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Crime
Ex-Marian coach accused of sexually assaulting player in 2013; coach let go but police not notified

A former Marian High School basketball player, assistant coach and member of the school’s athletic hall of fame has been charged with sexually assaulting a student while she was a coach at the all-girls private school.

Andrea Lightfoot, 33, was charged late last month with first-degree sexual assault of a child for a months-long relationship with a freshman female basketball player at the school in 2013. Her attorneys, Mallory Hughes and Sean Conway, said Lightfoot denies the allegations and looks forward to her day in court.

The allegations stem from the 2012-13 basketball season, when the girl, then 14, went out for the team and made it. The now 21-year-old woman recently told police that Lightfoot, then 27 and an assistant coach on then-varsity coach Lisa Schmidt’s staff, took a special interest in her and befriended her.

Lightfoot maintained a relationship with the girl, who turned 15 later in the season, that culminated with Lightfoot penetrating her digitally and orally while the two were in her car and at Westroads Mall, according to police reports and court accounts.

The allegations surfaced earlier this year when the girl, now in college, replied to a tweet from the main Twitter account of Marian High School, 7400 Military Ave.

“Marian High School covered up the fact that I was sexually assaulted,” the woman wrote. “Who took a stand for me?”

After seeing the tweet, Marian President Mary Higgins, who was not at the school in 2013, retrieved the student’s personnel file and found internal school reports about the relationship, according to police reports. Higgins said she went to police, as required by Nebraska law.

But Marian did not alert authorities in 2013.

Nebraska law, then and now, requires anyone who suspects child abuse to report it to police or Child Protective Services — and the law specifically says “any doctor, any nurse, any school employee, any social worker ... shall report” suspected child abuse.

Why didn’t Marian make a report to police or Child Protective Services in 2013?

Susan Toohey, who was head of Marian in 2013, said no one told her that the relationship or the text exchanges between Lightfoot and the girl were sexual in nature.

Toohey, now principal at Nelson Mandela Elementary School in northeast Omaha, said she recalls speaking with the student’s parents — and later with Lightfoot.

At the time, the concerns were about phone calls and text messages at all times of the night, such as 2 a.m. — and Lightfoot counseling their daughter on life issues, such as sports and the parents’ desire for their daughter to excel at athletics, Toohey said.

“My impression was that Lightfoot was giving advice that (the parents) didn’t necessarily want their daughter to hear,” Toohey said. “I had no idea until I was informed by Marian (this year) that there was another layer to this relationship.”

Toohey said she didn’t recall reviewing any text messages between Lightfoot and the girl — some of which were sexual in nature, according to police. Toohey said she also wasn’t told about any part of the relationship being sexual.

She said she decided to terminate Lightfoot’s contract within a day of talking with the parents and with Lightfoot. It was her impression that the girl’s parents were satisfied with the school’s handling of the situation.

She disagreed with the woman’s recent tweet that Marian “covered up” abuse.

“That’s not my style,” Toohey said. “Our No. 1 job as educators is to keep kids safe and healthy. In my experience at Marian and (for 20 years) at Omaha Public Schools, the administrators always keep that at the front of mind. I’m here to protect children. That’s my job.”

Higgins said “there was nothing in the (personnel) record that rose to the level of reporting. We just became aware of the social media post (in January), and we immediately reported it to police for investigation.”

Asked why the school fired Lightfoot shortly after becoming aware of her relationship with the student, Higgins said: “What our records indicated is that there were phone calls made and that in itself led to her nonrenewal of her contract.”

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he doesn’t know what Marian officials were told in 2013, but he will ask Omaha police to look into the school’s response. Kleine’s office recently charged an OPS principal, Eric Nelson, with failure to report witness accounts that a first-grade teacher was fondling students.

The statute of limitations for authorities to prosecute for failure to report is 18 months, which would bar prosecution on that charge in the Marian case.

That statute of limitations is something else Kleine wants to address — with state lawmakers. Just as sexual assault has no statute of limitations, Kleine said, there should be no statute of limitations on failing to report abuse of children.

“Historically, that’s where the concern is,” Kleine said. “Whether it’s the Boy Scouts or the Catholic Church or the Lutheran Church or schools or sports teams, people are more concerned about the organization than the child.”

Higgins said that isn’t the case at Marian.

“We are committed to taking any accusation of sexual misconduct very seriously,” she said.

In a March interview with Omaha police, the woman alleged that Lightfoot, who served as the junior varsity basketball coach, befriended her during tryouts. She told police that Lightfoot groomed her and the two exchanged hundreds of phone calls, text messages and emails in less than six months of her freshman year. After her parents blocked Lightfoot’s phone number from their daughter’s phone, Lightfoot bought a temporary “burner” phone for the girl to use.

The woman declined to be named for this story. It is The World-Herald’s policy to not name alleged victims of sexual assault, unless they want to be named.

Lightfoot spent a year on the Nebraska women’s basketball team after a Marian High School basketball career in which she led her team in scoring. She eventually transferred to Idaho State, where she led that college in several statistical categories and ended up in its athletics hall of fame.

She married and became Andrea Knecht in 2017. She and her husband recently had a baby.

Hughes, her attorney, said the defense will investigate any questions of veracity, including why Marian didn’t report a purported relationship between a 27-year-old woman and a girl age 14 or 15.

“Something like that is certainly an issue to explore,” Hughes said.


Metro
UNL analysis: In 80 years, summers in Nebraska will feel like those on southern border today

Get used to this heat and humidity.

Like it or not, global warming is bringing Oklahoma, Arizona and Texas summers to Nebraska.

Children born today in Omaha will experience summers more like those in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and points south as adults. In some areas of southern Nebraska, summers will be more like those in Fort Worth, Texas, or even the Texas-Mexico border.

Eventually, by the time today’s infants reach age 80, Omaha’s summertime highs could be like those along the Mexico border.

That’s according to an analysis conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and recently posted on an interactive website. Funding for the analysis and website was provided by the federal government.

The website, Climate4Cities, examines how global warming is expected to boost temperatures and alter precipitation patterns in the 10 states in the Missouri River basin — Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana. To varying degrees, warming will occur across the board in all communities and seasons.

“This gives people a tangible look at what the climate of their area is going to look like,” said Martha Shulski, Nebraska’s state climatologist, who helped develop the website. “It helps put things in perspective.”

This week, Omaha happens to be expecting its hottest stretch of weather in seven years, but the new website is based on long-term trends, not any particular heat wave.

Global warming has already led to large jumps in atmospheric water vapor and changes in precipitation patterns. Both are projected to continue. The increase in atmospheric water vapor has been linked to sizable increases in heavy downpours in a large swath of the Missouri River basin, including Nebraska and Iowa.

Photos: Major flooding hits Nebraska and Iowa towns

The goal of the research is a practical one, Shulski said: To help communities better allocate scarce dollars as they upgrade infrastructure and budget for the future.

The analysis covers 2021 to 2099 and provides estimated average temperatures in roughly 30-year segments. Communities large and small are analyzed, even those where fewer than 100 people live.

Take the southwest Nebraska town of Wellfleet, which has a population of about 80.

From 2051 to 2080, when today’s infants will be 32 to 62, summertime highs are expected to average 97.3 degrees in Wellfleet, similar to the current average in McAllen, Texas, along the Mexico border. Nowadays, summertime highs in that area of Nebraska average in the 80s.

During that same period, Omaha’s average high is projected to be 93.6, similar to the current average in Hobart, Oklahoma, up from Omaha’s current average high of 85.2 degrees.

The website offers a glimpse at two different futures, one based on continued high emissions of global warming gases and other trends. The other is based on lower emissions.

The numbers cited above, which project an Oklahoma future for summers in Omaha and a Texas one for Wellfleet, are based on current trends.

One of the greatest challenges posed by global warming is that the need to adapt doesn’t abate, Shulski said.

“When you look at the business-as-usual curve, we don’t stabilize,” she said. “The average (temperature) that we plan around ... that’s going to keep going up; it doesn’t level off. To me, that’s really frightening. Things work much better if it’s a stable climate, stable conditions that we’re planning for.”

The implications of a rapidly warming planet are numerous, and the analysis points to some of those: worse and more frequent heat waves, more intense droughts and increased frequency and intensity of flooding.

The research began in 2013, when representatives of several Midwestern cities asked for help charting a path forward.

Researchers who developed the website came from the Nebraska State Climate Office, the High Plains Regional Climate Center, the Public Policy Center, the Community and Regional Planning Program and the Bureau of Sociological Research, all housed at UNL. The work was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The analysis has been retroactively tested, Shulski said. In other words, the models took today’s average temperatures and projected them forward, then ran a test to see if the simulations would accurately predict past temperatures.

“Did they re-create the historical climate of the past?” she said. “Yes, they did.”

Eleven Midwestern cities participated, including McCook, Grand Island and Lincoln in Nebraska. Omaha did not participate, Shulski said. Outside of Nebraska, Des Moines, Kansas City and Dubuque, Iowa, were among the participating cities. The City of Lincoln served as an adviser on the project.

Lincoln announced last week that it will develop a climate action plan. The project is expected to take a year and will build on past work.

“We no longer have to imagine how severe weather events might impact (us),” Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said, referring to this year’s flooding.

“We know the time to act is now,” she said.

Omaha's top 10 longest stretches of temperatures 100 degrees or higher

Articles
Trump will curtail asylum at southern border
Rule aimed at curbing the number of migrants who cross into U.S. through Mexico will face legal fight

BEGINNING TODAY

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration said Monday that it will end all asylum protections for most migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border — the president's most forceful attempt to block asylum claims and slash the number of people seeking refuge in America.

The new rule, expected to take effect Tuesday, would cover countless would-be refugees, many of them fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. It is certain to face legal challenges.

According to the plan published in the Federal Register, migrants who pass through another country on their way to the U.S. will be ineligible for asylum if they didn't seek protection from the "pass-through" country, in this case Mexico. The rule also applies to children who have crossed the border alone.

The vast majority of people affected by the rule are from Central America. But sometimes migrants from Africa, Cuba or Haiti also try to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

There are some exceptions listed in the new rule, including for victims of human trafficking and asylum-seekers who were denied protection in another country.

Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said

Monday that his country "does not agree with any measure that limits access to asylum." Mexico's asylum system is also overwhelmed.

Trump administration officials say the changes are meant to close the gap between the initial asylum screening that most people pass and the final decision on asylum that most people do not win.

Attorney General William Barr said that the United States is "a generous country but that it is being completely overwhelmed" by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of migrants at the southern border.

He also said the rule is aimed at "economic migrants" and "those who seek to exploit our asylum system."

But immigrant rights groups, religious leaders and humanitarian groups have said the Republican administration's policies amount to a cruel effort to keep immigrants out. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are poor countries, often wracked by violence.

"This is yet another move to turn refugees with well-founded fears of persecution back to places where their lives are in danger — in fact the rule would deny asylum to refugees who do not apply for asylum in countries where they are in peril," said Eleanor Acer of Human Rights First.

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who has litigated some of the major challenges to the Trump administration's immigration policies, said that the rule was unlawful and that the group planned to sue.

"The rule, if upheld, would effectively eliminate asylum for those at the southern border," he said. "But it is patently unlawful."

U.S. law currently allows refugees to request asylum when they arrive in the U.S. regardless of how they arrive or cross. The crucial exception is for those who have come through a country considered to be "safe," but the law is vague on how a country is determined to be safe.

Right now, the U.S. considers Canada a "safe third country."

Mexico and Central American countries have been considering a regional compact on the issue.

The new rule also will apply to the initial asylum screening, known as a "credible fear" interview, at which migrants must prove that they have credible fears of returning to their home country. It applies to migrants who are arriving in the U.S., not those who are already in the country.

Along with the administration's recent effort to send asylum seekers back over the border, Trump has tried to deny asylum to anyone crossing the border illegally and restrict who can claim asylum, and the attorney general recently tried to keep thousands of asylum seekers detained while their cases play out. Courts have blocked nearly all of those efforts.

Attorney General William Barr said that the United States is "a generous country but that it is being completely overwhelmed" by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of migrants.


Morton
Don Bacon calls Trump's tweets 'unacceptable'; others say GOP responses are weak

WASHINGTON — Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., chided President Donald Trump on Monday for tweeting that some Democratic congresswomen of color should go back to the countries they come from.

Bacon issued an afternoon press release describing the president’s rhetoric as “unacceptable” while simultaneously offering his own criticisms of the congresswomen in question.

“When it comes to their far-left policies and extreme ideologies, I strongly disagree with them,” Bacon said of his Democratic colleagues. “However, they are entitled to the views they campaigned and won on. Any hatred toward any nationality is repugnant, whether it comes from the left or the right.

“Having more civility and mutual respect and removing the contempt in our political debate are a must if we want to make progress in Washington.”

When Trump announced his reelection bid last month, Bacon immediately endorsed him. Bacon’s Monday statement gave no indication that he would withdraw that endorsement.

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Bacon’s statement was quickly hailed by some on social media but just as swiftly criticized by others as weak sauce, given that he did not say whether he found the tweets to be “racist” or “xenophobic.”

At least one Republican House member, Will Hurd of Texas, has used exactly those terms to describe Trump’s words. And many Democrats were straightforward in their criticisms of the president’s language.

“Yes, these remarks are racist,” Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, said in a statement. “This kind of offensive language has no place in our discourse.”

Bacon’s press release came after Nebraska Democrats issued a statement in the morning calling on members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation to denounce Trump’s tweets.

“Communities of color often hear the racist refrain ‘go back to your country’ screamed at them on the streets. And to now hear this from the President of the United States is unacceptable and must be condemned,” Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb said in the statement.

Trump sparked the backlash when he tweeted Sunday about Democratic women in the House “who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly ... and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how ... it is done.”

Trump did not cite the House members by name, but it seemed clear that he was referring to freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.

All four are U.S. citizens. The only one not born in America is Omar, who came to the country as a refugee.

Trump wasn’t backing off his tweets when pressed by reporters Monday at a White House event.

One reporter asked if Trump was concerned that many saw his tweets as racist and that white nationalist groups favor his point of view.

“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump responded. “And all I’m saying — they want to leave, they can leave. Now, it doesn’t say leave forever. It says leave, if you want.”

The four lawmakers held a press conference Monday evening to respond to Trump. Omar described Trump’s statements as a “blatantly racist attack” on four duly elected representatives of color.

“This is the agenda of white nationalists, whether it is happening in chat rooms or it’s happening on national TV,” Omar said. “And now it’s reached the White House garden.”

Many Republican lawmakers have been exasperated with Trump’s rhetoric, particularly on immigration, even as they are pleased with his selection of conservative judges, rolling back of regulations and other policy moves.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., alluded to that dynamic during a Monday floor speech when he said that if Republicans are willing to let the president engage in racist rhetoric because they like his policies, they are “making a deal with the devil.”

It’s hardly the first time Trump has set off a firestorm with rhetoric widely seen as racist, and each time, it has left GOP lawmakers answering uncomfortable questions in Capitol hallways when they would rather be focusing on their legislative agenda.

Many of those Republican lawmakers have offered general critiques in response to Trump’s words but stopped well short of calling his comments racist, a move that would no doubt upset die-hard Trump fans in the party’s base.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the most senior Republican in the Senate, for example, provided this statement Monday:

“The American people deserve more civility in their politics. Democratically-elected officials should avoid name-calling and be treated respectfully,” Grassley said. “That’s true of these members of Congress and that’s true of the president.”

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, meanwhile, said in a statement: “This isn’t constructive; we should stay focused on debating the issues and the radical policy agenda they’re pushing,” apparently referring to the congresswomen.

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., likewise avoided labeling Trump’s tweets as racist.

“I do not agree with the president’s tweets over the weekend,” he said. “Our focus should be on constructive and thoughtful debate. We must work together to move forward as a nation.”

Others opted simply not to comment on the matter.

By late Monday, The World-Herald had not received statements from Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., or Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., declined to say Monday evening whether the president’s statements were racist.

“You can call my office,” Fischer said.

A call to Fischer’s office went to voicemail and was not immediately returned.

Photos: Our best shots of 2019 (so far)