Xbox nabs a first-person shooter, police arrest Thomas Ford


A John Marshall High student who was arrested for talking about his plans for a school shooting while playing Modern Warfare 2 online, is no longer enrolled at the Northside Independent School District campus, says Principal Anthony Jarrett. According to the San Antonio Police he has been charged with making a false alarm or report, a state jail felony in this instance because it involved a school.

San Antonio law enforcement was tipped off by the Canadian Mounties, who were investigating a report by an Xbox Live player based in Port Alberni, northwest of Seattle. News of the incident first appeared in the British Columbia press, and spread, yes, like a virus across the web. The tipster, who has scheduled a press conference Wednesday morning, reported February 4 that an opposing player in an online game was discussing his plans in enough detail to be alarming and credible. According to the SAPD, the student allegedly explained how he would get his hands on the weapons, the timing of his attack, and whom he would shoot, including his best friend and a pregnant woman.

Staff Sergeant Lee Omilusikof the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told the QueQue that it took several hours to trace the player’s whereabouts, but that Microsoft was very helpful because it was an emergency situtation. They then handed over the info to the San Antonio police.

Microsoft referred the QueQue’s questions — e.g. can they produce recordings or transcripts of live games? if so, how long are those kept for? — to PR reps Edelman, which declined to elaborate on this “sensitive” issue, but forwarded the following statement from Stephen Toulouse, director of policy and enforcement for Xbox Live: “I cannot comment on specific cases such as this except to say that the Xbox Enforcement team works very closely with Microsoft’s law enforcement engagement teams to assist the police wherever possible. We urge customers that feel any behavior on Xbox LIVE could be threatening or criminal to contact law enforcement in addition to using our built in tools to help protect their experience.”

The charges could result in a fine up to $10,000 and 180 days to two years’ jail time. Marshall Principal Jarrett said that the student did not have a prior disciplinary record. A means of carrying out the attack he discussed were not found at his house. Neither the police nor the school could say what kind of mental-health or social-services support, if any, the student is or would be receiving.

“We want to be fair to the student,” said Jarrett, “and at the same time protect our other students.”

Constitution-free zone

If you’re brown and drive a pickup on San Antonio highways, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is looking for you.

Maybe that’s not how they’d put it, but based on court documents brought to the QueQue’s attention by two local immigration attorneys, that seems to be the practice. The attorneys say CBP agents are stretching their border-zone privileges as far north as San Antonio, and taking even those lax standards a step further by stopping individuals they deem “suspicious” without probable cause.

The Constitution-free zone,” as it’s known, extends about 125 miles from the border inland, and within this area (and at ports of entry), the Fourth Amendment and the Texas Constitution’s protections lose some of their magic.

“CBP can stop drivers inside the zone based on only a ‘reasonable suspicion’ of illegal activity, a slightly lesser standard than probable cause,” said Andrés Pérez, an attorney with De Mott, McChesney, Curtright & Armendáriz. “But because the standard is so low and victims of these arrests frequently do not challenge the arrest, CBP operates with relative impunity. CBP can stop people based on suspected criminal activity … but not simply because they believe someone is not in the U.S. legally. And there is no way to suspect a driver is `undocumented` without racially profiling him.”

José, an undocumented Guatemalan whose last name is witheld by request, was stopped and detained by CBP on March 19, 2007. He and his passengers — all construction workers — were riding in a truck and, according to the CBP officer, looked “stoic” and “nervous.”

According to immigration judge Glenn P. McPhaul, at José’s hearing a CBP agent testified that “he looks for passengers in the back seat of cars, the expressions on the faces of the passengers, and how they react to the border patrol vehicle in assessing whether to stop a car.”

At one point during the proceedings, the agent said José “looked like an ‘OTM,’ that is, someone ‘other than Mexican,’ because of his cheekbones, jaws, ears, and forehead, but not because of his skin color.”

The judge dismissed the case, saying, “when a DHS officer makes a stop solely based on race, he has deliberately violated the law or has acted in conscious disregard of the Constitution.”

But similar traffic stops continue, and there is little a detainee can do, David Antón Armendáriz says, especially when the CBP is no longer putting officers on the stand.

“When they do bring an agent to the stand … the story falls apart, and the judge throws the case out,” said Armendáriz. “So they … `are` trying to sidestep the whole issue of the illegal arrest … and taking the position that the issue of the illegal arrest is irrelevant … because independent evidence of `their undocumented status` exists and that is enough to deport the person.”

One option, a federal lawsuit, is impractical.

“Attorney fees are capped by statute at a ridiculously low rate for `those kind of suits`, making `them` unattractive to most attorneys,” Armendáriz said. “And even if you are a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, you’re not likely going to want to sue the government.”

The QueQue requested an interview with the CBP, but as of press time had not received a response.

“People should not dismiss this problem as affecting only the undocumented,” says Armendáriz. “They should be very concerned that there are government agents who care little about breaking this land’s highest law in order to enforce the administrative rules governing immigration ... When the Fourth Amendment rights of any of us are trampled upon by government agents, the Fourth Amendment rights of all us are endangered.”

`Administrative rules? That’s right: Read about the criminalization of immigration law, and how it affects you, the law-abiding born-’n’-raised patriot, in Reasonable Doubt`

Arrested development

On Saturday, February 13, more than a year after the crime with which he is charged, Thomas Ford, 41, was arrested for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Dana Clair Edwards, whose body was found in the early morning hours of January 2, 2009. His bond was set at $100,000. Edwards, who was bludgeoned and strangled in her condominium just north of Alamo Heights sometime after she left a New Year’s Eve Party early January 1, was the first murder of last year. Her Jack Russell terrier, Grit, an apparent second victim, was found in Olmos Basin almost two weeks later. According to the police and the medical examiner’s office, Edwards did not appear to have been robbed or sexually assaulted. The Current reported on the murder and the social tension it has caused in the close-knit Alamo Heights community in “Missing Pieces,” October 2, 2009.

Ford has been the focus of the police investigation for several months now. He attended the same New Year’s Eve party where Edwards was last seen alive, but according to other guests, he left early and abruptly after a board game turned personal. He told authorities that he donated his clothes from that evening to charity, and after an initial meeting with police hired an attorney and refused to cooperate further with the investigation. Video-surveillance footage from the First National Bank across the street from the entrance to Edwards’s condo complex reportedly implicates him, and DNA taken from a towel covering the victim’s head led to his arrest this week. Ford was arrested early Saturday at his home on Rosemary, where he apparently still lives, although he conveyed his interest in the property to his brother in June 2009.

Ford has retained renowned Houston defense attorney Dick DeGuerin, who told the Current Saturday that “Thomas Ford did not kill Dana Clair Edwards, and he doesn’t know who did.” DeGuerin referred to the “cloud of suspicion” that has surrounded Ford almost since Edwards’s death but said he doesn’t know whether the police have investigated other suspects. SAPD told the Current last fall that they had eliminated other persons of interest, but Ford’s previous attorney, Cecil Bain, insisted police set their sights on Ford early and exclusively.

Dana Clair’s father, Darrell Edwards, has visited the SAPD offices weekly since his daughter’s murder. “I know the police really worked hard on this case,” he said, and added that he’s not surprised Ford has hired someone of DeGuerin’s caliber.

“`Ford is` writing some hefty checks, and I don’t know if that will help serve justice or not,” Edwards said. “The facts are going to speak for themselves.”

The case goes to a grand jury next, likely within the next 90 days.

Bzzzz Bzz! Bzzzz-zztt!!

Thursday morning, San Antonio Council members are expected to vote on a proposed increase in electric and gas rates for CPS Energy customers. The 7.5-percent and 8.5-percent increases — the first of an anticipated decade of rate hikes the utility says it needs to keep up with capital development projects and the area’s growth — do not include future payments for the expansion of the STP nuclear complex.

Good thing, maybe. Even as an alleged cost-increase coverup was souring the public here in San Anto, Citibank was warning off potential nuclear-power investors in the United Kingdom. In a starkly titled November financial assessment, “New Nuclear — the Economics Say No,” Citibank concludes that some of “the risks faced by developers … are so large and variable that individually they could each bring even the largest utility company to its knees financially,” and result in soaring expenses.

Summarizing “several European studies,” Julio Godoy at the Inter Press Service writes that “The enormous technical and financial risks involved in the construction and operation of new nuclear power plants make them prohibitive for private investors ...

“The risks include high construction costs, likely long delays in building, extended periods of depreciation of equipment inherent to the construction and operation of new power plants and the lack of guarantees for prices of electricity.”

It’s the same argument local opponents of the STP expansion have been making for two years. While a few of them panicked when they read an error-riddled Bay City Tribune article predicting a San Antonio “resolution backing STP Units 3 & 4  — possibly within the next few days,” they needn’t have. Our current mayor and council have all but washed their hands of the expansion.

And yet. With the project about to fall apart, the state of Texas is showing its hand as an interested party. Public Utility Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman (with Governor Perrys “support,” he said) sat the squabbling CPS Energy interim GM and NRG Energy CEO down for a four-hour talk last week. More meetings are expected. CPS Energy wants to withdraw from the planned two-reactor expansion at Bay City but still benefit from a share of ownership commensurate with the value of its land and water rights at the site and the $350 million it’s already invested. A district judge ruled recently that CPS should be compensated if it pulls out and suggested the two get back to the bargaining table. An agreement is expected as early as this week (say, a 6-8 percent stake for CPS?).

Karen Haddenof the SEED coalition, which predicted this fall’s price meltdown, says CPS’s proposed rate hike “is a backdoor for nukes.”

“They haven’t fixed the problems at CPS Energy. They haven’t gotten better accountability. They haven’t done an outside independent investigation,” Hadden said. “They don’t have a line-item proposal. They haven’t withdrawn from the nukes.”

Without stricter oversight, she worries, CPS could take the rate-hike cash and reengage with the STP project when a more receptive mayor and council are in office.

Those all-important loan guarantees may not wait, though.

President Obama — who recently pledged $54 billion in nuclear-power investment — announced Tuesday that the federal government will guarantee $8 billion in loans for two new nuclear reactors of an untested design in Georgia. With the federal blessing, the pair could become the first new reactors built in the country in nearly 30 years. At a Maryland headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Obama said it was “only the beginning” — that his new budget would triple the federal money available for other reactors to come.

The U.S. Department of Energy decision to back a new reactor design — one that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission sent back to the drawing table out of fears that it couldn’t withstand gale-force winds — bodes poorly for the NRG Energy/CPS Energy gamble on an already approved, older design for new reactors in South Texas.

The fact that CPS and NRG, whose planned expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear facility is also a loan contender, are attacking each other in court probably hasn’t help their chances. However, a cheerful DOE spokesperson familiar with the selection process was optimistic — and infinitely forgiving.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on with all the applicants,” said Ebony Meeks. “Everything is taken into consideration. Saying that, I don’t want to say `the lawsuit` doesn’t … it’s not a gold star, but it doesn’t necessarily preclude you from being reviewed and eventually receiving a conditional commitment.”

But just a few weeks ago NRG CEO David Crane suggested that if his company didn’t get the loan guarantee, he would pull out entirely. Did he mean Round One, or does he have more sticking power given Obama’s jump into the nuclear ring? A call to an NRG press agent in Houston had not been returned as of press time.

Meanwhile, those opposing new nuclear plants in the U.S. pointed to a major leak of radioactive tritium now flushing into the Connecticut River in Vermont as an illustration of the dangers the technology represents.•

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