Headlines for Friday, September 1, 2023
Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza Owners Default on $300 Million Loan
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KC Star / KC Business Journal) — The companies that own the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City have defaulted on the nearly $300 million loan used to purchase the property. That's according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The Kansas City Star reports that the partner companies who purchased the Country Club Plaza (Macerich Company and Taubman Centers) reported in May that they were in default of the loan provided by a Chicago-based lender. News of the default was made public in a quarterly report earlier this month. In a statement released Thursday, a Plaza spokesperson said there were active discussions with the lender to come to some kind of arrangement.
This development marks another sign of distress for the Plaza, an iconic shopping district that has suffered setbacks in recent years, including vacant storefronts and loss of tenants. Last year, fashion retailer Nordstrom bailed on its plan to put a store on the west side of the outdoor mall. The loan default was first reported Thursday by The Kansas City Business Journal. The Journal, citing multiple unnamed sources, says the lender has begun pitching the idea of selling the debt to local and national groups.
Missouri Judge: Accused Man Will Stand Trial for Shooting Teen Who Went to Wrong House
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge ruled Thursday that the 84-year-old white homeowner who shot a Black teenager after he mistakenly went to the man’s house must stand trial. Clay County Judge Louis Angles issued the ruling after hearing from several witnesses at a preliminary hearing, including Ralph Yarl, the teenager who was shot by Andrew Lester on April 13 when Yarl went to the wrong house to pick up his younger brothers.
Lester, a retired aircraft mechanic, is charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action. He previously pleaded not guilty in the shooting that shocked the country and renewed national debates about gun policies and race in America.
Kansas City Officer Larry Dunaway described Lester as “an elderly guy who was scared” after the shooting. Another officer, James Gale, said Lester was clearly worried. “He said he hoped he didn’t kill anybody," Gale testified.
A handful of people wearing shirts that said “Justice for Ralph” were seen entering the courthouse. Others wore shirts that read: “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime.” Yarl continues to heal from the traumatic brain injury he suffered but was able to complete an engineering internship this summer and just started his senior year in high school. The 17-year-old is planning to major in engineering when he graduates, with several college visits planned for the fall.
Yarl was supposed to pick up his younger brothers but went to the wrong block and mistakenly ended up at Lester's house. Lester told authorities that he shot Yarl through the door without warning because he was “scared to death” he was about to be robbed. No words were exchanged before the shooting, but as Yarl got up to run, he heard Lester yell, “Don’t come around here,” the probable cause statement said.
Initially turned away while seeking help at neighboring homes, Yarl stumbled to the street. Neighbor Carol Conrad testified that she was offering words of comfort through her window — a dispatcher had warned that neighbors should stay inside. At one point, he yelled, “I’ve been shot.” When Yarl crumpled to the ground, three neighbors rushed to help. Jodi Dovel testified that there was a trail of blood, which pooled under his head. But Yarl was able to talk, telling her he went to ring the doorbell and was shot. “I thought. ‘Oh no, he went to the wrong house,’” Dovel said.
Lester also called 911. On the recoding played in court he could be heard telling a dispatcher, “I shot him. He was at my door trying to get in and I shot him.”
Clay County prosecuting attorney Zachary Thompson has said there was a “racial component” to the case but has not elaborated.
Lester's attorney, Steven Brett Salmon, suggested in earlier court filings that he planned to argue that Lester acted in self-defense, citing Missouri’s “stand your ground” law. Missouri is one of about 30 states with laws that say people can respond with physical force when they are threatened.
Salmon has said that Lester’s home was egged and spray-painted after the shooting. He said Lester has sought law enforcement assistance when traveling, and his wife had to be moved from her nursing home.
Support for Yarl and his family poured in over the past few months. A GoFundMe set up on the family’s behalf raised nearly $3.5 million.
Kansas Officials No Longer Required to Change Trans People’s Birth Certificates
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge ruled Thursday that Kansas officials are no longer required to keep changing transgender people’s birth certificates so the documents reflect their gender identities. U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree approved Republican state Attorney General Kris Kobach’s request to block the changes because of a new state law rolling back trans rights. Kansas joins Montana, Oklahoma and Tennessee in barring such birth certificate changes.
Kansas is for now also among a few states that don’t let trans people change their driver’s licenses to reflect their gender identities. That’s because of a separate state-court lawsuit Kobach filed last month. Both efforts are responses to the new state law, which took effect July 1.
The law defines male and female as the sex assigned at birth, based on a person’s “biological reproductive system,” applying those definitions to any other state law or regulation. The Republican-controlled Legislature enacted it over Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s veto, but she announced shortly before it took effect that birth certificate changes would continue, citing opinions from attorneys in her administration that they could.
The judge agreed to modify the consent agreement that allowed transgender Kansans to modify their birth certificates, but said it will ultimately be up to a state court to decide whether the new law is constitutional. “The court has genuine misgivings about inserting itself into the dispute about the meaning of the new Kansas law, SB 180," Crabtree said in his ruling. “Absent some issue arising under federal law, a dispute about the meaning of Kansas law belongs in a Kansas state courthouse.”
In federal court, Kobach succeeded in lifting a policy imposed when Kelly’s administration settled a 2018 lawsuit from four transgender people challenging a previous Republican no-changes policy. The settlement came only months after Kelly took office in 2019 and required the state to start changing trans people’s birth certificates. More than 900 people have done so since. “The trans activists in this case attempted to nullify state law,” Kobach said. “The court held that SB 180 means what it says — birth certificates in Kansas must reflect biological sex. As long as I am attorney general, the laws of Kansas will be enforced as written. The Legislature decided that birth certificates must reflect biological reality, and they were quite clear in how they wrote the law."
Transgender Kansas residents and governor Kelly argued refusing to change birth certificates would violate rights protected by the U.S. Constitution, something Crabtree said in his brief order approving the settlement four years ago. Kobach argued that the settlement represented only the views of the parties and the new state law represents a big enough change to nullify the settlement’s requirements.
In the state-court lawsuit over driver’s licenses, a district judge has blocked ID changes until at least November 1. The new Kansas law was part of a wave of measures rolling back trans rights emerging from Republican-controlled statehouses across the U.S. this year.
The law also declares the state’s interests in protecting people’s privacy, health and safety justifies separate facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, for men and women. Supporters promised that would keep transgender women and girls from using women’s and girls’ facilities — making the law among the nation’s most sweeping bathroom policies — but there is no formal enforcement mechanism.
As for birth certificates, Kobach argued in a recent filing in the federal lawsuit that keeping the full 2019 settlement in place is “explicitly anti-democratic” because it conflicts directly with the new law. “To hold otherwise would be to render state governments vassals of the federal courts, forever beholden to unchangeable consent agreements entered into by long-gone public officials,” Kobach said.
In 2018, Kelly defeated Kobach, then the Kansas secretary of state, to win her first term as governor. Kobach staged a political comeback by winning the attorney general’s race last year, when Kelly won her second term. Both prevailed by narrow margins.
The transgender Kansas residents who sued the state in 2018 argued that siding with Kobach would allow the state to return to a policy that violated people’s constitutional rights.
In one scathing passage in a recent court filing, their attorneys asked whether Kobach would argue states could ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling in 1954 outlawing racially segregated schools if their lawmakers simply passed a new law ordering segregation.
“The answer is clearly no,” they wrote.
The lead attorney for those residents, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, said she's disappointed in the ruling but believes the law will be found unconstitutional.
“The interpretation of SB180 advocated by Kris Kobach and his ilk is as unlawful as the policies we first challenged in our lawsuit in 2018," said Gonzalez-Pagan, who is with Lambda Legal. “Access to accurate identity documents is vital; without accurate identity documents, transgender people face even greater threats of discrimination, harassment, and even violence.”
KU Aerospace Engineering Students Win Big with Missile Design at International Competition
LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — Aerospace engineering students at the University of Kansas took 1st, 2nd and 3rd place at an international aerospace design competition. One of the award-winning designs is for a new missile, which has drawn the attention of military contractors. The missile took 2nd place, but KU professor Ron Barrett-Gonzalez says the design really impressed the judges, especially those who work in the U.S. defense industry. "There were several managers from Lockheed-Martin Missile and Fire Control," he said. "They gave us a call, they wanted a briefing. They're currently signing some papers with KU." The KU Center for Research is already seeking a patent for the new missile design. With its latest accolades, the aerospace engineering program at KU has won more than 100 awards from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, far more than any other school in the nation. (Read more.)
KCC Recommends Lower Rate Hike for Kansas Evergy Customers
TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas regulators say a proposed electric rate hike for Evergy customers is too high, and they’re recommending a much lower increase. Evergy had asked regulators for a 9.7% rate increase for the Kansas Central region, which includes Wichita, Topeka, Lawrence, Manhattan and parts of Johnson County. That would have raised customer bills by an average of $173 a year. But the staff members of the Kansas Corporation Commission say the hike isn’t justified. They’re suggesting the company increase revenues by 1.6%. Evergy says the proposed increases are needed to offset rising interest rates for power-plant improvements.
Marion County Journalist Suing Police Chief over Raid
MARION COUNTY, Kan. (KNS) — A journalist in the town of Marion is suing the local police chief for a widely-criticized raid on the newspaper where she works. Deb Gruver argues in the lawsuit that her First Amendment rights were violated when police seized her cellphone. According to the lawsuit, Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody took Gruver’s cell phone during the raid. But she was not the subject of the criminal investigation and her cell phone was not listed in the search warrant. Gruver argues the seizure was retaliation for investigating Cody’s alleged misconduct during his time working for the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department. The lawsuit doesn’t specify the exact amount of money Gruver is seeking. Legal experts say the raid on the newspaper was likely illegal.
Kansas Corrections Officer Accused of Trafficking Meth into Larned Facility
LARNED, Kan. (Kansas Reflector) — A corrections officer has been arrested and charged with drug trafficking in Larned State Correctional Facility. Following the arrest, a Kansas Department of Corrections spokesperson warned other staff members away from drug distribution. The Kansas Reflector reports that the facility conducted an all-staff search August 13 after receiving a tip. The investigation found more than 60 grams of meth and a bag of tobacco on the corrections officer in question. Pawnee County prosecutors say 51-year-old Jessie Smith has been charged with drug possession and trafficking contraband in a correctional facility. If convicted, he faces seven to 12 years in prison.
Motorcycle Driver Killed in Bike Crash on I-70
GOVE COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) — A motorcycle driver was killed in western Kansas when his bike crashed along I-70. WIBW TV reports that emergency crews responded Thursday morning to the single-vehicle collision in Gove County. Officials say 69-year-old Seve Alan Ziegler, of Goodland, died in the crash.
COVID Cases on the Rise Nationally and in Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - COVID cases are on the rise nationally and here in Kansas. Due to the late summer surge in COVID cases, health officials are encouraging residents to stay up to date on vaccines and take other precautions.
Kansas hospitals are only seeing about a third of the COVID hospitalizations they did last fall, but numbers are on the rise and officials say case clusters are, too. Sedgwick County health department director Adrienne Byrne recommends people get vaccinated, boosted, and consider masking in crowded environments. “When I go to a conference, I'll be wearing a mask, because I went to one in June, didn't wear a mask all the time and got COVID," she said. "During the holidays, I’ll probably (wear a) mask.”
State health officials no longer track every case, but they do track case clusters and hospitalizations - and both metrics are rising. Byrne says the uptick in cases is likely driven by summer travel and kids returning to school. “So, it’s not unexpected, but it's a reinforcer that, before the holidays, it's important to be up-to-date on vaccines because we are expecting it to spike again, which means the hospitalizations may spike and everything that comes with that," she said.
Health officials say an updated COVID booster should be available in the coming weeks, along with new RSV vaccines and a yearly flu shot.
U.S. News & World Report Rankings Include Kansas Schools
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDAF) — U.S. News and World Report has just released its annual rankings of the best high schools in the nation and a number of schools in northeast Kansas and the Kansas City metro are topping the list of best schools in the two states. WDAF TV reports that, in Kansas, the Sumner Academy of Arts and Science in KCK took the number one spot on the magazine’s list of best schools in the state, Shawnee Mission East, in Prairie Village, and four of the Blue Valley School District’s five high schools in Johnson County made the top ten in Kansas along with Manhattan High School in Manhattan. On the Missouri side, three Kansas City schools landed in the magazine's Top 10. Ewing Marion Kauffman High School was the highest-ranked Kansas City school in the state at No. 6. Lincoln College Preparatory Academy and Park Hill High School in Kansas City also made the Top 10. The magazine evaluated and ranked the schools based on criteria including standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and indicators of teacher quality.
Kansas Child Care Providers Struggle, Despite High Demand
TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Child care is hard for Kansas parents to find. It's so difficult that some providers say people should start looking for infant care the second they know a baby is coming. Child care providers are also struggling to grow, despite their businesses being in high demand. As one provider said, "The misconception is that we're just rolling in money, you know, because parents think $145 a week is expensive... but it doesn't pay for an employee to make a living wage.” (Read more.)
Missouri Republican Seeks Exceptions to State's Near-Total Abortion Ban
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP/KPR) — A Missouri Republican wants exceptions to the state's near-total ban on abortion. Jamie Corley, of suburban St. Louis, filed constitutional amendments Wednesday to allow abortions in cases of rape, incest and fatal abnormalities until fetal viability. Viability is typically around 24 weeks. The exception for rape would only apply if the assault is reported to a crisis hotline. Corley also proposed allowing abortions for any reason up to 12 weeks into pregnancy. All of her proposals would shield those seeking abortions and health care providers from criminal prosecution and civil penalties. Missouri now only allows abortions for medical emergencies. Another campaign is working to enshrine abortion rights in Missouri's constitution.
Chiefs' Travis Kelce Sends Message to All-Pro DT Chris Jones Amid Holdout
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs’ Travis Kelce is imploring fellow All-Pro Chris Jones to end his holdout before Kansas City opens the season Thursday night against the Detroit Lions. Jones has carried it through the offseason and right into game week. He is entering the final year of a $80 million, four-year contract, and wants to be paid among the top defensive tackles in the league. Kelce was speaking on his podcast with his brother and Eagles center Jason Kelce when he said: “Can you please come back? You must know something I don't know because I just don't get it.”
No. 16 K-State Begins Season of High Expectations
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — No. 16 Kansas State begins a season of big expectations on Saturday night when Southeast Missouri State visits Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The Wildcats are the defending Big 12 champions and return plenty of starters. Among them is Will Howard, who took over the quarterback job midway through last season. His entire offensive line returns intact, though Christian Duffie is out with an injury. The Wildcats bring back Kobe Savage, one of the best defensive backs in the conference. Southeast Missouri State is coming off an Ohio Valley title and is ranked No. 11 in the Football Championship Subdivision preseason poll.
K-State coach Chris Klieman knows what it's like to have everyone in the conference watching out for you. He lived it for five seasons at North Dakota State, where high expectations turned into four national championships. So, after the Wildcats snuck up on just about everybody in the Big 12 a year ago, beating College Football Playoff-bound TCU in the league title game, Klieman is back in some familiar territory. No. 16 Kansas State begins the season Saturday night against Southeast Missouri State, one of the better teams in the Football Championship Subdivision, knowing that it will get everyone's best shot in the newly expanded conference this season. "There's a lot of great expectations out there, and I appreciate you guys throwing those high expectations on those guys, because they have earned the right because of what they did last year," Klieman said. "But now we have to prove it on the field."
KU Tries to Build on Last Season's Success in Home Opener Against Missouri State
UNDATED (AP) — The University of Kansas will attempt to get off to another good start to the football season when Missouri State makes the short trip across the state line to face the Jayhawks Friday night. They won their first five games a year ago and finished .500 in the regular season before losing to Arkansas in triple overtime in the Liberty Bowl. Jalon Daniels is back at quarterback for Kansas. He is the preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year.
Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs Set Out to Repeat as Super Bowl Champs
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs are setting out to repeat as Super Bowl champions. They won their second Lombardi Trophy in four years this past season. They nearly pulled off the feat in 2020, returning to the big game but losing to the Buccaneers. They continue to be led by reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce on offense. The defense has some major question marks heading into their September 7 opener against Detroit. All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones appears to be continuing his holdout right into the regular season, defensive end Charles Omenihu is suspended the first six games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, and starting cornerback L'Jarius Sneed missed almost all of training camp with a knee injury.
Chiefs GM Hopeful that All-Pro Defensive Tackle Chris Jones Reports by Opener Next Week
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chiefs general manager Brett Veach is optimistic that All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones will be on the field when the Super Bowl champions kick off the NFL regular-season against Detroit next week. Veach said communication has picked up in recent days after the two sides appeared to be at a stalemate. Jones is entering the final year of a four-year, $80 million contract that will pay him nearly $20 million this season. But he has fallen behind several defensive tackles that have signed lucrative deals this past offseason. Kansas City plays the Lions on September 7 at Arrowhead Stadium.
This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Tom Parkinson and Kaye McIntyre. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day. These ad-free headlines are made possible by KPR members. Become one today. You can also follow KPR News on Twitter.