Homeless Tai Chi

In this Oct. 2, 2019, photo, David Christopher Coons performs tai chi at the Salt Lake City Main Library, in Salt Lake City. The participants are homeless people who take part in a free tai chi program run by a retired couple who started the classes three years earlier. Coons was fired from his job as an electrician about five years ago. He has been homeless since, vacillating between sleeping in shelters or on the streets of Salt Lake City. 

UTAH

Homeless people find friends, ease stress in tai chi class

SALT LAKE CITY — On a quiet morning outside a library in Salt Lake City, about 70 people are kicking and slicing at the air as they practice the ancient martial art of tai chi.

One man with a long, gray beard balances on his right leg with a ragged blanket draped over his shoulders. A barefoot woman wearing torn jeans does the exercises as a tiny dog circles around her legs.

This isn't a well-trained class of health enthusiasts wearing new tennis shoes and expensive leggings. Many participants are homeless.

In this class, the focus is less on mastering the exercise and more on building a community for transient people. People have said the class relieves their stress, encourages them to get up in the morning, build a routine and make friends.

The free program is run by a retired couple who started the classes three years ago by approaching homeless people in tents and pushing grocery carts near the Salt Lake City Public Library to encourage them to join the classes.

Bernie and Marita Hart had one participant in their first class. Now, more than 50 people regularly attend tai chi five days a week at the downtown library and Pioneer Park, where many homeless people congregate.

David Christopher Coons, 54, who is homeless, says the class motivates him to take care of himself and gives him something to look forward to during the week.

Utah's homeless population has steadily increased over the past three years, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. State officials have cited several factors for the backward slide: increasing housing costs, stagnant wage growth, the opioid epidemic.

ARIZONA

Pardoned sheriff doesn't want conviction raised in the future

PHOENIX — An attorney for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio urged an appeals court on Oct. 23 to erase the lawman's now-pardoned criminal conviction so it can't be raised against him in any future court cases.

The former six-term sheriff from metro Phoenix is appealing a ruling that refused to expunge his conviction for disobeying a 2011 court order barring his traffic patrols that targeted immigrants. The 2017 ruling said pardons don't erase convictions or the facts of cases and that President Donald Trump's pardon of Arpaio only removed his possible punishments.

Judge Daniel Collins, one of the three judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals who heard Arpaio's appeal in San Francisco, said the pardon caused Arpaio's case to be dismissed and that the criminal charge can't be refiled.

Arpaio attorney Jack Wilenchik said the judges should clarify that the conviction doesn't have any legal consequences on his client.

Special prosecutor Christopher Caldwell urged the judges to reject Arpaio's arguments, saying the there are no legal consequences from the now-pardoned conviction and that U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton didn't abuse her judicial powers when she refused to erase the conviction.

Arpaio's lawyers had previously told the appeals court that the lawman was deprived of his opportunity to appeal his conviction because the pardon came before he was sentenced and final judgment was entered, so the conviction must be erased.

Caldwell had argued in the past that Arpaio gave up his right to appeal the conviction when he accepted the August 2017 pardon — and that if the former sheriff wanted to challenge the conviction, he should have rejected the clemency and taken his chances in the appeals court.

The 87-year-old lawman is now seeking the Republican nomination to run for sheriff next year.

NEW MEXICO

Judge eases Christmas tree-cutting ban in fight over owl

ALBUQUERQUE — The scope of a tree-cutting ban across several national forests in the Southwest has been further narrowed to allow for Christmas tree permits and prescribed burns under a new order issued by a U.S. judge in an ongoing fight over a threatened owl.

The order was filed on Oct. 22, a day after environmentalists and the U.S. Forest Service reached an agreement on what types of activities would be allowed to continue across thousands of square miles of forest in New Mexico and Arizona without harming the Mexican spotted owl or its habitat.

The activities permitted by the latest court order include the cutting of a tree in northern New Mexico that will be put on display for Christmas outside the U.S. Capitol.

The gathering of firewood by rural residents also was at issue as the Forest Service interpreted an initial order to mean all timber management activities across five New Mexico forests and one in Arizona would be halted until forest and wildlife managers came up with a way to count the owls as part of a recovery plan.

Environmentalists argued that the Forest Service's interpretation was overly broad and asked the judge for clarification. They ended up reaching an agreement with federal officials, resulting in stipulations included in the latest order.

First listed as threatened in the U.S. in 1993, the Mexican spotted owl is found in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, parts of West Texas and Mexico.

Report details use of solitary confinement in state, county facilities

SANTA FE — The first-ever quarterly report from the New Mexico Corrections Department on its use of solitary confinement shows about 4% of inmates are held alone in a cell for at least 22 hours a day.

The main reasons were pending court hearings and transfers — not because a prisoner was a threat to themself or others, according to the report.

Some spent just a day or two in isolation, while many were confined for weeks or months.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that collection of the data was mandated by legislation signed into law earlier this year. The new law restricts the use of solitary confinement for pregnant, juvenile and mentally ill inmates.

State and county correctional facilities are required to report the age, gender and ethnicity of each inmate placed or held in solitary during each three-month reporting period.

The report lists each of the 1,160 times solitary was used in the past quarter.

NEBRASKA

State supreme court rejects lethal injection protocol challenge

LINCOLN — The lethal injection protocol that was used in 2018 to execute a Nebraska prisoner withstood a legal challenge Oct. 18 from death penalty opponents who hoped to prevent the state from carrying out capital punishment.

The Nebraska Supreme Court sided with state officials who adopted the new protocol in 2017 to allow the state to resume executions.

Death penalty opponents, including state Sen. Ernie Chambers, alleged in their lawsuit that officials created the protocol without following state laws and procedures. The court declined to weigh in on those arguments, ruling instead that Chambers and the Rev. Stephen Griffith didn't have the necessary legal standing to bring the case because they aren't on death row and the protocol change didn't infringe their legal rights.

The new protocol gives the state corrections director broad authority to decide which drugs to use in executions and how to obtain them. Nebraska's previous protocol called for three specific drugs, including some that were unavailable to the state.

Nebraska and other states have found it increasingly difficult to carry out executions because many drug companies don't want their products used to kill inmates and are refusing to sell them to correctional departments.

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