The Law


In case you didn’t realize, throwing random crap off overpasses can seriously injure or even kill someone. That idiocy killed a woman in July 2003 who was riding in a car on Interstate 680 in Omaha — thanks to neonattack, I got enough info to find a forum post with a related article pasted in it. Very sad story.

We had a rash of that overpass-throwing going on in Johnson County, and it could still be happening. Read our brief about it here.

I’ll also include an e-mail The Gazette received from someone who actually experienced this. For the love of Peter, if you know who is doing this stuff, turn them in. Please.

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Hi,  I wasn’t sure where to send this request, so I am hoping you can help to get some light shed on the following problem.  Very early this morning (Feb.1), at 1:45am, my husband and I were driving North on highway 218 and had just passed under the Poweshiek Road overpass when a person/person’s threw an object off of the overpass into the windshield of our van.  We saw people on the overpass, but it was dark, so we could not tell if they were kids or adults.  Everything happened so quickly.  Luckily no one was seriously injured, aside from being sprayed with pieces of shattered glass from the impact of the object hitting our windshield, which was heavily damaged.  The Johnson county sheriff eventually arrived on the scene and told us this was the 3rd or 4th time in the last couple of weeks that this has happened in the same area where we were at.  We went back to the scene this morning.  While we didn’t find any possible items that could have been dropped to the highway below, we did find about 40 paint balls laying around….who knows what they were doing with those.  Exactly what are people thinking when they do something like this??  Someone is going to get killed…even the sheriff said that.  If this is something that has happened on several different occasions, can some light be shed on the situation to make people more aware that they need to drive with extra caution in that area?  Or maybe the police can step up patrol in that area?  Our situation could have had a much more tragic ending than it did…we were lucky.  Someone else might not be.

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This morning I sat through the beginning of jury selection for the murder trial of Jacovan D. Bush, 19, of Fairfax. This young man is black, and from a family known around the area to get in trouble frequently with the law. But when I looked around the room at the 34+ potential jurors sitting in the courtroom, I saw a sea of white faces. Maybe there was an Asian guy in there, too. Heck, even Gazette editorial board staffer Beth DeBoom was sitting up there!

Granted, this is Iowa, and that’s probably what you’ll come up with when you select jurors at random. I’m sure people like the elderly retired lady and the Mercy Medical Center nurse are intelligent enough to consider the evidence and decide whether he shot Thomas Horvath twice on April 15 at the Raintree Apartments and later buried the gun. But it just looks awfully strange when the defendant stands out because of the color of his skin.

The selection process was supposed to last all day, not surprising because of the seriousness of the case. It’s always interesting to hear what kinds of questions the prosecution and defense lawyers ask potential jurors. Have you ever been a victim of crime? Have you ever served on a jury before? If so, when and what was the outcome? Do you have any other prejudices that you believe would disqualify you from serving on this jury? Well, it’s just good to know they’re trying to make it as fair as possible.

It’s a federal class-action lawsuit that was just filed from Osceola County, claiming a man’s 2nd and 14th Amendment rights were violated when county Sheriff Doug Weber denied his application for a concealed weapons permit last year. So far, that man, Paul Dorr, and his 18-year-old son, Alexander Dorr, are the only two members of the lawsuit, but I know there are a lot of people in Linn County, especially, who are miffed about Sheriff Don Zeller’s selective permit process.

In essence, if he wins, Iowa would most likely start issuing a lot more concealed carry permits. It doesn’t really excite me to think that some crazy people I know could legally carry a handgun into a public meeting.

The Dorrs’ 35-page complaint against Sheriff Weber says Weber denied the permit because “there’s some fear out there of (Paul) Dorr,” and that he didn’t feel comfortable issuing the permit because “he didn’t trust him.” However, no documentation of that “fear” was provided. Right now, it’s up to each county sheriff’s discretion to whom they issue concealed carry permits. All they have to do is provide a reason. Dorr is claiming Weber is denying him equal protection under the law, namely because his wife, Debra, was granted a permit when he and their son weren’t.

I know of Paul Dorr from my work at the Sioux City Journal before I moved here. He runs a consulting company that does a lot of campaigning against public school bonds (I helped cover one of his successful campaigns in 2006 in Ponca, Neb., and he is a supporter of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State) and is also involved in right-wing political activism, including anti-abortion issues. In his complaint, he claims he’s found blog entries referring to “shooting Paul Dorr,” and apparently carrying a gun will make him safe. The guy’s been accused of using fear tactics, racism and other icky things to convince people not to vote for things, and he makes money doing it. I would hope no one else would stoop to that level.

I’ll keep y’all posted on the proceedings.

It’s an issue I struggle with at least once a week, if not more — weighing the public’s right to know with a child’s right to privacy.

In my job, I run into a lot of kids in trouble with the law for many reasons: drunken driving, burglarizing, robbing, stealing, beating up their parents/teachers/counselors, and the worst, sexually abusing their siblings or neighbors. These are the kids who need the most protection and care. But these are also the kids from whom other children — and sometimes the public at large — need to be protected. Really, who wouldn’t want to know the identities of the five teenagers who, for no reason, beat up 24-year-old  Alex Morwood so badly that his jaw was broken? Morwood was just out walking his dog, for crying out loud.

The latest issue is one I have the most trouble with: Kids who are charged with sexually abusing other kids, either relatively close to their age or younger. Just last week, I had to write a three-sentence brief about sexual abuse charges against Brandon Topping. I am all too aware that a mere three sentences can turn someone’s life around for the worst, and in Brandon’s case (as well as every other child I’ve encountered in this situation) I had to step back and really think about things. I knew his 11-year-old brother, Travis, was run over by a truck Aug. 20 in the Road Ranger parking lot and is just starting physical therapy. I considered the fact that, as one commenter on my story said, other students would probably turn against him if they knew what was going on.

I don’t think of the people I write about as words in print. I see them as human beings, imperfect, just like me. How would I feel if that person was me? My child? Of course I’d want to protect them. But the First Amendment, the public’s right to know the truth, is the most important thing there is. Rumors and gossip can run rampant, and schools are like a hyperactive game of Telephone — what one day is merely a rumor that so-and-so’s arm brushed so-and-so’s breasts on accident can easily turn into the raping and pillaging of half the Sixth Grade class. If someone is facing criminal charges, though, that’s a fact.

As a journalist, I have to trust that our prosecutors and Juvenile Courts are considering all the ramifications when they move forward with serious criminal charges against people — because it’s then, and only then, that we write anything. Most of the time, the courts keep key parts of the case confidential, which is why I can’t share them unless the people involved are willing to talk. Most of the time, they’re not.

I know that three sentences in a newspaper aren’t going to tell you the whole story. But in the end, I do the best I can do for you. I will tell you when anyone of any age is facing a serious criminal charge and what becomes of that charge because I care about that person, and I care about you.