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Lewison named 21st judicial district judge

Assistant Riley County Attorney Kendra Lewison is the 21st Judicial District’s next district judge, Gov. Laura Kelly’s office confirmed Monday.

She is the first woman to be a district court judge in the 21st District. Lewison will fill the vacancy created by the June retirement of then-Chief Judge Meryl Wilson.

She was one of four finalists whose names were sent to Kelly for confirmation for the judicial district, which includes Clay and Riley counties, in late July.

Lewison is an assistant Riley County attorney. She prosecutes primarily felony drug and sexual assault offenses. She has also worked with Kansas Legal Services in Wyandotte County, the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office and Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP, in Kansas City, Missouri.

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from K-State in 1992 and a juris doctorate from the University of Kansas in 1995.

“Throughout my career I have sought every opportunity to serve my state and my community,” Lewison said in a statement, “and I will do everything I can to ensure a fair process and achieve just results in every case before me.

“I thank the nominating commission and Governor Kelly for the special honor of serving my home community as a district judge, and I look forward to carrying on the tradition of the excellent judges who have come before me.”

After serving one year in office, Lewison will stand for a retention vote in the next general election to remain in the position. If retained, she will serve a four-year term.

USD 383 to see new plans for MHS West

The Manhattan-Ogden school board will get a look at the changes to the construction plans for Manhattan High West Campus at its meeting Wednesday.

The board meets at 6:30 p.m. at Robinson Education Center, 2031 Poyntz Ave.

When voters were presented with the plans for a $129.5 million bond issue in November, the plans called for a $29.4 million project at Manhattan High West Campus to tear down parts of A hall and build a new gymnasium, as well as upgrade the school’s practice field to a synthetic turf.

However, district officials changed those plans and now plan to build onto the D and E halls to the east, extending into the existing parking lot. That is the newest part of the building, added in 2011.

They said those changes are intended to cut costs and increase classroom efficiency, as the project now adds between 25 and 28 classrooms instead of 15. Officials said the budget is expected to remain the same.

The changed plan keeps the storm-rated auxiliary gym and wrestling and storage rooms, which will be built onto the building’s existing north gym. This would create a new entry for the school’s athletics program as well as a potential new drop-off point for parents. Officials said they’ll look to add parking on the south and northwest sides of the building, with a road circling the school, to offset some of the spaces lost as part of the construction changes.

The board will also hear reports on the middle school activity participation rate and the district’s overtime costs.

Nickolas Oatley / Staff photo by Nickolas Oatley  

From left, Cody Hopkins, Evan Todd and Nick Surritt work around the Johnny Kaw statue in City Park on Tuesday in preparation for Friday’s plaza dedication ceremony. The ceremony will start at 4:30 p.m.

Court of Appeals hears Fourth Amendment-related cases at K-State

Students and locals heard debates regarding constitutional law Tuesday when a Kansas Court of Appeals Court panel listened to arguments in four cases at the K-State Student Union.

A panel comprising Chief Judge Karen Arnold-Burger and judges Henry Green Jr. and Michael Buser started the morning hearing cases from Riley and Geary counties.

Arnold-Burger said they chose the cases because they all dealt with some sort of constitutional element as the panel was meeting at the university on Constitution Day. Three of the cases dealt with the Fourth Amendment, which protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In the first case, City of Manhattan v. Joel Laub, defense attorney John Thurston said police stopped Laub in 2018, but the reason for the stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion.

In the case, a Riley County police officer stopped Laub after he drove 2 feet over a curb while turning right near the intersection of Bluemont Avenue and North 11th Street around 1 a.m. on a Sunday. The officer concluded Laub was driving under the influence and arrested him.

A municipal court judge found Laub guilty of DUI, and Laub appealed to the district court. Laub argued the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him because driving over the curb was not a traffic violation. The officer testified he believed Laub committed either an improper right turn or lane violation. The district court upheld Laub’s DUI conviction, finding Laub committed a lane violation when he drove over the curb.

Thurston cited State v. Fred Ross, where an officer pulled Ross over for crossing over the solid white line on the side of the road once and arrested him for driving without a valid license. Police later found cocaine residue on an item on him during a search.

In that case, a judge determined that momentary violation of one’s lane is permissible, absent other facts and issues the officer knows such as present danger to other people.

Mellisa Rundus, chief prosecutor for the city of Manhattan, said this case was not applicable enough to the present one as Ross was driving alone on Interstate 135 near Newton, whereas Laub cut across a curb near Aggieville, which the officer had testified was busy with pedestrians.

“He was concerned for safety,” Rundus said. “He didn’t think of a DUI (when he pulled Laub over).”

During his rebuttal, Thurston said the traffic ordinances that Laub was said to have violated are too vague in their language and allow officers a wide berth to stop people.

In another case, a Geary County deputy stopped Alexis Milla in 2016 for driving in the passing lane for too long.

During the stop, the officer became suspicious of drug activity based on Milla’s “implausible” travel plans of returning from Kentucky to Colorado and several items he saw in the car.

The officer brought out his police dog, and it alerted to the scent of narcotics. Officers searched the vehicle and found thousands of dollars bundled and wrapped in dryer sheets and duct tape.

Officers arrested Milla for transportation of drug proceeds and seized the currency. The state later began this civil forfeiture proceeding. At trial, Milla claimed he acquired the money from various legal sources over the years. He argued the court should suppress the currency evidence because officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by unlawfully extending the traffic stop beyond its initial lawful scope when his car was searched.

The district court ruled officers had reasonable suspicion to search Milla’s vehicle and found Milla could not prove he acquired the currency through legal means.

Thurston, the defense lawyer in this case as well, said before the officer brought out his dog, he did not have enough suspicion to prolong the stop as the officer did not see illegal items nor smell drugs or the dryer sheets that could theoretically be used to mask the smell of drugs.

Prosecutors said by the time the officer called into dispatch to look into the driver’s background, he already had reasonable suspicion when he saw the radios, dryer sheets and other items. He also had doubts about their travel story.

The panel was hearing additional cases at press time. Coverage of those cases will be in Wednesday’s edition.

The panel was schedule to hear an appeal that a Geary County Sheriff’s lieutenant allegedly violated a woman’s Fourth Amendment rights by pulling her over for traffic offenses and later searched her car for drugs and found marijuana.

The panel also will hear a case in which a Junction City High School teacher said the Geary County District Court erred in denying teachers’ claims of breach of contract after the school asked the teachers to teach remedial classes during their seminar periods and were not entitled to additional compensation.

The panel will issue written decisions on these cases at a later date.

RCPD adopts official drone policy

The Riley County Law Enforcement Agency Board on Monday approved a policy that outlines when and how police officers can use drones in investigations.

Assistant Director Kurt Moldrup said the department introduced drones with a trial program about a year ago and wanted to become accustomed to them before adopting a formal policy.

The Riley County Police Department has four Unmanned Aerial Systems or drones, DJI M210s, that are employed under the Emergency Response Unit. They typically help with searches for missing and runaway people, as well as aerial incident and crime scene mapping.

“We’ve found the drones to be very successful,” Moldrup said. “They have to be approved by the captain of the patrol division to be brought out to assist in any kind of endeavors in the police department basically supporting our mission.”

As examples, Moldrup said the department has used drones to help with emergency situations, like during the Labor Day flood rescue efforts, and provide another viewpoint when executing local search warrants during the Operation Chicago Connection drug bust in August.

The policy said the use of drones is not limited to what’s stated in the document.

Moldrup and Director Dennis Butler noted that the department would still need to obtain search warrants to use the drone in situations the department would typically need them.

“If there is any doubt whether a search warrant is needed, then we would err on the side of caution and apply for one just to be on the safe side, so we don’t lose any evidence that we would otherwise gather by the use of the UAS,” Butler said.

Butler added the department would not need a search warrant if it were searching for a missing person or fugitive unless it later noticed indications of criminal activity.

Butler said the drones have been particularly useful in safely locating wanted people and recreating scenes for traffic collision incidents.

“In a situation where we’re looking for a wanted person, if they ran into a wooded area or an area they could be concealed typically, we would set up a perimeter, and then we would strategize in how we get this person to come out safely,” Butler said.

“It can be difficult, especially when it’s dark, so having a system like this — and we have one equipped with an infrared camera — makes that so much safer for our officers to conduct a search like that and really minimizes the potential for injury for everyone involved. It’s more efficient, and it can be done more quickly than going on foot in a large area going tree to tree, bush to bush.”

Sgt. Doug Wood, the UAS team leader, said he is seeing rising interest in using aircraft with police departments in the state. Wood said six to eight agencies have contacted him about starting their own programs, and he is aware of at least 10 others who already have their own program, including the Junction City and Topeka police departments.

“They’re finding that (drones) are significantly more cost-effective than helicopters, so in smaller communities it’s a way to add that (function),” he said.

The policy outlines that the UAS team is comprised of four members and its regular chain-of-command, some types of situations the drones can be deployed, including critical incident and tactical operation, crime scene activities and training, and the requirements for someone to join the team.

“I’m very pleased with what we’re doing, and the policy really has been crafted to comply with Kansas law and federal aviation law and regulations,” Butler said.

Back at his alma mater, St. Isidore's priest thanks God for chance to lead students

Inside the lobby area adjoining the sanctuary at St. Isidore’s Catholic Student Center, the K-State students were singing the “everybody let’s go” snippet from the Dora the Explorer song.

The Rev. Gale Hammerschmidt, 48, was about to lead them over to All Faiths Chapel, which is at the heart of the college campus, for a noon Mass. But first, he came out to greet the few dozen students who make the Catholic student center a refuge from the stress of college life.

Between meetings and Masses and meditative praying, it’s these small encounters that give Hammerschmidt life, he said. For the students, Hammerschmidt’s easygoing, fun-loving personality makes the center “a home away from home.”

“It sounds cliché but having a place like this has been really important,” Grace Leonard, a sophomore from Wichita, said. “I know I can come here for a safe place, a loving environment and a supportive community. This place that Father Gale creates here is a stable constant for all of us students going through so many transitions.”

Hammerschmidt said he recognizes the influential role he plays as a college student minister.

“I work with a population of students who are making some of the most important decisions of their life,” Hammerschmidt said. “Who will they be? What do they believe? How will they live their lives?”

They’re decisions Hammerschmidt made himself when he was an undergraduate at K-State. A Hays native, his family had always been big K-State fans, and he graduated in 1995 with an education degree. It wasn’t until he started teaching seventh- and eighth-grade history at Manhattan Catholic Schools that he started to find a deep connection with his faith.

“I wouldn’t say I was super faithful in my college years,” Hammerschmidt said. “A lot of it came when I started teaching at the Catholic school and I had good people around me to call me out of my waywardness. Even in the early years of my teaching, I was still a little wayward in the decisions I was making. Yet, through the people that were surrounding me in the schools, I realized that my life lived for Jesus. He’s brought me far more happiness than living for myself.”

Hammerschmidt also served as an adult sponsor for high school mission trips, and that also played a major role in helping him “see the light.” In 2005, he set off for St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, where he spent seven years earning a master’s degree in divinity with a heavy load of philosophy classes, he said.

In comparing his experiences, Hammerschmidt said his time in the seminary was like his time at K-State. The Denver seminary focused on men who already had college degrees, he said, so most of the seminarians ranged from 22 to 33, which is the age Hammerschmidt started.

The seminarians followed a college-like class schedule, he said, but there also were communal times for the 120 or so seminarians to eat, pray and attend mass together. Beyond that, they studied, worked out and watched movies like other college students.

“Not as many girls at the seminary,” he said with a laugh. “Otherwise, it was a lot the same. It was a lot of fun, a lot of laughter. We were surrounded by incredible men who were striving for holiness and looking as to whether or not God was calling them to be priests.

“College can be a selfish time for people,” he continued. “Seminary was a training in how to be selfless.”

Hammerschmidt was ordained a day before he turned 40.

“Some guys buy fancy sports cars as a mid-life crisis,” Hammerschmidt said. “I became a priest.”

His first assignment was at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Salina, and he was put in charge of Hispanic ministry. He also was chaplain of the parish’s high school for three years, before he was reassigned to St. Francis Xavier in Junction City. He spent two years there before returning to the Little Apple in 2016, this time as a priest.

Working with college students is different than what he did in his previous posts, Hammerschmidt said.

“A lot of people imagine the priesthood to be a lonely life, because we can’t have children or we can’t get married, but it’s the furthest thing from it,” Hammerschmidt said. “We often talk about our desire to have more alone time because we’re always surrounded by people.”

Every morning, between 20 and 30 students will crowd his office just to check in and talk about the previous day, and dozens more will stop by and say hello while they visit the student center to pray. The afternoons are filled with meetings, with a short break Hammerschmidt uses to work out, and evening classes usually fill out his schedule until 8 p.m., when he hears confessions for an hour.

At 9 p.m., he offers Mass, and he hangs out with the several students who linger afterward until 11 p.m. or so, he said. They occasionally go to IHOP or Old Chicago.

“It’s beautiful getting 150 college students to come to a Mass,” he said. “There’s no obligation to be there for them, but they come because they desire to pray in that way. The Mass is the highest form of prayer, and so students desire to be a part of it.”

On Sundays, so many people come to church that lately, St. Isidore’s has had trouble fitting them in. That’s why the church is finalizing a $17 million campaign to expand the center and rebuild the chapel. Hammerschmidt said the center still needs about $3.5 million, but workers will break ground in spring 2021 and hopefully complete construction by fall 2022.

With a highly transient student congregation, Hammerschmidt will tour parishes across the state over the next two months to raise funds for the project.

With a 24/7 schedule, the priesthood requires a lot more involvement than when he was a history teacher, Hammerschmidt said, but he’s loved the challenge.

“When I was a teacher, I realized that I could be happy as a priest,” he said. “I was investing in lives of children who were not my own. I was coaching and teaching them, and when they experienced success, I experienced great joy. There’s a lot of that in the priesthood. When I see someone come to a deeper encounter with Christ, I experience a similar, greater joy.”

But being able to that at his alma mater, it’s something special he thanks God for, Hammerschmidt said.

“I love it,” Hammerschmidt said. “I am unworthy of this blessings I have received. This assignment in this city in this place I love more than anywhere else in the world, I’m so unworthy. I know I’m not perfect, but the Lord continues to look after me and bless me, and I’m so grateful to God.”