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Orlando gunman’s widow pleads not guilty to aiding husband

The widow of the Orlando nightclub gunman pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of aiding and abetting her husband’s support of the Islamic State group and hindering the investigation of the attack that killed 49 people and injured 53 others.

Noor Salman, 30, entered her plea in an Oakland, California, courtroom two days after she was taken into custody at the home she shared with her mother in suburban San Francisco.

Her arrest came after she was interviewed numerous times by FBI agents investigating the June 12 attack in Florida.

Federal prosecutor Roger Handberg said in court Tuesday that Salman knew about the plan by her husband Omar Mateen to attack the gay nightclub and then lied to investigators after it was over. Mateen was killed at the scene by authorities.

Handberg declined further comment on the indictment outside court, and no further details of the charges have been disclosed.

Salman will return to court Feb. 1 to argue for her release pending trial on the counts that could result in a life sentence if she is convicted.

Salman’s uncle Al Salman has defended his niece, saying she is an innocent person who was physically and mentally abused by Mateen.

He said she remained in the marriage because she feared losing custody of the couple’s 4-year-old boy.

Noor Salman was living with Mateen in Fort Pierce, Florida when he proclaimed his allegiance to Islamic State and attacked the nightclub.

The indictment charges her with aiding and abetting Mateen in providing material support and resources to Islamic State between April and June of last year. She was also charged with obstruction, accused of misleading and lying to police and the FBI during their investigation.

Charles Swift, her lead attorney, declined comment Wednesday outside court. He is director of the Texas-based Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America.

Salman told The New York Times in an interview published in November that she knew her husband had watched jihadist videos but that she was “unaware of everything” regarding his intent to shoot up the club. Salman also said he had physically abused her.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

Randolph Bracy applauds the arrest of suspected killer Markeith Loyd

District 11 Senator Randolph Bracy, who has made criminal justice a priority from the start of his term, applauded the capture of suspected killer Markeith Loyd Tuesday night.

Loyd is suspected in the murders of his pregnant girlfriend, Sade Dixon, last December and of Master Sergeant Debra Clayton earlier this month.

Bracy said the arrest was a victory for the area.

“I am happy to hear that Markeith Loyd was captured last night, and that this dangerous individual is no longer on the streets of Orlando,” he said. “I commend the brave officers and detectives of the Orlando Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for apprehending this man and finally ending his killing spree. I am glad that Mr. Loyd is going to be brought to justice for the horrific killings and crimes he has committed in our community.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends, and colleagues of Loyd’s victims, and I wish them continued strength in the days to come.”

Bracy was recently named the chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

David Simmons weighing Florida attorney general, congressional runs

While giving his blessing to state Rep. Jason Brodeur to run for his current post, state Sen. David Simmons says he’s weighing his options to go after the Florida attorney general’s post, Florida’s 7th Congressional District seat, which Democrats just flipped, or staying full-time with his growing law firm.

The attorney general option could come sooner rather than later, as Attorney General Pam Bondi is widely reported to be in the running for a position in President-elect Donald Trump‘s administration.

If Bondi leaves, Gov. Rick Scott would be appointing a successor. If she stays, she’ll be term-limited out in 2018, the same year that U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy comes up for her first re-election bid in CD 7, a seat Republicans had held for generations before her arrival. Simmons said it was premature to say if he has spoken to Scott about the prospect of being appointed as attorney general.

One way or the other, Simmons, a Longwood Republican, leaves by 2020, when he term-limits out. That’s the year for which Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, announced he was filing to run to succeed Simmons in Florida Senate District 9, which covers Seminole County.

“I am looking at my options,” Simmons told FloridaPolitics.com.

“I know that in 2018 the attorney general position will be open, and maybe earlier. And so, at this point in time, we’ll see what happens,” Simmons said. “And then of course, with the events that occurred in Nov. 2016, I believe that there is a need to have a Republican who represents Congressional District 7. And so I’ll look at option as well. When it gets to be 2020, or 2018 — you know how politics is volatile that we don’t’ know what’s going to happen, and who is going to be running for what positions — predicting what is going on is a very difficult thing.”

Becoming just a private attorney with de Beaubien Simmons Knight Mantzaris & Neal also is attractive, he added. That firm, now using the logo DSK Law, has been growing rapidly and now has 50 lawyers and a full-spectrum practice, headquartered in Orlando with offices in Tampa and Tallahassee. Simmons is the financial managing partner, and practices large commercial litigation trial law.

Simmons first entered the Florida House in 2000 and was elected to four terms. He ran and was elected to the Senate in 2010.

The state attorney general’s prospect appears to be leading his current interests. Simmons said he and Bondi are close friends, and was hesitant to speculate about whether she would leave early, or — out of respect — whether he already was posturing to replace her.

Yet Brodeur’s relatively early announcement of interest in Simmons seat may signal that at least Brodeur anticipates that Simmons’ seat might open up soon.

“Certainly I am very interested in the attorney general’s position,” Simmons said.

“I am an attorney who has been involved in the practice of law, has three board certifications, all of them relating to the active practice of law, and having been now the Legislature and the Senate, and having been actively involved in many major issues.”

Simmons said he supports Brodeur to replace him.


Jason Brodeur announces 2020 state Senate bid

Jason Brodeur has his eyes on the Florida Senate.

The Sanford Republican announced this week he plans to run for the Florida Senate in 2020. Brodeur said in plans to run in Senate District 9, which is currently held by Sen. David Simmons.

“My roots in Central Florida run deep. Growing up here, I witnessed first hand how a community can thrive when citizens are given the freedom to work hard and pursue their passion,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “From graduating high school to starting my own local business, this community has always given me the chance to succeed. Now I want to continue to make sure every other resident of our community has that chance too.”

First elected to the Florida House in 2010, Brodeur served as the chairman of the House Health & Human Services Committee and the vice chairman of the Select Committee on Affordable Healthcare Access during the 2014-16 term. He’ll serve as the chairman of the House Health Care Appropripations Subcommittee during the 2016-18 term.

“Over the years, I’ve had the chance to serve on numerous local organizations and develop a deep understanding about the problems affecting everyday residents of Central Florida,” said Brodeur in a statement. “Whether it’s keeping our schools in the community’s hands, supporting small businesses or preserving our God-given rights, I’ll always do what it takes to protect our community in the State Senate.”

Brodeur spent 12 years working for Proctor and Gamble, and later started his own health care consulting company. He currently serves as the president and CEO of the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce.


John Mina: ‘Great police work’ led to the capture of murder suspect Markeith Loyd

Markeith Loyd, suspected in the killing of Master Sergeant Debra Clayton in a shootout last week, was caught after over a week of hunting by the Orlando Police Department Tuesday night. He’ll face multiple charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault.

Loyd has been the subject of a nine-day-long manhunt by the OPD as well as the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and a slew of other agencies. He is suspected to have killed Clayton in a shootout at a Walmart on Princeton Street and John Young Parkway the morning of Jan. 9.

Clayton was pursuing Loyd because he was wanted for the December 2016 murder of his pregnant girlfriend, Sade Dixon.

Before a crowd of reporters at the OPD Headquarters, Police Chief John Mina relayed what had happened.

Around 7 p.m., Orlando Police tracked Loyd to an abandoned house on Lescot Lane in Carver Shores and a SWAT team was notified. Before they could arrive, Loyd allegedly tried to escape, but he ran back inside after being confronted by OPD officers.

Then he allegedly came out the front door clad in body armor, wielding two handguns, one of which had 100 rounds in it. But from there, he was apprehended and taken into custody. He threw the guns on the ground as he went, Mina said.

He did resist arrest as handcuffs were put on him and sustained some minor head injuries.

Mina said the arrest did not come from a tip, but from good old fashioned police work.

“This was great police work,” he said. “It was nine days of officers working nonstop. They were living in their vehicles, going to the bathroom in their vehicles. They talked to every associate who had come in contact with him since December. They tracked every single lead down.”

He said there would be more arrests coming, too, for those who may have aided and abetted Loyd since the killing of Sade Dixon.

Mina said they had notified Clayton’s husband as soon as they’d arrested him – but that the feeling was bittersweet.

“Where we caught Loyd was right around the corner from [Debra’s] mother’s house,” Mina said – and at that there was an audible gasp of surprise in the audience.

He also said they had used Clayton’s handcuffs on Loyd when they took him into custody – a long-held tradition to honor a fallen officer.

Sheriff Jerry Demings said they were relieved to have caught Loyd and that there were going to be multiple charges against him even aside from two counts of first degree murder for Clayton and Dixon.

Demings said the charges included two counts of aggravated assault for allegedly shooting one of Dixon’s brothers last December and pointing a gun at another brother.

Above all, though, they were relieved that the ordeal was over.

“The whole community has been impacted by these events,” Demings said. “All of America was watching these events unfold.”

“We’re very excited to go back to normal business of keeping this community safe,” Mina added. “We’re extremely happy that he is off the street and we can bring closure to Debra Clayton’s family, and Norm Lewis‘s family, and Sade Dixon’s family. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions. Some officers broke down in tears once they heard he was in custody – it was like they were finally able to cry.”

Loyd was escorted, with his face heavily bandaged, from the OPD HQ at around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

High tech money, septic tanks, HIV funding, duck hunting: no shortage of needs as Orange County lawmakers listen

It was like meeting with Santa Claus in January as Central Florida political officials, lobbyists, activists and a few ordinary citizens lined up in downtown Orlando Tuesday afternoon to tell Orange County’s state lawmakers what they want in the upcoming Florida Legislative Session.

Eighteen million dollars for Osceola County’s high tech advanced research manufacturing center. Fifty-five million to take a newly-developed approach to treating septic tank sewage that’s polluting rivers, estuaries and groundwater. Three and a half million to support pre-K programs. Local abilities to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in cities and towns. A ban on duck hunting in the Lake Conway chain of lakes. HIV funding. No guns on campuses.

There may have been only a few surprises for the 12 members of Orange County’s Legislative Delegation as they sat through at least three hours Tuesday of citizen input, delivered in two-minute presentations, as many of the big ticket items were matters already widely discussed and lobbied.

One of the more discussed requests came from Dr. Kevin Sharin, county health department director for the Florida Department of Health, whose two-minute presentation turned into almost 10 minutes as the delegates pushed for more information on his requests. Speaking for the state department he pushed for money to hire 23 epidemiologists and other upgrades from $4.9 million to upgrade computer bandwidth, to statewide funding to address HIV. Florida, he said, has the fifth-highest HIV transmission rate in the United States, and Orange County has the third-highest rate in Florida.

Under further questioning, particularly from state Reps. Kamia Brown, Carlos Guillermo Smith, and Amy Mercado, Sharin delved deeper into the local need.

“Can you tell me how does the funding for Orange County specifically compare to other counties our size?” Mercado asked.

“We’re dead last,” Sharin responded.

But duck hunting?

According to Lydia Pisano, mayor of the tiny suburb of Belle Isle, it has become a big problem for many residents crowding the lake shores, and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has declined to address it.

“We have a huge safety issue,” she told the delegation, imploring them to declare the lakes a bird sanitary. “We are not trying to hinder anybody’s hunting rights or gun rights. We want safety. Our residents are out on their docks early in the morning, with their kids fishing.

“We need to put a stop to it,” she said of the duck hunting.

The meeting reflected the recent flip in control of the delegation.

State Reps. Mike Miller and Jennifer Sullivan, both Republicans, ran the meeting as chair and co-chair. Democrats state Sen. Victor Torres, Brown and state Sen. Linda Stewart were elected chair, vice chair and secretary for the next year.

Central Florida House members call on Marco Rubio to protect illegal immigrants

In front of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s office Tuesday morning, Sen. Victor Torres and Reps. Amy Mercado and Carlos Guillermo Smith called on Rubio to protect the state’s immigrant population – especially those not here legally.

Their message was that time is of the essence – now that the Donald Trump administration is just days away from taking control of the country, it’s important that Rubio own up to his promises to stand up to Trump when he can – especially when it comes to potential threats to undocumented immigrants.

Trump has said that he intends to crack down on illegal immigration and immediately deport 2 to 3 million illegal immigrants when he takes office.

All three of the House representatives speaking Tuesday were opposed to that.

“Many undocumented immigrants are otherwise law-abiding citizens,” Torres said. “They want to make a better life for themselves. They were born in another country, but they went to school and were raised in the U.S. – it’s the only society they’ve ever known.”

Torres said attempts to deport or demonize illegal immigrants “robs us of the radiant spirit and skill and desire to make America great.”

Mercado said in calling for mass deportations of illegal immigrants, Trump had threatened a cornerstone of the American dream.

“They should be able to come to America without the threat of persecution,” she said. “We shouldn’t be deporting millions, or driving them into silence out of fear. Florida is a cultural melting pot. There’s a large array of cultures and backgrounds. There are headlines every day about members of Trump’s cabinet and racism. This is not the time for silence.”

Smith said there were up to 8,000 undocumented immigrants in the Orlando area and up to 102,000 statewide – so the stakes were “very large” and he vowed to push back and act as an opposition to Trump’s “racist, bigoted and wrong agenda.”

A Rubio spokesperson said by email that Rubio welcomed more voices and opinions from those interested in tackling the issue of immigration.

“Senator Rubio understands we need to secure our borders, stop visa overstays, modernize our legal immigration system, and enforce our immigration laws fairly and humanely,” he wrote. “He welcomes input from people who are serious about solving our immigration challenges and is hopeful we’ll be able to make real progress on these goals in this new Congress.”

Wayne Liebnitzky slams Darren Soto for boycotting inauguration

Let the 2018 campaign begin for Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Republican Wayne Liebnitzky, who lost to U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in November and now has filed to take him on again in 2018, slapped Soto for his announcement that he is boycotting the inauguration of president-elect Donald Trump.

“I find it an absolute disgrace and should not be tolerated,” Liebnitzky stated in a Facebook post and a statement he sent to Orlando media. “I find it ironic that I gave him [Soto] the respect after our election as the winner and he does not do the same for our President, demonstrating the immature reactions that other Democrats have chosen. Central Florida needs people representing us that can promote leadership.”

Liebnitzky, of St. Cloud, won the vote in the Polk County portion of CD 9 but lost to Soto in Orange and Osceola counties. On Tuesday he said he could not let Soto’s first big partisan action stand without reacting.

Soto said Monday he was boycotting because he was deeply disappointed in Trump’s tweets about U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who was a champion of the Civil Rights movement.

“I have a long history of working across the aisle and will continue to do so in Congress. However, I am deeply disappointed with President-Elect Donald Trump’s attacks against civil rights hero Congressman John Lewis and will not be attending the inauguration as a result,” Soto stated in a release he issued Monday.

Soto is not alone. The Washington Post is reporting that so far 44 Democratic lawmakers have announced they will not attend Trump’s inauguration. The Post’s list does not include Soto. It does include U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, the Democrat from Miami Gardens.

Orlando nightclub gunman’s wife faces charges tied to attack

The widow of the Orlando nightclub gunman has been charged with helping her husband in the months leading up to the June massacre that left 49 people dead, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.

Noor Salman, 30, is due in federal court in Oakland on Tuesday, following her arrest a day earlier on the Florida charges.

The two-count indictment accuses her of knowingly aiding and abetting her husband, Omar Mateen, in providing material support and resources to the Islamic State group between April and June of last year. It also says she knowingly misled police and the FBI after June 12 attack at the Pulse nightclub. The charging document does not give additional details on Salman’s actions.

Salman is from the San Francisco Bay Area and in the aftermath of the Orlando attack that also left her husband dead she returned here with their son, whose name she has since sought to change. She was repeatedly questioned by FBI investigators over whether she had any knowledge of her husband’s plans.

Her attorney Linda Moreno said after her arrest that she “had no foreknowledge nor could she predict what Omar Mateen intended to do that tragic night.”

Salman told The New York Times in an interview published in November that she knew her husband had watched jihadist videos but was “unaware of everything” regarding his intent to shoot up the club. Salman also said he had physically abused her, which her attorney reiterated Monday.

“Noor has told her story of abuse at his hands,” Moreno said. “We believe it is misguided and wrong to prosecute her and that it dishonors the memories of the victims to punish an innocent person.”

The San Francisco office of the FBI said Salman was taken into custody Monday morning in Rodeo, which is the small Bay Area community where she grew up and where her family lives. Jail records, however, say she was arrested about 30 miles away in Dublin. The reason for the discrepancy wasn’t clear.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a Monday interview with MSNBC that “from the beginning, we were going to look at every aspect of this, of every aspect of this shooter’s life to determine not just why did he take these actions – but who else knew about them? Was anyone else involved?”

Salman met Mateen online and the two married in 2011.

They lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, at the time of the shooting.

Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in a 911 call during the three-hour standoff that ended in his death. Forty nine patrons were killed and another 53 were hospitalized.

“Nothing can erase the pain we all feel about the senseless and brutal murders of 49 of our neighbors, friends, family members and loved ones,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said Monday. “But today, there is some relief in knowing that someone will be held accountable for that horrific crime.”

Darren Soto to skip Donald Trump inauguration

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto will be skipping the inauguration of incoming president Donald Trump after hearing the comments Trump made recently about civil rights activist John Lewis.

“I am deeply disappointed with Trump’s attacks against civil rights hero John Lewis and will not be attending the inauguration as a result,” Soto said in a statement to Channel 9.

The statement in question came when Lewis, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., called Trump an illegitimate president who had been bolstered by Russian interference with the election.

Trump, in response, said Lewis was “all talk, no action,” and that he should instead focus on crime in his own district.

The attacks received widespread backlash over the weekend.

Soto is not the first lawmaker to back out of the Trump inauguration – others, like California Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Mark Takano and New York Rep. Yvette Clarke, have also issued statements saying they won’t be attending.

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