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Armona Elementary collecting ‘comfort critters’

ARMONA — We all have one. Maybe it’s that blanket we had since the day we were born and can’t sleep without; or that stuffed animal we took everywhere that’s so worn out it’s missing an eye and the stuffing is poking out at the seams.

Whatever it is, it makes us feel better and that’s what is important.

This week, the students of Armona Union Elementary are hoping to help kids from all over Kings County by hosting a “comfort critter” drive.

Lisa Camara, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at the school, said the school got the idea from an Armona teacher who had a student who received a stuffed animal after an accident.

Camara said the teacher brought the subject of a comfort critter drive up as a possible community service project just for the class, but the PTO thought it was a great idea and decided to make it a schoolwide effort and competition.

After the drive ends on Friday, Camara said officers from the California Highway Patrol Hanford office will make a visit to the school next week to pick up the stuffed animals.

From there, the plan is to have the CHP officers distribute the comfort critters as needed to kids in the area and around Kings County during challenging, scary or stressful times.

CHP Officer Kenneth Bird said the department likes to be involved with various community drives and promote the nice things people do for others.

“It’s a good program,” Bird said. “To be able to pass those on to children who need them the most is always a good thing.”

Along with partnering with the CHP, Camara said Leprino Foods made a cash donation for the drive.

Camara said the school likes to participate in events or drives that benefit people locally and affect the students directly.

“We make an effort to get involved,” Camara said. “It hits home with the families.”

Camara said the class that collects the most comfort critters by Friday will win the competition and receive a party.

Along with Armona students and their families, Camara invites the community to help with the drive as well. She said anyone is welcome to drop off new or gently used stuffed animals at the school during the week.

Contributed by Dawn Berkenkamp 

Engineers from UAH and MDA launch high altitude balloons from Akers School at College & Career Night.

Akers hosts College and Career Night

LEMOORE — Students at Akers School were treated to seminars by engineers from the Missile Defense Agency and the University of Alabama in Huntsville on March 22, as a part of the school’s annual College & Career Night.

Dr. Matthew Turner and Dr. Michael Benfield, both research engineers from the university, spoke to the students about their work with NASA’s Space Launch System, which is anticipated to be the most powerful rocket NASA has launched to date. Upon completion, the rocket will launch the Orion spacecraft thousands of miles beyond the moon for human exploration of asteroids and Mars.

Dr. Patricia Gore, the director of the agency's science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program, spoke about her work with the Ballistic Missile Defense System and her 30-plus year career in the field of engineering.

Currently the engineering field is comprised of 80 percent males and 20 percent females, and Gore stressed to the girls at Akers the importance of pursuing their dreams and supporting each other.

“No matter who you are, you can do it. Always remember that,” she said.

Their visit to Akers School came at the hands of Akers’ STEM program coordinator, Clare Huff.

Huff attended the Missile Defense Agency's STEM Education Development Workshop in Virginia last summer, a professional development program for K-8 teachers to explore STEM concepts in real-world contexts. She reached out to Turner, Benfield, and Gore in the hopes of finding someone in the field of engineering to attend Akers College & Career Night.

“I thought maybe we could get someone to Skype in, but they told me they’d be happy to come out to Lemoore. It was amazing for the kids living here in a rural area to have an opportunity they otherwise may not have gotten,” Huff said.

Throughout the day, the doctors visited junior high science classes, held an assembly for the elementary students and spoke with the STEM Club students after school. Seminars were held during the college and career night, which was open to everyone at Naval Air Station Lemoore. Students from Stratford and Central Union Elementary Schools also attended the event. Doctors Turner and Benfield spoke at Neutra Elementary on March 23.

One of the highlights of their visit was the launch of a high altitude balloon, whose journey could be tracked in real-time online. The day's inclement weather gave way to sunny skies just in time for the balloon to be launched at 5:15 p.m. The balloon traveled at speeds between 30 and 50 mph, reaching an altitude of over 100,000 feet before bursting over Modena, Utah.

Proposal would limit when California police can shoot guns

SACRAMENTO (AP) — Several lawmakers and the family of a 22-year-old unarmed black man who was fatally shot by police proposed Tuesday that California become the first state to significantly restrict when officers can open fire.

The legislation would change the standard from using "reasonable force" to "necessary force."

That means officers would be allowed to shoot only if "there were no other reasonable alternatives to the use of deadly force" to prevent imminent serious injury or death, said Lizzie Buchen, legislative advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is among the groups behind the measure.

"We need to ensure that our state policy governing the use of deadly force stresses the sanctity of human life and is only used when necessary," said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat who introduced the bill. "Deadly force can be used, but only when it is completely necessary."

The goal is to encourage officers to try to defuse confrontations or use less deadly weapons, said Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, who is co-authoring the legislation.

"We should no longer be the target practice or victims of a shoot first, ask questions later police force," said Assemblyman Chris Holden, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

But some in law enforcement called the proposal irresponsible and unworkable.

Officers already use deadly force only when necessary and are taught to try to defuse dangerous situations first when possible, said Ed Obayashi, a Plumas County sheriff's deputy and special prosecutor who trains officers and testifies in court on police use of force.

Tinkering with legal protections for police could make it more difficult to hire officers and be dangerous because they may hesitate when confronting an armed suspect, threatening themselves and bystanders, Obayashi said.

Spokesmen for the California Police Chiefs Association and California State Sheriffs' Association said they had not seen the proposal and could not comment.

Weber, who heads a public safety oversight committee, said she hopes the recent heavily publicized string of police shootings of minority suspects and mass protests over last month's death of Stephon Clark will be enough to overcome any law enforcement resistance.

Two Sacramento officers chased Clark, who was suspected of breaking into cars, into his grandparents' darkened backyard and opened fire within seconds and without identifying themselves as police because they said they thought he had a gun. Investigators found only a cellphone.

Changing the legal standard might mean that more people confronted by police "could go home. They may be able to wake up" the next day, said Clark's uncle, family spokesman Curtis Gordon.

"A life may be saved in that blink" of time before officers open fire, he said. "If you feel some sort of repercussion, you may act a little more cautiously."

Several black community leaders at the news conference called the proposal "a good first step."

Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn told The Associated Press last week that he is open to examining the department's policies on pursuing suspects and other practices but warned that changes could carry consequences.

California's current standard makes it rare for officers to be charged after a shooting and rarer still for them to be convicted. Frequently it's because of the doctrine of "reasonable fear." If prosecutors or jurors believe that officers have a reason to fear for their safety, they can use deadly force.

The tougher proposed standard could require officers to delay confronting a suspect they fear may be armed until backup arrives or force police to give explicit verbal warnings that suspects will be killed unless they drop the weapon," said Buchen of the ACLU.

The proposal would open officers who don't follow the stricter rules to discipline or firing, sometimes even criminal charges.

The ACLU says California would be the first state to adopt such a standard, though some other law enforcement agencies, including San Francisco, have similar or more restrictive rules.

Cities' strict standards are generally for situations where there is time to de-escalate volatile situations, such as with people who are mentally unstable, Obayashi said.

The lawmakers and ACLU point to a 2016 study by policy analyst and racial justice advocate Samuel Sinyangwe that analyzed use-of-force policies by major U.S. police departments. He found that officers working under more restrictive policies are less likely to kill and less likely to be killed or assaulted.

Officers fatally shot 162 people in California last year, only half of whom had guns, the lawmakers said.

They cited studies showing that black people are far more likely than white people to die in police shootings and that California has five of the nation's 15 police departments with the highest per capita rates of killings by officers: Bakersfield, Stockton, Long Beach, Santa Ana and San Bernardino.

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Corcoran man arrested for spousal abuse

CORCORAN — Police have arrested a man for spousal abuse and illegally possessing a firearm, among other charges, after an altercation at a Corcoran home, officials said.

Just before 1 a.m. on Monday, Corcoran Police officers responded to the intersection of King and Sherman avenues for a report of a female screaming for help.

Once officers arrived, they said they figured out the screaming was coming from a residence in the 900 block of Sherman Avenue, where they found a man and a woman inside.

During an investigation, officials said they learned the woman had attempted to leave the home on foot following an argument with the man.

Police said the man, identified as 28-year-old Richard Nevarez, then got in his car and chased the woman, forcing her into his car. They said he then drove her back to the residence and forced the woman back into the home.

Officials said the woman sustained minor injuries during the altercation.

Once inside the home, officers said Nevarez hid an illegal firearm outside, which was later located by the responding officers.

Officials said Nevarez was arrested on suspicion of spousal abuse, false imprisonment, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of an illegal weapon and possession of a short barrel rifle.

Authorities said Nevarez was later booked into Kings County Jail and held on $240,000 bail.

Sheriff's office warns of phone scam

The Kings County Sheriff’s Office is warning the community about a possible phone scam after receiving several reports of someone calling offices and asking for personal information.

Around 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sheriff’s officials said they were notified by numerous local physicians that someone going by the name of “Chief Putnam from the Kings County Sheriff's Office” wanted to speak to them about a medical administrative issue.

Officials said the number given for a call back was 554-2369, extension 4.

The Sheriff's office issued a press release to notify the community that this is a scam.

Officials are asking citizens to not call this number back, but if you do answer a call from this number, do not give any personal information to this person.

“The Kings County Sheriff's Office wants to remind the community to not give personal information over the phone,” officials said in the press release.

Authorities said they are fully aware of the situation and it is currently under investigation.

Contact Detective Jessica Machado at 852-2818 only if you have given your personal information to the caller from the above number.