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Archive for July, 2019

In recent years, I’ve written about two god-awful car crashes that took lives — crashes that were a direct result of motorists driving not just irresponsibly but with I-don’t-give-a-shit-what-happens abandon.

In one case, a guy driving a Cadillac Escalade plowed into the back of a car near the Adams Dairy Parkway exit on I-70 and killed the two children of a couple who were headed home to Warrenton, MO, after a vacation. The father of the two children was left paralyzed from the waist down.

In the other case, a guy in a pickup was driving 90 miles an hour down the 23rd Street ramp in eastern Kansas City and caused a chain-reaction crash that killed a 3-year-old girl, a 16-year-old girl and left the father of the 16-year-old with a serious brain injury.

In both cases, the worms in their big, heavy steel cocoons walked away uninjured. The guy driving the Escalade is now doing 25 years in prison, and the other guy died of cancer before he could be tried or plead guilty.

Now we’ve got an equally egregious case — the then-Kansas City police officer who was going 76 miles an hour one second before plowing into the rear of a much smaller vehicle in his Ford E350 police van on northbound I-435 near the Truman Sports Complex.

Terrell E. Watkins

Terrell E. Watkins, 34, was headed to an off-duty assignment at Arrowhead Stadium last October 21. (He resigned from the police force last month.) Late for his game-day assignment, he was weaving in and out of traffic, using his cellphone and not the least bit concerned about public safety — which was his sworn duty to protect as an officer.

Possibly without hitting the brakes, Watkins hurtled into the rear of a Mitsubishi Lancer being driven by 17-year-old Chandan Rajanna, a senior at Shawnee Mission South. Chandan was killed, and his father and sister were seriously injured. As in the 23rd Street ramp wreck, a couple of other vehicles were involved, but no one in those vehicles was seriously injured.

And, once again, predictably, the worm in his big, steel cocoon was not seriously injured.

Earlier this week, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office charged Watkins with first-degree involuntary manslaughter, two counts of second-degree assault and a misdemeanor count of careless and imprudent driving. If convicted, he could be sentenced to several years in prison.

…After the crash, I wondered if Watkins would get preferential treatment because of his status as a lawman.

Yesterday, we learned that, unfortunately, he did.

Longtime police reporter Glenn Rice reported on The Star’s website that Watkins got preferential treatment in three ways. First, he wasn’t arrested; he was, instead, served with charging documents. Second, because he wasn’t arrested, he didn’t have his mugshot taken. And third (and most maddeningly to me) Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker decided not to put his home address on charging documents but instead let her staff use the address of the police station where he once worked — 5301 E. 27th Street.

What a sham! Not only did Baker allow her staff to plug in a bogus address, the address they used is for a station that closed three years and eight months ago after East Patrol moved to a new building at 27th and Prospect.

When Rice asked Mike Mansur, Baker’s spokesman, if Watkins had been treated differently because he had been a police officer, Mansur said, “We have given him no special consideration.”

Utter balderdash.

Wisely, Rice put the same question to a well-known, local defense attorney, John Picerno, who said: “They gave him a break on that one. It is obvious they did that because he’s a police officer.”

The whole thing — Watkins driving with complete disregard for his fellow human beings and then getting special treatment for having been a cop (a horrible cop, as it turns out) makes me want to break some boards over one of my replaced knees.

I can understand if a driver screws up, gets distracted for a moment or two and plows into somebody. That’s a tragedy. But these guys — the Escalade driver, the pickup driver and Watkins — who feel invulnerable in their big hogs and just don’t give a shit about anybody else — they are dangerous criminals.

I would like to see Watkins go to jail for a long time, like eight to 10 years. That’s what he deserves. Unfortunately, he’ll be out in a few years at the most. He might even get probation…And we may never know exactly where he lives.

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:: Was Dennis Carpenter out of his depth as Lee’s Summit School District superintendent? Or are a majority of school district parents wearing blinders and simply dead set against district employees being trained to do a better job of helping to even the academic scales?

And while we’re on that subject…Why hasn’t The Star’s longtime education reporter Mara Rose Williams written a news analysis about Carpenter’s departure? It’s not enough to recount months of roiling over the issue of “equity training” (as Williams did Wednesday). And it’s not enough to quote opposing “tweets” various people posted (as Williams did Thursday)…What this situation calls for is enlightenment from one of the the leading education reporters in town. So far, we haven’t gotten it.

:: Why would an ICE agent break out the car window of illegal immigrant Florencio Millan while his two children were sitting in the car? He was not a felon or someone posing a threat to anyone; he was just guilty of re-entering the United States illegally. Aren’t ICE agents on salaries? If so, what’s the problem with waiting a while, until Millan realized he had no option?

:: Why would a member of the Manhattan (Kansas) City Commission — Usha Reddi — think that revealing her father had raped her boost her chances of winning a U.S. Senate seat?

:: Why would a 31-year-old Independence man — Larry R. McQueen — not be wearing a seat belt while driving on I-44 near Springfield, MO? He died after his Dodge Ram pickup went off the road, struck a rock and overturned.

:: Why would a man be recklessly driving a Dodge Challenger on Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard at 11:30 in the morning while carrying five passengers, including four children in the back seat and a woman up front, with no one in the car wearing a seat belt or in a child booster seat? After the driver ran off the roadway and struck a tree in the median, the woman died; the man was seriously injured, and the children were being treated for broken bones and other injuries.

:: Why would The Star run a ridiculous “Google Street View” photo of a Lee’s Summit middle school on the front page? Don’t they have enough photographers to send one on a 90-minute round trip to a Kansas City suburb to snap a decent photo?

These things I would like to know. If I had some answers that made sense, I’d never have to go to my pencil bag and reporter’s notebook again.

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Media experts have been predicting for a year or more that consolidation was on the way for the nation’s five or six leading newspaper companies, including McClatchy, which owns The Kansas City Star.

The first big move appears close to being announced, according to Ken Doctor, media analyst with the NiemanLab, a subset of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Ken Doctor of NiemanLab

Doctor wrote last week he expects an announcement by the end of summer heralding a merger between Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, and GateHouse, the second-largest chain. (GateHouse owns more papers than Gannett, but Gannett is larger in terms of market capitalization, cash flow and revenue.)

The big surprise in this deal, if it happens, is that GateHouse, which has a much lower profile than Gannett, would be the buyer.

Just six years ago, GateHouse found itself with such a large debt that it filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Since emerging from bankruptcy, it has been on an acquisition tear. It got a big boost two years ago after SoftBank, the Japanese company that has a large stake in Sprint, acquired the company that manages GateHouse. GateHouse now owns more than 150 daily papers and more than 300 weeklies.

Gannett ended up on the weak side of the proposition partly because it was the object of a hostile takeover attempt last year by another chain, Alden Global Capital. Even though Gannett was able to beat back the bid, “Alden had pushed Gannett into play,” as Doctor put it.

…Although a Gannett-GateHouse merger would not directly affect Kansas City or The Star, it would significantly alter the newspaper-industry playing field.

McClatchy, as is well known, has been struggling under a big debt — now about $745 million — since it acquired the Knight Ridder chain in 2006. Nevertheless, it remains a major player: If Gannett and GateHouse merged, McClatchy would be the second-largest chain in terms of print circulation (although dwarfed by G-G).

McClatchy suffered a setback last year when it made an unsuccessful bid to buy Tribune Publishing, which owns, among other papers, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel and the Hartford Courant.

Currently, McClatchy and Tribune remain unmoored, and a Gannett-GateHouse merger probably would leave them and a few other chains looking to team up.

All the chains are struggling financially, and the idea behind any mergers is for the participants to buy time until they might succeed at making a profitable transition from print to digital.

Doctor described it this way…

“Gannett and GateHouse, like all their industry brethren, look at ever-bleaker numbers every quarter; the biggest motivation here is really survival, which in business terms means the ability to maintain some degree of profitability somewhere into the early 2020s.”

So far, McClatchy has been lagging on the print-to-digital transformation, but in the first quarter of 2019 it had its biggest-ever percentage jump in digital subscriptions, with nearly 60 percent more digital-only subscribers than in the first quarter of 2018.

That is one sign of hope for McClatchy. Another is the turnaround GateHouse made after emerging from bankruptcy in 2016. Could it also catch a big wind through a bankruptcy?

In any event, it’s very hard to see McClatchy surviving without either teaming up with another chain or going into bankruptcy and reorganizing. And with its huge debt, it seems unlikely McClatchy would end up as the big dog in any merger.

In the meantime, the clock is ticking, and the monetary losses keep mounting.

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Should Kansas City, KS, police have charged into Edwards Corner Market & Deli after the July 10 shooting?

That is a huge and difficult question. Members of the families of Lachell Day and Dennis Edwards obviously believe police should have gone in and tried to save the two after they had been shot by 39-year-old Jermelle Andre-Lamont Byers, who had been dating Day about four months.

We can all understand the families’ frustration, especially in light of recent revelations, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Dennis Edwards

I certainly don’t have a ready answer to the question, but I do know this: This is another example of KCKPD demonstrating that it is a second-rate law-enforcement organization. There are enough red flags surrounding this tragedy to make reasonable people skeptical of the police department’s competency.

Consider four curious aspects of this case:

:: Police originally put out a release saying they had found Day and Edwards dead inside the store. But police came back the next day, Thursday the 11th, saying Day was still alive.

Which leads me to say…WTF? It didn’t take 24 hours (or about that) to determine that Day was still alive. That should have been corrected within hours. Moreover, I’ve never heard of a police department announcing a victim is dead and later announcing he or she is actually alive. That’s appalling.

:: Police said the victims died of gunshot wounds but apparently did not tell the Edwards family — not to mention the public — that he had also been stabbed several times. A niece of Edwards, Christina Bennett-Smith, told The Star the family didn’t learn that Edwards had been stabbed until they saw his body at the funeral home.

Why would police have held back the fact Edwards was stabbed? The unavoidable answer is it would have would given credence to the family’s belief — and public speculation — that Edwards was alive during at least part of the two-hour period police negotiated with Byers, trying to get him to surrender. Relatives of Day and Edwards believe the two victims “bled out” during that period.

:: At one point, early on, one or more officers apparently went inside the store and confronted Byers. An officer fired once, striking Byers but not seriously wounding him. When Byers pointed a gun at them, they withdrew, according to The Star.

I don’t understand that at all. We’ve heard of numerous cases where police have shot and killed people who either have pointed guns at officers or whom officers believed, right or wrong, presented an immediate threat. Without question, Byers presented a threat, so why didn’t the officers who initially went inside open up with their guns and blow him away? 

:: Outgoing Chief Terry Zeigler, whose integrity has been in question because of a sweetheart house-rental deal The Star exposed, has not addressed the situation, other than to issue a tweet the day of the incident, calling it a “horrific event.”

As head of the department, Zeigler should be front and center in an incident of this gravity and with so many loose ends. The fact that he’s hiding in his office tells me he either doesn’t have the confidence or courage to tackle the toughest aspects of the chief’s job — or he knows his officers botched the job.

**

KCKPD spokesman Jonathan Westbrook told The Star officers carrying shields made at least two attempts to get inside the store. He said: “This guy, our suspect, was standing over the victim, who had sustained a mortal wound. We’re not going to put our officers in harm’s way for what we see is a deceased individual.”

Lachell Day

It’s not clear which victim Westbrook was talking about. But at least one of them, Day, was alive.

It just seems odd, doesn’t it — cops so willing and quick to kill people presenting perceived threats but these cops retreating in the case of a guy they knew had seriously wounded or killed at least one person?

As The Star’s editorial board and I have said, the next chief should come from outside the KCKPD. The place needs a major shake-up and attitude reset. It would be at least a good start if the department could get its facts straight and be upfront with the public and victims’ families.

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In his first courtroom appearance in eight months, David Jungerman played the “woe is me” card as hard as he could today, unleashing a desperate attempt to get out of jail until his first-degree murder case goes to trial.

I’m 81 and can’t get the medical care I need in jail; all my assets have been frozen and I don’t have access to any money; the jail is crowded and it’s hard to have one-on-one conversations with my attorney. But more than anything else...The media has convicted me of a crime I didn’t commit; I’m innocent!

Those words are paraphrased. Here are the exact words he used in court today to describe what he views as the Kansas City Police Department’s and Jackson County Prosecutor Office’s obsession with seeing him convicted:

“These people are evil. They lie, and they lie, and they lie, and they’re trying to convict an innocent man…They just want to nail it all on me.”

But Judge John M. Torrence of Jackson County Circuit Court wasn’t hearing any of it.

Prosecutors, he said, had established “sufficient concern” that Jungerman presented a threat to the community and should not be given the chance to go free while his case is pending.

“Motion denied,” Torrence said flatly and with finality.

David Jungerman, today

Several people in the courtroom, including a possible witness and the two lead prosecutors in the case, undoubtedly breathed more easily after hearing those words. That’s because, as one of the prosecutors, Dan Nelson, said during the hearing, Jungerman has clearly demonstrated “a propensity for intense personal violence.”

In two separate incidents he shot and wounded a total of four people he has said were trespassing on his business. In another incident, at a recycling center, he fired a warning shot in the direction of a man he accused of stealing iron piping from his business. And, finally, he probably shot and killed Kansas City attorney Thomas Pickert the morning of Oct. 25, 2017, as Pickert stood in the front yard of his Brookside home, talking on his cellphone.

He has been in the Jackson County jail since March 2018, when the incident at the recycling center took place. He was first held on $1 million bond in that case but has been held without bond since being charged in April 2018 with Pickert’s murder.

The murder trial is now scheduled to start Sept. 3.

Prosecutors contend Jungerman killed Pickert because Pickert had won a $5.75 million civil judgment against Jungerman while representing a man who had been shot by Jungerman. In a court filing last December, prosecutors said they believe Jungerman, a multi-millionaire, is obsessed with money and willing to go to “abnormally extensive lengths” to protect it.

Jungerman has admitted to shooting trespassers at his baby-furniture manufacturing plant in northeast Kansas City, but he was never charged with a crime in either of those incidents.

In addition to the murder charge, though, he is facing a gun-related felony charge in the recycling-center incident.

…Outside a courthouse in southwest Missouri, he once told me he believed in “the castle doctrine” — “You come in my house, I’m going to blow your ass away.”

In court yesterday, he used milder language: “Am I a violent person? No. I protect my property, yes.”

**

Jungerman looked about the same yesterday as he did at his last hearing, in November. Before the hearing, he sat beside a Jackson County sheriff’s deputy and fiddled with his hearing aids. His face was a bit red and his features slightly drawn. A couple of times before his case was called, he stood up, apparently thinking his hearing was about to begin.

At one point in the hearing, he shuffled papers as he spoke to the judge. Momentarily losing his place, he muttered, “Son of a gun.”

Dan ross

At another point he seemed to complain about his attorney, Dan Ross, saying Ross’s only progress had been deposing one police officer.

“That’s not correct,” Ross replied. Then, looking at the judge, he said, “I’m not going to respond to my client.”

Before the hearing began, Ross had told Jungerman, “We’ve had some really good depositions this week.”

He told Jungerman he would be giving him 4,000 pages of “discovery” documents and that another 2,000 would be coming later. “I know you’ll read it,” he said.

And now he’s going to have at least six weeks of quiet time, in jail, to pore over the documents.

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It was good to see Kansas City, KS, getting significant attention in Monday’s Kansas City Star.

Wyandotte County has always been a font of news, but for about a decade now it hasn’t been getting the coverage it deserves, other than for its crime.

Kevin Hardy

On Monday, though, The Star’s brand-new economic development reporter, Kevin Hardy, teamed up with longtime retail-and-restaurant reporter Joyce Smith on a big story about the development boom in downtown KCK and on Strawberry Hill. (Hardy came to The Star last month after being a business reporter for four years at The Des Moines Register.)

The crux of the story is that as Kansas City’s Downtown and the Crossroads Arts District have exploded, developers and entrepreneurs have turned to KCK as a close-in, more affordable alternative.

One of the things I learned from the story is that the University of Kansas Health System plans to resuscitate the former EPA building near Fifth and Minnesota, bringing hundreds of workers to the building, which has been vacant since the EPA picked up and moved to Lenexa several years ago.

Another promising development at 5th and Minnesota: The Merc Co+op, based in Lawrence, is scheduled to break ground soon on a government-subsidized, 14,000-square-foot grocery. I have been to The Merc in Lawrence many times, and it is excellent. (Nota bene: best cookies I’ve ever had — soft in the middle, crunchy edges.)

Having headed The Star’s Wyandotte County bureau from 1995 to 2004 (the period when KCK shed its doormat status under the strong leadership of Mayor Carol Marinovich), I am thrilled to see KCK making further strides and becoming an entrepreneurial hot spot.

Despite its breakout progress in the late 1990s and continuing into the 2000s, Wyandotte County has continued to be overlooked by many area residents. Maybe that’s about to change. It was gratifying to see The Star bring KCK’s upswing to metro-wide attention.

**

Also on Monday, The Star had an editorial headlined “KCK must look outside for new police chief.”

How true!

KCK has promoted from the inside for as long as I can remember.

KCKPD is an insular department, as evidenced partly by the fact that a crooked detective named Roger Golubski ran amok in the department for years, allegedly extorting sexual favors from women and ginning up phony evidence in order to close cases and put defendants behind bars. Some of those defendants, including Lamont McIntyre, who was convicted of murder, were innocent.

In addition, the retiring chief, Terry Zeigler, is alleged to have had a sweetheart deal that allowed him to live in a county-owned house near Wyandotte County Lake Park for minimal rent. The Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office is continuing to investigate that.

The Star’s editorial concluded by saying…

“The next police chief will face steep challenges in rebuilding relationships and cleaning up some of the messes that Zeigler is leaving behind. Bolstering public trust in the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department is essential…The Unified Government must get this hire right. And bringing in fresh eyes from outside the department may provide the best chance for success.”

David Alvey

There’s no better person to organize the search for — and make the selection of — a new chief than Unified Government Mayor David Alvey. He is a multi-talented man with wide civic and professional experience, including working as an assistant principal at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City.

Alvey will not be afraid to buck the good ol’ boys at police headquarters, Seventh and Minnesota, and shake the department from its hidebound foundation. It will not be easy — expect wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth in the ranks — but, like The Star said, the time is right.

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Sometimes, even one of the best papers in the country gets the story wrong.

In this case, the paper is The New York Times, long my favorite.

And the screw-up was memorable.

On Friday’s front page, The Times featured an eye-grabbing story about the dismissal of a 49-year-old pastor at Manhattan’s Riverside Church, a well-known, progressive church.

Rick rojas

Times’ reporter Rick Rojas, a five-year Times veteran who does not get many front-page stories, portrayed Rev. Amy Butler as a “rising star” who was the victim in a squabble with the church’s governing council. Specifically, Rojas pinned the blame on a 70-year-old former governing council member named Ed Lowe, whom Rojas painted as a blatant sexist.

Rojas’ second and third paragraphs set the tone for this 30-column-inch story:

“Two years into her tenure, an influential former member of the church’s governing council (Lowe) left a bottle of wine and a T-shirt on her desk, both with labels that read ‘Sweet Bitch,’ according to an internal investigation ordered by the church after Dr. Butler filed a formal complaint.

“The former governing council member also sent suggestive emails and text messages to Dr. Butler’s female colleagues, the investigation found.”

 

Shocking, right? So shocking that, according to Rojas, a hubbub resulted and the governing council this month dismissed Butler, who had been senior pastor five years, by not renewing her contract.

But just a second…Does that make any sense? That the governing council of a progressive church with 1,750 members would not renew Butler’s contract because a member of the council did her wrong?

Wouldn’t it stand to reason that the council would get rid of the offending council member and apologize to the pastor?

The story didn’t make sense, and when I read it Friday morning I had the feeling I wasn’t getting the full story. My wife Patty, who manufactured clergy vestments for 25 years, also read the story. A friend of hers — another person in the vestment business — sent her an email that cited a story on a website called Queerty, which covers the gay community. The headline on the story reads, “Pastor fired after pressuring gay minister to sex shop, offering to buy him sex toy.”

The story — posted the same day The Times’ story was published in its print edition — said “the sex toy shopping spree” occurred May 15 while Butler was in Minneapolis for a religious conference with two assistant ministers and a congregant from Riverside Church.

The story continues.

During a break from the conference, Pastor Amy suggested they check out the Smitten Kitten, a local sex shop. When one of the assistant ministers, a gay man in a committed relationship, said he was uncomfortable with that idea, Pastor Amy insisted.

Feeling ‘pressured,’ the man agreed to tag along with the women. Inside the store, Pastor Amy offered to buy him a sex toy. He politely declined her offer.

Then Pastor Amy offered to buy a $200 vibrator for another assistant minister, a single mother of two. The woman accepted the sex toy but later said she really didn’t want it and had only taken it because she feared professional retaliation.

At the register, Pastor Amy allegedly said, “Is this a church business expense?” then whipped out her church credit card.

Upon returning to New York, the two assistant ministers filed a formal harassment claim, prompting the church to hire a third-party investigator who interviewed both of them and substantiated the claims.

In response, Pastor Amy and church officials agreed it was time for her to go.

The Queerty account sounded a lot more credible than The Times’ story, which had made no mention whatsoever of the sex-shop incident. I was skeptical, however, because I’d never heard of Queerty and have no idea how reliable it is.

Then I went to Google and found that the New York Post had run a story Thursday night reporting that Butler had indeed been ousted because of the sex-shop incident.

In its lead sentence, the Post was able to both have fun with the story and embarrass The Times:

“The reason for her ouster is far more stimulating than any sermon this pastor could have delivered.”

Deeper in the story, the Post rubbed it in some more, saying:

“In a New York Times published online Thursday — after The Post began making calls for this story — her supporters claimed she was let go because she spoke up against harassment and sexism.”

At some point, The Times made significant changes to its online story, including relating the sex-shop outing in the seventh, eighth and ninth paragraphs. The Times also tempered its unattributed implication that the “Sweet Bitch” business had cost Butler her job and instead attributed that claim to “Dr. Butler’s supporters.”

Ordinarily, The Times is very up front and transparent when it changes or corrects online stories, noting the changes or corrections at the bottom. That was not the case with this story, however; there was no mention of the story having been changed.

…This story, prominently played where it was, proved to be a major embarrassment for The Times. It even borders on — I hate to say it — fake news.

Rick Rojas is probably on very thin ice right now. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes when he is summoned for his annual evaluation.

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