Kansas House Democrat arrested again, triggering new calls for resignation

Democratic Rep. Aaron Coleman’s second arrest in less than one month prompted calls Sunday night for his immediate resignation from office by the governor of Kansas and the top Democratic and Republican leaders of the Kansas House.

Coleman, serving his first year in the House representing a district in Kansas City, Kan., was arrested Saturday in Douglas County on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. In late October, he was arrested in a misdemeanor domestic battery incident involving a sibling in Johnson County.

Before taking office in January, a handful of House Democrats insisted that he not be seated given reports of past violent and threatening relationships with women.

Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who served in the Kansas Senate, said Coleman’s latest encounter with law enforcement provided additional evidence of his lack of fitness to be part of the Legislature.

“His continued presence in the Legislature is a disservice to his constituents,” Kelly said. “He should resign immediately and seek the treatment that he needs. If he does not resign, the Legislature should use its process to remove him from office.”

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, and House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, said Coleman should resign because he was a detriment to himself and the voters who elected him.

“I want to reiterate what I have said in the past: It is clear Representative Coleman is in dire need of help,” Sawyer said. “For the sake of the state of Kansas, his constituents, and himself, he should resign and concentrate on getting the help he badly needs,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer said the Legislature was “not a healthy environment for someone in this mental state.” In the domestic violence case, a judge ordered Coleman to undergo a mental evaluation.

On social media, Coleman recently challenged the notion that his conduct required resignation from the Kansas House. He made reference to Rep. Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat who accepted a diversion agreement in July 2020 for driving under the influence.

“Vic Miller. DUI while in office? Very intriguing,” Coleman posted.

Coleman went on to ask Sawyer why there was no public campaign to run Miller out of the Legislature. Miller had been involved in a one-vehicle crash on I-70 in Topeka.

In addition to pending legal troubles, Coleman was instructed earlier this month not to visit office of the Kansas Department of Labor . He was accused of attempting to improperly enter the agency’s office through an employee entrance. He asserted he was there at the behest of constituents regarding unemployment benefit claims.

In August 2020, Coleman defeated seven-term incumbent Democratic state Rep. Stan Frownfelter, losing to the teenager by 14 votes. Coleman won the general election race. Following the November 2020 election, seven Democratic legislators urged him to resign. An official Kansas House inquiry into complaints about Coleman produced a reprimand.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Anti-masker’s obscenity-laced tirade at Kansas Capitol erased from legislature’s video of hearing

TOPEKA — The 28 seconds of profane commentary by Justin Spiehs during a special legislative committee hearing on COVID-19 government overreach was cut from the publicly available video of oral testimony on the Legislature's website and posted to YouTube.

Spiehs, who railed against Lawrence public school officials requiring students to wear face coverings, said he had conducted a daily anti-mask protest for the past four months at the district's headquarters. Spiehs, who referred to himself as a doctor and has taught family and human services classes at Washburn University, said he was tired of being treated like a “second-class citizen" by public officials not willing to listen to his insights into the pandemic.

“We need to ask ourselves: What are we going to do about this? This is not the time to talk," Spiehs told House and Senate members Saturday. “A lot of people might not like what I have to offer for standing up. We've got to bully them out of our lives. It's not pretty and it doesn't look good. It feels good."

Near the end of his three-minutes at the microphone before the Special Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates, he transitioned to his irritation with Kansas Reflector editor in chief Sherman Smith. Spiehs previously had sent emails asking Smith for news coverage of complaints with Lawrence public school officials, which Smith declined to provide.

Spiehs concluded his testimony by saying, “F*** Sherman Smith," and called Smith a “little bitch" and “snarky motherf***er," but that audio doesn't exist on the recordings of the meeting available to the public.

The Special Committee on Government Overreach and Impact of COVID 19 Mandates 10/30/2021 www.youtube.com

Sen. Renee Erickson, Wichita Republican and chairwoman of special committee, silenced Spiehs' microphone during the hearing. On Saturday, audio and video of his tirade was available on the Kansas Legislature's live feed of the hearing. Anyone reviewing the hearing Monday hears 28 seconds of silence, with statements by Spiehs and Erickson deleted. The audio returns for Erickson's admonition to the audience.

“I want to remind everybody that we will be respectful in spite of our passionate views," Erickson said. “We will not tolerate that type of language or behavior."

As Spiehs exited the third-floor committee room at the Statehouse, he was followed out by an officer of the Capitol Police.

He had already come to the attention of Rep. John Carmichael, a member of the special committee and a Democrat from Wichita. In part, Carmichael took notice because Spiehs had entered and exited the committee room by a back door used primarily by legislators.

“He had been loitering outside that door watching people coming in and out," Carmichael said.

Carmichael, who is an attorney, said the full audio and visual record of the special committee's meeting ought to be available to the public. He said he would have less concern about the chairwoman muting Spiehs' microphone and consequently preventing the recording of his obscene remarks from the YouTube version, but would object if legislators or legislative staff were instructed to edit Spiehs' remarks out.

“Where does it stop?" Carmichael said. “It should be part of the public record."

Staff with Legislative Administrative Services and other departments declined to say who made the decision the edit the video after the profane remarks initially appeared online or why the decision was made. Kansas Reflector has filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act for the unaltered video.

Spiehs' testimony came at the end of the two-day meeting in which about 100 people testified against government mandates regarding vaccinations, masks, social distancing and other restrictions to deter spread of coronavirus.

The Special Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates didn't allow in-person testimony from people supportive of President Joe Biden's vaccination order applicable to federal employees and contractors. The written testimony from supporters of vaccinations hasn't been posted to the Kansas Legislature's website, but written testimony from opponents of vaccination was posted Friday or Saturday.

Patrick Early, a spokesman for Washburn University in Topeka, said Spiehs remained an employee of the university but wasn't assigned to teach courses at this time. Early said there was no WU prohibition hindering Spiehs from speaking his mind.

“We certainly respect the rights of faculty members to express their opinions," Early said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Workers fired from jobs for refusing COVID-19 vaccine may not qualify for unemployment

TOPEKA — Registered nurse Evon Smith's career in medical management ended abruptly Oct. 8 after refusing to comply with a mandated pharmaceutical treatment amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My employment was terminated because I declined a medical procedure after an otherwise stellar performance in my role for nearly two years," she said. “Because I have chosen to forego an experimental pharmaceutical, I am no longer valuable to my previous organization, my community or the state of Kansas."

While working at a federally qualified health center in Topeka, Smith contracted COVID-19 in November 2020. She continued to work four hours a day from home despite being ill.

In March, as the availability of vaccines improved, she set aside her personal beliefs about vaccines and administered about 8,000 shots to people who volunteered for the shot. She later found it ethically challenging to encourage patients to get vaccinated because she couldn't honestly provide safety assurances due to lack of data on efficacy of the shots.

“As a nurse," Smith said, “administering these vaccines through coercion is the equivalent of battery, which impacted me ethically on a daily basis, driving me to tears."

President Joe Biden imposed executive orders requiring vaccination of federal employees by Nov. 22. The directive applied to federal contractors, including people working for aviation manufacturing companies and individuals involved in university research. Their deadline is Dec. 8.

These federal mandates eventually could be applied to health-care workers at facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

Holdouts who resist the vaccine for COVID-19, and don't receive a religious or medical exception from their employer, should expect to be fired. There is no guarantee these people would qualifying for unemployment compensation in Kansas.

Peter Brady, deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor, said the 50 states and federal government were engaged in legal analysis of unemployment security law to determine how the mandate fit. In Kansas statute books, he said, there wasn't much guidance.

“There's nothing specific in our statute that speaks to a vaccine mandate," Brady said. “We'll go through the adjudication process. Each of these will be adjudicated on an individual basis."

If a person left a job because of a vaccination mandate, he said, the question to be resolved was whether that departure constituted good cause to voluntarily leave employment or represented good cause for the employer to terminate a person. The issues include whether the vaccination policy was well known to workers, properly documented and applicable to all employees across an organization. Another consideration will be whether employees were given adequate time and resources to comply, he said.

“It seems like we're going to be in a very broad gray area," said Jeff Oswald, a member of the Unemployment, Compensation and Modernization and Improvement Council established by the Kansas Legislature.

During testimony before a joint House and Senate committee focused on government overreach during the pandemic, members of the public offering testimony Saturday and Friday requested the Legislature convene as quickly as possible to pass a law forbidding people from being forced to take the shot and blocking the firing of people taking a principled stand against the vaccinations.

Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Democrat from Lenexa, said Kansas had a tradition of imposing extremely restrictive laws about who qualified for unemployment benefits. If the issue is addressed during a special session of the Legislature, she said, the policy debate ought to be broadened.

“If we want to discuss changing that, let's have a real conversation," Sykes said. “Let's talk about gig workers. Let's talk about school bus drivers. Let's talk about a variety of Kansas workers that are currently excluded, not just these individuals that employers are concerned threaten their workforce's health."

Derek Schmidt, the state's attorney general and a candidate for governor in 2022, said he supported a lawsuit designed to halt implementation of Biden's mandate that federal contractors require their employees to be vaccinated for the coronavirus. Schmidt was among 20 state attorneys general who requested the Biden administration shelve that part of his order.

“The Biden Administration's attempt to muscle into federal contracts an unprecedented provision requiring contractors to employ only vaccinated people is a cynical attempt to outpace judicial review," Schmidt said. “The Biden administration wants to coerce companies and state agencies, including universities, into complying before the judicial system has time to act."

The federal contractor vaccination mandate is distinct from a separate federal vaccination mandate proposed for private businesses employing at least 100 people. This provision is under development by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. When OSHA finalizes the order, the group of Republican attorneys general intent to challenge that piece of federal mandate.

Schmidt said Kansans should be vaccinated against COVID-19. He also said health care decisions ought to be made by each individual and not mandated by the federal government.

“No Americans should be threatened by their government with losing their jobs because their health care decisions differ from those preferred by the president of the United States," Schmidt said.

U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas, said he'd heard stories of Kansans who had to choose between a job and a vaccine. He said a COVID-19 vaccination mandate was a slap in the face of people who fulfilled jobs as nurses, first responders and doctors that put them at the epicenter of the pandemic.

“The issue at hand should be immune versus non-immune, but this White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refuse to acknowledge natural immunity and only care about vaccinated versus not vaccinated," Marshall said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

'Extremely disturbing': Kansas state Rep. arrested and jailed on domestic violence allegation

TOPEKA — State Rep. Aaron Coleman was booked into the Johnson County Jail on Sunday on a charge of domestic battery.

Johnson County Jail records indicate he was placed into custody without bond and was scheduled to make a court appearance at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

House Democratic Leader Tom Sawyer, who previously demanded Coleman resign, said the arrest of Coleman was “extremely disturbing news" and he said the next step was to gather facts of what allegedly occurred.

“His constituents and the state of Kansas would be better served if he were to resign and get the help he badly needs," Sawyer said. “However, I want to reiterate again that the House Democratic caucus does not condone this behavior in any way, shape or form."

Coleman, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kansas, previously apologized for a series of incidents during his childhood that involved online bullying, revenge porn, blackmail and death threats.

In October, he confirmed he was banned from offices of the Kansas Department of Labor after insisting that he be allowed inside a Topeka office. He said he was seeking to help constituents with problems getting unemployment benefits. In addition, he said his status as a state legislator ought to allow the Department of Labor to lower its security protocol.

In the 2020 election, Coleman defeated seven-term incumbent Democratic state Rep. Stan Frownfelter, losing to the teenager by 14 votes. Coleman easily won the general election in the Wyandotte County district.

His underdog campaign centered on adoption of the Green New Deal, legalizing marijuana, expanding Medicare services, women's rights, free college tuition and reallocating police budgets. He was a fan of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the former candidate for president.

During that 2020 race, Coleman generated controversy by declaring he would find it amusing if people who refused to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic died as a result.

A Wyandotte County judge issued a temporary anti-stalking order against Coleman in 2020 that applied to Frownfelter's campaign manager.

After Coleman won the House seat, seven female Democratic legislators signed a letter urging Coleman to resign. Coleman declined to quit. A subsequent Kansas House inquiry into his behavior led by Republican lawmakers resulted in issuance of a reprimand. Democratic leadership also refused to assign him to House committees.

Coleman had campaigned for Kansas governor as a write-in independent candidate in 2018. A year later he sought a seat on the board of public utilities in in Kansas City, Kansas.

In 2015, Coleman was arrested at age 14 for threatening to shoot a girl at another high school. He entered a guilty plea to misdemeanor harassment. A former girlfriend of Coleman's said in 2019 that he choked her twice and urged her to commit suicide.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Grim Reaper of COVID-19 vaccine skeptics takes swipe at government, drug companies and the media

TOPEKA — Carrie Wallace stood out among people expressing outrage Saturday with imposition of a federal mandate for government employees and contractors to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and the intense pressure campaign to compel inoculation of children.

Wallace, a Eudora resident in a Grim Reaper-infused black cloak and carrying a sickle weapon, brought an absurdly large vaccination needle to a rally outside the Capitol before offering testimony in the statehouse to the Special Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates. She was among 80 people who signed up to share thoughts about the nation's response to COVID-19, President Joe Biden's executive orders and personal definitions of medical liberty.

“What I personally believe to be true has led me to change jobs, pull my children out of public school and devote so much of my time to understanding as deeply as possible what the mandates could mean for our society and for rule of law in the United States of America," she said. “I am fully radicalized, if you will, against the unholy trifecta of big government, big pharma and big media."

She said it was no longer clear whether Americans could trust politicians to adhere to the U.S. Constitution or the Kansas Constitution. The “unjust" actions of people at different levels of government during the pandemic undermined public confidence in medical and political systems, she said.

“If you know these vaccines to be dangerous to the people and our rights, it is between you and God what you choose to do now," Wallace told lawmakers. “You will show your loyalty to whomever you serve, and it was never going to be another way."

The special committee was formed by Republican leaders of the Kansas Legislature after the most fervent conservative GOP members began lobbying to force a special session to take up coronavirus bills. Time is running out for the Legislature to organize a special session, which could cost $65,000 per day. The Legislature convenes for the 2022 regular session in January.

Those offering testimony Friday and Saturday almost universally objected to Biden's vaccination directive. Many shared distrust in government and lack of hope the Legislature would adequately push back against the federal government on COVID-19 policy.

Biden's decision to require federal employees, government contractors and people working at large companies to be vaccinated has generated criticism from people who don't want the vaccination and still uncertain whether a medical or religious exemption could apply. Some don't want their employers to scrutinize their medical history or evaluate their religious beliefs, an are willing to be fired for their views.

Action by federal regulators to lower the age of vaccination to five years old sent a shockwave through people testifying before the committee, with several suggesting the risk was so great that it amounted to assault or murder.

Political angle

While the legislative committee worked through COVID-19 testimony in three-minute increments on the third floor of the Capitol, Kansans for Health Freedom and others in the anti-vaccine movement hoisted homemade posters, waved flags and delivered campaign-style speeches at a rally outside.

The guest list included Kris Kobach, a Republican in a three-way race for the party's nomination in 2022 for attorney general in Kansas. He is best known for serving as the state's secretary of state and for losing recent campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate.

“I'm so excited to see you all here taking a stand, getting outdoors and fighting for your constitutional rights," Kobach said. “This is an organic, grass roots uprising of the people who say, 'No, you can't do this to us. We are going to say no. We are going to choose. It's our choice.' That's what this is all about."

Kobach said the federal government didn't have authority to order any person to be vaccinated and federal agencies couldn't arbitrarily compel people to abide by health mandates. He indicated many members of the state Legislature didn't appreciate finer points of law that support a counter offensive against federal government COVID-19 mandates.

“Just because somebody has a little pin on his lapel and is a legislator, that does not make him an expert in the constitution," said Kobach, who taught at the University of Missouri-Kansas City law school. “For that matter, just because President Obama taught a class in constitutional law that didn't make him an expert either."

Al Terwelp, representing the Libertarian Party of Kansas, said the organization was convinced government had no authority to interfere with a person's bodily autonomy, their freedom of movement, voluntary commerce or freedom of association. That equated to opposition to vaccine mandates, mask orders, stimulus packages, essential and nonessential businesses and shutting down parts of the economy, he said.

“This must be the line in the sand," Terwelp said. “We have seen nothing but government avidity to segregate, discriminate, violate and punish. We believe the future holds nothing but more danger to our liberty. We believe that the president's executive order to mandate vaccines is blatantly unconstitutional. Our president is operating on assumed powers. That is an absolute usurpation."

'I am offended'

Jeff Geesling, who contracted COVID-19 in November 2020, said government officials and their allies pushing vaccination mandates didn't want to talk about natural immunity. Instead, he said, a vaccine that he considered unproven was thrust upon Kansans.

“This reminds me of a time earlier in history in the 1930s. A man by the name of Adolf Hitler came into power in Germany. We all know how that turned out," Geesling said. “The current state of our country is reminding me of how things started there. If we aren't careful we will end up like Nazi Germany and then wonder how we got there. Now is the time to take a stand and take our country back."

A similar sentiment was shared by Augusta resident Bryan Luedeke, a Textron aviation employee who applied for a religious exemption to avoid a COVID-19 vaccination. He said the accommodation policy would require that he wear a mask, consent to daily screening and maintain physical distancing on company property.

“These requirements are representative and reminiscent of Nazi Germany and the mandate for Jews to identify themselves with an arm band," Luedeke said.

On Friday, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican on the special committee, responded to testimony by stating she believed people who disagreed with vaccination mandates had to endure modern-day persecution and compared that experience to the Holocaust.

Sheila Sonnenschein, who testified after Geesling and Luedeke, said she was alarmed that anyone would draw a comparison between wearing a face covering or receiving a vaccine injection to the World War II genocide of European Jews. During the war, the Nazis and their collaborators murdered an estimated six million Jews in German-occupied Europe.

“I am offended as a Jewish person," said Sonnelschein, who believes vaccinations save lives. “It is so upsetting to hear people compare having a vaccination mandate and a mask mandate to the Holocaust. In the Holocaust, people were murdered."

Militia is ready

Cody Foster, a journeyman lineman at Evergy and a firefighter with the Inman Volunteer Fire Department, said that during the pandemic he strapped on his boots and went to work every day to keep lights on and his community safe. He said the federal government's latest response to the ongoing pandemic meant he could be discarded in December because he was “dirty, unvaccinated and dangerous."

“I'm calling on this committee, our representatives and our governor to stop this tyranny," Foster said. “We need you to stand behind us and pass legislation to block this infringement of personal freedom. If we allow it to continue, there will be no stopping further government overreach."

Devin Vrana, a chiropractor who brought two of her children to the committee hearing, said she was against COVID-19 requirements and asked lawmakers to stand up for constituents weary of being “lied to and forced against their will to comply with mandates and government overreach."

“We can look around the nation and see government leaders using their voice and platform to uphold the Constitution and hold the line for all their people," said Vrana, of Goddard. “We can see the Florida and South Dakota and Montana and South Carolina statements and policies being made to protect medical freedom. So, we know it is possible here in Kansas."

House and Senate members in Kansas have a duty to push back against federal mandates that conflict with constitutional principles, Jay Atkin told the legislative committee.

He said neighborhood militias of Kansas would be prepared to stop federal forces sent to enforce a vaccination mandate.

“To attempt to force Americans to submit or lose their livelihood — life, liberty and property — is to invite violent retribution and resistance," Atkin said. “Violating the very principles on which this republic is founded, the instigators are committing treason, acting tyrannical and will reap the rewards of their choices."

'Land of the sheep'

Shawnee resident Joann Atchity said she'd understood COVID-19, from the beginning of the “so-called" pandemic in 2020, as a mechanism to assume greater control of Americans and the world.

“In retrospect," she said, “it is easy to see the decades of planning and preparation that has gone into this operation. We have been systematically conditioned and propagandized to willingly hand over our freedoms. We have been poisoned by fluoride in our water and glyphosate in our food. We have become progressively more and more wards of a 'nanny' state."

Atchity, who was denied entry to Shawnee city and school board meetings for not wearing a mask, said fear of the coronavirus had been weaponized because frightened people struggled to “think critically and are easy to manipulate and control."

“The land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land of the sheep and the home of the afraid," she said. “Our elected representatives have sold us out. State and local governments and school boards, have been told to follow orders or lose funding and possibly their jobs."

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Prosecutors: Religious sect physically and mentally exploited children to operate business empire

Five men and three women indicted for allegedly coercing minors to work without compensation were inspired by a leader who claimed to have attained god-like status after traveling with angels through the galaxy and who twisted the Islamic faith to support a business empire in Kansas and other states.

Federal prosecutors said in a statement Wednesday indictments secured through a grand jury asserted kids as young as eight years old were forced by adult members of the United Nation of Islam to work in gas stations, bakeries and restaurants while also performing household chores. Some minors worked 16 hours a day without pay, with leaders of the sect defending the practice by telling children they owed a duty to Allah.

The children weren't provided a meaningful education, federal prosecutors said, despite promises to parents their kids would receive fulsome schooling and develop life skills by enrolling in the University of Arts and Logistics of Civilization and working at businesses located in Kansas City, Kansas.

“UNOI did not inform the parents that their children would work extended hours, sometimes in lieu of attending school, or be sent to other UNOI businesses around the country to work extended hours and receive no legitimate education," federal court records said.

Organizers of the predominately Black organization allegedly blocked victims from reading newspapers or books of their choosing and were physically and mentally abused the children. Victims lived off a diet confined largely to bean soup and salads or went for days by consuming only lemon juice, officials said. The victims couldn't travel freely and rarely received legitimate medical treatment, prosecutors said.

Victims were required to live in cramped barrack housing, were relocated without notice from one state to another and rarely had an opportunity to speak with their parents outside the presence of cult leaders.

Meanwhile, prosecutors said, the defendants and their immediate families lived in spacious housing, ate whatever food they wanted and worked at their own discretion.

The people orchestrating use of child labor in businesses from 2000 to 2012 were led by Daniel Aubrey Jenkins. The sect was founded by the late Royall Jenkins, a trucker who claimed he was Allah. Royall Jenkins asserted that he learned how to rule the world by traveling through the galaxy with angels who had abducted him. Royall Jenkins wasn't indicted and apparently died of COVID-19 complications in September.

Youth under control of the organization had to endure “Fruit of Islam Beatdowns" by adult leaders, the indictment said, and victims were indoctrinated with the idea they would burn in an eternal bonfire if they ran away.

Females under direction of the organization had to maintain specific weights or face humiliation and scorn, prosecutors said. In addition, court records say, some children were forced to undergo colon cleansings that involved streaming gallons of water through a tube inserted into the rectum.

The defendants directed the victims to shower in a certain way and required some victims to undergo colonics performed by adult members," the indictment said.

Dustin Slinkard, acting U.S. attorney for Kansas, and Ryan Huschka, assistant U.S. attorney for Kansas, secured indictments from a federal grand jury in Kansas against the eight defendants.

They are: Daniel Aubrey Jenkins, 40, Lawrenceville, Georgia; Kaaba Majeed, 47, Jonesboro, Georgia; Randolph Rodney Hadley, 46, Fairburn, Georgia; Yunus Rassoul, 36, Cape Coral, Florida; James Staton, 59, Fayetteville, North Carolina; Jacelyn Greenwell, 42, Severn, Maryland; Etenia Kinard, 46, Waldorf, Maryland; and Dana Peach, 57, Clinton, Maryland.

They allegedly operated businesses in Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, as well as New York City; Temple Hills and Baltimore, Maryland; Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; New Jersey, New Haven and Hamden, Connecticut; Durham, North Carolina; and Mobile, Alabama.

Majeed served as a national lieutenant in United Nation of Islam, while Rassoul took on the role of national minister. Hadley was a captain. Aubrey was responsible for male membership. Kinard and Greenwell oversaw youth membership.

If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced for a maximum of 20 years in prison for forced labor and up to five years behind bars for conspiracy to commit forced labor. Both offenses carry a top fine of $250,000.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Kansas GOP senator makes plea deal in DUI case after driving wrong direction on highway

Sen. Gene Suellentrop entered a no contest plea to two misdemeanor charges Monday that stemmed from an incident in March in which he drove for miles in the wrong direction on Interstate 70 before being stopped by a Kansas Highway Patrol officer.

Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican who was forced out of his role as the Kansas Senate's majority leader following his arrest, agreed to a deal that avoided conviction on a felony charge, including the pending count of eluding police. The plea agreement with prosecutors led Judge Jason Geier to find Suellentrop guilty of driving under the influence and of reckless driving.

Suellentrop acknowledged the evidence would prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. According to the KHP officer's charging affidavit, he was driving at speeds approaching 100 mph while fleeing through Topeka, and multiple vehicles swerved to avoid head-on collisions. When he was finally stopped, he reeked of alcohol and struggled to speak.

“There are many lessons to be learned in circumstances such as these, and I can assure you I've learned my share," Suellentrop told the court before sentencing. “I take full responsibility for my actions, and I apologize for my actions. You will not see me in this court or any other court of law on any similar infractions whatsoever."

Suellentrop is required by state law to serve 48 hours in the Shawnee County Jail. His incarceration is set to begin at noon Nov. 18.

The judge suspended a six-month sentence for the DUI conviction and 90 days for reckless driving and ordered Suellentrop to serve one year of probation. Suellentrop also has to participate in eight therapy sessions and take a substance abuse class. Eventually, he will be eligible to have the convictions expunged from his record, the judge said.

Although the judge has the authority to reject the terms of a plea deal, Geier said it was the court's policy to accept any agreement reached between the prosecutor's office and a defense attorney.

“I know this case has garnered a lot of attention — media attention and attention from the public," Geier said. “I'm not allowed ethically to consider any of those outside influences."

After taken into custody March 16, Suellentrop was verbally abusive to law enforcement officers attempting to test his blood alcohol level. He called the arresting officer a “donut boy," the officer wrote in his report. Suellentrop bragged that he could beat the officer in a fight because he played sports competitively in high school."

He refused to voluntarily take a breath test, and a search warrant had to be obtained to compel the senator to give a blood sample for testing. That produced a reading of 0.17%, far above the legal limit of 0.08% in Kansas to legally operate a vehicle.

Suellentrop's attorney, Tom Lemon, told the court he had produced a transcript from video of Suellentrop's arrest. The transcript doesn't include “salacious" language that got people's attention. The attorney didn't specify which words he was referring to.

“He was, frankly, what I would expect for a 69-year-old intoxicated man dealing with a younger trooper," Lemon said.

Lemon said his client had drank too much and wasn't aware he was being followed by police.

“As he stands here in front of you, he's a 69-year-old man who doesn't have any criminal history," Lemon said. “I mean, he's a parent, he's a husband, he's a father, he's a grandfather, he's a business owner. All other aspects of his life are in good shape. But it was a very, very, bad mistake that he made."

“I say all these things not as an excuse or to divert anything," the attorney continued, “but for mitigation purposes, judge. Because of the place that he holds, he's not down the hall in the DUI docket today with every other DUI case."

Wichita residents Jane Byrnes and Michael McCortle attended the hearing and were disappointed to see Suellentrop evade felony conviction.

“A felony is considerably different than this little tap on the arm," Byrnes said.

McCortle, a constituent of the senator, said he deserves better representation.

“We were hoping to witness equal justice here today, what anybody else would have gotten," McCortle said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Kansas school board candidate compares mask mandate to Nazi persecution of Jews

Shawnee Heights school board candidate Christina Flaming compared COVID-19 mask mandates to Nazi persecution of Jews, referred in a campaign fundraising appeal to "so-called vaccinations" for coronavirus and accused physicians and news media of being complicit in an effort to stoke public fear with bad science.Flaming, a member of the board of directors of the Kansas Association of Nurse Anesthetists and the clinical director of the nurse anesthesia program at the University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus in Topeka, urged voters to use the November election to install people such as herself dedicated to ending reliance on unscientific ideas and media distortions to subvert the educational process and undermine individual freedom.

The Shawnee Heights school board adopted a mask mandate for students in pre-kindergarten through high school. It's scheduled to be reviewed later in October.

“We're all here in masks. Where's our yellow stars?" Flaming told school board members. This is very much about psychological manipulation."

“I strongly suggest that you guys maybe consider what kind of psychological warfare is being played on everyone right now and how it compares with the Holocaust," she said.

She said the death of Kansas children who succumb to COVID-19 was concerning, but the total didn't surpass the annual fatality figure for the flu.

Flaming alleged use of critical race theory in Shawnee Heights classrooms and charged that pornographic books were available in the library, but her candidacy has been anchored by rejection of health directives tied to COVID-19, especially requirements that students wear masks or quarantine.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported COVID-19 has been a factor in the death of 6,217 and hospitalization of 14,164 in Kansas since March 2020.

Intense school board races

Coronavirus-inspired campaigns for school board have played out most prominently in Johnson County, where well-funded candidates have transformed typically sleepy school board races in the Olathe, Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley districts into contests resembling legislative races. Mass mailings on behalf of school board candidates have been dropped into mailboxes in Shawnee and Johnson counties.

The Olathe law firm operated by attorneys Ryan Kriegshauser and Josh Ney has taken the lead in Johnson and Shawnee counties in lawsuits designed to limit authority of local government to require compliance with masking orders crafted to mitigate spread of COVID-19.

Their law firm also filed suit in Morris County on behalf of an individual to challenge a public mask mandate.

The firm sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Gardner Edgerton school district requesting amendment of “discriminatory" COVID-19 protocols.

Kriegshauser said a separate legal action challenging a mask mandate in Blue Valley schools was dismissed because parents financing the legal battle couldn't compete against firepower of school district lawyers.

“The plaintiffs are a whole bunch of parents that kind of came together to try and fund this thing," he said during a speech to the conservative Wichita Pachyderm Club. “They just couldn't sustain it."

Ney served the administration of former Gov. Sam Brownback as securities commissioner, while Kriegshauser worked in the securities commission office and as a deputy to former Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Neither responded to a request for comment about their work on COVID-19 cases.

Kim Borchers, national committeewoman for the Kansas Republican Party and a former appointments secretary for Brownback, has helped organize opposition to school board directives amid the pandemic.

She urged Jill Foster-Koch, a Shawnee Heights employee who complained that her daughters were placed in quarantine, to run for the school board. On a Facebook Live event hosted by Borchers, school board candidate Tim Watts solicited financial support from people who objected to the Shawnee Heights school board's approach.

Transparency, vitriol

Lauren Tice Miller, who is on the Shawnee Heights school board, said voters ought to have benefit of transparency about financial backers of school board candidates and legal actions filed against school boards. She not on the November ballot.

“Voters deserve to know that these candidates have been recruited by extremely partisan people who have a long history of working to destroy public schools in Kansas," said Miller, who works in the office of the state's Democratic state treasurer. “They are taking full advantage of making COVID a wedge issue and spreading misinformation to create division in our communities and chaos for our school districts. They don't have the best interests of our kids, our teachers, our staff, our schools in mind."

Rep. Mari-Lynn Poskin, a Leawood Democrat, said the reality of political action committees endorsing candidates in nonpartisan school board races warranted revision of campaign disclosure statute. Current Kansas law doesn't require political advertising to include the name of the responsible organization or the candidate's treasurer in school district races.

Some school board members in Johnson County have responded to the rise in “vitriol and harassment" at meetings by declining to run for re-election, said Sen. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park. The open school board seats have proven attractive to extremists eager to damage K-12 public education, she said.

“Topeka is already overloaded with extremists who have worked to undermine funding to public schools," Holscher said. “Getting 'their people' elected to local school board positions is the final step of their agenda We are seeing an unprecedented amount of far-right PACs, who do not support public education, pouring money into these races to help them reach their goal of electing their candidates to join in their fight to privatize our schools for profit."

'Misinformation' plague

In a Shawnee Heights school board campaign appeal, Flaming touted her credential as a health care professional and concluded that politicization of health care policy in wake of COVID-19 was baffling.

The school board is testing the patience of students and parents, she said, because they've relied on “a very narrow thought process" and were imposing restrictions that didn't match the rate of death among people five to 18 years of age due to COVID-19.

Flaming said advice of Erin Locke, the Shawnee County health officer, and reporting by compliant mainstream media outlets focused on “fear and control." It is a dystopian attempt to stomp out voices raising questions about “masking, testing, distancing, quarantining of exposed but healthy students, and the so-called vaccinations," Flaming said.

“I have a problem in a place of education that someone uses the term 'misinformation' to snuff out freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of ideas," Flaming said.

Watts, who is campaigning for a seat on the Shawnee Heights school board, said students and educators who were vaccinated or had contracted COVID-19 shouldn't be held to mask or quarantine mandates.

He said natural immunity brought about by being infected by the virus was superior to the vaccine, and that his family's experience was proof of that idea.

“We have been through the virus. We are trying to live a safe but normal life," said Watts, who has used the public comment portion of Shawnee Heights board meetings to remind voters of his candidacy. “There's no need to turn our teachers and staff into mask police."

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Tiny rally of five at Kansas Capitol seeks big change in treatment of Jan. 6 ‘political prisoners’

TOPEKA — A handful of people showed up at the Kansas statehouse to make a case Saturday that federal prosecutors were unfair to hundreds of Jan. 6 insurrectionists who breached the national Capitol building while contesting the election loss of President Donald Trump.

Ian Camacho, who organized the gathering on behalf of Look Ahead America, said the objective was to nonviolently express his views and meet people in Kansas seeking justice for the protesters. He said he would have preferred attendance of more than five people, but welcomed the opportunity to urge state and federal politicians to intervene on behalf of “political prisoners" charged in aftermath of the incursion at the U.S. Capitol.

“We made very clear we were a peaceful, First Amendment protest," Camacho said in an interview. “It's raising awareness. Glad we got a chance to do it."

Camacho, a Texan who serves as research director at Look Ahead America, said people snared by the U.S. Department of Justice were accurately described as political prisoners because they were being treated more severely than anti-Trump protesters who caused property damage at the inauguration of the Republican president in 2017.

“All those people were let out," he said. “That was clearly political in nature."

In January, the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., was a scene of chaos while a mob of Trump supporters pushed past law enforcement officers to physically disrupt a joint session of Congress convened to formalize the victory of President Joe Biden. One protester was shot and killed inside the Capitol, while more than 130 law enforcement officers were injured. The intruders caused millions of dollars in damage.

The U.S. House impeached Trump for incitement of insurrection, but he was acquitted by the U.S. Senate. The former president has spread false claims that he lost due to widespread election fraud. Trump also said he was convinced people who entered the U.S. Capitol were “being persecuted so unfairly."

More than 650 people, including residents of Kansas, have been charged with federal crimes for their part in the attack.

Matt Braynard, executive director of Look Ahead America, said “Justice for J6" rallies across the country were intended to raise the profile of “nonviolent political prisoners" denied due process and the opportunity to express political beliefs. He said critics of the rallies were spreading “fear porn" to intimidate attendees.

Braynard, a former Trump campaign aide, said state lawmakers should pass resolutions instructing federal representatives to take action on behalf of people charged with crimes stemming from the January insurrection.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Kansas GOP senator wants to help Americans sue the Chinese Communist Party over COVID-19

U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas expressed frustration Thursday with an inconclusive federal investigation into origins of COVID-19 and the inability of the United States to directly hold China responsible for a pandemic that so far killed more than 650,000 Americans.

The Republican offered an eight-point strategy for exploring the path taken by the coronavirus and "deliver the message that the Chinese must show us the data and be transparent with the world." In August, the senator asserted there was evidence China knew of a laboratory leak in Wuhan several months before the initial COVID-19 cases were documented in the United States.

"It's outrageous that a comprehensive global investigation on the origins of COVID-19 has still not been carried out," Marshall said. "If China continues to obfuscate and prevent this investigation from happening, we can't take no for an answer."

In late August, an unclassified summary of an assessment released by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not conclusively identify origins of the virus that caused COVID-19. The 90-day intelligence review ordered by President Joe Biden in May concluded that a theory about laboratory leakage of the virus and the hypothesis that it was due to natural exposure were both plausible. A more definitive assessment will likely require additional cooperation from China, the report said.

"China's cooperation most likely would be needed to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of COVID-19," according to the intelligence summary shared by Marshall. "Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States."

In 2020, President Donald Trump repeatedly held China responsible for the coronavirus "plague" and declared China was at fault for a pandemic that "should never have happened."

Marshall, a physician who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology in Great Bend, said it was time to integrate U.S. national security agencies and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to better respond to public health threats.

He recommended sanctions and immigration restraints against China due to "substantial evidence that COVID-19 was spreading throughout China in September or October of 2019." He said the "Chinese intentionally misled America and the world about what they knew and slowed our response."

Congress ought to consider legislation suspending portions of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to enable American citizens to file lawsuits against the Chinese Communist Party for wrongful death and damages, Marshall said.

Marshall called for a moratorium on research on "potentially pandemic pathogens." It wasn't clear how that might influence work at the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas, on lethal diseases threatening America's animal agricultural industry and public health.

He proposed the Biden administration release classified information back to September 2019 that might be useful to a COVID-19 inquiry. He requested release of additional information on U.S.-financed research projects linked to Ecohealth Alliance conducted in China.

The U.S. Senate should place a hold on all federal agency and department nominees until release of relevant documents to Congress, he said.

In addition, the senator pointed to reports suggesting Anthony Fauci, who has worked during the pandemic in the Trump and Biden administrations, was "dishonest" about the National Institutes of Health support for coronavirus research at Wuhan Institute of Virology. The senator said Congress ought to subpoena printed and electronic communications of Fauci and other relevant government officials.

"There are many reasons why we need to get to the bottom of the origins of COVID-19," Marshall said. "As a physician, I think we always need to know the what, where, how and perhaps why whenever any infectious disease outbreak occurs in order to prevent or minimize future infections and to develop future vaccines as well as cures.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy Holidays!