Federal judge strikes down Iowa law on undercover ag workers

DES MOINES (AP) — A federal judge has stuck down a 2012 Iowa law that made it illegal to get a job at a livestock farm to conduct an animal cruelty undercover investigation.

Judge James Gritzner in an order filed Wednesday sided with opponents of a law intended to stop organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals from doing animal abuse investigations at farms and puppy mills.

The judge found the law violates the First Amendment's right to free speech.

Several groups filed a lawsuit in October 2017 in U.S. District Court in Des Moines. Federal courts have struck down similar laws in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. Litigation is ongoing in North Carolina.

A spokesman for the Iowa attorney general's office, which represented the state, says an appeal is under consideration.

Self-defense, says man accused of murder, attempted murder

OTTUMWA (AP) — An Ottumwa man accused of murder and attempted murder plans to claim self-defense at his trial.

Wapello County District Court records say the attorney for 19-year-old Jacob Heckethorn filed notices last week, as required by Iowa law whenever self-defense will be claimed.

Heckethorn has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder in the Aug. 23 slaying of William Shettlesworth. He's also pleaded not guilty to two counts of attempted murder. Police say he shot at but missed Dustin Greene on Aug. 23 in Ottumwa and shot Clifford Collett Sr. on Aug. 16 in Ottumwa.

Lobbyist fired in Iowa harassment case awarded unemployment

DES MOINES (AP) — The Iowa Finance Authority lobbyist fired for retaliating against a colleague who reported sexual harassment allegations against their boss has been awarded unemployment benefits.

Administrative Law Judge Nicole Merrill ruled Monday that Wes Peterson's conduct was "merely an isolated incident of extremely poor judgment" that didn't disqualify him from collecting unemployment.

Peterson, the agency's government relations director, was fired Sept. 27 following an investigation into sexual harassment by fired director Dave Jamison.

The report portrayed Peterson as a Jamison sidekick who witnessed him grabbing a colleague's breasts at a bar in 2016.

Peterson yelled at the woman during a call after Jamison was fired last March, demanding to know whether she was among those who complained to Gov. Kim Reynolds and warning he'd falsely claim he was too drunk to remember the groping. He later texted an apology, saying he feared he'd become "collateral damage."

Merrill says the evidence supports Peterson's claim that he was calling the woman as a friend about a stressful work situation and didn't understand his actions could be considered retaliation.

March trial set for Illinois man accused of Iowa slaying

BURLINGTON (AP) — A March trial has been scheduled for an Illinois resident accused of killing a man in southeast Iowa.

Des Moines County court records say 29-year-old Antoine Spann, of Dalton, Illinois, was scheduled to go on trial Tuesday, but a judge granted him a delay. The new starting date is March 12.

He's pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit a forcible felony for the death of 26-year-old Demarcus "Peanut" Chew. Chew was shot to death Sept. 10, 2017, in a car outside the home of his mother in Burlington.

Council says top city employees can return to their duties

DENISON (AP) — A western Iowa city council has approved returning three top employees to their jobs.

Denison City Manager Terry Crawford, City Clerk Lisa Koch and Fire Chief Cory Snowgren were put on administrative leave Dec 18. The council voted Tuesday night for their return to duty Wednesday.

The mayor and council members have declined to explain why the three were put on leave, saying it was a personnel matter. The attorney for Crawford and Koch says there was miscommunication between the three employees and the mayor about a piece of training equipment for the fire department.

Mayor Jared Beymer says the investigation isn't finished yet.

Caretaker accused of sexually assaulting clients gets 4 years

MASON CITY (AP) — A Mason City man accused of sexually assaulting two of his caretaker clients has been sentenced to four years in prison.

Cerro Gordo County District Court records say 19-year-old Wasfie Alshara was sentenced Monday. He'd pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault with intent to commit sexual abuse. Prosecutors lowered the charges of felony sexual abuse in exchange for Alshara's pleas.

Alshara also must register as a sex offender.

The court records say Alshara raped one of his dependent adult clients on Nov. 21, 2017, and sexually assaulted the other in a group home on June 8, 2018.

Report: Alternative cover for gravel roads poses health risk

MUSCATINE (AP) — A report by a state toxicologist says dust from waste material used to cover Muscatine County's gravel roads could be hurting the health of children and adults who are exposed.

The report was written by Iowa Public Health Department toxicologist Stuart Schmitz for residents who oppose the county's use of slag. Slag is a byproduct from steel manufacturing, and the report says it contains metals at levels that are harmful to infants and toddlers but also for kids up to 18 years old.

The report also says the slag dust is dangerous for adults who are exposed to levels nearly twice what's considered safe. The report says, however, that adults would have to work "an entire workday, most days of the year," to be harmed.

County Supervisor Nathan Mather said at Monday's board meeting that "this is the first time anybody in an official capacity has told us there's a concern."