Crime, Justice and Public Safety

ACLU / Whitney Curtis

A black, transgender woman has filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, saying staff at a West Des Moines hotel treated her hostilely because of her gender identity and race.

Flickr / Jennuine Captures Photography


Stun guns produce an electrical shock that causes pain. Wednesday night, the Iowa Supreme Court considers whether this qualifies these devices as "dangerous weapons."

The categorization matters because when Taquala Howse was arrested at a Waterloo Walmart for shoplifting in 2013, officers found a stun gun in her purse. She was convicted of carrying a concealed dangerous weapon without a permit, but the Iowa Court of Appeals overturned that conviction this spring.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

An Iowa man convicted of first-degree murder in 1992 will be resentenced. This comes as little surprise following the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling this summer in State of Iowa vs. Yvette Louisell

Eric Querrey was 15 when he shot and killed 16-year-old Stacy Halferty. He received the mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

There was emotional testimony at the statehouse today where the governor’s committee on racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system was completing its work.   

The NAACP and others say the group’s recommendations do not go far enough to address the problem of disproportionate numbers of blacks in Iowa prisons.  

With a limited mandate, the committee recommends making jury pools more inclusive, keeping juvenile court records private, expanding drug courts, and cutting prison phone call costs.  

Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden

Two African-style hair braiders in Des Moines are suing the Iowa Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences.

Hair braiders in Iowa are required to complete 2,100 hours at a licensed cosmetology school and pass an exam, even though these requirements generally don’t train or test the practice of African-style hair braiding. The lawsuit says Iowa code is burdensome, arbitrary and impair a hair-braider’s “constitutional right to economic liberty.”


The Iowa Court of Appeals today ruled in favor of a complainant in a sexual harassment case.  

The case alleges violations of Iowa’s Civil Rights statute by Iowa Senate Republicans.

Senate Republicans fired Kristen Anderson from her job as communications director in May of 2013 alleging poor job performance.   Anderson claimed she was fired for reporting sexual harassment on the job. 

Emily Woodbury / Iowa Public Radio

Before the 1980s, we assumed that wrongful convictions were rare. Then came Peter Neufeld and the Innocence Project. Through DNA testing, Neufeld and his organization have helped to exonerate more than 300 people of crimes they were wrongfully convicted of committing.

“We thought we could look at old cases where people were tried on other evidence like eye-witness testimony and test the hypothesis of innocence,” he says.

Wikicommons / Patsy Lynch, FEMA

The City of Waterloo has agreed to pay a total of $272,000 for violations of the Clean Water Act, pending a 30-day public comment period and approval by a federal court.

The city was accused of discharging untreated sewage into the Cedar River and its tributaries, which allowed repeated backups of sewage-laden wastewater into homes and other buildings. Waterloo was also accused of failing to properly operate and maintain its sewage treatment and collection systems.

Under terms of the settlement, Waterloo does not admit any wrongdoing.

Governor Branstad has announced a new Wrongful Conviction Division in the Office of State Public Defender.  

Officials will conduct DNA analysis for many as 100 inmates who may have been convicted on what’s now called “junk science.” 

The state will work with an organization known as the Innocence Project, which has helped exonerate inmates in more than 300 cases on the basis of DNA evidence.     

State officials will review Iowa cases in which hair analysis played a major role in convictions.  

Eighth Circuit Bar Assocation

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments next month in Des Moines at Drake University.

Federal appeals courts are one level below the U.S. Supreme Court. The Eighth Circuit handles cases from Iowa and six other states. Usually the court only hears cases in St. Louis and St. Paul.

Sarah Boden/IPR

A federal jury delivered a mixed verdict Thursday in the trial of two senior aides from Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Campaign chairman Jesse Benton was acquitted of lying to the FBI in relation to his knowledge of secret payments made to former Iowa state senator Kent Sorenson for his support of Ron Paul. Deputy campaign manager Dimitrios Kesari was found guilty on one of five counts, causing financial records to be falsely reported to the Federal Election Commission. 

Flickr / Joe Gratz

A federal jury in Des Moines completed its first full day of deliberations Wednesday in the trial of two senior aids from Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. It appears jurors are having a hard time coming to consensus in deciding if deputy campaign director Dimitrios Kesari and campaign chairman Jesse Benton are guilty of charges related to keeping payments to Kent Sorenson, a former Iowa state senator, secret from the Federal Election Commission. 

Jury deliberations are underway in the federal trial of two senior staffers from Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. During closing arguments defense attorneys repeated to the jury several times that Kent Sorenson, a key prosecution witness, lies.

"If Kent Sorenson told you that the sky was blue," said Jesse Binnall, attorney for defendant Dimitrios Kesari, "you'd have to go out and check."

Wikimedia Creative Commons / Gage Skidmore

Former State Sen. Kent Sorenson continued his testimony Friday afternoon in the trial of two former staffers from Ron Paul’s 2012 Presidential campaign. Dimitrios Kesari and Jesse Benton, who is married to Paul's granddaughter, are accused of conspiracy and lying to the FBI respectively.

Flickr / Ken Lund

The Iowa Supreme Court heard a case yesterday that could result in a powerful blow to open meetings regulations in the state of Iowa. 

The Warren County Board of Supervisors laid-off twelve county employees in March 2014. Instead of deliberating in a public meeting, the three supervisors communicated through the county administrator which positions would be eliminated.

Wikicommons / Gage Skidmore

The jury has been selected and opening statements given in Des Moines in the criminal trial of two senior staffers from Ron Paul’s 2012 Presidential Campaign. 

Federal prosecutors say Jesse Benton lied to the FBI, and Demitrios Kesari committed conspiracy, both in attempts to keep payments to former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson secret from the Federal Election Commission. 

Readthisandlearn, Wikimedia Commons

The Iowa General Assembly has taken steps over the last few years to make the procedures for arresting a drunken boater closer to those for arresting a drunken driver. Iowa’s Supreme Court will be the next authority to make a decision on the matter.

Last month, the court heard oral arguments in the case of the State vs. Pettijohn.

“There are two issues in this case. One has to do with the stop of the boat and one has to do with the breath test back at the station,” explains University of Iowa law professor Todd Pettys.

Flickr / Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig,

"If you have to spend money to get money," says Polk County Attorney John Sarcone, "it's clearly a scam."

Yet many don't know this telltale sign, particularly Iowa seniors who are often the targets of fraud and embezzlement.

John Pemple/IPR file photo

Iowa U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley is among those sponsoring legislation aimed at recalibrating prison sentences for certain drug offenders.  Grassley appeared at a Washington news conference today with Senators from both parties.  He called the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 a significant change in how the courts treat lower-level drug crimes.

John Pemble/IPR file

On Mother’s Day 2012, 17-year-old Isaiah Sweet of Manchester put on earmuffs, loaded ten bullets into an assault rifle, and shot his grandparents in the head. He was later sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Thursday, the Iowa Supreme Court was asked if that’s ever an appropriate sentence for a juvenile in Iowa.

Iowa Public Radio / John Pemble

Wednesday is the first day of the Iowa Supreme Court's 2015-2016 session. The high court will hear five cases, including one questioning when someone should be given the Miranda Warning, which is the right to remain silent when in police custody and the right to legal counsel. 

Zyriah Schlitter was found guilty in 2012 of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment resulting in the death of his 17-month-old daughter Kamryn. During his trial, Schlitter made statements that conflicted with a taped interview conducted by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. 

Flickr / David Wade Couch

The Iowa bicycling community will be closely watching a court trial in Benton County tomorrow. Cyclist Matt Phippen was biking on a country road back in March. He says the driver of a white Dodge pickup truck passed him in an aggressively close manner.

Steven Payne, the driver of the pickup, was fined for the incident. He refuses to pay the $270 in fees and therefore is headed to court. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

The NAACP held a day-long symposium Friday on the overrepresentation of African-Americans in Iowa prisons.   

The symposium addressed a wide range of issues, from racial profiling to the underrepresentation of minorities on Iowa juries.  

The NAACP cites statistics showing the overrepresentation of minorities in corrections is worse in Iowa than in any other state, in particular for drug offenses.  

Arnold Woods with the Des Moines NAACP says it’s not an abstract topic for blacks.

Boston Police Department

Two Iowa men are being held without bail in Boston, pending a dangerousness hearing on September 1. Boston Police say 18-year-old Kevin Norton of Ames and 27-year-old James Stumbo of Boone drove more than 20 hours to the Pokémon World Championships in Boston.

The two were arrested late Friday night after a search of the men’s vehicle turned up guns, several hundred rounds of ammunition, and a hunting knife.

United States Geological Survey

After a closed session meeting, the Iowa Public Information Board voted to wait until at least September to decide whether to release material related to the police shooting death of a Burlington woman.

In early January, Burlington police officer Jesse Hill accidentally killed 34-year-old Autumn Steele when answering a domestic violence call.

Steele’s dog attacked Hill. He fired his weapon attempting to hit the animal. But instead Officer Hill fatally shot Steele in the chest.

Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden

The Des Moines and Waterloo offices of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley are now in possession of roughly 600 toy, candy, and corn cob pipes.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The NAACP announced today it will host a two-day summit next month to take a comprehensive look at racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system.  

Law enforcement, judges, corrections officials and others will examine why African-Americans make up a bigger percentage in Iowa prisons than they do in the population as a whole.   

It’s a bigger event than the group has sponsored in the past.   

Governor Branstad will attend and the national NAACP will be on hand for the Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities.

The Iowa Board of Regents is continuing its court fight in the case of Bubu Palo, the former Iowa State University basketball player who was accused of sexual assault back in May of 2012.  

The Regents want a new ruling in the case, even though Palo has left the university and now plays in the National Basketball Association Development League. 

Palo was charged in Story County District Court with sexual abuse, but prosecutors later dropped the charge. 

Iowa State argued that Palo had violated university disciplinary code and should be kept off the team.     

Photo coutesy of PACER

A Remsen, Iowa man will spend six weekends in prison for violating the Clean Water Act. Michael J. Wolf pleaded guilty last year to one count of knowingly discharging a pollutant into the west branch of the Floyd River. 

Wolf was employed as the maintenance manager at Sioux-Preme Packing Co., a pork processor based in Sioux City. On October 23 and 24, for about 11 hours, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says Wolf intentionally discharged blood, fecal material, animal guts and cleaning chemicals from the company's Sioux Center plant into the Floyd.

Howard Jefferson / Flickr

At an evening camp event in 2010, two teenage boys drowned at the Pella Aquatics Center. Their families filed a claim for negligence against the City of Pella, arguing that the deaths could have been prevented by adequate underwater lighting.

"The lights in the swimming pool apparently were not on that night," says Todd Pettys, of the University of Iowa College of Law. "You couldn't see down to the bottom of the pool."

Nearly five years after the incident, the Iowa Supreme Court considered the question: Are cities liable when employees of city-inspected pools are careless?