The articles are polished, posted online and distributed in newsstands, but the stories themselves never really end. Here’s an update on what’s happened with five City Weekly news stories since they were published in the past year.
University Union Becomes Wheelchair Accessible
When Ryan McDonald was hired as the assistant sports editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle, the University of Utah’s student newspaper, he had an unusual way of getting to the paper’s third-floor newsroom in the student union.
“Jake Bullinger, the sports editor, the first little while, he would just carry me up the stairs because there was no other option,” McDonald says. “But they didn’t want that, obviously, ’cause it was dangerous.”
City Weekly wrote in 2011 about McDonald, then a staff writer for The Chronicle [“No Room For U,” Dec. 22, 2011, City Weekly]. McDonald uses a wheelchair and was not able to access the paper’s office. Union director Whit Hollis cited budget concerns as the reason for the lack of an elevator serving that area of the building.
When he was a staff writer, McDonald could just type up his stories and e-mail them in to his editors without needing to be in the office. But in February 2012, McDonald interviewed and was hired for the assistant sports editor job, which meant he needed to be in the newsroom.
McDonald says once he was hired, Hollis quickly got the ball rolling, and in March, Chrony staff moved to a small temporary office in Orson Spencer Hall OSH, located next to the Union, while plans for the elevator were developed.
“The process started about six months before that, but … we tried to speed the process up once he got the job,” Hollis says. “We were doing some vetting to make sure the product that we bought would be reliable and be able to work for us. We’d had one of those lifts that … went up the side of the stairs, and it kept breaking.”
Hollis says the elevator they eventually settled on was only the second installation of its kind in Utah.
The newspaper staff moved back into their Union newsroom in early September.
Hollis adds that the lift has benefited non-Chrony students as well, as the third floor also houses a couple of classrooms. Prior to the lift’s installation, if a student in one of those classes was in a wheelchair, the entire class would have to be moved.
Now a senior, McDonald is enjoying his work as a sports editor. “I do take it seriously, but it’s a blast, combining two things that I love.” He plans to pursue sports journalism after leaving college. “The Chrony’s an incredible training ground for that, and it’s great that I’ve been able to have that full experience. Obviously, having the lift has been a huge part of that.” (Rachel Piper)
Goshute Lands Might Be Spared
In City Weekly’s “Last Stand” [May 10, 2012], an eerily silent grove of swamp cedar in Spring Valley, on the border of Utah and Nevada, served as some extraordinary symbolism.
“Last Stand” told of the fight of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation to protect the ancient water tables under their reservation from Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plans to build a $15 billion pipeline to take water from nearby rural areas, which the Goshutes believe are connected to water under their land, to parched Las Vegas.
Now, that swamp cedar grove may be a key element in the ongoing battle to preserve the tribe’s water. On Oct. 30, the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, along with the Ely Shoshone and Duckwater Shoshone tribes, filed a request with the Bureau of Land Management to triple the existing 3,200-acre Swamp Cedars Area of Critical Environmental Concern. If the BLM agrees to enlarge the area under federal protection, that would force the projected pipeline to be routed around it.
For the Goshutes, the Spring Valley holds particular importance, the document notes, because it “was the location of at least two massacres of our people by Euroamericans—the 1863 massacre and 1897 massacre.” The Goshutes believe that for each of their ancestors killed there, a swamp cedar grew. “The spirits of our ancestors are still in the Swamp Cedars area—they exist in the trees, water, plants and animals.”
While an out-of-state company has erected numerous windmills along part of the Spring Valley, the prospect that much of the pristine landscape, replete with herds of deer and swooping eagles, might still remain untouched by further development is a ray of hope for the Goshute to protect their way of life. (Stephen Dark)
Crackdown on Call Centers
In June, City Weekly published its three-part investigative series on Utah’s online-business-opportunity industry, which sells work-from-home business-coaching services to consumers across the country.
The first part of the series [“Campaign Confidential,” June 7, 2012, City Weekly] looked at how John Swallow, now Utah’s attorney general-elect, had a tape-recorded conversation with the owner of a call center that was facing a $400,000 fine from the Department of Consumer Protection for telemarketing for three months while their company was not properly bonded or licensed. During the conversation, they discussed a fundraiser for Swallow, and Swallow assured the businessman that he could set him up with a private meeting with current Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Swallow also told the man that if he were elected, he would move the agency that investigates consumer complaints against such companies under the Attorney General’s Office so he could have “complete control” over those investigations.
Swallow cruised to an election victory in November, having raked in more than $1.2 million in donations, including more than $80,000 from online-business-opportunity companies in Utah. His privately discussed plan to move the Utah Consumer Protection Agency away from the jurisdiction of the Governor’s Office to the Attorney General’s Office didn’t gain much support after City Weekly’s coverage; the Governor’s Office argued against the idea in a public statement.
The third part of the series [“Phone Predators,” June 21, 2012, City Weekly] looked at how some telemarketing companies work like wolf packs. Dozens of affiliated shell companies find customer info, known as "leads," and use it to contact them, sell them expensive do-it-yourself programs and then upsell them on even more expensive coaching services to help them get their online businesses up and running.
The story reported how Ivy Capital and affiliated companies were charged by the FTC in 2011 for defrauding thousands of Americans out of $40 million. The story also looked at previously unreported complaints of the business practices of Apply Knowledge Institute.
In November 2012, the FTC participated in a sweeping federal/state crackdown on online-business-opportunity companies called Operation Lost Opportunity. The sweep included seven new FTC actions, 22 Department of Justice actions and actions partnered with 20 state attorneys general. The Ohio Attorney General’s office filed a civil complaint against Apply Knowledge Institute for violating its Telephone Solicitation Act. Another Utah company, Professional Marketing International, was hit with a civil complaint for costs and restitution from the Indiana Attorney General’s office.
Jason Jones, an online-business-opportunity industry watchdog, says that while a number of businesses are faltering and having fraudulent models bottom out, he still worries that law enforcement and the media are not up to snuff on the fraud committed by the industry.
“On the business side, the lead generation and their opportunities are flopping, but I don’t think there’s been any real uptick in enforcement or public awareness or more stories about it,” Jones says. (Eric S. Peterson)
Heavy-handed Judge Steps Down
City Weekly was introduced to the controversial style of Justice Court Judge Keith Stoney in 2010, when a reporter witnessed Stoney order a woman be put in jail for having her cell phone out during a session of the Saratoga Springs Justice Court, over which the judge presided [“Every Dog Has Its Day in Court,” Sept. 2, 2010, City Weekly].
The Peltekian family had been fighting a loose-dog charge against their teenage son and felt the city and the judge were out to get them. Stoney jailed Ryan Peltekian’s mother, Elaine Damron, for allegedly recording the court proceeding on her phone. Damron admitted she was recording the first time she had her phone out, but then stopped when a bailiff told her she couldn’t. When she—absentmindedly, she says—took her phone out a second time, Stoney jailed her for contempt of court.
As CW reported [“Lest Ye Be Judged,” July 5, 2012, City Weekly], Provo’s 4th District Judge Claudia Laycock later vacated Stoney’s ruling, calling his abuse of power “egregious.” CW also reported that Stoney was facing another public complaint from 2010 for issuing a $10,000 warrant for a woman facing a moving-violation charge who was rude to court staff.
Susan Hunt of the Judicial Conduct Commission, the agency that investigates misconduct by judges, wrote in 2011 court documents that “my biggest concern about Judge Stoney is not his demeanor, but rather his propensity to incarcerate obnoxious people without proper legal authority to do so.”
With two reprimands, Stoney faced the possibility of being disqualified for judicial re-election. In September 2012, he announced he was retiring as part of a deal that resolved the complaints against him. In a Salt Lake Tribune article, Stoney said the decision had nothing to do with the complaints against him. Edward Peltekian, whose son originally faced the loose-dog charge in 2010, doesn’t buy it.
“Change comes from citizens rising up and then the government reacts,” Peltekian says. “That’s what happened, and they kicked him out of there.” (ESP)
Attorney Still Fighting for Mentally Ill Inmates
During the six years Utah state prison inmate Jeremy Haas has been incarcerated, he has spent a total of 919 days in punitive isolation. That he has been kept in “the hole” for 2 1/2 years is due to a variety of prison-rule infractions “directly traced to his mental illness,” says Disability Law Center attorney Aaron Kinikini. Such infractions included 20 days for being verbally abusive to a guard. Kinikini and a paralegal gleaned this information from going over hundreds of pages of Haas’ prison records. In addition, the 24-year-old schizophrenic has fines totaling $6,000.
In the cover story “Lost in the Hole” [Sept. 27, 2012], City Weekly highlighted the plight of Haas and three other mentally ill inmates held in maximum security in the state prison.
After the story was published, one of the inmates, Ryan Allison, wrote to City Weekly that both he and Haas had been moved. Allison was sent to the “high side” of Uinta 1, where he has more time out of his cell and better conditions. Haas was sent to Uinta 4, where he has a cellmate to converse with.
But improved conditions and adequate mental-health care for the 10 mentally ill inmates Kinikini agreed to represent this autumn are still lacking, he says. Haas’ records, he says, show that on 30 separate occasions, the same med tech in the prison wrote that the reason for not giving Haas his medication was that Haas was sleeping. “Either Haas sleeps a lot or the tech wasn’t doing his rounds a lot,” Kinikini says.
So, what Kinikini calls “the systemic problem” of the prison housing difficult to handle mentally ill inmates in solitary appears to be continuing. “While punitive supermax might be appropriate for someone like Curtis Allgier, who has shown he can be a lethal danger, to stick somebody who is schizophrenic in solitary is like throwing an asthmatic into a smoke-filled room and thinking he’ll improve somehow.”
As Kinikini has pursued his investigation of the conditions under which some mentally ill inmates are held in the prison, roadblocks have emerged. The prison began charging for records after previously giving them free to the nonprofit, which, under a federal statute, has the authority to check on the welfare of the mentally ill in prison.
When Kinikini first went to see his client Haas in early September 2012, Warden Alfred Bigelow barred him access, citing an unwritten practice that attorneys with misdemeanors were not allowed to visit inmates. Kinikini, licensed by the Utah State Bar, has two 2008 misdemeanor convictions and had to sit in his car in front of the barbed-wire fences that surround the dour, one-floor Uinta complex in the Draper state prison, waiting for his colleague, Laura Boswell, to return from visiting Haas.
On Nov. 21, Kinikini, who is the driving force behind the DLC’s inmate program, filed a temporary restraining order, seeking access to his client. The prison cited internal security concerns in a motion, also noting that Boswell had been given access to Haas and that the inmate could either choose another lawyer or revert to written communication with his attorney.
“It’s ridiculous to have me sitting outside staring at Uinta 1,” says Kinikini, who, for now, has to bide his time as the case wends its way through the federal courts. But Kinikini has his eye on a much bigger prize than the restraining order: namely, an Eighth Amendment claim relating to cruel and unusual punishment. He intends to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the almost dozen inmates he now represents “to force some systemic change of inmates with serious, persistent mental illness being held in punitive isolation.”
Once, that is, he can actually talk to his clients. “It’s all dependent on my being able to get in there,” Kinikini says. (SD)