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Mason City police refuse to release public information on double homicide

MASON CITY | Citing an ongoing investigation, the Mason City Police Department has refused to release additional information related to the deaths of two Mason City residents this week. 

The Globe Gazette has been seeking additional details which should be available publicly, including the time and recording of the request for a welfare check to 327 27th Ave. S.W. Tuesday, where police say they discovered the bodies of Kenneth and Kathleen Hackbart while responding to that call. 

The request for a welfare check is missing from the police department's online log, which lists daily calls for service. The call log is public information.  

Mason City Police Capt. Mike McKelvey said in an email Thursday he would pass the request for call log information and call recordings to the legal department.

“Because this is an open murder investigation, all media info requests will need to specifically go to the Cerro Gordo County Attorney’s Office,” McKelvey said in the email. 

Cerro Gordo County Attorney Carlyle Dalen did not respond to an email or two phone messages from the Globe Gazette Thursday. 

An Iowa Attorney General's opinion issued in 1982 mandates the public has access to the "date, time, specific location, and immediate facts and circumstances surrounding a crime or incident."

The Globe Gazette asked the police department to indicate statutes that would prohibit releasing this information.

Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley believes the items included in the request are part of the investigative record for this incident, and therefore not public record. 

“This is an ongoing criminal investigation that has been referred to the Cerro Gordo County Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution,” Brinkley said via email Thursday. “As such, the Mason City Police Department will not be releasing any additional public information about this case.”

Photos: 2 found dead in Mason City home, witness in custody

While the department’s releases did indicate the time, date and specific location of the incident, as required by statute, they did not outline the “immediate facts and circumstances,” as required, Globe Gazette Editor David Mayberry said.

The newspaper believes that should include when the alleged homicide occurred, who contacted law enforcement, when law enforcement was contacted, what prompted the welfare check, if a weapon was recovered and if the Hackbarts were stabbed once or multiple times. 

News releases from the police department did not specify how the Hackbarts died. That information was listed in an amended court filing. 

“I cannot agree that the department came close to the spirit, intent and purpose of the law in this instance,” Mayberry told Brinkley in an email. “You have information the public has a right to know.”

Brinkley replied the two organizations "may have to agree to disagree."

“I believe that your understanding of immediate facts and circumstances is different than ours," Brinkley said. 

Cerro Gordo County restaurants offering free Veterans Day meals

MASON CITY | Multiple locations in and around Mason City are offering free meals to veterans during the next few days in honor of Veterans Day.

St. Paul Lutheran Fellowship Hall was offering free meals from 11 a.m. until food was gone Thursday afternoon, and was bustling with activity around noon.

Several restaurants are also offering free meals on Friday or Saturday. One of them is the Blue Heron Bar & Grille on Mason City's North End. They are offering a free steak dinner on Saturday, as long as veterans present their military ID.

Vickie Lau, one of the co-owners of the Blue Heron, said the decision to offer veterans a free meal was an easy one.

"We want to make sure the community knows that we appreciate them," Lau said by phone Thursday. "We feel they sometimes aren't recognized as much as they should be, and we want to take the opportunity to thank them."

The Cerro Gordo County Veterans Affairs Office commended volunteers and businesses like the Blue Heron for their support of those who served.

"We don't need to be recognized as veterans, but it's nice to indeed be recognized and know that people and businesses are looking out for us," the office said in a statement.

Some other restaurants that are offering free food include Applebee's and Ruby Tuesday. Veterans, upon presenting their military ID, can choose one of seven free entrees at Applebee's on Saturday, and free appetizers up to a $10 value at Ruby Tuesday. Rib Crib will also offer a free meal to veterans from their "Menu of Honor," which includes two meats and two sides.

HyVee locations are serving a free breakfast buffet Saturday. Iowa Secretary of State-affiliated "Honor a Veteran" postcards will be handed out throughout the day to urge customers to pay respect to those who served.

"This program is a way to recognize the sacrifice of our veterans," Secretary of State Paul Pate said in a statement. "They risked their lives to protect our freedoms and our right to vote. We cannot say 'thank you' enough to them for their service to our state and our country."

In Clear Lake, a free meal for veterans will be offered at VFW Post 4868 on Saturday. Lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. or until no food is left. People are encouraged to RSVP by calling Linda Dockwell at 641-425-7127.

The Anchor Inn in Clear Lake has also implemented an 11 percent discount on food purchases this week for veterans, which started Nov. 6 and continues through Veterans Day.

Tax plan could affect Iowa wind projects

MidAmerican Energy said Thursday a plan to scale back the federal wind production tax credit would remove the certainty the company has been counting on in its plans to expand wind power in Iowa.

The wind provision, included in the Republican tax plan in the U.S. House, would scale back the credit by limiting it to 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity, down from 2.3 cents. The House Ways and Means Committee cleared the tax plan Thursday.

A Senate tax plan was scheduled to be released on Thursday, and some lawmakers on the Finance Committee have said it won't appear in that version, according to a report. But if the House provision were to prevail, it would put in jeopardy $50 billion in planned investments, according to the American Wind Energy Association, an industry group.

Wind advocates complain the House changes would also reverse a 2015 agreement in Congress to phase out the production tax credit over five years.

In a statement, MidAmerican said the agreement provided certainty for near term investments. "The House proposal removes that certainty, which MidAmerican Energy — and its customers — were counting on when it moved forward with plans to rebuild and repower more wind generation," the company said.

In 2016, MidAmerican announced plans to add 2,000 megawatts of wind generation in the state, a $3.6 billion project.

The House tax bill cuts corporate taxes from 35 percent to 20 percent, reduces the number of income tax brackets, increases the standard deduction and rids the tax code of a range of tax breaks, among other changes.

The provision affecting the wind industry, along with other renewable energy sources, would add about $12.3 billion to government revenues over 10 years. The provision would offset revenue losses in other parts of the tax plan.

A Congressional Budget Office report said this week the plan would add $1.7 trillion to the deficit over a 10-year period.

Republicans have argued the tax plan will lead to greater economic growth, but the study did not measure that potential impact.

Democrats have complained the plan is a giveaway to corporations and the wealthy.

The Senate tax plan, which was to be released on Thursday, was not expected to include the wind provision. Bloomberg reported this week that some Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee had taken a dim view of the idea.

On a conference call with Iowa reporters on Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a member of the committee, noted the agreement in Congress to phase out the tax credit, adding "these are things that shouldn't be messed with in a tax reform bill."

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Alta Vista parents plead not guilty in death of baby son

ALTA VISTA | Parents of a 4-month-old who died of neglect in August have pleaded not guilty to murder and child endangerment charges.

Zachary Paul Koehn, 28, and Cheyanne Renae Harris, 20, avoided courtroom appearances by filing written arraignments and not guilty pleas on Tuesday and Wednesday in Chickasaw County District Court in New Hampton. They also demanded speedy trials.

A trial date hasn’t been set, and both parents remain in custody pending trial.

Koehn is being represented by Steven Drahozal with the Dubuque County Public Defender’s Office, and the Aaron Hawbaker with the Black Hawk County Public Defender’s Office is representing Harris.

Sheriff’s deputies and medics found 4-month-old Sterling Daniel Koehn dead in a swing seat after the father called 911 to their Wilson Street apartment in Alta Vista on Aug. 30. Koehn said Harris had fed the infant earlier that day but when he checked on the child later, he was dead.

Authorities said the child was underweight, and the development of maggots contradicted the parents’ account of what happened and pointed to the child not having been bathed, changed or moved from the swing seat in at least a week. A state medical examiner ruled Sterling’s death was a homicide due to failure to provide critical care, court records state.

From left: Zachary Paul Koehn, 28, and Cheyanne Renae Harris, 20.