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Firefighters battle a fast-moving wildfire that destroyed homes driven by strong wind and high temperatures forcing thousands of residents to evacuate in Goleta, California. Photo by Gene Blevins/Reuters

5 important stories that need your attention

These days it can be hard to keep up with the stories in your newsfeed. We take a moment each week to look at what’s happening outside of the Capitol and the White House. Here’s what we’re reading now.

1. A newspaper investigation details police missteps in handling sexual assault cases

An investigation by the Star Tribune last week detailed a number of missteps by police handling claims of sexual assault.

The newspaper reviewed more than 1,000 sexual assault cases in Minnesota over a two-year period.Among the findings from the Star Tribune’s review of state records:

  • For nearly a quarter of the cases, an investigator was never assigned.
  • For about a third of the cases, the victim was never interviewed.
  • For half of the cases, police didn’t interview potential witnesses.

The Tribune noted that more than 2,000 women report a rape or sexual assault every year in Minnesota. Looking at the records, the newspaper said, fewer than one in 10 sexual assault cases led to a conviction.

The Tribune also said their findings are based on only about half the records requested by the newspaper from 20 law enforcement agencies with the most reported sexual assaults between 2015 and 2016.

“I think there’s no doubt that law enforcement and prosecution … need to look in the mirror and say, ‘What can we do better collectively?’” Andy Skoogman, executive director for the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said in response to the Tribune’s findings. He added that the findings show the need for better officer training. [The Star Tribune]

Why it matters:The Tribune asked 13 veteran investigators to review its findings. They offered a few reasons why the state’s rate of conviction is so low.

A Texas investigator pointed out that one of the questions asked by police — “Is everything you’ve told me true and accurate?” — is a signal to the victim that investigators may think they’re lying.

Another victim, Sarah Ortega, recalled for the newspaper what happened when she filed a report of rape by her ex-boyfriend. After the man forced his way into her home, yanked her hair and struck her head, he told her, “I know you like it rough,” Ortega said she told the officer.

The officer then asked her if she liked rough sex, Ortega said.

Other errors that may prevent a case from getting a conviction: no followup on tips, not investigating potential witnesses and delays on obtaining surveillance footage, among others.

The Tribune pointed out that the police department closes about one-third of the cases for a lack of cooperation from the victim. “Some victims drop out because they fear their attacker. Others say they would rather heal and move on,” reporters wrote.

But that’s not the only contributing factor, according to a former Colorado prosecutor. Victims “can feel that their cases are not being thoroughly investigated … Or they are made to feel like they are the suspect instead of the victim,” Anne Munch told the Tribune.

2.North Korea has the highest rate of modern slavery in the world, annual report finds

A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong, in this picture taken from the Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea’s propaganda village of Gijungdong. North Korea has the highest prevalence of modern slavery in the world, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

North Korea has the highest prevalence of modern slavery in the world, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index. More than 2.6 million people are enslaved in the isolated nation — or about 1 out of every 10 of its citizens, according to the report.

Eritrea has the second-highest prevalence of modern slavery, defined as human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, or the sale and exploitation of children. Burundi ranked third. The top three countries also stand out as having a high prevalence of state-imposed forced labor, the report said. The North Korean government had the weakest response to slavery of all the countries surveyed, the report said.

The United States ranked No.2 on the report’s list of governments taking action to stem modern slavery, but it was also the country that imported the most goods at risk of being produced through forced labor — about $144 billion. [The Washington Post]

Why it matters: While issues of denuclearization, military drills and tests, and sanctions dominated the recent U.S.-North Korea summit, the human rights crisis occurring in North Korea has been largely ignored by the governments in Washington and Pyongyang. Along with slavery, the North Korean regime has been accused of crimes against humanity, including extermination and torture.

The Walk Free Foundation, in partnership with the Leiden Asia Center and the Seoul-based Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, interviewed North Korean defectors living in South Korea for this year’s index.

One male North Korean defector said that “from the age of 13, every student is mobilized for farm work without exception. It lasts 40 days for the spring mobilization and 30 days for the autumn one.”

“You cannot refuse,” another defector said. “If the work unit leader orders you to go to work, you have to do it. If you don’t, then your food rations are cut off.”

The index also stated that improved methodology has revealed that the prevalence of modern slavery is higher than previously understood in highly developed countries with high incomes, like the United States, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. But these countries are also doing more to tackle the issue, it said.

3. Victims of Las Vegas shooting can’t hold MGM liable, company says in lawsuit

A police officer stands in front of the closed Las Vegas Strip next to the site of the Route 91 music festival mass shooting outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RC136F2FEA50

A police officer stands in front of the closed Las Vegas Strip next to the site of the Route 91 music festival mass shooting outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. MGM Resorts International filed a lawsuit arguing that the company has “no liability of any kind” to the victims of last year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholso.

MGM Resorts International filed a lawsuit arguing that the company has “no liability of any kind” to the victims of last year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Stephan Paddock killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others when he opened fire onto thousands of concert goers last October from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, one of MGM’s hotels. Paddock killed himself before responding officers gained entry into the hotel room.

In its lawsuit, MGM argued that it used the security services of Contemporary Services Corporation, which were certified by the Department of Homeland Security and therefore given certain protections from liability that would also extend to them.

Citing the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) Act, MGM said the victims’ claims against the company “must be dismissed” because the anti-terrorism technologies and services it paid for should be protected from liability.

News of the lawsuit received swift condemnation online and from lawyers representing victims. Attorney Robert Eglet, who’s representing some of the victims, called MGM’s actions “outrageous.” [The Las Vegas Review-Journal]

Why it matters:It’s not clear yet if a judge would agree with MGM’s claims, but Brian Finch, a Washington, D.C., attorney and a legal expert on the SAFETY Act, told the PBS NewsHour that the company “doing it wrong.”

This is largely because the Oct. 1 shooting has not been officially declared an act of terrorism, a designation made by the Homeland Security secretary. Only then could the process for liability protections be jump started.

Even if the secretary did make that designation and claims were heard in federal court, “MGM still can face liability for any actions they took that were independent of what CSC has done,” Finch said.

The broader issue: The Las Vegas shooting has yet to be deemed an act of terror, and beyond that, authorities have yet to determine a motive.

A final police report on the shooting is expected in the coming weeks, as soon as late July.

4. Wildfires in the U.S. are getting larger

Santa Barbara County Firefighter spray water on flames at a home at the site of a wildfire in Goleta, California, on July 6, 2018 in this image released on social media. Photo by Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire/via Reuters

Santa Barbara County Firefighter spray water on flames at a home at the site of a wildfire in Goleta, California, on July 6, 2018 in this image released on social media. Photo by Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire/via Reuters

The average wildfire in the United States has grown in size, FiveThirtyEight reported in a data dive last week. As of last week, more than 3.3 million acres have been burned by wildfires across the country so far in 2018 — a slightly smaller area than the state of Connecticut. Overall, the average number of wildfires hasn’t changed much since 1985, but the amount of land burned by each fire has continued to grow, thanks to changing climate, short-term weather patterns, and a fundamental shift in how forests and fires are managed, experts said. [FiveThirtyEight]

Why it matters: Overall, 2017 was a big year for wildfires. The Thomas Fire, California’s largest wildfire ever, burned more than 280,000 acres in the state alone. And wildfires across the country touched a total of 9.8 million acres. The government spent more than $2 billion suppressing wildfires in 2017 — the most expensive year on record, according to the Secretary of Agriculture.

As of July 23, wildfires have burned 3,682,740 acres in 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center — fewer acres than at this point in 2017, but more than at this point two years ago. At the moment, emergency crews across the country are fighting 72 active fires, which have burned more than 754,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. That includes the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park in California, which has killed one firefighter and burned through more than 33,000 acres, USA Today reported. A particular year’s weather pattern can present more or less opportunities for large fires to flourish. But the changing climate is likely affecting long-term trends that can fuel flames, such as hotter weather, longer growing seasons and stronger winds. The PBS NewsHour’s Miles O’Brien reported that rising temperatures and intensifying droughts, in part due to climate change, have made California’s landscape fertile ground for future wildfires.

5. Archivist and bookstore owner charged in theft of $8 million in rare books at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Helen

The former archivist at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the owner of a store that sells rare and antique books conspired to steal more than $8 million in rare books, maps and other items from the library over the course of two decades, prosecutors in Pittsburgh said last week. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Helen

The former archivist at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the owner of a store that sells rare and antique books conspired to steal more than $8 million in rare books, maps and other items from the library over the course of two decades, prosecutors in Pittsburgh said last week.

The heist was not discovered until last year, when appraisers who were conducting an audit of the library’s special collections discovered some items — more than 300, to be exact — were missing. More than a dozen other items were “cannibalized,” as prosecutors described it, with missing maps and pages cut out of books.

In a criminal complaint issued Friday, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office charged Gregory Priore, who was fired from his job overseeing the library’s rare book room last year, and John Schulman, the owner of a used and rare book store, with various charges, including theft, receiving stolen property and forgery, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. According to the complaint, “Priore would remove maps, plates and books from the Oliver Room and Schulman would buy them from him and sell them through” his bookstore. Some of the sales took place through eBay and online, while others took place at book fairs, the complaint states.

The most expensive item recovered so far is a copy of Isaac Newton’s “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica,” with a listed value of $900,000.



Shulman had been an appraiser with the PBS show “Antiques Roadshow” periodically from 1997-2017, according to a statement provided to the NewsHour from WGBH-TV, the PBS station that produces the show. “Due to the current criminal complaint, Antiques Roadshow has determined that Mr. Schulman no longer meets our criteria for appraiser suitability, and is no longer involved with the series,” the statement says.

Priore and Schulman turned themselves in last week. A hearing is scheduled for next month. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

Why it matters: Pall Mall Art Advisors, which conducted the original audit and is helping to find the missing items, called the theft “among the world’s largest losses to date” due to “the staggering scope of these library thefts,” according to the complaint.

So far, $1.1 million in items have been recovered through “the combined efforts” of the appraisers, the district attorney’s office and the art collecting community, including more than $250,000 worth of items recovered at the warehouse for Schulman’s bookstore, according to the complaint. But others — including a copy of “Reise in das Innere Nord-America…” listed at $1.2 million — are still missing, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office told the NewsHour.

The magnitude of the crime has shocked the rare book world. “This is a truly regrettable situation for the larger book community,” Vic Zoschak, president of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, said in a statement, “and one in which the Association shares the public’s dismay that such a theft took place.” Michael Vinson, a rare book dealer in New Mexico who told the New York Times he knew Schulman professionally, called the theft “a huge deal.” “These were great rarities and treasures,” he told the newspaper. “I’m just shocked at the depth of this thing.”

The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office is asking anyone who believes they may have information about the missing items to call their detectives bureau at (412) 388-5300.

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