The (Munster) Times. September 7, 2018

Public deserves answers, not loose ends, in little girl's slaying

Suspected crack cocaine and several guns were found inside the Gary apartment in which 2-year-old Jayla Miller was fatally shot in the head Tuesday, police and prosecutors contend.

While the girl's mother, Dashana Fowler, 22, has been charged with felony neglect in Jayla's death, Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said potential evidence in the case indicates at least one other party could have faced criminal charges as well.

Despite the reported evidence, no other charges will be filed, Carter said. That's because Gary police bungled a search warrant in the case, the prosecutor contends.

Gary police did not respond Thursday to Carter's claims.

Our community is owed a more thorough explanation — and accountability — in this tragic case.

Police say they found what appeared to be illegal drugs in the apartment when responding to a 911 call of the little girl being shot.

Six to eight hard rocklike substances that appeared to be crack cocaine.

A white powdery substance on a saucer, along with the rocks.

A razor blade on the saucer, commonly associated with cutting crack cocaine.

That's all spelled out in court documents in the case.

In addition to the black and gray semiautomatic handgun, which police believe fired the shot that killed Jayla, Carter also said investigators found "several guns" within the apartment.

One witness in the case said the apartment was a known location for drug dealing, police allege in their reports.

The only person charged in the case, Fowler, didn't reside in the apartment even though she was present when her daughter was fatally shot there, police and prosecutors confirm.

Fowler faces no drug charges.

So in the wake of all this purported evidence, why is she the only one being charged?

Carter used the poisoned-well analogy when contacted by The Times on Thursday.

He said after Fowler's death, Gary police filed for a search warrant of the apartment in the 1700 block of Polk Street.

Carter said police did so via a phone conversation with a Region judge.

Under Indiana law, Carter said, police are supposed to record the conversation with judges when seeking a search warrant over the phone.

No such recording occurred, police executed the warrant anyway and now any evidence collected during the execution is moot, Carter contends.

So what's next?

Cater says his hands are tied in charging anyone but the mother of the little girl.

But who will be held accountable?

We all should demand more answers than the loose ends we're being provided.

Police and court documents filed Thursday stopped short of naming who pulled the trigger, killing Jayla.

However, a Gary police news release on the matter noted, "Firearms are not toys and should always be considered loaded and secured away from children. Firearm safety and education is paramount."

Court documents in the case also indicate that police don't believe an account provided by another child in the house that Jayla picked up the gun and shot herself with it.

There were no markings on Jayla's forehead that would have indicated a close-range, self-inflicted gunshot wound, the court records state.

The wound to Jayla's head was consistent with a shot fired 2 or 3 feet away from her body, police contend.

In the end, a child is dead, and the public deserves to know why some potential evidence in the case must languish rather than becoming instruments of justice.

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South Bend Tribune. September 2, 2018

Money and motivation to solve South Bend's lead problem

The St. Joseph County Council is setting up a "lead crisis fund" that will put money toward addressing the persistent problem of lead-poisoned youngsters in this community.

It should also encourage and motivate others to get involved and invested, and signal that this is an issue that has indeed reached crisis stage.

That could prove to be just as significant as the actual dollars being set aside — $200,000 in general fund money this year, with a plan to later commit another $200,000 as part of the 2019 budget.

On Tuesday, the council's Budget & Administration Committee forwarded the department's $200,000 request for this year to the full council with a favorable recommendation. The council will consider approving the request on Sept. 11.

The health department will use the fund to pay for staff needed to tackle the lead problem, including environmental specialists and nurses, according to Dr. Mark Fox, the department's part-time deputy health officer.

Fox said this support from the county should help in the department's efforts to raise more money for the fund from local governments, health systems and medical clinics.

That's an encouraging sign, given the need revealed a few years ago, when data showed that children in some South Bend neighborhoods have some of the highest rates of poisoning in Indiana. The culprit: lead-based paint in old homes.

Since then, there have been noble efforts, including those by the Near Northwest Neighborhood Inc., and a University of Notre Dame research team, to tackle the problem. And the city of South Bend has redirected money in its budget to pay for lead-related initiatives. That's all very good, but this problem requires even more attention and resources to solve.

Last week, in talking about the lead crisis fund, County Auditor Mike Hamann told council members, "Hopefully this will demonstrate the serious intent of the county and therefore encourage other stakeholders to become involved."

For the sake of the children in the community, that's our hope, too.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. September 6, 2018

Undebatable

There was good news Wednesday from the Indiana Debate Commission. Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly and challengers, Republican Mike Braun and Libertarian Lucy Brenton, have agreed to meet in two debates. The first will be Oct. 8 at Purdue University Northwest in Westville; the second will be Oct. 30 in Indianapolis. Because of the significance of Indiana's Senate race, both debates will be broadcast nationally on C-SPAN as well as on channels throughout Indiana.

Such meetings can prove difficult to arrange, particularly at the state level, which is why the Debate Commission, a private, nonpartisan group of journalists and educators, came into existence a few years ago. Too often, an incumbent, especially one who appears to be leading in the polls, is reluctant to give a challenger "equal billing" on a debate stage.

Cynics might say Donnelly's willingness to agree to two face-offs is tacit acknowledgment he is in a tough race. We would argue that organized public debates should be part of every senatorial and congressional race, and every candidate who agrees to the process should be applauded for his or her contribution to our democratic system.

Which brings us to the 3rd District race between U.S. Rep. Jim Banks and his opponent, Courtney Tritch.

Shortly after she won the Democratic nomination this spring, Tritch, a marketing consultant, proposed a series of debates with first-term Republican Rep. Banks. Banks agreed in principle. Last month, after she urged Banks to hurry and settle on some dates, his campaign responded: "Unlike Ms. Tritch, Congressman Banks has a family and a job."

Reaction to that churlish remark shouldn't distract from the continuing need for 3rd District congressional debates this fall. The election in November is as crucial as any modern midterm. Banks and Tritch are both informed, articulate candidates with strongly contrasting views.

Voters deserve to hear them challenge each other to defend their positions on such key issues as health care, trade and foreign policy. We deserve to know more about their views on President Donald Trump and the right way to heal the rifts between left and right in America.

The 3rd District isn't the only place where the incumbent is playing coy. U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd, told the South Bend Tribune July 20 that she would have three debates with Democratic challenger Mel Hall. But those debates haven't yet been scheduled, and Hall's staff has told the Tribune the congresswoman is stalling.

In Indiana, which had the lowest percentage of eligible voters in the nation cast ballots in the last midterm in 2014, congressional candidates need to encourage voter engagement and turnout. That includes getting serious about scheduling debates in time to make them happen.

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The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. September 7, 2018

Catholic church must re-prioritize for children

Local Roman Catholic priests vowed, in an article published Sunday in The Herald Bulletin, to protect children from the sort of abuses thousands have suffered at the hands of Catholic church officials in the United States.

Most recently, a grand jury found that bishops and other Roman Catholic church leaders in Pennsylvania covered up sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children over seven decades. More than 300 priests were implicated in the abuse and cover-up.

The problems traced all the way to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who is accused of sexually abusing seminarians. And, in the aftermath of the grand jury report, Carlo Maria Viganò, formerly the top Vatican diplomat in the United States, accused Pope Francis of helping cover up McCarrick's crimes.

The abusers in Pennsylvania brought the enormous power of the church to bear, persuading victims not to come forward and police not to investigate.

In The Herald Bulletin article, The Rev. Daniel Duff, pastor of St. Mary Church in Alexandria, expressed "frustration and disgust" with the accused church leaders.

"In some ways it also just affirms my commitment to doing all I can to protect children in my ministry," Duff said. "I made an announcement last weekend just to reaffirm . I care deeply about the safety of their children and grandchildren."

Monsignor Robert L. Sell III with St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Anderson echoed Duff's words.

"I am certainly not pleased with the actions of some of my brother priests," Sell said. "It's in violation of their own oaths to the office, and I feel very strongly a great deal of empathy and hope that the victims can forgive the church for what has happened."

That forgiveness is asking a lot, particularly when so many Catholic officials were complicit in the cover up. Their priority was preservation of the church and protecting their colleagues, rather than stopping the abuse and bringing the accused to justice.

It's been 16 years since the public first became aware of widespread child molestation in Catholic churches in Boston, and much of the abuse uncovered by the grand jury in Pennsylvania happened before 2002.

Back then, the church reacted by enacting new policies, such as background checks for any in the church who would work directly with children and an online training course to teach church officials about proper interactions with children.

These efforts and the determination of priests such as Sell and Duff are key to the Catholic church stopping child sexual abuse.

But it's going to take more than that. It's going to take a total cultural overhaul of church leadership to prioritize the safety of children and the reporting to law enforcement of any suspected abuse.

Nothing should be placed above the interests of children — not even the church itself.

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