Tuesday, July 19, 2016

KC man, GV grad alleged in Baton Rouge shooting

 Suspect in Baton Rouge police murders Gavin Long, 
pictured above in 2005 Grandview yearbook photo, and below in 
a YouTube video posted  on July 10, 2016.

by Mary Wilson

The man who fatally shot three law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge, La., and wounded three others before being killed by the police on Sunday morning “was targeting officers,” Louisiana state police officials said Monday.

The three officers killed Sunday were: Montrell L. Jackson, 32, a 10-year veteran of the Baton Rouge Police Department, who was married with a new baby at home; Matthew Gerald, 41, who had served with the Baton Rouge Police Department for less than a year; and Brad Garafola, 45, an East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy and a father of four. Of the officers who were wounded, one was “fighting for his life” in the hospital on Monday.

Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, Colonel Michael D. Edmonson, said in a news conference that his department is confident that the suspect, 29-year-old Gavin Long of Kansas City, was the only shooter in the incidents that took place in Baton Rouge, LA.

“When he engaged those police officers, he was deliberate and extremely accurate,” said Edmonson.

According to Baton Rouge police, three guns were taken from Long, and they recovered a rented Chevy Malibu with Missouri plates from the scene. Edmonson added that one of the more challenging things in this case will be the examination of Long’s social media, including posts and activity on his accounts after the crime took place.

“Three officers are dead, one is fighting for his life, we owe it to them to do it right and get it right,” said. Edmondson.

According to Long’s YouTube videos, under the pseudonym Cosmo Setepenra, he believed the world is run by devils and that “it takes one revolutionary to stand up against oppression and sacrifice.” He also believed that 100% of revolutions have been “successful through fighting back, through bloodshed. Zero have been successful by simply protesting.” It is believed that while he was in Baton Rouge, Long was specifically and intentionally looking to engage with police officers.

Long attended Grandview Schools beginning at Conn-West in 1996, for fourth and fifth grades. He then attended Grandview Middle School, and ultimately graduated from Grandview High School in 2005. According to Grandview High School’s yearbooks from his high school career, Long was not involved in clubs or organizations outside of normal curriculum.

Long joined the Marines in 2005 and served until 2010, according to military records obtained by the Associated Press. He rose to the rank of sergeant and served in Iraq from June 2008 to January 2009. Records show he received several medals, including one for good conduct. Long received an honorable discharge and was listed as a “data network specialist.”

Since then, Long claimed to be a world traveler, spending the last two years in Africa before recently returning to his home in Kansas City, at 1166 E 77th Ter., where records show he has lived since 2012.

“With our partners from local, state and national agencies, we will leave no stone unturned. This is a unified team,” said a federal investigator during Monday’s news conference. “This will only make us stronger. We will work tirelessly to ensure safety in this community and throughout the nation.”

Anyone with information related to the suspect or the Baton Rouge investigation is encouraged to call 800-CALL-FBI.

Friday, July 15, 2016

County leadership faces violence head-on

by Mary Wilson

The entire country is feeling the heat this summer, and not just because of the rising temperatures. Violence has impacted every community, including Kansas City.

“In July of 2016, it is a hard time to talk about violence reduction,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said to a crowded room of community members.

The South Kansas City Alliance on Monday evening hosted Peters Baker, along with County Executive Frank White, Sheriff Mike Sharp and Legislator Dan Tarwater, to provide county-wide updates that may have an effect on South KC.

“There are some prosecutors and some police officers that think that violence is just something we have to accept and that there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Peters Baker. “That’s just wrong.”

Since becoming prosecutor, Peters Baker has made an effort to expand the partnership between her office, the police and into the community with pastors, neighborhood associations and citizens. They have called upon the help of the metro as a whole to engage in the effort of violence reduction, creating the No Violence Alliance, or NoVA.

“It can feel like a tough time right now,” said Peters Baker. “We are all feeling the weight and the burden of violence in our city and in our country. I don’t believe that there is nothing we can do about violence.”

She added that because violence has been looked at through a particular scope for so long, other options have been neglected for reducing violence. Prosecutors and law enforcement continue to look for ways to engage the community.

“We have to own, as law enforcement officers, that we have lost some of the public’s trust,” said Peters Baker. “We want to build it back through real programs that really help, that are credible and that are designed to help neighborhoods help themselves.”

In 2014, at the infant stages of the NoVA, Jackson County’s homicide level was reduced to a 40-year low. Some ground was lost, according to Peters Baker, when the Ferguson case happened, which shifted some focus and some credibility that was being established.

“I know that there is far more that unites us than divides us, even on our worst day,” said Peters Baker. “We are Americans and we have faced tough times before. We have looked in the face of strife, faced it and moved through it a stronger country. We are in the middle of a heated debate, but sometimes that can take us to a better place if we listen.”

White added that now is the time to make some positive changes in the community, and the County has made efforts to promote positive quality of life experiences for everyone, including parks, trails and other county assets.

“If we make it important to us, it becomes important to those around us,” said White. “I’m not a big status quo guy, and as an elected official, I don’t have the time to make big changes. You have to go in and make your points clear, be able to delegate and get out of the way and let your people do their jobs.”

Tarwater suggested that community members reach out to the county legislators to voice concerns and share interests. It is the legislature’s job to then find ways to implement programs and other suggestions in the county.

“Your needs are the needs of Jackson County,” said Tarwater. “We look at ways, probably for the past ten years or more, to do more with less.”

He added that the money tied into the drug prevention programming all ties into violence reduction. While some may argue that the county doesn’t have the best solutions in place to combat drugs and violence, Tarwater suggested coming up with alternatives and looking at different options.

“I want to hear about it; we all do,” said Tarwater. “That’s how we find out what works.”

Sharp, who formerly worked for the Kansas City Police Department, said that since he became Sheriff, he has worked to unite the law enforcement departments. He added that there was a “turf” war between departments.

“I don’t step on your turf, you don’t step on mine. Criminals don’t live by that rule; they travel,” said Sharp. “We now work very closely with the Kansas City Police Department, Lee’s Summit, all of the local agencies.”

The Sheriff’s department has become a support unit for the other agencies when they are low on manpower, such as during the World Series. Sharp also sits on the Governor-appointed board that oversees statewide drug task force dollars.

“The Jackson County Drug Task Force, funded by COMBAT, and the drug task force through the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, are the two top-rated drug task force units in the state,” said Sharp. “We recover more narcotics and more money than all other drug task forces combined.”

Sharp added that without tax support and support from local police departments, that would not have been possible.

The panel was united in the county’s efforts to reduce violence, and all spoke of garnering feedback from the community. More information on NoVA, COMBAT and the legislature’s priorities can be found on www.jacksongov.org

Friday, July 8, 2016


by Brent Kalwei

The Hickman Mills football program no longer exists, but for those who witnessed Cougar running back Mike Harper play, the memories have stood the test of time. He arrived at Hickman Mills High School in the fall of 1976, shortly after  the school’s inaugural year in 1972. By the time Harper graduated in the spring of 1979, he had left a legacy that is perhaps unmatched by any other Cougar in the 38-year existence of athletic programs at the school.

The greatness of Harper’s high school athletic career may have been best exemplified on the soggy, rain-soaked field during the evening of September 29, 1978, when he scampered for 358 yards and four touchdowns in a dominating 35-0 Homecoming victory against Raytown.

“I was blessed with the gift of speed. I knew I had a deep desire to beat people in  running,” he said.

It has been 37 years since Harper graduated from Hickman Mills, but some of the memories are still fresh in his mind.

“Probably the most long-lasting memories have been the friendships and fellowships that I’ve maintained to this very day,” he said.

Harper played alongside teammate Jeff Leiding, fullback/linebacker, who later made the Division I All-American team in 1983 as a linebacker with the Texas Longhorns.

“He was a phenomenal blocker, and an ever better tackler,” Harper said. “I benefited greatly because of his capabilities and his ability to move guys out of the way. He was probably one of the best fullbacks in the country at that time.”

Leiding died of a heart attack on July 13, 2014, at the age of 52.

As a student-athlete, Harper developed a number of relationships at Hickman Mills.

“I enjoy the fond memories of coaches, teachers, teammates, students and competitions between other rivals, for example Ruskin and Grandview – where we came out on the better end of most of those,” he said.

In the third week of Harper’s 1978 senior season, the Cougars defeated Grandview 14-7, which turned out to be the Bulldogs’ lone loss of the season. He recalled a crowd of about 4,000 attending the game. Harper said the Hickman Mills football team had a strong determination to win. Before and after wins, the Cougars would, as a team, listen to the 1977 hit song “We Are the Champions” by Queen. The 1978 squad proved to play like champions, as they finished the regular season with a perfect 10-0 record, while also becoming Big Six Conference champions.

The team ate like champions as well. He recalls eating pre-game meals with teammates at Ponderosa Steakhouse at Truman Corners.

In the 1978 Class 4A state quarterfinals, Hickman Mills fell to Jefferson City, who went on to claim its third straight state championship. The Cougars also fell to Jefferson City in the state quarterfinals the previous season.

Harper marvels at how good the Cougar defense was during his tenure at Hickman Mills. He said the unit that featured All-Conference players such as linebackers Leiding and David Mehrer; defensive
lineman Clint Loy; and safety Darren Blair, may have been the best in the state. All four went on to play college football.

“When I watched old films of our defense, it was amazing. We were dominant. It was hard to score against us,” he said.

Harper became popular among his peers in high school. The Hickman Mills art class created a mural of him playing football and when finished, they posted the art on the school’s wall. He said they cut the photo into 48 small squares.

“Each student took a square home and made it their project to blow that up to a full 1-foot by 1-foot square, and they all brought it back and put it back together,” Harper said. “I thought that was special.”

In a high school career filled with many individual and team achievements, perhaps the most impressive for Harper was breaking the 2,000-yard barrier during his senior season. He finished the regular season with 2,228 rushing yards, 9.6 yards per carry, while scoring 32 touchdowns.

“I did not realize at the time how much that would turn out to mean to me personally. Not only did it mean a lot to me, but it seems like it meant a lot to the school, to the community and to the city,” Harper said. “I did not realize that was a milestone that wasn’t reached that often.”

His accomplishment helped him make the high school Parade All-America Football Team in 1978. Eventual National Football League Hall of Famers John Elway, Dan Marino and Eric Dickerson also made the list of 1978 All-Americans. A September 28, 1978, Jackson County Advocate football article said, “Mike Harper is his name and running is his game.” The same could be said about Harper on the track surface. While in high school, he developed rivalries with three sprinters – Ruskin’s David Gaylord, Grandview’s David Haynes and Columbia Hickman’s Gary Anderson. The three also happened to be top running backs at their respective schools during Harper’s high school tenure. Anderson went on to play in the NFL.

“I had to run against them in the 100-yard dash and they were a challenge. If I didn’t have the perfect start and if I wasn’t on top of my game, any one of those guys could beat me,” he said. “David Gaylord was a stocky, strong runner. He was always a threat in the sprints.”

Harper helped the Cougars track and field team win the 1979 Class 4A state championship.

“It was a total team effort. Everybody had to be at their best,” he said. Harper claimed the state crown in the 330-yard intermediate hurdles. Harper appreciates the support and guidance he received as a student-athlete during his three years at Hickman Mills. He said his greatest mentors and supporters included his parents Linzy and Marva; grandmother Candis Shelby; teacher Ms. Snodgrass; Sunday school teacher Ms. Hickman; and Ray Beeson, assistant track and field coach and assistant football coach. He also mentions his neighbors Jeannie Martin and Shirley Johnson, who helped him out in so many ways – each being like another parent.

“I certainly had a group of people who all supported what I was doing, in many ways. Not just in football, but in life. They made me work for what I had to do because I had to work hard and wasn’t just given things,” Harper said. “I enjoyed all of the time that I had at Hickman Mills. It was a gift and blessing. I can’t tell you how many times I had the opportunity to say thank you to parents, coaches and fans. For a high school kid – looking back, that was a bigger deal than I realized. I was on television probably every week.”

Despite all his high school athletic accomplishments, playing professional football is not a level Harper saw himself reaching.

“I recall people making what I thought were outlandish statements about me playing pro football,” he said. “I was 178 pounds in high school. I had speed, but hadn’t yet envisioned myself playing pro football, but the opportunities to play in college were certainly available. I was recruited by many schools across the nation.”

Harper decided to take his talents to the University of Southern California, where in the fall of 1979 he joined the backfield of eventual Heisman Trophy winners Marcus Allen and Charles White.

“My dream was to be the fastest man in the world; my opportunity was to play college football,” he said. Harper made a good first impression as a freshman for the No. 1 ranked USC Trojans in a game against Oregon State.

“I gained 48 yards on my first carry and 126 yards in the game, and that was the second half of the game,” he said. “For a brief moment, I thought it was going to be easy.”

The Trojans completed the season with an 11-0-1 record, while claiming the Pac-10 title and defeating No. 1 Ohio State, 17-16, in the Rose Bowl. The College Football Researchers Association selected USC as National Champions. The Trojans also received a No. 2 ranking in the final Associated Press poll.

Injuries during Harper’s sophomore season did not allow him to compete the full season with Allen for the premier running back spot. He also had to red shirt the following season due to injury. He finished his USC career strong, by leading a committee of Trojan tailbacks with 685 rushing yards during his senior season.

Harper graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the Marshall School of Business at USC in the spring of 1984. The Los Angeles Rams selected Harper in the 11th round of the 1984 NFL Draft, but he did not make the roster. Harper then played a short stint in the Canadian Football League before returning to the NFL. After being cut a second time by the Rams, the New York Jets signed him as a free agent. Harper would go on to play four more years (1986-90) as a wide receiver and kick return specialist for the Jets.

After his NFL career, he spent nearly 18 years working for Fortune 500 companies such as Amdahl Corporation, Sun Microsystems, Hitachi Data Systems and NetApp. Harper eventually went on to work as a Development Director for Acres of Hope, a nonprofit program that helps provide for homeless women with children. During Harper’s time with the organization, they acquired a new property that he said was more conducive to the needs of the women and children. With community support, the program raised more than $2 million.

“That helped me appreciate how much community means,” he said. “Working at Acres of Hope and engaging with the community … taught me something as a man, as a person, as a dad and as a husband about how special that relationship with your wife can and should be.”

Harper also worked as the Director of Community Outreach for the Sacramento Mountain Lions, a member of the United Football League. He engaged with community organizations such as youth sports teams, churches and faith-based organizations. Harper now works as the Associate Athletic
Director for William Jessup University, Rocklin California. He began working at the university in January 2015 and his primary role is in development and fundraising for athletics.

“It’s a culmination of my athletic background, my interest in young people and athletics, and my skills from sales and marketing for the last 18 years,” Harper said. “I go out among different constituents, donors, alumni and administration, to build, identify and steward relationships with boosters, teams and community.”

He is now 55 years of age and lives in Roseville, California with Cheryl, his wife of 29 years. They have four children - Jazmin, Joslyn, Jarad and Jada.

Jazmin graduated from Stanford University and is working on a master’s degree at Duke University. She competed in track and field from age 6 to college, winning national championships in three different age groups on relay teams. Joslyn graduated high school this year and plans to attend Santa Clara University. Jarad enters his junior year of high school this fall. He runs track and plays football.
Jada will be a high school freshman this fall.

“I’ve been blessed to have a beautiful  wife and family. Being a father means a lot to me,” he said.

As a Christian, Harper said he attributes his successes and relationships to his faith.

“I learned to be a loving person because of my faith,” he said. “I try to live every day, knowing and understanding that it’s because of my faith in Christ that I do have the opportunities that I have had and that I can overcome the challenges and obstacles that I face.”

Although Harper now lives many miles away from his original stomping grounds, the many moments he experienced in Kansas City are still close to his heart. He recalls his greatest childhood memories as running up and down streets, chasing people on the playground, sledding in the winter, going trick-or-treating, playing pool and table tennis, and hanging out with friends.

“I’m glad I was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. It’s a great mid-America, wholesome environment,” he said. “The times then were more innocent. You could choose to be innocent and you didn’t fall too far out of the margin of society. That time I spent at Hickman Mills was very special.”

Friday, July 1, 2016

New Superintendent intends to share secret of Grandview schools

by Mary Wilson

“The Grandview School District is one of the metro’s best kept secrets.” It’s a saying that Grandview C-4’s new superintendent has heard time and again since he was hired by the district in 2014. And it’s a rumor that Kenny Rodrequez would like to see disappear.

“I’d like to see that tune changed,” said Rodrequez. “I feel as though the districts surrounding Grandview have it figured out; they understand. There are some great schools, and while I’ll never be in a position to pit one against the other, we can make it to where we focus on the positives and not just the negative.”

One of his priorities going into his new position will be to better communicate with the community, parents, teachers, staff and students the good news happening in Grandview’s schools. Rodrequez plans to work on presenting a message that dispels any negative connotations the district has received in the past.

“Several years ago, I know the high school had an extremely negative perception in the community,” said Rodrequez. “I feel that’s at least somewhat changed, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

He added that with the positive changes in the City of Grandview, along with growing test scores and student achievement in the district, the community as a whole is moving in the right direction. He anticipates meeting with local elected officials and other community stakeholders on a regular basis to ensure the message being stated is cohesive and positive in nature.

Rodrequez brought 20 years of experience in education with him to Grandview. His first teaching job was in Carl Junction, just outside of Joplin, where he was a music teacher and band director for three years. After his daughter was born, he and his wife wanted to be closer to family, so they moved to the Tulsa area.

He spent three years as a band director in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, a district Rodrequez said is similar in size and demographics to Grandview. Moving up, Rodrequez then went to work for Tulsa Public Schools as a resource music teacher. The large district consisted of 40,000 students in nine high schools, 15 middle schools and 60 elementary schools. He also managed to complete his Master’s Degree in administration during that time, and continued to move up the ladder as an assistant principal, principal, and director of secondary schools.

After 12 years with Tulsa, Rodrequez came to Kansas City Missouri Public Schools as a director for secondary schools. It was there that he worked with Dr. Tony Stansberry, former Grandview superintendent who now works with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. While seeking a position as an assistant superintendent, he was advised by Stansberry that Grandview was a great district.

Since being hired, Rodrequez has served as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in Grandview, and upon current Superintendent Dr. Ralph Teran’s retirement at the end of this month, will assume his new role on July 1.

For the first time since Stansberry was in Grandview, the district will have a superintendent with children in the district. Rodrequez and his wife have two children: a daughter who will attend Grandview High School and a son who will attend Martin City Middle School. This will also be a first for Rodrequez, as he has not previously worked in the same district his children attended.

“It will be different to have them here,” said Rodrequez. “It’s going to be something that we’ll all have to get used to as a family, but I think it will be a positive experience for us as well.”
Rodrequez expects his transition into his new role to be fairly seamless. Having been in the district for two years now, he has gotten to know the personalities and work habits of those he will now supervise.

“We have a great team in place, and I look forward to seeing us take everything we have accomplished thus far to the next level,” said Rodrequez.

In August, before the beginning of the next school year, Rodrequez will address teachers and staff at district orientation as Superintendent of the Grandview School District.