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After Five Years in Prison, Alan Gross Says It's 'Good to Be Home'


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- For Alan Gross, the American subcontractor released Wednesday morning after more than five years in a Cuban prison, "it’s good to be home.”

"What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country," he said Wednesday afternoon.

Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail after Cuban authorities accused him of a “subversive” plot to "destroy" the government, praised President Obama’s plan to restore diplomatic relations with the island nation, calling the move “a game changer.”

“To me, Cubanos -- or at least most Cubanos -- are incredibly kind, generous, and talented; it pains me to see them treated so unjustly as one consequence of two governments’ mutually belligerent policies,” he said. “Five and a half decades of history show us that such belligerence inhibits better judgment.”

“It was particularly cool to be sitting next to the secretary of state as he was hearing about his job description for the next few months,” added Gross, who watched the president’s address with Secretary of State John Kerry.

Reportedly suffering from partial blindness and degenerative arthritis, Gross acknowledged the "extraordinary and determined" efforts of his wife, Judy, and his attorney, Scott Gilbert, who Gross called "my personal Moses."

"They have my endless gratitude, love, and respect," he said. “I want to thank all of the members of Congress from all sides of the aisle, such as Senator Jeff Flake and Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Barbara Lee, who supported, spoke up for, and visited me, subjected themselves to my ranting, and helped me to regain some of my weight. Even in Cuba, M&Ms melt in your mouth."

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Pedestrians Struck in Deadly Crash in Redondo Beach, California


iStock/Thinkstock(REDONDO BEACH, Calif.) — At least one person is dead, with up to 12 others injured after a car slammed into a group of pedestrians Wednesday in Redondo Beach, California, police said.

The crash occurred outside St. James Catholic Church where a Christmas service had just ended, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Some of the pedestrians were rushed to hospitals with critical injuries, Redondo Beach police Lt. Joe Hoffman said. One adult died at a hospital, and the injured included at least one child.

According to ABC station KABC-TV, police said that a woman was driving northbound on Pacific Coast Highway when she ran a red light, striking the pedestrians and hitting another car.

The woman was taken in police custody to a hospital, where she was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, authorities said.

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Boston Marathon Suspect to Make Court Appearance Thursday


FBI(BOSTON) -- Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is expected to appear in federal court for a final status conference hearing Thursday before his trial is slated to begin on murder and terrorism charges next month -- making it the first time he has been seen in more than a year and a half.

Tsarnaev, 21, has not been in court since his arraignment on July 10, 2013 on charges that he and his brother Tamerlan detonated two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the historic race in April 2013, killing three and wounding more than 260 others, with 16 of those victims losing limbs.

Four days later, federal prosecutors said, the Tsarnaev brothers murdered MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, carjacked a Mercedes SUV driver, and led police on a high-speed chase in Watertown where a bomb and bullet battle erupted in the street. Tamerlan was killed in the firefight. Dzhokhar fled the scene and hid for more than 16 hours until his capture on a dry-docked boat, where he appeared to explain his motive for the crime with a note written inside, according to prosecutors.

“We Muslims are one body. You hurt one of us you hurt us all,’’ read part of a note allegedly written by Tsarnaev on the wall of the boat amid bullet holes. “Know you are fighting men who look into the barrel your gun and see heaven.” ABC News obtained a photo of the bloodstained bullet-pocked note.

Among the issues expected to be discussed Thursday is the jury selection process, which is slated to being Jan. 5. Tsarnaev’s trial is expected to run for two to three months.

Based on court filings, defense attorneys want the judge to include a question for potential jurors that would “identify those jurors who are especially likely to believe that the death penalty should be automatic for terrorism-murders, or for murderers of children or police officers.”

Tsarnaev could face the death penalty if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.

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Deployed Airman Dressed as Santa Claus Surprises Son


Fuse/Thinkstock(MT. JULIET, Tenn.) -- Aaron Williams, a kindergartner from Tennessee, may never look at a Santa Claus anywhere, anytime the same way again.

The 6-year-old was surprised at his school Tuesday by his dad, a member of the U.S. Air Force who dressed as Santa Claus, white beard and all, for the surprise.

Aaron’s dad, Senior Airman Nicholas Williams, is in the middle of a year-long deployment to South Korea, so Aaron thought his dad would not be home to celebrate Christmas.

“He started actually crying when I told him that,” Aaron’s mom, Whitney, told local ABC affiliate WKRN, referring to how she kept the secret from her son by telling him that his dad would not be home.

“He was really upset and I felt really bad, like a horrible mother for lying to him like that,” she said.

All was perhaps forgiven Tuesday morning when Aaron and his classmates at Lakeview Elementary School in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., gathered in the school library to, they thought, be read a story by an elf.

When Santa Claus appeared and the elf, the school's physical education teacher in costume, asked who wanted to pull Santa's beard, it was Aaron who, by chance, raised his hand first.

"He's actually a really shy little boy so it was so sweet that he wanted to do it the most of all of them," Tiffany Brown, the school's assistant principal, told ABC News.

"It took him a few times of tugging on the beard and it wasn't until it came off that he saw," Brown said. "He stopped laughing and went into kind of awe and his first word was very clearly, 'Daddy.'"

"There wasn't a dry eye in the room," she said.

Williams will have 28 days at home with his family before returning to South Korea through May to complete his military tour, WKRN reports.

“I couldn’t ask for really anything more than to be home for Christmas,” Williams told the station.


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Former Justice of the Peace Sentenced to Death for 2013 Murders


Kuzma/iStock/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- A Texas jury sentenced former Justice of the Peace Eric Williams to death in connection with the 2013 murder of the wife of a district attorney.

The jury had found Williams guilty in the murder of Cynthia McLelland, the wife of District Attorney Mike McLelland, earlier this month.

Among those who testified against Williams was his ex-wife, who described in detail the planning that went into Williams' revenge killings. District Attorney Mike McLelland and Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse had prosecuted Williams for theft, effectively ending his legal career.

The McLellands were killed in March 2013. Williams was charged with killing Mike McLelland as well as Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse, who was killed about two months earlier, but never tried for their deaths.

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Suspect in Kidnap of New Hampshire Girl Faces 205 Charges


New Hampshire Attorney General's Office(CONCORD, N.H.) -- A New Hampshire man who allegedly kidnapped a teenage girl and held her for nine months now faces more than 200 charges, including assault and felonious sexual assault, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Nathaniel Kibby, 34, is charged with 80 counts each of aggravated felonious sexual assault and sexual assault, as well as 40 other crimes, said Jane Young, assistant attorney general of New Hampshire.

Kibby allegedly used an "anti-bark shock dog training collar" on the teen to prevent her from making noise, according to court documents. Other times, the court records accuse him of using a gag in her mouth, zip ties around her wrists and a motorcycle helmet on her head with her eyes taped shut.

The name of Kibby's alleged victim was initially released publicly when she went missing and when she returned to her family, but now that she is alleged to be the victim of sex crimes, her name is being withheld.

The girl was 14 years old when she vanished in October 2013. She mysteriously returned to her mother's home in New Hampshire on July 20, and Kibby was arrested eight days later.

Court records accuse Kibby of using a Taser to kidnap the girl, threatening to shoot her with a rifle and confining her to commit sexual assault.

Parts of the report released Wednesday have been redacted, but the charges make it clear that the suspect is accused of repeated, violent sexual assault.

Questions about the relationship between the girl and her alleged captor were initially raised because she did not immediately identify Kibby to police, though a spokesman for the girl's family later said the girl did not know her attacker prior to her abduction. The court records say that at one point, Kibby allegedly laid on top of the girl and put a gun in her hand, telling her that it was better to shoot him than to tell police about the kidnapping.

Kibby, who is being held without bail, is scheduled to appear in Coos Superior Court on Jan. 8 for arraignment.

Attempts to reach his attorney for comment weren't immediately successful.

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Montana Man Found Guilty in Slaying of German Exchange Student


iStock/Thinkstock(GRANT CREEK, Mont.) -- Markus Kaarma has been found guilty in the slaying of 17-year-old German exchange student Diren Dede, whom he shot after the teen wandered into Kaarma’s Grant Creek, Montana, garage.

Kaarma had claimed that he killed the teenager inside his garage out of fear for the safety of his family.

Montana law allows a homeowner to protect himself with deadly force if threatened.

Prosecutors say Kaarma bragged about wanting to "shoot some kids" and left his garage door open, baiting a would-be robber.

The jury agreed, convicting Kaarma on Wednesday of deliberate homicide.

Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 11.

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Search Continues for Suspect Who Shot Texas Meteorologist Outside TV Station


KCEN/Facebook(WACO, Texas) --  Police continued their search tonight for a suspect in the shooting of a Texas meteorologist outside a TV station in Waco, Texas.

The suspect fled after allegedly shooting Patrick Crawford, NBC affiliate KCEN's morning meteorologist, multiple times in the studio's parking lot, Department of Public Safety Trooper D.L. Wilson told ABC News today.

Crawford underwent surgery, he added. Crawford's wife, Heather Brinkmann, also a meteorologist at the station, was with him at the hospital, KCEN's news director Jim Hice told ABC News.

"Thank you for your continuous thoughts and prayers," Heather Brinkmann posted on Facebook tonight. "I am happy to say that Patrick is in stable condition. Doctors continue to tell me how well he's doing considering the multiple gunshot wounds. Police tell me that if it wasn't for his smarts to hurry up and drive off and flag down construction workers, it could have been a whole different story. He is truly my hero."

A man was later captured after a standoff at a nearby house, but police told ABC affiliate KXXV that he was wanted in an unrelated case.

"[Crawford] was getting into his car this morning after leaving the building and the subject walked up to him and they had a confrontation," Wilson said.

With multiple gunshot wounds, Crawford, 35, was still able to drive away and flag down a construction worker for help, he added. It's not clear if there is a relationship between Crawford and the shooter.

"Whether they know each other or it's a random shooting, we don't know that yet," Wilson said.

The suspect is reportedly described as a white man with a receding hairline, 30 to 35 years old, wearing a black hoodie and dark jeans. He is considered armed and dangerous.

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Johns Hopkins Sends Rejected Students 'Welcome' Emails in Error


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) -- Johns Hopkins University accidentally sent nearly 300 students emails suggesting they had been accepted to the school, when actually they had already been turned down, the school admitted.

The university quickly sent another note to those students on Sunday, apologizing, telling them that the "welcome" email was an error and saying their original rejection still stood.

"That was far worse than the original denial," Chuck Stephenson, whose 17-year-old son Sam was among the 294 students who received the error message, told ABC News on Wednesday. "We all realize how difficult Johns Hopkins and some of the other premier schools are to get into, so the initial one wasn't a shocker. Everyone had gotten over that. But the second one was tough to swallow."

Sam Stephenson is a senior at Eastern View High School in Culpeper, Virginia. When he got the first email on Sunday that welcomed students to the class of 2019 and urged them to stock up on John Hopkins gear, "he assumed the original letter of denial was incorrect," his dad said. He still plans to apply for regular admission to Dartmouth, Duke, Vanderbilt and the University of Virginia, he said.

One student posted the messages from the school on Twitter:

 

I just have the worst luck in the world!!! LMAO I GOT TROLLED SO HARD smh #JHU2019 #wtf pic.twitter.com/FFwipsjl6O

— Geoffrey Wang (@geodudewang) December 14, 2014

 

Johns Hopkins' early decision acceptances were announced on Dec. 12. On Dec. 14, the mistaken message welcoming students who were not actually accepted was sent "due to a human error at a vendor working for our undergraduate admissions office," said Dennis O'Shea of the school's media relations department.

"When the problem was discovered, we quickly sent out a correction to those who had received the message by mistake," O'Shea said. "We sincerely apologize to the students affected and to their families. This was an unacceptable error and we are working to ensure it does not happen again."

Of the 1,865 students who applied for early decision to the prestigious Baltimore school, 539 were accepted.

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ABC EXCLUSIVE: Alan Gross: Cuba Releases Him After Five Years in Prison


Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — American contractor Alan Gross has landed in the U.S. after being released earlier Wednesday from a Cuban prison where he had been held for five years.

In a landmark humanitarian prisoner exchange announced by President Obama Wednesday at the White House, the agreement was reached following more than a year of secret back channel talks at the highest levels of both governments.

Wednesday’s release of Gross, 65, who is said to be in poor physical condition, represents a first step toward normalizing relations with the neighbor just 90-miles off the Florida coast.

The U.S. and Cuba are going to immediately begin talks to restore diplomatic relations, the White House announced.

“What we are doing is beginning the normalization of relations between the us and Cuba,” a senior administration official said. In the coming months, the U.S. also plans to re-establish an embassy in Havana.

Wednesday’s announcement comes after President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro spoke by phone Tuesday. Their conversation was described as a “summing up” of the work that has been done over the past year leading up to these changes. The two leaders discussed issues of importance in the hemisphere, while also noting that they will have differences to come. According to a senior administration official, Obama made clear his intent to maintain U.S. advocacy for human rights in Cuba.

Gross was convicted of espionage by a Cuban court in 2011 and sentenced to 15 years for bringing telecommunication devices into Cuba while working as a subcontractor for United States Agency for International Development.

The Cuban government accused him of being party to a U.S.-led plot to overthrow the government through an “Arab spring.”

Following a recent visit, Gross’ attorney described him as nearly toothless, barely able to walk because of arthritis in his hips and blind in one eye. He has been kept in a small room at a military hospital 24 hours a day with two other Cuban political prisoners.

Gross has refused medical and dental care or outside privileges, and declined visits and food from the U.S. Interest section in Havana. He had promised a hunger strike leading to death if not released by the end of this year.

In a statement released earlier this month to mark the anniversary of Gross’ time in jail, Gross’ wife Judy said: “Enough is enough. My husband has paid a terrible price for serving his country and community.”

In return for Gross, the United States has agreed to the humanitarian release of three Cuban agents convicted of espionage in a controversial trial that found them guilty of spying on anti-Castro groups in Miami, but not the U.S. government. All three were most recently held in North Carolina at a federal medical facility for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

The humanitarian release is just the beginning of a promised new relationship with Cuba. The White House is indicating the beginning of new talks on everything from travel restrictions to eventual lifting of the Cuban embargo in place since John F. Kennedy was President.

In an interview last week with Jorge Ramos for Fusion -- a sister network to ABC News -- President Obama said: “We’ve been in conversations about how we can get Alan Gross home for quite some time.”

"We continue to be concerned about him. We think that he shouldn’t have been held in the first place,” Obama told Ramos. “With respect to Cuba generally, I’ve made very clear that the policies that we have in making remittances easier for Cuban families, and making it easier for families to travel, have been helpful to people inside Cuba... But the Cuban government still needs to make significant changes."


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Sony Says Theaters Don't Have to Show "The Interview" After Threats


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(NEW YORK) -- Sony has told theaters they do not have to show The Interview, after the group claiming responsibility for stealing troves of Sony executives' emails released a note apparently threatening attacks on the theaters where the movie will be played, sources said.

Actors James Franco and Seth Rogen also canceled all press appearances in light of the threats, a representative for Rogen said.

The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday the threat is not backed up by any "credible intelligence," but sources told ABC News that the Sony hack and matters tied to it are being investigated not just as a criminal cyber matter but as a national security matter by the nation's law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

A prime suspect is the North Korean regime, and sources say this hack has shown an unprecedented capacity and ability to directly harm a major corporation.

Last week, the FBI held a private meeting in New York with reps from across the entertainment industry to brief them on cyber-related threats against them. The Sony hack was not the only topic discussed, but it was a major one, sources said.

The note was reportedly released by the Guardians of Peace, the group claiming to be behind previous Sony hack attacks and suspected of being linked to North Korea. The Interview is a fictional comedy about two Americans who are asked to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Tuesday's message is the first time the group has discussed The Interview by name rather than relatively vague references.

"We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places The Interview [will] be shown, including the premier, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to," the note released by the group of hackers reads. "The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001."

It goes on to say that people should stay away from places where the movie is shown and "whatever comes… all the world will denounce the SONY."

An official in the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday the department is "aware" of the threat.

"We are still analyzing the credibility of these statements, but at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States," the official said.

Two former high-level government officials also downplayed the threat to ABC News.

"Somebody is playing mind games with [SONY]," said Richard Clarke, cyber security expert and former White House counter-terrorism advisor. "I think North Korea has little or no capability to do any physical attacks, commando activity, or terrorism in the U.S. By saying it's coming, however, they hope to keep people from the theaters and, thereby, hurt Sony's revenue."

Matt Olsen, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center and like Clarke an ABC News consultant, said the threat sounded more like "hooliganism" than anything really serious.

"You have to take these types of threats seriously up to a point, but this sounds more like a hoax," Olsen said.

Another cyber security expert told ABC News that Sony can't rule out cyber-attacks on the locations where the movie will be played, but short of the group having a team on the ground bent on violence, said the wording of the note "sounds like hyperbole."

The threatening note was reportedly included in a new batch of emails pilfered from Sony computers, this time allegedly from the account of Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton. Previous email batches have embarrassed major Sony figures when their personal thoughts, criticisms and jokes about A-list celebrities were publicly leaked.

Earlier this month a North Korean official called allegations that the government was involved in the hacking "wild speculation" but called it a "righteous deed," according to a North Korean state news agency.

"[W]hat we clearly know is that the SONY Pictures is the very one which was going to produce a film abetting a terrorist act while hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] by taking advantage of the hostile policy of the U.S. administration towards the DPRK," the article said.

Monday the stars of The Interview, Seth Rogen and James Franco, told Good Morning America they never could've predicted the real-world drama surrounding the fictional story.

"I can't definitively say I know the ramifications of the storm. I mean, I don't know if the hacking honestly is because of our movie, definitively or not," Rogen said. "I know that it has been the center of a lot of media attention lately. It is weird because we just wanted to make a really funny, entertaining movie and the movie itself is very silly and wasn't meant to be controversial in any way."

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Water Leak at Barclays Center Causes 'Rain Delay' During NBA Game


Al Bello/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — A basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat was delayed for about 30 minutes Tuesday after a leak left water dripping onto the court.

The installation of a new roof at New York City’s Barclays Center -- which cost $1 billion to build -- led to the leak, center officials said.

Play was suspended with 1:47 remaining in the first quarter. As the water dripped onto the court, personnel covered the floor with towels and added a garbage can to collect the water.

Miami charged ahead after play resumed, winning 95-91.

Rainouts have happened at indoor sports facilities before, but it’s uncommon. A 1986 NBA game between the Seattle SuperSonics and Phoenix Suns was postponed due to a leaking roof. In 1976, baseball’s Houston Astros -- playing in the Astrodome -- had to reschedule a game due to flooding in and around the stadium following a storm.

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Drive Sober Campaign Aims to Top Last Year's Success


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says motorists should be wary about seeing a red light in their rear view mirror this holiday season. It probably won't be from Rudolph's nose but a cop pulling them over for possibly driving drunk.

With the government having again launched its annual "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign, Foxx issued a warning to motorists not to take any chances with drinking and driving this holiday season.

On the downside, the transportation chief said that alcohol played a role in over 10,000 traffic deaths last year.

However, campaigns like "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" appear to be working because Foxx added, "Last December saw the fewest drunk driving deaths of any December in more than 30 years. Drunk driving deaths were down by 2.5 percent over the whole year."

While an improvement, Foxx said state and local authorities hope to improve on that record this month.

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Jesus Sign at Fire Station Becomes Hot Topic


Hemera/Thinkstock(UTICA, N.Y.) — The chief of a Utica, New York, fire station says its holiday sign reading "Happy Birthday Jesus We Love You" is staying put.

Freedom From Religion Foundation based in Madison, Wisconsin, contends the sign outside Fire Station 4 is unconstitutional because it suggests the city prefers "religion over nonreligion," according to Syracuse.com.

Rebecca Markert, an attorney for the group, argues that it also excludes Jews, Muslims, Native Americans and nonreligious people.

This isn't the first time a controversy over the sign has erupted. Fire Chief Russell Brooks says that as far back as 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union made a similar complaint.

In fact, the Freedom From Religion Foundation also raised objections last year about the fire station's expression of its love for Jesus.

However, Brooks said that he received assurances from the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian, nonprofit law firm, that the sign is perfectly legal.

Despite the FFRF's latest protest, Brooks told a local TV station Tuesday the sign isn't going anywhere.

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Man Rushing to Wife In Labor Says Cop Pulled Gun on Him During Traffic Stop


shiyali/iStock/Thinkstock(CLEVELAND) -- An Ohio man says a Cleveland Heights police officer acted aggressively when he pulled his gun on him during a traffic stop as he was rushing to his wife in labor.

Samuel Taylor says he didn’t immediately pull over after the police officer flashed his lights. Instead, Taylor says, he put on his hazard lights, pulled to the shoulder lane and slowly kept going until he reached his home.

When he got out of the car and turned to the officer to explain that his wife was in labor, Taylor said the officer was already out of his car and had his gun trained on him.

“I knew this situation looked dangerous,” Taylor said. “I got out of the car and he yelled a few things, yelled at me to get against the car.”

Taylor said he tried to be as non-threatening as possible so that the officer would understand he just wanted to get home. He said he didn't pull over because he was extremely worried about his wife and was so close to home.

However, Taylor said the gun remained trained on him as he tried to explain his wife, Katie, had been in the hospital just days earlier and was now reporting labor pains.

“I told him the situation as best I could,” recalled Taylor. “[I said,] ‘Can you please let me go into the house?’”

Taylor said he was frisked and then told to wait in the car as the officer approached the house.

Cleveland Heights Police Chief Jeffrey Robertson told ABC News the department did an internal review after a local news organization reported on the incident and said all of the officer’s actions were within policy guidelines.

Robertson said that Taylor kept going for seven-tenths of a mile after the officer turned on his lights and then got out of the car and approached the officer, which is when the officer pulled his gun.

Robertson said the officer immediately holstered his weapon after Taylor told him that his wife was in labor and needed assistance. Robert also said between the time he initially tried to pull Taylor over and when he radioed for an ambulance was only two to four minutes.

When Taylor's wife walked outside, he said the officer started to yell at her to ask if she needed an ambulance. Taylor said his wife responded, "I don’t know, I need my husband. I’m having a baby."

Taylor tried to leave to give his wife his coat, but the officer told him to get back in the car. At one point his wife had a contraction and fell to the porch step as the officer continued to talk to her, Taylor said.

Taylor said he was given two citations, one for speeding and one for failing to yield to an emergency.

Taylor’s wife was taken to the hospital and gave birth later that day. Taylor said his wife and new son Jonah are doing well, but he remains frustrated and plans on fighting the citation he received for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle.

“I’ve heard the officer followed all their policies and there’s not going to be any type of review [of] policy,” said Taylor. “If a third party said he followed the right procedure, then I would question the procedure.”

Taylor has not filed charges or a complaint with the police department but said he was consulting with lawyers about the possibility of filing charges.

Cleveland Heights is a suburb of Cleveland and their police department is separate from the Cleveland Division of Police that was investigated by the U.S. Justice Department.

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