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SPLC hires new president, CEO after tumult over cofounder’s firing

Chip Brownlee | The Trace

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via SPLC

The Southern Poverty Law Center has appointed an interim president and CEO as it plans to conduct a nationwide search for a permanent leader.

The SPLC’s board of directors voted unanimously to name Karen Baynes-Dunning as the civil rights legal group’s interim president, according to the board’s chair. Her appointment comes after the departures of the group’s cofounder Morris Dees and its president Richard Cohen.

Baynes-Dunning, who has served on the SPLC board since 2017, resigned from the board in order to take the job as a president and CEO. The board said she will begin immediately managing the organization that is best known for its monitoring of extremist groups.

She will serve until a long-term interim or permanent president is named.

“As you may know, over the last few weeks we’ve faced a number of internal workplace challenges,” said the chair of the SPLC board Bryan Fair. “It has been a difficult time for us, and we know that it has been a difficult time for many of you, as well. However, we remain as committed to our work as ever.”

Baynes-Dunning, a former juvenile court judge, has dedicated her career to improving the quality of life for disadvantaged children, youth and families, Fair said.

Over the past 25 years, she has served in numerous leadership positions in the public and nonprofit sectors to help improve the policies and services that affect the lives of vulnerable children.

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She is currently the president of Baynes-Dunning Consulting LLC of Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as the federal court-appointed monitor overseeing reform efforts at the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services.

She was appointed to the juvenile court bench in Fulton County, Georgia, in 1998, serving until 2002.

“Her extensive legal and management experience makes her an incredible asset to our team and the perfect person to step into this role,” Fair said.

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The move comes after tumult at the organization following the public firing of Dees over unspecified conduct. Cohen resigned just a week after Dee’s firing.

APR has reported that the firing following concerns over race and gender equity at the organization.

“We’re also firm in our commitment to resolving the issues at hand,” Fair said.

The group launched an external review of its workplace practices with Tina Tchen. The former chief of staff for Michelle Obama and one of the leading voices behind the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund will advise us on workplace culture issues.

“Tina’s evaluation will continue, and we’re committed to enacting long-lasting changes following her recommendations,” Fair said. “Our employees deserve a workplace that reflects our highest values, and we will ensure that it happens.”

Fair said hiring Baynes-Dunning is a critical step in that process.

“She has consistently shown leadership and dedication to the SPLC and brings a personal commitment to staff engagement in all of her work,” Fair said.

 

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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Elections

Prisoners quarantined at formerly closed prison kept in unconstitutional conditions, groups say

Conditions are so bad that inmates have been forced to urinate and defacate on themselves because restrooms are not accessible, the complaint alleges.

Eddie Burkhalter

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The male intake area at an ADOC facility. (VIA ADOC)

The Alabama Department of Corrections is violating the constitutional rights of inmates being quarantined in deplorable conditions in the previously decommissioned Draper prison, several civil rights groups wrote in a letter to the state’s prison commissioner.

The ACLU of Alabama, the Southern Center for Human Rights, Alabama Appleseed and other groups in a letter to Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Thursday detail those conditions, which include no indoor toilets or running water, repeated power outages, deprivation of regular showers and the requirement of incarcerated men to urinate in “styrofoam cups and plastic water” bottles.

“These conditions fail to meet the most basic constitutional standards and present a substantial risk of serious harm to people already suffering from a potentially fatal disease,” the letter reads. “We therefore request that you immediately cease using Draper to house and/or quarantine COVID-19 patients, and instead house them in medically appropriate settings in accordance with Eighth Amendment standards.”

The groups note that Draper was closed after the U.S. Department of Justice, during its investigation of violence in Alabama prisons, noted Draper as exceptionally “dangerous and unsanitary” with “open sewage” near the entrance, rat and maggot infestations and “standing sewage water on the floors.”

In October 2017, the Justice Department informed ADOC of the department’s shock at the state of the facility and a month later ADOC’s engineer concluded that Draper was “no longer suitable to house inmates, or to be used as a correctional facility,” the letter states.

ADOC reopened a portion of Draper earlier this year to house incoming inmates from county jails being quarantined amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the civil rights groups note in the letter that ADOC failed to indicate plans to also use a classroom without bathrooms, running water or adequate medical care at Draper to house COVID-19 patients from other state prisons.

The groups allege in the letter that approximately 15 cots are located in the approximately 500 square feet former classroom, where at any given time between 5 and 15 inmates are being kept. The only restroom facilities the men can use are portable bathrooms outside, and the men have to “bang on the classroom windows to get officers’ attention.”

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“Though officers sometimes escort the men when asked, they decline at other times and fail to maintain a schedule; thus, the men do not have access to bathroom facilities when needed,” the letter reads, adding that the men aren’t allowed to use the outdoor restrooms between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“We have further reason to believe that one man was permitted to use the bathroom only three times during a 13-day quarantine. Another man was not taken to the bathroom until his third day at Draper, while another was forced to urinate on himself on multiple occasions after being denied bathroom access,” according to the letter. “One man suffering from diarrhea was forced to wait hours to use the restroom to defecate. Many others could only relieve themselves into styrofoam cups, plastic bottles, portable urinal containers, or trash cans.”

“They had to hold onto urine-filled bottles for hours at a time until they were allowed to leave the classroom to empty them. It is also our understanding that some men held in these conditions did not receive bottles at all; correctional officers simply told these men that they were ‘out of luck,’” the letter continues.

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The letter also details instances of alleged inadequate medical care, including a man who was sent to a local hospital with heart attack symptoms after not receiving his heart medication for several days.

The groups are also unaware of any Inmates leaving Draper who were tested for COVID-19 before being returned to Elmore and Staton prisons, the letter also states.

“We also have reason to believe that many of the symptomatic men at Staton and Elmore have not reported their symptoms to prison staff for fear of being held at Draper in the deplorable conditions described above,” the letter continues.

APR has learned from several sources in recent weeks, who asked not to be identified because they have loved ones in Alabama prisons and are fearful of retributions for speaking out, that many inmates who have symptoms of COVID-19 aren’t reporting those symptoms to prison staff for fear of being quarantined. Those family members are concerned that the disease is spreading much more broadly in Alabama prisons than is known as a result, putting their loved ones at greater risk of contracting the deadly disease.

Many of the concerns expressed in the letter were first reported by AL.com reported on Sept. 13, which found that access to medical care in Draper is limited and the conditions unsanitary.

In a response to AL.com’s questions for that article, an ADOC spokeswoman wrote that inmates at Draper have access to “medical and mental health care, telephones, law library, mail services, and showers.”

“Please remember — Inmates remanded to our custody have been convicted of a crime and handed a sentence to serve time as determined by a court. The unfortunate reality is that he or she, as a result of the crime committed and subsequent conviction, loses his or her freedoms,” ADOC said in the responses.

“This response is unacceptable as a matter of principle, and inadequate as a matter of law,” the letter from the civil rights group states.

“As ADOC knows, the fact of a criminal conviction does not strip incarcerated people of their rights under the Eighth Amendment, nor does it relieve ADOC of its constitutional obligations to the people in its custody, which are to provide them with ‘humane conditions of confinement,’ ‘adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care,’ and ‘reasonable safety,’” the letter continues.

On Sept. 16, ADOC reported that there have been 403 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates, 21 deaths of inmates after testing positive for COVID-19, and 375 cases among prison staff. Two prison workers have died from COVID-19, ADOC previously said.

As of Sept. 14, there had been 1,954 inmate tests for coronavirus, out of the approximately 22,000 state inmates, according to ADOC.

ADOC on Sept. 16 said that on Thursday the department was to begin rolling out a plan to provide free COVID-19 tests to ADOC staff and contracted healthcare staff using fixed and mobile testing sites.

“In addition, we will test all inmates in facilities that house large numbers of inmates with high risk factors as an enhancement to our current testing protocols,” ADOC said in a press release.

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Health

Study: Those with COVID twice as likely to have dined in restaurants

“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” the study notes. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten in restaurants, which builds upon known factors about how the disease is transmitted, experts say, but the study has limitations.

The study surveyed 314 adults in 10 states and found that those who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten at restaurants within the previous 14 days. Researchers found that there was no significant difference between those who tested both positive and negative and who said they had gone to gyms, coffee shops, used public transportation or had family gatherings.

“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” the study notes.

Dr. Bertha Hidalgo, an epidemiologist and associate professor at UAB’s School of Public Health, told APR on Wednesday that the study lends evidence to what the medical community knows are potential risks for contracting COVID-19, which include being indoors and unmasked, but there are nuances to each of those activities that can either increase or decrease that risk.

The study did not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining, and infectious disease experts say being outdoors decreases the risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It’s also hard to know what policies are in place where these people were recruited from for this study,” Hidalgo said. “Whether they’re required to be masked or if there’s a decreased capacity in a restaurant.”

Monica Aswani, assistant professor at UAB’s School of Health Professions, said she would be cautious about interpreting the study through a causal lens.

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“People who are willing to dine in restaurants are also likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as not wearing masks. Since this is a survey, there is not enough evidence to suggest that the source of exposure was restaurants without contact tracing to supplement it,” Aswani said. “Likewise, respondents may have misreported their behaviors, given the sensitive nature of the questions. The authors note this as a limitation and highlight how participants were aware of their Covid-19 test results, which may have influenced how they responded.”

Aswani also noted that the questions about dining did not differentiate between indoor versus outdoor seating, “which represent different levels of risk to exposure.”

“Participants who visited a restaurant on at least one occasion, regardless of the frequency, are also considered similar. Consequently, in the two weeks before they felt ill, someone who dined on a restaurant patio once and someone who ate indoors at five different restaurants are indistinguishable in their data,” Aswani said.

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Hidalgo said that while there are clear limitations to the CDC’s study, the findings do back up what the medical community knows about the transmission of the disease.

“I would very much look at this from the big picture perspective, and say we know that indoor activities are an increased risk for COVID-19. This study lends evidence to that,” Hidalgo said.

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Elections

Alabama Democrats: Tuberville doesn’t have a plan or experience

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (VIA TUBERVILlE CAMPAIGN)

The Alabama Democratic Party on Wednesday released a statement slamming Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville for not commenting on Hurricane Sally.

Tuberville is challenging U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the Nov. 3 general election.

“Tommy Tuberville said he didn’t have a clue how to address the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, so it isn’t surprising that he hasn’t offered a single word for the Gulf Coast in the face of a life-threatening storm,” said Wade Perry, the executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party. “He doesn’t have a plan or the experience to tackle an actual crisis. Unlike our own U.S. Senator Doug Jones.”

The Jones campaign has seized on the “Tommy Tuberville does not have a clue” narrative, trying to make the argument that Tuberville, a career football coach who has never held a public office before, lacks the experience necessary to represent the people of Alabama in the U.S. Senate.

Jones used that line several times at a Labor Day appearance in Leeds.

“Senator Jones was on the ground in Lee County after devastating tornadoes and worked across party lines to secure emergency relief for farmers and families in the Wiregrass,” Perry said. “He will always be there to help Alabamians navigate a crisis and save lives— he always has, and always will.”

The Tuberville campaign disputed the ADP narrative.

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Hurricane Sally devastated Dauphin Island in Mobile County as well as Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Fort Morgan in coastal Baldwin County when it came ashore as a category two hurricane with 105 miles per hour winds.

Sally then inundated South Alabama, West Florida and Georgia with heavy rain, leading to localized flooding. Several roads were closed on Thursday across South Alabama due to flooding including in Troy, Andalusia and Opp.

Almost 200,000 Alabama homes lost power due to the storm. Alabama Power crews are still working to restore power to customers who lost power.

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Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore in a 2017 special election. This was the only time that a Democratic candidate had won any statewide race in Alabama since 2008.

Jones and his allies led an effort to topple the then-existing leadership of the Alabama Democratic Party in 2019. The new chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, State Rep. Christopher England, D-Tuscaloosa, is trying to make the case that times have changed and the state has two viable political parties.

Republicans are targeting Jones, a Democratic senator representing a very red state. Democrats are hopeful that they can hold Jones’ seat and take control of the U.S. Senate.

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National

Trump urges Republicans to accept bigger COVID stimulus to get compromise

Brandon Moseley

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(WHITE HOUSE PHOTO)

President Donald Trump reportedly urged congressional Republicans to go for “much higher numbers” in a coronavirus aid bill. The president and his team are trying to end a deadlock over coronavirus economic relief ahead of Congress breaking for the Nov. 3 elections.

House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion coronavirus aid package in the Heroes Act earlier this summer. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin presented a $1.1 trillion aid package in August, which Democrats rejected.

After the Senate returned from their Labor Day recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, brought a $300 billion “skinny” coronavirus aid package up for a vote. No Democrats supported the GOP package.

“Every Senate Democrat just voted against hundreds of billions of dollars of COVID-19 relief,” McConnell said. “They blocked money for schools, testing, vaccines, unemployment insurance, and the Paycheck Protection Program. Their goal is clear: No help for American families before the election.”

Democrats demanded a bigger package.

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, told reporters that McConnell’s paired-down bill was a “political stunt” and did far too little for individuals, businesses, schools and local governments.

Democrats continue to insist on a bigger bill and now Trump is pushing Republicans to accept a bigger deal.

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“Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!)” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, have expressed optimism this week. Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement they were encouraged and hoped White House negotiators would now “meet us halfway.”

A coronavirus relief bill of over $2 trillion is reportedly being discussed, and Republicans are divided on this.

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Some Senators favor passing stimulus and some, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, oppose any stimulus, citing concerns about adding trillions more to the ballooning budget deficit.

Paul was the only Republican to vote against the skinny stimulus because he opposes even that small package.

Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, said that the plan should stay in a “realistic” range. “As you go upwards from there ($1 trillion) you start … losing Republican support pretty quickly,” he said.

Thune said there was some Republican interest in the $1.5 trillion package presented this week by the Problem Solvers Caucus, but not in the $500 billion in bailouts for state and local governments.

“So the president has his opinion, we have ours,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, arguing that the package should not be above $300 billion.

But Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said something needed to be done, although “well below 2 trillion.”

Advocates for businesses and state and local governments impacted by the coronavirus global pandemic say that without more federal aid they were going to have to start laying off people.

Some economists fear that more business closures and layoffs this fall could hurt the economic recovery, especially if there is not a coronavirus vaccine this year.

The Congress has already passed over $3 trillion in coronavirus aid, all of it paid for with deficit spending.

The national debt is $26.8 trillion. Adding another $3 trillion to the debt for another aid package will likely lead to the debt topping $30 trillion in the next six months no matter who is elected in November.

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