Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Ceremonies held as new fire station opens in Joplin

(From the Joplin Fire Department)

Today was an unbelievable day for the Joplin Fire Department and we can’t thank our citizens enough for making today possible. Today we opened our 7th fire station on the east side of Joplin, protecting the east industrial complex and located strategically for easy access to our interstate roadways.

During our ceremony today, we pinned 7 new firefighters that increases our staff to 109 firefighters that protect the citizens of Joplin.

We also promoted Captain John Miles to the rank of Assistant Chief of Training and will be tasked with the training of our staff on a day to day basis. 

Finally, we placed into service Engine 7, which will be housed at St. 7, with a traditional “wetting down” ceremony and the Engine was pushed into its bay by all in attendance.
There are so many people to thank for the completion of this project, however, the greatest thanks and appreciation goes to our citizens who made this project possible. Thank you, Joplin.

Missouri lawmakers seek to reenvision school accountability and accreditation

By Annelise Hanshaw
Missouri Independent

Missouri lawmakers are considering a handful of bills in both the House and Senate that would change the way the state measures school performance and accreditation.

The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee debated two bills Wednesday seeking to scrap systems developed by the state’s education department to assess schools. A Senate committee held a hearing on similar bills two weeks ago.


Legislation sponsored by state Rep. Mike Haffner, a Republican from Pleasant Hill, would score schools purely based on achievement and growth. His bill would replace a more complex system currently used by the state to measure school effectiveness.

“We need to be measuring what matters to student achievement, student growth, college and career readiness while providing parents more transparency as to how individual schools and school districts are succeeding in providing a quality education,” he told the committee on Wednesday.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education oversees the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP), which is in its sixth iteration. MSIP 6 measures school and district performance through factors such as standardized-test scores, perceived growth and attendance.

Districts’ MSIP 6 scores determine their accreditation, and highly-rated districts set the tone for state funding of public schools through the foundation formula.

Haffner told the committee he disagreed with some of the MSIP 6 metrics.

“We’ve got over 30% that’s based upon improvement planning, self study, climate and culture survey, required documentation,” he said. “That is not measuring academic achievement.”

But after meeting with the University of Missouri-Columbia last week, Haffner said he has started to appreciate the current growth model used by the department. Faculty at the university crafted the growth model, though some superintendents worry that the calculation is not transparent.

When Haffner filed the bill, he told The Independent through an aide that he was calculating growth differently.

State Rep. Kathy Steinhoff, a Columbia Democrat, said the language in the bill seems to prescribe a calculation of growth based on year-over-year change.

“When I look at this description, I’m just taking last year’s score and this year’s score and [finding] what’s the difference,” she said. “But I’m assuming that methodology you got from the university is much more detailed.”

Haffner said he was willing to talk about that element.

“We just want clear and accessible information to provide the information on student achievement and growth. What that looks like, we are willing to discuss,” he said.

Fewer districts should have the state’s full accreditation, Haffner said, since around a quarter of the state’s eighth-grade students are proficient in math and reading.

“Everybody sitting here on this committee is aware that our academic outcomes are now below national averages and are headed in the wrong direction,” he said, referring to the National Assessment of Education Progress. Missouri’s scores are “not significantly different from the average score” nationwide in each subject.

Otto Fajen, a lobbyist for the Missouri branch of the National Education Association, said educators are looking for more changes.

“We would be missing the opportunity to transform something that fundamentally just grades schools into something that fulfills the federal purpose, which has been narrowed and really seeks to make sure that we are actually supporting schools,” he said. “We have tools that we can pick up, but right now this bill wouldn’t be able to do that.”

He said legislation sponsored by Rep. Paula Brown, a Democrat from Hazelwood, would have that potential.

Brown’s bill, also discussed in committee Wednesday, would allow school districts to determine metrics of accountability that would then be approved by the state department.

Her legislation seeks to overhaul the Missouri Assessment Program, often called the MAP test, for an exam “developed by teachers in consultation with administrators, students, parents and community,” she said Wednesday.

“At the end of the day, the MAP just isn’t valid for all the things assessments should mean and give us,” Brown said.

An assessment is required to meet federal standards.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would choose at least two national accreditation agencies to replace the MSIP 6 system.

No one testified in opposition to Brown’s bill.

The Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee approved a bill sponsored by Republican state Sen. Jill Carter of Granby that is similar to Brown’s last week. Carter filed similar legislation last year, which cleared committee but never came up for a vote by the full Senate.

The Senate committee also debated a bill by Republican state Sen. Curtis Trent identical to Haffner’s two weeks ago. Trent is the newly appointed chair of the education committee, but has not yet taken up his bill for a vote.

Felony child abuse charges filed against Carthage man who allegedly beat daughter, stepdaughter

Felony child abuse charges were filed today against a Carthage man who allegedly left noticeable hand marks on his children while administering punishment Sunday.

The Carthage Police Department investigation after Carthage R-9 staff reported the school's resource officer the extent of the bruises James Allen Landes (DOB 1996) left on his daughter and stepdaughter.

From the probable cause statement:

During a subsequent forensic interview with juvenile victim 1, she disclosed her stepfather James LANDES spanked her leaving large hand-shaped bruises on her buttocks, thigh, and back. 

An exam was conducted on juvenile victim 1 at the Children’s Center. The exam revealed a large hand-shaped bruise on her left thigh, mid-back, and buttocks. These injuries were documented as consistent with signs of abuse, and corroborated juvenile victim 1's version of events. 

During a subsequent forensic interview with juvenile victim 2, she disclosed her biological father James LANDES spanked her on the buttocks and slapped her on the face. An exam was conducted on juvenile victim 2 at the Children’s Center. The exam revealed, bruising to her buttocks and face along with a laceration in her mouth. 

These injuries were documented as consistent with signs of abuse, and corroborated juvenile victim 2's version of events. 

During a subsequent interview with James LANDES, he corroborated the juvenile victim(s) version of events. He admitted to hitting his children and inflicting the injuries on them. He made the statement in the interview if he inflicted the injuries on the children he deserved to be in jail.

Judge Joseph Hensley set Landes' bond at $7,500- $5,000 surety and $2,500 bond with the stipulation that he not have any contact with anyone under age 18 and with the alleged victims "direct or indirect, through any manner or medium."

Anderson woman faces felony charge in 2022 drowning death of her 11-month-old son

The McDonald County Prosecuting Attorney's office filed a felony child endangerment charge against a woman whose 11-month-old son drowned in the bathtub May 20, 2022.

A warrant was issued for the arrest of Samantha Ann Qualls (DOB 1998) Anderson, with bond set at $2,000 cash only.

The allegations against Qualls were spelled out in the probable cause statement:

On May 20. 2022, Samantha Ann Qualls stated that she had placed her 2-year-old son into the bathtub with water, and then stepped outside at 8:05 a.m. to smoke a cigarette and make a phone call for 6 minutes (8:11 a.m.). 

Qualls stated that after coming inside at 8:11 a.m., she placed her 11-month-old son onto the floor from the high chair. Qualls then stepped outside at approximately 8:15 a.m. and called her boyfriend's grandmother from 8:15 a.m. to 8:32 a.m. 

Qualls stated that she was outside and was smoking for the duration of the phone call. 

Qualls stated on written testimony from the day of the incident that she then returned inside and sat on the couch, when her 2-year-old son whom was in the bath, came to her and she realized that she did not see her 11-month- old son. 

Qualls stated that she looked in the kitchen and did not see and then located face-down in the bathtub, not responsive and not breathing. 

McDonald County E911 shows the incoming 911 call at 8:41 a.m. and law enforcement and medics enroute. 

Medics were able to restore breathing and a pulse, but brain activity could not be restored and was taken off of life support 05/22/2022. By Qualls' confession, she left her children unattended for approximately 23 out 27 minutes during the time of this incident, resulting in loss of life.

The case was investigated by the Goodman Police Department.

Judge Nicholas claims he bullied Carthage officials, sought preferential treatment because he was "wet and frustrated"

The Missouri Supreme Court reprimanded Jasper County Circuit Court Judge John Nicholas Tuesday, saying he used his office and title to receive preferential treatment from Carthage city officials during a storm.

The Court relied on the findings of an investigation by the Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline, which pulled no punches in its description of Nicholas' behavior.

In his defense, Nicholas said he was "wet and frustrated" that night.

During the evening in question, Nicholas demanded that city officials fix a downed power line in his street, a situation that city officials ranked 10th in their priorities of what needed to be addressed in the aftermath of the storm.

When the officials explained the situation to Nicholas, according to the Commission's findings, the judge indicated that was "their problem" and they needed to take care of his needs first.

The report indicates Nicholas liberally sprinkled profanities into his conversations with Carthage City Administrator Greg Dagnan, Police Chief Bill Hawkins and other city officials.

He also complained about the treatment of his friend, former City Parks Director Mark Peterson, who has been charged with stealing and money laundering in connection with the theft of more than $140,000 from the Parks Department.

Nicholas created so many problems for city officials that evening, they eventually moved his problem up the priority list just to get him to shut up.

From the Commission's findings:

"(T)he respondent used his position as an Associate Circuit Judge to demand that emergency resources be diverted from more pressing emergency situations to address his concerns about a downed cable line.

-while doing so, the respondent became irate and upset, used vulgar language to criticize the city of Carthage, city employees, and the police chief for their alleged failure to properly address respondent's concern about a downed cable and in a subsequent communication respondent used vulgar language describing the city's investigation of the former park director.

Respondent called the police communications officer three times to report a downed cable and told the police were already advised of the downed cable near or adjoining respondent's property, that the police did not believe the cable posed a hazard to respondent or the public and that other emergency situations therefore had priority, that available emergency resources were already busy addressing other more pressing emergency situations and that the judge's cable would be removed after the more pressing emergency situations had been addressed.

The Commission finds that the Respondent also called the city administrator Greg Dagnan on three occasions that night and again requested that the downed cable be addressed by emergency responders. Respondent was again told, in the city's opinion, Respondent's situation did not have priority and that emergency responders were attending to more serious emergency situations.

Respondent replied in the first call that it was "not my problem, are you going to take care of this or not?"

In the second call, the City Administrator again told respondent that there was a priority list for downed power lines and that "they'd be there as soon as possible."

Respondent replied, I don't want to hear that, you can, you can make people come out here.

In the third call, Mr. Dagnan asked respondent, "Why are you being like this?" The judge responded by "yelling" and "cursing" and demanding "are you going to do this for me or not?"

Mr. Dagnan thought respondent's behavior "reminded me of like a child."

The Commission finds that respondent used vulgarities during his phone calls with Mr. Dagnan.

The Commission further finds that the city administrator called Police Chief Bill Hawkins to report the Respondent's calls. Chief Hawkins called the police communications officer who advised the chief about respondent's situation.

Chief Hawkins called Respondent and Respondent again complained about the "cable line."

Chief Hawkins again informed Respondent that the city considered Respondent's cable line was a low priority.

Respondent called Chief Hawkins back and demanded that someone needs to get there "immediately" and further demanded that the chief needed to come there himself.

Chief Hawkins also related that Respondent had complained about the city spending money to "prosecute his friend," the former Park Director instead of using resources on other matters (such as Respondent's downed power line)

During his call with the chief, Respondent complained about his response from the city administrator. Respondent was described as in a "rage" and in "anger."

The Commission also finds that the Police Communications Officer was concerned that Respondent was "bugging" her chief. She then called the Street Department Superintendent Josiah Bayles who advised her that the Street Department was working on number three of the list of downed trees and that the Respondent's cable was number 10 on the list.

The Police Communications Officer asked that the Street Department "divert" to the judge's home because the Respondent was "bugging" the chief.

The Commission further finds that the Street Department Superintendent along with Street Department employee Steve Ponds and the Public Works Director Zeba Lee Carney diverted resources to Respondent's home to address Respondent's downed cable line which the city considered "low priority."

Superintendent Bayless found Respondent in the middle of the road being "pretty vocal." Respondent was "yelling," "on a rampage" and "very upset."

Respondent's screaming was loud enough that neighbors were coming out of their houses. Respondent used vulgarities to refer to the City of Carthage, the police chief and the city administrator.

The superintendent and his employee cut and rolled up the cable line to "make him (the Respondent) happy." Respondent's conduct embarrassed the superintendent.

The director reported Respondent said, "I'm a judge and they ought to be over here doing this." After they cut the line and rolled it up, Respondent hugged the Director, called him a "hero" and made the Director feel uncomfortable.

Street Department employee Steve Ponds described the downed line as "just a cable" and recalled the Respondent using vulgarities to describe the City of Carthage.

The Commission finds that Chief Hawkins reported his concerns to Circuit Judge Dean Dankelson of Jasper County who advised the Chief to report his concerns to this Commission.

In mitigation, the Commission finds that Respondent had apologized to the police chief and city manager for his conduct. Respondent claimed that he was directing traffic around the cable and acted as he did out of a concern for public safety and because he was "wet and frustrated."

The Commission concludes that Respondent was known as and identified himself as a judge. He used his title and office to demand and get preferential treatment. He was rude to the responders and freely used vulgarities in an effort to get his way.

The aforesaid activity was in violation of Supreme Court Rule 2-1.2 in that Respondent failed to act at all times in a manner that promotes confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and failed to avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety; and Supreme Court Rule 2-2.8 B in that he failed to be courteous to those with whom he dealt in an official capacity.

Such conduct is misconduct under Artice V Section 24 of the Constitution of the State of Missouri.

The Commission findings and conclusions indicate that Respondent has failed to act at all times in a manner that promotes confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

His conduct was discourteous. The Respondent agrees with the Commission's recommendations. The Commission recommends that the Supreme Court of Missouri reprimand the Respondent.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Open enrollment legislation wins initial approval in Missouri House

By Annelise Hanshaw

A bill that would allow students to enroll in neighboring school districts won initial approval in the Missouri House for the fourth year in a row Tuesday on an 83-69 vote.

It is the first bill to be debated by the full House this legislative session. It must be approved one more time by the House before it is sent to the Senate for consideration.

(Photo- Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, presents his open-enrollment legislation on the Missouri House floor last March. This year is the bill's fourth year to gain an initial approval from the originating chamber- Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

Bill sponsor Rep. Brad Pollitt, a Republican from Sedalia, described the proposal as “minor compared to what others want to do.”

“The status quo says the bill goes too far. The reform side says it doesn’t go far enough,” he said in his introduction of the bill.

A nearly identical bill narrowly passed the House in a 85-68 vote last year, just three more than a constitutional majority of the chamber. New to the legislation this year is the creation of an online portal that would track the number of students who have applied to enroll in accepting districts.

If passed, the legislation would allow students to leave their local school to enroll in districts that opt into the open enrollment. Districts are not required to add staff or programs, such as special education, for the program.

Transportation would be parents’ responsibility, unless the child qualifies for free or reduced lunch or has transportation under an individualized education plan. The bill calls for a fund to pay for bussing these students.

Pollitt placed a 3% cap on the number of students who can leave a district annually under open enrollment. He proposed a 1% cap for districts with a high number of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, describing it as a compromise for the Senate.

He removed the 1% cap upon advice from a caucus policy committee.

Some worry that, without that provision, open enrollment could lead to resegregation in some areas.

Rep. Kathy Steinhoff, a Columbia Democrat, complimented Pollitt but said the lack of “diversity protections” and other negatives “outweigh the positives.”

“One of the concerns is that it’s going to create a slow drain for several schools and districts,” she said.

Rep. Marlene Terry, a St. Louis Democrat, said the legislation would “destroy (her) school.”

“We do agree that parents should have choices, but what I keep hearing is a better environment or a better education,” she said. “Until you can tell me how you’re going to fix the environment and the education in the public school system to where my children stay, I’m going to continually be against this bill.”

Rep. Barbara Phifer, a Democrat from St. Louis, described open enrollment as a “patch on a big problem.” The problem, she said, is unequal funding of public schools.

“We pretend that there is no school choice, but we have made an economic decision here in the state of Missouri that those who are wealthy get better education than those who are not wealthy,” Phifer said. “We can argue about that, and we can actually change the way that we fund public education so that we have more equity.”

Rep. Peter Merideth, a St. Louis Democrat, said school funding was a timely topic. Earlier in the day, he had discussed the formula that determines state funding of public schools in the budget committee.

He said the state funding has lagged behind inflation. Wealthy communities’ local funding has allowed schools to be better equipped, and those without deep pockets may lose students under open enrollment.

Rep. Stephanie Hein, a Springfield Democrat, attempted to amend the bill to raise the base teacher pay to $46k statewide by the 2027-28 school year. The bill title would also change to “elementary and secondary education.”

Her attempt to change the title failed on a 44-109 party-line vote after Pollitt said it opened the bill “to anything else to do with public education.”

Pollitt said he was in favor of increasing teacher salaries but wanted his bill to stand alone.

Last year, Pollitt’s bill died waiting to come to the floor of the Senate. He told The Independent Senate leaders attached his legislation to a bill about teacher recruitment and retention in an attempt to avoid a filibuster.

Missouri Rep. Cori Bush denies using tax dollars for personal security as DOJ investigates

By Jennifer Shutt

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating how Missouri Democratic Rep. Cori Bush spends campaign funds, according to a statement the congresswoman released Tuesday.

“Since before I was sworn into office, I have endured relentless threats to my physical safety and life,” Bush said. “As a rank-and-file member of Congress I am not entitled to personal protection by the House, and instead have used campaign funds as permissible to retain security services.”


“I have not used any federal tax dollars for personal security services,” Bush added. “Any reporting that I have used federal funds for personal security is simply false.”

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Punchbowl News first reported the investigation Tuesday morning, less than a day after the U.S. House Clerk read a statement on the floor that the Justice Department had served the Sergeant at Arms with a grand jury subpoena for documents. The statement did not disclose the nature of the documents or the name of the member of Congress associated with them.

Punchbowl reported that several unnamed sources said the investigation related to how Bush used her Member Representation Allowance, an account that members of Congress use to pay for office expenses.

The funding for an MRA comes from taxpayer dollars and is approved annually in the Legislative Branch appropriations bill, whereas campaign spending comes from donations political supporters make to individual candidates.

Bush, who was sworn in as a member of Congress in 2021, represents Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, which currently includes St. Louis and most of northern St. Louis County.

Bush said in her written statement that she is “fully cooperating” with the Justice Department’s investigation as well as the Federal Election Commission and U.S. House Committee on Ethics, both of which are “reviewing the matter.”

The allegations stem from right-wing organizations, according to Bush.

“In particular, the nature of these allegations have been around my husband’s role on the campaign,” Bush said. “In accordance with all applicable rules, I retained my husband as part of my security team to provide security services because he has had extensive experience in this area, and is able to provide the necessary services at or below a fair market rate.”

Bush said the allegations made against her are “frivolous” and intended to distract her from her work in Congress.

“I am under no illusion that these right-wing organizations will stop politicizing and pursuing efforts to attack me and the work that the people of St. Louis sent me to Congress to do: to lead boldly, to legislate change my constituents can feel, and to save lives.”

Joplin man charged with sodomizing, molesting child over 8-year period

The Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney's office filed felony charges today against a Joplin man who allegedly sexually violated an underage girl from the time she was 8 through age 16.

A warrant was issued today for the arrest of Bruce Lee Neukam, (DOB 1977), on two counts of statutory sodomy, two counts of child molestation and a single count of attempted statutory rape.

The probable cause statement indicates that another adult was aware of the alleged crimes. The woman, referred to in the statement as "Involved Other 1," told Joplin Police Neukam kept a chart of the girl's menstrual cycle to "confirm {she} was not pregnant."

Jasper County Jail records do not indicate Neukam is in custody. When he is arrested, he will be held without bond, according to court documents.

The girl reported the sexual abuse to Quapaw Nation Family Services, according to the probable cause statement.

Former Joplin resident sentenced to 15 years for illegally possessing firearm

(From the U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri)

A Springfield, Mo., man was sentenced in federal court today for illegally possessing a firearm.

Antowan L. Wade, 45, a former Joplin resident, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge M. Douglas Harpool to 15 years in federal prison without parole. Wade was sentenced as an armed career criminal due to his prior felony convictions.

On Aug. 3, 2023, Wade pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.

On May 9, 2022, members of the U.S. Probation Office conducted a search of Wade’s apartment. Wade was on supervised release after serving a federal prison sentence for bank robbery. Officers found a Canik55 9mm semi-automatic pistol with 16 rounds of ammunition under a pillow on the bed in his bedroom.

Under federal law, it is illegal for anyone who has been convicted of a felony to be in possession of any firearm or ammunition. Wade has two prior felony convictions for bank robbery, a prior felony conviction for the robbery of a Best Buy store in Joplin, Mo., and prior felony convictions for making and passing counterfeit currency and for burglary.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Casey Clark. It was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Missouri social media lawsuit will be heard by U.S. Supreme Court on March 18

By Jason Hancock

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on March 18 in Missouri’s lawsuit alleging the federal government colluded with social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to suppress the freedom of speech.

The lawsuit was filed in 2022 by attorneys general in Missouri and Louisiana.

Last summer, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty ruled that officials under both Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican President Donald Trump coerced social media companies to censor content over concerns it would fuel vaccine hesitancy during the COVID-19 pandemic or upend elections.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans prohibited the White House, the Surgeon General’s Office, the F.B.I., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from having practically any contact with the social media companies. It found that the Biden administration most likely overstepped the First Amendment by urging the major social media platforms to remove misleading or false content.

The Supreme Court placed a temporary stay on the order in October until it decides the case. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented.

Biden administration attorneys have argued federal officials don’t have the authority to order content removed from social media platforms, accusing GOP attorneys general of misrepresenting communications with companies about public health disinformation and election conspiracies.

The government has a right to express views in order to persuade others to take action, Biden administration attorneys argued in case filings.

“A central dimension of presidential power,” the administration argues, “is the use of the office’s bully pulpit to seek to persuade Americans — and American companies — to act in ways that the president believes would advance the public interest.”

But the bully pulpit, Missouri and Louisiana attorneys general wrote, “is not a pulpit to bully.”

Missouri lawmakers seek to ban child marriage without exception

By Clara Bates

A bipartisan bill debated in a state Senate committee Monday would ban child marriage in Missouri.

Under current law, 16 and 17-year-olds are allowed to get married with parental consent. Marriage between a minor and anyone 21 or older is prohibited.

The legislation discussed Monday afternoon would prohibit issuing marriage licenses to anyone under the age of 18 under any circumstances.

(Photo- Bills to ban child marriage in Missouri were heard Jan. 29, 2024, in the Senate’s Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence committee- Clara Bates/Missouri Independent).

Under the identical bills, co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder of Scott City and Democratic Sen. Lauren Arthur of Kansas City, Missouri would join 10 states that have banned child marriage.

Thompson Rehder said she got married when she was 15 years old to her 21-year-old boyfriend.

“And at the time, I was operating in what I thought was an adult mindset…but it was only until much later that I realized at 15 years old, you really don’t have the mental capacity to make those types of decisions,” she said Monday in the state Senate’s Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence committee.

“Being someone who did get married at 15,” Thompson Rehder said, “I know that it is something that you really shouldn’t be doing before you’re an adult.”

Arthur said raising the age is a “moral imperative that protects the innocence and potential of our youth.”

“You can picture a young girl, 16, eyes filled with dreams and aspirations,” Arthur said, “being asked to take on the responsibilities and challenges of marriage and potentially motherhood. And I would argue that’s not necessarily the future we want to envision for our daughters.”

Until the legislature voted to raise the minimum marriage age to 16 in 2018, Missouri had among the most lenient child marriage laws in the nation — making it an especially popular state for 15-year-olds to travel to be married.

Despite the 2018 change, Missouri law still does not align with international human rights standards, which set the minimum age at 18. Activists argued at the time Missouri’s new law would continue to leave 16 and 17-year-olds vulnerable to potential coercion.

Those in favor of a ban on child marriage often argue that marriage under 18 is coercive and can transform into forced marriage, especially because children lack the legal rights of adulthood.

Nationally, those opposed to a ban often invoke parental rights or religious liberty.

Five people testified in support of the bill Monday and one in opposition.

Lauren Van Wagoner, of Kansas City, testified that at 17 she was married to her 21-year-old boyfriend.

“The reality is I wasn’t mature enough to make that decision,” she said, “I was only thinking of not having a curfew…And preventing my husband from religious excommunication. Neither of those things should have been my responsibilities at that point.”

The next twelve years, Van Wagoner testified, were “a horror story,” which included abuse from her husband. After her husband left her in 2018, she said, through tears, “I found myself without any real job skills or continuing education.”

“My story is rare,” she said. “I’m one of the lucky ones: I got out of my marriage.”

Many who married as children are “stuck in the cycle of poverty and abuse because they can’t escape,” she added.

The others testifying in support of the bill included those lobbying for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Missouri Kids First, Rape and Abuse Crisis Service of Jefferson City and a family law attorney.

“We’ve worked in a lot of other policy areas like juvenile justice to raise the age of 18 and have a standard for the state,” said Jessica Petrie, representing Missouri Kids First, “and we believe it’s time we get our marriage laws in line, and bring it to that age as well.”

Matthew Huffman, representing Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said child marriage “undermines our statutory rape laws,” as a marriage license “essentially becomes a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card” for what would otherwise be considered child rape.

A study from the advocacy group Unchained at Last in 2021 found that between 2000 and 2018, 8,007 children were married in Missouri. Nationally, most children who married were girls and most were to men over the age of 18.

Eighty-six percent of children married over this time period nationally, the nonprofit found, were girls.

The person testifying in opposition was Timothy Faber, a lobbyist for the Missouri Baptist Convention.

“We certainly have empathy for those who have experienced negative consequences to marry at such an early age,” Faber said, adding that as a minister for 40 years, he has never conducted a marriage ceremony for a minor.

“However,” he said, “I can see a few rare circumstances where that might be appropriate.”

Sen. Curtis Trent, a Republican from Springfield, asked Faber for detail on those instances.

“I guess I’m just not seeing what situations that this would prevent — you’ve tried to identify some rare circumstances where the bill might be too restrictive and I’m not sure if any have been identified yet,” Trent said.

Faber replied: “To close the door totally just seems too much. I think we ought to certainly tighten it up.”

Rehder said the work she could get as a 15-year-old supporting herself was limited to cleaning houses: “That was all I could get because I was a child,” she said.

“Years ago when our great-grandparents got married very early, that was before women had the opportunity that they have now of education,” she said. “So I think this is something that protects the girls, and it gives them a start like anyone else for them to make these choices as adults instead of children.”

Probable cause: Carl Junction man claims Jasper County deputy ruining his life by arresting him for DWI

A $10,000 cash or surety bond has been set for a Carl Junction man charged with felony driving while intoxicated and illegal possession of a firearm following a traffic stop Friday at 2000 Forest Drive in Carthage.

According to the probable cause statement, John C. Crandon (DOB 1988) was pulled over after running a stop sign.

From the statement:

Crandon was crying and yelling prior to performing sobriety tests and repetitively requested that I let him go and that I was ruining his life.
A partially empty flask containing alcohol and a Sig M17 pistol were found in Crandon's vehicle, the statement said.

Court records indicate Crandon has pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated on at least three occasions, October 17, 2005 in Newton County Circuit Court where he was sentenced to three months, was given a suspended sentence and was placed on probation for two years.

Crandon pleaded guilty to DWI October 31, 2011 in Jasper County Circuit Court and was sentenced to two years, had the sentence suspended and was placed on probation for two years.

The Jasper County Sheriff's Office arrested Crandon for DWI March 4, 2017 with someone under the age of 17 in his vehicle. More than three years later, June 29, 2020, Judge Dean Dankelson sentenced Crandon to four years in prison, suspended the sentenced and placed him on probation for five years. Crandon was required to spend 30 days of shock time in the Jasper County Jail.

According to online Jasper County Circuit Court records, Crandon's five years of supervised probation concluded January 1, 2023 after two years and six months.

Allegation: Joplin man held gun to woman's head, beat, choked her

The Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney's office filed domestic assault and burglary charges today against a Joplin man who allegedly entered a woman's home Saturday without her knowledge, then held a gun to her head and beat and choked her.

Collis Eugene Jones (DOB 1978), who is being held in the Jasper County Jail on a $30,000 cash-only bond, entered a not guilty plea this morning during his arraignment in Jasper County Circuit Court. A bond reduction hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday before Judge Joseph Hensley.

According to the probable cause statement, Jones' alleged victim arrived at her home and discovered her house key was missing from the key chain.

{She} saw that her front door was cracked open and when she peered into the house {Jones} pulled her into the house by her hair. {She} advised she was choked by {Jones}with one hand and he held a gun to her head telling her, "I'm going to kill you."

For the next 20 minutes, Jones beat the woman, according to the statement.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Preliminary hearing set for Neosho man on carjacking charge

The preliminary hearing for a Neosho man charged with vehicle hijacking is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday in Newton County Circuit Court.

According to the probable cause statement, the carjacking took place November 8 near the intersection of South Street and Pineville Road Wednesday when Eric Brice Heathman (DOB 1989) stepped in front of a vehicle as it was moving and was struck by the mirror.

From the probable cause statement:

(The victim) stated Mr. Heathman said he would "burn my house to the ground, kill me, and kill my family" and that he had been to prison before and would do something to go back if (the victim) did not give him a ride to a tow agency where Mr. Heathman's vehicle was held.

The victim committed traffic violations to get the attention of a Neosho police officer who stopped the vehicle, the probable cause statement said.

Is Freeman Health's billboard strategy a serious case of malpractice?

The last time I took an extended break from blogging the decision was forced on me.

It was April 2016 and I was resting, uncomfortably, flat on my back in a hospital bed at Freeman waiting for triple bypass surgery.

My surgery was delayed for a week until the blood thinners I had been taking were completely gone from my system.

During those two weeks, the first week waiting for the surgery, the second week recovering, my appreciation for the men and women who take care of us during our hospital stays grew appreciably and I already held them in high esteem.

When you stay in the hospital for two weeks, you see all hospital departments in action, not just doctors and nurses, but housekeeping, food service, the business department, therapists, technicians, even volunteers.

I had the opportunity to see how many people it takes to make a hospital run smoothly.

And in the years since, as I drive along the streets and highways in this area, I see the billboards and the appreciation Freeman officials have for those hard-working men and women.

Not very much, apparently.

The face that stares back at drivers is not a doctor, a nurse, a cook, a therapist or a volunteer.

The face of Freeman, the face Freeman seems to think attracts patients and advertises the hospital's mission has been CEO Paula Baker.

It's not a bad face. If a family drives by a Freeman billboard, the children aren't going to see a giant Paula Baker looking back at them and scream in terror.

The biggest problem with the Freeman billboards is that they seem more intent on selling Paula Baker rather than the services offered by Freeman Health.

I am no expert in advertising, but if someone were to task me to find a marketing strategy that could promote Freeman, I would strongly consider larger-than-life photos of health professionals actually working with patients.

Sure, it would be a hassle to get permissions and waivers and you may even have to pay a little, but the doctors, nurses and regular staff are the people most patients are seeing when they are in the hospital.

Few of us receive a visit from the CEO.

So unless Freeman is spending its money on billboards designed to attract only the Joplin area elite- the kind of people who are sitting in the back seat of their town cars, spot a Freeman billboard and say to their chauffeur, "My God, Charles! Isn't that Paula Baker?", it would seem the money could be spent in a wiser fashion.

Thankfully, the opportunity for a new start has arrived.

Paula Baker announced her retirement this week. Though it is not scheduled to go into effect for another year, it's never too early to consider a shift in marketing strategy.

Freeman officials might consider hiring a CEO who believes promoting the health system's staff is the best way to improve morale and guarantee continued success.

CEOs are important to the success of any hospital, no doubt about it, but most of us don't make our hospital decisions based on who the CEO is. We either have to use the hospital because our insurance dictates it, or we choose it because we appreciate the skilled medical professionals and friendly, hard-working staff.

You have hundreds of people like that working at Freeman.

It's time to send that message.

Anything else would be malpractice.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Joplin R-8 accepts six teacher 'separations,' hires two teachers, 12 substitutes

During a closed session Tuesday night, the Joplin R-8 Board of Education accepted six teacher "separations" and hired two teachers and 12 substitute teachers.

One teacher, Leendsey Serna's "separation" required a separate vote, with the board approving it unanimously. 

The other five, Rory Stadt, Judith Hartman, Bethany White, Todd Delph and Maria Stuart, were voted on as a bloc and were approved with board member Veronica Scheurich abstaining.

Classified "Separations not requiring board approval

Carolyn Mynatt, Ozzie Kroll, David Mize, Alexis Eby, Cletus Roberts, Jessica Gonzales, Linda Emmert, Sara Harbaugh, Kelly Stevenson, James Duffey, Meagan Martin, Brittany Grant, Conne Hoke.

Certified Hires

Maniya Pullum, Brad MacLaughlin

Substitute Hires

Aliyah Golden, DeLynne Fordyce, Michaela McCoy, Lauren Keczkemethy, Tradgon McCrae, Madison Myers, Ruth Bond, Jordan Heacock, Grace Hedrick, Harris Allen, Zaben Barnes, Allyson Manicom

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Freeman Health CEO Paula Baker announces impending retirement

Freeman CEO Paula Baker announced her impending retirement today with the following e-mail to employees:

Dear Freeman Family,

Because I know word travels quickly, I wanted you to hear this news directly from me.

Today marks a significant milestone for me as I announce my intent to retire at the end of a one-year notice period. 

 After 13 years as the President and CEO of Freeman Health System, the time has come for me to step into a new chapter of life. As all of you parents will understand, my son will be finishing high school before I can turn around and I want quality time with him. Reflecting on this remarkable journey, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the unwavering support, the countless memories, and the remarkable accomplishments we have achieved together as we fulfill our most sacred mission.

During my tenure as CEO, we have witnessed unparalleled growth within Freeman Health System. Through the collective efforts of our exceptional team, we have expanded our services, bolstered our workforce, and witnessed substantial increases in revenue. These achievements stand as a testament to the unwavering commitment and passion that each and every one of you has brought to the table. Together, we have transformed challenges into opportunities and obstacles into triumphs.

As I look back on our journey, I am filled with pride for the impact we have made in the healthcare industry and the lives we have touched within our region. The growth and success we have achieved together have been nothing short of extraordinary, and I am immensely proud of all of you.

As I step into retirement next year, I carry with me the cherished memories of the moments we have shared, the challenges we have overcome, and the victories we have celebrated. I am confident that the spirit of excellence and dedication that defines Freeman Health System will continue to thrive in the capable hands of those who will lead it into the future.

Thank you for the privilege of serving as your CEO, and for the countless memories that I will forever hold dear. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to lead such an exceptional team. Your dedication, hard work and consistent support have been the driving force behind our accomplishments. I look forward to witnessing the continued success and growth of Freeman Health System, and I am grateful to have been a part of its remarkable journey.

Please know that I will be at the helm through my year long notice period. We still have much to accomplish in the upcoming months.

The Board of Directors of Freeman Health System will begin the search for the new President/CEO. We will definitely keep you updated as progress is made in this endeavor.

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.

Warmest regards,

Paula F. Baker
President & CEO
Freeman Health System

Missouri Department of Revenue begins accepting electronically filed returns January 29

 (From the Missouri Department of Revenue)

The Missouri Department of Revenue will begin accepting electronically filed state tax returns for tax year 2023 on Jan. 29, the same day the IRS will begin accepting federal tax returns for individual filers. As Missourians prepare to file their tax returns, the Department is reminding customers of some best practices and available resources that can help ensure a smooth tax season.

File electronically and use direct deposit. Electronic filing is a fast, accurate, and secure way to file your return. Individuals who e-file can have their refund deposited directly into their bank account and generally receive their refund faster than those who file using a paper return.

Many Missourians may also qualify for free e-filing services through the Free File Alliance, which allows eligible taxpayers to file their federal and state income tax returns using approved software. For more information, visit the IRS Free File website or the DOR’s Online Filing resource page.

Double-check your paper return. Before submitting a paper return to the DOR, make sure it is signed, all math computations are correct, and all necessary documentation is included. Also, use the correct P.O. Box when mailing your return. For individuals with a balance due, send the return and check to: Missouri Department of Revenue, P.O. Box 329, Jefferson City, MO 65105-0329. For individuals who are due a refund or owe nothing, send the return to: Missouri Department of Revenue, P.O. Box 500, Jefferson City, MO 65105-0500.

Missouri tax forms for the 2023 tax year and prior years are available on the DOR’s website. All forms and corresponding instructions can be printed directly from the website. Electronic forms that print with a 2-D barcode help speed up processing.

Review tax credit guidelines and attach all required documentation. Individuals who are eligible for a tax credit must complete and attach Form MO-TC to their return. All supporting documentation or required forms, schedules, certifications, etc., must also be included with their Form MO-TC and return. Visit the DOR’s Miscellaneous Tax Credits page for additional information.

The Missouri Property Tax Credit Claim provides a credit to certain senior citizens and 100% disabled individuals for a portion of their real estate taxes or rent they have paid for the year. Individuals who rent from a facility that does not pay property taxes are not eligible for a Property Tax Credit.

You can now file your Property Tax Credit Claim online, quickly and easily, from the comfort of your home or on your mobile device. DOR also offers a free online filing method for certain individual income tax filers. This filing option is available to single taxpayers filing a basic Missouri Individual Income Tax Return with income from wages reported on a Form W-2. To utilize this new online filing service, taxpayers must have been a Missouri resident, nonresident, or part-year resident with Missouri income only and must also be able to claim the following deductions or credits: federal income tax deduction, standard deduction, income tax withheld to Missouri, and estimated tax payments. You may access this feature by visiting our website Individual Income Tax Return online.

Use the DOR’s online services and resources.The DOR’s Tax Return Status Tracker allows customers to enroll in automatic text and email alerts that are sent each time the status of their return is updated. Customers need their Social Security number, filing status, and anticipated refund or balance due to enroll and must re-enroll each year.

Get answers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by reviewing the Personal Tax FAQs or with the help of the DOR’s chatbot, DORA, a virtual assistant programmed to respond to common taxation, motor vehicle, and driver licensing questions.

Email questions to

Utilize Tax Assistance Services.Assistance with individual income tax preparation may be available from a volunteer program in your area. Check these resources for additional information: IRS Free Tax Return Preparation for Qualifying Taxpayers, MU Extension Taxpayer Education Initiative, and AARP Foundation Tax-Aide.
Customers can reach the DOR’s Taxation Division at 573-751-3505, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The due date for 2023 tax returns is April 15, 2024.

Investigation continues into copper wire theft that cut off Mercy Hospital communications

(From the Joplin Police Department)

On January 18th , 2024, the Joplin Police Department was contacted by AT&T in reference to the theft of telecommunication wire near 44th and Grand Avenue. 

The AT&T employee reported that the theft of the telecommunication wire caused the phone system to become disabled at Mercy Hospital in Joplin. It was determined that the specialized telephone wire would cost approximately $5,500 to repair. 

After reviewing this case and other similar reports, information was received of a possible suspect. A Joplin Police Detective began conducting surveillance on the individual. 

On January 23rd the Detective was able to conduct a traffic stop on a vehicle that the suspect was in. 

During the encounter, the Detective found the suspect to be in possession of stolen wire matching that of telephone wire reported stolen. The suspect was also found to have an active warrant for his arrest. 

Following his arrest, the Detective received information that additional stolen telecommunication wiring was at an address at 2904 S. Virginia Avenue. A follow-up at that location confirmed the information and numerous other sections of stolen telecommunication wire and broadband communication wiring were found. 

Further evidence revealed the suspect had been removing copper metal from the stolen wiring. In all, it was determined that the stolen wiring had a total estimated value in excess of $25,000. The suspect in this case is identified as Justin C. Foust, age 27, of Joplin, Missouri. 

Charges were filed by the Newton County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for Stealing and Damage to a Critical Infrastructure Facility. His bond was set at $3,500 cash or surety. 

The investigation is still ongoing and if anyone has any information regarding this incident or other telecommunication wire thefts, they are encouraged to please contact Detective Corporal Josh Hanes at 417-623-3131 x1693.