't comment specifically on the lawsuit.

Water advisories lifted in Marin County

The latest tests done on waters surrounding the site of the Richardson Bay sewage spill show continued compliance with state water quality standards, and authorities are no longer advising against water contact at most Marin County beaches.

Advisories were lifted Wednesday for Shelter Bay and Bay Front Office Park, both near Mill Valley waters where more than 5 million gallons of partially treated sewage spilled in late January, according to the Marin County Emergency Operations Center.

Advisories were also lifted at Tiburon's Blackie's Pasture and Sausalito's Dunphy Park and Schoonmaker Beach, according to the Marin County Emergency Operations Center.

Restrictions are still in effect for the Tiburon waterfront, where further tests Wednesday showed slightly high bacteria levels, officials said. Tests there will resume Monday.

Both sewage spills occurred at the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin. The first, a spill of 2.45 million gallons, took place Jan. 25. The second, of 2.7 million gallons, happened six days later.

Although the sewerage agency reported the first spill to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board on Jan. 26, the report included an incorrect date and did not provide an estimate of the volume of sewage that spilled, according to the board. The Regional Water Board did not detect the error until Tuesday when it announced the spill.

Bell acquitted in student deaths

A Solano County jury acquitted David Michael Bell on Thursday afternoon of all charges in connection with the deaths of two students and the injuries to 10 other people when his car crashed outside the Paden Elementary School in Vacaville in 2005.

Defense attorney Daniel Russo said Bell, 26, of Fairfield, was found innocent of two felony counts of second-degree murder, two felony counts of involuntary manslaughter, two misdemeanor counts of involuntary manslaughter and 10 counts of assault with a deadly weapon.

Bell's first trial a year ago ended with a hung jury. The jury at his retrial started deliberating Wednesday and took about 11 hours to reach a verdict, Russo said.

Russo presented testimony that Bell is disabled and suffers from epileptic seizures that had not been diagnosed before the Oct. 19, 2005 crash. He argued that Bell was having a seizure when his Ford Taurus drove along a sidewalk and struck a parked Camaro then hit a tree and the children in front of the school on Paden School Road around 2:15 p.m.

Vacaville police said the Camaro was pushed forward 100 feet and both vehicles struck victims as they traveled north. Luis Cardenas, 7, and his 9-year-old sister Ana Laura Cardenas of Vacaville were killed.

Prosecutor John Kealy argued during both trials that Bell was impatient about stopped traffic near the school and his road rage caused him to drive fast and recklessly.

Russo said Bell was officially diagnosed as epileptic in October 2007 by doctors at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center when he suffered three seizures during three days he was off his medication.

Nina Reiser's last two calls were made to Hans Reiser

The last two phone calls that Nina Reiser made on her cell phone before she was last seen alive on Sept. 3, 2006, were to her estranged husband Hans Reiser, according to testimony at his murder trial Thursday.

Verizon Wireless custodian of records Jody Citizen said Nina made a 62-second phone call to Hans Reiser's home at 6979 Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills at 1:40 p.m. that day and a 22-second call at 2:04 p.m.

That timeframe is consistent with previous testimony and videotapes in Hans Reiser's lengthy trial which indicated that Nina was shopping with her young son and daughter at the Berkeley Bowl grocery store at 2020 Oregon St. in Berkeley and went through the checkout line shortly after 2 p.m.

Nina then drove the children to Hans Reiser's house, where she was last seen alive, according to previous testimony.

Citizen said that after the 2:04 p.m. call, there were no more outgoing calls from Nina Reiser's phone and all incoming calls, starting with one at 6:27 p.m. that day from her best friend Ellen Doren, went straight to her voice mail.

When Nina's car was discovered in the Oakland hills on Sept. 9, 2006, police officers found her cell phone but its battery was removed.

Prosecutor Paul Hora told jurors in his opening statement in early November that authorities couldn't track Nina's cell phone because its battery was removed.

Hora also said that Hans Reiser's cell phone battery was detached when he was detained by police on Sept. 28.

Nina Reiser's body has never been found, despite extensive searches in the Oakland hills and elsewhere, but Hans Reiser was charged with murdering her because prosecutors believe that DNA and blood evidence proves that he killed her.

Hans and Nina Reiser married in 1999 but Nina filed for divorce and separated from him in 2004. They were in the midst of an acrimonious divorce and a battle over the custody of their two children when she disappeared.

Hans Reiser has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Superior Court Judge considers dropping conspiracy charges against "San Francisco Eight"

A San Francisco Superior Court judge said Thursday he will consider whether conspiracy charges should be dropped against three of seven former members of a militant black organization accused in connection with the 1971 killing of a San Francisco police officer.

Attorneys for the so-called "San Francisco Eight" - now seven, after charges last month were dropped against one of the defendants - asked Judge Philip Moscone Thursday to eliminate conspiracy to murder charges against Herman Bell, 60, and Jalil Bottom, 56, who remain in custody, and Francisco Torres, 59, of Queens, N.Y.

The three men, as well as Richard Brown, 67, of San Francisco, Ray Boudreaux, 65, and Henry Jones, 72, both of Altadena, and Harold Taylor, 59, of Panama City, Fla., all former members of the Black Liberation Army, remain charged with the murder of Sgt. John Young on Aug. 29, 1971.

Young, 22, was working at the San Francisco Police Department's Ingleside station that night when two men entered the station, and one stuck a shotgun through the hole in the protective glass and fatally shot him.

Mountain View shootings possibly related

Two shootings in Mountain View on Thursday night that left one person dead and another injured may be related, police said today.

Officers responded to the 700 block of Ehrhorn Avenue after hearing reports of gunshots and multiple vehicles driving away from the area at about 7 p.m., according to officials.

Less than three minutes later, police were alerted to a traffic collision at the intersection of El Camino Real and Ehrhorn Avenue, approximately half a mile from where the gunshots were reported, officials said.

A white sport utility vehicle traveling southbound on El Camino Real had driven across all lanes and the center median of the roadway, striking two vehicles before coming to a rest, according to officials.

The 20-year-old male driver of the SUV was suffering at least one gunshot wound and was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, police said.

The only passenger in the SUV, described as a man in his 20s, was seen walking away from the area of the crash, according to officials. Police were reportedly unable to locate him.

No injuries were reported from anybody in the two vehicles that the SUV struck, police said.

As emergency personnel were tending to the crash scene, reports of two dark-colored sedans driving erratically throughout streets near Ehrhorn Avenue were dispatched to the police but officers were unable to locate the vehicles, according to officials.

At about 7:30 p.m., a local hospital notified the Mountain View Police Department that a second shooting victim was at the hospital.

That victim sustained non-life threatening injuries and has since been released, police said.

Anyone with information regarding these incidents or who may have witnessed any of the vehicles, victims or suspects is asked to call the Mountain View Police Department at (650) 903-6344.

Federal judge issues ruling to stop Navy use of sound waves

A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled that the U.S. Navy must stop blasting powerful underwater sound waves in several areas of the ocean, including one off the Monterey coast, because whales and other sea creatures could be harmed.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte issued the ruling Wednesday in a lawsuit in which environmental groups are seeking to limit the
Navy's use of low-frequency sound waves in training and testing of a program to detect enemy submarines.

The Navy uses the sound waves, which can travel hundreds of miles, to detect submarines. Conservation groups, including the Natural Resources
Defense Council, the Humane Society and the Ocean Futures Society, say the intense noise threatens whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine animals.

Laporte wrote, "It is clear that marine mammals, many of whom depend on sensitive hearing for essential activities like finding food and mates and avoiding predators, will at a minimum be harassed by the extremely loud and far-traveling low frequency active sonar."

Under Laporte's ruling, the Navy will be able to continue using the sonar for training purposes in much of the world's oceans and will be able to use it even in the protected areas if there is an actual danger of a submarine.

Coastal Circuits won't contest fine

A Redwood City circuit board firm will not contest a $3,800 fine imposed on them after an investigation related to the September death of an 18-year-old worker, a spokesman for the company said Thursday.

Coastal Circuits, a circuit board manufacturer, has worked very closely with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure that "nothing like this ever happens again," spokesman Sam Singer said. Cal/OSHA issued a total of 17 citations to the company and all of them will be dealt with in the time frame specified.

"Fernando's death was a blow to everyone, and we continue to work and remember him fondly as both a co-worker and a family member," Singer said. Coastal Circuits is a successful company with 70 employees, he added.

Authorities are still unclear why Fernando Jimenez Gonzalez, of Redwood City, drowned in a vat of sulfuric acid. The San Mateo County coroner's office conducted an autopsy and concluded that Gonzalez did not have any drugs or alcohol in his system on Sept. 22. Coroner Robert Foucrault said that his death has been ruled an accident.

Singer called the incident "highly unusual and very, very said."

A report issued by California Occupational Safety and Health Administration indicated that there was nothing in any nearby tanks that would have caused acid to splash into the victim's face.

Feinstein calls for stricter oil spill standards

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called Thursday for the U.S. Coast Guard to implement stricter standards on oil spill response and preparedness.

In a letter to Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, Feinstein called on the agency to implement a revised contingency plan for the San Francisco area, detailing existing oil spill response assets and prioritizing areas vulnerable to spills.

Feinstein also recommended the Coast Guard update its own standards for oil spill preparedness and response, including requiring that all cargo ships carrying large amounts of fuel have double hulls.

The Nov. 7 Cosco Busan oil spill released approximately 54,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel into San Francisco Bay, temporarily closing beaches throughout the Bay Area and killing thousands of birds.

The Coast Guard had been criticized for slow reporting of the size of the spill and lack of coordination with local agencies.

In the first of two reports the Coast Guard commissioned, released publicly Jan. 28, the agency acknowledged some shortcomings, and pledged greater integration of spill command centers, improved notification protocols, and better training and coordination for volunteers wanting to assist with cleanup.




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