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NOE GARCIA, The Sentinel 

Sierra Pacific small forward Arianna Chavarin (15) drives into the paint in the third quarter of the Feb. 1 game against Strathmore. Sierra Pacific faces Bakersfield Christian in a semifinal playoff game.

Lemoore student took gun on campus, father arrested on gun charges

LEMOORE — A high school student took a gun onto the Lemoore High School campus in what Lemoore Police officials called an “isolated incident,” leading to the arrest of the student and the student’s father.

On Monday around 9 a.m., a 16-year-old Lemoore High student was found to be in possession of a firearm in his backpack at school, police said.

Police said school administration immediately called the Lemoore Police Department and put forth the appropriate safety action. Officers said they responded to the scene, secured the weapon and arrested the student without incident.

Officers said the investigation revealed that the student did not make any threats toward the school or others. Lemoore High School officials informed parents about the incident as well, police said.

Authorities said further investigation revealed the pistol was an illegal weapon and also had a high-capacity magazine.

Officers said detectives assisted with a search warrant of the student’s residence located within the city limits of Lemoore.

Police said the search warrant resulted in an additional firearms confiscated from the residence and another firearm was recovered from a vehicle owned by the student’s father, 47-year-old David Escalera Sr.

The firearms recovered from the residence were unsecured and readily accessible, and officials said one of the seized firearms also had altered serial numbers.

Police said all firearms were seized and Escalera Sr. was arrested on suspicion of felony child endangerment, criminal storage of a firearm, possession of an assault weapon, and possession of a firearm with altered serial numbers.

Authorities said Escalera Sr. was booked in the Kings County Jail with a bail set at $95,000 and the student was taken into custody and booked into the Kings County Juvenile Center.

The Lemoore Police Department said it will continue to take every measure to ensure the safety of the students and staff. Officials said students and staff are strongly encouraged to call authorities if they see or hear anything suspicious.

Students witness government in action

HANFORD — It’s not out of the ordinary to hear the phrases “I make a motion to approve” and “I second that motion” at a Kings County Board of Supervisors meeting — except when those words are being spoken by teenagers.

That’s exactly what anyone visiting the board’s meeting on Tuesday morning would have seen and heard.

On Tuesday, the number of supervisors jumped to 10. There were also two county administrative officers and several department heads were doubled.

It was all part of the Les Collins’ Youth in County Government Day, which the county has been doing for several years.

Students from six high schools in Kings County were invited to job shadow county officials in several different departments, including the Sheriff's Office and District Attorney's Office.

Avenal High School couldn’t make it, but a combined 50 students from Hanford High, Hanford West, Sierra Pacific, Lemoore, Corcoran and Lemoore Middle College high schools all attended.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Valle said the day gives students an opportunity to see the government in action at the county level.

“I think they do a lot of reading on state and national, but the county level is where a lot happens,” Valle said. “It’s good for them to come learn and see where we meet and even know about the Board of Supervisors and what we do and how the government operates in Kings County.”

It was the 10th year in a row that Valle’s son, 16-year-old Kobe Valle, visited on Youth in County Government Day to see what his dad does.

“It’s interesting,” Kobe said. “I get to see what my dad does every Tuesday, and I think it’s good to get people my age interested in this type of stuff.”

Supervisor Doug Verboon said there weren’t events like this when he was a kid, so he thinks it’s great to be able to introduce the young students into local politics and local government.

“It gets their minds working and lets them understand what’s happening in the community and maybe they can help in the future,” Verboon said.

Verboon said this day could even open students’ eyes to future career options within government.

“It gives them a broader spectrum of things that actually happen in the community and maybe gives them something to focus on,” Verboon said.

Inside the Community Development Department, Director Greg Gatzka went over some plans with Mabel Zamora.

Zamora, 18, attends Corcoran High School, and said it was the first time she has participated in Youth in County Government Day. She said she enjoyed the experience and appreciated the time all the county employees took out of their days to show the students around.

“I wish I would have done this when I was a freshman or sophomore,” Zamora said, adding she was interested in teaching as a career but was open to other options.

This was about the 10th year Gatzka has experienced Youth in County Government day, and it’s something he thinks is important in more ways than one for the students.

“It’s a very important program to involve our local high school youth in understanding more of what we do in government, but also to job shadow to see what kind of potential job opportunities might interest them as well,” Gatzka said.

Kobe, a sophomore at Corcoran High School, said even though he is more interested in a career in video game technology than government, he still looks forward to participating in the event every year.

“It’s a fun experience and informative,” Kobe said, adding he suggests the program to other students.

Top intel official: US must do more to stop Russian meddling

WASHINGTON — The U.S. response to Russian meddling and disinformation campaigns has not been strong enough to deter Moscow's activities, a top intelligence official said Tuesday.

Adm. Mike Rogers, director of both the U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, said he's taken steps to respond to the threat, but that neither President Donald Trump nor Defense Secretary James Mattis has granted him any additional authorities to counter Russian efforts to sow discord in the United States.

"I've never been given any specific direction to take additional steps outside my authority. I have taken the steps within my authority, you know, trying to be a good, pro-active commander," Rogers said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "I have not been granted any additional authorities."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders wouldn't discuss what authority Rogers was referencing, but said the president was looking at ways to prevent Russian meddling. "I can tell you that we are taking a number of steps to prevent this and we are looking at a variety of other ways that we're going to continue to implement over the coming weeks and months," Sanders said.

Rogers told Congress that he thinks a more aggressive response is needed, but that he doesn't set policy and doesn't want to tell the president what to do.

"I believe that President (Vladimir) Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there's little price to pay and that therefore, 'I can continue this activity,'" Rogers said. "Clearly what we have done hasn't been enough."

Rogers' statements fueled Democrats on the committee.

"We're watching them intrude in our elections, spread misinformation, become more sophisticated ... and we're just, essentially, just sitting back and waiting," said Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Rogers said he didn't fully agree with the characterization that the U.S. was just sitting back and waiting. But he said: "It's probably fair to say that we have not opted to engage in some of the same behaviors that we are seeing" from Russia.

Rogers said he doesn't have the day-to-day authority to try to deter Russian activities at their source. He said that authority is held by Trump and Mattis. "There are some things I have the authority to do and I'm acting on that authority."

He said U.S. sanctions and recent indictments of Russians have had some impact. But Rogers said: "It certainly hasn't generated the change in behavior that I think we all know we need."

Meanwhile, Trump's longtime aide Hope Hicks declined to answer questions about her time in the White House during a nine-hour, closed-door interview with the House intelligence committee Tuesday, saying she was advised not to.

The panel is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and any contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia. As one of Trump's closest aides, Hicks is a key eyewitness to his actions over the past several years. She was his spokeswoman during the 2016 presidential campaign and is now White House communications director.

The top Democrat on the intelligence panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, said after the meeting was over that Hicks answered questions about her role in Trump's campaign and answered some questions about the transition period between the election and the inauguration. But she would not answer any questions about events since Trump took the oath of office, similar to some other White House officials who have spoken to the committee.

Hicks did answer a question about whether she had ever lied for her boss, saying she had told "white lies" for Trump on occasion, according to a person familiar with the testimony. The person, who declined to be named because the committee's interviews are not public, said Hicks told the panel she had not lied about anything substantive.

Republican Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida, a member of the intelligence panel who was in the interview, said Hicks' answer was completely unrelated to the Russia investigation.

While the investigation is focused on Russian interference during the campaign, House investigators also had questions about her time in the White House, including her role in drafting a statement about a 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians. That statement has been of particular interest to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating matters related to the Russian meddling and potential obstruction of an ongoing federal inquiry.

The White House has said the president was involved in drafting the statement after news of the meeting broke last summer. The statement said the meeting primarily concerned a Russian adoption program, though emails released later showed that Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., enthusiastically agreed to the sit-down with a Russian lawyer and others after he was promised dirt on Trump's presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Hicks was with the president on Air Force One while they were writing the initial statement.

"All of our questions about what went into that statement went unanswered," Schiff said.

GOP leaders move slowly on tighter gun laws

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday showed little interest in stricter gun control proposals being floated in Congress, leaving the issue in the hands of wary Senate leaders and President Donald Trump, whose shifting views have left no clear strategy for legislative action.

As student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting lobbied lawmakers for tougher gun laws, Ryan acknowledged "system failures" in Florida that he said Congress should review.

But GOP leaders did not promise votes on the matter and stopped short of offering solutions, beyond a pending bill aimed at increasing participation in the existing federal background check system. The bill uses new incentives and penalties to encourage better compliance with current law, but does not expand the pool of gun buyers required to undergo background checks before buying a gun.

Even as he endorsed the measure, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell downplayed its significance, saying it would not be a "panacea" for the rash of gun violence.

But McConnell said he wanted to "at least show some progress toward dealing with one element of the problem."

Republican leaders, who have majority control of the House and Senate, are reluctant to lead on legislation without knowing they have Trump's full support and can rely on his popularity with a core flank of the GOP electorate to shield them from political blowback.

But Trump, who is inviting lawmakers to the White House on Wednesday, has proven an inconsistent partner in such policy debate, including the issue of gun violence that has taken on fresh urgency since the Valentine's Day assault that left 17 dead.

One of Trump's top gun safety proposals after the Florida shooting — raising the age to purchase some rifles from 18 to 21 — receded after Trump lunched with leaders of the National Rifle Association last weekend. The idea had been promoted by TV personality Geraldo Rivera, who recently had dinner with Trump in Florida. But it was met with stiff resistance from the NRA.

Although Trump has been quiet about the idea in recent days, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that the president continues to support raising the minimum age and expects that to be a topic of discussion when he meets with lawmakers.

But Rivera, a Trump ally, scolded the president on Twitter for appearing to back away from the proposal. "Incredibly we're set to do nothing re gun control again," Rivera tweeted. "The only person in the country strong enough to stand up to #NRA @realDonaldTrump is apparently taking a pass after dropping modest reform of banning sales of semi automatics to kids not old enough to buy cigarettes & beer."

The Senate could vote this week on the legislation from Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, though votes were not yet scheduled amid resistance from within the GOP ranks and demands by Democrats to vote on other measures.

The "Fix NICS" bill, similar to one approved last year in the House, would reward federal agencies and states that utilize the background check system, and penalize those that don't properly report required records used to determine whether someone can legally buy a gun. It was introduced last fall after the shooting of churchgoers in Texas. At the time, authorities acknowledged having failed to report the Texas gunman's domestic violence conviction to the database.

"Let's do what we can and build from there," Cornyn said.

But broader proposals were quickly circulating, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged the Senate to be more ambitious than the "tiny" bill.

Meanwhile, Florida's governor said Tuesday that he's determined to make the Parkland school shooting the last the state ever experiences.

Gov. Rick Scott met with Miami-Dade County officials to outline a plan to pass a school safety bill before the state's annual legislative session ends next Friday.

Scott says he wants to spend $500 million to increase law enforcement and mental health counselors at schools, to make buildings more secure with metal detectors and to create an anonymous tip line.

Family members of slain students spoke during the news conference and during a legislative hearing Tuesday in Tallahassee.

Also Tuesday, a Florida House committee approved the bill that would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and create a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases. The bill would also create a program that allows teachers who receive law enforcement training and are deputized by the local sheriff's office to carry concealed weapons in the classroom if also approved by the school district.

Also, Justice Department officials are forging ahead with plans to ban rapid-fire bump stocks, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday — a move that would likely set the stage for long legal battles with gun manufacturers while the devices remain on the market.

Sessions said top officials within the department believe gun accessories like the ones used in last year's Las Vegas massacre can be banned through the regulatory process. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives previously said it was powerless to restrict the devices without action from Congress.