Congratulations to the Class of 2018

Congratulations to the Class of 2018

For  Revere High School seniors graduation day is Thursday and  this day is one of the few occasions that brings a smile to the faces of everyone in a community, regardless of whether they know a graduate. It is an occasion when all of us share in the joy — and pride — that graduation day marks in the lives of our young people. For older folks, graduation day recalls a time when we too, were young and full of life.

However, graduation day marks a bittersweet moment for parents, friends, family, and teachers, as well the grads themselves. As befits every turning point in our lives, it is a time of mixed emotions of joy, sadness, and reflection. Although the graduates and those close to them are looking forward to the exciting future that lies before them, at the same time, they will be looking back on the passing of their carefree youth and of the friends and experiences that have shaped their lives to this point.

The young women and men who receive their diplomas no longer are considered “youths” in the eyes of the world. They are full-fledged adults who have been deemed ready to assume all of the rights — and responsibilities — that adulthood implies.

The graduates, most of whom have turned 18, can vote, run for public office, enter into contracts, be tried fully as adults in the criminal justice system, and fight and die for their country.

For the parents of the grads, watching their “little boy or girl” proceed to the podium to receive his or her diploma will be a poignant moment. No doubt every parent will be thinking of the sentiments expressed in the song “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler On The Roof:”

Is this the little girl I carried?

Is this the little boy at play?

I don’t remember growing older

When – did – they?

When did she get to be a beauty?

When did he grow to be so tall?

Wasn’t it yesterday when they – were – small?

Although economists these days tell us that the value of a high school diploma is not what it was a generation or more ago, the graduates should keep in mind, as they contemplate venturing out into an uncertain future, that their mere presence on the podium has proven that they have the ability and the determination to achieve whatever goals they may set for themselves.

We came across a news item from one of our sister publications, The Winthrop Sun-Transcript, from June 24, 1898. The article, which reprinted the Class Ode for the Winthrop High Class of 1898, is as timely today as it was 120 years ago, and sums up the feelings of all of us on graduation day.

The years pass by in swift array

We cannot check their onward flight;

The moments that were ours today,

Have passed forever from our sight.

 

Yet while the course of life moves by

We too, must never lag behind;

But work and strive as best we may

To aid and benefit all mankind.

 

This we must do, or soon too late

We think in sadness of our loss,

For “Each is Master of his Fate,”

Though some must bear a heavy cross.

 

And when the race of life is run,

This life that holds so much for each

Shall come the gentle words, “Well done!”

As we at last the goal have reached.

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Chelsea Delegation Announce Landmark Criminal Justice Reform Law

Chelsea Delegation Announce Landmark Criminal Justice Reform Law

Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) recently announced that the landmark criminal justice reform package crafted by the Massachusetts Legislature has been signed into law. The Senator had previously joined his legislative colleagues in overwhelmingly voting to pass this sweeping piece of legislation, and last week the Governor signed the bill into law. An Act relative to criminal justice reform will lead to a more equitable system by supporting our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reducing recidivism, increasing judicial discretion, and enhancing public safety.

The legislation contains provisions to provide better care for vulnerable populations in the criminal justice system, and implements policies to strengthen protections for public safety and witness protection. The Legislature also passed the accompanying Act implementing the joint recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review (H.4012), which is designed to complement the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation. The CSG bill allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.

For the first time in the history of Massachusetts, this legislation establishes a process for expunging criminal records. Courts will now be able to expunge certain juvenile and young adult (18-21) records, and records in cases of fraud or where an offense is no longer a crime.

The Legislature has a longstanding legacy of supporting the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children, particularly those facing trauma and adversity. Accordingly, this bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to twelve and decriminalizes a first offense misdemeanor if the punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months. The legislation establishes a Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Commission, which will make the state eligible for additional federal funding, and a Childhood Trauma Task Force to study and recommend gender responsive and trauma-informed approaches to treatment of youths in the juvenile justice system. The bill also extends Good Samaritan protections to alcohol incapacitation for individuals under 21.

This legislation reflects a balanced, modern approach to sentencing. It eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses. Additionally, it creates the nation’s strongest law for Carfentanil trafficking and strengthens the existing Fentanyl trafficking law, bolstering the Legislature’s multi-tiered approach to the opioid epidemic. The legislation also strengthens penalties for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence (OUI).

 The new law requires district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military personnel, veterans, and individuals with addiction or mental health issues in order to combat the opioid epidemic and provide healthcare parity. It also expands diversion programs to the Juvenile Court and removes the existing age restriction on diversion in the District Court.

 Following reforms in 2010 and 2012, this legislation again updates the Commonwealth’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system to help individuals secure gainful employment and housing, enacting the following policies:

  • Reduces the wait time to seal a conviction from ten years to seven years for a felony, and from five years to three years for a misdemeanor.
  • Allows a conviction for resisting arrest to be sealed.
  • Expands the ability of an applicant with a sealed record to be able to answer “no record” on housing and professional license applications.
  • Establishes protections for businesses and landlords who shall be presumed to have no notice or ability to know about criminal records that have been sealed or expunged.

 This legislation updates the Commonwealth’s bail system and enhances judicial discretion by requiring a judge to take a person’s financial resources into account when determining bail. It also raises the threshold for larceny to qualify as a felony from $250 to $1,000. It also creates the crime of solicitation that is tied to the severity of the underlying crime.

Additional policy changes include: reduction of fees imposed on defendants; decriminalization of minor offenses; enhanced limits on solitary confinement; improvement of prison conditions; and release of prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk.

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Chelsea-Based Roca will Launch New Public-Private Partnership with Baltimore

Chelsea-Based Roca will Launch New Public-Private Partnership with Baltimore

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh announced this month a $17 million public-private partnership with Roca, anchor business institutions and philanthropic organizations to help Baltimore’s highest risk young people disrupt cycles of poverty and incarceration.

Roca is a Massachusetts-based group that has earned national recognition for providing some of the most innovative and effective interventions for young adults most at risk for committing or becoming a victim of violence.

The program currently operates in four sites in Massachusetts (Boston, Chelsea, Lynn, Springfield) and will replicate its model in Baltimore City.

“This is a very special announcement for me because we believe the approach to violence reduction is holistic, and we want to be inclusive in our approach to reducing the violence that exists in our city,” said Mayor Pugh. “Roca is not just a program that focuses in on individuals between the ages of 17-24, it is an intense focus that helps young people move beyond violence and into the types of job training, and personal development that leads them to become more productive members of our community.”

The significant new partnership will join other efforts to proactively engage high-risk youth in the City of Baltimore, and to reduce recidivism for those who have already encountered the criminal justice system. It will be funded by a combination of private and public dollars raised by Roca and the City of Baltimore, with a request for State funding still pending.

“We are humbled by the incredible efforts in the city to bring about change,” said Roca founder and CEO, Molly Baldwin. “At Roca, we are painfully aware that we can neither arrest nor program our way out of the violence devastating this city and that we need a different approach. We are so grateful for the invitation to help and we know we have a lot to learn as we initiate our work in Baltimore.”

Currently, Roca serves over 1,000 high-risk young people in 21 communities in Massachusetts and has been preparing to work in Baltimore for the past five years. Roca plans to serve 75 young people in Baltimore during its first year and gradually increase its services to 300 young people annually over the next three years.

Roca will begin operations in Baltimore during Summer 2018. An intensive planning process already is underway.

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MS-13 Member Pleads Guilty to Murder of 15-Year-Old Chelsea Boy

MS-13 Member Pleads Guilty to Murder of 15-Year-Old Chelsea Boy

Describing it as a “wonderful thing” on FBI surveillance tapes, the cold-blooded murderer of Irvin Depazm, 15, of Chelsea, has now been brought to justice.

An MS-13 member pleaded guilty on Thursday, Dec. 14, in federal court in Boston to racketeering conspiracy involving the murder of a 15-year-old boy in East Boston.

Joel Martinez, a/k/a “Animal,” 23, a Salvadoran national formerly residing in East Boston, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO conspiracy. U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV scheduled sentencing for March 22, 2018.

Martinez was identified as a member of MS-13’s Eastside Loco Salvatrucha (ESLS) clique, which operated in Chelsea, Everett, and elsewhere in greater Boston.

Martinez admitted that on Sept. 20, 2015, he murdered a Depazm, 15, on Trenton Street in East Boston.

In recorded conversations between Martinez and a cooperating witness, Martinez acknowledged being a member of MS-13 and admitted that he stabbed the victim to death. Specifically, Martinez said, “I stabbed the (expletive deleted) three times, and it was a beautiful thing! Just beautiful!”

As a result of the murder, Martinez was “jumped in” and made a “homeboy,” or full member of MS-13, during a ceremony that was surreptitiously recorded by federal agents. When a prospective member is “jumped in,” members of the MS-13 clique beat the new member with their hands and feet while one of the leaders of the clique counts aloud slowly to 13.

After a three-year investigation, Martinez was one of 61 individuals named in a superseding indictment targeting the criminal activities of alleged leaders, members, and associates of MS-13 in Massachusetts. Martinez is the 27th defendant to plead guilty in this case.

Martinez faces up to life in prison, five years of supervised release, and will be subject to deportation upon the completion of his sentence.

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Give Where You Live:Vukovic Launches Buy Nothing Program in City

Give Where You Live:Vukovic Launches Buy Nothing Program in City

By Cary Shuman

Sladja Vukovic.

Sladja Vukovic.

Cottage Street resident Sladja Vukovic is hoping to build community spirit in her neighborhood with a new project called Buy Nothing.

Vujovic is the administrator of the Chelsea Facebook group for the worldwide program in which neighbors give and receive free items from each other such as clothes, household goods, furniture, bicycles – really, anything is on the list.

“Currently we have 32 members in Chelsea,” said Vukovic, who is a realtor in Boston. “There are Facebook groups in many cities and towns in Massachusetts.”

Vukovic is originally from Bosnia and came to the United States in 2008. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. She has lived in Chelsea since 2010. Her husband is former Chelsea High soccer star Vedran Vukovic, and they have a son, Banja.

The 31-year-old resident started the Buy Nothing group two months ago for residents in the southern half of Chelsea, spanning from Admiral’s Hill to Washington Avenue. She is looking for a resident to step forward and be the administrator for the northern half of Chelsea.

“Basically our goal is to give where you live,” said Vukovic. “If you have something that you want to give to someone or if you have something you want to lend – like a jacket – you post it on a Facebook page, and if anyone else needs it, they’re going to reply and take that item for free.”

The time period for giving and lending can vary from item to item.

“Let’s say I need to borrow something for a weekend, you can ask for it and someone can volunteer to give it you,” said Vukovic.

Buy Nothing can also provide free services such as lawn mowing, house painting, snow plowing, landscaping or even learning a new language. Vukovic speaks English, Serbian, and Spanish.

“You can’t advertise your business in the program, but if you have a service for free that you want to provide, you can do that,” she explained.

Vukovic is trying to increase the number of members in the Facebook group through marketing and personal contacts with her neighbors.

“Somerville has more than 500 members,” she said. “But they’ve been doing it longer than we have.”

The overall mission of the program, according to Vukovic, is to give items to neighbors and strengthen the bonds in the neighborhood.

“I was looking for groups on Facebook and the Buy Nothing project seemed like a great neighborhood-strengthening group,” she said. “I searched it Chelsea and found out that the city didn’t have it. So I became an administrator and here we have it.”

Vukovic is considering an appearance during the a City Council meeting to help publicize the group.

“My goal is for people to get know about this project,” she said. “I think it’s a great way for people who have something to give, to give it to someone else for free.”

(For more information, please go to Facebook and search for: buynothingchelseasouth,ma)

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MS-13 Member Who Killed Innocent Mother Pleads Guilty

MS-13 Member Who Killed Innocent Mother Pleads Guilty

An MS-13 member pleaded guilty Thursday, Oct. 26, in federal court in Boston to racketeering conspiracy involving murder, attempted murder, and armed robbery.

The defendant admitted responsibility for murdering an innocent bystander, attempted murder of rival gang member and armed robbery.

The murder of the innocent bystander occurred in 2014 when the gang member shot at a rival gang member and missed, instantly killing a woman in her home who had  simply looked out the front window. The woman was the mother of three children and was in refuge from a domestic violence situation.

Hector Ramires, a/k/a “Cuervo,” 24, a Honduran national formerly of Chelsea, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO conspiracy.  U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV scheduled sentencing for Jan. 19, 2018.  According to the terms of the plea agreement, the parties will jointly recommend a sentence of 27 years in prison.

Ramires was a member of MS-13’s Enfermos Criminales Salvatrucha (ECS) clique, which operated in Chelsea and other parts of Massachusetts.  On Oct. 18, 2014, Ramires and Bryan Galicia Barillas a/k/a “Chucky,” a fellow member of MS-13’s ECS clique, were walking the streets of Chelsea when they encountered a group of rival gang members.  Ramires, who was armed, shot at one of the gang rivals and missed, killing a woman who was an innocent bystander who was looking out a nearby window of a room she shared with her three children.  Barillas was also charged and previously pleaded guilty to, among other things, providing Ramires with the gun.

Ramires also accepted responsibility for his role in a March 28, 2014, attempted murder of a rival gang member in Chelsea, and an April 9, 2014, armed robbery in Chelsea.

After a three-year investigation, Ramires was one of 61 persons named in a superseding indictment targeting the criminal activities of alleged leaders, members, and associates of MS-13 in Massachusetts. MS-13 is a violent transnational criminal organization whose branches or “cliques” operate throughout the United States, including in Massachusetts.

Ramires is the 22nd defendant to plead guilty in this case and will subject to deportation upon the completion of his sentence.  Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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Eastie MS-13 Leader Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison for RICO Conspiracy, Drug Trafficking,Possession of a Firearm

Eastie MS-13 Leader Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison for RICO Conspiracy, Drug Trafficking,Possession of a Firearm

The leader of MS-13’s East Boston Loco Salvatrucha clique was sentenced this week in federal court in Boston for RICO conspiracy involving an aggravated assault, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.

Santos Portillo Andrade, a/k/a “Flaco,” 33, a Salvadoran national residing in Revere, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV to 10 years in prison and four years of supervised release. He will also be subject to deportation hearings upon completion of his sentence. In June 2017, Portillo agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO conspiracy, and admitted responsibility for an aggravated assault on an individual he believed was a rival gang member in Malden in December 2008. Portillo also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin and 500 grams or more of cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.

After a three-year investigation, Portillo was one of 61 defendants named in a January 2016 superseding indictment targeting the criminal activities of alleged leaders, members, and associates of MS-13 in Massachusetts.  He is the 19th defendant to be sentenced in the case.

Portillo was the leader of the East Boston Loco Salvatrucha clique of MS-13.  According to court documents, MS-13 is a violent transnational criminal organization whose branches or “cliques” operate throughout the United States, including Massachusetts. MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence against rival gang members to gain promotions and maintain membership and discipline within the group. Specifically, MS-13 members are required to attack and murder rival gang members whenever possible.

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Improvements:City Awarded $1m Byrne Grant to Help Community Safety on Broadway

Improvements:City Awarded $1m Byrne Grant to Help Community Safety on Broadway

The City of Chelsea is pleased to announce that it was awarded a $1 million grant from the US Department of Justice to support community safety improvements.

Chelsea’s grant is just one of eight funded projects nationwide made in this fall’s Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation program. The grant leverages community, business, non-profit and city investments in support of greater public safety managed collaboratively through the Chelsea Thrives initiative.

Since mid-2014, when Chelsea Thrives was launched, community leaders have met on a regular basis to align resources in support of greater public safety. Led by an Executive Council with regular participation by 20 civic, business, and municipal leaders, Chelsea Thrives seeks to reduce crime by 30 percent over 10 years and to improve our community’s perception of safety. Since the initiative began, 1,500 residents and 70 institutions have participated, drawing from local and regional government and non- profit agencies and our area’s businesses. Key areas of focus are youth safety, coordination of services to prevent trauma and violence, infrastructure improvements in support of safety, and greater community engagement in support of a safe community.

“Unfortunately Chelsea has historically faced persistent crime problems,” reports City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “Chelsea Thrives had just started to focus on safety when I started my position as City Manager. Safety is a critical component of a vibrant community, every bit as important as quality and affordable homes, good jobs, and high performing schools. Chelsea is making progress with steady reductions in crime year over year since 2013. The support of US Department of Justice will bring us one step closer to our goal of a safe and thriving community.”

The grant’s timeline and activities are designed to dovetail with the City’s Downtown Initiative to create a more welcoming downtown experience. The first phase of the Downtown Initiative is now underway. The Re-Imagining Broadway participatory planning started in January 2017 with construction to occur in 2018-2019. Design goals for the city’s downtown infrastructure investments include improvements to pedestrian safety, public transportation hubs, and traffic flow and deterrence of crime and loitering. The resources made available through the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant will further leverage the value of this significant infrastructure investment by providing complementary policing, community revitalization, and social service supports.

In the first year of the grant, a criminologist from the University of Massachusetts Lowell will work with CPD and Chelsea Thrives partners to better understand Chelsea’s crime patterns and locations. With that information in hand, the researchers and community partners will identify appropriate community-based interventions to address crime hot-spots. Included in the grant’s planning phase is a review of ideas proposed by the Chelsea Thrives partners in the grant application, including supports for:

  • The Chamber of Commerce to promote the city’s façade improvement loan program plus technical assistance made available to downtown business and property owners to access and utilize the loans;
  • Downtown festivals and community activities based out of Bellingham and Chelsea Squares;
  • A Roca-led youth work crew to assist with the festivals and downtown improvement projects;
  • Downtown area safety walks and beautification activities managed by The Neighborhood Developers; and
  • Emergency assistance funds for use by the Chelsea Hub, managed by The Chelsea Collaborative.

“Receiving the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant award is a testament to the hard work of all of the community leaders and institutions that have dedicated time and energy to the collective work of Chelsea Thrives partnership over the last three years,” says Melissa Walsh, who leads Chelsea Thrives as part of her position at The Neighborhood Developers (TND). “This grant award will bring valuable resources to the City and other community partners in order to continue to make progress on addressing the social drivers of crime and making Chelsea a safer place for all.”

The new Department of Justice grant is the second $1 million investment secured on behalf of Chelsea Thrives from the US Department of Justice. The Safe and Secure Grant has just finished its one-year planning phase and will soon begin implementation to build community capacity for youth opportunity and safety. The Safe and Secure grant responds to the high volume of young people who have recently come to Chelsea from Central America who have experienced harrowing and traumatic journeys. Chelsea Public Schools, CPD, MGH Chelsea Health Care Center, The Chelsea Collaborative, The Neighborhood Developers, and Roca are collaborating to deliver trauma informed care, Overcoming Violence training for all 7th graders, trauma training at Lesley University for CPS teachers, case management and social service supports for at-risk youth, and parent leadership training.

The Chelsea Thrives Executive Council includes representatives from many city departments, residents, businesses and non-profits, including the City Manager, CPD’s Community Services Division, Chelsea Public Schools, People’s AME Church, Bunker Hill Community College, Chelsea Chamber, the Chelsea Collaborative, the Community Enhancement Team, East Cambridge Savings Bank, GreenRoots, Metro Credit Union, MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center, Phoenix Charter Academy, Roca, and The Neighborhood Developers. Monthly meetings are open to all who are able to regularly attend. For information on how to join, contact Melissa Walsh at The Neighborhood Developers at MWalsh@tndinc.org.

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Case Is a Reach:Plaza Mexico Attorney Says Police Only Have Speculation and Opinion

Case Is a Reach:Plaza Mexico Attorney Says Police Only Have Speculation and Opinion

There wasn’t much of an opportunity for supporters and attorneys for Plaza Mexico Restaurant to speak or give their side of the story at last week’s License Commission meeting – a meeting that aimed to discuss taking away the restaurant’s licenses – but the attorney this week spoke out about the evidence presented and said the case was a “reach.”

The License Commission began a hearing into Plaza Mexico at its meeting on May 5, but a lengthy police presentation using videos and focusing on reports going back to 2013 took up most all of the three-hour meeting. That meeting was continued, and a follow up has been scheduled for this Tuesday, May 19.

Plaza Mexico attorney Sam Vitali of Lynn said he plans to mount a vigorous defense of the video evidence and also provide numerous supporters and witnesses to testify.

Police are aiming to strip the restaurant of its licenses, saying that it has impeded investigations and should have been more aware and vigilant concerning drug dealing going on in the restaurant.

“What we saw on the tapes is a very serious matter, but it’s not a question of whether it’s a pattern of activity over a period of time,” said Vitali. “It’s people who got arrested for distributing drugs, who made serious attempts of disposing of those drugs. They were not dealing drugs right out there in the open. It’s not like a drug dealer was going around in the open and you’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know…The tapes don’t show that. The police have speculation and opinion, but not fact.”

Tapes shown at the May 5 meeting detailed a one-hour snippet of events on Dec. 23, 2013 where one man who was convicted of drug dealing, and another man who has been charged but not convicted, are seen allegedly hanging out in the restaurant. They never really ordered much in the way of food or drink, but did go to the bathroom several times and are seen on camera going out to the back parking lot to allegedly deal drugs on several occasions.

At the same time, another man parked in a car in the parking lot was also dealing drugs and was arrested by happenstance on the same night when police came in to inspect the club’s licenses.

Police said the manager and bar maid, both of whom are seen on the video playing pool or cleaning up, should have been aware of the criminal activity. They point to licensing rules that state anyone going outside frequently or to the bathroom frequently should be flagged by management.

Vitali said the claims are unrealistic.

“They have come to this conclusion after an 18-month investigation that included watching 16 hours of tape from 16 different cameras,” said Vitali. “With the benefit of hindsight and having spent more than a year looking at the evidence, they were able to make these conclusions…Drug dealers don’t come in with a scarlet letter on them saying, ‘I’m on probation and I’ve got drugs on me.’ It’s an unrealistic expectation to me to have the employees act as police officers. They cooperated, gave information and provided tape. At the end of the day, the employees weren’t schooled in how to spot a drug transaction or didn’t see drug transactions. The rules and regulations don’t require a manager to act as a police officer.”

Vitali said he plans to cross examine several of the police officers at the May 19 meeting. He will also call the barmaid and the manager who are shown on the tape. Also, the head of the area neighborhood association will testify in favor of the Plaza Mexico ownership.

“I don’t think he would do that, representing all of those people, if he had any information to bring forward that showed the restaurant in a bad light,” said Vitali.

Finally, one large and looming question, is why the police decided to push right now to strip the licenses.

Police have said that an incident earlier this year where a juvenile was stabbed in the restaurant was the impetus, but Vitali said he has his doubts – and that case isn’t even being considered in the hearing due to an ongoing Grand Jury investigation.

“Why have they brought up all of these cases going so far back after such a long period of time?” he asked. “At the end of 2013, they approved their license without comment and at the end of 2014 they approved the license again. It seems to me it’s a little late to the dance to bring in an event that happened in 2013 and use it to say I’m improper.”

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Time for Colleges and Universities to Lead

Time for Colleges and Universities to Lead

Campus sexual violence has been the subject of an intense national conversation recently, but that dialogue often lacks critical input from schools that are already taking steps to improve their campus climates. Colleges and universities, it’s time for you to lead on this issue.

So far, and with good reason, most of the attention has focused on schools that are under investigation for violating federal laws about sexual violence and on the survivors bravely sharing their stories and calling for action. Yet there are a number of schools that are working hard to address these challenges and to make real progress on this issue, and we need to hear from schools that are prioritizing prevention, response, and transparency and including students and survivors in all related initiatives on campus.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so it’s a good time for schools to talk about how to meet their responsibilities to students. Rampant sexual violence creates a campus climate that is hostile to students, and students can’t learn when they aren’t safe. Because campus sexual assault happens everywhere, everyone benefits when schools worry less about public relations and more about making campuses safe. Part of the solution is for schools to create an environment where students feel comfortable reporting sexual violence.

Schools can also lead by understanding and complying with Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prevents sex discrimination in federally funded education programs. Unfortunately, under the scrutiny of the national spotlight, some schools have criticized or even blamed the law for problems on campus. But Title IX is not the reason schools mishandle campus sexual assaults. Smart schools recognize that it is their all-important guide for upholding students’ civil rights in campus proceedings and preventing future violence on campus. Title IX works, and it must be protected.

Title IX requires schools to have a role in addressing sexual violence because they are best equipped to provide accommodations such as class schedule or housing changes, critical pieces of the sexual assault response that survivors may need to be able to complete their education. Schools must also figure out in an administrative setting what occurred and then handle it according to their established codes of student conduct, anti-discrimination policies, and federal civil rights law.

These responsibilities under Title IX do not require schools to serve as police officers, prosecutors, or judges. Schools do not decide whether a felony or misdemeanor occurred for purposes of prosecution, and they cannot make plea agreements or impose criminal punishments. Those roles are, appropriately, left to the criminal justice system and can take place simultaneously if the survivor chooses to involve law enforcement. Title IX guidance clearly delineates between schools’ role and law enforcement’s role.

If school officials truly don’t see how these separate paths can work together, many helpful resources are available through the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice and online at notalone.gov.

The current national dialogue will be more productive if institutional leaders join the conversation — along with survivors, advocates, and policy makers — and help end the epidemic of campus sexual violence. Many schools are missing the chance not only to keep students safe but also to impress on students, faculty, prospective students, and parents that their institution is part of the solution. In the coming months, we expect to have the opportunity to highlight and learn from schools that are proactively addressing campus sexual assault and embracing Title IX. We look forward to hearing from them.

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Lisa M. Maatz is Vice President for Government Relations at American Association of University Women

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