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In the Media: Destructive Flash Flood in Ellicott City; New STEM Education Opportunities at MSU

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A digst of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the Baltimore Sun: 2 dead, emergency declared after historic Ellicott City ravaged by flash flood

"A torrent of water caused by an intense storm ripped through Ellicott City's historic downtown Saturday evening, killing two and causing massive destruction in an old mill town that will take weeks if not months to recover.

"Officials from Howard and Baltimore counties confirmed Sunday that a 35-year-old woman and a 38-year-old man were swept away by the flash flooding and killed. Both were last seen in Ellicott City, in Howard County; their bodies were found about two miles down the Patapsco River in Baltimore County.

"They were identified as Jessica Watsula of Lebanon, Pa., and Joseph Anthony Blevins of Windsor Mill.

"Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman called the flooding a 'terrible, terrible, horrific incident,' and said Main Street would remain closed for the foreseeable future as officials continue to secure buildings under the around-the-clock guard of state troopers.

"Gov. Larry Hogan signed a declaration of a state of emergency in Howard County, which 'sets the wheels in motion for federal assistance,' Kittleman said. Howard County officials are only beginning to assess the cost of the flood, including the cost of the emergency response and the amount of damage done to buildings.

"'It's worse than any of us expected it to be,' Hogan said Sunday morning as he toured the town's Main Street, where a river of water as high as restaurant awnings had tossed cars, destroyed storefronts, gutted small shops and left massive sinkholes for blocks.

"Four or five buildings on Main Street were totally destroyed, and between 20 and 30 had significant damage, officials said. About 170 cars were being towed from the area, to Centennial High School on Centennial Lane, and would be released to their owners on Monday or Tuesday.

"Kittleman praised the bravery of citizens and first responders, and promised the town would recover eventually — saying local residents and shop owners 'have the willpower and determination to keep on keeping on and to make Ellicott City a vibrant and wonderful community again.'"

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From the Baltimore Sun: Officers’ selection of judge trials shaped outcome in Freddie Gray case — spurring debate

"As Baltimore police Officer Edward Nero and his attorneys prepared for his trial in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, one critical choice dominated their thoughts: judge or jury?

"It was April. Nero was the second of six officers charged in the case to go to trial — and the first since a jury of 12 Baltimore residents had deadlocked on whether to convict Officer William Porter.

"Nero and his attorneys, Marc Zayon and Allison Levine, had to decide whether he, like Porter, would choose a jury trial or put his fate solely in the hands of Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams — a former police misconduct prosecutor with the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

"'It was probably one of the toughest decisions that we had to make,' Zayon said. 'We went back and forth on the pros and cons.'

"Ultimately, Nero would elect a bench trial — a decision that would change the course of the proceedings not just for himself, but for his five fellow officers as well.

"After Williams acquitted Nero in May, the choice for the next two officers was more clear. Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. and Lt. Brian Rice also elected bench trials. They, too, were acquitted.

"After losing those three trials, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced last week that she would drop all remaining charges against the three other officers — Porter, Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White. She said Williams' opinions of the prosecution's case in the three bench trials would likely carry over to the remaining trials and result in more acquittals.

"Mosby went on to say that prosecutors' lack of a say in whether a defendant in Maryland can elect a bench trial — it is solely the defendant's choice — impeded justice in the Gray case. She said she would consider pushing legislation in Annapolis to change the rules.

"Such a proposition is not without precedent. In federal court, prosecutors can object to requests for bench trials, and states are split on the issue — some giving prosecutors a say, others putting the decision solely in the hands of defendants. And some in Maryland say changing the law here wouldn't be a bad idea.

"University of Maryland law professor Douglas Colbert said there are 'instances where a judge trial is wholly appropriate, such as when the community is enflamed by anger, fear, hostility toward a defendant, and the only way to provide a fair trial is to ask a judge to rule on the law and to become the fact finder.'

"But Colbert said it might make sense to require a defendant who wishes to have a bench trial to show in court that such factors are present before the request is granted, in part because jury trials have an intrinsic value in assuring fairness in the eyes of the community.

"Others — including key legislators who would be in the position to consider any change to the law in Annapolis — disagree.

"Sen. Robert A. Zirkin chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which would consider any such legislation. The Baltimore County Democrat descibed the idea as 'moronic' and 'horrendous,' and said it 'has 0.0 percent chance' of becoming law.

"'The state doesn't have a right to a jury trial. Individuals have a right to a jury trial,' Zirkin said. 'Just because you lose a case doesn't mean you change the entire framework of defendants' rights.'

"Del. Curt Anderson, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, said that panel would take a similarly dim view. The Baltimore Democrat said lawmakers would hesitate to take away a right accused people have had in Maryland since early in its history.

"Anderson said he respects Mosby but would not sponsor such a bill."

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From the AFRO American: Morgan State Univ., Army Corps of Engineers Reach Agreement for STEM Education

"Morgan State University has signed a new partnership agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that opens up new learning opportunities for students in STEM-related disciplines.

"The Education Partnership Agreement was signed between MSU President David Wilson and Lt. Col. Michael S. Ruppert, deputy district commander for the Corps’ Baltimore District at Morgan State’s Patuxent Aquatic and Environmental Research Laboratory’s annual open house.

"The arrangement is meant to bring attention to the growing importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the 21st century landscape and to encourage the study of these disciplines at Morgan.

"Through the partnership, the university, its faculty and students may gain access to advantages such as collaborative research programs, internships, academic and career counseling and mentorship, student mentoring, Army lectures and/or instruction related to STEM.

"The Army Corps of Engineers had its beginnings during the American Revolution when George Washington appointed the first engineer officers of the military branch on June 16, 1775, and has played an integral role in the development of the country. The Corps has devoted its talents and resources to both military and civil projects, surveying roads and waterways, restoring and preserving environmental habitats like wetlands, building monuments and edifices in the nation’s capital, building coastal fortifications, managing recreational sites and responding to floods and other natural disasters.

"For many years, education advocates have been advocating for more women and minorities to pursue learning and careers in STEM fields, seeing these fields as the areas of ripest opportunities for success in the modern era. According to Change the Equation, a coalition of Fortune 500 companies that act as drum majors for STEM education, between 2014 and 2024, the number of STEM jobs will grow 17 percent, as compared to 12 percent for non-STEM jobs.

"Unfortunately, the coalition found, diversity in the STEM workforce remains virtually unchanged from 2001. Among the suggestions was that outreach efforts need to be more strategic, reaching minorities in their communities and in their organizations"

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