WRITER: Mackenzie Clark

Douglas County Commission nixes jail expansion plans in 3-0 vote

The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday laid to rest a long-debated plan to expand the local jail. Commissioners passed a resolution in January to move forward with the roughly $30 million expansion of the Douglas County Jail, but they recently asked to reexamine the project because of changes that have occurred amid the coronavirus pandemic. County Administrator Sarah Plinsky also recently said the county ...

Network of faith groups plans 75 virtual meetings to find ‘common ground’ on systemic racism, homelessness

Justice Matters, a local coalition of 17 faith groups, aims to bring community members together for 75 virtual small group discussions over the next four weeks. The goal of the new initiative is to find “common ground” among participants on issues of systemic racism, homelessness, criminal justice reform and racially disproportionate discipline in the Lawrence school district, according to a news release ...

Lawrence police investigate reported armed robbery at payday loan business

Updated to add photos at 8:23 p.m. Monday: Lawrence police are investigating a report of an armed robbery at a cash-advance business. At 3:23 p.m. Monday, officers responded to a report of a possible armed robbery at Advance America, 2223 Louisiana St., Lt. David Ernst said via email. Witnesses reported that a roughly 6-foot-tall white man with an average build had displayed a knife and demanded money, Ernst ...

Former Lawrence police officer charged with misconduct wants a jury trial

A former Lawrence police officer who is accused of misusing law enforcement information systems for personal reasons is now seeking a jury trial. The Journal-World reported in June that David Shane Williams, 33, was hoping to enter a diversion agreement with the Douglas County district attorney’s office. A diversion program could allow Williams to avoid prosecution for his class A misdemeanor charge of ...

Motions hearing dates set in Rontarus Washington Jr.’s case

Dates were set Friday for two all-day motions hearings during a short scheduling conference in the case of Rontarus Washington Jr. Washington, 24, has been charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with the November 2014 death of 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso. The jury hung after Washington’s first four-week-long trial, which began Sept. 9, 2019. The prosecutor immediately ...

Issues surrounding bail bonds a major focus of Kansas task force on pretrial justice

Story updated at 3:17 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10: On the one hand, defendants in criminal cases — who are presumed innocent — shouldn’t be detained in jail just because they can’t pay to get out; on the other, those who are dangerous but wealthy can be held without bond only if they’re suspected of capital crimes. Those were two of the key viewpoints that the Kansas Supreme Court’s ad hoc pretrial ...

Breaking down the case of Rontarus Washington Jr., charged in 2014 Lawrence murder: FAQs and the latest motions

It’s been almost six years since 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso was found bludgeoned and stabbed to death on the bathroom floor of a Lawrence apartment. Lawrence police and prosecutors have long held that the evidence points to Rontarus Washington Jr. as the killer in the brutal murder. He was 18, and he lived at the opposite end of the hallway at Cedarwood Apartments, 1727 W. 24th St., at the time. ...

Lawrence police: Driver approached 90 mph on city streets, crashed at 6th and Kasold

The driver of an SUV approached speeds of 90 mph on city streets before crashing in an intersection, according to Lawrence police. Just before 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Kansas Turnpike Authority notified officers of a white SUV being driven erratically and reaching speeds of 100 mph, Lawrence Police Department spokesperson Patrick Compton said Thursday. The driver exited the turnpike in North Lawrence, Compton ...

Lawrence Police Department restructure aims to put more supervisors on the streets, interim chief says

The Lawrence Police Department wants more of its supervisors present on calls for service, and that was a large part of the reason for the creation of the new rank of lieutenant. Interim Chief of Police Anthony Brixius said the department has had a “really flat structure” for all of his 17 years there, and that’s brought some problems with information dissemination and having leadership in the right ...

Lawrence massage therapist who had contracts with KU Athletics bound over for trial in child sex crime case

A Lawrence massage therapist who had contracts with multiple University of Kansas women’s athletics teams was bound over for trial Tuesday in connection with alleged sexual abuse of a girl. Shawn P. O’Brien, 49, was initially charged with one count of aggravated indecent liberties with a child based on a girl’s report that he had sexually abused her multiple times when she was 9 or 10 years old. The ...

Man bound over for trial in alleged sexual abuse of Lawrence girl

A man was bound over for trial Monday in connection with a woman’s allegations of repeated sexual abuse that she said began about six years ago, when she was a teenager. Joseph Christopher Hess, 36, was charged in June 2019 with two counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child, three counts of criminal sodomy and one count of attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child. The woman said she ...

Prosecutor withdraws from Rontarus Washington Jr. murder case

The former chief assistant district attorney who has been prosecuting a high-profile Lawrence murder case for several years has withdrawn from the case, court documents show. CJ Rieg left the Douglas County district attorney’s office in March and is now an assistant attorney general at the state level. However, she has stayed on as a special assistant district attorney in the case against Rontarus Washington ...

Douglas County’s first responder assistance coordinator steps down; position won’t be filled

After talks of cutting the position to part-time, Douglas County’s first responder assistance coordinator has stepped down, according to the sheriff’s office. Paul Taylor’s last day with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office was Friday, said Jenn Hethcoat, public information officer. He has also resigned from Chaplain Services, a volunteer program that offers chaplain support to first responders and ...

Lawrence man sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexually abusing young girl for years

Updated at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday: A Lawrence man was sentenced Wednesday to just more than 10 years in prison for sexually abusing a girl he babysat for four years, starting when she was 4 years old. Johnie L. Saluto, 32, entered a plea in March to two counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child, both level-3 felonies. He had initially faced seven charges, including four felonies that were punishable ...

Man sentenced to prison for sexual assault of teen after judge rejects agreement for probation

A Lawrence man was sentenced Monday to three years in prison after pleading guilty to indecent liberties with a child. Jimmy E. Scott, 45, pleaded guilty to the charge, a level 5 felony, in March. He had previously been charged with aggravated indecent liberties, a slightly more severe level 4 felony. As the Journal-World reported, Scott’s charges stem from a 15-year-old girl’s report in March 2018 about ...

Judge: Letter that alleges false statements by Lawrence police officer should’ve been given to defense attorney

A judge said Monday that a prosecutor should have notified defense counsel about a letter alleging that a Lawrence police officer previously wrote a false report and omitted key facts. However, the judge tentatively denied a motion to dismiss the pending case on grounds of previous dishonesty by the officer, though he said he would review defense exhibits and the officer’s personnel file before making a ...

Presumed next Douglas County sheriff named in complaint that’s under investigation by an outside agency

A complaint alleges that a 2017 sex crime investigation was a “complete professional abandonment,” and it has prompted the Douglas County sheriff to request an investigation by an outside agency. Lt. Jay Armbrister — who won 39% of the vote in the Democratic primary for Douglas County sheriff and faces no opponent in the general election — is one of three officers named in that complaint. The case in ...

Lawrence man sentenced to almost 8 years for DUI crash that killed young mother

A Lawrence man was sentenced to almost eight years in prison during an emotional court hearing Tuesday. Eric Lee Spaeth, 44, pleaded no contest to one count of involuntary manslaughter, a level-3 felony, in a crash that killed a woman who was riding her moped in the 2700 block of Haskell Avenue almost one year ago on the night of Aug. 20, 2019. Elizabeth Ann Allen was a 24-year-old mother of two daughters, ...

Douglas County DA: Officers will not face charges in fatal shooting of suspect in Lawrence

The Douglas County district attorney will not file charges against officers involved in a fatal shooting of a suspect on June 15, according to a Tuesday news release. The shooting, which involved officers from the Kansas Highway Patrol and the University of Kansas Police Department, killed Nicholas Hirsh, a 31-year-old man from Omaha, Neb., the Journal-World reported. There was “ample evidence” to ...

Recording raises question of perjury by Lawrence police officer; LPD says probe cleared him

An audio recording that surfaced in court is raising questions about the validity of police reports filed by an officer of the Lawrence Police Department. Now, at least one defense attorney is seeking to use the audio — which was captured between two police officers wearing microphones as part of their uniforms — to have one of the officer’s cases dismissed on the grounds that the officer’s word is no ...