Over 60,000 officers assaulted in 2020, with 31% sustaining injuries: FBI

iStock/ChiccoDodiFC

(NEW YORK) — More than 60,000 law enforcement officers were assaulted in the line of duty in 2020, including more than 40 who were killed, according to the FBI.

The total of 60,105 was an increase of 4,071 from 2019, with FBI drawing on reports from some 9,895 law enforcement agencies.

Among those assaulted, about 31% sustained injuries. In 2020, 46 officers were killed, down from 48 in 2019, FBI data showed.

Most of the assaults on officers happened after they responded to disturbance calls, including family quarrels and bar fights, according to the FBI.

“Police officers across the country are facing an increase in violent crime and violent acts committed against them,” said Laura Cooper, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “Facing these dangerous situations is another reason why it has been difficult for police agencies to find recruits who want to put on a uniform and put their lives on the line.”

Vernon Stanforth, president of the National Sheriffs Association, said the staggering numbers weren’t a surprise “after this troubling year for law enforcement.”

Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund President Jason Johnson said the increased assaults on officers come at a time when they’re “seemingly under attack on all fronts.”

In the first nine months of 2021, 54 officers were feloniously killed while on duty compared with 37 over that same time period in 2020, according to the latest FBI data. Among those deaths, 20 were unprovoked attacks.

A new LELDF report showed that from June 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021, in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the subsequent protests, the percentage of officers quitting or retiring had increased by double digits compared with 2019.

This year, high-profile police killings have already dominated headlines, including the case of Chicago officer Ella French, who was shot during a traffic stop in August.

French, 29, was the first Chicago police officer since 2018 killed in the line of duty and the city’s first female officer killed in the line of duty since 1988.

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

COVID-19 updates: ‘National emergency’ declared on children’s mental health

iStock/koto_feja

(NEW YORK) — The United States has been facing a COVID-19 surge as the more contagious delta variant continues to spread.

More than 726,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.9 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Just 66.7% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the CDC.

Latest headlines:
-10 states see rise in hospital admissions
-UK records highest daily death toll since March
-‘National emergency’ declared on children’s mental health

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern.

Oct 19, 2:56 pm
Secretary Mayorkas tests positive for COVID-19

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has tested positive for COVID-19, a DHS spokeswoman confirmed to ABC News.

Mayorkas, who is fully vaccinated, “is experiencing only mild congestion,” a statement said.

Mayorkas will work from home, the statement said. Contact tracing is underway.

ABC News’ Luke Barr

Oct 19, 1:00 pm
Pfizer vaccine 93% effective against hospitalizations for 12-18 age group

A new CDC study found that the Pfizer vaccine was 93% effective against hospitalizations for adolescents ages 12 to 18 from July to September.

The researchers also found that nearly all (97%) of adolescents’ ages 12 to 18 who were hospitalized with COVID-19 were unvaccinated.

ABC News’ Sony Salzman

Oct 19, 12:30 pm
10 states see rise in hospital admissions

Ten states — all of which have colder temperatures — have seen upticks in hospital admissions in recent weeks, according to federal data: Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wyoming.

However, nationwide, just under 58,000 Americans remain hospitalized, a major drop from 104,000 patients at the end of the summer, according to federal data.

Death rates remain high, with more than 1,000 Americans dying each day, according to federal data.

Over the last month, the U.S. has reported approximately 45,000 COVID-19 deaths, including nearly 7,600 deaths in the last week.

ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Oct 19, 11:48 am
UK records highest daily death toll since March

The United Kingdom recorded 233 COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the highest total since March 5, according to government data.

In a statement confirmed by ABC News, issued before the new figures were published, the prime minister’s office said it was keeping a “very close eye” on the numbers and urged people to get their booster shots.

“We have seen case rates rising, we’ve started to see some indications that hospitalizations and death rates are increasing also,” a spokesman for the prime minister said. “It’s important that the public understand that getting your booster jab is just as important as getting your first and second dose.”

ABC News’ Guy Davies

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Freshman fraternity member at Kentucky dies from ‘presumed alcohol toxicity’

iStock/Motortion

(NEW YORK) — A freshman at the University of Kentucky died from alcohol toxicity Monday night after he was found unresponsive at his fraternity house, officials said.

University police officers were called to FarmHouse Fraternity at about 6:22 p.m. Monday where Thomas Lofton Hazlewood, an 18-year-old fraternity member, was unresponsive, the university said.

The agricultural economics major was taken to a hospital where he died, the university said.

Hazlewood’s cause of death was “presumed alcohol toxicity” pending investigation, and the manner of death was ruled an accident, the Fayette County Coroner’s Office said.

“Foul play is not suspected, but police are investigating the circumstances of his death,” the university said in a statement Tuesday.

FarmHouse Fraternity CEO Christian Wiggins said in a statement, “We are deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Thomas ‘Lofton’ Hazelwood, a new member of the University of Kentucky chapter of FarmHouse Fraternity. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and loved ones as well as the entire community. We have encouraged all members and new members to cooperate with any investigation prompted by Mr. Hazelwood’s death.”

“The thoughts of the entire UK community are with his family and all those who knew him,” the university said.

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Would-be Ahmaud Arbery jurors air strong opinions on killing, defendants

iStock/CatEyePerspective

(NEW YORK) — The second day of jury selection in the high-profile murder case of Ahmaud Arbery commenced Tuesday, with prosecutors and lawyers finding it tough to impanel an impartial jury.

“I guess I would call it murder,” one potential juror vented on the three white Georgia men accused of chasing down and killing Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man.

Another would-be panelist put it bluntly when asked in court about his opinions of the case that has dominated headlines nationwide, but particularly in south Georgia, saying, “I’m sick of it.” Several potential candidates said they were worried about their safety if selected to serve.

In the first day and a half of the courtroom proceedings, no jurors have been selected and at least 14 of the first 40 questioned under oath so far have been dismissed, while others have yet to be individually questioned or told they may be called back. At least three of the potential panelists let go are Black and one is Hispanic, causing attorneys for Arbery’s family to be concerned.

“We certainly believe that there should be Black and brown voices, as well as white voices on the jury,” one of the family’s attorneys, Lee Merritt, said in an interview with ABC News’ Linsey Davis on Monday evening.

About 1,000 residents of Glynn County received a jury summons and questionnaire, or about 1 out of 85 eligible people living in a county that, according to U.S. Census data, is 69% white, 26% Black and 7% Hispanic.

The three defendants are Gregory McMichael, 65, a retired police officer, his son, Travis McMichael, 35, and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, 52. They have all pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment stemming from the Feb. 23, 2020, fatal shooting of Arbery in the unincorporated Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick.

The McMichaels claim they thought Arbery was a burglar and were exercising their rights under the state’s citizens’ arrest law, which has since been repealed. Travis McMichael is also claiming self-defense after allegedly shooting Arbery three times with a shotgun during a fight, according to his attorney.

Bryan made a cellphone video of part of the fatal confrontation, which is now being used as evidence against him and the McMichaels. Bryan’s attorney said he was only a witness to the crime, but prosecutors counter that he was an active participant in the pursuit of Arbery.

On Tuesday, the second batch of 20 potential jurors was sworn in by Chatham County Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley, who was appointed to preside over the Glynn County trial. Under general questioning from Walmsley, nine of the candidates raised their hands affirmatively when asked, “Have you for any reason formed or expressed an opinion in regard to the guilt or innocence of the accused?”

When asked by lead prosecutor Linda Dunikowski if there was anyone in the room who wanted to serve on the jury, no one raised their hand.

In an indication of how small Glynn County is, at least five jurors said they knew one or more of the defendants or some of the witnesses Dunikowski said could be called to testify.

One potential juror said she knew Jackie Johnson, the former Brunswick District Attorney. Johnson, the first prosecutor to get the case, was indicted in September on a felony count of violating her oath of office by allegedly “showing favor and affection” to Gregory McMichael, with whom she once had a working relationship, and a misdemeanor count of hindering a law enforcement officer.

During the questioning of individuals on Monday, some of the would-be panelists did not shy away from sharing their opinions.

“I think Mr. Arbery was probably in terror. I’m trying to be honest here,” a woman referred to as Juror No. 4, a retired accountant and auditor, said under questioning by defense lawyers.

After acknowledging her negative feelings toward Travis McMichael, she said, “He shot a man who had been running through his neighborhood who didn’t appear to have done anything wrong. What would I call that? I guess I would call it murder.”

A man referred to as Juror No. 2 said during questioning that he has shared the video of Arbery’s slaying on social media and discussed the case with his brothers — one of whom is also among the potential jurors summoned.

“I’m sick of it,” Juror No. 2 said of news of the case. “It’s everywhere. It’s around my job. Everywhere I look, it’s there.”

ABC News’ Janice McDonald contributed to this report.

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Family of Elijah McClain reaches settlement with Aurora, Colorado

iStock/nirat

(NEW YORK) — The family of Elijah McClain has reached a settlement with the city of Aurora over his violent arrest and subsequent death, city officials said.

“The city of Aurora and the family of Elijah McClain reached a settlement agreement in principle over the summer to resolve the lawsuit filed after his tragic death in August 2019,” Ryan Luby, the deputy director of Communications and Marketing for Aurora, told ABC News.

He said city leaders will sign the agreement as soon as the family completes a separate process to determine how any settlement proceeds will be divided among themselves. Until then, “the parties cannot disclose the settlement terms,” but so far, no amount was discussed in the most recent hearing on Oct. 8, Luby said.

“The court will now determine allocation of the proceeds between Ms. McClain, the parent who raised Elijah McClain by herself, and LaWayne Mosley,” attorneys for Elijah McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, told ABC Denver affiliate, KMGH-TV.

A lawyer for Elijah McClain’s father also confirmed a settlement has been reached.

“Nothing will bring back his son Elijah, who he loved dearly, but he is hopeful that this settlement with Aurora, and the criminal charges against the officers and medics … will allow his family and the community to begin to heal,” attorney Mari Newman, on LaWayne Mosley’s behalf, told ABC News.

The settlement comes over a year after the family filed a 106-page federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Colorado, accusing several officers and paramedics of violating Elijah McClain’s civil rights and negligently causing his death.

Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist from Aurora, Colorado, was confronted by police on Aug. 24 while walking home from a convenience store, after a 911 caller said they saw someone “sketchy.” He was unarmed.

He was wearing a ski mask at the time because, according to his family, he had anemia, a blood condition that can make people feel cold more easily.

Body camera video shows that the officers told Elijah McClain he was “being suspicious,” to which he replied, “I have a right to go where I am going.”

Officers placed him in a carotid chokehold, which restricts the carotid artery, cutting off blood to the brain, according to an independent review of his death released in February. Elijah had earlier pleaded with them, saying he is non-violent and at one point was heard on the body camera footage saying that he can’t breathe.

When EMTs arrived at the scene, he was administered a shot of 500 milligrams of ketamine and was then loaded on an ambulance, where he had a heart attack, officials said.

Elijah McClain went into cardiac arrest. The incident led to his death on Aug. 30, three days after doctors pronounced him brain dead and he was removed from life support, officials said. The Adams County coroner ruled the cause of McClain’s death to be undetermined.

Initially, no charges were brought against the officers involved in the incident.

However, in January, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser launched a grand jury probe into Elijah McClain’s death. In September, a state grand jury returned a 32-count indictment against the three officers — Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema — and two paramedics — Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec — in the case, charging them with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, among other charges.

Sheneen McClain called the charges “a step toward justice” at the time.

“I’m still praying for them to be in prison. My son’s murderers and their accomplices all need to be in prison for what they did to him,” she told ABC News. “They had no right to stop him. They had no right to handcuff him, brutalize and terrorize him, or inject him with ketamine.”

The Aurora Police Association Board of Directors defended the officers following the indictment, saying in a statement, “There is no evidence that APD officers caused his death. The hysterical overreaction to this case has severely damaged the police department.”

Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson and Aurora Fire Rescue Chief Fernando Gray both said that each of their departments will continue to cooperate as the judicial process moves forward.

Last month, the Colorado attorney general issued a report following a 14-month probe into the actions of the Aurora Police Department in the wake of Elijah McClain’s death and found the department had a pattern of racial bias, as well as excessive force.

The report also found Aurora Police arrested people of color “1.3 times more than whites based on population percentage alone.”

The AG office recommended changes to policies, training, record-keeping and hiring as a result of the report.

ABC News’ Ivan Pereira, Sabina Ghebremedhin, Deena Zaru and Courtney Condron contributed to this report.

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Why breakthrough COVID deaths can be misunderstood

iStock/koto_feja

(NEW YORK) — The death of former Secretary of State Colin Powell due to COVID-19 complications has sparked conversations about breakthrough deaths among vaccinated individuals.

It would be inaccurate, however, to jump to any conclusions about vaccine effectiveness from a single breakthrough death such as Powell’s, who was 84 years old, immunocompromised and being treated for multiple myeloma, a blood-borne cancer that “in and of itself can lead to compromised immunity,” Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at the South Shore Medical Center in Massachusetts, told ABC News.

In a statement, Dr. Paul Richardson, the director of clinical research at the Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said myeloma patients are “not only vulnerable to infection but once infected, they are more prone to serious complications including vascular effects and profound immune dysfunction.”

Dr. Craig Devoe, chief of medical oncology and hematology at Northwell Health in New York, said that myeloma doesn’t just put patients at a higher risk of severe illness but could have also put their immune system at a disadvantage for fighting off COVID-19 even when fully vaccinated “because both the disease and the treatment itself are highly immunosuppressive.”

According to his spokesperson, Powell was fully vaccinated and was being treated for myeloma, which is not curable. He had also recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which can itself be debilitating depending on the stage.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been roughly 7,000 breakthrough deaths among the 187 million vaccinated Americans, with more than 6,000 over the age of 65 in contrast to the more than 700,000 COVID-19 deaths among the unvaccinated.

“Without question, we can expect deaths,” Ellerin said. “It is much more common in those unvaccinated than vaccinated. But we are seeing breakthrough vaccine deaths, especially in the elderly — patients in their 80s and older — or those who are immunocompromised.”

No one who receives a COVID-19 vaccine is 100% protected from death, but the vaccines have shown to be extremely effective at lowering the risk of getting the disease.

The CDC recently updated its website with data illustrating the fact that vaccines are still dramatically reducing the risk of testing positive or dying of COVID-19 amid the latest delta surge. While there has been a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases and deaths since July 2021, the increase is more pronounced among unvaccinated individuals.

In August, unvaccinated people were 6.1 times more at risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and 11.3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to vaccinated individuals, according to federal data pulled from 16 states and jurisdictions.

“[A breakthrough vaccine death] is not an argument for ‘don’t get your vaccine,'” Ellerin said. “That is an argument for ‘get your vaccine because that’s the best way of reducing your likelihood of death.'”

Additionally, when broken down by age, death rates in every age group were higher among the unvaccinated populations. Older Americans (80+) had the highest rate of deaths among fully vaccinated people per capita, though their risk of death was about 5.7 times lower than their unvaccinated counterparts in the same age group.

Among the breakthrough deaths, the U.S. is currently seeing what Ellerin labels “a precarious triangle” of risk factors — old age, underlying diseases that lead to immunocompromisation and treatments for those diseases — which make individuals more susceptible to severe COVID-19 infection.

Vaccinated people who fall into the intersection of these risk areas should also prioritize non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as masking when indoors and optimizing ventilation, experts say.

Dr. Edward Stadtmauer, director of the myeloma program at the University of Pennsylvania, told ABC News that the best way for cancer patients to prevent COVID-19 infection or limit its severity is to get vaccinated.

“If you have abnormal plasma cells to begin with or are getting therapy that might suppress or damage plasma cells, you can see why that this group of patients may have the most difficulty responding to a COVID infection and responding to vaccines,” he said.

Stadtmauer said he is seeing about 70% of patients with myeloma generate COVID-19 neutralizing antibodies after vaccination.

“If there is any group of patients who should be vaccinated and get a booster, it is this group of patients,” he said.

The Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 22 authorized Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine boosters for people 65 years and older and those at risk. Powell himself was due for the booster shot the same week he fell ill with COVID-19, his spokesperson said.

“None of these are perfect strategies, but you have the best chance of survival,” Ellerin said.

The misuse of the news of Powell’s death to spread misinformation about vaccine failure and discourage individuals from getting vaccinated can be harmful to those immunocompromised, according to experts, who say that in order to protect those with underlying diseases, it is imperative that everyone around them gets vaccinated to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“Hopefully his life and the fact that he believed in vaccination can be a catalyst for many others to get it,” Ellerin said.

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

DNA evidence from decades-old unsolved child murders heading to private lab

iStock/MattGush

(ATLANTA) — Police are taking DNA evidence from decades-old unsolved child murder cases to a private lab in Utah in the hopes of finding “concrete answers for the families,” Atlanta’s mayor said.

From 1979 to 1981, at least 29 Black people, mostly kids and adolescents, were killed in the Atlanta area, according to the mayor’s office. The first two victims were a 14-year-old boy and a 13-year-old boy who vanished within days of each other, the mayor’s office said.

The slayings became known as the “Atlanta Child Murders.”

Wayne Williams was long been considered the suspect but was never convicted in the cases, ABC Atlanta affiliate WSB-TV reported. In 1982, Williams was convicted of killing two adults and he’s currently incarcerated, according to WSB-TV.

This week, investigators are taking the evidence to a private lab in Salt Lake City “that specializes in analyzing deteriorated DNA,” Atlanta police said.

“Considering the emergence of new science and technology related to DNA testing, the Atlanta Police Department realized an opportunity to re-evaluate evidence from the Atlanta Child Murders case,” police said in a statement Tuesday. “As with all murder cases, our investigators dedicate countless hours of time and energy to successfully solve cases and bring some sense of closure to victims’ relatives.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted, “It is my sincere hope that there will be concrete answers for the families.”

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

NYPD officers face discipline due to alleged Black Lives Matter protest misconduct

iStock/Juliana Vilas Boas

(NEW YORK) — The NYPD’s oversight agency has recommended the department discipline 65 officers who are accused of misconduct during last year’s anti-racism protests.

The New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board received over 750 complaints concerning alleged NYPD officer conduct following the Black Lives Matter demonstrations during summer 2020, according to the agency. Only 313 complaints fell within the board’s jurisdiction.

It found 42 substantiated complaints of misconduct concerning 65 officers.

The board recommended serving charges against officers in 37 complaints, Command Discipline B in 11 complaints, and Command Discipline A in 19 complaints.

The recommended disciplinary actions are the most severe forms of punishment against NYPD officers. According to the CCRB website, charges prompt an administrative trial that may lead to lost vacation time, suspension or termination.

Command disciplines are recommended for misconduct that does not rise to the level of charges, but is emblematic of an issue more severe than poor training, according to the board. An officer can lose up to 10 vacation days as a result of a Command Discipline — Schedule B is the more serious of the command disciplines.

CCRB review states that there have been challenges in the investigation “due to the failure to follow proper protocols, officers covering their names and shield, officers wearing protective equipment that did not belong to them, the lack of proper use of body-worn cameras, as well as incomplete and severely delayed paperwork.”

An NYPD spokesperson told ABC News that the department has assisted the CCRB in its investigations by providing body camera footage and “thousands of pages of records.”

“The NYPD has made significant strides and continues to work toward making our discipline processes transparent,” Deputy Commissioner Public Information spokesperson Sergeant Edward Riley said in a statement to ABC News. “Like any citizen, police officers should be afforded a presumption of innocence until and unless proven guilty.”

Any discipline as a result of an NYPD administrative trial will be made public in the NYPD’s online discipline database, according to Riley.

In January, New York Attorney General Letitia James also filed a lawsuit against the NYPD over its handling of anti-racism protests across New York City, accusing the department of failing to address issues of abuse of power against civilians.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller told reporters at the time that the lawsuit “doesn’t seem to meet the standard of a federal monitor. It doesn’t seem to illustrate a pattern of practice, which is required under the law … But we will, as with most civil lawsuits, address those assertions in court.”

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Supply chain questions answered, plus tips and solutions for smart shopping

DarioEgidi/iStock

(NEW YORK) — The strained supply chain and worldwide shipping crunch has had an impact on everything from holiday shopping to every day goods and services.

Good Morning America assembled an expert panel to explain what’s happening and shopping strategies to know.

ABC News’ chief business correspondent Rebecca Jarvis, ABC News’ consumer correspondent Becky Worley and GMA e-commerce editor Tory Johnson answer questions related to the supply issue and offer shopping tips for the holiday season.

What’s causing the issue?

“This goes back a long time — back to the beginning of the pandemic when everything shut down,” Jarvis said. “Factories all over the world weren’t working, but Americans were sitting on their couches and started shopping and they started buying so much stuff. Suddenly there was this giant backlog because factories hadn’t created items, people weren’t working, there weren’t enough people to bring the items to our homes.”

“Now we find ourselves in the most important season of all — holiday shopping season when we buy more ever and not enough stuff has been created. It’s sitting in those backlogs and you see those cargo ships — it’s waiting to get into stores and there isn’t enough of it as it stands,” she continued.

What should consumers expect moving forward?

Some retailers like Costco and Home Depot have comissioned their own cargo ships, but Jarvis explained that medium and smaller comanies don’t have that same level of control.

“They’re getting cancellations for orders that were supposed to come in November. They’re being told it’s not coming until February,” she said of many orders that consumers hoped to have in time for Christmas.

What can shoppers do as we head into the holidays?

Worley said to “start with how you find it.”

“Many big chains like Best Buy, Target, they may be sold out of an item online, but remember that’s the stock they have in their online warehouse,” she said. “Every store is a mini- warehouse. So the item you want could be sitting on a shelf.”

Worley suggested using website tools like “pickup in store” and change the location to see if it’s available anywhere around you. “But one big caveat before you drive a long distance, call to make sure the item is actually there — trust but verify.”

Any items easier to get than others?

“This time of year it’s all about tech,” she said, and that anything with a computer chip,”has been harder to find.”

Worley also advises using apps that check stock from big stores such as the HotStock app, which is advertised as able to seek out prouct availability in real-time.

Shop small and local

Johnson offered a handful of tips for small business operators to be ready for more business and also protect themselves from the same supply issues.

  • Communicate with all partners with up to date information
  • Share up-to-date status reports
  • Make contingency plans
  • Try local pop-ups, trunk shows and holiday markets to move merchandise
  • Partner with complementary brands for cross-promotion and marketing opportunities
  • Leverage social media and e-commerce tools to sell direct to consumers

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Pete Buttigieg responds to paternity leave criticism as Congress weighs national paid leave

Scott Olson/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has spoken out about his decision to take paternity leave after the birth of his twins, calling it “important work.”

The comments from Buttigieg come after Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and other prominent conservatives mocked Buttigieg’s decision to take time off to care for his newborn twins.

“Pete Buttigieg has been on leave from his job since August after adopting a child,” Carlson said in a segment last week on Tucker Carlson Tonight. “Paternity leave, they call it, trying to figure out how to breastfeed. No word on how that went.”

Buttigieg, who welcomed twins Joseph and Penelope with his husband Chasten in August, said Sunday he is “not going to apologize” for taking time away from his job for his family.

“As you might imagine, we’re bottle feeding and doing it at all hours of the day and night,” Buttigieg said on CNN when asked about Carlson’s comments. “I’m not going to apologize to Tucker Carlson or anyone else for taking care of my premature newborn infant twins. The work that we are doing is joyful, fulfilling, wonderful work. It’s important work.”

Buttigieg’s paid leave after the birth of his twins came at the same time as the Biden administration’s infrastructure package was being debated in Congress, an absence that sparked Carlson’s criticism.

A Department of Transportation spokesperson told ABC News that for the first four weeks after the birth of his children, Buttigieg was “mostly offline except for major agency decisions and matters that could not be delegated.”

“He has been ramping up activities since then,” said the spokesperson, adding the secretary will “continue to take some time over the coming weeks to support his husband and take care of his new children.”

“The Secretary feels fortunate and grateful to be able to take time to focus on his responsibilities as a father, and believes all American parents deserve the same,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The president’s Build Back Better vision calls for paid family leave for all Americans, and the Secretary now brings new perspective to his efforts to push for the Biden-Harris Administration’s push to ensure every American has access to paid leave.”

The Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act, a $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package, includes a provision that would give all workers up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

If the provision remains in the bill, which has not yet passed Congress, it would take the U.S. out of the small pool of countries that do not currently guarantee paid leave.

Advocates of paid paternity leave point to research showing its success in not only helping fathers bond with their children, but also in creating long-term economic stability for families and in helping foster an equal balance of parenting duties between partners from the start.

Criticisms of paternity leave, like those Buttigieg faced, show the stigma that still remains in the United States around men taking time off work to care for their children, according to Molly Day, executive director of PL+US (Paid Leave for the United States), an organization advocating for paid family and medical leave by 2022.

“I think that the stigma around paternity leave is to a certain extent, unsurprising, because we’ve really failed to teach men and boys caregiving skills as a society,” said Day. “Now we are finally starting to see through a generation of men who are stepping into roles of dad who are increasingly unwilling to give up that opportunity and responsibility to care for their loved ones.”

Day described the U.S. as currently being at an “inflection point” in that there is overwhelming public support for paid family leave, but there is also a lack of access, which adds to the stigma around men taking paternity leave.

Just 13% of employees in the U.S. work in a job where paid paternity leave is offered to all male workers, according to Day.

Among those who have access to paid leave, the median length of paternity leave for dads in the U.S. is one week, according to Pew Research Center data.

“Caregiving is still dominated disproportionately by women, but at the same time, there are structural things that have reinforced that,” Day said. “We do not have a national paid family and medical leave policy that ensures that people can care for their families without having to worry how they’re going to pay their monthly bills.”

Under current U.S. policy, the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees who qualify can take time off to care for a newborn or loved one or recover from illness without fear of losing their job, but in most cases the leave is unpaid.

Only 27% of private industry workers currently have access to paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Federal employees are now entitled to 12 weeks of paid parental leave per year, but, as a cabinet member, Buttigieg’s leave was approved by the White House.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki described Buttigieg in a tweet as a “role model on the importance of paid leave for new parents.”

Paternity leave advocates said the examples set by Buttigieg and other prominent leaders like Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, a vocal advocate for paternity leave, are important.

“As unfortunate as Tucker Carlson’s comments were, at the end of the day, I hope what people take away from this is that men at the peak of their professional careers can and should take the time to care for their families,” Day said. “I hope this moment is a powerful and poignant call to action for our legislators and wake-up moment to families of what they deserve and what we need.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.