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Exclusive: NAACP joins lawsuit against Arkansas LEARNS Act in attempt to fight anti-DEI efforts

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(LITTLE ROCK, Ar.) -- The Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP and the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights are calling on a federal court to enact an injunction against the state of Arkansas over its Literacy, Empowerment, Accountability, Readiness, Networking and School Safety Act, known as the LEARNS Act, which is intended to prohibit public schools from teaching Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and Critical Race Theory (CRT). Supporters of the LEARNS Act describe such teaching as "indoctrination."

The NAACP joined the amended lawsuit, obtained first by ABC News, on Friday. The initial lawsuit was filed in March by national civil rights attorney Mike Laux in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas Central District. The NAACP and the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights also filed a request for an injunction on Friday in an attempt to prevent the LEARNS Act from being enforced as the lawsuit is being litigated.

This latest effort is a part of the NAACP's attempt to fight what they describe as a wave of anti-Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) legislation across the country. The lawsuit argues that the Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies classes taught in Arkansas' public schools have received inequitable treatment and have been marginalized and underfunded when compared to other advanced placement courses. The suit claims that the alleged inequities have both deprived students the opportunity to learn about African American history and contributions, and have maintained a level of systemic inequality.

"We refuse to go back. The NAACP will continue to use every tool at our disposal to ensure that our constitutional rights are protected, and our culture respected. This is what standing for community looks like," NAACP President Derrick Johnson told ABC News.

Johnson added, "From Arkansas to Alabama, the desecration of diversity, equity and inclusion poses an imminent threat to the future of our nation."

In January 2023, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order to prohibit what the order describes as "indoctrination" and the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in Arkansas public schools. At the time she signed the order, Sanders said CRT "is antithetical to the traditional American values of neutrality, equality, and fairness. It emphasizes skin color as a person's primary characteristic, thereby resurrecting segregationist values, which America has fought so hard to reject."

The governor added, "It is the policy of this administration that CRT, discrimination, and indoctrination have no place in Arkansas classrooms."

Two months later, Huckabee Sanders signed the 144-page LEARNS Act into law.

The LEARNS Act allowed the Arkansas Department of Education to create "enhanced processes and policies that prevent prohibited indoctrination, including Critical Race Theory, as it relates to employees, contractors, and guest speakers or lecturers of the department."

Although the legislation was met with resistance, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the law saying that the act passed with a valid emergency clause in October.

The plaintiffs in the new lawsuit include two high school teachers and two students from Little Rock Central High School, in Little Rock, Arkansas. The same high school was the focal point of the 1957 Supreme Court ruling which ordered the integration of public schools in the U.S., three years after the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Nine Black students, who thereafter were known as the "Little Rock Nine," were subsequently allowed to enroll in Little Rock Central High School. The students became targets of anti-integration mobs, prompting then-President Dwight Eisenhower to deploy the National Guard to enforce the law and protect the students.

In addition to Little Rock Central High School's place in American history culture, it is also Gov. Huckabee Sanders' alma mater, with the majority of its student body now comprised of students of color.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Ruthie Walls, is an AP teacher of African American studies. According to the lawsuit, Walls – who was named Little Rock Central High School's "Teacher of the Year" for the 2023-2024 school year – is hamstrung by the bill.

The amended lawsuit says because of the LEARNS Act, Walls "now self-censors herself out of fear of the penalties that she may face," and that she does not deeply delve into historic topics such as the impact of Jim Crow laws and the consequences of Brown v. Board of Education. The amended complaint further says Walls worries that the effects of the LEARNS Act will negatively affect her students' success on the AP exam.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the state of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Education "have purged state-provided resources, including information on civil rights from the NEA, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, and Selma online with no explanation for the removal."

The lawsuit further alleges that the "State’s preferred 1776 Unites curriculum…could be interpreted as undermining discrimination and equal protection by white-washing history."

The lawsuit also alleges that a state doesn't have "unchecked power to impose upon the teachers in its schools any conditions that it chooses," and cannot prohibit teaching a "theory or doctrine where that prohibition is based upon reasons that violate the First Amendment."

This Arkansas lawsuit is the latest in a broader national effort to fight anti-DEI legislation. In March, the NAACP sent a letter urging Black current and prospective NCAA student-athlete players to reconsider attending colleges in the state of Florida after the University of Florida announced plans to dismantle its Diversity Equity and Inclusion department. The dismantling is in response to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' Stop WOKE Act, which, like the LEARN Act, passed in 2023.

In her State of the State address on Wednesday, Gov. Huckabee Sanders said that education was her first priority. She stated in part that the first year of the LEARNS Act "targeted the most at-risk students in our state. But education freedom is for everyone, and soon, Education Freedom Accounts will be too." The latter is in reference to an Arkansas program to allow eligible families to receive public funds to pay for private or home schooling for their children.

Huckabee Sanders added, "Educational freedom is the least we can do for those who put everything on the line for our freedom. This time next year, we will have universal education freedom for the first time in Arkansas history."

She urged the state legislature to send her a budget that fully funds the LEARNS Act, which she said she will sign.

“Students should be allowed to learn about real history, not a whitewashed version," David Hinojosa, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, told ABC News. "The most painful chapters of American history should not be buried because it makes some people uncomfortable."

"Frankly, it’s downright offensive and unjust for Arkansas to be forcing educators to censor their discussion on racism and stripping the AP African American Studies course of all its benefits, including extra weight for their GPAs, and potentially earning college credit,” Hinojosa.

"Make no mistake, these coordinated efforts to rewrite our history, remove our leaders from classrooms and degrade our culture are a covert attempt to revert the progress we've worked tirelessly to secure," NAACP President Derrick Johnson told ABC News.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

NASA says it's revising the Mars Sample Return mission due to cost, long wait time


(WASHINGTON) -- NASA announced Monday it is revising plans for its Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission due to the estimated cost and long wait time for samples to return to Earth.

The mission's goal was to collect samples of rock, soil, atmosphere and loose surface material and deliver them back to Earth via the Mars Perseverance rover. The rover, which landed in 2021, has been collecting and storing samples in specially designed tubes. The mission was a joint effort with the European Space Agency.

During a press conference, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said although the federal space agency is "committed" to retrieving the samples, independent reviews have estimated the project would cost between $8 billion and $11 billion and samples may not return until 2040.

"That is unacceptable to wait that long," Nelson said. "It's the decade of the 2040s that we're going to be landing astronauts on Mars ... the long and short of it then is that the current budget environment doesn't allow us to pursue an $11 billion architecture and 2040 is too long."

To make the mission work, NASA is requesting assistance from the NASA community, including the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), to create a new, updated mission design that "has reduced complexity, improve resiliency and risk posture, and well as well as strong accountability and coordination," Nicky Fox, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said during the press conference.

Nelson said he is asking NASA centers and JPL to report back in the fall for alternate plans to make the mission quicker and cheaper to carry out.

The sample retrieval orbiter was scheduled to launch in 2027 and the lander in 2028, the latter carrying a NASA-led Mars rocket and small Mars helicopters. It was scheduled to land in 2030 and Perseverance would bring the samples to the lander, attached to the lightweight rocket.

Next, the rocket -- carrying the samples -- would launch to meet the orbiter, the first to do so from another planet. Lastly, the orbiter would carry the samples the rest of the way to Earth, with plans to originally return in 2033, according to NASA.

The helicopters would be used as backups in case Perseverance is not able to bring the sample tubes to the lander or in case sample tubes are accidentally left on the Mars surface.

"Collecting compelling science samples that will help scientists understand the geological history of Mars, the evolution of its climate, and prepare for future human explorers," NASA wrote. "The return of the samples will also help NASA's search for signs of ancient life."

Despite the schedule set by NASA, the future of the mission has been in question after an independent review board reviewed the federal space agency's plans and goals for the MSR mission and presented a report in September 2023.

In the report, the mission was described as having "[an] unrealistic budget and schedule expectations from the beginning."

The authors of the report said the program would cost between $8 billion and $11 billion and that "technical issues, risks, and performance-to-date indicate a near zero probability" of the estimated launch dates. The report found the 2027/2028 date was more likely to occur in 2033, delaying the mission by a few years. Additionally, the Decadal Survey, conducted by the National Research Council said samples were unlikely to return until the 2040s.

"Independent review boards like the one we commissioned for Mars Sample Return help review whether we're on the right track to meet our mission goals within the appropriate budget," Sandra Connelly, deputy associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement after the report's release. "We thank the board for its work, and now our job is to assess the report and address if there are elements of the program that need to change."

Past missions to Mars have confirmed that certain areas of the planet were capable of supporting life in the past, according to NASA. Evidence indicates parts of Mars were warm and wet about three billion years ago, which would be around the same time early life was developing on Earth.

"This commonality raises the prospect that discoveries on Mars can give us important insights about the origin and evolution of life on Earth," NASA stated.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Salman Rushdie speaks of stabbing that almost claimed his life: 'Taking power back'

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The attack lasted just 27 seconds, but writer Salman Rushdie said in that short amount of time he experienced the worst and best of humanity.

In an interview Monday with ABC News' "Good Morning America" co-host George Stephanopoulos, the 76-year-old author of "The Satanic Verses" recounted the 2022 attack on him at a lecture in Chautauqua, New York, allegedly by a 24-year-old man bent on carrying out a Fatwa imposed on Rushdie in 1989 by Ruhollah Khomeini, the former supreme leader of Iran.

Rushdie said he believed he was going to die, but then people who witnessed the attack rushed to protect him. He said his book chronicles the doctors who saved his life and how his wife, Eliza, became the heroine of his story for nursing him back to health.

"No question," he told Stephanopoulos. "I mean, lying there in this lake of blood, which was mine and was expanding, I remember thinking in a completely calm way, Oh yeah, I think I'm dying. And then, fortunately, I was wrong."

In his long road to recovery, Rushdie said he felt compelled to write a memoir about the horrific experience -- "Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder'' -- which will be available in bookstores on Tuesday. He said writing the book was his way of "taking the power back."

"It became my way of controlling the narrative if you'd like," Rushdie said. "What I felt is that the book itself, I mean, it's about a knife but it also kind of is a knife. I don't have any guns or knives, so this is the tool I use. And I thought I would use it to fight back."

On Aug. 12, 2022, Rushdie was speaking at the Chautauqua Institution about violence against writers when the alleged knife-wielding suspect, Hadi Matar, charged the stage and stabbed the writer more than a dozen times. Matar has pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder and assault charges in connection with the attack.

It had been more than three decades since Rushdie faced death threats after his novel, "The Satanic Verses," which was inspired by the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and was published in 1988. The book was deemed blasphemous by Khomeini and an insult to Islam. Khomeini issued a fatwa, or death sentence, against Rushdie.

Rushdie said Monday that he believed threats against his life had faded and all but forgotten. He conceded that he had let his guard down.

"I've been living here, George, close to 25 years in New York City and in that time, I've done hundreds of public events, you know, book tours, literary festivals, reading, lectures," Rushdie told Stephanopoulos. "And there's never been a hint of a problem until this time."

While his book is largely about the assassination attempt on him, he said it is also a love story.

"I always thought there were three people in this book. There's me, there's him, who I refuse to use his name," he said of the suspect. “And there’s my wife, Eliza. We had met five years before this attack took place."

Describing his marriage as the "happiest relationship of my life," Rushdie said his wife has been his rock, the guiding force behind his recovery.

"She was just astonishing in taking care of me and then looking after things and taking charge of things," said Rushdie, adding, "and bringing me back."

In the "GMA" interview, Rushdie said he had a premonition of the attack that came to him in a "bad dream."

"You can explain the bad dream because the place I was giving the lecture was called an amphitheater. So I had a dream about being in an amphitheater, except in my dream it was like the Colosseum. It was like a Ridley Scott movie," Rushdie said. "And there was a gladiator with a spear stabbing downwards and I was rolling around on the ground. And I woke up from the dream quite alarmed and, at first, I thought, Oh, I don’t want to go. And then I thought it was a dream."

Rushdie, who bears scars from the attack on his face and is blinded in his right eye, recalled how time "became a very weird thing" during the stabbing and its immediate aftermath.

"It seemed to go very fast at moments ... and to me like an eternity at other times," Rushdie said. "I had a very weird experience of time in that extreme situation."

A longtime atheist, Rushdie said the near-death experience made him briefly believe in the supernatural.

"For a minute it did, and then it didn't, and maybe it should have," Rushdie said.

As far as his health goes, he told Stephanopoulos, "I'm alright. I think I'm, to my surprise and I think to everybody else's surprise, pretty well."

Matar, of New Jersey, was initially scheduled to go on trial in January, but his attorney was granted a delay to review the manuscript of Rushdie's book.

Rushdie said he plans to testify at the trial whenever it occurs.

"I believe the DA wants me to testify and so I will," Rushdie said. "That's OK. There's nothing I will say on the witness stand that I haven't already said in this book."

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Trump hush money trial live updates: Trump calls trial 'assault on America'

Former US President Donald Trump waves as he departs Trump Tower for Manhattan Criminal Court, to attend the first day of his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, in New York City on April 15, 2024. -- CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Former President Donald Trump is on trial in New York City, where he is facing felony charges related to a 2016 hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. It marks the first time in history that a former U.S. president has been tried on criminal charges.

Trump last April pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to Daniels in order to boost his electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election.

Jury selection could take up to two weeks, with the entire trial expected to last between six and eight weeks.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Apr 15, 5:08 PM
Trump, exiting court, criticizes scheduling conflicts

Exiting court after a lengthy day of proceedings, former President Trump complained about the scheduling conflicts created by his criminal trial, including conflicts with his presidential campaign, his plans to attend Supreme Court oral arguments, and potentially his son's graduation.

"Now I can't go to my son's graduation," Trump said. "I can't go to the United States Supreme Court. I'm not in Georgia or Florida or North Carolina campaigning like I should be," Trump told reporters outside court.

Trump repeated his past complaints about the fairness of the trial, saying he has a "real problem" with Judge Merchan.

"It's a scam, it's a political witch hunt," Trump said. "We're not going to be given a fair trial."

Apr 15, 5:02 PM
Judge won't excuse Trump to attend Supreme Court arguments

At the end of the court day, Judge Juan Merchan denied a request from defense attorney Todd Blanche to excuse Trump from the proceedings in New York next Thursday, when the U.S. Supreme Court hears Trump's bid for presidential immunity in his in his 2020 federal election interference case.

"It's an incredibly unusual case," Blanche said.

"Arguing before the Supreme Court is a big deal; I can understand why your client wants to be there," Merchan said -- adding that standing trial in New York is also a big deal

"Your client is a criminal defendant in New York County Supreme Court. He's required to be here," the judge said.

Apr 15, 4:52 PM
Several more jurors dismissed during questioning

After the parties questioned a total of 11 witnesses, two of them were struck for cause, including a man who cited a conflict with the trial due to his child's wedding.

One potential juror disclosed that he worked for the Bronx district attorney's office, and other jurors listed professions including sales, oncology nursing and social media marketing.

Another potential juror, who lives on the Upper West Side and works at a bookstore, made a brief remark about the fairness of the justice system while answering the questionnaire.

"I believe that nobody is above the law, whether it be a former president or a sitting president or a janitor," he said.

The remaining jurors are due to return to court tomorrow to complete the questions. Merchan said another panel of jurors will arrive at court tomorrow morning.

Apr 15, 3:56 PM
Prospective jurors questioned about their jobs, hobbies

A portrait of New York is emerging as prospective jurors explain their job, their hobbies, and, most importantly, whether they harbor an opinion of the former president that might render them unable to evaluate the facts of the case impartially.

After about 50 jurors were excused after claiming they could not be fair or impartial, and nine more prospective jurors were excused after saying they could not serve for other reasons, about 34 of the initial group of 96 jurors remain under consideration.

One prospective juror was overheard in the hallway after leaving the courtroom, saying "I just couldn't do it."

The remaining 34 are now answering a 42-question form out loud, one by one.

A venture capitalist from Midtown East, a creative ad director from Midtown, and a city employee from the Upper West Side have shared details of their lives and remain in the running to be seated on the jury -- for now.

They listed New York Times, CNN, TikTok and al Jazeera as their news outlets of choice. Each has a degree of higher education: an MBA, a BFA, and an unspecified Masters' degree.

At times, Trump appears to be reading along with them as they answer the questions -- including if they follow him on social media or have read any of his books.

Apr 15, 3:26 PM
At least 50 of 96 jurors excused over impartiality

At least 50 of the 96 potential jurors in the first group have been excused from service after they identified that they can't be fair or impartial regarding the case.

Judge Merchan is now beginning the process of questioning the remaining jurors.

Apr 15, 3:18 PM
Trump family, administration officials could be called as witnesses

During his lengthy remarks to potential jurors regarding the case, Judge Merchan listed several individuals who could potentially be called as witnesses at trial -- but emphasized that not all would be summoned to the stand.

Among those Merchan listed as potential witnesses were Trump, Stormy Daniels, and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, as well as David Pecker, the former American Media Inc. executive who prosecutors say played an integral role in a plan to "catch and kill" negative stories about Trump in 2016.

Several Trump family members were also named, including Melania Trump, Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

Other potential witnesses listed were former members of Trump's administration, including Steven Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus, Hope Hicks and John McEntee.

Merchan also listed a number of former employees of the Trump Organization, including Allen Weisselberg, Jeffrey McConney, Dan Scavino, Rhonna Graff and Alan Garten. Additional names mentioned included Robert Costello, Keith Davidson, and Rudy Guliani.

Apr 15, 3:05 PM
Trump faces prospective jurors

As Judge Merchan reviewed the details of the case for the first group of 96 prospective jurors, former President Trump turned and faced the group -- eliciting visible responses from the gallery.

One woman let out an audible giggle, covered her mouth, and looked to her neighbor with eyebrows raised. Others craned their necks from the rear of the courtroom to catch a glimpse of the defendant.

Trump earlier had his eyes locked on Merchan as the judge went through his instructions to the group.

The former president subsequently appeared to close his eyes and fold his arms, sporadically adjusting in his seat.

Apr 15, 2:46 PM
Judge delivers remarks to prospective jurors

The first group of 96 prospective jurors has been sworn in.

Judge Merchan is now delivering remarks that he said will last about 30 minutes, introducing the case and explaining to prospective jurors their responsibility -- if selected -- to be fair and impartial.

Trump has been leaning forward in his seat listening, with his elbows on the desk.

Apr 15, 2:34 PM
1st group of prospective jurors enters courtroom

Dozens of New Yorkers are now being escorted into the courtroom as prospective jurors.

Judge Merchan will deliver a summary of the case before attorneys for both parties have an opportunity to evaluate the prospective jurors' fitness to serve.

According to the pool, 96 individuals will make up the first batch to go through the laborious selection process. Merchan said approximately 200 people have been summoned to the courthouse for potential jury duty on the case.

Trump, during a lengthy break as court officials escorted jurors through security magnetometers, could be seen reclining in his chair and conversing with his attorney Todd Blanche.

Apr 15, 1:59 PM
Judge gives defense 24 hours to submit exhibits

Judge Merchan has issued Trump's defense team an ultimatum: Turn over their proposed defense exhibits in 24 hours or be barred from using the materials.

"You have 24 hours," Merchan said. "Anything you don't produce within 24 hours will be precluded."

Defense attorney Todd Blanche pushed back on the deadline, arguing against a prosecutor's assertion that defense withheld materials following a February exhibit deadline for "tactical reasons."

"That is completely false," Blanche said. He asked Merchan for a Wednesday deadline instead, given the demands of the trial.

Merchan declined to grant the request, highlighting the recent flurry of defense motions filed over the last few weeks.

"I don't know how you managed to get those motions out," Merchan said. "The way you choose to use your time is your business."

Apr 15, 1:52 PM
Judge sets hearing on holding Trump in contempt

Judge Merchan has set a hearing on prosecutors' request to hold Trump in contempt for allegedly violating the judge's limited gag order.

After initially setting the hearing for Wednesday, April 24, he rescheduled it for Tuesday, April 23 at 9:30 a.m. ET.

The judge gave Trump's attorneys until April 19 to file their written response.

Prosecutor Christopher Conroy also asked that a copy of the order be served on Trump, and papers were then handed to Trump and defense attorney Todd Blanche at the defense table.

Apr 15, 1:44 PM
Court back in session following break

Judge Juan Merchan has restarted court for the afternoon proceedings following the lunch break.

Both Donald Trump and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg are in attendance.

Trump made no remarks to reporters before entering the courtroom after the break.

Apr 15, 12:44 PM
Defense says Trump's posts were responding to attacks

Trump attorney Todd Blanche, responding to prosecutors' request for Judge Merchan to fine Trump for three social media posts they say violated the judge's limited gag order, characterized the posts as "limited responses to this barrage of attacks" against him by Stormy Daniels and Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen.

"It's not as if President Trump is going out and targeting individuals. He's responding to … attacks from these witnesses," Blanche said.

The three posts by Trump -- two on April 10 and a third on April 13 -- came just days before the trial.

In one of those posts, Trump thanked Daniels' former attorney, Michael Avenatti for "revealing the truth about two sleaze bags" -- a statement prosecutors say clearly "attacks" Daniels and Cohen and their participation in the trial.

Judge Merchan said Blanche would have an opportunity to respond in a paper filing.

"I'll take this upstairs with me over the lunch recess," Merchan said.

The judge then recessed court until 1:30 p.m. ET.

Apr 15, 12:31 PM
Prosecutors seek to have Trump fined for social media posts

Prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney's office asked Judge Merchan's permission to seek to hold former President Trump in contempt for alleged violations of the judge's order against attacking witnesses.

"We're seeking permission to file a proposed order to show cause to show why the defendant should not be held in contempt based on extrajudicial statements," assistant district attorney Chris Conroy said.

He said the order would seek a $1,000 fine for each of three social media posts that prosecutors said violated the judge's limited gag order.

The three allegedly offending posts occurred this month when Trump reposted a social media post from Stormy Daniels' former attorney Michael Avenatti that was disparaging of Daniels and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, plus a second post about Daniels and a third post about a member of the prosecution team.

"It is important for the court to remind President Trump he is a criminal defendant," Conroy said. "The defendant has expressed a willingness to flout the order" Merchan imposed.

Defense attorney Todd Blanche said the three posts do not violate the gag order. He sought permission to formally respond in writing.

Apr 15, 12:24 PM
Trump 'wants to be present at everything,' attorney says

Former President Donald Trump "wants to be present at everything" during trial, his attorney told the court, including side conferences during the jury selection process.

Judge Merchan suggested that could create "logistical" issues, citing the the presence of Secret Service agents, but suggested he would do his best to accommodate Trump.

The judge then directed a series of questions to Trump himself, asking him whether he understands that his failure to attend the trial or appear for sentencing could merit penalties from the court.

After each question, Trump nodded his head and appeared to answer verbally, "Yes," or "I do."

Apr 15, 12:13 PM
Jury selection almost ready to begin

After several hours of arguments over various evidentiary and procedural matters, jury selection is nearly ready to get underway.

"This is what we're going to do -- sit down and relax," Judge Merchan told attorneys for both sides. "We have 500 jurors waiting for us. And to be honest with you, I'm not interested in getting into this minutiae with you."

"There's more important work to be done," he said.

Before moving on, Merchan assured attorneys for both parties that his pretrial rulings are subject to change over the course of the trial.

"This is a roadmap," Merchan said, referring to his rulings. "I can reverse myself, I can change my mind."

Merchan then began reading instructions to the attorneys about how to conduct themselves before prospective jurors.

Apr 15, 11:56 AM
Judge rules on Trump's attacks being admitted as evidence

After a break, Judge Merchan ruled that prosecutors can submit evidence related to Trump's attacks on his former attorney Michael Cohen if the defense first chooses to question Cohen's credibility as a witness.

Merchan said, "I imagine" the defense will seek "to discredit" Cohen -- and when they do, he said, "the door is open" for prosecutors to introduce those tweets of Trump's.

Trump has been leaning forward with his hands clasped beneath his chin as his attorney, Todd Blanche, argues about what other evidentiary guardrails should be in place.

Apr 15, 11:38 AM
Prosecutors say they may seek to have Trump held in contempt

Following the arguments over alleged witness intimidation, prosecutors signaled they may seek to have Trump held in contempt.

A limited gag order Judge Merchan imposed in recent weeks prohibits Trump from attacking witnesses and others associated with the case.

"Shortly, we will be seeking order to show cause as to why defendant should not be held in contempt," prosecutor Josh Steinglass said, suggesting Trump violated Merchan's order.

Apr 15, 11:24 AM
DA wants Trump's 'pressure campaign' admitted as evidence

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass argued that several pieces of evidence related to Trump's alleged "pressure campaign" meant to "keep witnesses off this stand, at this trial" should be introduced at trial.

Steinglass said Trump's public commentary amounted to a "thinly veiled effort to intimidate" two of the government's star witnesses, Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels.

"The defendant himself has publicly embraced the public strategy of going after his perceived enemies," Steinglass said.

"These tweets, phone calls and emails" should be permitted, Steinglass said. "It's a clear effort to raise the cost of cooperation."

Trump's public postings, Steinglass argued, demonstrate Trump's attempts to silence potential fact witnesses and "relate to his consciousness of guilt."

Trump attorney Todd Blanche pushed back, saying that Trump has been "facing criticism from all sides … the media and others ... and he's defending himself" to his "millions and millions of followers."

Apr 15, 11:18 AM
Judge won't allow sexual misconduct allegations

Judge Merchan declined to allow prosecutors to introduce the sexual misconduct allegations a number of women made against Trump during the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign, deciding they're "complete hearsay."

However, Merchan said prosecutors are allowed to show the jury videotaped clips of Trump from some of his campaign events in which he appears agitated about some of the allegations.

"This concern over losing female voters was the catalyst for the defendant to lock down the Stormy Daniels story before it became the straw that broke the camel's back," prosecutor Josh Steinglass argued.

The defense said unproven accusations of other women whose claims are not part of the criminal trial are "a very prejudicial sideshow."

The judge agreed that introducing the allegations themselves would not be fair to Trump, but he told prosecutors "You can still use those tapes" of Trump's campaign appearances. The former president has denied all such allegations.

Trump is leaning back in his chair as he listens to this throwback to the chaotic close of the 2016 campaign, frequently leaning in to tap defense attorney Todd Blanche on the arm to get his attention and then whispering something into his ear.

Apr 15, 11:05 AM
Judge affirms 'Access Hollywood' tape can't be played

Prosecutors will not be allowed to play audio or video of the former president's infamous "Access Hollywood" tape or his video deposition from the E. Jean Carroll defamation case for jurors, Judge Merchan ruled.

Joshua Steinglass, a prosecutor, argued that the words used in the "Access Hollywood" tape was necessary for jurors to get a complete picture of their case. Blanche framed the video as "extremely salacious evidence that's very, very, very prejudicial."

On the matter of the "Access Hollywood" tape, Merchan reaffirmed his prior ruling that it should not be played for the jury -- but said prosecutors can read Trump's words aloud.

"It's not a little point," Merchan said. "My ruling that we were not to play the tape was, and remains, that the tape itself is so prejudicial -- to see Mr. Trump depicted, the words coming out of his mouth, the facial expressions … the tape itself should not come in."

On the 2005 tape, Trump can be heard saying that "when you're a star, you can do anything" to women, including "Grab them by the p----."

Merchan also said video from Trump's deposition in E. Jean Carroll's defamation trial should not be played to the jury.

Apr 15, 10:51 AM
Judge hears arguments over evidence

Judge Merchan heard arguments about whether evidence involving the Trump campaign's interactions with the National Enquirer and Trump's alleged affair with former Playboy model Karen McDougal should be allowed at trial. The former president has denied all allegations of the affair.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche argued that the topics are a "sideshow" that threatened to "do nothing but confuse the jury about the actual crime charged."

Of the McDougal claims, Blanche called them "literally just salacious with no value."

Merchan ultimately sided with prosecutors on both, saying it would help prosecutors present a "narrative" and "lay the proper foundation" for their case.

The materials are "not illegal or improper," Merchan said. "I will allow it."

Merchan did instruct prosecutors not to make references to the fact that Trump's wife Melania was pregnant at the time of the alleged affair with McDougal.

Apr 15, 10:30 AM
Judge addresses dispute over jury questionnaire

After blocking Trump's effort to remove him from the case, Judge Merchan addressed a series of logistical and scheduling matters --- including his intention to take two days off next week for Passover.

Merchan then moved on to a more substantial matter: a dispute over how jurors will be questioned and selected. Trump attorney Todd Blanche argued that the jury questionnaire includes "asymmetry" that opens the door for jurors who harbor hostility toward the former president to be seated.

Merchan swiftly denied it. "That is not relevant," he said. "There is no asymmetry in the questionnaire."

Meanwhile, the former president appears to be listening intently. His eyes appear fixed on the judge at times and, at other times, he is reviewing papers in front of him.

Apr 15, 10:14 AM
Judge denies motion to recuse himself

After attorneys for each side introduced themselves, Judge Juan Merchan said that before jury selection can begin "there are a couple of loose ends we need to go over before we start."

The first item, Merchan said, was a pair of motions filed by Trump's legal team seeking his recusal from the case, citing his past comments in interviews and his daughter's work with a Democrat-affiliated firm.

The motions, Merchan said, cite "pages and pages of screen grabs, articles, social media posts and the like" that amount only to "a series of inferences, innuendos, and unsupported speculation."

To call them "attenuated is an understatement," Merchan said.

Merchan denied the motion and said the court would not address the matter further.

Apr 15, 10:03 AM
Proceedings are underway

"All rise," the bailiff announced at 9:59 a.m. ET. "This is the People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump."

And with that, proceedings are underway.

Members of the prosecution and the defense, including the former president, stood briefly as Judge Juan Merchan entered the courtroom and took his seat on the bench.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg entered the courtroom shortly before court went into session.

Apr 15, 9:41 AM
Trump calls trial 'assault on America'

Former President Trump arrived at the courtroom at 9:32 a.m. flanked by members of his legal team.

In brief remarks to reporters on the way in, he called his criminal trial an "assault on America."

"Nothing like this has ever happened before," Trump said, marking his first comments of the day as he becomes the first former American president to face criminal charges.

"There is no case," he said. "This is political persecution."

Trump also attacked President Joe Biden and said the case should not go forward.

Upon entering the courtroom, he sat at the defendant's table as his lawyers and court officers buzzed around him.

Apr 15, 9:23 AM
Members of DA's team arrive

Several members of the Manhattan district attorney’s office have arrived in the courtroom.

Proceedings are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Apr 15, 9:06 AM
Trump arrives at courthouse

Former President Trump has arrived at the courthouse in lower Manhattan.

He stepped out of his motorcade, waved, and walked into the side entrance.

A small group of supporters and protestors both cheered and booed his arrival.

Apr 15, 8:59 AM
Trump en route to courthouse

Former President Trump is en route to the courthouse in lower Manhattan for this morning's proceedings.

The former president left for the the courthouse from Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan.

Apr 15, 7:26 AM
Court may start with hearing on Trump testifying

Court this morning may start with a hearing over what prosecutors can ask Trump during cross-examination should he take the stand later in the trial.

The judge would hear arguments from both the people and the defense. The proceedings would then move into jury selection later in the morning.

Prosecutors have indicated they would want to cross-examine Trump on approximately "thirteen different court determinations," including the recent civil finding that he sexually abused columnist E. Jean Carroll, the criminal conviction of the Trump Organization last year, the finding that he committed a decade of business fraud, and the dissolution of his charity, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The hearing -- known as a Sandoval hearing -- is standard practice before jury selection and typically occurs when a defendant signals a willingness to testify.

In a filing last month, Trump's lawyers requested a Sandoval hearing to limit the scope of Trump's potential cross examination, if he opted to testify.

ABC News' Katherine Faulders contributed to this report.

Apr 15, 7:06 AM
Jury selection set to begin

Former President Trump will leave his Trump Tower apartment in Midtown Manhattan this morning and travel down to lower Manhattan for the first day of jury selection in his criminal hush money trial.

The proceedings come after Trump unsuccessfully tried three times last week to delay the start of the trial through the filing of appeals.

As a defendant in a criminal case, the former president will be required to be in court for the entire trial, which is expected to take six to eight weeks.

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FBI opens criminal investigation into Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse: Sources

A crane works on the debris of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 29, 2024 in Baltimore. -- Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

(BALTIMORE) -- The FBI is investigating whether there was any criminal wrongdoing in the crash that brought down the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore in March, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The probe will look at whether the crew left port with the knowledge something could be wrong with the ship, according to a source.

On Monday morning, agents from the FBI were aboard the ship, according to the Justice Department.

"The FBI is present aboard the cargo ship Dali conducting court authorized law enforcement activity," the FBI Baltimore said in a statement.

The FBI did not offer further comment.

"Federal agents today are conducting a court-approved search of the Dali," according to a DOJ spokesperson. "We have no further comment at this time."

The container ship Dali struck one of the piers on the Key Bridge early on the morning of March 26, causing the bridge to collapse and killing six construction workers who were filling potholes on the span. Two other workers survived the incident.

No one on the cargo ship was injured in the collision, though several containers fell into the channel.

President Joe Biden, who visited the collapse site on April 5, has pledged to fully support Baltimore's rebuilding efforts. He said during his visit its his "intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstruction of that bridge."

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Two dead bodies recovered amid investigation into missing Kansas moms: Police

Veronica Butler, 27, and Jilian Kelley, 39, are seen in undated photos released on March 31, 2024, by the Texas County Sheriff’s Department. -- Texas County Sheriff’s Department

(GUYMON, Okla.) -- Police recovered two dead bodies in rural Texas amid the investigation into the disappearance of two mothers from Kansas who went missing in Oklahoma, authorities announced Sunday.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the FBI and the Texas County Sheriff's Office said in a statement on X that the bodies will be "transported to the Office of the Oklahoma Chief Medical Examiner to determine identification and cause and manner of death."

Authorities have not identified the deceased.

Moms Veronica Butler, 27, and Jilian Kelley, 39, both from Hugoton, Kansas, have been missing since March 30. The last known information about the missing women is that they were driving in Oklahoma to pick up Butler's children for a birthday party in Kansas.

Authorities later found their vehicle abandoned in rural Oklahoma, near the Kansas border.

On Saturday, Oklahoma police announced four people were arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree in connection with Butler and Kelley's disappearance.

The four individuals are Tad Bert Cullum, 43; Tifany Machel Adams, 54; Cole Earl Twombly, 50, and Cora Twombly, 44. All four remained in custody on Sunday night.

ABC News wasn't immediately able to locate a legal representative for those charged.

ABC News' Amanda Morris contributed to this report.

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Nine-year-old killed, both parents wounded in mass shooting at family gathering

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(CHICAGO) -- A child was killed and at least 10 other people were injured, including a 1-year-old and an 8-year-old, when gunfire broke out at a family gathering in Chicago, according to police.

No suspects have been arrested in the mass shooting that erupted Saturday night on the city's South Side, and police are asking for the public's help in identifying those who might be responsible for the shooting.

Deputy Chief Don Jerome said the shooting was likely gang-related.

"This was not a random act of violence," Jerome said during a news conference Saturday night. "Regardless of the motivation for this incident, three innocent children were struck tonight and one of them tragically succumbed to her wounds."

The slain victim was identified by her father as 9-year-old Ariana Molina, who police said was shot in the head. She was taken to Comer Children's Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, police said.

Ariana's father, Jose Molina, told ABC News that the shooting also left him and his wife with bullet wounds. He said his wife remains hospitalized with a bullet wound to the back and that he suffered wounds to his feet.

He said his daughter was "wonderful and helpful, and was everything to him."

The shooting unfolded during a large family outdoor gathering in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, police said. Witnesses told police that around 9:18 p.m., a black sedan pulled up to the event and occupants opened fire on the crowd without warning.

Police said there were likely two shooters responsible for the carnage.

"The offenders' actions, make no mistake, are horrific and unacceptable in our city," Jerome said.

Police officers went to the scene after a ShotSpotter alert detected 18 gunshot rounds at the location, according to police.

Officers found multiple victims suffering from gunshot wounds and started performing life-saving measures, authorities said.

At least three people were in critical condition, including the 1-year-old and 8-year-old boys, police said. Both children were shot in the abdomen and were being treated Sunday at Comer Children's Hospital, according to police.

A 36-year-old man who suffered two gunshot wounds to the back was also in critical condition Sunday at the University of Chicago Medical Center, police said.

The other victims ranged in age from 19 to 40, police said.

Chicago Alderman Stephanie Coleman, who represents Chicago's 16th Ward where the shooting occurred, released a statement Sunday calling the shooting "a cowardly crime."

"The Back of the Yards community is united in our grief, prayers and collective mindset that we must continue to stand firm against these senseless acts of physical force," Coleman said.

"Violence is a citywide issue that continues to falsely characterize the true essence and intrinsic nature of our neighborhoods. This tragedy has left us all heartbroken and distressed," Coleman said.

ABC News' Roger Lee contributed to this report.

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Two officers shot and killed while investigating stolen vehicle in Salina, New York

Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

(SALINA, N.Y.) -- A sheriff's deputy and a police officer were killed after shots were fired as they investigated a report of a stolen vehicle in Salina, New York, officials confirmed early Monday morning.

The fallen officers, later identified as Syracuse Police Department Officer Mike Jensen and Lt. Michael Hoosock with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, were among a group of investigators looking into a possible stolen vehicle at on Darien Drive, according to Syracuse Police.

When they entered the address, a suspect opened fire leading to a firefight between officers and the suspect, according to the police.

Christopher R. Murphy, 33, the alleged suspect, was struck and killed according to police.

Jensen and Hoosock were transported to the hospital where they were pronounced deceased, police said.

“We lost two heroes tonight,” Syracuse Police Chief Joe Cecile said at an early morning briefing.

The incident was sparked after Syracuse police officers attempted to perform a vehicle traffic stop earlier in the evening, officials said Monday morning. When the vehicle did not stop, the officers got the license plate number and went to a location associated with it, according to the authorities.

“[Officers] asked for assistance from the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office because they learned additional information the individual driving the vehicle might be armed," Ceclie told reporters.

"This is a dark day for Syracuse. This is our worst nightmare come true," Mayor Ben Walsh said at a press conference. "Our thoughts right now are with the families of those two officers, two heroes, and if anyone knows the family member of a police officer, give them a hug. This is their worst nightmare and we just need to be there for everyone in the law enforcement community today."

The investigation is ongoing and police are still reviewing body-worn cameras, ballistics and other evidence, officials said at an afternoon news conference.

The New York State Attorney General's office will also assist in the probe.

ABC News' Megan Wordell and Darren Reynolds contributed to this report.

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'Rust' armorer Hannah Gutierrez to be sentenced for fatal on-set shooting

Mint Images/Getty Images

(SANTA FE, N.M.) -- Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez is set to be sentenced on Monday for involuntary manslaughter in the 2021 fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the New Mexico set.

She faces up to 18 months in prison for the felony conviction.

Her attorneys asked for probation in a sentencing memorandum filed last week, citing her "complete lack of prior criminal history" and "relative youth." Prosecutors meanwhile requested a sentence of 18 months with the designation of serious violent offender due to her "extreme recklessness" while working as an armorer on the Rust set.

The Santa Fe County jury deliberated for under three hours on March 6 before reaching a split verdict. They found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter but acquitted her of tampering with evidence in the case.

Prosecutors told jurors that Gutierrez "repeatedly" failed to maintain proper firearm safety and that her negligence led to the death of Hutchins, who was shot by actor Alec Baldwin, while the defense countered that the 26-year-old is a "convenient scapegoat" during closing arguments in the trial.

Gutierrez was remanded into custody following the verdict.

Defense attorneys filed an emergency motion for a new trial and release last month, arguing that the jury instructions could lead to a non-unanimous verdict. Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer denied the motion.

In their sentencing memorandum, her attorneys argued that Gutierrez "has endured and will continue to endure collateral consequences far harsher than most defendants ever must face."

"This conviction and press deluge will forever impact her life going forward, including with job prospects, and simply trying to lead a 'normal' life again someday," her attorneys wrote.

Gutierrez feels" incredibly saddened and heart broken by what happened on that tragic day" on the Rust set, they wrote.

Her attorneys asked for a conditional discharge, wherein the court would place her on probation without entering an adjudication of guilt. The defense argued conditional discharge would be "adequate to punish the offense, but not more serious than necessary to serve the underlying sentencing goals."

In a response filed last week, prosecutors said they opposed a conditional discharge due to Gutierrez's "complete and total failure to accept responsibility for her actions." They argued that her jail calls since being incarcerated demonstrated that she "continues to deny responsibility and blame others." They said the calls also showed she has complained about the negative effects of the incident "while never expressing genuine remorse at any time."

"Stunningly, Ms. Gutierrez requested during jail calls that her legal team request that Ms. Hutchins' husband and son be contacted and asked to speak on her behalf at her sentencing," prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors further noted that while she is eligible for a conditional discharge, she still faces another felony charge for allegedly hiding a firearm from security at a local bar.

The state asked that Gutierrez be sentenced to 18 months with a designation of serious violent offender due to her recklessness, or five years probation if the court found that a suspended or deferred sentence was appropriate.

Baldwin was practicing a cross-draw in a church on the set of the Western film on Oct. 21, 2021, when the Colt .45 revolver fired a live round, striking Hutchins and director Joel Souza, who suffered a non-life-threatening injury.

During the two-week trial, prosecutors presented evidence they said showed Gutierrez was responsible for bringing six live rounds onto the set -- and did not discover them for 12 days before the deadly shooting by failing to perform industry-standard safety practices.

"This is not a case where Hannah Gutierrez made one mistake, and that one mistake was accidental -- putting a live round into that gun," prosecutor Kari Morrissey told jurors during her closing argument. "This case is about constant, neverending, safety failures that resulted in the death of a human being and nearly killed another."

Morrissey told jurors Gutierrez failed to maintain firearms safety on the set, "making a fatal accident willful and foreseeable."

She showed jurors stills of footage from the set of actors pointing firearms at other crew members, including a minor actor, as well as Gutierrez pointing one at her own face. She also showed photographs of what experts determined to be live rounds in holsters and containers on the set as early as Oct. 10, 2021.

Morrissey said that meant Gutierrez was not checking dummy rounds to ensure they were not live rounds -- such as by shaking them -- and that there was a game of "Russian roulette" every time an actor had a gun loaded with dummies. She also said they have "mountains of circumstantial evidence" that Gutierrez brought the live rounds onto the set.

"I'm not telling you Hannah Gutierrez intended to bring live rounds on set," Morrissey said. "I'm saying she was negligent, she was careless, she was thoughtless."

Hutchins died from loss of blood and a lethal wound to her lung, Morrissey said.

"The astonishing lack of diligence with regard to gun safety is without question a significant cause of the death of Halyna Hutchins," she said.

Defense attorney Jason Bowles said during his closing argument there was a rush to judgment and that detectives didn't conduct a thorough investigation of the shooting. Gutierrez was made a "convenient fall person," he said.

He also argued that the New Mexico Occupational Safety and Health Administration's investigation into the shooting found that the management "demonstrated plain indifference to employee safety" and was responsible for the safety on the set.

Gutierrez had additionally been charged with tampering with evidence, with prosecutors alleging she handed off a small bag of cocaine at her hotel on the day of the shooting after her interview with law enforcement. The jury found her not guilty.

Gutierrez did not testify in her own defense.

Baldwin has also been charged with involuntary manslaughter in Hutchins' death. His trial is scheduled to start in July.

His attorneys last month filed a motion to dismiss the charge, accusing prosecutors of "unethical disparagement" of the actor and "violating nearly every rule in the book" to secure a grand jury indictment.

In a response to the motion filed earlier this month, prosecutors claimed Baldwin missed concerns about Gutierrez and "compromised safety" on the set by demanding the crew and armorer work faster.

"The combination of Hannah Gutierrez's negligence and inexperience and Alec Baldwin's complete lack of concern for the safety of those around him would prove deadly for Halyna Hutchins," prosecutors stated.

Marlowe Sommer has yet to rule on the motion to dismiss the charge.

ABC News' Aaron Katersky and Jenna Harrison contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Severe thunderstorms could bring damaging winds from Great Lakes to Northeast

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Severe thunderstorms may bring damaging winds from the Great Lakes to the Northeast on Sunday, with a more widespread threat in the Heartland early in the week. Sunday afternoon, strong to severe storms are expected to flare up along a cold front that will sweep across the Great Lakes and into the Northeast. Most of the action looks to be later in the afternoon and into the evening hours.

From Ohio to Connecticut -- including nearly all of Pennsylvania -- the Storm Prediction Center is watching the chance for severe thunderstorms.

Damaging winds remains the biggest concern, but small to moderate hail and an isolated tornado or two are also possible.

On Monday, the severe weather threat really ramps up in the Plains. Cities like Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas, are looking at an enhanced risk for widespread severe weather, mainly on Monday evening and into the overnight hours.

So far this year, severe weather reports are lagging slightly behind average, but the gap is closing after all the activity in the past week.

Tuesday brings another day of severe weather, with the focus shifting slightly eastward.

From Texas to Wisconsin, severe weather could cause trouble for millions in the Central U.S. Prior to storms firing up, temperatures will soar well above average across the western half of the country. This wave of warmth will stretch its way east over the weekend into early next week.

Daytime highs rising between 10 to 30 degrees above average -- and possibly higher in some places -- will impact a large swath of the nation over the next few days, with parts of the Plains seeing the biggest departures from normal.

Near record-high temperatures will be possible.

Cooler air will make its way back in over the Rockies Sunday into Monday, dragging temperatures back near and below average there.

Yet, conditions will remain unseasonably warm across the Central U.S. as the warm air spreads farther east, covering the eastern two-thirds of the country. Even though the Plains will still see the biggest departures Sunday into Monday, temperatures will still climb 10 to 15 degrees above normal across portions of the Mississippi River Valley through the Mid-Atlantic and the Carolinas. Temperatures will moderate a bit midweek, but will still remain on the warmer side of normal across the southern U.S., and east of the Mississippi River.

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Pittsburgh bridges reopen after 26 barges break loose, float uncontrolled down Ohio River

John Greim/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

(PITTSBURGH, Pa.) -- Twenty-six barges broke loose and floated uncontrolled down the Ohio River Friday night, according to the Pittsburgh Public Safety Office.

The West End Bridge was closed in both directions and rail traffic was shut down on the rail bridge to Brunot Island due to the loose barges, before reopening on Saturday.

Of those that broke loose, 23 were loaded with dry cargo, such as coal, and three were empty. The barges are owned or operated by the Campbell Transportation Company.

There are no reported injuries, but Peggy's Marina sustained extensive damage.

Of the barges, 11 were located and pinned against the river bank by Brunot Island, 14 continued down the river and six went over the Emsworth Dam.

The company that owns the barges told ABC affiliate WTAE in a statement that "the incident occurred under high water conditions on the rivers resulting in strong currents due to flooding in the area."

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Lincoln University administrator's suicide spotlights Black women's struggles in higher education

Mireya Acierto/ Getty Images

(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.) -- When Antoinette "Bonnie" Candia-Bailey, the former vice president of student affairs at Lincoln University in Missouri, died by suicide on Jan. 8, the tragedy brought attention to the difficulties and obstacles that many Black women report experiencing in higher education.

Candia-Bailey, who received a termination letter from the historically Black university on Jan. 3, had previously accused the school's president, John Moseley, of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

"It was shocking," Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Knight Chair of Race and Journalism at Howard University, told "Nightline." "And I think there was a lot of fear that if the experiences that Black women are going through are not being paid attention to, that they can have really devastating results."Moseley was reinstated to his position last month after a third-party investigation found no evidence of substantiated bullying claims by the university president. He’d been on a voluntary paid administrative leave.

In a press release, the board of curators from the university said that an “exhaustive, independent investigation” found that “Dr. Candia-Bailey’s claims that she was bullied by President Moseley were unsubstantiated.”

The press release added, “Specifically, when directly asked in the course of this investigation, no witnesses reported that they had ever witnessed President Moseley engage in bullying – and all denied having ever personally felt bullied by President Moseley.”

ABC News attempted to contact the university but have not received a response.

In a statement, Moseley said “our thoughts and prayers have been and continue to be with Dr. Bailey’s family, friends, and our campus community.”

Moseley added, “There is not a lot I can say about the independent report and its findings, but I am grateful to the Board of Curators for their faith in me and their vote of confidence.”

Candia-Bailey’s loved ones are still grappling with the loss of the woman they affectionately called “Bonnie.”

"My confidence in the thoroughness of the investigation is zero," said Omega Tillman, a close friend to Candia-Bailey. "Bonnie was not a person to mince words or, if she felt bullied, if she felt unheard, unseen, then that's what it was. It's frustrating."

For 20 years, Candia-Bailey had worked to climb the professional ladder in academia. In 2016, she wrote a dissertation on the challenges that Black women face in academia.

Her dissertation is titled, "My Sister, Myself: The Identification of Sociocultural Factors that Affect the Advancement of African-American Women into Senior-Level Administrative Positions."

"Attempts need to be addressed to look at how African American women can increase and advance in higher education," Candia-Bailey wrote in the dissertation. "These factors also link to being treated like the help, the outsider within, keeping them away from the table."

Candia-Bailey’s death brought shock and sadness, prompting social media videos showing Black women sharing their own frustrations and experiences.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women and other women of color face harsher evaluations at work due to harmful stereotypes. Inger Burnett-Zeigler, a clinical psychologist, studies how negative stereotypes affect the mental health of Black women. According to her, Black women are often stereotyped as “angry Black women, strong Black women, and hypersexual Black women.”

"The No. 1 thing that I believe Black women can do to protect their mental health is to establish very clear boundaries," Burnett-Zeigler said. “Being a strong Black woman can come with taking on too much, feeling like you just can’t take it anymore and often we don’t recognize it until it’s gone too far,” she added.

Hannah-Jones said it is a concerning trend that despite being highly qualified for leadership positions, Black women are often subjected to intense scrutiny and criticism once they assume their roles.

“It’s a struggle to be respected, it’s a struggle to be heard. There’s so many obstacles, and often the higher you ascend, the lonelier it gets,” Hannah-Jones said.

Recent data from the American Association of University Professors reveals that Black women represent only 2.4 percent of tenured professors in colleges and universities nationwide.

"Tenure is the highest status that you can achieve at a university," Hannah-Jones said. "So Black women get hired, but they aren't getting tenure, and they aren't being moved through that process."

Amidst the tragedy, the next generation of black women academics are forging their own community and advocating for change.

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Librarians say they face threats, lawsuits, jail fears over ongoing book battles

Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

(BOISE, Id. ) -- Librarians across the country say they’ve become targets in the ongoing battles over books – but the attacks have escalated beyond just calls to remove materials from library shelves.

Several librarians told ABC News they’re facing threats of physical violence, lawsuits and criminal charges for having what some say is “inappropriate” content in libraries and schools where children can access the materials.

“We had people threatening to burn down our building,” said Maegan Hanson, a library director in a small Idaho town.

Hanson’s library had a book on display called “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel by Maia Kobabe. It’s one of the most targeted books in the country because of its LGBTQ content and depictions of sex.

When parts of the book were posted to Facebook, Hanson said the library began receiving online threats. She said fear began to set in among the small crew who work at the library – some of whom are teens and young adults.

“We are in this service because we love the communities that we are a part of and the misinformation and the misrepresentation about what we do hasn't stopped us from doing our jobs – it just makes it harder,” Hanson said.

The Idaho Library Association, which Hanson is a part of, is concerned that tensions and threats will only get worse now that Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed library content restrictions into law on Wednesday.

House Bill 710 bars schools or public libraries from making materials available to children that are “harmful to minors,” “depict nudity, sexual conduct, or sado-masochistic abuse,” or include “detailed verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual excitement, sexual conduct, or sado-masochistic abuse.”

The law states these books would need to be moved to an “adults only section,” and allows anyone to sue if schools and libraries don’t restrict access to books that are believed to be harmful to children.

“For children, libraries open doors to reading and intellectual exploration, helping them become lifelong learners. It’s no wonder the vast majority of Idahoans say they value libraries and trust librarians,” said Little in his letter after signing the law.

“I share the cosponsors’ desire to keep truly inappropriate library materials out of the hands of minors,” said Little, adding that he also has concerns about the content on minors' cellphones.

Little vetoed previous efforts to restrict library content, saying past legislation would have forced libraries to shutter their doors by forcing them to pay $2,500 for damages if they made “obscene” materials accessible.

HB710 will make libraries pay $250, on top of other incurred fees or damages, if they violate the law. Little said he was moved to sign HB710 because it also allowed librarians to avoid legal action and fees if they addressed concerns about materials in a certain time frame.

In Little’s letter, he states that literacy is still a top priority for him: “Libraries play such a crucial role in helping our youngsters to read early on.”

For the small libraries of Idaho, directors say hundreds of dollars in lawsuits over books could come at the expense of some library resources and education programming – including early literacy programs, technology support, access to case workers and more.

Hanson’s library had a total operating income of $279,452 in 2021 for the year’s staffing and programming, according to the Idaho Commission for Libraries.

“We have a high poverty population in Idaho and various rural communities, so for these people who are lacking in resources, this content is important," Hanson said.

Supporters of HB710 argue it’s just a book relocation policy and should not impact libraries that don't have "inappropriate" content or properly move content out of sections for people under 18.

But some librarians fear that a plethora of material could fall victim to this definition of obscene content, including classical pieces of literature and other popular books, and lead to censorship.

“There's absolutely going to be the chilling effect of people being so afraid of ordering or having any sort of book that could possibly offend somebody,” said Huda Shaltry, a library director in Boise, Idaho.

“A well-curated public library has something in it to offend everyone,” she said, explaining that having a diverse collection with a wide range of perspectives and subjects available to all is vital to a public library system that serves all.

“[Book restrictions are] very directed to the LGBTQIA+ community but, ultimately, you can make the argument that the Bible’s offensive. There goes the Bible,” Hanson said. “‘50 Shades of Grey,’ OK, it's offensive. ‘Game of Thrones,’ it’s offensive. Where exactly does it stop? ‘Harry Potter,’ it's offensive because it teaches witchcraft – It really impedes on people's First Amendment rights.”

Several renowned, award-winning books have been added to banned books lists for being “offensive,” including “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “The Handmaid's Tale” by Margaret Atwood and more, according to the American Library Association.

What some might find offensive, Shaltry and Hanson argue, could be helpful to someone else – be it about representation, sexuality, experience with abuse, or other topics, they say.

Shaltry, who says “being a librarian is a calling and not a career” for her, said critics have made hurtful claims and accusations about librarians for displaying content that may contain sex education or sexual content.

“I'm trying not to cry,” said Shaltry in an interview. “The words of being a pedophile and a groomer or stuff – I never thought that I would ever hear any of this stuff.”

Idaho librarians aren’t alone in their challenges – local reports show that libraries nationwide have received bomb threats, others say they’ve been fired for not removing certain books from shelves, and others have been defunded because of content and programming.

​​West Virginia libraries are also facing growing challenges.

If the state’s House Bill 4654 becomes law, employees could be charged with a felony, fined up to $25,000, and sentenced to up to five years in a correctional facility if found guilty of allowing a minor to access material that could be what the state considers to be "obscene.”

"What this bill does do is stop obscene and pornographic material, sexually explicit materials from being available to children in public taxpayer-funded spaces," said State Delegate Elliott Pritt, a Republican, in a February hearing, according to The Parkersburg News and Sentinel.

The president of the American Library Association has denounced such legislative efforts, calling it “organized censorship.”

"Falsely claiming that these works are subversive, immoral, or worse, these groups induce elected and non-elected officials to abandon constitutional principles, ignore the rule of law, and disregard individual rights to promote government censorship of library collections," ALA said in a statement objecting to such restrictions.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Woman dead after bus crashes into pedestrians at Honolulu cruise ship terminal

Kevin Carter/Getty Images

(HONOLULU, Hi.) -- One woman has died and 10 others were injured after a shuttle bus crashed into the transportation area outside a Honolulu cruise terminal Friday, according to police.

The ship, Carnival Miracle, was on a 15-day journey, departing Long Beach, California, on April 6, according to Carnival Cruise Line. Nine of the people hit by the vehicle were cruise ship passengers.

"Sadly, one guest has died from her injuries. She was traveling with her husband, who was also injured and is expected to recover. Members of the Carnival Care Team are assisting the guests. Our thoughts are with the guests affected and their loved ones," Carnival Cruise Line said in a statement to ABC News.

A 57-year-old man was dropping off customers at pier 2 when a bystander told him that his vehicle was moving forward. He then jumped into the drivers seat, trying to stop the vehicle, but he accidentally pressed the gas pedal instead of the brakes, colliding with two concrete barriers and eleven pedestrians, according to the Honolulu Police Department.

Five pedestrians were transported to the hospital -- one of whom was later pronounced dead and four others are in good condition. Six other pedestrians refused treatment on the scene, police said.

According to police, speed does not appear to be a contributing factor in the collision and it is unknown if drugs or alcohol were contributing factors.

The investigation is ongoing.

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One dead, 13 injured after man intentionally crashes stolen semi-truck into Texas DPS office: Officials


(BRENHAM, Texas) -- One person was killed and more than a dozen injured after a man allegedly intentionally crashed a stolen semi-truck into a Texas Department of Public Safety office in Brenham on Friday, officials said.

A suspect is in custody, authorities said.

"This is a tragic day for us," Texas DPS Regional Director Gerald Brown told reporters during a press briefing Friday.

The incident occurred around 10:30 a.m. local time, when the driver rammed a stolen 18-wheeler into a Texas DPS driver's license office, Brown said.

The suspect -- identified by authorities as Clenard Parker, 42 -- had been informed by the office on Thursday that he was not eligible to renew his commercial driver's license, authorities said.

The suspect then "returned today with intent to harm," Washington County Judge Mark Keough said in a statement on social media.

Six people were transported to area hospitals, one of whom died from their injuries at the hospital, authorities said. Eight victims were treated at the scene and released.

The victims were all inside the building at the time of the crash. It is unclear how many were civilians, authorities said.

Footage from the scene showed extensive damage to the Texas DPS office.

The Texas Rangers are investigating and there is no further threat to the community, Texas DPS said.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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