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Drake student sues school, athlete who shot him at party in 2019. Delaney Howell sues Iowa Public TV.

4/1/2020

Updated: June 12, 2020

A Drake University student accidentally shot in the head by a Drake basketball player at a party two years ago now has sued the university, the basketball player and the owners of the off-campus apartment where the player and several other Drake athletes lived.

The injured former student is Nathaniel Miller, Jr., who was 19 at the time and who now lives in Dallas, Texas. The athlete is Tremell Murphy, and the suit alleges he hosted a large party at his residence on 27th Street on Aug. 31, 2019. During the party, the court papers say, Murphy pulled out a loaded .22 caliber pistol — he was licensed to have one — to show to others at the party. The gun accidentally went off, the suit says, and a bullet went through a wall into a bedroom, where it hit Miller in the head.

Police and fire medics were called, and Miller was taken to the hospital. Party-goers told police that Miller had fallen and injured his head, the suit says, and it alleges that the coach told Murphy to deny involvement. But police noticed a bullet hole in the wall, and eventually Murphy admitted it was his gun that went off but continued to deny that he shot it or that he even heard a gunshot.

Murphy — a six-foot-six-inch starter on the team — turned himself into police two weeks later and was charged with filing a false report to police, a serious misdemeanor. He was briefly jailed, pleaded guilty to a lesser simple-misdemeanor charge, paid fines and costs. Murphy eventually returned to the team — where his identical twin also played — but had a knee operation in January of 2020 that ended his senior season. Because of the injury, he was declared eligible for another season, and he is listed on the 2020-21 roster.

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Miller, meantime, is still dealing with effects of the shooting. According to the lawsuit, he suffered “a traumatic brain injury, a decrease in his ability to conduct activities of daily living, and gait abnormality.” He also has lost his peripheral vision, the suit says.

The lawsuit says Tremell, landlords Ross and D. Ann Peterson and Drake all were negligent. It says the private residence was in effect Drake student housing. The suit says Miller continues to undergo speech, cognitive and occupational therapy. It seeks an undetermined amount of money for Miller’s “sustained physical and mental pain, suffering, anguish, inconvenience, embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress, mental anguish and loss of life’s pleasures.”

In an April 23 letter to the court, Tremell apologizes to the victim and the court, says he knows that guns are not toys, says he has completed a restorative-justice program, says he thinks about Miller daily, and says he hopes “to become an advocate for children by becoming a basketball coach” after playing basketball overseas. …

Delaney Howell, the former host of “Market to Market” on Iowa public television, has sued the broadcaster and the weekly program’s executive producer, David Miller, saying she was paid less than her male predecessor in violation of the federal Equal Pay Act.

Howell was hired as an intern on the show in 2015 and was named host of the program in February of 2018. She left in February of this year. According to the lawsuit filed in Polk County District Court (and later moved to federal court in Des Moines), she was hired at $20.59 an hour and received a raise to $28.47 an hour in October of 2018. 

“The former male host, Michael Pearson, was paid more…than plaintiff was paid,” the complaint says. Pearson took over the show when his father, Mark Pearson, died in 2012. Mark Pearson had hosted the show since 1991. The state salary list says Mike Pearson’s pay ranged from $30.30 an hour in fiscal 2013 to $32.48 an hour in fiscal 2017. 

The hosts are part-timers who work about 10 hours a week on the nationally syndicated program.

Among other things, Pearson and Howell now co-host a daily podcast on Ag News Daily.

Molly Phillips, the general manager of Iowa Public Broadcasting, referred questions about the suit to the office of the Iowa Attorney General, which represents state agencies. Lynn Hicks, a spokesman for that office, said, “We’re working on an answer to the petition. We don’t have any further comment.” Howell is represented by Mark Sherinian and Emily Wilson of Sherinian & Hasso.

When Howell was hired, Miller, the executive producer, praised her on a podcast and said “it was clear to me this is the person who needs to lead the show into the next 20 to 30 years.” He praised her background — she grew up on a cattle farm in southeast Iowa — as well as her “market knowledge…and her ability to ask good questions.”                             

Paul Yeager, a producer of the show, was named to succeed Howell in April. A full-timer, he was paid $72,543 last year. …

Dan Finney, a reporter and columnist at The Des Moines Register for the past 12 years, was laid off on May 1 as part of the never-ending string of cutbacks at the newspaper.

“I stacked my final paragraphs as a storyteller for the Des Moines Register,” he wrote on Facebook. “My job was cut effective May 1 as part of corporate synergies. I loved being a newsman and I loved writing for Register readers. Behave and be kind, capital city. Especially, be kind.”

A graduate of East High (1993) and Drake (1997), Finney was one of the more recognizable names at the paper, where many old-timers have been laid off or bought out or chose to leave for more secure employment. Many new reporters don’t stay long enough to gain name recognition or a following. And Finney’s many stories about his own issues — some mental illness, struggles with his weight — made many readers feel as if they knew him.

Meantime, two other Gannett papers in Iowa’s news-filled university towns — the Press-Citizen in Iowa City and the Tribune in Ames — are without editors, and they’ll apparently stay that way.

Michael Crumb, who had been editor of The Tribune, has just joined the staff of the Business Record, and Tory Brecht has just been laid off by the Press-Citizen. The Press-Citizen now has just four reporters and one photographer; the Tribune — which once had a newsroom of 20 — now appears to have five reporters and two page designers. …

CITYVIEW joins those saddened by the death on April 26 of Nick Kotz, a terrific reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Des Moines Register and went on to a successful career as a reporter and author in Washington. Kotz, who spent several years in Des Moines, was in the Register’s Washington bureau in 1968 when he won the Pulitzer for a series of articles on the unsanitary conditions in the meat-packing industry.

He was 87 when he was hit and killed by his own car, which was rolling backwards as he walked behind it. He lived in The Plains, a small, picturesque town in rural Virginia. …

There’s a family fight at Noah’s Ark, and it has spilled into the courtroom.

Two grandchildren of Noah Lacona — who founded the well-known and bustling Ingersoll Avenue restaurant in 1946 — are suing an aunt who is trustee of their grandparents’ trust, which owns the land and building housing the restaurant. And they say another aunt should be cut out as a beneficiary of the trust because she took an unspecified action challenging the trust or the Laconas’ wills.

In a lawsuit filed in Polk County District Court in March, the grandchildren also allege that their aunt the trustee “claims [the property] has been sold but has failed to provide credible evidence thereof.”

While the trust owns the land and building, it apparently does not own the restaurant business. That is owned by Noah’s Management, LLC, and the lawsuit says it operates under a lease signed in 2010. Noah’s Management alleges that the trust isn’t paying expenses required by the lease, isn’t keeping beneficiaries of the trust (presumably, the grandchildren) apprised of what is going on and “has used some of the trust assets for her own benefit” while maintaining ”an adversary relationship” with the grandchildren.

The grandchildren are James N. Lacona II of Des Moines and Tiffany Beth Mobley of West Des Moines, the children of James Lacona. James Lacona was a son of Noah and Sally Lacona and was the trustee of the trust from the time his parents died — Noah Lacona died in 2017 at age 93 and Sally in 2018 at age 91 — until his own sudden death from an aneurysm at age 70 last July. James Lacona II is the registered agent for Noah’s Management, LLC.

After James Lacona’s death, his sister Anntoinette M. Erickson of Kansas City, Mo., became the trustee. Things apparently haven’t gone well in the family since then. A second sister, Theresa C. Lacona, is the aunt being accused of acting against the interest of the trust.

The grandchildren are represented by West Des Moines lawyer Louis Hockenberg. Hockenberg declined to confirm the relationships of everyone involved, declined to say who owns Noah’s Management LLC, and declined to say how Theresa Lacona has allegedly violated provisions of the trust.

“No comment,” he replied to CITYVIEW’s questions. Neither Erickson nor Theresa Lacona could be reached for comment.

At the time of Sally Lacona’s death, the trust called for assets to be distributed equally to the four Lacona children or if they were not alive to the grandchildren. But, with certain exceptions, no assets could be distributed until 2023. Presumably, Erickson and Theresa Lacona and another sister each has a quarter of the estate while James Lacona II and Mobley share the other quarter.

No hearing date has yet been set for the suit. …

The Des Moines Register, already decimated by layoffs and resignations, is in for another round of corporate-mandated cutbacks. The Register’s parent company, Gannett, has decreed that all news department employees making over $38,000 a year must take a week off without pay in April, in May and again in June.

Coming at a time of unprecedented thirst for news — news of the coronavirus, news of the economic collapse, news of the political year — this is as awful for readers as it is for reporters and editors. Nationwide, it affects journalists at 250 daily newspapers; in Iowa, it affects not only the Register but also the Press-Citizen in Iowa City, the Tribune in Ames, the News Republican in Boone and the Hawk Eye in Burlington. Gannett also owns five weeklies in the Des Moines and Ames areas.

Gannett was purchased by New Media Investment Group last year for $1.1 billion, and the combined company took the Gannett name. The market value of the combined company today is about $250 million. …

Marty Tirrell is out of jail in Massachusetts. While awaiting sentencing in federal court in Des Moines for mail fraud, the sports talk guy and con man was given court permission to spend the holidays in Massachusetts, where his mother and sister live and — as it turns out — where he first honed his talent to lie and cheat and steal.

He was promptly arrested in Massachusetts on larceny charges stemming from yet another ticket scheme — promising to get big-event tickets for a guy and then keeping the money but not coming up with the tickets. He couldn’t make his $5,000 bond, but after spending several days in jail he got it reduced to $2,500 and was released. He’s due back in Iowa before that case comes to trial in Massachusetts.

Tirrell, 60, is scheduled to be in federal district court in Des Moines on May 13 for sentencing by Judge Stephanie Rose, who the other day moved the sentencing date back from April 7 because of the coronavirus pandemic. His crime — he pleaded guilty to the one count in return for getting nine counts dismissed — carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. In the guilty plea, he admits he stole more than $550,000 in schemes from September of 2016 through December of 2017, but court records document a years-long trail in which he scammed and schemed to steal several millions of dollars from friends, acquaintances, employers, wives, advertisers and about anyone else he ran into. Sometimes, they were sham business deals, but usually they involved getting people to put up money so he could buy blocks of tickets to big sporting events with the idea that he’d resell them at a profit. Usually, though, Tirrell kept the money or the tickets, and the “investor” got nothing.

He lived large as a conman, but in recent months was broke and homeless. Awaiting trial, he had been staying at a Door of Faith Rehabilitation Center, but he was kicked out of that before he went to Massachusetts, court records show.

Chip Ainsworth, a veteran reporter in Massachusetts, says Tirrell was once very popular in Franklin County, “an energetic play-by-play voice who honed his craft as a youngster broadcasting high school games into a tape recorder.” But there were early signs of trouble. At a high-school game, it appeared to Tirrell that a local boy was fouled on what would have been a last-second, game-winning shot. “Without saying anything, he ripped off his headset and stormed on to the court and chased the officials into the locker room,” a fellow broadcaster told Ainsworth. “It was a glimpse of trouble to come.” Indeed, the owner of one Massachusetts station called him “a station manager’s worst nightmare.” …

From Warren Buffett’s 2020 letter to stockholders of Berkshire Hathaway:

“Three decades ago, my Midwestern friend, Joe Rosenfield, then in his 80s, received an irritating letter from his local newspaper. In blunt words, the paper asked for biographical data it planned to use in Joe’s obituary. Joe didn’t respond. So? A month later, he got a second letter from the paper, this one labeled “URGENT.” …

Chris Godfrey’s never-ending lawsuit against the state of Iowa and former Gov. Terry Branstad alleging discrimination and retaliation now is idling at the Iowa Supreme Court.

To recap: In January 2012, Godfrey, then the head of the Iowa Workers Compensation Board, sued the state, Branstad and several members of his administration alleging discrimination and retaliation because he was gay (and happened to be a Democrat, too). Appointed by Gov. Tom Vilsack and reappointed by Gov. Chet Culver — both Democrats — Godfrey had a fixed term that didn’t expire when Branstad beat Culver in 2010. Nevertheless, Branstad tried to fire him, and when Godfrey refused to leave, Branstad reduced his salary. The cut amounted to about $150,000 over the remaining four-and-a-half years of the term.

Godfrey then sued, and late last year an eight-person district court jury ruled in his favor, granting him $1.5 million. Branstad wanted to be represented by private lawyers, not the Attorney General’s office, so as of a few days ago the taxpayers had paid two law firms a total of $2,807,051.13 in the $150,000 case. In addition, since Godfrey won, the state is required to pay his law fees, too, and by the end of the trial those totaled $3,078,268.74.

The state has appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, which means two things: The case will continue to drag on, and the bills from both sides will continue to mount. So far, nothing has been filed with the Supreme Court because the court reporter from the district-court trial has not completed the whole transcript.

“It will be years” before this case is over, says a person involved. Godfrey is represented primarily by Roxanne Conlin — who lost the 1982 gubernatorial race to Branstad, which adds a little spice to the case. Branstad and the state initially were represented by George LaMarca, but he retired and the case then was given to the Nyemaster law firm and is being managed by Frank Hardy.

The trial started out in the old Polk County Courthouse, but after Conlin was hospitalized with lung problems tied to dust from reconstruction, it was moved to Jasper County. There was a big dust-up (though that’s a poor choice of words) over moving the trial — after agreeing to the move, Hardy then objected — and there was an argument over whether the courtroom really was polluted.

So on June 10, Conlin’s son, J.B. Conlin, showed up during business hours in the courtroom — it by now had been vacated — with air-measuring equipment. A deputy sheriff was called, and he ordered Conlin to leave. Conlin refused and was arrested and charged with interference with official acts. On June 13, Conlin, represented by Monty Brown, pled not guilty. On Feb. 20, a jury found him guilty.
Interference with official acts is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $65 to $650 and jail of no more than 30 days. Sentencing is set for March 27. …

Death and visitations and funerals are rarely easy, but the coronavirus situation has made them even more challenging for everyone, including the friends and family of these two. Kate Mattes, a 1965 Roosevelt alum, died of a heart attack on March 25. For many years, she ran Kate’s Mystery Books out of her victorian home in Cambridge, Mass., one of the most renowned book stores in America. She wrote book reviews for the New York Times and was a close friend of author and filmmaker Stephen King. She had been in failing health for awhile and was living in Vermont when she died. She was 73. Ned Rood also died March 25. He wrote the music column for CITYVIEW and its predecessor, The Skywalker. Rood also hosted a TV show for the paper in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He died of natural causes at his home He was 59. …

An Internet conversation:

Herb Strentz: “Given the springlike day, Joan and I took a walk around the Kruidenier Trail at Gray’s Lake and for the first time saw that one of those small plaques on the bridge is “IN MEMORY OF STRUNK AND WHITE.”

Randy Evans: “Obviously the plaque is intended as a warning to people crossing the bridge to not dangle their participles there.” …

In October of last year, CITYVIEW reported on the complicated lives of criminal-defense lawyers John and Katherine Sears.

We reported: “John lost his law license for at least two years. Katherine filed a potential class-action lawsuit against the brothel in Nevada where she was working part-time. John pleaded guilty of assaulting his ex-wife, Kelsey Sears, and John and Katherine sued Kelsey for the return of a crockpot and two vibrators. Meantime, Katherine has kept busy tweeting under the nom-de-prostitute Morrigan Eris.”

Life goes on. The suit over the crockpot and vibrators was settled out of court, and Katherine Sears seems to have taken a break from her part-time Nevada job. But the lawsuit she filed against the brothel continues.

Despite her claim to Channel 8 that she earned $55,000 as a prostitute in three weeks at Sheri’s Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, she and a co-worker a year ago sued the brothel alleging that they were paid less than the minimum wage, that they were not paid overtime, and that the ranch illegally kept half of the tips given to the prostitutes, who are referred to as “courtesans” in the lawsuit.

The suit goes on in federal district court in Nevada. The brothel is seeking dismissal of the case, but the judge has not yet ruled. …

Twenty years ago, Republican Bob Brownell easily won a primary for an open seat on the Polk County Board of Supervisors, and he hasn’t had an opponent since — not in a primary, not in a general election.

Now, that is about to change. Betty Devine, who recently retired as director of the county’s community, family and youth services after working nearly 35 years for the county, has turned in papers to run against Brownell as a Democrat in the November general election.

She has a chance.

Democrats now have a slight edge in registration in the county, and Devine is reasonably well known in the district, which encompasses Grimes and Urbandale and Johnson and other western areas.

There are 22,731 registered Democrats in the district, 22,380 registered Republicans and 20,854 registered Independents. The area has been trending Democrat, and turnout is likely to be strong.

Meantime, Supervisor Steve Van Oort will also face opposition this year for the first time. Van Oort, a Republican who represents Ankeny and Altoona and other areas to the east, will face a primary and, if he wins, a Democratic opponent in November. A former mayor of Ankeny, he was elected to the Board of Supervisors without opposition in 2012 and 2016.

This year, though, he’ll face Pleasant Hill Mayor Sara Kurovski, the popular young mayor of Pleasant Hill. She’ll make a strong run against the laid-back Van Oort, who is seeking his third four-year term. A third Republican, Wes Enos, has also entered the primary. Enos is a conservative councilman in Bondurant who is campaigning to, among other things, “vigorously defend our rights against liberal efforts to undermine the Second Amendment at a local level.” He isn’t given much of a chance to win, but he could end up being the spoiler.

The winner of the primary will face Democrat Nick Barton, a salesperson with Apple and once, briefly, the communications director of the Iowa Senate Majority Fund.

The district has 23,952 registered Republicans, 23,072 registered Democrats and 24,914 registered Independents.

And once again no one is challenging County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald in a Democratic primary or in the general election. Appointed in 2007 to fill a vacancy when Michael Mauro was elected Secretary of State, Fitzgerald has never had an opponent. He is seeking his fourth full four-year term. …

And happy 100th birthday to Neal Smith — farmer, soldier, lawyer, politician, statesman — who as a Congressman showered Iowa with wisdom and money and who continues to give us wisdom and perspective. He is our living textbook. ♦

One Comment

  1. Dear Mr. Gartner,

    Once again..you and your sleuthing work has enlightened me regarding civic issues, especially the county supervisor races in the fall. Even before our Covid-19 hideout status I was not one to venture far from home…all kinds of medical reasons..but nonetheless you keep me informed about the ‘real’ news in our fair city/county. I am now on a mission…to find the bench by Strunk & White…and of course, Herb Strentz would find it…and Randy Evans have the perfect rejoinder for it’s discovery. Thanks for the laugh….I needed one today…

    CHEERS!

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