A1 A1
Crime
Landlord group sues City of Omaha in attempt to block rental registry, inspection program

A lawsuit filed by a local landlord group seeks to stop Omaha’s new rental registration and inspections program from taking effect in January.

The Metropolitan Omaha Property Owners Association sued the City of Omaha in federal court last week over its attempt to crack down on lax landlords and rental properties with housing code violations.

The association wants a five-month-old city ordinance — a measure motivated by the evacuation of 500 refugee tenants from the Yale Park Apartments last year — overturned.

In a tight 4-3 vote in April, the City Council approved the ordinance, which requires landlords to register their properties with the city starting in January 2020 and ramps up inspections of problem properties with unresolved violations. By 2022, most properties face mandatory inspections once every 10 years, with inspections staggered over time.

The landlord group, known as MOPOA, said in its court filing that requiring rental registrations and inspections violates and bypasses the consent decree the city and MOPOA entered into in 2015.

That consent decree settled a two-year lawsuit on behalf of landlords by overhauling the city’s housing code enforcement and requiring specific complaints to be filed before the city can enter and inspect properties.

Mandatory inspections of most properties, whether or not a housing complaint has been filed, circumvents that requirement, MOPOA argues.

“As time has passed since the entry of the consent decree, the City has increasingly ignored, violated, and sought to undermine, circumvent, and thwart the protections, due process requirements, and safeguards of the consent decree and reverted back to its previous code enforcement practices, which were unlawful, discriminatory, and abusive,” the lawsuit reads.

In 2015, Deputy City Attorney Alan Thelen said the consent decree covers only the items spelled out in the settlement agreement, and wouldn’t preclude other changes to city law, such as a registration and inspection ordinance.

The lawsuit also claims that mandatory inspections of rental properties infringe on Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure and will unfairly target renters, especially minority tenants.

MOPOA is asking a judge for an injunction to block the ordinance from being implemented. Similar lawsuits have been filed in other cities with inspection programs, with mixed results.

“There is nothing wrong with Omaha’s complaint-based code system,” said MOPOA President John Chatelain. “Anybody that wants an inspection can have an inspection. This is the city demanding to have an inspection over the rights of the landlord and tenant.”

Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates

Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.

City Council members Ben Gray and Pete Festersen, who voted for the ordinance, declined to comment Tuesday, saying they needed to learn more about the lawsuit. A city attorney hadn’t seen the lawsuit yet.

Members of community group Omaha Together One Community, which for years has pushed for more oversight of rental properties, said MOPOA should work with groups trying to improve Omaha’s housing stock, instead of filing more lawsuits.

MOPOA also sued the city in August over its Vacant and Abandoned Property Ordinance, a measure aimed at motivating owners of abandoned properties to repair or sell them.

“Yale Park was the inevitable result of a complaint-based system and a consent decree that caused inspectors to wear blinders, and only look at units in which tenants filed a formal complaint,” OTOC’s housing action team said in a statement.

OTOC pointed out that the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld a similar registry and inspection program in La Vista after landlords challenged it.

At lengthy council hearings before the ordinance was passed, advocates on both sides of the issue squared off.

Some landlords believed the inspections and registry, which require fees, would be expensive for property owners and intrusive to tenants. Others, including several landlords, lobbied for more regulation of landlords who were allowing their properties to decline, possibly jeopardizing the health and safety of tenants.

Omaha has an estimated 80,000 to 90,000 rental units.

World-Herald staff writer Aaron Sanderford contributed to this report.

Photos: Yale Park Apartments inspection

Local
Offutt couple's deaths being investigated as murder-suicide, court documents say

Kari Firlik

The shooting deaths of an Offutt Air Force Base airman and his wife in their home Sept. 28 are being investigated as a murder-suicide, according to documents filed in Sarpy County District Court.

An affidavit requesting a search warrant of the home of Tech. Sgt. Zachary Firlik and his wife, Kari McManigal Firlik, said the bodies of the couple were found in an upstairs bedroom of the home, which is in the Rising View military housing subdivision near the base.

“Offutt Security Forces Member believed it was a murder-suicide of a husband and wife,” according to the affidavit.

Investigators found a six-shot Taurus revolver on the bedroom floor, with four spent shell casings and two unspent bullets in the revolver. The door to the bedroom was locked.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is in charge of the investigation, but a spokeswoman has not responded to phone messages or an email. Law enforcement officials have not identified the shooter.

Kari Firlik’s friends and family say they’ve been told it was her husband.

“It definitely wasn’t Kari,” said Shelley Bergmann, a friend of Kari Firlik’s who works at Kari’s father’s Omaha dental practice.

Bergmann said the couple’s 5-year-old daughter, Faith, was at home on the Saturday evening when the shooting occurred. The girl heard gunfire upstairs and ran to the home of a neighbor, who called dispatchers at Offutt. Offutt Security Forces sent an officer to the scene.

Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates

Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.

The dispatcher also called Sarpy County for help.

“We just got a report from a child saying their parents are dead at the scene. The lady who called us said that there was a bunch of loud bangs,” the Offutt dispatcher said. “So somebody at the residence has a gun that was shooting, and killed both the parents. A bullet flew through the wall.”

Bergmann said Faith and her older sister, Grace, 12, are now living with Kari Firlik’s father, Dr. Jerry McManigal. Kari Firlik’s son Jaden, 17, lives with his father.

Zachary and Kari Firlik were both 35 and had been married for seven years.

“There was no sign of domestic abuse,” Bergmann said. “It’s still a fresh wound. We don’t know what happened.”

Zachary Firlik grew up near Sacramento, California, and enlisted in the Air Force in 2002. His previous tours included stops in California, Nevada and Alaska.

He transferred to Offutt in April after Kari Firlik suffered a broken back in a car accident. Friends described her as cheerful, artistic and outgoing.

Her funeral was held Friday in Council Bluffs. She was buried in Blair.

“It was an incredibly emotional day laying her to rest,” Jerry McManigal wrote in a Facebook post.

Bergmann said Zachary Firlik’s father and brother, who are both named John, both attended her funeral.

“There were of course tears,” Bergmann said. “They loved Kari.”

Zachary Firlik’s funeral will be held Wednesday in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, according to a casualty assistance officer at Offutt. An obituary written by his family noted his 17 years of military service and said of him, “He was a hammer sent to break down barriers and build up bridges through people’s lives.”

Friends continue to raise funds for the future support of Kari Firlik’s children. So far, a GoFundMe page has raised more than $7,200.

Bergmann, who is part of the effort, said proceeds will help with future clothing, school and medical expenses for the children.

She said a spaghetti feed fundraiser is being planned for 5 p.m. Nov. 9, at Millard VFW Post 8334, 5083 S. 136th St.

“Anything we can put towards the kids,” she said.

World-Herald staff writer Erin Duffy contributed to this report.

Notable crime news of 2019

Local
Speeding in Sarpy? Police make statement that they're watching​, as traffic deaths rise

As traffic fatalities in Sarpy County climb, law enforcement agencies across the county are joining forces to show they’re serious about traffic safety.

Tuesday, five agencies ran a joint traffic enforcement operation along State Highway 370 in Sarpy County, using 14 officers and patrol vehicles from across the different jurisdictions to pull over speeding drivers.

The extra law enforcement created a visible presence for the new initiative’s first public effort.

That’s part of the point, said Chief Deputy Greg London of the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office. By working together, the agencies want to get drivers’ attention to urge them to slow down, stop at red lights and pay more attention.

“It’s not about writing tickets,” London said. “It’s about education.”

Last month, the five agencies — police departments from Bellevue, Papillion and La Vista, the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office and the Nebraska State Patrol local troop — met to discuss their concerns about traffic safety around the county.

Since the start of 2018, London said, 28 people have died in crashes in Sarpy County: 18 so far this year after 10 deaths last year.

Out of that meeting, the agencies formed the Sarpy County Traffic Safety Task Force, to which each agency will contribute a few officers’ time for a few special enforcement efforts each month, no matter the city boundary or jurisdiction.

If you run across future operations, it’s possible a Bellevue officer might ticket you in La Vista, or a Papillion officer in the Gretna area.

The effort models one that suburban law enforcement agencies carried out two decades ago, when they even ran traffic enforcement in Omaha at times.

The agencies maximize their resources by working together. Without that, departments often must pay overtime to carry out such an effort on their own, or obtain outside grant funding.

“Let’s go back to the future,” La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said. “It worked before.”

Each jurisdiction has its busy roads and trouble spots.

The Bellevue Police Department took the lead Tuesday as officers worked the state highway that crosses Sarpy County.

One future target is Platteview Road, which also crosses the county and has seen increased traffic and crashes. It was the road where four Gretna teens died in a crash in June.

La Vista has the two busiest intersections in the county at 72nd and Harrison Streets and 84th and Harrison.

KAYLA WOLF/THE WORLD-HERALD 

Highway 370 in Bellevue. The Sarpy County Traffic Safety Task Force is modeled on an effort suburban agencies carried out two decades ago. “Let’s go back to the future,” La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said. “It worked before.” One future task force target is Platteview Road, where four teens died in a crash in June.

Papillion has commuting traffic that often speeds through its downtown on 84th Street, where 10-year-old Abby Whitford was hit and killed in August as she crossed the street.

Tuesday, one group of officers in the Highway 370 enforcement effort started near Fort Crook Road, while another was farther west. The officers stationed themselves up and down the highway through the afternoon and early evening.

One driver threw up his arms as he saw the officers staked out; he made it through without getting pulled over. At times, four officers lined Highway 370 near the Kennedy Freeway with lights flashing and drivers pulled to the side of the road.

In all, the officers expected to write about 60 tickets by the end of the day, Bellevue Police Sgt. Larry Lampman said.

Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates

Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.

The task force has planned three more enforcement efforts in October and November, one in Papillion, one in La Vista and a third along Platteview Road, Lampman said.

London said that in the future, officers could focus on a different issue each time, perhaps school zones, pedestrian crosswalks, a street with a speeding problem or red-light violations.

Mark Segerstrom, highway safety administrator for the Nebraska Department of Transportation, participated in the meeting last month with the Sarpy law enforcement agencies. He called their cooperation a “big statement” and a first step in addressing traffic problems in the county.

Segerstrom said he’s excited by the move to save lives, but he also realizes that the underlying causes are complicated.

“There’s just no simple solution here.”

Check out nearly 100 stunning photos of Nebraska

Articles
Turkey says it won't bow to U.S. threat
Turkish forces on the move after Trump opened door to attack, then vowed retaliation; Syria seeks Kurd alliance

BEIRUT (AP) — Turkey said Tuesday it will go ahead with a military operation in northeastern Syria and won't bow to threats over its Syria plans, an apparent reply to U.S. President Donald Trump's warning to limit the scope of its expected assault.

Trump said late Sunday the United States would step aside for an expected Turkish attack on Syrian Kurdish fighters, who have fought alongside Americans for years. But he threatened Monday to "totally destroy and obliterate" Turkey's economy if the NATO nation went too far.

Trump later cast his decision to pull back U.S. troops from parts of northeast Syria as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from "endless war" in the Middle East.

Republican critics and others said he was sacrificing a U.S. ally, the Syrian Kurds, and undermining American credibility.

Trump's statements have reverberated on all sides of the divide in Syria and the Mideast.

In Ankara, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said Turkey was intent on combating Kurdish fighters across its border in Syria and on creating a zone where Turkey could resettle Syrian refugees.

"Where Turkey's security is concerned, we determine our own path, but we set our own limits," Oktay said.

Turkey has been building up reinforcements on its side of the border in preparation for an assault. At least two convoys of buses carrying Turkish commandos headed to the border Tuesday, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Later, the Associated Press saw three convoys made up of dozens of military vehicles, including trucks carrying armored personnel carriers and tanks, driving toward the border town of Akcakale.

In the Syrian capital of Damascus, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad called on the country's Kurds to rejoin the government side after apparently being abandoned by their American allies. His comments were the first Syrian reaction since Trump's announcement late Sunday.

"The homeland welcomes all its sons, and Damascus will solve all Syrian problems in a positive way, away from violence," Mekdad said in an interview with the pro-government daily al-Watan.

The Syrian government "will defend all Syrian territory and will not accept any occupation of any land or iota of the Syrian soil," Mekdad said about the expected Turkish incursion.

Trump's statement has infuriated the Kurds, who are bracing for an imminent Turkish attack. The Kurds stand to lose the autonomy they gained from Damascus during Syria's civil war, now in its ninth year, and could see Turkey seize much of the territory where the Kurdish population is concentrated.

President Bashar Assad's government abandoned the predominantly Kurdish area in northern Syria at the height of Syria's civil war to focus on more key areas where the military was being challenged by the rebels. The U.S. then partnered with the Kurdish fighters to fight the Islamic State, at the cost of thousands of fighters' lives.

The danger now could prompt the Kurds to eventually negotiate with Assad's government for some form of protection.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called on all parties in northeastern Syria "to exercise maximum restraint," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have pledged to fight back against any Turkish assault, raising the potential for an eruption of new warfare in Syria. "We will not hesitate for a moment in defending our people," it said in a statement.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the SDF invited Trump to come see the progress the force and the U.S. had made in northeastern Syria. Turkey considers Kurdish fighters in Syria terrorists and links them to a decades-old insurgency in Turkey.

Iran on Tuesday urged Turkey not to carry out an offensive, the Iranian state TV reported. Iran, Turkey and Russia have been working together on the Syrian civil war in talks that have run parallel to U.N. efforts to find a solution to the conflict.