Top 10 stories of 2017: No. 6 – 10

Editor’s note: The following is the first of a two-part story detailing the top 10 stories of 2017. These stories were generated through the number of views on The Gazette’s website. Each story in the first part of this list had more than 8,400 views. The second part of this series will run in Saturday’s paper.

10. March 22: Jones gets one-year suspended sentence, 36 months probation

Robert L. Jones of Emporia, a former driving school instructor, received a sentence of 12 months in the Lyon County Jail in March. Judge Merlin Wheeler of the Fifth Judicial Court suspended the sentence and placed him on probation with extra restrictions for three years.

In January 2017, Jones and the victim’s legal representatives reached a plea agreement in which he plead guilty to one count of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor, stemming from an incident which occurred on or about Aug. 21, 2016. The criminal complaint stated he “did unlawfully, feloniously and without consent touch (name withheld) who, at the time, was 16 or more years of age and overcome by force or fear, with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of the defendant or others.”

The sexual battery charge can carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Monte Miller served as the defense attorney for Jones and Darrell Smith, assistant Lyon County attorney, served as the prosecution.

“It is my decision that you be sentenced to a period of confinement in the custody of the Sheriff of Lyon County for a term of 12 months, which is the maximum period allowed to the court,” Wheeler said. “It is very rare for the court to propose a period of confinement for that duration on a first offense of a misdemeanor case. Because I believe that the matter of incarceration would only serve to temporarily soothe the pain that is felt by the victims in this case, I am going to extend to you the opportunity to be placed on a longer-term period of supervision — what I call probation. It means at this point in time, I am not going to require you to serve any type of additional jail time.”

Jones will be subject to the supervision of the court services staff with the Fifth Judicial District Department of Community Corrections for 36 months. If he violates the probation period, the 12-month jail sentence will be enforced.

In addition to the normal 15 stipulations of probation, Wheeler also imposed special provisions on Jones. He must provide to the Kansas Bureau of Investigations a blood sample for DNA testing and maintenance including: not to possess a firearm or consume alcohol or illicit drugs, no access to the internet or telephone data, agree to a review of all computers, cell phones or other type of electronic equipment, engage in addicting behaviors such as gambling, not posses any form of pornography, complete a sex offender treatment program and follow all program requirements, no contact of the victim or the victim’s family, not be allowed on any school grounds and have no unsupervised contact with a minor child.

Jones must register as a sex offender throughout the period of probation along with 15 years after.

9. Jan. 17: Birch fined more than $6 million by FCC

Birch Communications was fined more than $6 million by the Federal Communications Commission for “slamming” and “cramming” consumers in January.

The company has maintained offices in Emporia for almost 20 years. Birch’s service footprint spans all 50 states, Washington D.C., Canada and Puerto Rico.

Several employees at the Emporia Operations Center told The Gazette there were layoffs, but they were unable to give comment on the record. Multiple people with knowledge of the situation estimated 50 – 60 employees at the Emporia location were laid off, though Birch Communications did not respond to requests to verify that number.

Prior to January’s action, Birch employed more than 200 people in Emporia, making it among the top 10 largest employers in town.

The order issued by the FCC states that investigations revealed Birch engaged in deceptive marketing practice, changed the long-distance carriers of numerous consumers without their authorization and without proper verification — a practice known as “slamming.” Additionally, Birch charged consumers for long-distance service and fees they never authorized — a tactic called “cramming.”

“Slamming and cramming are egregious, deceptive business practices that result in consumers paying for service they never requested and then expend great time and personal effort to return to their preferred carriers,” the FCC order reads. “These practices are particularly troubling when coupled with deceptive marketing that takes advantage of common trust.”

During the investigative process, the FCC reviewed hundreds of consumer complaints filed with the commission, Better Business Bureau and state regulatory authorities. The consumer complaints alleged Birch’s telemarketers repeatedly misrepresented their identity and the purpose of their telemarketing calls — including claiming to be affiliated with the consumers’ own carriers in order to switch consumers to Birch’s service and place unwanted charges on their bills.

8. May 30: Nine arrested on drug charges in Greenwood County

The Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office was kept busy with alleged drug offenders in late May.

In just a four-day span between Monday, May 22, and Thursday, May 26, the sheriff’s office arrested 16 individuals — nine of whom were taken into custody on drug charges, according to a report published by the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office on May 29. Most of the arrests were made after routine traffic stops.

A total of six individuals were arrested on drug charges Wednesday, May 24, while two more were taken into custody for outstanding warrants in Emporia. It was the most active in what was a busy week of arrests throughout.

A Greenwood County deputy attempted to stop Hayden Serrer for speeding and a defective muffler on May 24. Serrer got out of the vehicle and ran into a house, where he was later arrested. Serrer was formally charged in Greenwood County District Court with possession of methamphetamine, possession of marijuana, possession of paraphernalia, driving while suspended and speeding.

That same day, Lindsi Tabares was stopped for a seatbelt violation. Tabares was arrested and formally charged in the Greenwood County District Court with driving while suspended, possession of methamphetamine, possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia. Tabares also had a warrant out of Emporia. Tabares was taken to Lyon County, where she took care of the warrant and was brought back to Greenwood County Jail.

A search warrant carried out by Greenwood County deputies in Hamilton on May 24 yielded four more drug arrests. Tylen Coe, David Coe, Austin Kurtz and Brenden Watts were all arrested in connection with the warrant.

Tylen Coe was formally charged in the Greenwood County District Court with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of methamphetamine, possession of marijuana, no drug tax stamp, possession of paraphernalia to distribute and possession of paraphernalia to use.

David Coe was formally charged in the Greenwood County District Court with possession of methamphetamine and possession of paraphernalia to use.

Austin Kurtz was formally charged in the Greenwood County District Court with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana, no drug tax stamp and interference with law enforcement.

Brenden Watts was formally charged in the Greenwood County District Court with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana, no drug tax stamp and interference with law enforcement.

7. April 26: Child abuse being investigated at CECE

The Kansas Department for Children and Families began investigating allegations of child abuse at the Center for Early Childhood Education at Emporia State University in late April.

Parents of children identified as possible victims of abuse were notified the case was forwarded to the Lyon County Attorney’s Office for review in May.

“We were told by DCF the case was forwarded to the police, who then sent it over to the county attorney,” one parent of a child in the Toddler I classroom said. “My wife and I understand the information will be reviewed and then they will make a decision about charges, if any.”

Lyon County Attorney Marc Goodman said the case “remains under review for more investigation.”

The Department for Children and Families and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment have not provided any information about the investigation findings.

“We cannot discuss specific cases,” Theresa Freed, Communications Director for DCF said.

It has been alleged children at the center were held down during naps and grabbed roughly by a teacher.

“We received a call from DCF and met with them,” one mother of a 20-month-old boy said. “We were told there were allegations of physical abuse — that the teacher had been wrapping the children up really tight and they couldn’t move during nap time; that she would hold them down with blankets; that she was saying really mean things to the children. We have been reassured she is no longer there, but haven’t been given much information.”

Parents were told the abuse was reported by teacher’s aides to the CECE director, who allegedly failed to report the abuse to DCF. After a period of time had passed and the concerns had not been addressed, the teacher aides made a report to DCF.

“I’m thankful the aides continued to try to protect our children; they did the right thing,” one parent said.

6. Feb. 19: Emporia man accused of attempted murder

An Emporia man faced attempted murder charges for an incident that occurred on Feb. 12.

Lavatris Marques Roberson reached a plea deal in May and pled guilty to charges of aggravated battery and aggravated burglary. The 26-year-old was sentenced in July to 36 months of probation and ordered to pay more than $1,400 in restitution. Any violation of the probation would result in a 44-month prison sentence.

According to court documents, on Feb. 12, Roberson allegedly attempted to murder an Emporia woman by strangulation.

Along with the initial attempted murder charge, he was also charged with aggravated burglary, possession of a controlled substance, criminal restraint and criminal damage to property upon his arrest.

The court document reads: “That on or about the 12th day of February, 2017, in Lyon County, Kansas, Lavatris Marques Roberson, then and there being present did unlawfully and feloniously commit an overt act towards the crime of murder in the second degree, to wit: strangulation, to wit: (victim information withheld), and done with intent to commit said crime, but failed in the perpetration thereof or was prevented or intercepted in executing said crime.”

Further charges alleged Roberson unlawfully entered a property where one or more human beings were present, was holding adderall (a schedule II controlled substance), unlawfully interfered substantially with the alleged victim’s liberty and broke a sliding glass door.

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