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Deputy shot, killed in Maine; suspect at large

Authorities are searching for a man believed to have shot and killed a sheriff's deputy in Maine early Wednesday.

>> Read more trending news

‘Welcome home’: Meek Mill attends Philadelphia 76ers game after prison release

Hours after it was announced he would be released from prison, rapper Meek Mill attended Game 5 of the NBA playoffs between the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat.

“Welcome home Meek Mill,” the public announcer said at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, The Associated Press reported. Cheers erupted from the crowd and Meek walked out onto the court to ring a Liberty bell Replica with fellow Philadelphian Kevin Hart. The comedian and 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin had visited Meek in prison earlier Tuesday, hours before his release.

>> Read more trending news 

“Mill being here tonight was amazing, but him being here tonight was bigger than the Sixers,” Hart told WPVI after the game. “It was more about getting out, beating something that was incorrect and now having the opportunity to stand in front of that incorrection and correct it. It's about saying, OK guys, look, in the system that we have today in Philadelphia and everywhere else there’s a lot of injustice, and now we have the opportunity to poke holes in that injustice and shine a light on it and hopefully correct it. I think he’s going to take full advantage of his opportunity, his platform, the pedestal that he stands on, and really draw more attention to it and hopefully make other people look at it in a way that we can start to change it.”

Related: Rapper Meek Mill released from prison after 5 months

Hart added that Meek, whose birth name is Robert Rihmeek Williams, was at the game with his son, 7-year-old Papi.

“I’m glad that my friend, my brother got out tonight. More importantly, he got to be with his family -- his son,” Hart said. “His son was there on the sideline with him. So the Sixers winning is a great moment, it's a highlight. For him, his son, that's the best thing about today. As soon as he got out, the first thing he did was call his son. ‘Get him here. Get him down here.’ They flew him straight to the game. He got his son there. His family, his mother. That’s ultimately what it’s about.”

In a statement issued after his release was announced, Meek said that he would use his platform to bring attention to people of color in the justice system. The 30-year-old rapper served five months in prison for violating probation on a drug and weapons conviction when he was 21. His release was celebrated by not only Hart and many in Philadelphia, but celebrities like JAY-Z -- who initially criticized Meek’s sentencing -- Rihanna, T.I., Rick Ross and QuestLove

“Today, Meek Mill, a son of Philadelphia, is a free man,” JAY-Z said in a statement Tuesday. “He was incarcerated unjustly and caught in a probation trap for years by a broken system. Now we can celebrate his release. We thank every individual that has supported and fought alongside Meek every step of the way.”

The 76ers won 104-91 against The Heat.

FDA launches crackdown on Juul e-cigarettes, vaping retailers

The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on the vaping industry, particularly on the devices being marketed towards teenagers.

The federal agency launched an undercover sting operation this month targeting retailers of Juul devices. It included gas stations, convenience stores and online retailers -- accusing them of selling products to minors.

The FDA says that electronic cigarettes have become widely popular with kids.

So far, the agency has issued warning letters to 40 retailers it says violated the law preventing sales of vaping devices to anyone under 21.

>> Read more trending news 

The agency also demanded that Juul Labs turn over company documents about the marketing and research behind its products.

MORE: Doctor warns parents of dangers of Juul e-cigarettes

Those documents include reports on focus groups and toxicology, to determine whether Juul Labs is intentionally appealing to a particular market.

Nicknamed the iPhone of e-cigarettes, Juul devices resemble thumb drives and produce a small plume and smell like fruit or other flavorings.

Some say the smell is so concealable, students can even vape in class without it being noticed.

In a statement, Juul Labs said it agreed with the FDA, saying illegal sales of the company's product to minors is unacceptable.

The company says it is working with the FDA, lawmakers and parents to combat underage vaping.

Meanwhile, the FDA says it plans to issue similar letters to other manufacturers of popular vaping products.

MORE: Growing concern about 'Juuling' among teens in local schools

A movie, popcorn and a drink for $10? Tuesday AMC deal is making it happen

Going to the movies is an expensive night out for many.

But now, AMC is offering a special deal every Tuesday.

Its $5 Ticket Tuesday deal that was initially only supposed to last a limited time will now be permanent.

>> Read more trending news 

So, how does it work?

  • AMC Stubs members can purchase a $5 movie ticket at any AMC, AMC CLASSIC or AMC DINE-IN location (or online) each Tuesday.
  • They can also indulge in the $5 Cameo Combo Tuesday deal: get a small popcorn and a small drink.

It’s free to join, and members get to enjoy other perks such as collecting points for discounts and free popcorn refills.

Find the nearest AMC theatre near you or view our map below.

‘Safety alert’ Facebook post an example of good intentions gone awry

In the age of social media alerts, viral Facebook posts and public shaming, something occurred in our own backyards last week that can serve as an example to everyone: What you see on social media rarely tells the entire story. Take it with a grain of salt.

I first saw this Facebook post Thursday afternoon in a group for Wellington moms.

“SAFETY ALERT!!!” it began. “Ladies, my husband just had a panicked woman with a small child walk into his RPB (Royal Palm Beach) restaurant to tell him the man who walked in behind her followed her from the Buy Buy Baby parking lot. He was watching her and didn’t order anything for a while until he noticed people watching him. He continued to order a (to-go order) and then sat one table away from the woman. The police were called and asked the man to leave. They told my husband that there have been several attempted child abductions in the area of Wellington and Lake Worth lately. They are targeting women who are by themselves with their kids and then kidnapping their children! Please, please be vigilant especially when you are by yourself! If you feel uneasy, it’s probably for a reason! Make a scene and ask for forgiveness later bc it’s better to be safe than sorry!! Stay safe everyone!!”

I’m not a mom yet but I am a mom-to-be, and this had me shaken. Not just as a woman but as a woman who has been assaulted, I felt for this mother concerned for her child in a place where we should be safe: a local restaurant.

My first instinct as a reporter was to reach out to the woman who made the post. She replied politely and said her husband would be in touch with me soon. She also confirmed the restaurant: Bolay.

Then I contacted the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to ask about the post’s claim of an increase in kidnapping attempts in our area. The response surprised me.

>> Read more trending news 

The PBSO districts that include Royal Palm Beach and unincorporated Wellington and Lake Worth did not report increased kidnapping attempts or reports of suspicious people, a spokeswoman said.

I paused. Should I continue pursuing the story? I decided to wait until I heard from the restaurant’s manager.

Meanwhile, the post had been shared thousands of times. Hundreds of people reacted. And in that time, Brian Pollack saw the post.

Pollack, 33, grew up in Wellington and recently moved to Loxahatchee. He has been married for 10 years and has two sons aged 8 and 6. He has coached baseball at the Willows in Royal Palm Beach for six years, and he’s a captain with Delray Beach Fire Rescue.

He also happens to be the man referred to in the post.

“When I read the post I thought, let me just head this off,” Pollack said. “I mean, what are the odds that this is the same situation?”

So he took to Facebook himself, typing out his side of what happened last Thursday at the Royal Palm Beach Bolay.

Pollack drove to the restaurant down State Road 7 from his unit at CubeSmart Self Storage on Belvedere Road, around the corner from the Buy Buy Baby plaza. He went to Bolay to get lunch for himself and dinner for his wife and sons. It was his first time ordering there. When he arrived, he said he sat inside for awhile before placing his to-go order because his wife had not yet replied with her order. After the food was ready, he ate his meal before leaving to pick up his sons from school.

As he left the restaurant, Pollack said he was stopped by two PBSO deputies who pulled him aside and asked him what was going on. The deputies did not ask Pollack for identification and did not take down his name, Pollack said. He explained he was picking up dinner.

“They did it properly,” he told me. “They pulled me to the side and said, ‘What happened?’ They raised no concern of me doing anything.”

The deputies did not file a report on the incident. According to dispatch logs, a woman in a gray tank top with a child told the Bolay manager that a man with a green T-shirt and black shorts was following her. When deputies arrived, they talked with the man — Pollack, whose name is not mentioned in the log. The “event comment” says the subject come to Bolay to eat and never made contact with the woman at any time.

Pollack said in writing his responses to the many Facebook posts, he thought about one thing: What would happen if someone had taken a photo of him and sent it to his chief at Delray Fire Rescue?

“I told some of my friends about it and they said, ‘That was you? Oh my God, we were talking about that for a few days,’” Pollack said.

He’s not upset with the woman who was concerned and reported him to Bolay employees. As a first responder, Pollack said he understands what she did in reaching out for help, and he’s glad she did so.

“I can’t fault the woman who feels scared,” he said. “I’m a father of two. But I can fault the person who’s spreading erroneous information.”

I once again contacted the woman who originally posted on Facebook. She and her husband declined to comment for this article. I have not been able to find the woman who thought Pollack was following her.

Pollack said he plans to reach out to Bolay to hopefully clear up any confusion. The original post since has been deleted, but copies remain on Facebook.

“This is where these groups are great, because you share this information immediately,” Pollack said. “But what are we sharing, and at what expense?”

Parents say North Carolina teacher played offensive song in class

Parents in Cleveland County said a teacher at Washington Elementary in Shelby forced students to listen to an offensive song last week.

The song "O’Susanna" is well known by most people and no one probably would have paid attention if the teacher played a modern version. But, she played the original version, which is about slavery.

“It was very offensive and uncomfortable,” student Harmony Washington told WSOC.

The 9th grader said she was in the class at Washington Elementary School when the song was played last week.

“I thought it was just coming toward people my color in the room,” she said.

The lyrics in the song mention a racial slur and killing black people.

>> Read more trending news 

Washington and others told their parents and their pastor at Washington Missionary Baptist Church right next door. Pastor Melvin Clark said he was stunned by the lyrics.

Clark said the teacher played the song for multiple classes that day. She warned the students about the language before playing the song but Clark said that is no excuse.

“Why would you even consider this knowing that these words was in this song?” he asked.

Clark heard that the teacher was suspended, but he said that’s not enough. He has a meeting with the superintendent this week and will demand the teacher's termination.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH WSOC’S REPORT (WARNING: OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE)

“There should be nobody wanting a teacher with that mentality teaching in the classroom,” he said.

School board Vice Chairman Richard Hooker said administrators have already taken strong action. He opposes termination but said the teacher may be moved out of this school. He wants sensitivity training for all educators.

“It will be a learning opportunity for us to continue to move beyond,” he said.

Clark said moving the teacher won’t solve the problem, and he and others will keep pushing until she is no longer teaching.

Police: Man saws through front door of home with chainsaw, attacks 2 people

A man armed with a running chainsaw sawed through the back door of a home in Hopewell Township, Pennsylvania, to go after two people, police said.

Eugene Bryant thought the two people were his ex-girlfriend and her current boyfriend, police said.

>> Read more trending news 

Police said Bryant pulled up to the house, got out of his car and started cranking the chainsaw as he walked toward the house. Police said he got through the door, but the man inside wasn't the current boyfriend.

He was just a contractor doing repairs in the home, police said.

After the contractor wrestled the chainsaw away from Bryant, police said, Bryant took off. No one was injured.

Police said Bryant turned himself in a few hours later.

Father reports son after teen admits to 250 car break-ins

A Houston father took a stand against crime and turned in his own son after the 18-year-old admitted that he broke into hundreds of cars and stole guns.

T. Daniels was speaking to his son Christian when the younger Daniels showed him a bag with a 9mm handgun inside, KTRK reported. His son showed him paperwork that allegedly went with the gun, and what was written on it surprised the father.

>> Read more trending news 

“He put the camera closer to the paperwork and it said Houston Police Department. So, that really kind of ticked me off for him to even have a gun, and then you’re going to steal one from a police officer, at that,” Daniels told KTRK.

Christian told his father that he broke into a car and took the bag that contained police gear, according to court documents. The records also said that he told his father that he broke in to 250 other cars over a week, targeting jogging areas, malls and other parking lots, KTRK reported.

Daniels said it felt like it was his duty to report his son to police, who was charged with theft of a firearm and unlawful carrying of a weapon, KTRK reported.

WATCH: Woman pulls gun on would-be robber, saves husband, family says

Police in Memphis, Tennessee, are searching for a man who allegedly attempted a robbery outside a Whitehaven home in broad daylight.

>> Watch the news report here

A surveillance camera captured the weekend incident.

>> Watch the surveillance footage here

One of the victims, who asked not to be identified, told WHBQ that his niece, who was visiting from Florida, took his gun and scared off the bold criminal after she saw that her husband was in trouble.

“She’s bold," he said. "She ain’t scared of nothing.”

In the video, the suspect has his right hand in his waist band as he stands behind the woman's husband. The victims said the man’s hand was on a gun.

Memphis police said Sunday afternoon the man in the blue jacket came to the Whitehaven home and asked to use one of the victims’ phones and then asked for a ride.

>> Read more trending news 

While the incident was unfolding outside the house, the woman and her uncle reportedly were inside the house.

Police said that after the woman saw her husband in trouble, she came out the front door with a gun and fired a warning shot.

The uncle told WHBQ: “She said she didn’t want to kill him, but when he fired back at us after she fired the warning shot, she said she was trying to hit him then but didn’t.”

Memphis police told WHBQ that the suspect ran toward the back of the house before getting away.

Police said they are reviewing this surveillance video to get a positive ID on the suspect. If you have any information on who that suspect may be, call CrimeStoppers at 901-528-CASH.

Read more here.

Group of motorcyclists stop traffic, help stranded woman

A group of motorcyclists are being praised for doing a good deed.

Eduardo Plascenia, Patrick Patterson and Damon Pruit were on a ride Sunday afternoon when they noticed that a woman was stranded in a crosswalk. Traffic wouldn’t stop, or slow down, for her to cross, KNXV reported

>> Read more trending news 

The trio turned around and used their bikes to block traffic, making sure the woman could cross the street safely, before she gave a wave as the riders rode off.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news 

“She thanked us adamantly. She waved at us and thanked us. She had stopped shaking and had extended her hand to Eduardo and Damon and I behind her,” Patterson told KNXV.

Longest nonstop flight ready to take off

What’s the longest nonstop flight you’ve been on? Maybe a five-hour trip between Los Angeles and Hawaii? Or maybe it’s a flight between New York and London that’s more than 7 hours.

Whatever the time is, the trips have nothing on Singapore’s newest flight.

Thanks to the Airbus A350-900ULR that’s being produced, the airline is planning on offering a nonstop flight between New York and Singapore that will last nearly 20 hours in the air, CNN reported.

>> Read more trending news 

The ultra long-range plane had its first test flight Monday with a nearly five-hour round-trip from an assembly plant in Toulouse, France.

Singapore Airlines ordered seven of the new planes that replace the A340-500 that the airlines grounded in 2013, CNN reported.

The plane offers high ceilings and LED lighting and promises low noise level, CNN reported.

NYC subway seat fight ends with dog biting woman

An argument over a dog and a metro seat escalated until the dog bit the foot of the woman and wouldn’t let go.

It happened on Friday on a crowded No. 4 train on New York City’s subway, WNBC reported

>> Read more trending news 

Eyewitnesses say a man brought the dog onto the train and had his animal sit in a seat, WABC reported. The dog bumped into the woman, who was not happy that an animal was sitting in the seats. Eyewitnesses say she asked the man to move his dog, but the man refused. Witnesses said she shoved the dog from the seats, and the owner had the dog jump back up. She shoved the dog again before witnesses said the man punched her. The two started fighting. Then, witnesses said, the dog bit the woman’s foot, WABC reported.

People on the train screamed at the pair, “Get the dog off her,” but the dog would not let go until she removed her shoe, WNBC reported

The man and the dog left the train at Wall Street.

Witnesses said the woman appeared to be OK, WNBC reported.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority said that non-service animals should be in a carrier. The video has been given to the NYPD, the New York Post reported.

Photos: Jennifer Lopez, other honorees walk Time 100 Gala red carpet

Jennifer Lopez and other stars attended the Time 100 Gala celebrating the 100 most influential people in the world at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 24, 2018, in New York.

Delta passenger with multiple sclerosis says airline employees tied her to wheelchair

A woman with multiple sclerosis says Delta Air Lines employees tied her to her wheelchair because she can’t sit up on her own and they didn’t have the chair she needed.

>> Watch the news report here

Maria Saliagas travels to Europe with her husband every year. When she was diagnosed with MS five years ago, she didn’t want to break her tradition of traveling with her husband.

>> Southwest Airlines cancels dozens of flights amid inspections after deadly engine failure

She said Delta normally accommodates her by making sure staff members have a proper wheelchair that has straps to help her sit up straight.

When she flew out of Atlanta on April 1 and arrived in Amsterdam, Delta didn’t have a chair with straps, so employees tied her to a regular wheelchair with someone else’s blanket, said her son, Nathan Saliagas.

>> Memorial service held for woman killed during Southwest Airlines flight

“They took a dirty blanket and tied her forcefully with it, and she has bruise marks on part of her arm because it was so tight and she started crying. That’s when that picture was taken,” Saliagas said.

A Delta representative sent WSB-TV a statement about the incident, saying: 

“We regret the perception our service has left on these customers. We have reached out to them, not only to resolve their concerns, but also ensure that their return flight exceeds expectations.”

>> Read more trending news 

The family returns to Atlanta on April 30.

When the family complained to Delta, they said the airline offered them 20,000 free SkyMiles, but they said that's not enough. 

They want to see a policy change regarding how Delta handles passengers with disabilities.

Photos: President Trump, Melania host 1st White House state dinner

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania hosted their first White House state dinner, welcoming French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte.

WATCH: Car thieves abduct 6-year-old from day care parking lot

A 6-year-old child was abducted early Tuesday after two car thefts at a Georgia day care, authorities said. 

>> Watch the video here

About five minutes after the car thefts, the child was seen on surveillance video walking back to the Childcare Network Daycare, Clayton County police Sgt. Ashanti Marbury said. It’s not known where he was abandoned. 

Three men are sought in connection with the crimes at the day care, located in the 6000 block of Fayetteville Road in Riverdale, police said. 

About 7:25 a.m., Clayton County police were called to the day care in reference to two stolen vehicles left running and unattended. 

Surveillance video showed a silver Nissan Altima parking next to a gray 2016 Chrysler 300. A man in the front passenger seat of the Nissan jumped into the Chrysler’s front passenger seat. Moments later, the Chrysler drove away. 

Not long after the theft, the Nissan drove to another location in the day care parking lot and made an abrupt stop at a white 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe, Clayton County police said. The Hyundai, which had a 6-year-old inside, was also left running and unattended.

A person in the back seat of the Nissan hopped out, got into the Hyundai and sped away, police said. 

>> Read more trending news 

In under a minute, all three cars were seen on surveillance video leaving the day care parking lot. 

Shortly after, the child was seen walking back to the day care and was reunited with his mom. He was not injured. 

Police later found the Hyundai Santa Fe at the intersection of East Faytetteville Road and Evans Drive — less than a mile from the day care. The Chrysler 300 has not been found

Earlier this year, Clayton County police rescued two girls after someone stole an SUV with them inside from a gas station. A baby and her 4-year-old sister were dumped on the side of the road miles apart in freezing temperatures. Authorities arrested Khyree Swift and a 16-year-old in connection with the crime. 

Anyone who may have information on Tuesday’s case or the identity of the suspects is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 404-577-8477. 

Rapper ‘Ralo’ flew drugs across U.S., sold them from apartments he rented, police say

An Atlanta rapper, accused of running a cross-country drug operation, was denied bond Tuesday, according to WSB-TV. 

>> Read more trending news    

Terrell Davis, known by his stage name “Ralo,” faces a federal charge of possession with intent to distribute. Authorities allege Davis sold drugs from several apartment units he rents in Atlanta dubbed “Ralo’s Hood,” WSB reported. Davis and eight of his associates, believed to be part of his purported gang Famerica, are named in an 11-page criminal complaint. 

The complaint states Davis and his acquaintances traveled to California twice to retrieve 964 pounds of marijuana — worth nearly $2 million — with the intention of selling it in Atlanta. Davis was arrested April 15 at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport after he initially refused to leave the aircraft, authorities said. 

>> Related: Feds: Famous rapper Terrell “Ralo” Davis caught flying into Atlanta with nearly $1M worth of pot

Following Davis’ arrest, federal authorities raided three separate locations in southwest Atlanta allegedly connected to the case. 

According to the affidavit, Davis and roughly 10 people boarded a Dec. 18 chartered jet from the Fulton County Airport to Sacramento, Calif. Four days later, the group returned to the Fulton airport, where federal and local surveillance teams saw Davis and the other passengers transfer 37 packages wrapped in white holiday paper from the jet to an Econoline van, which was registered to Davis’ southwest Atlanta address. 

An employee with the charter company offered to help unload, but the passengers declined, the affidavit said. 

Shortly after the van was loaded, the Georgia State Patrol arrested three men wearing “RaloFamgoon” attire inside the vehicle, which was spotted driving in the dark without lights on, according to the complaint. Authorities said they found 520 pounds of marijuana worth $1 million in the van. 

>> Related: Federal raid at Atlanta apartment tied to rapper’s arrest, officials say

A day after those arrests, Davis posted a picture of himself by a swimming pool with the caption: “I’ve lost more than a man have gained in a lifetime ... have you ever lost a million dollars at one time???” A week after the post, authorities said they received a passenger list from the flight and connected Davis to the men

Four months after the shipment, federal officials were notified Davis and eight others traveled to Northern California again. This time they allegedly transported 17 packages containing marijuana weighing 444 pounds back to DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, according to the affidavit. 

The packages, worth $880,000, were loaded onto a Chrysler 300. Not long after the car left the airport, the GSP stopped it and federal authorities took eight people into custody. 

Davis, who remained on the plane, initially refused to comply with authorities’ commands. He later exited the aircraft, which allegedly smelled of marijuana, when police dogs were brought in to assist. 

>> Related: Rapper Meek Mill released from prison after 5 months

One of Davis’ supporters, Kalya Freeman, told WSB that despite the allegations, Davis often gave back to the community: “He’s a good person. He supports what we do. He supports everybody.”

Atlanta’s ex-mayor Kasim Reed doles out $500k in bonuses, gifts on way out

Just days before former Mayor Kasim Reed left office, his administration showered select city employees with more than $518,000 in bonuses, and gifts that were presented during an “executive holiday party” at City Hall.

>> Read more trending news 

The spending spree has left the police union outraged, taxpayers fuming and council members questioning its legality.

During his last days in power, Reed awarded at least $350,000 in bonuses to his senior staff; ordered $42,500 in checks to the eight members of his security detail; gave away $36,000 by drawing names out of a hat during a holiday party raffle in December; and awarded $31,000 to lip sync and ugly sweater contest winners, also at the party.

But none of the holiday giving came out of Reed’s wallet — it all belonged to city taxpayers.

And that’s not the full extent of the spending.

>> Related: See who got bonuses from former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed

Former human resources commissioner Yvonne Yancy handed out an additional $57,500 in bonuses to 11 members of her staff just days before she left City Hall for the private sector, on Dec. 31.

In response to questions from the AJC, Reed issued a three-paragraph statement.

“Rewarding employees for service and performance is not new and has been common practice in the City of Atlanta,” says the statement, issued through Reed’s spokesman. “These bonuses were appropriate and Mayor Reed believes that the individuals who received the bonuses were worthy of them based upon their contributions to the City of Atlanta’s unprecedented growth and fiscal stability.”

Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore called the spending “disgusting” and “illegal.”

“It just reminded me of someone having money and throwing it in the air and letting everybody catch it,” Moore said. “It’s just unconscionable. Let’s just make it clear: It’s not legal to do this. Just make it point-blank clear. He had absolutely, positively no authority to issue any of that to anybody under any circumstance,” she said.

“The mayor can only do what is authorized by the council. He did not go through the proper channels,” Moore added.

Moore pointed to a city ordinance that prohibits increasing “the salaries or other remuneration in any form of any officer or employee of the city during the fiscal year, except by ordinance” approved by the City Council.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, whose campaign was endorsed by Reed, did not respond to the AJC’s questions about the appropriateness of using taxpayer money for contests and raffles. She also declined to respond when asked if the bonuses were appropriate and whether she would award them at the end of the year.

“Decisions around the bonuses were made without input from the current administration,” the statement said. “However, Mayor Bottoms will continue to carefully evaluate best practices, prioritizing ways in which city business can be conducted in a transparent and responsible manner.”

‘A bunch of questions here’

The city’s code stipulates several circumstances under which employees may receive bonuses.

Police officers can receive retention bonuses of $3,000 after 5 years of service. Some employees can receive 2-percent bonuses for being bilingual or by earning a special certification. The city also provides longevity bonuses up to $750 for employees who have been with the city for 25 years or more.

City ordinances do not appear to authorize payments or bonuses of arbitrary amounts for unspecified reasons.

“There are a bunch of questions here,” said Councilman Howard Shook, who chairs the City Council’s Finance/Executive Committee. “I couldn’t think of a worse time to dole out bonuses of this nature from a political perspective. Everything is so unsettled. Morale is so low. Everyone is waiting for the next piece of bad news.

“Obviously, we are all now going to contemplate what guardrails need to be put around this process,” Shook said.

The Georgia State Constitution’s gratuities clause prohibits public agencies from granting donations, gratuities and “extra compensation to any public officer, agent, or contractor after the service has been rendered or the contract entered into.”

An unofficial opinion from the Georgia Attorney General in 2002 dealt with whether public hospital authorities could offer prospective employees signing bonuses. It said they could “if the authority receives a substantial benefit in exchange for the signing bonus.”

>> Related: See the unofficial opinion from 2002 here

Georgia State Rep. Chuck Martin, a Republican, and chairman of the state house’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee, said the gratuities clause generally prohibits taxpayer money from being spent without taxpayers receiving something in return.

“If those types of bonuses hadn’t been done previously, it would seem to me to call into question the reason for them here,” said Martin, a former Mayor of Alpharetta. “If I was a taxpayer in Atlanta, I would certainly wonder: Wouldn’t that half-a-million dollars been better spent recruiting people to work for me in 2018 and beyond?”

Reed did not address the AJC’s questions about whether metrics were used to determine the amounts of bonuses; nor did he say what the city would receive in return for giving the bonuses.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Carr did not respond to an email about whether the gratuities clause applied to the City of Atlanta’s recent bonuses. Shook said he couldn’t recall similar payouts during his 16 years on the City Council.

Read more here.

Prince’s family sues Illinois hospital, Walgreens in singer’s overdose death

Members of Prince’s family have filed a lawsuit against an Illinois hospital and the Walgreens pharmacy chain, contending both could have done more to prevent the legendary entertainer’s opioid overdose death in April 2016, according to news reports.

>> Read more trending news 

The suit follows a decision made last week by the Carver County Attorney Mark Metz against filing charges in the superstar singer’s death. Following a two-year investigation, Metz, of Carver County, Minnesota, announced Thursday that “Prince died from taking a counterfeit Vicodin pill that contained fentanyl, a dangerously powerful opioid,” but that investigators could not determine who sold the “Purple Rain” singer the pill. Authorities fined the doctor who prescribed Prince painkillers in a friend’s name.

A week before Prince died, he was treated at Trinity Medical Center in Rock Island, Illinois for an overdose. His plane made an emergency landing in Moline after he had played a show in Atlanta, and he was briefly hospitalized after overdosing on the plane.

>> Related: Music legend Prince dead at 57

The suit by the six heirs to Prince’s fortune accuses the doctor who examined the entertainer of misidentifying the pain pill the singer took before his overdose as a Vicodin, when it was instead a counterfeit laced with fentanyl, the Minneapolis Tribune reported. The suit also accuses the hospital of failing to appropriately identify and treat the overdose.

In addition, the suit names Walgreens because it gave prescriptions meant for Prince to his longtime friend and manager Kirk Johnson. 

“We will have much to say when the time is right,” the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of the family, John Goetz, told the Star Tribune

“We have client interests to protect at the moment, including our theory of the case. What happened to Prince is happening to families across America. Prince’s family wishes, through its investigation, to shed additional light on what happened to Prince,” Goetz said.

>> Related: Prince’s doctor fined for drug violations in singer’s death

Prince was 57 when he died on April 21, 2016, at his Paisley Park home of an accidental overdose, six days after the overdose on the plane. 

 

Study: Even mild head injuries increase risk of Parkinson's disease

Even mild head injuries dramatically increase an individual's risk of developing Parkinson's disease, according to a new large-scale study on veterans.

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The new research, published this month in the academic journal Neurology, looked at data collected from 325,870 former members of the U.S. military ranging from 31 to 65 years of age. Researchers discovered that individuals who experienced a concussion at some point during their lives were 56 percent more likely to develop Parkinson's disease than those who had never been knocked out, had not experienced an altered state of consciousness or had not had amnesia for up to 24 hours.

More severe brain trauma made the risk of contracting the disease later in life even more likely. Veterans with a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury saw an 83 percent increased risk.

"This is not the first study to show that even mild traumatic brain injury increases the risk for Parkinson's disease. But we were able to study every single veteran across the U.S. who had been diagnosed at a Veterans Affairs hospital, so this is the highest level of evidence we have so far that this association is real," Dr. Raquel Gardner, the study's lead author, who works for the San Francisco Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, told Reuters.

Kristine Yaffe, another author of the study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the VA, said that most of the former soldiers who were diagnosed with Parkinson's actually got their head injuries during civilian life.

"While the participants had all served in the active military, many if not most of the traumatic brain injuries had been acquired during civilian life," she explained. 

But overall, the number of veterans who were diagnosed with Parkinson's was quite small. Only one in 212 veterans who had experienced a concussion developed the disease. The rate was slightly higher, at one in 134 among those who reported a more serious moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Michael Silver, an assistant professor at Emory University's Department of Neurology who was not involved in the research, called the data "robust."

"This has been a controversial issue but most studies that have looked at this have found a correlation between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the subsequent development of Parkinson's disease. This is of course a difficult topic to study since if you would like to start with a cohort of patients that have suffered TBI, you have to wait and track a subject for years," Silver said.

"With this robust VA data, specifically the fact that the system reliably codes for TBIs, we are able to put the pieces together years later," he said.

Although Silver said the study was well done and controlled for many factors, he suggested a longer follow-up on patients would have made the research more helpful.

"I would have liked a longer follow-up on the subjects since the average age was only 48, and the usual age of onset for Parkinson's disease is in the sixties," he said. "This is an intriguing study and as we gather more data going forward, can make more conclusive links between TBI and Parkinson's disease."

Parkinson's is the most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer's. Risk of the disease increases with age, from about 1 percent at age 60 to around 4 percent at 80.

Silver said that as of now, doctors don't have a way of intervening to prevent Parkinson's. He said that he recommends a "healthy diet and exercise" to patients who have experienced head trauma, as previous studies suggest this could reduce the risk of dementia (which Parkinson's can lead to).

The authors of the study have similar advice for individuals concerned about developing Parkinson's later in life. Gardner told CNN that a healthy diet, regular exercise and keeping medical conditions under control are the best ways to avoid any neurodegenerative disease.

"If anyone is worried, do a little bit better to live more healthily," she said.

Read the new study at n.neurology.org.

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