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Drone sightings in LAX air space, over City Hall stir debate

Police officials say the sighting of a personal drone in restricted Los Angles International Airport air space and another over City Hall support the need to clarify civilian drone use laws.

In the first incident on Aug. 4, police said a personal drone was spotted by a Canadian jetliner hovering about 10 miles east of LAX at 4,000 feet – an altitude outside Federal Aviation Administration guidelines for hobbyists with drones and and also within the airport’s Class B air space.

To fly that high and close to LAX brings with it a host of responsibilities, including having a transponder on the aircraft and two-way communication with air traffic controllers, federal officials said.

Los Angeles police learned of the drone when the airline pilot asked air traffic controllers if it was a police drone. The LAPD’s two drones are locked away in a federal building and have not been used.

In the second incident, employees on the LAPD’s 10th floor on the northwest side of the building said they...

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L.A. unions, allies issue fake parking tickets to protest bank deals

Some Los Angeles downtowners returned to their cars Thursday to the unwelcome sight of a white envelope tucked under their windshield wipers.

But the faux ticket inside was aimed not at them, but at "Big Banks" for the offenses of "Predatory Bank Deals" and "Gouging L.A. Taxpayers."

In an unconventional attempt to sway public opinion, a group of labor unions and their allies fanned out across the urban center to leave fake tickets on parked cars, arguing that soured deals with Wall Street banks were at least partly to blame for the rising cost of parking tickets citywide.

Tickets are "way expensive -- because the city is trying to balance out what these banks are robbing from us," said Odilia Mendez, an organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

Parking is a perpetual bugaboo in Los Angeles: Ticket fees have boomed over the last decade, hiking the proceeds from parking citations from nearly $110 million to roughly $161 million between 2003 and 2014....

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Chaffey College cancels classes after possible explosive reported

Chaffey College canceled classes Thursday while authorities investigated a report of a man with a possible explosive device on campus.

Deputies were searching each classroom and all cars leaving the Rancho Cucamonga campus in the 5800 block of Haven Avenue, but nothing suspicious had been found, said Cindy Bachman, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

The campus was locked down before classes were canceled and no one was allowed to enter. All classes scheduled after 3:30 p.m. were canceled.

The threat was reported just after 1 p.m. when deputies received a call that an unknown man had been seen carrying a backpack with what appeared to be an explosive inside, she said.

Soon after, a large numbers of deputies responded to the campus and began searching.

The semester started Monday, so some students were weary about leaving campus for fear they could be dropped from their classes, said college spokeswoman Peggy Cartwright.

Thousands of students were on campus...

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California AG Kamala Harris to appeal ruling against death penalty

A federal judge’s "flawed" decision declaring California’s enforcement of the death penalty unconstitutional will be appealed, state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris announced Thursday.

Harris will ask the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn last month’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney, who said decades-long delays and uncertainty about whether inmates will be executed violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel or unusual punishment.

Harris personally opposes the death penalty but promised voters she would enforce it.

Carney’s ruling sparked national attention. He noted that more than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978, but only 13 have been executed.

"For the rest, the dysfunctional administration of California's death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution," Carney wrote. "As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality,...

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Two Marin County men found shot to death in neighboring home yards

Authorities on Thursday were investigating the shooting deaths of two men whose bodies were discovered in two neighboring backyards.

The men, who have not been identified, were found dead about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the neighboring backyards in the 100 block of Carlotta Circle in the unincorporated community of Mill Valley, Marin County sheriff's Lt. Doug Pittman said.

Although the deaths are suspicious, Pittman said detectives believe it was an isolated incident.

Detectives are still trying to piece together the events that led up to the deaths. It is also unclear how the men knew each other, Pittman added.

The first death was discovered after the man's family found him lying in the backyard and thought he had suffered a medical emergency.

Deputies arrived at the home and couldn't immediately find any obvious signs of trauma.

"It didn't feel like a crime scene," Pittman said.

Soon after, a coroner's investigator, who is also a pathologist, discovered an entry wound from a gunshot.


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Anti-spying coalition launches campaign against LAPD drones

A new anti-police-drone campaign says the risk of Los Angeles authorities abusing their power and spying on innocent civilians is too great to allow the department to start using the devices.

Members of a group of civil rights and community activists called the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition stood on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall on Thursday and announced the launch of a campaign aimed at keeping the department’s two drones grounded for good.

They chanted, “Drone-free LAPD!” and “No drones LA!”

Coalition members said it is important for the public to limit the militarization of local law enforcement agencies, in light of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

LAPD's arsenal includes armored vehicles, license-plate scanners and flash-and-stun grenades. But its drones are not the fixed-wing type the military is flying overseas, a department spokesman said.

“If we do deploy these, not sure we ever will, it’ll be based on a strict set of written guidelines...

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Junction fire near Yosemite National Park now 75% contained

Firefighters made major progress Thursday on a 612-acre wildfire that has destroyed 47 structures near Yosemite National Park.

Fire crews improved containment lines and aggressively cleared hot spots at the Junction fire, which was 75% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

A ground team inspected the fire's damage and increased the number of structures Thursday, showing 47 had been destroyed and six were damaged.

CalFire said storage containers, outbuildings and motor homes were destroyed.

The fire started about 1:50 p.m. Monday near Highway 49 and Junction Drive in the community of Oakhurst, immediately prompting more than 13,000 evacuations orders.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

For breaking news in Los Angeles and throughout California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA. She can be reached at veronica.rocha@latimes.com.

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Man accused of killing Marine's wife to be extradited from Alaska

The man accused of killing a Marine's wife and dumping her body in a 140-foot mine shaft waived his extradition proceedings in Alaska and will return to California to face charges, prosecutors said Thursday.

Christopher Brandon Lee, 24, was arrested about 10 p.m. Sunday in Anchorage on suspicion of killing 19-year-old Erin Corwin after search crews found her body the day before in the mine shaft.

San Bernardino County prosecutors have since filed charges against Lee of murder and murder by lying in wait. The latter could carry the death penalty if Lee is convicted.

Corwin’s body was found Saturday after a seven-week search in isolated, rugged terrain on government-owned land. Investigators believe Corwin and Lee, who were next-door neighbors at a military base in Twentynine Palms, were having an affair. Lee may have been worried that Corwin was pregnant and would tell his wife, according to investigators.

Lee was arrested on suspicion of murder Sunday night in Alaska, where he had...

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Bed selfie tied to home burglary, but man in photo says he's no thief

A couple who was being sought by law enforcement officials after their selfies appeared on a "cloud" storage account linked to a stolen phone have been identified and are cooperating in the theft investigation, authorities said Thursday.

The man, who identified himself as Larry Beltran Jr. to NBC4, was seen in a bed selfie possibly linking him and his girlfriend to a Santa Clarita burglary. He had stopped by a local Sheriff’s Department station on Wednesday to say it was all a misunderstanding, but was told to come back the next day since the detective handling the case wasn't there.

He claimed the cellphone was purchased by his aunt at a swap meet and given to him as a gift.

The man is “cooperating with the handling detective working” on the break-in, which was reported by a Santa Clarita woman when she found selfies of an unknown couple on the online cloud storage after her home was burglarized, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Soon after the selfies were...

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Homeless people migrating from downtown to County-USC, study finds

Homeless people squeezed out of downtown Los Angeles are migrating to nearby Lincoln Heights and Boyle Heights, where they are seeking refuge in the emergency room and on the grounds of Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, according to a six-month study released Thursday.

One in five homeless people surveyed as part of the community-needs assessment study said they either stay on the hospital grounds or in lobby areas, or use the medical center as a base, the study found.

Many come for medical services and remain because it is safer than surrounding neighborhoods, hospital staff said.  Homeless men on average use the hospital  emergency room seven times a year, and homeless women twice yearly, according to the survey findings.   

Earlier studies have shown that providing housing for homeless people is far less costly to taxpayers than paying to cycle them in and out of emergency rooms.

“The emergency room has unfortunately become a place of last resort for many of our house-less...

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California drought continues to take heavy toll on reservoirs

The severe drought gripping nearly all of California eased ever so slightly this past week, but the state's reservoirs remain "seriously low," according to the latest figures released Thursday.

The amount of the state that now falls under the "severe" drought category — the third-harshest on a five-level scale — was down to 97.5%, a slight improvement from the 99.8% share during the same period last week, according to the U.S. Drought Map.

The progress, in part, is the result of above-normal rainfall in Southern California deserts for the last six months, according to Richard Tinker, who authored the latest drought report.

"Unfortunately, rainfall in this arid region will have no impact on the water shortages and seriously low reservoir stores reported throughout the state," he wrote.

Meanwhile, a study published in the journal Science on Thursday estimates that the ongoing drought in the western United States has caused a loss of 63 trillion gallons of groundwater since the beginning...

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Palmdale man faces prison for fatally beating 2-year-old girl

A Palmdale man accused of fatally beating his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter has pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree murder, prosecutors said. 

Matthew Albert Worthen, 24, entered his plea Wednesday just before jury selection was set to begin, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Prosecutors said Worthen assaulted the girl, identified in court records as Zanai N., on Sept. 22 while the toddler was left in his care for a few minutes, prosecutors said. 

When the child’s mother returned home, the girl appeared to be having difficulty breathing and was taken to a hospital, where she later died, prosecutors said. 

Worthen is scheduled to return to court Sept. 8. He faces 15 years to life in prison.

Follow @LATVives for more Southern California news.

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