Afternoon Briefs: James Comey's daughter prosecutes Epstein; cop accused of planting drugs in cars
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• A daughter of former FBI Director James Comey is one of the lead prosecutors in the federal sex trafficking case against billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. Maurene Comey is an assistant U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton were both acquaintances of Epstein, leading some conspiracy theorists to assert that Maurene Comey hopes to exonerate Clinton or harm Trump’s reputation. (Business Insider)
• A fired Florida sheriff’s deputy is accused of planting methamphetamine and marijuana in cars while pretending to search for contraband. Zachary Wester was charged Wednesday with several crimes, including racketeering, false imprisonment and fabricating evidence. When reporters asked State Attorney William “Bill” Eddins for a motive, he replied, “You’re never certain of what lies in the heart of man.” (The Washington Post, the Tallahassee Democrat, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement)
• A federal appeals court has ruled that county commissioners in Brevard County in Florida used a discriminatory process to select people to deliver opening prayers at its meetings. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta said the board violated the establishment clause when it excluded religions it considered outside the mainstream. (Florida Today via How Appealing, 11th Circuit)
• A federal judge in Baltimore has ruled that a roadside zoo in Maryland violated the Endangered Species Act by providing poor care to a tiger that later died. U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis said the Tri-State Zoological Park hired a newbie veterinarian whose “primary source for learning about big cat feeding practices went no further than watching documentaries aired on Animal Planet.” (Courthouse News Service, Maryland District Court)
• Drilling companies that own mineral rights beneath land occupied by people who own the surface are citing a West Virginia law allowing them to do what is “reasonably necessary” to obtain the natural gas they seek. In the case of landowners Beth Crowder and David Wentz, a company cleared trees, built a road and well pad, and trucked almost 11 million gallons of water to the site. Crowder and Wentz sued and won because the drilling company was using their land to drill into minerals under neighboring properties. (The Charleston Gazette-Mail and ProPublica)
• The U.S. Department of Justice has announced a new tool that gives tribal governments the ability to directly input data and gain access to the FBI’s National Sex Offender Registry system. (U.S. Department of Justice)