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Headlines for Tuesday, February 27, 2024

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Emily Fisher

Kansas Getting 4th Warmest February Since Late 1800s

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — Kansas is experiencing one of its warmest Februarys on record. The National Weather Service says that as of February 22nd, this is the 4th-warmest February in Kansas since 1893. Missouri is also experiencing its 4th-warmest month since then. Above normal temperatures and a higher risk of fire danger are in store through Tuesday, with highs in the 70s. A cold front is expected to move into Kansas Tuesday night, with high temperatures dropping into the 30s and 40s on Wednesday.


Wildfire Season Underway in Kansas

LIBERAL, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas is entering wildfire season, which traditionally peaks in February and March. In southwest Kansas, a grass fire burned more than 350 acres last week. According to Meade County fire officials, the blaze was most likely caused by a harvesting machine. Ninety-five percent of wildfires in Kansas are caused by human behavior. Aaron Williams is a fire management officer for the Kansas Forest Service. “What we are seeing more and more now is fires burning year-round," he said. Williams says controlled burns are part of fire management. But small actions can cause uncontrolled fires to spread quickly.

On Monday, Governor Laura Kelly issued a verbal state of disaster emergency declaration for wildland fires. The proclamation will continue through the rest of the week due to increased fire weather conditions. That declaration allows resources to be used to provide state assistance. The Kansas Division of Emergency Management will staff the State Emergency Operations Center beginning Tuesday to assist counties and local emergency responders if requested.

KSN reports that firefighters responded to several fires in Kansas on Monday, including one in Kearney County, south of Lakin. Other fires were reported in Kingman, McPherson, Reno, Rice, Seward, and Stafford Counties.


Kansas Legislature Passes Bills to Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - The Kansas House and Senate each passed their own versions of laws reforming civil asset forfeiture, the practice of police confiscation of property that’s allegedly involved in criminal activities. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that the issue is dividing law enforcement agencies. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Kansas Attorney General’s Office supported the bill, while statewide organizations representing police departments and sheriffs were opposed. The proposal also pitted municipalities against conservative and liberal civil rights organizations like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and the American Civil Liberties Union. Proponents argue that asset forfeiture is a valuable tool for law enforcement to neuter criminals’ ability to commit illegal activities, particularly for drug crimes. Opponents, however, say it’s an unfair process that deprives people of their property rights without adequate legal protections.

The legislation is informed by a December report by the civil asset forfeiture advisory committee. It tracked instances of asset forfeiture over a three-year period between July 2019 and November 2023 and found that more than $23 million in property was seized during 2,000 police contacts in that timeframe.

The committee recommended several changes to the current law including removing simple possession as a reason to seize assets, prohibiting the seizure of assets below a certain dollar amount and creating timelines that the seizing agency must meet or return the property. Both bills passed their respective chamber with overwhelming support, passing unanimously in the House and by a 36-2 vote in the Senate.

(–Additional reporting–)

Separate Kansas House and Senate Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bills Advance

UNDATED (KNS) – The Kansas House and Senate have moved closer to tightening rules on police taking cash and property from people accused of a crime. the Kansas News Service reports that both chambers passed separate bills that would make those kinds of seizures harder. Both bills include denying civil asset forfeiture in cases of lower level crimes like simple possession of drugs. They also would force the return of seized property faster. Supporters say the bills are a compromise between law enforcement agencies and groups advocating for reform. State Representative Dan Osman, a Democrat, says the bill was not perfect, but it risks losing support from either side if further changes are made. “There were many changes that lots of people on both sides could have made to swing it one way or the other,” he explained. The bills received broad bipartisan support from lawmakers. The chambers will need to hammer out differences between the bills.


Washburn University Names New Law School Dean

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Washburn University has announced its selection for the university law school’s newest dean following a national search. Jeffrey Jackson, the interim dean for Washburn’s School of Law, became the dean on Monday (February 26th). KSNT TV reports that Jackson has served as interim dean since the spring of 2022. He is now the 25th person to hold the position. Before stepping up to the position of interim dean at the school of law, Jackson was a professor of law and served as the director of the Center for Excellence in Advocacy with the school of law. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Washburn in 1989 and graduated cum laude with a juris doctor from the school of law in 1992. Prior to his time as a faculty member with Washburn’s school of law, Jackson served as a law clerk for Chief Justice Robert E. Davis on the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Court of Appeals. He also spent time as a litigation associated with the Bennett & Dillon law firm based out of Topeka.


Arrest Made in Death of Lawrence Woman

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) – A man has been arrested in connection with the death of a Lawrence woman last week. The Lawrence Police Department said Monday that it arrested 40-year-old Julius Robert Beasley on suspicion of first-degree murder and felony interference. The department said via press release that Beasley was detained for questioning in connection with the death of Chrystal White on the day of the killing, February 22. Beasley was then held in the Douglas County Correctional Facility on unrelated warrants. The case has now been turned over to the Douglas County District Attorney's office.


Teachers Testify Before Kansas House Committee on Classroom Challenges

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) – Teachers in Kansas say behavior problems and other issues in the classroom are taking a toll on their own mental health. The Kansas News Service reports that a group of teachers from across the state addressed Kansas lawmakers recently during a House committee meeting. They said more students are dealing with trauma at home, and it affects their performance and behavior in the classroom. Marysville High School teacher Carla Wolfe says schools aren’t doing enough to support teachers’ mental health. “A lot of districts pay lip service to it. And they’ll say stuff like, ‘Make sure you get some rest’ and ‘Take care of yourself.’ But there are no mental health resources for teachers in my district,” she explained. Teachers urged lawmakers to fully fund special education so that schools can have more counselors and social workers.


Kansas Inmate Dies at Lansing State Prison

LANSING, Kan. (KPR) — An inmate serving time for kidnapping and murder has died in prison. The Kansas Department of Corrections announced Sunday that 51-year-old Eric Avilla died Saturday at Lansing state prison. The cause of death will be determined by an independent autopsy. Avilla was serving a 20-year sentence for convictions of kidnapping and second-degree murder in Sedgwick County. He was sentenced following the death of his girlfriend Alina Burkman at a Wichita K-Mart. Per protocol, the KBI is investigating.


Dodge City Election Procedure Challenge Begins in Federal Court

UNDATED (KNS) – A federal trial challenging the municipal election system in Dodge began in Wichita Monday. The Kansas News Service reports that plaintiffs accuse Dodge City of suppressing Latino votes. The trial stems from a complaint filed in December 2022 against Dodge City’s commissioners and the at-large election system used to vote them in. Plaintiffs Miguel Coca and Alejandro Rangel-Lopez allege the process marginalizes Latino voters and blocks them from electing candidates they chose. The suit says that although 65% of Dodge City’s population is Hispanic or Latino, a Latino person has not been elected commissioner in more than 20 years. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, the UCLA Voting Rights Project, and others on behalf of the plaintiffs. Dodge City officials declined to comment.


Lawyers for Chiefs Rally Shooters Might Use “Stand Your Ground” Defense

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Court documents say the man accused of firing the first shots at the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl rally on February 14 told authorities he felt threatened, while a second man said he pulled the trigger because someone was shooting at him. Experts say that even though the shooting left one bystander dead and roughly two dozen injured, 23-year-old Lyndell Mays and 18-year-old Dominic Miller might have good cases for self-defense through the state’s “stand your ground” law. They are each charged with second-degree murder and several other counts.

Missouri is among more than 30 states that have adopted some version of “stand your ground” laws over the past two decades. While earlier laws allowed people to use force to protect themselves in their homes, Missouri’s stand your ground law provides even broader self-defense rights regardless of the location.

Now, the mass shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl celebration could be a new test of those expanded protections. Kansas City trial attorney Daniel Ross described the stand your ground law as a “formidable defense” that many defense attorneys anticipate will be used in Mays' and Miller's cases. He said the law puts the onus on the prosecution to disprove claims that a shooting is lawful self-defense.

But, Eric Ruben, a law professor at the S.M.U. Dedman School of Law in Dallas says there are limits to the defense. “Even though Missouri has robust stand-your-ground laws,” Ruben said, “that doesn’t mean you can spray bullets into a crowd in the name of defending yourself or others” Ruben said.

The barrage of gunfire outside Kansas City’s historic Union Station happened near the end of the celebration that drew an estimated 1 million fans. 43-year-old Lisa Lopez-Galvan, a volunteer DJ at Kansas City’s community radio station was killed. Lopez-Galvan was one of about two dozen people shot when gunfire erupted while more than half of the victims were children.


Chiefs Coach Andy Reid Expresses Sorrow over Parade Shooting, Offers Hope to Avoid Future Tragedies

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid walked to the podium Tuesday in Indianapolis with a message that went beyond the football world.

He paid tribute to the woman who was killed two weeks ago at the city's Super Bowl celebration — and wanted everyone to know that what happened in not representative of the city he calls home.

It's the first time since the Feb. 14 shooting that killed Lisa Lopez-Galvan and left 22 injured that anyone from the organization spoke publicly about the incident.

“I want to share my condolences for the Galvan and Lopez family for their loss of Lisa, and for the people of Kansas City,” Reid said as he opened his news conference at the NFL's annual scouting combine. "She was a personality there, and a very good human being, first of all. We’ll all miss her, as I know her family will.”

Two people, Dominic M. Miller and Lyndell Mays, have been charged with second-degree murder.

But Reid also used the league's second-biggest offseason stage to suggest how tragedies such as the one that rocked Kansas City can be avoided.

“Just a positive word on Kansas City,” he said. “That’s not what Kansas City is all about — and for our youth of America, that we gather together and make this great, you’re our future and as great as we can make this place, we want to do that. So we can turn this, which was a negative, into a real positive. With just a little togetherness and love we can fix a lot of problems.”


Kansas Marijuana Arrests Have Not Increased Following Weed Legalization in Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KC Beacon) – Missouri legalized marijuana over a year ago. Even with easily available weed next door, cannabis arrests in Kansas look, if anything, on the decline. The Kansas City Beacon reports that Missouri dispensary parking lots routinely host cars sporting Kansas license plates...but those folks don’t tend to get arrested when they return to Kansas. The Overland Park, Pittsburg, and Leavenworth police departments all saw a drop in drug arrests and citations from 2022 to 2023. Kansas City, Kansas, police saw an increase in arrests, but that was due to one busy month. Arrests didn’t jump for a variety of reasons. Some agencies, for instance, just aren’t interested. Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez says even if someone was arrested, she wouldn't prosecute. “I think our law enforcement partners have pretty much accepted that.” Marijuana use and possession is still illegal in Kansas and state lawmakers seem unlikely to change that this year.


Contract-for-Deed Bill Passes Kansas House

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW) – Contracts-for-deed offer a pathway to buy a home that avoids traditional lenders. A bill regulating them passed the Kansas House of Representatives last week and will move on to the Senate. KMUW reports that contracts-for-deed are deals where a homebuyer makes monthly payments directly to a seller, with the understanding that they will buy the home in full at the end of a payment plan. The set-up offers a low barrier homeownership option for people with bad credit. But it can also make buyers vulnerable. The bill requires contract-for-deed sellers, in most cases, to have title to the home. It also gives buyers in default a period of time to pay back what they owe before losing the home. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly, with only one legislator voting against it.


Federal Prosecutors Seek to Revoke Golubski Home Detention

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCUR) – Federal prosecutors want a judge to revoke the home detention of a former Kansas City, Kansas, Police detective accused of violating the civil rights of several women. KCUR reports that Roger Golubski was arrested by the FBI in September 2022. He’s accused of the sexual assault of several women and using the power of his badge to cover it up. A magistrate allowed home detention and electronic monitoring for Golubski, citing his poor health, including diabetes. But on January 29th, prosecutors say Golubski went to Culver’s, a fast-food restaurant, which he’s not allowed to do. A citizen saw him, videotaped it and sent it to prosecutors. Now U-S attorney Kate Brubacher wants a federal judge to revoke Golubski’s home detention, saying he has violated the court’s trust.


3 Charged in 'Targeted' Shooting That Killed Toddler at a Wichita Apartment, Police Say

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two men and a teenager have been charged in a shooting that killed a toddler at a Wichita apartment complex. The men, ages 21 and 25, made first court appearances Monday on charges of first-degree murder and criminal discharge of a firearm in the death of 1-year-old Taidyn Anderson. A 17-year-old is charged in juvenile court. Bond for the adults is set at $1.5 million, and neither of their attorneys returned phone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Police have described the Feb. 19 shooting as “targeted.” They also said in a statement that multiple rounds were fired from a handgun into the apartment. Police said two 24-year-old women sustained critical but non-life-threatening injuries in the shooting. A man and two children — 5-year-old and 10-month-old girls — also were in the apartment but weren't hurt. “Violence in the community should outrage all of us, especially when it results in a death, and in this case the death of a small child,” Chief Joe Sullivan said in a statement when the three were arrested.


Medicaid Expansion Would Cover More Kansans

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas is one of only 10 states that has not expanded Medicaid. Doing so would result in an estimated 152,000 more low-income Kansans enrolling in the health care program. That's according to new estimates from the Kansas Health Institute. KHI president Carrie Bruffett says that includes more than 45,000 children who would be newly eligible or whose parents would be more likely to enroll them. "Other state experience has shown that children's coverage and percentage of those who are eligible who do enroll does go up when states have expanded their Medicaid programs," she said. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly is pushing an expansion proposal with a work requirement that she says would be revenue-neutral. The work requirement has exceptions for caregivers, students, veterans, and other groups.

According to KHI, Medicaid expansion would grow the state’s Medicaid rolls by an estimated 106,000 adults and 45,000 kids. KHI analyst Sheena Smith says the majority of those adults work, but still can’t afford to pay for health insurance. “Over half, almost 60%, worked at least 20 hours a week," she said. Polls show a majority of Kansans support expansion. But it’s unlikely Kansas will expand Medicaid this year due to fierce opposition by Republican leaders in the Legislature, who say it’s too expensive.


KPR Community Spotlight in February Falls on MART

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KPR) — This month's KPR Community Spotlight falls on the Manhattan Area Resettlement Team, or MART. Learn more about MART here.


Cleats Left Behind After Jackie Robinson Statue Was Stolen Will Be Donated to KC's Negro Leagues Museum

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The bronze Jackie Robinson cleats that were left behind when a statue of the player was stolen from a Kansas park are being donated to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Thieves cut the statue off at its ankles last month, leaving only the feet behind at a Wichita park where about 600 children play in a youth baseball league called League 42. It is named after Robinson’s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he broke the major leagues’ color barrier in 1947. The Negro League Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, has plans to incorporate the cleats in a display.

Bob Lutz, executive director of the Little League nonprofit that commissioned the sculpture, said the museum in Kansas City, Missouri, was “enthusiastic” about incorporating the cleats into its display on Robinson. The display also includes a damaged plaque honoring Robinson. The sign was erected in 2001 outside the birthplace of Robinson near Cairo, Georgia. Community members there discovered last year that someone had shot the plaque multiple times. “It’s kind of sad in its own way, that we’re building this little shrine of Jackie Robinson stuff that has been defaced or damaged,” said Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “But it gives us an opportunity to speak to who he was, the characteristics and value of what he represented, even in the face of adversity. And that message really never goes out of style.”

Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, paving the way for generations of Black American ballplayers. He’s considered not only a sports legend but also a civil rights icon. Robinson died in 1972.

Fire crews found burned remnants of his statue five days after the theft while responding to a trash can fire at another park about 7 miles away. One man was charged this month in the theft. Police said there was no evidence it was a hate-motivated crime, but rather the intent was to sell the metal for scrap.

Donations poured in after the theft, totaling around $300,000, Lutz said. The amount includes a $100,000 gift from Major League Baseball.

Lutz, whose friend, the artist John Parsons, made the statue before his death, said the mold is still viable and anticipated that a replacement can be erected within a matter of months. He estimated it would cost around $45,000 to replace the statue itself. While there also will be security and lighting expenses, that leaves lots of extra money that can be used to enhance some of the league's programming and facilities, Lutz said. “It’s just amazing how many people are interested in this story,” Lutz said.


EPA Announces Changes to Seasonal E-15 Fuel Sales Restrictions for 8 Midwestern States

UNDATED (HPM) — Eight Midwestern states, including Missouri, will be able to sell E-15 year-round starting next year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the move Thursday. Harvest Public Media reports that ethanol advocates say the decision is an economic boost for Midwestern farmers and motorists. Governors of Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin asked for the change back in 2022. Lindsay Mitchell with the Illinois Corn Growers Association says the EPA announcement is a win for producers. "It’s really so important for corn farmers and for the ethanol industry to have some sort of certainty — and at least we have that going forward," she explained. Previously, the EPA had banned E-15 sales during the summer months. That’s out of environmental concerns that ethanol produces more smog at higher summer temperatures. Some environmental advocates say the move is a step in the wrong direction.


This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers. Our headlines are generally published by 10 am weekdays and are updated through 7 pm. This ad-free news summary is made possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.