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Headlines for Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Kansas Unemployment Drops to 3.1%, Lowest in 40-Plus Years

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest level in more than 40 years.  The Kansas Labor Department reports that its unemployment rate in October dipped to 3.1%.  The Labor Department says the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate declined from 3.2% in September.  Officials say the last time unemployment was 3.1% was in April 1979.  The rate has stayed below 4% since January 2017.  The state had nearly 1.18 million people employed in private-sector, nonfarm jobs in October. That's 13,600 more than in October 2018 for an increase of 1.2%.  The most robust over-the-year growth was in administrative, support and waste management services. They added 5,600 jobs for 6.9% growth and employment of 86,900 workers.

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Kansas City School District Falsified Attendance Data; Owes State Money

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ An investigation has found that the Kansas City School District falsified attendance data and will be forced to repay money to the state.  The Kansas City Star reports that the district released the findings publicly this (WED) morning after reporting them to state education officials earlier this month.  The investigation found that at least seven officials were involved in falsifying the data from 2013 to 2016, before Superintendent Mark Bedell was hired. Three of the employees are no longer with the district and the other four have been placed on paid administrative leave.  Because the state funds schools -- in part based on student attendance -- the manipulation led to the district being overpaid. The amount it will be required to pay back hasn't been determined.  Superintendent Bedell says steps have been taken to ensure it never happens again.

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Olathe Councilwoman Says She Won’t Resign over LGBTQ Flap

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas city councilwoman says she will not resign after an LGBTQ advocate accused her of complaining to his employer about his public support for a nondiscrimination ordinance. Olathe Councilwoman Karin Brownlee made the announcement Tuesday during a council meeting that drew a standing-room-only crowd. The Kansas City Star reports Brett Hoedl, chairman of the Equality Kansas Metro Kansas City chapter, and others asked for Brownlee’s resignation. Hoedl said Brownlee’s actions would have a chilling effect on citizens speaking out on issues. Brownlee said she was at a social event when she had a casual conversation with a co-worker of Hoedl’s about his previous appearances before the council. She said she meant no harm. Olathe is considering passing a nondiscrimination ordinance that would include LGBTQ residents.

( – earlier reporting –)

Gay Rights Advocate Seeks Olathe Councilwoman's Resignation

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) - A gay rights activist says an Olathe City Council member should resign after she complained to his employer about his efforts to persuade the council to adopt an ordinance providing protections for LBGTQ residents.  Brett Hoedl, chairman of the Equality Kansas Metro Kansas City chapter, said in a Facebook post that Councilwoman Karin Brownlee complained to his employer, Black & Veatch, about his advocacy for the ordinance. He said Black & Veatch supported him but others might hesitate to testify before the council if they believe they could be targeted.  The Kansas City Star reports Brownlee said she meant no harm when she discussed Hoedl's frequent appearances before the council with an acquaintance from Black & Veatch at a social event.  Hoedl and others plan to call for Brownlee's resignation at the council's meeting Tuesday.

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Topeka Man Gets 9 Years for Cyberstalking

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A 35-year-old Topeka man was sentenced to nine years in federal prison for cyberstalking a former co-worker by using her identity to post sexual content.  U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said Blake Adam Austin was sentenced Tuesday for cyberstalking and possessing and distributing child pornography.  The investigation began when a middle school teacher in Topeka reported receiving emails from males responding to a Craigslist ad in which someone used the victim's identity to post sexual content.  The problem continued for years until an investigator identified an account Austin was using to post sexual content and the victim's contact information.  The woman said she had worked with Austin at a coffee shop and had rejected his attempts to initiate a relationship.  Investigators also found images of Austin having sex with a 17-year-old girl and sexually explicit photos of a girl under 15.

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Topeka Police Accuse Man of Threatening Officers with Candlestick in Church

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police arrested a man who allegedly threatened police with a large candlestick during a disturbance at a church.  Police spokeswoman Gretchen Koenen said officers responded to a call early Tuesday about a disturbance at the Holy Name Catholic Church.  The nearly 100 children and adults attending a Mass were evacuated from the church.  Koenen says 32-year-old Edwin Soto Jr. became combative with officers and threatened them with a large candlestick. No one was injured.  Koenen says Soto is being held in the Shawnee County jail without bond facing possible charges of aggravated assault and making an aggravated criminal threat.

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Gas Leak Prompts Relocation of Inmates at Topeka Prison

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Corrections says nearly 500 inmates at the Topeka Correctional Facility are in temporary housing because of a gas leak. WIBW reports the department said Wednesday 466 women were moved from five housing units after the leak was discovered in a gas line leading into the facility. The women were moved to areas with functioning heating systems, such as the gymnasium and educational areas. The temporary housing is inside the secure perimeter of the prison. Work on the lines began overnight Tuesday and was continuing in Wednesday. The state’s only prison for women holds 905 inmates.

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4 Plead Guilty in $5.4 Million Meth Distribution Conspiracy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Four people — including a mother and two of her children — have pleaded guilty in a $5.4 million conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine in northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas. Federal prosecutors say 67-year-old Linda Kay Ballard; her 27-year-old son, Eric Edward Ballard, both of Atchison, Kansas; and her 35-year-old daughter, Charlsie Kim Harris, of Garden City, Missouri, pleaded guilty Wednesday. A fourth person, 48-year-old Anthony Dewayne Fifer, of Mexico, Missouri, also pleaded guilty to distributing meth from January 2015 to November 2017. The four defendants also pleaded guilty to participating in a money-laundering conspiracy. They are among nine defendants who have entered guilty pleas in in the case. The methamphetamine was distributed from Kansas City to the St. Joseph and the Atchison, Kansas, areas.

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Atchison's MGP Pleads Guilty to Clean Air Act Violation

ATCHISON, Kan (KPR / KNS) -- The company responsible for a plume of toxic chlorine gas in Atchison in 2016 has pleaded guilty to a violation of the Clean Air Act in federal court.  Four thousand gallons of sulfuric acid was mistakenly mixed with nearly six thousand gallons of sodium hypochlorite… causing the cloud.  About 140 people near MGP Products had to get medical attention. Stephen McAllister, the U-S Attorney for the District of Kansas, says he hopes the case sends a message: Companies that mishandle dangerous chemicals will be held accountable.  In addition to the guilty plea, MGP Products will pay a $1 million fine.

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Jury Rules Against Emporia State, 2 Childhood Center Staff

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — A jury has ruled in favor of four families who sued Emporia State University and two employees of its Center for Early Childhood Education. The Lyon County jury ruled Tuesday the defendants must pay a total of $350,000 in damages to the four families. They alleged four toddlers at the center were abused and demeaned by a former teacher, Kimberly Schneider. They also contend the center’s director, Keely Persinger, and university staff ignored their complaints. The Emporia Gazette reports investigators with state social service agencies substantiated claims of physical and emotional abuse and lack of supervision at the center. Persinger and Schneider were granted separate diversion agreements on related criminal charges in summer of 2018. The jury found the university 30 percent responsible and Persinger 70 percent responsible.

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Kansas Governor's Budget Listening Tour Stops in Garden City

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (HPPR / KNS) -- Kansas Governor Laura Kelly stopped at Garden City Community College Tuesday to listen to area residents about their priorities.  She drew about 50 people asking for more state money for a four-lane highway in the region, a four-year public college in southwest Kansas and more child care.  Kelly says she doesn’t want to see any tax increases but said reinvestment is needed in roads and rural broadband.  Roxanne Morgan, executive director of the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau, called for faster Internet service for southwest Kansas.  The governor says she started a new listening tour to help her set budget priorities that she'll propose to state lawmakers in January.  Her first stop was in Garden City.

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Kansas Governor: STAR Bond Construction Could Use More Oversight
 
GARDEN CITY, Kan. (HPPR / KNS) -- Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, along with state and Garden City officials, have broken broke on something called "Sports of the World."  Funded in part by $25 million in Sales Tax And Revenue Bonds, or STAR Bonds, the new sports complex is expected to open within the next two years.  Some state lawmakers have criticized the STAR Bond approval process.  And the governor acknowledges there could be more oversight.  The Department of Commerce has issued $1 billion in STAR Bond funding since the program began in 1999.

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Neodesha Alumnus to Cover College Costs for Town's HS Grads

Parents and students in the southeast Kansas town of Neodesha are celebrating... after getting a big surprise.  A wealthy alumnus of the school district has stepped forward to cover college tuition for the town’s high school graduates... for at least the next few decades.  There are a few caveats:  Students have to keep their grades up, but the program covers any school, anywhere... up to the price of the University of Kansas.  The scholarships, announced yesterday (TUE), are partly meant to reverse population decline in Neodesha.  Neodesha leaders say many people work in manufacturing in the southeast Kansas town... but live in other counties. Families will ultimately need to move to Neodesha for their kids to be involed the program.

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Teen Charged in Kansas Says He Didn't Know Gun Was Loaded

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) - A 13-year-old charged with murder in Kansas told investigators he didn't know a gun was loaded when a 14-year-old was fatally shot.  The Kansas City Star reports court documents released recently say the teenagers stole the gun from a car and were playing with it when Zavier Mendoza was shot August 8 at a townhome in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe.  Prosecutors charged the 13-year-old from suburban Roeland Park with second-degree murder. Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe declined to comment on the charging decision.  Authorities have not released the 13-year-old's name because of his age.  He's scheduled to go to trial January 13.

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New Lawsuits Filed in Fatal Police Swatting Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two new lawsuits have been filed in a hoax emergency call that led police in Kansas to fatally shoot a man at his home. Police killed Andrew Finch two years ago in Wichita after receiving a “swatting” call meant to send SWAT teams to a nonexistent emergency. Tyler Barriss, of Los Angeles, is serving a 20-year prison sentence for making the call. A wrongful death lawsuit seeks more than $75,000 in damages on behalf of Finch’s two children. A federal lawsuit filed by Finch’s mother and her boyfriend says four police officers violated their constitutional rights by detaining and arresting them after the shooting. The Wichita Eagle reports that both lawsuits were filed Monday. The city’s law director, Jennifer Magana, hasn’t said if the city will represent the officers.

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Man Who Hog-Tied Sprint Employee, Stole Phones Is Sentenced

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man who hog-tied a Sprint store clerk and stole dozens of smartphones has been sentenced to 3.5 years in prison. U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister’s office said 26-year-old Camarin McPherson was sentenced Wednesday. He pleaded guilty in August to robbery after an April 25 holdup of a Sprint home in Wichita. Investigators say McPherson used a gun and tied up the clerk before stealing 54 Apple iPhones and 24 Samsung Galaxy phones worth more than $60,000. He also stole four LG Stylo 4 phones worth around $500 each. Another man who acted as a lookout and helped steal the phones, 26-year-old Xavier Lopez, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in September to interference with commerce by means of robbery.

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Topeka Man Sentenced for Killing 2 Family Members

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 41-year-old man who killed his estranged wife and her cousin has been sentenced to nearly 46 years in prison. District Attorney Mike Kagay announced Wednesday that Bradley Sportsman, of Hollenberg, was sentenced for the 2018 deaths of 28-year-old Lisa Sportsman and 17-year-old Jesse Polinskey. Police say the victims were stabbed and beaten to death. Sportsman pleaded guilty in October to two counts of second-degree murder. One of his co-defendants, Matthew Hutto, was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole for 50 years, but he is seeking to withdraw his pleas. A third man, Richard Showalter, is scheduled for trial Dec. 9 on two counts of first-degree murder and several other charges.

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Worker Killed in Industrial Accident in Southwest Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a 35-year-old man died after an accident at a construction equipment plant in southwest Wichita. Police spokesman Keven Wheeler says the man was injured early Wednesday when he was working on machinery at Case New Holland Construction. KAKE-TV reports the man was identified as Andrew Taylor. Wheeler says several co-workers tried to help Taylor, but he died later at a hospital. Additional information has not been released.

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Wichita Businessman Sentenced for Role in Gambling Probe

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita businessman has been sentenced to one year of supervised probation for his role in the transfer of betting information from illegal poker games. Johnny Steven was sentenced Wednesday after pleading guilty to being an accessory after the fact to the unlawful transmission of wagering information. Steven also agreed to forfeit $97,600 in earnings from his gambling. The Wichita Eagle reports the case stems from an FBI investigation into illegal poker games played in Wichita. Steven's attorney, Kurt Kerns, said earlier Kerns was charged for not alerting authorities to a friend’s private poker game. Steven’s brother, Brandon Steven, is serving three years of probation for hiding gambling ledgers connected to the games. Daven Flax, who was conducting illegal private poker games, is serving two years of probation for gambling and making a false tax statement.

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Kansas City to Disband Mounted Patrol Unit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City's popular mounted patrol units are being reassigned.  Police Chief Rick Smith announced Tuesday that he is reassigning the officers in the unit to allow eight more detectives to be assigned to the homicide unit. Smith cited the city's high homicide and violent crimes rates for prompting the decision.  The Kansas City Star reports the department is trying to fill 42 vacant police officer positions. The department allocated about $649,000 for the mounted patrol unit in this year's budget.  The mounted patrol unit was used for crowd control during large outdoor events, to patrol districts such as Westport and the Country Club Plaza and visited neighborhoods as part of community engagement.  The horses, which are donated, will be returned to their owners, if possible.

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Police: Deaths at Webb City Dental Practice Were Murder-Suicide; Pittsburg Woman Killed
 
WEBB CITY, Mo. (AP) - Authorities say the deaths of two people at a Webb City dental office was a murder-suicide.  Police Chief Don Melton said authorities believe 55-year-old Windell Glass fatally shot his estranged wife, 45-year-old Camille Hostetter, and then shot himself.  The bodies were found Monday at Hostetter's dental office where they both worked.  The Joplin Globe reports Hostetter filed for divorce in February. She lived in Joplin and Glass was living in Pittsburg, Kansas, but they worked together at her dental practice.  No one else at the office at the time was injured.

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Runaway Kansas Police Dog Bites 14-Year-Old on Face, Chest

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say a runaway Kansas police dog bit a teenager on the face and chest.  The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post that the German shepherd, named Bocephus, disappeared Monday night. Someone found the dog, put him on a leash and walked around a neighborhood in an unsuccessful search for his owner.  The person then returned home, and Bocephus was placed in the bedroom of a 14-year-old boy. The teen took the dog for a walk the next morning and was bit while removing the leash.  The post says the boy was treated at a clinic for minor injuries. Lt. Tim Myers says the dog will return to service after a 10-day quarantine, which is standard after a bite. Police don't know how the dog got out.

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12-Year-Old Charged in St. Joseph Teen's Death

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) - A juvenile court judge has ruled enough evidence exists to prove two of the three charges against a 12-year-old in the death of a 14-year-old boy.  The boy was 11 when he was charged in the death of Cameron Satterley, who died in a house fire in St. Joseph in February. His body wasn't found until April.  The judge ruled Tuesday that evidence proved the boy committed involuntary manslaughter and arson.  The St. Joseph News-Press reports after the judge's ruling Tuesday, a disposition hearing was scheduled for Dec. 4 to decide what will happen to him.  The boy is one of three juveniles charged in Satterley's death. One juvenile was dismissed from the case in May. In September, a 10-year-old was committed to state youth service for committing arson and involuntary manslaughter.

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Kobach's Brand Still Sells with GOP in Senate Race in Kansas
 
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Kris Kobach isn't fazed that fellow Republicans worry he's unpopular or too brash in pushing his hard-right views to keep Kansas' open U.S. Senate seat in GOP hands next year.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others are so concerned that they've spent months urging ex-Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo to step down as U.S. secretary of state and run for the seat Republican Senator Pat Roberts is leaving. They want to keep Kobach from winning the August GOP primary.  But the ex-Kansas secretary of state isn't softening his rhetoric or putting less focus on the tough immigration policies that built his national profile. He's tripling down and deriding critics as "weak Republicans" seeking a "malleable" senator.  Kobach still appeals to conservatives. Speculation about Pompeo shows that Kobach remains a force.

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Wichita Officials Seek to Shutter Troubled After-Hours Club

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Wichita officials are asking a judge for permission to shutter an unlicensed after-hours club that has been the scene of a deadly shooting and other crimes.  The Wichita Eagle reports that the city is seeking authorization to padlock the property for two years.  The city says that since 2017, Wichita police have logged at least 25 cases there. The incidents included city nuisance code and marijuana violations, vandalism and aggravated batteries. Last summer, 37-year-old Issac Lewis was killed in a shooting at the club that also injured a 28-year-old woman.  Several businesses have opted at the address, with the most recent one known as "The Peoples 316 Association." The property's landlord, A. Al Wakil, says the club operator's lease is up this month, and he doesn't plan to renew it.

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HomeAdvisor Plans to Close Colorado Springs Customer Service Center

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - HomeAdvisor has announced plans to close its Colorado Springs customer service center by year's end and lay off all 229 employees.  According to the Gazette, the company that connects homeowners with home improvement contractors will consolidate the Colorado Springs operation with its Golden and Denver offices. HomeAdvisor says it plans to retain sales centers in Chicago, New York, Indianapolis and in Olathe.  The company opened the Colorado Springs center in April 2015. HomeAdvisor says those being laid-off include sales consultants, project advisers, customer care representatives, marketing  consultants and advisers, managers, and other support personnel.  A company spokeswoman says Colorado Springs employees will be able to seek jobs in the company's Denver-area offices.  Terminated employees are expected to receive severance packages, job search assistance and outplacement and career counseling.
 
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