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Police: Parade-crash suspect was in a domestic disturbance

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WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — The SUV driver who plowed into a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing at least five people and injuring 48, was leaving the scene of a domestic dispute that had taken place just minutes earlier, Waukesha’s police chief said Monday.

Police Chief Dan Thompson said that there was no evidence the bloodshed Sunday was a terrorist attack or that the suspect, Darrell Brooks Jr., knew anyone in the parade. Brooks acted alone, the chief said.

Brooks, 39, of Milwaukee, had left the site of the domestic disturbance before officers arrived, and was not being chased by police at the time of the crash, according to the chief, who gave no further details on the dispute.

Police said they were drawing up five charges of intentional homicide against Brooks.

He has been charged with crimes 16 times since 1999 and had two outstanding cases against him at the time of the parade disaster — including one in which he was accused of deliberately running down a woman with his vehicle.

On Sunday, a joyous scene of marching bands and children dancing in Santa hats and waving pompoms gave way in an instant to screams and the sight of crumpled bodies as the SUV sped through barricades and struck dancers, musicians and others in the community of 72,000.

The dead were identified as four women ages 52 to 79 and an 81-year-old man. Members of a Dancing Grannies club were among those killed, as was a bank employee.

Mayor Shawn Reilly described the parade as a “Norman Rockwell-type” event that “became a nightmare.”

“It looked like dummies being thrown in the air,” said Nicole Schneiter, who was there with her children and grandchildren. “It took a second to register, like, ‘Is that what we really just saw?’ And then you looked in the road and there were just people laying in road.”

At least nine patients, most of them children, were listed in critical condition two hospitals, and seven others were reported in serious condition.

The chief said that while police were not pursuing Brooks before he entered the parade route, an officer did fire a shot to try to stop him but ceased shooting because of the danger to others. Brooks was not injured.

Brooks has two open criminal cases in Milwaukee County. In one case, filed Nov. 5, he is charged with resisting or obstructing an officer, reckless endangering, disorderly conduct, bail jumping and battery. Records show his $1,000 cash bond was posted on Friday.

In that case, a woman told police that Brooks deliberately ran her over with his vehicle in a gas station parking lot after a fight. She was hospitalized for her injuries.

In the other case, filed in July 2020, Brooks is charged with reckless endangering and illegal possession of a firearm.

His attorney in those cases, Joseph Domask, said he was not representing him in the parade crash.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office said prosecutors’ $1,000 bail recommendation for Brooks was “inappropriately low,” given the charges. The DA’s office said it is investigating the matter.

Republican Rebecca Kleefisch, a former Wisconsin lieutenant governor who is running for governor in 2022, called the killings “yet another avoidable tragedy that occurred because a violent career criminal was allowed to walk free and terrorize our community.”

Brooks is an aspiring rapper. On a YouTube page, a video that has since been removed showed him rapping in front a red Ford SUV resembling the one at the parade. The rapper uses the name MathBoi Fly on his Twitter and other social media accounts.

The horror of the crash was recorded by the city’s livestream and onlookers’ cellphones. One video shows the moment the SUV broke through the barricades and includes the apparent sound of gunfire.

“It was like a war scene walking through there” afterward, said Ken Walter, who had been riding in the parade in a hot air balloon basket along with his wife and youngest son. “There were these piles of blankets with cops standing over them that you just knew were bodies.”

Walter said he saw a red SUV careen into view and watched it hit a member of his real estate-agency parade contingent, then barrel straight into members of the Waukesha South High School marching band.

The SUV continued down the parade route. Behind it, people were screaming, running, searching for family and friends and unsure whether they were still in danger, he recalled.

Schneiter said that after sheltering in a store, she emerged to see bodies in the street, along with strollers, chairs, candy and shoes.

Police identified those killed as Virginia Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71; Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; and Wilhelm Hospel, 81.

The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies posted on its Facebook page that its members were “doing what they loved, performing in front of crowds in a parade, putting smiles on faces of all ages, filling them with joy and happiness.”

Eighteen children ages 3 to 16 were brought to Children’s Wisconsin Hospital, including three sets of siblings, said Dr. Amy Drendel, medical director of the emergency department.

They suffered injuries ranging from scrapes on their faces to broken bones and serious head injuries, she said. Six were listed in critical condition.

The Waukesha school district canceled classes Monday and Tuesday and said extra counselors would be on hand for students and staff. The parade’s lineup included cheer, dance and band entries associated with district schools.

The parade, held each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. This year’s parade was the 59th one.

Waukesha is about 55 miles (90 kilometers) from Kenosha, where Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted Friday of all charges in the shooting deaths of two men and the wounding of a third during unrest there in 2020.

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This story has been corrected to show that online court records indicate a Darrell Brooks Jr. faces charges in another case that include second-degree recklessly endangering safety and that bail in a previous case was $1,000, not $500.

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Bauer reported from Madison, Wis., and Balsamo reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Doug Glass in Minneapolis, Kathleen Foody in Chicago, Tammy Webber in Fenton, Michigan, Bernard Condon in New York and Michael Biesecker in Washington contributed.

Scott Bauer, Michael Balsamo And Mike Householder, The Associated Press

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Justice

Florida man charged in Canada-U. S. human-smuggling scheme freed on appearance bond

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FARGO, N.D. — A Florida man charged for his role in a human-smuggling scheme that turned deadly at the Canada-U. S. border will be allowed to go home to await trial. 

Steve Shand, 47, waived his right to a preliminary hearing before U.S. district court Judge Hildy Bowbeer agreed to release him from a North Dakota detention centre. 

He faces human-smuggling charges after he was arrested near the border last week behind the wheel of a rented passenger van, not far from where a family of four was found frozen to death in the snow on the Canadian side. 

Shand, clad in orange prison garb and a black face mask, said little throughout the virtual hearing beyond “Yes, your Honour” and “Yes, ma’am” in response to Bowbeer’s questions. 

Shand was released on an appearance bond, meaning that while he must abide by a number of release conditions, he will be required to make his own way back to Minnesota for any in-person court hearings.

“Sometimes we do it by Zoom and sometimes we may be doing it in person, but however it is that a court hearing happens in this case, you’re going to have to show up for it,” Bowbeer said. 

“The fact that you’re living in Florida is not going to be an excuse for not showing up in Minnesota.”

He will also be required to surrender his passport and other related travel documents, submit to a mental-health assessment and remain in his home district in Florida except for court hearings. 

He is also forbidden from possessing any weapons and from having any contact with any witnesses or others associated with the case, and will be expected to abide by the law, Bowbeer said. 

“There’s this kind of snowballing set of consequences, all of them bad, if you were to commit some new offence while you’re on release,” she said.

Monday’s court decision was the product of an agreement between U.S. prosecutors and Shand’s defence lawyers, and resulted in the accused opting to waive his right to a preliminary hearing. 

Shand was arrested Jan. 19, the same day the bodies of four people, including an infant and a teenage boy, were discovered in the snow on the Canadian side of the border near Emerson, Man.

Investigators believe the four were part of a larger group of undocumented migrants from India who were trying to enter the U.S. from Canada.

The bodies were discovered Wednesday, shortly after U.S. Border Patrol agents pulled over a passenger van on the American side and found two other undocumented Indian nationals inside. 

At about the same time, agents encountered another group of five migrants, one of whom told the agents they had been walking through the snow and bitter cold for more than 11 hours. 

Department of Justice officials say the deaths are likely linked to a larger human smuggling operation — a phenomenon that’s practically a fact of daily life in the southern U.S., but rarely seen up north. 

Agents encountered the van “in a rural area on a dirt road in an area far away from any services, homes or ports of entry into Canada,” according to an affidavit by John Stanley, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security. 

“He was driving through blowing snow and snow drifts. The weather was severe at the time, with high winds, blowing snow and temperatures well below (-34 C).”

Evidence detailed in the documents also suggest the group was not the first to recently make the perilous trek: twice in December and once in January, border patrol agents found boot prints in the snow near where the van was later pulled over. 

On Jan. 12, agents found prints that “matched the brand of the types of boots worn by five of the seven foreign nationals arrested in the current smuggling event,” the documents say. 

On or about Dec. 12 and Dec. 22, “two groups of four appeared to have walked across the border into the U.S. and were picked up by someone in a vehicle.” 

In the first incident, RCMP officers found a backpack at a location in Manitoba “believed to be the drop-off point” that contained a price tag in Indian rupees. 

A court file from Florida that dates back to 2018 shows that Shand, a naturalized citizen originally from Jamaica, filed for bankruptcy more than three years ago, reporting assets worth $193,343 and liabilities of nearly $160,000. 

Describing himself as an Uber driver, Shand’s assets at the time included two vehicles — a 2016 Toyota SUV and a 2014 Honda Civic — and the $161,957 single-family home in the central Florida community where he lives. 

Consular officials met over the weekend in Winnipeg to assist with the investigation and to help identify the migrants and track down family members. 

“A special team, led by a senior consular officer from the Consulate General of India in Toronto, is in Manitoba to assist ongoing investigations by Canadian agencies and to render any required consular services for the victims,” the High Commission of India said in a statement. 

“Confirmation of identities will only be possible after investigations are completed this week.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2022.

— With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


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International

NATO outlines ‘deterrence’ plan as tensions with Russia soar

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Tensions soared Monday between Russia and the West, with NATO outlining a series of potential troop and ship deployments and Ireland warning that upcoming Russian war games off its coast would not be welcome while concerns abound that Moscow is planning to invade Ukraine.

The Western alliance’s statement summed up moves already announced by individual member countries — but restating them under the NATO banner appeared aimed at showing the alliance’s resolve. It was just one of a series of announcements that signaled the West is ramping up its rhetoric in the information war that has accompanied the Ukraine standoff.

Russia has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border and is demanding that NATO promise it will never allow Ukraine to join and that other actions, such as stationing alliance troops in former Soviet bloc countries, be curtailed. Some of these, like any pledge to permanently bar Ukraine, are non-starters for NATO — creating a seemingly intractable standoff that many fear can only end in war.

Russia denies it is planning an invasion, and has said the Western accusations are merely a cover for NATO’s own planned provocations. Recent days have seen high-stakes diplomacy that failed to reach any breakthrough and maneuvering on both sides.

On Monday, NATO said that it is beefing up its “deterrence” in the Baltic Sea area. Denmark is sending a frigate and deploying F-16 war planes to Lithuania; Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces; and France stands ready to send troops to Romania. The Netherlands also plans to send two F-35 fighter aircraft to Bulgaria from April.

Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance will “take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies.” He said: “We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defense.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov charged that it was NATO and the U.S. who were behind “tensions escalating” in Europe, not Russia.

“All this is happening not because of what we, Russia, are doing. This is happening because of what NATO, the U.S. are doing,” Peskov said during a conference call with reporters. He also cited U.S. media reports suggesting that Russia is evacuating its diplomats from Ukraine, something officials in Moscow denied.

The NATO announcement came as European Union foreign ministers sought to put on a fresh display of unity in support of Ukraine, and paper over concerns about divisions on the best way to confront any Russian aggression.

In a statement, the ministers said the EU has stepped up sanction preparations and they warned that “any further military aggression by Russia against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe costs.”

Separately, the EU also committed to increase financial support for embattled Ukraine, vowing to push through a special package of 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in loans and grants as soon as possible.

The West is nervously watching Russian troop movements and war games in Belarus for any signs that a new invasion of Ukraine is imminent. Russia has already invaded Ukraine once, annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Moscow has also supported pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists fighting the Kyiv government in the Donbass region. Fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed around 14,000 people and still simmers.

Asked whether the EU would follow a U.S. move and order the families of European embassy personnel in Ukraine to leave, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said: “We are not going to do the same thing.” He said he is keen to hear from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken about that decision.

Britain on Monday also announced it is withdrawing some diplomats and dependents from its embassy in Kyiv. The Foreign Office said the move was “in response to the growing threat from Russia.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Oleg Nikolenko, said the U.S. decision was “a premature step” and a sign of “excessive caution.” He said that Russia is sowing panic among Ukrainians and foreigners in order to destabilize Ukraine.

Germany has issued no order, but it has announced that the families of embassy staffers may leave if they wish. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressed that “we must not contribute to unsettling the situation further; we need to continue to support the Ukrainian government very clearly and above all maintain the stability of the country,”

Arriving at the EU meeting, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he would inform his counterparts that Russia plans to holds war games 240 kilometers (150 miles) off Ireland’s southwest coast — in international waters but within Ireland’s exclusive economic zone.

“This isn’t a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what’s happening with and in Ukraine.” Coveney said. “The fact that they are choosing to do it on the western borders, if you like, of the EU, off the Irish coast, is something that in our view is simply not welcome.”

Some of the member countries closest to Russia — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — have confirmed that they plan to send U.S.-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, a move endorsed by the United States.

But questions have been raised about just how unified the EU is. Diverse political, business and energy interests have long divided the 27-country bloc in its approach to Moscow. Around 40% of the EU’s natural gas imports come from Russia, much of it via pipelines across Ukraine — and many are skittish about being cut off from that supply in winter, with prices already soaring.

The EU’s two major powers appear most cautious. French President Emmanuel Macron has renewed previously rejected calls for an EU summit with Putin.

Late on Saturday, the head of the German navy, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach, resigned after coming under fire for saying that Ukraine would not regain the Crimean Peninsula, and for suggesting that Putin deserves “respect.”

Still, diplomats and officials said hard-hitting sanctions are being drawn up with the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission. They were reluctant to say what the measures might be or what action by Russia might trigger them, but said they would come within days of any attack.

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This story has been updated to correct that France has said it is ready to send troops to Romania, not Bulgaria. ___

Associated Press writers Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine, Dasha Litvinova in Moscow, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Aritz Parra in Madrid, Mike Corder in The Hague, and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed.

Lorne Cook, The Associated Press

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