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Tip helps nab wanted polygamous sect leader Lyle Jeffs

by JAMES NORD and BRADY McCOMBS , Associated Press

Tip Helps Nab Wanted Polygamous Sect Leader Lyle Jeffs

This frame grab from KSFY Television video shows polygamous sect leader Lyle Jeffs arriving at the Federal Courthouse Thursday, June 15, 2017 in Sioux Falls, S.D. Jeffs has been captured in South Dakota while apparently living out of his pickup truck after nearly a year on the run. Authorities had been hunting for Jeffs since he escaped home confinement in Utah on June 18, 2016, ahead of his trial in an alleged multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme. (KSFY Television via AP)

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) Polygamous leader Lyle Jeffs’ one-year run from justice was ended by pliers, sharp-eyed pawn shop workers and an astute off-duty detective in a small town in South Dakota. The events leading to Jeffs’ capture Wednesday in a lakeside area near the South Dakota-Nebraska state line where he was living out of his truck started a day earlier when a pawn shop owner called police about a man who had come to his shop twice acting nervous and fidgety. After Jeffs sold two pairs of Leatherman pliers for $37 and provided his ID on Tuesday, a suspicious employee at River City Treasures and Pawn in Yankton looked up online the name he had been given and realized the man was wanted by the FBI, owner Kevin Haug said in an interview Thursday.

Haug said Jeffs re-arranged his name during the transaction, going by Jeffs Lyle Steed.

“That was his shot at fooling everybody,” Haug said. Haug alerted police and his employee called the FBI providing authorities with store video of Jeffs, pawn paperwork bearing his information and the vehicle Jeffs was driving: A silver Ford-F-150 pickup truck.

“Every once in a while, when someone’s weird, we look into them for no apparent reason other than we’re just bored sometimes,” Haug said. The tip proved to be the break the FBI had been craving since Jeffs used olive oil to slip out of his ankle monitor and escape home confinement in Utah on June 18, 2016, ahead of his trial in an alleged multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme.

Authorities ramped up their search for Jeffs based on the tip, and an off-duty Yankton police detective spotted Jeffs going into a bathroom at a marina-resort area next to picturesque Lewis and Clark Lake and then as Jeffs drove through the marina, Yankton County Chief Deputy Sheriff Michael Rothschadl said. Jeffs complied with officers when he was arrested and acknowledged he was the fugitive they had been searching for, said Eric Barnhart, FBI special agent in charge for the Salt Lake City Division. Authorities believe he had been in the area for about two weeks, running low on resources and struggling without the help of fellow sect members, Barnhart said. A falling out with his brother Warren Jeffs, who runs the sect while serving a life prison sentence in Texas for sexual assault of underage brides, led to the lack of support, the FBI has said.

Their group, known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is based in a small community on the Utah-Arizona border. Members of the sect believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. The group is an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, which disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago. The group also has a small compound in far west South Dakota that was established more than a decade ago. Known to the faithful as “R23,” the compound sits along a gravel road, secluded by tall pine trees, a privacy fence and a guard tower. Lyle Jeffs was some six hours from that compound when he was captured. Barnhart said they do not know yet if he spent time there during his year on the lam.

He said the FBI is working to determine if the unidentified tipster will get paid the $50,000 reward. Haug said if he gets a reward, he would take a vacation.

“That’s not why I did it, but if they’re going to offer it we kind of gave them the tip that he was here,” Haug said. “That would be nice.”

Jeffs will likely face at least one new felony charge connected to his time on the run, U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said. In a federal court appearance Thursday in Sioux Falls, Jeffs waived a detention hearing until he returns to Utah in coming days to face the pending food stamp fraud charges, said Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah. Jeffs was the last of the defendants in the food stamp fraud case still behind bars when U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart last year in June reversed an earlier decision and granted his release. Prosecutors argued Jeffs was a flight risk.

“You have those times when you don’t want to say, ‘I told you so,’ but that’s kind of where we’re at,” Huber said Thursday. “We had very serious concerns.”

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McCombs reported from Salt Lake City.

Budget committee approves raises for state employees as stalemate continues

Amid an ongoing stalemate over transportation and education funding, the Legislature s budget committee voted unanimously Thursday to give state employees a 4 percent raise over the next two years. The Joint Finance Committee met for the first time in two weeks to tackle the governor s self-insurance plan, which it rejected, employee raises and prison funding. Republicans who control both the Assembly and Senate have reached an impasse over funding for K-12 education, transportation and tax cuts.

Budget committee co-chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said the Assembly and Senate aren t far apart on education funding, particularly increasing funding for school districts with historically lower funding levels. However, he said there remains disagreement over how to fund transportation.

I m not thinking education is going to be that much of a stumbling block, Nygren said. I do think their position with (using general fund dollars to support borrowing for transportation) is going to be a stumbling block. The impasse will more than likely push final approval of the budget past the July 1 deadline for the new fiscal year. That means funding will continue at current levels, similar to what happened in 2015 when budget deliberations pushed into the first two weeks of July.

State employee raises

Walker proposed two 2 percent general wage increases for state workers, one on Sept. 30, 2018, and another on May 26, 2019, for a cost of $15.4 million in the second half of the biennium. However, the proposal didn t cover University of Wisconsin System employees, who would have received raises under a separate $15.5 million merit pay system controlled by the Board of Regents. The Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously to provide the funding through the normal compensation system. However, the funding only covers 70 percent of the 4 percent raise. The remaining amount would typically be provided through a tuition hike, but the Legislature plans to extend a tuition freeze. A separate legislative committee will decide how to distribute the UW System raises.

UW System President Ray Cross thanked the committee for the largest investment the state has made in UW employees in more than a decade. The raises come as general wage increases for state employees have lagged the rate of inflation, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Over the past decade, general wages have increased cumulatively by 7.5 percent while inflation has increased 18.7 percent. That doesn t account for employees paying more for pension and health care premiums starting in 2011 under Act 10.

More funding

for corrections

The committee also addressed overtime for prison guards and funding for the troubled Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons in northern Wisconsin. Overtime costs have been an ongoing issue for the department. Last year there were 629,800 overtime hours paid out, compared with an average of 370,700 hours on average in the previous three years.

Walker has proposed $108 million in additional funding to cover overtime costs over the next two years. The committee amended his proposal based on historic averages to shave the cost down by $8 million. Democrats proposed prohibiting prison guards from working overtime for more than two consecutive shifts, raising concerns about safety. Republicans rejected the motion without comment. To address concerns about turnover, Republicans added to the budget a proposal to give prison guards a lump sum bonus after 10 years of service and every five years afterward, ranging from $250 up to $1,000.

The committee also addressed an anticipated inmate population increase due to tougher drunken driving penalties adopted last year. Walker projected the prison population increasing to 23,233 next year, though the fiscal bureau said the figure could be 23,888, costing $6.6 million more. Walker proposed adding 16 positions to expand the state s earned release program for about 240 inmates, saving $3.7 million. The committee added an additional five positions, for a total of 21, saving $5 million, and expanded the program from addressing substance abuse issues to addressing issues related to the inmate s criminal behavior. The committee also agreed with Walker s proposal to enhance mental health and other health services in state prisons, expand job-training opportunities for inmates and require guards at maximum security facilities to wear body cameras.

It voted 12-4 to cut in half about $1.3 million Walker proposed to expand a re-entry program in northern Wisconsin. Walker s budget adds about eight positions at a cost of $1.3 million over two years to improve staffing ratios at Lincoln Hills, which has been under federal investigation for two years related to allegations of rape and abuse of inmates. Democrats sought to add a total of 42 positions to bring the state into compliance with the staff-to-inmate ratios under the Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, but Republicans kept Walker s proposal in place. Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, blasted Republicans for not adding more staff.

I find it challenging to believe that people don t understand the importance of meeting these requirements, Taylor said. In this budget you have not made it a priority to get to the bottom of what happened.

Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, defended the employees at Lincoln Hills, noting an inmate who had two toes amputated after a guard slammed a door on his foot, resulting in a $300,000 settlement, later stole a car and crashed it into a house.

These are not angels that are coming into Lincoln Hills, Tiffany said. It s a tough situation and these people working up there do the best job they can.

Didn’t fight officer outside Little Rock restaurant, beaten man testifies

Chris Erwin, the Little Rock man who was captured on a cellphone video getting punched in the face by a uniformed police officer outside a restaurant 5 years ago, testified Monday that he didn’t comply with the officer’s commands because he was dazed and disoriented — not because he was resisting arrest.

“I was scared. I thought I was going to be shot,” Erwin told a federal jury as his civil trial against the since-retired officer, Lt. David Hudson, began. The two-minute scuffle between the internal auditor for the state Department of Human Services and the seasoned officer took place on the night of Oct. 29, 2011, outside Ferneau, an upscale restaurant in the Hillcrest neighborhood where Hudson was working off-duty as a security guard. Minutes earlier, a bartender had come outside and asked Hudson to speak to two men about leaving the restaurant, and Hudson had gone inside and ordered Erwin and his group to leave. Erwin was with his girlfriend; his friend, T. Blake Mitchell; and Mitchell’s wife. The men later said they had no idea when they sat at a table near the stage in one part of the restaurant that they were intruding on a private Halloween party.

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Erwin said he was in the restaurant when Hudson “came and hit me on the back and said, ‘You need to go.’ I said, ‘OK.'”

He said he was “sober as could be” when he walked out of the restaurant minutes later after paying the tab and, upon seeing Hudson approaching, asked who had wanted them to leave, only to be spun face-first against a brick wall. A roughly two-minute cellphone video that began after Erwin said Hudson grabbed him and threw him face-first against the wall was played in a federal courtroom. It showed Erwin taking three steps toward Hudson as the officer spoke into a radio on the lapel of his uniform to call for backup. The video, somewhat obscured by onlookers and exterior walls, then shows the men scuffling, and Hudson rapidly punching Erwin in the face seven times with a closed fist. The scuffle continued and Erwin ended up on the ground with Hudson sitting on top of him, handcuffing his arms behind his back.

Erwin can be heard telling another officer a short time later, “That was uncalled — that was crazy. … That guy is out of control. … I didn’t do a thing. He just started hitting me. … I want his job.”

Little Rock attorney Bill James, who is representing Hudson on accusations of using excessive force, suggested in his cross-examination that Hudson couldn’t have known what Erwin’s intentions were when he took steps toward the officer. Both Erwin and Hudson are relatively large men. Hudson has said that an employee told him there was “a group of individuals inside the private party who were not supposed to be there and that they would not leave.” He has also said that the employee reported that he had asked the group to leave and that one of the men in the group responded, “Why don’t you kick my a** out?”

Both Erwin and Mitchell, who was also a plaintiff in the case until last week, denied Monday that they ever said that. Court documents don’t explain why Mitchell is no longer a plaintiff. Erwin, who is represented by Little Rock attorneys David H. Williams and Reggie Koch, and Brian G. Brooks of Greenbrier, testified that the encounter left him with swelling under his left eye and blood from a cut on his face, as jurors saw in a photograph taken afterward. He testified that he had a “big knot” under his eye for some time, for which he still feels numbness; and a sore back. He wants Hudson to pay the $13,657.41 on medical bills for a physical therapist, a neurologist, an emergency room visit, a vision-check at an eye clinic, an orthopedic specialist and a chiropractor.

Erwin is also seeking monetary damages for emotional trauma. His attorneys said he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the scuffle.

“Emotionally, it was really tough,” said Erwin, who is now a regional insurance producer who travels occasionally. He said that at the time, he had custody of his children from his former marriage, and because of the publicity after the video was posted online, his children were regularly taunted by others who said, “‘Your dad is a drunk and got beat up.'”

Erwin told James that he still lives at his mother’s house, as he did at the time, and that he drinks so little that they don’t even keep alcohol in the house. Earlier the night of the incident, he said, he had gone to a Catholic High fundraiser with the Mitchells and had “two small cups” of beer, then to Ciao Baci, another restaurant in the Hillcrest neighborhood, and finally to Ferneau, which was located at 2601 Kavanaugh Blvd., but closed a month later. Erwin said repeatedly that after he was spun into a wall, he was “in a daze. … I was scared to move. .. I was terrified. I could see in his eyes, and they were eyes of rage. … He was throwing a bunch of commands at me and I didn’t know what to do.”

“You never grabbed Lt. Hudson by the arm?” James asked.

“Absolutely not,” Erwin said.

Minutes later, after James showed the video again and asked Erwin, “What’s going on with your right arm?”

“It appears to be on his arm,” Erwin said, referring to Hudson, but adding that he didn’t remember that and was never a threat to Hudson. The video also shows Mitchell walking up behind the officer and touching him, telling him, “You can’t do that.”

Asked if Hudson was trying to get him to submit to an arrest, Erwin replied, “I was dazed right there. I just had my head smashed into a wall.”

James noted that a still photograph appears to show Erwin’s arm on Hudson’s face, to which Erwin responded, “No, I’m not fighting him.”

“Are you putting your hand on his face just to see how closely he shaved that day?” James demanded.

“I don’t think that’s my hand on his face,” Erwin replied. “I was still dazed like a deer in the headlights. I didn’t know what to do.”

“Why didn’t you just comply?” James asked.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Erwin repeated. “I was dazed. … I was not drunk.”

Erwin agreed with James that photos show Mitchell, who is taller than Hudson, hovering nearby, as a car alarm wails and people dressed in Halloween costumes, including Elvis and Smokey the Bear, surround them on the sidewalk, making the scene chaotic. He agreed that Mitchell appears close enough in the photos to be touching Hudson. The department suspended Hudson for a month after the incident, but the city Civil Service Commission later overturned the suspension. Meanwhile, misdemeanor charges against Erwin and Mitchell were eventually dismissed after a judge ruled that a prosecutor didn’t comply quickly enough with discovery requests.

The trial continues at 9 a.m. in U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr.’s Little Rock courtroom.

Metro on 06/13/2017

References

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