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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

In September inmate Michael F. Schmitz, 45, serving two years in the Kentucky State Reformatory for drunk driving, filed a $1.9 million lawsuit against the Lexington police department, complaining that officers were too nice when they arrested him in 1996. According to the lawsuit, when police found a loaded assault rifle in his car and could not figure out how to dismantle it, they uncuffed the obviously inebriated Schmitz and had him take it apart. Schmitz said he "could have shot most everyone standing around watching this escapade" and contends that the police endangered the public.

London's Daily Telegraph reported in October that a Catholic church-supported teaching program for schools in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland has suggested eliminating references to "daddy" and "mummy" in lesson plans for fear of confusing or offending small children who are not raised in traditional homes. A list of suggested alternatives included "the people who look after you."

At a September meeting of Christian Coalition leaders in Atlanta, founder Pat Robertson said the religious group should heighten its influence by modeling itself after the notorious political machines of Chicago and New York's Tammany Hall and that God will personally select the Republican best suited to advance the coalition's agenda in the next presidential campaign. At the beginning of his remarks Robertson had said he assumed he was talking only "in the family" and if any members of the press were present, "would you please shoot yourself?" The speech was recorded without his permission and leaked to the press.

Compelling Explanations

Shawn S. Warren, charged with arson in June in Anderson, Indiana, denied he actually started the garage fire. According to the town's chief fire investigator, Warren said, "I probably thought about that fire, and it just happened." Said the investigator, "[Warren] did tell me sometimes he thinks about things and they happen."

In August a federal judge in Pittsburgh declined to reinstate former law student Scott Fruehan's lawsuit against Duquesne University. Fruehan, 35, had claimed that he flunked out only because the school failed to accommodate his disability. He says if he sits for a long time, his arms and fingers get numb.

In July the California supreme court suspended prominent criminal-defense lawyer LeRue Grim, 69, for 2 1/2 years for lying to investigators. Grim admitted visiting an imprisoned client's wife at her home to help her prepare for one of the husband's trials and staying overnight. However, he denied any wrongdoing, explaining that the wife had climbed into bed with him but the sex they had was "without [my] consent."

In August Catholic priest Donald Kocher, 61, testified at a deposition in a Chicago-area lawsuit brought against him and his diocese by parishioners who claimed he had sexually abused them. Kocher admitted that he had had sex with as many as a dozen women over a 20-year period, but added, "I've always seen [the affairs] as morally wrong, and I've always tried to bring them to a conclusion as quickly as I could."

In July Ricky Wassenaar, 34, was convicted of assault and robbery in Tucson, Arizona, after being apprehended in a car chase and found to be carrying stolen money, guns, a ski mask and a bulletproof vest. Wassenaar, acting as his own attorney, said a man named Jim had slipped a pill into his drink at a bar, dressed him in the vest, and placed him in the car. As for the chase, Wassenaar said he was just trying to get out of the officers' way.

In September in New York City, federal judge Lewis A. Kaplan ignored sentencing guidelines and sent Orthodox Jew Solomon Sprei to prison for only 18 months for insurance fraud versus the prescribed three to four years. According to the laws of Sprei's religion, he must find husbands for his three marriage-aged daughters, and Judge Kaplan declared that at least two of them would have to wait too long if Sprei were imprisoned for the recommended time.

Police Blotter

Weird weapons: a woman angry at her boyfriend for carousing pelted him with frozen chicken legs in Broward County, Florida, in September; a robber held a victim's head against a slow-moving train in Orlando, Florida, in October; in July a cook in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, laced a police officer's lunch with red peppers after he gave her one too many parking tickets; and one female student in Pittsburgh knocked another unconscious with a dildo in May.

Incompetent cops: Loren Qualls's firing in 1994 from the police force of Akron, Ohio, was upheld by a state appeals court in June. Qualls had forgotten his weapon on three separate calls. And Reiko, a German shepherd on the police force in Great Falls, Montana, was dismissed in July after the second straight incident in which he bit a police officer and not the suspect in a standoff.

Robert T. Spiers, director of the Lancaster High School marching band, was detained and handcuffed at a parade in Warsaw, Virginia, in October after he twice ignored Sheriff Gene Sydnor's demand that the band march faster. Sydnor said he was concerned that the Lancaster band was so far behind that people might think the parade was over. Spiers was released after about 15 minutes, and the band eventually won first prize.

Police brutality: in Newport, Kentucky, detective Michael Scott was suspended in September for passing gas in the face of a DUI suspect. Also in September, a federal jury convicted John Walsh, a county jail officer in Buffalo, New York, of violating the civil rights of inmate Norvin Fowlks in 1991 and 1992. Fowlks had accused the 395-pound Walsh of stomping on Fowlks's penis with his boot, once as he held it on the floor and once as he held it on the bar of a cell.

According to psychologists at Portsmouth University in England, the sirens and flashing blue lights of British police cars seriously impair officers' judgment by the time they arrive at a crime scene. Dr. Aldert Vrij, who led a recent study, told the Daily Telegraph in October that officers tended to underestimate dangerous situations and became sluggish and reluctant to fire their weapons.

In July Max, a 400-pound gorilla in South Africa's Johannesburg Zoo, captured a fleeing burglary suspect, Isaac Mofokeng, 29, as he tried to take a shortcut through the ape compound. Mofokeng fired two shots, hitting Max in the jaw and shoulder, but he mended quickly. Max was subsequently named honorary constable of the local police precinct, newsmaker of the year by the Johannesburg Press Club, and spokesbeast for Lemombo bananas, for which he was paid a one-year supply.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Shawn Belshwender.

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