Editor’s note: This story was produced with support from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s National Fellowship and by the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism. Luis bent over his front porch, one knee on a piece of plywood as he muscled an old hand saw through a cut in the wood on a warm day in early February. He was repairing a section of flooring in the small white house he shares with three other men on a quiet street in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.The cuts became more challenging as the saw caught in the wood. Luis, whose name has been changed for anonymity, shook his head and said he once owned newer power tools that would make the job much easier.
Drunk drivers, motorcyclists and young or distracted motorists make up the majority of those involved in fatal vehicle crashes, and many states are failing to pass key safety measures that could prevent such deaths, according to a new report by a highway safety group. The nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety each year releases a report card grading states on their legislative efforts to reduce traffic deaths. The group’s 2020 report credits seven states—Rhode Island, Washington, Delaware, Maine, Oregon, California and Louisiana, along with the District of Columba—with having the best laws to reduce crash deaths. Twelve states—South Dakota, Wyoming, Missouri, Montana, Arizona, Ohio, Florida, Nebraska, Nevada, Vermont, New Hampshire and Virginia—ranked worst in the report card. In 2018, the most recent year for which federal data is available, 36,560 people died in traffic collisions in the U.S. The figure marks a 2.4 percent decrease from 2017, but is still high compared to earlier in the decade.
In June, William Beeman, who is serving a life sentence in the Iowa Department of Corrections for a 1980 murder, asked a judge to order a DNA evidence test that he contends could prove his innocence. But police agencies involved in the case say they still can’t find the evidence to test. The missing items include a rape kit recovered from the body of the victim, 22-year-old Michiel Winkel, and bloody clothes from the state park where authorities found her dead. Beeman was a local DJ in rural Muscatine County, on the state’s eastern border, when police arrested him for murdering Winkel, who had been an acquaintance. Beeman’s attorneys argue that DNA evidence could shed more light on a crime with multiple suspects, no eyewitnesses, and a confession Beeman claims was coerced by police.
Fewer than half of the vehicles from the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s two largest law enforcement divisions were equipped to give officers the option of locking up weapons in those vehicles with designated equipment such as locking rifle racks or handgun vaults as recently as May 2019, an IowaWatch investigation revealed. Vehicles purchased since 2017 have locking devices to secure firearms beyond locking a vehicle’s door or trunk. The Department of Public Safety declined for safety reasons to provide updated numbers of vehicles with the capability. “Information regarding security and storage of weapons is a significant officer safety concern,” Catherine Lucas, general counsel of the Iowa Department of Public Safety wrote to IowaWatch in a response to a public records request in late September. Adam DeCamp, Division of Criminal Investigation special agent in charge, said a vehicle is secure when its doors are locked.
Internal firearm policy directives for the Department of Public Safety obtained by IowaWatch did not show any policy for the safe storage of handguns in an unattended vehicle.
Iowa Department of Public Safety vehicles sustained a five-year high of $849,878 worth of damage in 220 incidents in 2018, department officials said. Although only six more incidents were reported in 2018 than in 2017, the total damage reported in 2017 was worth $519,429 — $330,449 less than in 2018. The total damage for the two years combined cost $1.37 million. Lt. Rick Pierce, commander of Iowa State Patrol Fleet and Supply, said the cost of repairs may sound like a lot, but the Department of Public Safety has approximately 650 vehicles.
The most common cause of damage was “act of nature damage,” including at least 59 accidents involving deer reported in both 2017 and 2018, funding requests sent to the Executive Council of Iowa reveal. Hail was the second most common with 36 accidents reported to the council in the same time span, records examined by IowaWatch showed.
Former Vice President Joe Biden drew more people but Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a presumptive long-shot in a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, still was able to rouse Democrats and generally curious Iowans who heard both men speak at the Iowa State Fair Thursday. Such is the landscape in Iowa, the state with the nation’s first precinct caucuses that start gauging real delegate support for selecting a party’s 2020 presidential nominee: first-time national candidates, in this case seeing an opportunity to defeat a controversial Republican president in Donald Trump, vie with national figures more familiar to voters to gain support for higher office. Iowa gets them all before the winnowing process begins. Bullock told fairgoers the election must be about more than defeating Trump. “Look, I’m a pro-choice, pro-union, populist Democrat that won three eletions in a red state, not by compromising our values but by getting stuff done,” he said.
ByKaren Liu and Pam Dempsey/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
A 2018 recreational brand vehicle, $500,000 in cash, a quarter and a red Bass Pro Shop baseball cap. These are just a few of the thousands of items that Illinois police agencies have seized over the past decade under state and federal laws known as civil asset forfeiture. The laws allow the seizure of property without a criminal charge being filed or case being filed in court. This Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting story is part of a collaborative reporting initiative supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. See all the stories at taken.pulitzercenter.org.And they allow the police to keep and use the cash and property to finance for various expenses of the agencies, often without much oversight or disclosure on how the money is spent.
ByKaren Liu and Pam Dempsey/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
Increasing lawsuits and allegations of civil right violations prompted the Illinois legislature to pass reforms of civil asset forfeitures that went into effect last year. Both federal and state civil asset forfeiture laws allow the seizure of property without a criminal charge being filed or case being filed in court. This Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting story is part of a collaborative reporting initiative supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. See all the stories at taken.pulitzercenter.org.Illinois reforms limited seizures by requiring police to have a slightly higher burden of proof to seize the property. For example, drug residue found in a person’s pocket is no longer grounds for Illinois police to take a car, said Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois in Chicago.
ByChristie J. Renick/Fostering Media Connections |
War Eagle, a Yankton Sioux chief in the 1830s, was a friend to the white man. Specifically, to the fur trappers who traded with the Yankton Sioux, Santee Sioux, Winnebago and other Native people at the confluence of the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers just outside Sioux City, in the northwest corner of what is now Iowa. But War Eagle’s hospitality and desire for peace eventually paved the way for white settlers to move in and push Native people out. Today, a monument to War Eagle, or Wambdi Okicize, stands on a bluff overlooking the Big Sioux River where the chief and his daughters were buried more than 150 years ago. It is a sacred place, locals say, from which one can see the expansive prairie that is South Dakota and Nebraska.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in the latest IowaWatch Connection radio report and podcast that Iowa needs to streamline the process for getting flood relief to portions of the state pounded with spring flooding. The process will include coming up with funds in Iowa to provide flood relief, matching at some level federal aid that eventually comes into the state, Reynolds said in the weekend radio report. On Monday, Reynolds announced a $15 million legislative funding package the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and her request that the Iowa Legislature approve about $10 million for fiscal 2020. The money next fiscal year would fund housing tax credits for flood-stricken areas of the state. Reynolds also signed an executive order that creates a flood advisory board to coordinate the state’s flood recovery and rebuilding effort.