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Headlines for Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Court Clears Way for Grand Jury Probe of Kansas Official

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has cleared the way for a grand jury investigation of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's handling of voter registrations before the 2016 election. The Lawrence Journal-World reported the court late Tuesday denied Kobach's second request to review a June ruling of the Kansas Court of Appeals. The lower court had said Douglas County District Court must summon the grand jury to investigate. A Lawrence man, Steven Davis, who gathered enough signatures to force the investigation contends Kobach's office didn't register some people who tried to register online or at state driver's license bureaus. Kobach has called the allegations politically motivated. Elections Director Bryan Caskey said the allegations stem from now fixed technical problems that occurred during the transfer of information between computer systems.

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New Kansas Elections Head: 'People Want Things to Calm Down'

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas state Representative Scott Schwab is preparing to take over as secretary of state after promising to be less colorful and more focused on nuts-and-bolts administrative details than outgoing Republican incumbent Kris Kobach.Kobach won the office in 2010 on a platform of rewriting state election laws. He boosted his national profile by championing tough voter identification laws and ran unsuccessfully for governor as a vocal ally of President Donald Trump.Both Schwab and Kobach are conservative Republicans. But Schwab said in a recent Associated Press interview: "People want things to calm down." His plan is to focus on improving the day-to-day administration of elections but the Kansas Senate's top Democrat has a proposal to curb the office's power to oversee elections in the state's four most populous counties.

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Former Kansas City Area Teacher and Swim Coach Pleads Guilty to Child Sex Crimes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former Kansas City-area teacher and swim coach has pleaded guilty to secretly filming a sexual encounter with a minor in 2013.  The Kansas City Star reports that 54-year-old James Russell Green of Blue Springs, Missouri, entered the plea Tuesday in federal court, but still faces several sex crime charges in state court.  Green taught and coached swimming in the North Kansas City School District and at Blue Springs South High School in Missouri. He coached at Hallbrook Country Club in Leawood, Kansas.  He pleaded guilty to the production of child pornography and possession of child pornography. Seven other federal charges will be dropped as part of a plea agreement. No sentencing date was set.  Authorities say the crimes spanned a 20-year period. Police investigations revealed at least seven victims.

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Temporary Replacement Named to Lead Haskell University

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A temporary replacement has been named to lead Haskell Indian Nations University after a scathing federal report.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Bureau of Indian Education says Haskell professor Daniel Wildcat will serve as acting president.  For as long as the next 60 days, Haskell Indian Nations University President Venida Chenault will be on "special assignment for the BIE."  Haskell faculty learned of the change in an email from the Haskell president's office. The email says the change is to help the BIE "meet mission objectives." The announcement came after a report issued Friday said administrators at the university had underreported crime statistics for a two-year period and failed to follow internal policy when handling misconduct complaints. A university spokesman didn't immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

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Officials Find 18 Children Missing from Kansas Foster Homes

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say they have located and recovered 18 missing children who ran away from foster homes in Kansas. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation said in a news release Tuesday that the joint effort last week to find runaways from the Kansas Foster Care Program involved more than 100 federal, state and local law enforcement officers. It focused on Sedgwick, Johnson and Wyandotte counties although the effort ultimately spanned several other Kansas counties and generated leads forwarded to other states. Operation Hope was led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, the Office of Inspector General and Office of Investigations.  The KBI says law enforcement officials sought to ensure the well-being of the foster children and to identify waste, fraud and abuse occurring within the state's foster care program.

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Nonprofit Hired by Kansas Under Scrutiny in Its Home State of Florida

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Florida nonprofit recently awarded a four-year grant for family preservation services in Kansas has been under intense scrutiny in its home state.  Eckerd Connects, which administers foster care in the Tampa Bay area, will serve much of Kansas starting next year. The announcement was made earlier this month by the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
But the Kansas City Star reports that Eckerd has been plagued by problems such as foster children roaming unsupervised while skipping school, young people staying in different homes night after night, even children dying of abuse or neglect.  Eckerd says it already provides some services in Kansas through a partnership with the Department of Corrections. It says states across the country are facing similar challenges with placing foster care children.

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3 Men Ordered to Stand Trial in Double Homicide in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has found sufficient evidence for three men to stand trial in a double homicide in Topeka.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 19-year-old Matthew Hutto, 31-year-old Richard Showalter and 41-year-old Bradley Sportsman were bound over for trial Tuesday. They're each jailed on $1 million bond on charges that include first-degree murder in the deaths of Sportsman's estranged wife, 28-year-old Lisa Sportsman, and her cousin, 17-year-old Jesse Polinskey.  Twenty-year-old Cole Pingel testified at the preliminary hearing that the three talked about "taking care of business" while making the two-hour drive from the small town of Greenleaf to Topeka on July 22. The victims were found stabbed and beaten to death the next day. Pingel is charged with interference with law enforcement for allegedly making a false statement during the investigation.

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Man Already Accused in Lawrence Homicide Facing New Charges

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man jailed for more than a year in a murder case now faces charges in another death. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that 21-year-old Steven Drake III of Lawrence was charged this week with vehicular homicide in connection with a November 2016 accident that killed 24-year-old Taylor Lister. Drake has been in jail since last year in the fatal September 2017 shooting of 26-year-old Bryce Holladay. The first-degree murder trial is scheduled to start Jan. 14. Drake has claimed he acted in self-defense. The new charge is a misdemeanor that alleges Drake drove in a way that created "unreasonable risk of injury" when his pickup truck left the road, went into a ditch and struck a tree. Lister died at a hospital.

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Judge Calls Lawyer Incompetent, Bars Her from Representing Lawrence Triple Murder Suspect

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A judge is barring an attorney from representing the man charged with fatally shooting three people and wounding two others in downtown Lawrence.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny says she has "grave concerns" about the competency of Jennifer Chaffee. Pokorny cited a laundry list of missteps that culminated with a mistrial four days into jury selection in the high-profile case.  Chaffee declined to comment. She was representing 21-year-old Anthony Roberts Jr., who is charged with three murder counts and one attempted murder count. Two other suspects face less serious charges in the October 2017 shooting.  Pokorny has appointed a new attorney to represent Roberts and says she intends to appoint a second attorney soon. Roberts' trial is now set for February 4.

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Man Shot by Police in Kansas Earlier This Month Dies

PRATT, Kan. (AP) — A man shot by police earlier this month near the small Kansas town of Pratt has died. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says 38-year-old Rene Prieto died Wednesday in a Wichita hospital, where he had been treated since the shooting on November 13. An autopsy is planned and the bureau says in a brief news release that the investigation continues. The shooting happened after Pratt police officers responded to a report of a man waving a gun on a street outside a home. Authorities say Prieto fired at one of the responding officers. Three officers returned fire. No officers were hurt. Pratt is a town of 6,700 residents in south-central Kansas, about 80 miles west of Wichita.

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Leavenworth County Commissioner Resigns over "Master Race" Remark

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A white county official in Kansas has resigned under pressure after saying at a meeting that he belongs to "the master race."  Louis Klemp said in the letter submitted Tuesday resigning his seat on the Leavenworth County Commission that the remark was "well-meaning" and "not racially motivated."  Klemp cited the master race — the Nazi ideology of Aryan supremacy — last week while responding to a presentation by a black official, Triveece Penelton.  Klemp said he was identifying a similarity in their appearance, noting that both he and the woman have a space between their teeth. Penelton said in a statement that the comment was "unbelievably inappropriate."  Kansas Republican Governor Jeff Colyer was among those to demand Klemp's resignation.  

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Citizen Group Seeks Overland Park Police Shooting Records

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A group of Kansas residents is fighting for records relating to a suburban Kansas City teenager who was shot to death by a police officer in January.  The Kansas City Star reports that the city of Overland Park has denied most of citizen group JOCO United's requests to release records over the shooting of 17-year-old John Albers. The push for records comes after authorities released dash cam video of the encounter in which an officer fired 13 times into a minivan that Albers was backing out of his family's garage.  The group argues that the video didn't answer questions about how a 911 call to check on Albers's welfare turned into violence.  Member Mark Schmid says the public is forced to rely on the Johnson County district attorney's conclusion that the shooting was justified.

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Expansion Planned for Law Officers Memorial in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Room is running out for names on the memorial honoring Kansas law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, so it will soon be expanded.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Gov. Jeff Colyer and Attorney General Derek Schmidt were among those announcing expansion plans on Monday. The project is expected to cost $500,000, funded with private donations. Organizers have already raised about $425,000.  The memorial is outside the Kansas Statehouse. It includes the names of 281 officers, with room for 39 more. Plans call for adding a second concentric ring of memorial markers outside the existing monument so that additional names can be added in future years.  The memorial was dedicated in 1987 and includes the names of officers who have died in the line of duty since 1866.

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Homeless Man Pleads Guilty to Robbing Topeka Credit Union

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A homeless man who robbed a Topeka credit union and then waited nearby until he was arrested has entered a guilty plea.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 63-year-old Robert Charles Frazier pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of robbery. Frazier admitted through the plea that he approached a teller in August at the Azura Credit Union and said, "This is a robbery. Give me your twenties, fifties and hundreds."  The U.S. attorney's office says in a news release that he left the building after receiving the money and sat on a nearby wall. He then was arrested by an off-duty Topeka police officer who was working security.  Sentencing is set for February 26. Both sides agreed to recommend a five-year prison term.

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UMKC Suspends Professor After Star Report

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The University of Missouri-Kansas City has suspended a School of Pharmacy professor with pay over allegations that he exploited foreign graduate students.  The suspension of Ashim Mitra followed a report in the Kansas City Star on Sunday revealing allegations that he coerced students to perform personal favors, including watching his dog and acting as waiters and busboys. Mitra has denied any wrongdoing.  The Star report said Mitra, an Indian immigrant, made the demands exclusively of Ph.D. candidates from India who were in the U.S. on student visas.  UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal says the message of the suspension is that students "are our most important asset."  The university has been investigating Mitra separately. Agrawal says the Star's reporting added to the evidence the university gathered on its own.

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Kansas Family Sues After Teen Was Killed in Wreck Outside Arrowhead Stadium

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The family of a teen who was killed in a crash with an off-duty officer outside the stadium where the Kansas City Chiefs play has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. The Kansas City Star reports that the lawsuit was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court against Terrell Watkins. He was driving a police van to an off-duty security assignment at Arrowhead Stadium in heavy pregame traffic last month when he slammed into the back of a car. The crash killed the car's driver, 17-year-old Chandan Rajanna, of Overland Park, Kansas, and seriously hurt the teen's father and older sister.  Watkins isn't identified in the lawsuit as a police officer, but police officials previously said that an officer was involved in the fatal wreck. Watkins doesn't have a listed phone number.

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Kansas Prosecutor to Resign, Calls Sheriff a "Bully"

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas prosecutor is planning to resign, saying the sheriff has been acting like a "bully" since he was acquitted of a misdemeanor for allegedly slapping a handcuffed man.  The Wichita Eagle reports that Barton County Attorney Amy Schartz Mellor said in a news release Tuesday that she plans to step down next month. The release cites a letter from Sheriff Brian Bellendir that states his intention to try to have Mellor removed from office.  After Bellendir's acquittal last week, he called the case a "politically motivated witch hunt."  The defense said Bellendir slapped the suspect in a propane theft on the back of the head as someone would do a child. Bellendir says that was a mistake, but didn't rise to the level of mistreatment of a confined person.

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Statue of Bison Calf Stolen from Nature Area Near Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a statue of a bison calf has been stolen from a popular nature area north of Topeka.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Doug Iliff reported that the statue was broken off at the base and taken week from the parking lot at Iliff Commons, a privately owned area that is open to the public. It has several miles of trails for walking, running, cross-country skiing and mountain biking. A replica of Topeka's original log cabin is situated on the trail.  Iliff estimates the statue is worth about $800.  The Shawnee County Sheriff's Office is investigating the theft. But as of Wednesday, there were no reports of arrests.

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