Friday, January 21, 2022

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Civic Skinny

If your mother says she loves you, check it out


Quote of the week, or maybe the year, as reported by Jeff Eckhoff in The Des Moines Register:

“My dad’s so tight you couldn’t pull a needle out of his butt with a tractor.” That was Diane Johnson, dismissing the idea that her father would have loaned former Polk County Supervisor and Des Moines City Councilman Gene Phillips $25,000. Phillips last week was convicted of stealing that money. …              

Christopher Rants, onetime speaker of the Iowa House, came out in support of Justice David Wiggins in the Sioux City Journal over the weekend. Rants opposes gay marriage but supports the Iowa constitution. It’s that simple, he said. He also took a not-very-veiled swipe at Bob Vander Plaats, the fellow Republican and failed gubernatorial candidate who is leading the charge against Wiggins.                

“While there are bullies out to score political points attacking [judges], and make money doing so, the courts are there to protect us from such bullies,” he wrote. “The last thing we want in Iowa is a court that is engaged in political campaigns….We especially don’t want them responding to threats from bullies.” Maybe all this explains why Vander Plaats has just moved from Sioux City to Des Moines. …                

In the first two days of in-person voting, 939 persons voted in Polk County, according to County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald. Of those, 656 were registered Democrats, 157 were registered Republicans, 114 were Independents and 3 were “other.”…                


Moms are not the greatest sources for stories about their sons.               

Cityview made that clear last week in telling the tale of Jacob Wolfe and his mom, Register editorial writer Andie Dominick, who is shepherding a Register editorial-page series on juvenile justice. By coincidence, Dominick’s 17-year-old son was arrested for fourth-degree theft this summer, and her version of the tale, as told through an Aug. 26 column on the op-ed page by Fred Van Lew, differed a bit — well, more than a bit — from the police report.                

Now comes the case of Derek Fees. He was featured in a Sept. 14 editorial after his mom emailed the Register in response to a request for Iowans “to share their stories” about whether kids accused of wrongdoing are “put on a track for a better future” or are “being undermined by unnecessarily aggressive actions by police and prosecutors.”              

According to the Register, Kelly Read of Pleasant Hill responded with a story about her son, Derek Fees. He got in a fender-bender in the parking lot at Southeast Polk High School in May of 2011, she reported, and the next thing you knew the school police officer got involved, found a “screwdriver and bent paperclip that had been used to install a stereo,” and 17-year-old Derek was detained. Here’s the way the Register summed it up in an editorial, presumably written by Dominick:               

“Long story short, a fender-bender in a school parking lot resulted in a police report, a school suspension, consultation with an attorney, and a referral to a juvenile court officer. Though the matter didn’t generate public court documents, and Derek never was charged with a drug crime, he was told he now had ‘a record.’ ”               

That prompted a letter to the editor last week from Donald Sandor, the Pleasant Hill city manager, who said that if the Register “had taken the time to read the police report…they would have learned that there was much more to the case than they reported.” But, he noted, “the facts were not consistent with the point [the editorial page] wanted to make.”


So Cityview got the police report. Here’s what the report says:                

There was a minor accident in the parking lot. An officer looked in around 1 p.m. and saw an open beer can in the back seat of one of the vehicles. The student was asked to come to the car. “Once there, I told him what we saw, and he stated that he did not know how it got there. He provided me with his keys and I unlocked the car to retrieve the can. It still had liquid inside of it. While retrieving the can I detected the strong odor of burnt marijuana. I had officer Killam confirm this.                

“I looked further and found marijuana seeds and remnants on the passenger front and rear floorboards, in the door handle of the passenger side front door, in the center console, in the ash tray and under the emergency brake handle. Photos were taken. I also found a full can of Bud light cold to the touch under the drivers seat. Officer Killam found a screwdriver with residue smelling of burnt marijuana, a push rod made from a paper clip with residue smelling of burnt marijuana, rolling papers and a wood container all in a pouch located on the back of the passenger seat’s cover.                

“We searched the trunk area and found what is known to be a beer bong, a funneling device used to inject alcohol quickly, and a 12-pack of Keystone light beer, still cold to the touch. Fees was informed of the items found and claimed to know nothing of their presence.” The police then put the boy in a squad car and took him to the policeman’s office. They then called the parents.                

“Mr. Fees then showed up at my office and was allowed in. He rushed to his son and loudly stated ‘First off do not answer any questions until our lawyer gets here.’ He then looked at me and pointed his finger saying they were not going to talk until their lawyer arrived. I told him that I was not going to meet with his lawyer today and he could take his son and leave. He decided to stay and apologized stating that he was mad at his son. I explained to him what had transpired and offered the ‘Chance for Change’ [drug] program and the ‘Rethinking Drinking’ program. They agreed to participate….I released the offender to his father.”                

The police report indicates the youth was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and violation of liquor laws, but police Chief Tim Sittig told Cityview last week the liquor charges never were filed because the boy’s father said the beer was his. The boy enrolled in the “Chance for Change” drug program and successfully completed it, the chief said, which leads to dismissal of charges.                

“Possession of drug paraphernalia” is a simple misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $65 to $625 and up to 30 days in jail.               

The Register editorial ended this way:                

“Schools are supposed to be preparing kids to be successful in college and to get jobs. A criminal record jeopardizes that future. The presence of a police officer [in schools] increases the odds police reports and criminal records will haunt students long after they have graduated. A fender-bender in the school parking lot shouldn’t do that.”                

Perhaps not. But if the Register had read the police report instead of relying on the email from the boy’s mom, it might have come to a different conclusion about the example it was using to make its case against cops in schools. As the old journalism adage goes: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”               

Footnote: The Register did not disclose that it was writing about Andie Dominick’s son and didn’t use his name because “the broader discussion of Iowa’s juvenile justice practices was more important than” such a detail, it said in response to a Cityview question. But it did use the name of Kelly Read and the first name of her son Derek. Kelly Read is not an editorial writer at the Register.               

Second footnote: You have to give the paper credit for running — prominently — the letter from City Manager Sandor.                

Third footnote: Do you suppose all stereo-installation kits come with a bent paperclip? With residue smelling of burnt marijuana on it?               

Fourth footnote: “The saddest part of all was the father claiming ownership of a 12-pack of Keystone Light. If you’re still drinking that stuff at the point in your life, a pothead son is the least of your worries,” said a guy Skinny told about the story. But you have to say this about Keystone Light: It apparently can stay cold for a long time. CV

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