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LA Coroner Backs Away From Initial 'Suicide' Finding In Robert Fuller Hanging

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Photo shared by Diamond Alexander on a GoFundMe page set up in Robert Fuller's memory. (GoFundMe page)

L.A. County officials are no longer saying the hanging death of 24-year-old Robert Fuller in Palmdale was a likely suicide.

That preliminary finding by the county coroner touched off an uproar, as community members questioned how officials could know so quickly.

On Monday, Coroner Jonathan Lucas said the initial finding was based on the fact that there was no evidence of foul play, but now he believes "that we should look into it a little more deeply and carefully, just considering all the circumstances at play.”

Fuller was found hanging from a tree last Wednesday, less than two weeks after 38-year-old Malcom Harsch was found in similar circumstances in Victorville, another high desert city 50 miles east of Palmdale.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said his office will assist the sheriff’s department in the Fuller investigation. The FBI will monitor the inquiry.

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Half Of LA Restaurants Inspected Since Reopening Are Not In Compliance

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Los Angeles County health officials today confirmed an additional 19 deaths and over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases.

The county's total number of cases now stands at over 73,000, with more than 2,900 deaths to date.

The latest numbers come as COVID-19 cases continue to climb statewide, with California reaching over 5,000 deaths over the weekend.

As more businesses are allowed to reopen in L.A. County, health inspectors fanned out to check 2,000 restaurants that have resumed dine-in service — and found that half of them were not in compliance with the new guidelines for them to safely reopen.

County public health director Barbara Ferrer says the health order for restaurants includes strict measures to ensure physical distancing between customers:

"There should be no places where tables are right next to each other. They either need a 6-foot barrier, or a physical barrier — those are requirements in the protocols."

Ferrer also urged residents to report any potentially unsafe conditions to the health department.

Inspectors will be revisiting restaurants that violated the order this week — though when restaurants were given the green light to reopen two weeks ago, they were not required to pass any sort of inspection beforehand.

THE LATEST NUMBERS

Here are some of the latest numbers Ferrer shared from L.A. County:

  • 19 more people have died — 14 were older than 65, 10 of those had underlying health conditions. One person was between 18 and 40 and did not have underlying health conditions
  • 1,071 new cases
  • 73,791 total cases
  • 2,926 total have died so far in L.A. County
  • 1,285 people are currently hospitalized — 31% in the ICU and 24% on ventilators.
  • 6,561 confirmed cases among health care workers and first responders, an increase of more than 530 over last week (the vast majority from skilled nursing facilities)
  • 44 health care workers have died — 32 of them work in skilled nursing or assisted living facilities
  • 329 pregnant women have tested positive, and 74% were symptomatic.
  • 72 live births and 5 non-live births among those who tested positive — among 48 infants who were tested at birth, all tested negative

Health officials still don't know conclusively if the virus can be transmitted via breast milk, but the latest data suggests it's not likely, Ferrer said. She added that the decision on how to start and continue breastfeeding should be made in coordination with a health care provider.

Here are some of the latest numbers on cases in institutional settings:

  • 16,554 total institutional cases, including 10,700 residents and 5,854 employees — and 616 people, primarily in skilled nursing facilities, have died, representing nearly half of all coronavirus deaths in L.A. County
  • 1,541 people living in institutional settings have died — 89% of them resided in skilled nursing facilities
  • 506 confirmed cases among the homeless; 215 of those cases were among the sheltered and had been isolated (their close contacts have been quarantined). Deaths among the homeless is now at 16.
  • 1,041 confirmed cases in jails, including 773 incarcerated and 268 staff
  • 178 cases in state prison — 128 among the incarcerated and 50 staff
  • 759 cases in federal prisons — 744 among incarcerated and 15 staff
  • 32 cases in juvenile facilities — 15 among youth and 17 staff

OVERALL OUTLOOK IN LA COUNTY

Here's a look at longer-term trends in the county. To see more, visit our California COVID-19 Tracker and choose L.A. County or any other California county that interests you. These numbers are current as of Sunday, June 14:

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Newsom: Reopening California's Economy Was Inevitable — So Is A Rise In Coronavirus Cases

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Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered an update today on California's response to coronavirus. You can read highlights below or watch the full press conference above.

CONSIDERING SOCIAL CONCERNS, NOT JUST HEALTH OR THE ECONOMY

When asked about whether the state was putting the economy ahead of health concerns in reopening, Newsom said that social concerns also needed to be considered. He cited poverty rates, unemployment rates, people without access to preventative health care, and those suffering with mental health issues.

"This is not an economic question — it's a health question, broadly defined," Newsom said. He added that officials believe that California being the first state to impose a stay-at-home order saved lives.

"There's a certain point where you have to recognize, you can't be in a permanent state where people are locked away for months, and months, and months, and months on end," Newsom said, "to see lives and livelihoods completely destroyed, without considering the health impact of those decisions as well."

Newsom said that local health officers and elected officials can make their own decisions reopening.

"If a county doesn't want to reopen, they don't have to reopen," Newsom said.

He noted that this is different than many other states, where reopening is mandated by at the state level.

KEEP WEARING MASKS

A look at the current spread rate of COVID-19. (State of California)

The governor opened by addressing coronavirus in the light of recent protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

"The last few weeks have been challenging. The last few weeks have changed, in many respects, the focus of this nation — not just this state," Newsom said. "But I want you to know, and be assured, that our focus remains very, very, very direct at addressing the issue of the spread of COVID-19, and cogniscent of the fact that we are by no stretch of the imagination out of the woods."

Putting the coronavirus epidemic in perspective. (State of California)

Newsom emphasized the importance of continuing to wear masks. He pointed to the 1918 flu pandemic, which had a much larger second wave fueled in part by people jettisoning their masks, Newsom said. The third wave of the 1918 was also larger than the first.

"As we mix, as we reopen, inevitably we're going to see an increase in the total number of cases," Newsom said. "It's our capacity to address that that is so foundational, and to make sure we're prepared for spikes."

The governor encouraged to take precautions such as wearing a face covering, physically distancing, and washing their hands. These activities are particularly important when mixing with people outside of your household. He noted that being inside without air circulation is of greater concern than being outdoors, where spread is less likely.

MONITORING DATA TO REOPEN COUNTIES — INCLUDING LA COUNTY

Health data for counties that still haven't met key state coronavirus benchmarks, including L.A. County. (State of California)

So far, 52 of 58 counties have filed the paperwork needed to move further into stage 2 of reopening at a faster pace than the state as a whole.

There are three steps in data monitoring, California Health & Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said:

  1. Active data monitoring: This is currently happening in all of the state's 58 counties, with the state providing daily data assessments
  2. Targeted engagement: 13 counties are receiving targeted technical assistance and support
  3. Reinstitute community measures to prevent spread

The state is monitoring coronavirus in different counties, Ghaly noted. The numbers they're watching:

  • Average tests per day
  • Case rate per 100,000
  • Testing positivity
  • Change in 3-day avg. COVID-19 hospitalizations
  • Available % ICU beds
  • Available % ventilators

Los Angeles County has received checkmarks in all of these areas except one: case rate. The county currently has 162.5 cases per 100,000 residents. The goal: 25 per 100,000 people.

LOCAL LEADERS MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS ABOUT REOPENING

With 40 million residents, California has the same population as 21 other states combined, Newsom said. He used this to argue for addressing coronavirus differently in different parts of the state.

The governor said that counties should use data to make decisions about reopening, reiterating that while the state issues guidelines it doesn't make final decisions.

Newsom said that California has flattened the COVID-19 curve, noting that the stay-at-home order was issued to "buy time to build out our capacity" and "make sure that we were preparing for inevitably reopening the economy," NEwsom said. "We never made the case that the stay-at-home order was a permanent state. We wanted to buy time, we wanted to mitigate a peak and a spike, and we ultimately wanted to save lives and prepare for a pandemic that needs to take its course, until ultimately we have immunity, until we have a vaccine."

THE LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

Where California is on testing. (State of California)

While testing has increased, the COVID-19 positivity rate has dropped since testing began in early April, Newsom said. It peaked at 40.8% positive in the early days of the virus, while testing was more restricted; it is currently at 4.5% over the past 14 days. Newsom noted that it was at 4.6% in the last 7 days, following recent protests.

The spread of the virus remains relatively stable, Newsom said. Hospitalizations also remain stable, while ICU numbers are flat over a 14-day period. The governor emphasized that the hospitalization numbers have remained stable since Stage 2 of reopening began on May 8, despite concerns about potential increased spread.

The state has 73,867 hospital beds and has identified 52,745 surge beds in the state system, Newsom said. There are currently 3,103 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. There are 3,775 available ICU beds, with 1,053 COVID-19 patients currently admitted. There are also 11,652 ventilators available.

Ghaly noted that California's Latinos have a disproportionately high number of cases. The state is looking at how it can work with Latino partners to help with this statistic. The Black population faces a disproportionate number of deaths; Ghaly said the state is working with the Black community, noting that data shows that Black people are showing up later in their COVID-19 disease than others.

The state is ahead of schedule on reaching its goal of 60,000 tests per day by the end of the month, Newsom said.

The state continues to work on supporting nursing home residents and homeless people due to their vulnerability to the disease, Newsom said. He stressed that 50.3% COVID deaths in California have happened in nursing homes. Within Project Roomkey, the state's effort to care for the homeless, there is 82% occupancy for asymptomatic rooms, 66% occupancy rate overall, and 17% occupancy for COVID-19 positive rooms.

There were 26 COVID-19 deaths in California yesterday, 74 the day before, Newsom said; the total is more than 5,000. The record of deaths per day in the state is 115, though Newsom noted that they haven't hit the numbers some other states have; he said that one other state averaged 540 deaths every day in early April.

Newsom noted that the state has procured 175.5 million procedure masks, 1.4 million N-95 masks, 10.4 million gowns, 2.6 millino gloves, and 20.1 million face shields. It's for both health care workers and other essential frontline workers across the state.

The state has brought 25 counties on board for the state's contact tracing program, "California Connected," with 32 counties in the process. The state aims to reach 10,000 contact tracers by July 1; 2,243 have completed training so far, with 4,855 enrolled.

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Hard Cash For Your Polluting Jalopy

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Traffic on the the 110. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The South Coast Air Quality Management District wants to give you cash for your older car so you can buy a cleaner, newer one. The five-year-old vehicle replacement program just got an infusion of $15 million.

If your car is from 2011 or older, and you have a low- to moderate-income, you can get up to $9,000 to buy something newer and less polluting.

There are also options to swap your old car for thousands of dollars in transit or rideshare or carshare vouchers or -- in the near future -- an electric-powered bicycle.

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Why LA Garbage Haulers Trashed Your Recyclables

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Collecting recyclables in Santa Clarita. (Sharon McNary/LAist)

When health authorities ordered Angelenos to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the result was garbage — a lot of it. Recyclables piled up, too. But much of our carefully separated bottles, cans and paper ended up in local landfills rather than recycled.

The extra residential trash came from people eating and cooking more at home, packaging from free grab-and-go meals and takeout from local restaurants. And all that cardboard from online shopping was filling up our trash and recycling bins.

But just as household garbage and recycling bins were overflowing, a lot of the places that process recyclable bottles, cans and plastics were closing.

Twelve of 29 recyclable sorting plants serving L.A. County Sanitation Districts and one of the two big plants taking L.A. city materials closed for weeks on end.

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Oscars Delayed Until April

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(Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)

Hollywood’s awards season already seems endless. But now those “For Your Consideration” will last even longer.

Word came today that the Oscars are being pushed back two months.

Instead of Feb. 28 of next year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Monday postponed the Academy Awards to April 25, 2021. In another delay tied to the pandemic, the organization said its Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which was going to be unveiled this December after multiple delays, now won’t until April 30.

And there were other changes. Rather than require feature films to premiere before the end of the year, the academy extended the Oscar eligibility cutoff date to Feb. 28. The academy previously announced that movies for next year’s ceremony did not have to premiere in a movie theater or a film festival in order to compete.

David Rubin, the academy’s president, and CEO Dawn Hudson said in a statement:

“Our hope, in extending the eligibility period and our awards date, is to provide the flexibility filmmakers need to finish and release their films without being penalized for something beyond anyone’s control.”

The academy also postponed its Scientific and Technical Awards, originally set for next week, to an unspecified future date, while this fall’s annual Governors Awards have been canceled entirely.

The academy’s museum, at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax Blvds., has been delayed a number of times; it was once set to open its doors last year.

“With the unprecedented and devastating pandemic happening around the world and our commitment first and foremost to the health and safety of our visitors and staff, we have made the difficult decision to wait a few more months to open our doors,” Bill Kramer, the museum’s director, said in a statement.

MORE ON THE ACADEMY

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LAUSD Superintendent Calls For Ban On Controversial Neck Holds By School Police

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Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner will ask the school board to ban Los Angeles School Police from using pepper spray and a controversial neck hold before next school year, he said in his weekly video update today.

He said:

"We cannot ignore the legitimate concerns and criticisms that students and other members in the school community have about all forms of law enforcement. The culture and climate at schools must be founded on inclusion and respect."

LAUSD is one of the few school districts in the nation to operate its own police force. According to the Los Angeles School Police policy manual, officers are already not supposed to use the controversial carotid hold — which involves an officer pressing his arm on one or both sides of a person’s neck to restrict blood flow to the brain — on vulnerable groups, including "obvious juveniles."

Last year, the board voted 4-3 to end the practice of randomly searching students for weapons and drugs, which critics said unfairly targeted Black and Latino students. That practice will end on July 1.

Beutner also said the district will review its budget — including the portion allocated for school police — over the summer.

Organizers with the group Students Deserve have scheduled a "March to Defund LAUSD School Police" on Tuesday.

We are continuing to report on school police. If you have information or experiences you would like to share, you can reach out to reporter Carla Javier.

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In-N-Out Burger Sues Its Insurance Company For Denying Its Claims

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In-N-Out Burger in Hollywood, California, in June 2015. (Mike Mozart/Flickr Creative Commons)

Irvine-based In-N-Out Burger is suing its insurance company, making it one of the most famous combatants in a high-stakes battle between restaurants and their insurers over coronavirus-related claims.

In late May, In-N-Out filed suit against Zurich American Insurance Company, reports Nation's Restaurant News, claiming "the insurer breached its contract by denying the chain's claim for business interruption losses tied to the coronavirus pandemic."

According to NRN, the lawsuit doesn't say how much money the fast food chain has lost during the crisis. It does, however, reveal that its "all risk" policy with Zurich, which is capped at $250 million, does not have an "exclusion for viruses or infectious diseases."

In-N-Out's lawsuit is the latest salvo in a larger battle.

On one side, you have restaurants — from the high-end food empire of Thomas Keller to smaller operations like Musso & Frank, Pez Cantina and Scratch Bar — who say their insurance policies are supposed to reimburse them for losses incurred due to "business interruptions" — like the ones that occurred when Los Angeles county and city officials ordered restaurants to shut their dining rooms due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On the other side, you have insurers claiming that various clauses in these policies — most often "virus exclusion" clauses — mean they don't have to pay out. With the insurance industry staring down the barrell of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts, it's no surprise they'd be looking for reasons not to cut those checks.

This battle isn't confined to the restaurant industry. Other types of businesses are also suing their insurers for denying their coronavirus-related claims.

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Major Supreme Court Victory For LGBTQ Employees

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Transgender activist Aimee Stephens, pictured at the Supreme Court last October, was fired from her job. Her case was at the center of the court's decision. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the 1964 Civil Rights Act barring sex discrimination in the workplace protects LGBTQ employees from being fired because of their sexual orientation.

The vote was 6-to-3, with conservatives Chief Justice John Roberts and Neil Gorsuch joining the court's four liberal justices in the majority.

The opinion is available here.

"In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee's sex when deciding to fire that employee," the court held in Monday's decision. "We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law."

The lawmakers who drafted and enacted the legislation didn't necessarily need to envision how it might be applied in cases like the ones the court has since considered, Gorsuch wrote for the majority:

"Likely, they weren't thinking about many of the act's consequences that have become apparent over the years, including its prohibition against discrimination on the basis of motherhood or its ban on the sexual harassment of male employees. But the limits of the drafters' imagination supply no reason to ignore the law's demands."

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It’s A Big Day For LA’s City Budget And Protests Against Police Violence. Here’s How To Tune In

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A protester at a rally against the death of George Floyd holds a sign that reads "care not cops." (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

Two major conversations are on tap today:

  • 10 a.m.: Black Lives Matter-LA will lead a presentation on "The People’s Budget," a proposal that reallocates funding to social programs and away from law enforcement. The plan leaves LAPD with about 5.7% of city spending, instead focusing resources on public safety alternatives like conflict resolution, mental health programs and transportation.

You can watch the ‘The People’s Budget’ presentation live on the City Channel.

  • 12 p.m.: The City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, chaired by Councilmember Paul Krekorian, will hold a special meeting. Among the issues they’ll be considering is a motion from Council President Nury Martinez and others to find $100-150 million in reductions to the LAPD’s budget. This plan was also backed by Mayor Garcetti, who says he wants to find $250 million in cuts overall to be diverted to support L.A.’s Black community and disadvantaged areas of the city.

The Budget Committee only streams audio. A link to listen in will be available here.

We’ll have full coverage of the meetings and their implications for the future of policing, public safety and ongoing protests in Los Angeles today on LAist.

READ MORE ON 'THE PEOPLE'S BUDGET'

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Morning Briefing: Black LGBTQIA Folks Demand Inclusion

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Salina Es Titties wore a dress covered in the names of trans folks who have been killed in 2020 at the All Black Lives Matter protest on June 14, 2020. Chava Sanchez/LAist

Never miss a morning briefing. Subscribe today to get our A.M. newsletter delivered to your inbox.

On Sunday, activists in West Hollywood participated in the “All Black Lives Matter” march, which was held in lieu of the L.A. Pride festival this year. The event sought to uplift the voices of Black queer and trans people, as well as to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

LAist contributor Lillian Kalish reports that for some Black LGTBQIA folks, though, the event represented just one small step forward for an organization by which they’ve long been marginalized.

"For 50 years, [L.A. Pride has] been turning their back on the Black community,” activist and journalist Jasmyne Cannick told Kalish. “They need to sit down with the community and have a face-to-face meeting. They need to hear the criticism the community has for them.”

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.

Jessica P. Ogilvie


Coming Up Today, June 15

When health authorities ordered Angelenos to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the result was garbage and recycling – a lot of it. So what happened to all those cans, bottles and cardboard? For a few weeks, reports Sharon McNary, they ended up in a landfill.

“Take Two” is holding a series of conversations about police reform and how the LAPD and other law enforcement can build trust with the community. Today, A Martínez speaks with Greg Meyer, a retired captain with the LAPD and an expert on police use-of-force and tactics.

AQMD has had the Cash for Clunkers program going back for years — turn in your old polluting auto for money toward a cleaner newer car. But there's a new twist, reports McNary: if you don’t want or need a newer car, you can get a voucher good for a whole lot of bus, train and rideshare trips.

Poets celebrate Juneteenth, the United in Pride film fest unspools online, and Baron Vaughn and Open Mike Eagle launch a new show. Christine N. Ziemba has this week’s best online and IRL events.

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The Past 48 Hours In LA

L.A. Protests: Protests over police brutality and systemic racism continued throughout the weekend, from a sunset drum circle to a march for Black unhoused lives. Sunday’s “All Black Lives Matter” march put the spotlight on Black queer and trans people.

Coronavirus Cases: Two days after more businesses in L.A. County reopened, local health officials confirmed 17 new deaths related to COVID-19 and 1,003 new cases. That brings the total deaths in the county to 2,907, and the total number of cases to 73,018.

#JusticeForRobertFuller: Some residents are demanding a full investigation into the death of Robert Fuller, a young Black man whose body was found hanging from a tree in a park across from Palmdale's City Hall. L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger called for an independent inquiry, writing that, "It is imperative that the public maintain trust in the investigative process, especially given the sensitive nature of this case and its many unknowns."

“I Can’t Breathe”: Here are some songs that capture the current moment of protests, including H.E.R.’s new single, “I Can’t Breathe.”

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Photo Of The Day

A protester carries an LBGTQIA pride/Black Lives Matter flag at Sunday's "All Black Lives Matter" march.

(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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