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Flags, people line funeral route for slain Iowa trooper

INDEPENDENCE, Iowa (AP) — Hundreds of law enforcement officers from around the state and elsewhere saluted Friday as they filed past the flag-draped casket of Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith, who was shot and killed last week while trying to arrest a man barricaded inside his home.
The funeral, which was open to the public, drew a standing room only crowd to the high school gymnasium in Smith’s hometown of Independence, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of Cedar Rapids. Smith, 51, was a 27-year-veteran of the patrol and a married father of two when he was shot and killed April 9 during a standoff with 41-year-old Michael Thomas Lang in Grundy Center.
Lang, who also was shot and critically wounded in the standoff, is charged with first-degree murder.
The Rev. Paul Heppner, who officiated the funeral, described Smith as “a mixture of stern law officer and comedian” who was a devout Christian and loved superheroes, his family and his job .
“Jim’s superpower was his integrity,” Heppner said.
Smith is the second Iowa State Patrol officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty since 1936.
Investigators say the violence that killed Smith began in Lang’s hometown of Grundy Center, 80 miles northeast of Des Moines, after an officer tried to pull him over for suspicion of driving without a valid license. A brief chase ensued, and Lang eventually got out and put the officer in a chokehold, disarmed him of his stun gun and yelled “shoot me!” throughout the scuffle, police have said.
Police say Lang then barricaded himself inside his home with firearms he legally owned despite at least seven arrests for drunken driving or public intoxication over two decades.
Smith, who was the leader of the patrol’s regional tactical team, was among the officers who surrounded the home and later entered to arrest Lang. Investigators say Lang fired a shotgun as the team cleared the upstairs, fatally wounding Smith.
Six months before the standoff, Lang was a candidate for Grundy County sheriff. A construction worker with no law enforcement experience, Lang told a newspaper that “any decent man or woman” would be better than the longtime deputy who went on to win the November election.

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Police say man found fatally shot in Cedar Rapids driveway

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Police in Cedar Rapids are investigating the shooting death of a man who was found with gunshot wounds in a driveway several blocks east of Interstate 380.
Officers were called to the area near the Kenwood Park neighborhood just after 9:30 p.m. Thursday for a report of shots fired and people running from a home where the shooting was reported, police said in a news release.
Arriving officers found a 26-year-old man behind a parked vehicle in a driveway with several gunshot wounds. Police, firefighters and medics administered emergency care to the man, but he died at the scene, police said.
Authorities have not released the man’s name. Detectives gathered evidence at the scene overnight, but no arrests had been reported by Friday morning.

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Iowa identifies Brazil coronavirus variant case

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — At least two coronavirus variants are present in Iowa with one first identified in Europe now believed to be the most prevalent strain in the state, and public officials say they have confirmed a case of the more recent Brazil strain in eastern Iowa.
The European variant is believed to be about 50% more infectious that the original virus strain but health officials said they are not seeing more severe illnesses from it. They believe the current vaccines are effective in preventing serious illness.
The Brazil variant is still under study.
“We are still learning about the characteristics of this strain including any potential impact on vaccine effectiveness,” said Iowa Department of Public Health spokeswoman Sarah Ekstrand in a statement released Thursday.
The case was found in Johnson County through genetic sequencing done by a state laboratory, which has been doing surveillance for new strains of COVID-19.
Public health officials are investigating the person to determine how they may have been exposed.
The Brazil variant, known as P.1, is more contagious than the original strain and has been spreading across Brazil this year. It may also be more aggressive than the original strain, and health workers have reported patients requiring far more oxygen than last year.
Brazil has recorded about 350,000 of the 2.9 million virus deaths worldwide.
The new strains of the virus are in part responsible for a recent increase in cases in Iowa, predominantly among people between ages 18 and 29. State data shows 27% of the new cases in the past week fell into that age group.
Overall Iowa reported 519 new confirmed cases on Friday and 13 additional deaths for a total of 5,870 deaths in the past year.
Hospitalizations reported on Friday increased to 226 from 215 the day before.
Iowa has 838,544 fully vaccinated people, or 26.6% of the population, placing the state 15th in the nation for the share of its total population fully vaccinated, according data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Iowa’s March unemployment rate stable at 3.7%

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s unemployment rate remained at 3.7% in March, the same as the revised level in February, state officials said Friday.
Iowa Workforce Development reported the stable unemployment rate as the state saw an increase both in the number of people employed and the number who were out of work.
Iowa’s unemployment rate compared to a 2.9% rate last year, before the full brunt of a coronavirus-caused economic slowdown hit the state.
Iowa was tied with Kansas for the seventh-lowest unemployment rate in the country. The national unemployment rate in March was 6%.

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Iowa court upholds 2019 law on documents filed in appeals

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A divided Iowa Supreme Court on Friday upheld a portion of a 2019 law that prohibits people seeking an appeal of their criminal conviction from filing documents on their own when they’re represented by an attorney.
The case centered on an appeal filed by John Lee Hrbek, who is serving a life prison sentence after being convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Kate Fisher and her son Stanley Fisher near Council Bluffs in September 1981.
Hrbek has filed numerous appeals and has been active in filing documents along with his attorneys, but a judge ordered him to stop.
In the 2019 law, the legislature barred clients from filing documents if they’re represented by a lawyer on appeal. Hrbek challenged it as an unconstitutional violation of the separation-of-powers doctrine.
Four justices, relying on a case decided earlier this year, said the legislature has a constitutional prerogative to establish a general system of practice in all Iowa courts as long as restrictions don’t impede basic court functions.
Justice Christopher McDonald wrote the majority opinion joined by Thomas Waterman, Edward Mansfield, and Dana Oxley. The court ordered the clerk to strike Hrbek’s briefs from the case and allow his appeal to continue without him filing documents directly.
Justice Matthew McDermott filed a dissenting opinion joined by Susan Christensen and Brent Appel that said he would strike down that section of the law as a violation of the separation of powers.
“Once a case is before the court, the legislature doesn’t have the power to control the arguments the parties may make, just as it doesn’t have the power to control what courts may use, or consider, in arriving at their decisions,” he wrote.

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2 passengers sue United Airlines over engine explosion

DENVER (AP) — Two passengers who were aboard a United Airlines flight that had to make an emergency landing after one of its engines blew apart and sent debris raining down on Colorado neighborhoods sued the company Friday.
In separate lawsuits filed in Chicago, where United is based, Joseph McGinley of Honolulu and Jonathan Strawn of Sioux City, Iowa, say they have suffered personal, emotional and financial injuries following the failure of the Boeing 777’s engine on Feb. 20.
United declined to comment on the lawsuits, spokesperson Leslie Scott said.
Video posted on Twitter showed the engine in flames after the plane took off from Denver. Passengers, who were headed to Honolulu, said they feared the plane would crash after an explosion and flash of light, while people on the ground saw huge chunks of the aircraft drop, just missing one home and crushing a truck.
No injuries were reported on the plane or on the ground.
“Imagine as a passenger looking out the window of a plane and helplessly watching the engine on fire. The terror you experience lasts a lifetime,” Chicago attorney Robert A. Clifford said in an announcement of the lawsuits.
His firm also is representing families of 72 of the passengers who died when a Boeing 737 MAX crashed in Ethiopia in 2019.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the United plane’s engine failure but has said that microscopic examination supports early suspicions that wear and tear caused a fan blade to snap inside the engine.
Each lawsuit says the passengers seek a judgment above a $50,000 limit along with other costs and damages.

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Sioux City mans pleads guilty to smuggling gun silencers

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — A Sioux City man has pleaded guilty to smuggling gun silencers into the United States, federal prosecutors said.
Lloyd Clark, 72, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of smuggling goods into the United States. He could be sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Customs and Border Protection officials in October seized parcels from China addressed to Clark’s Sioux City home, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
On Nov. 12, authorities seized seven silencers, a modified rifle with an installed silencer and a World War II-era machine gun from Clark’s home. He did not have legal authority to possess the items, prosecutors said.
Clark remains free on bond while awaiting sentencing, The Sioux City Journal reported.

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Iowa governor declines to help house migrant children

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday said she has rejected a federal request to accept migrant children into the state, saying the need to find homes for them “is the president’s problem.”
Reynolds told WHO radio that her priority is the health and safety of Iowans and that the state doesn’t have facilities to house migrant children for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“This is not our problem,” Reynolds said on the “Need to Know with Jeff Angelo” program. “This is the president’s problem. He’s the one that has opened the border and he needs to be responsible for this and he needs to stop it.”
Iowa Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia notified the Biden administration on March 31 that the state would not take unaccompanied minors.
“This is due to limited resources and administrative concerns. We have an obligation to take care of our children first and absent the resources or a clear and comprehensive plan for federal support, we were unable to accommodate the request,” the agency said in a statement. “We acknowledge this is an incredibly saddening and difficult situation.”
Reynolds’ stand on accepting immigrant children contrasts with her willingness to accept refugees coming into the United States when then-President Donald Trump raised the issue in 2019. At that time, Trump signed an executive order giving states the right to refuse to take refugees, putting Republican governors in an uncomfortable position of being required to publicly say whether they would accept any.
Reynolds, a Trump supporter, was among more than 30 governors who said they would.
In a 2019 statement, Reynolds said refugees should not be confused with asylum seekers crossing the southern border at Mexico who don’t go through a strict vetting process.
Last month, the U.S. government picked up nearly 19,000 children traveling alone across the Mexican border. It’s the largest monthly number ever recorded.
Numbers of people attempting to cross the border grew sharply during Trump’s final year in office but further accelerated under Biden, who quickly ended many of his predecessor’s policies. That included a policy that forced asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for court hearings in the U.S.
Children are released to “sponsors” in the U.S., usually parents or close relatives, while being allowed to pursue their asylum cases in heavily backlogged immigration courts.
The huge increase in children traveling alone — some as young as 3 — and families has severely strained border holding facilities, which aren’t supposed to hold people for more than three days but often do. It’s left the government scrambling to find space and hire staff to care for children longer term until they can be placed with sponsors.

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Iowa Supreme Court says it’s ready to handle redistricting

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Supreme Court issued a rare statement Thursday saying the court plans to take care of legislative redistricting if the Legislature isn’t able to handle the task due to the delayed release of information by the U.S. Census.
Iowa lawmakers have been uncertain what to do after the Census acknowledged it would miss a March 31 deadline to release once-a-decade population figures used to redraw legislative boundaries. Because of delays blamed on the coronavirus pandemic, the federal agency instead will release the data in late summer or fall.
Because of that, the Iowa Legislature will likely be unable to meet a state constitutional requirement that reapportionment be approved by Sept. 15.
In a statement, the court said it has received questions about its response if the Legislature misses the deadline. After noting the court generally doesn’t comment on matters that may come before it, it stated that: “If the general assembly is not able to meet the constitutional deadline, the supreme court tentatively plans to meet its constitutional responsibility by implementing a process which permits, to the extent possible, the redistricting framework presently set forth in Iowa Code chapter 42 to proceed after September 15.”
The court said its statement wasn’t legally binding and that it likely wouldn’t make future comments about redistricting.

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Officials verify that weak tornado caused Iowa damage

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — A tornado that reached speeds up to 85 mph caused damage to homes at a Cedar Rapids mobile home park and left cuts on a child who lived there, the National Weather Service said Thursday.
The damage happened about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Summit View Mobile Home Park.
A weather service surveillance team confirmed the tornado on Thursday. It damaged several mobile homes, including one that had a roof partially torn off, KCRG reported. One person suffered minor injuries from glass when a bedroom window blew in.
The weather service rated the tornado an EF-0, with peak winds of 85 mph. It was on the ground for about a half mile before lifting back into the sky over a field.