Constant fireworks frazzle nerves in U.S. city that never sleeps

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Complaints are skyrocketing about thundering fireworks exploding over otherwise quiet U.S. neighborhoods, fraying nerves already frazzled by COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

Even in the city that never sleeps, weary New Yorkers in the first half of June lodged a one-hundredfold increase in complaints compared to the year-ago period, of explosions that begin before sundown and rattle windows into the morning. The city’s 311 hotline received 2,492 fireworks complaints from June 1-16, up from just 25 in the same period in 2019.

The pyrotechnics occur almost nightly across the five boroughs of New York, once the U.S. epicenter of coronavirus infections, which recently achieved the nation’s lowest rate of virus spread.

“We have been terrorized by the fireworks for weeks now,” said Tanya Bonner, a government policy consultant in her 40s who lives in upper Manhattan, where Columbia University’s athletics complex had been converted into a COVID-19 field hospital.

“It is very bad up here. This area also has many essential workers – and they need rest.”

Bonner, who suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma and must leave her apartment windows open, said she can sleep only by turning her television volume “way up” even though “the fireworks happen so close to my window that it is impossible to drown it out.”

To get some shuteye, another upper Manhattan resident said she closes all windows and muffles the blasts by turning on a noisy air conditioner, a fan, a white noise machine and screwing in some tight-fitting earplugs.

“Fireworks are illegal in New York City,” New York Police Detective Sophia Mason responded in an email. But neighboring New Jersey legalized some fireworks in 2017.

From Jan. 1 through June 14, the New York Police Department has seized fireworks on 26 occasions, made eight arrests, issued 22 criminal court summonses, and responded to 2 fireworks-related injuries, Mason said.

In Massachusetts, which has the country’s strictest prohibitions against fireworks, police blamed a spike in complaints in Boston and other municipalities on a stretch of warmer weather after months of stay-at-home orders.

“It’s just been months now of young people being inside, being bored,” said Lieutenant Sean Murtha of the Worcester Police Department, roughly 47 miles (76 km) west of Boston.

“It’s been a stressful time for everybody, an oppressive time,” said Murtha, who noted recent reports of gunshots that turned out to be fireworks were double the five-year average, totaling 27 in May, the most recent data available.

In upstate New York, Syracuse residents said they were being pushed to the brink by the pyrotechnics and more than 530 have signed a petition demanding Mayor Ben Walsh “crack down on constant fireworks” that have been booming since May.

“These are not merely a nuisance, but extremely traumatic for service members with PTSD,” Scott Upham Jr., a Syracuse resident who started the petition, said on

Others said the noise was particularly bothersome for people with autism and family pets and worried that the fireworks create a fire hazard.

Mayor Walsh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Additional reporting by Aleksandra Michalska; Editing by Richard Chang)

YouTube attacker was vegan activist who accused tech firm of discrimination

Police officers are seen at Youtube headquarters following an active shooter situation in San Bruno, California, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

By Paresh Dave

SAN BRUNO, Calif. (Reuters) – The woman identified by police as the attacker who wounded three people at YouTube’s headquarters in California was a vegan blogger who accused the video-sharing service of discriminating against her, according to her online profile.

Nasim Najafi Aghdam appears in a handout photo provided by the San Bruno Police Department, April 4, 2018. San Bruno Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

Nasim Najafi Aghdam appears in a handout photo provided by the San Bruno Police Department, April 4, 2018. San Bruno Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

Police said 39-year-old Nasim Najafi Aghdam from San Diego was behind Tuesday’s shooting at YouTube’s offices in Silicon Valley, south of San Francisco, where the company owned by Alphabet Inc’s Google employs nearly 2,000 people.

A man was in critical condition and two women were seriously wounded in the attack, which ended when Aghdam shot and killed herself.

Californian media reported that Aghdam’s family had warned the authorities that she may target YouTube prior to the shooting. Her father Ismail Aghdam told The Mercury News that he had told police that she might be going to YouTube’s headquarters because she “hated” the company.

Police said they were still investigating possible motives but Aghdam’s online activities show that she believed YouTube was deliberately obstructing her videos from being viewed.

“YouTube filtered my channels to keep them from getting views,” she wrote on YouTube according to a screenshot of her account. Her channel was deleted on Tuesday.

Writing in Persian on her Instagram account, Aghdam said she was born in Iranian city of Urmiah but that she was not planning to return to Iran.

“I think I am doing a great job. I have never fallen in love and have never got married. I have no physical and psychological diseases,” she wrote.

“But I live on a planet that is full of injustice and diseases.”

Her family in Southern California recently reported her missing because she had not been answering her phone for two days, police said.

At one point early Tuesday, Mountain View, California, police found her sleeping in her car and called her family to say everything was under control, hours before she walked onto the company grounds with a hand gun and opened fire.

The United States is in the grips of a fierce national debate around tighter curbs on gun ownership after the killing of 17 people in a mass shooting at a Florida high school in February. Authorities there failed to act on two warnings about the attacker prior to the shooting, prompting a public outcry.

Aghdam ran a website called, which translates as “Green Breeze” from Persian, on which she posted about Persian culture, veganism and long, rambling passages railing against corporations and governments.

“BE AWARE! Dictatorships exist in all countries. But with different tactics,” she wrote. “They care only for short term profits and anything to to reach their goals even by fooling simple-minded people.”

Complaints about alleged censorship on YouTube are not unique. The video service has long faced a challenge in balancing its mission of fostering free speech with the need to both promote an appropriate and lawful environment for users.

In some cases involving videos with sensitive content, YouTube has allowed the videos to stay online but cut off the ability for their publishers to share in advertising revenue.

Criticisms from video makers that YouTube is too restrictive about which users can participate in revenue sharing swelled last year as the company imposed new restrictions.

YouTube spokeswoman Jessica Mason could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in ANKARA; Writing by Rich McKay; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Microsoft women filed 238 discrimination and harassment complaints

The Microsoft logo is shown on the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo - RC177D20CF10

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Women at Microsoft Corp working in U.S.-based technical jobs filed 238 internal complaints about gender discrimination or sexual harassment between 2010 and 2016, according to court filings made public on Monday.

The figure was cited by plaintiffs suing Microsoft for systematically denying pay raises or promotions to women at the world’s largest software company. Microsoft denies it had any such policy.

The lawsuit, filed in Seattle federal court in 2015, is attracting wider attention after a series of powerful men have left or been fired from their jobs in entertainment, the media and politics for sexual misconduct.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are pushing to proceed as a class action lawsuit, which could cover more than 8,000 women.

More details about Microsoft’s human resources practices were made public on Monday in legal filings submitted as part of that process.

The two sides are exchanging documents ahead of trial, which has not been scheduled.

Out of 118 gender discrimination complaints filed by women at Microsoft, only one was deemed “founded” by the company, according to the unsealed court filings.

Attorneys for the women described the number of complaints as “shocking” in the court filings, and said the response by Microsoft’s investigations team was “lackluster.”

Companies generally keep information about internal discrimination complaints private, making it unclear how the number of complaints at Microsoft compares to those at its competitors.

In a statement on Tuesday, Microsoft said it had a robust system to investigate concerns raised by its employees, and that it wanted them to speak up.

Microsoft budgets more than $55 million a year to promote diversity and inclusion, it said in court filings. The company had about 74,000 U.S. employees at the end of 2017.

Microsoft said the plaintiffs cannot cite one example of a pay or promotion problem in which Microsoft’s investigations team should have found a violation of company policy but did not.

U.S. District Judge James Robart has not yet ruled on the plaintiffs’ request for class action status.

A Reuters review of federal lawsuits filed between 2006 and 2016 revealed hundreds containing sexual harassment allegations where companies used common civil litigation tactics to keep potentially damning information under wraps.

Microsoft had argued that the number of womens’ human resources complaints should be secret because publicizing the outcomes could deter employees from reporting future abuses.

A court-appointed official found that scenario “far too remote a competitive or business harm” to justify keeping the information sealed.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Additional reporting by Salvador Rodriguez; Editing by Bill Rigby, Edwina Gibbs and Bernadette Baum)

Oakland city workers visited warehouse, did not flag fire hazard

A firefighter watches from the roof at the scene of the fatal warehouse fire in Oakland, California, U.S.

By Heather Somerville, Kristina Cooke and Dan Levine

(Reuters) – In the two years leading up to the fire at an Oakland, California warehouse that killed 36 people at a dance party late last week, city officials had entered the building on numerous occasions and had multiple opportunities to see that residents were illegally living there in hazardous conditions.

The Oakland Police Department received dozens of complaints about the warehouse, and went inside at least half a dozen times, according to police reports and accounts from former tenants and visitors.

Neighbors and former tenants also say city fire officials were in the building at least twice.

Those who spent time in the artists’ cooperative known as the “Ghost Ship,” say that potential code violations would have been apparent to anyone entering the building, which was not permitted for residence.

Living quarters with narrow, winding halls were built from scrap materials, including highly flammable wooden pallets. Nails were exposed, plumbing improvised and a makeshift stairway to the second floor was extremely hazardous, they say.

“If you opened the door and stepped even three feet inside it would be grossly apparent to anyone that it wasn’t just being used as a warehouse or a workspace,” said former Ghost Ship neighbor Ben Acevedo, 45, who estimates he made about 60 calls to police about the property over 16 months to report noise, blight and illegal occupancy.

On Wednesday, amid questions about why the city did not act to shut down the warehouse, an Oakland official said that code enforcement personnel had not entered the building in 30 years.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said she did not know the last time fire inspectors had gone inside. She did not mention police visits, but said the city would launch a new effort “to clarify the responsibility of city employees to properly report any observations of dangerous living conditions or illegal events.”


The Ghost Ship collective was founded by Derick Ion Almena, who leased the warehouse and lived in it with his wife and three children, as well as artists to whom he rented space.

Fights, raucous parties and complaints about thefts drew police to the scene numerous times during the collective’s tenancy. Almena did not responded to several requests for comment.

In January 2015, officers responding to reports of a fight went inside the warehouse, attempted to locate “a stolen cellphone,” and “canvassed the area and the building for the suspect,” according to a police report. Court records show that two children were present.

A person who was there at the time, but declined to be named for fear of retribution, said the officers’ search took them into parts of the building where people were clearly residing, including the bathroom and shower area as well as the kitchen, which was full of food and dishes.

The previous year, tenants Adriana Sparkuhl and her boyfriend reported a robbery at the warehouse to police, records show. Sparkuhl, now 31, says the report stemmed from a dispute with Almena when she and her boyfriend moved out.

Sparkuhl said she also told the officers that people, including Almena’s three children, were living in the warehouse illegally and that the police said they would pay the Ghost Ship a visit. She does not know whether they did.

In July 2014, about a month after Sparkuhl filed her report, police entered the foyer of the warehouse while investigating a homicide at a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant across the street, according to a resident at the time.

From where they stood, the officers would have seen the kitchen area and at least one RV, said then-resident Brad Evans, 21. Police asked Almena’s three children whether they lived there, Evans recalled, and the children responded that they did.

Former resident Shelley Mack, 58, said she called police to escort her from the building when she moved out in February 2015.

“They saw everything,” Mack said, adding that she told them about the illegal residents. “I told them everything they needed to know. They didn’t have to guess.”


Oakland police have not responded to Reuters’ request for the call log of service requests to the Ghost Ship. City officials have not yet released fire inspection reports also requested by Reuters, citing a delay due to a criminal investigation of the fire by the district attorney’s office.

Barry Donelan, the president of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association said it was “ludicrous” to expect rank-and-file police officers to report building code violations.

“Are you familiar with the crime in Oakland? These guys are going from call to call and now we are responsible for code enforcement too?” he asked.

NBC Bay Area reported citing sources that there was no record of a fire inspection at the Ghost Ship over the last decade.

At least one resident and also a neighbor, however, recalled visits by fire officials to the warehouse.

Ghost Ship resident Libby Physh said a fire official visited the building twice when she lived there during the summer and fall of 2014. She said the fire official saw “how much building was going on” inside the warehouse and wanted to ensure there were clearly marked exits. Otherwise, Physh said, he “did not say anything negative” about the space.

Danielle Boudreaux, a neighbor and one-time friend of Almena and his wife, said that Almena told her around January 2015 that a fire official had recently visited the warehouse and “was breathing down” his neck.

“If you get all these complaints for the same address you’d think they’d take it more seriously, would make it a priority,” said Acevedo, the former neighbor.

(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner; editing by Sue Horton, G Crosse)