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The Daily Iowan's year-in-review

BY DI STAFF | MAY 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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Bloom

University of Iowa journalism Professor Stephen Bloom wrote a long piece for The Atlantic about the Iowa lifestyle and culture and the caucus process. The article, "Observations from 20 years of Iowa Life" drew much criticism from Iowa residents.

Bloom's article — which comments on his experiences living in Iowa for 20 years — appeared in The Atlantic in December and drew accusations of inaccuracies and stereotypical portrayals of the state and its residents.

The article depicted Iowans depicted a negative perception of Iowa's rural culture and discussed the state's role in politics with its first-in-the-nation caucuses. Bloom also faced criticisms from many of his colleagues.

The professor received so much backlash, he said he feared for his family's safety.

UI President Sally Mason said she "disagreed strongly and was offended" by the article in an open letter to The Atlantic.

Plummer

Twenty-year-old Iowa City resident Branden Plummer was charged with attempted murder and willful injury after allegedly assaulting an Iowa city police officer Nov. 18, 2011.

Police reports said police Sgt. Brian Krei approached Plummer because he was reportedly disrupting traffic at the intersection of Linn and Burlington Streets. Plummer allegedly proceeded to strangle Krei and hit his head against the sidewalk, causing him to lose consciousness. Police arrested Plummer Nov. 29 after an anonymous tip identified him based on a wanted poster.

Plummer was listed as a UI student before the alleged assault, but he is no longer in the university directory.

Plummer's friends said he had a difficult past — his parents divorced and his father died of cancer several years later. Yet they also said he was a kind, likable person, and they were surprised by his alleged actions.

Plummer's trial was originally set to begin Feb. 21 but was moved several times; it is currently set for June 29 in Johnson County.

Thompson

Iowa City resident Charles William Curtis Thompson, formerly charged with first-degree murder following the death of Broadway apartment landlord John Versypt in October 2009, was released December 2011 from the Johnson County Jail.

Sixth District Judge Sean McPartland declared 19-year-old Thompson's September 2011 homicide trial a mistrial after the prosecution played part of a videotaped interview with Thompson that was not supposed to be presented to the jury.

Thompson's attorney, Tyler Johnston, argued in October 2011 that the state withheld evidence regarding inmates telling detectives Thompson was not involved in Versypt's slaying. Johnston said Oct. 20 that he had frequently requested the documents but did not receive them until several weeks after the interviews. However, Johnson County prosecutor Janet Lyness said the defense did not request those documents until Oct. 19.

The defense filed a motion to dismiss the first-degree murder charge against Thompson, which McPartland denied, ruling the defense did not show sufficient evidence to prove the prosecution intended to cause a mistrial in September.

Following the denial, Thompson pleaded guilty December 2011 to accessory after the fact and signed documents stating he knew Justin Marshall — another suspect in the case — committed Versypt's murder.

Thompson's sentencing is set for June 11 at 11 a.m.

India

UI sophomore Tom Plotkin died Sept. 22, 2011 during a Semester in India course with the National Outdoor Leadership School.

While hiking near the village of Munisiyari, Plotkin reportedly lost his footing in the rain and fell more than 250 feet down a steep and rocky slope into the Goriganga River. His body was not discovered, causing Indian government officials and locals interviewed on site by a Daily Iowanreporter to question the timeliness of search efforts.

A National Outdoor Leadership School report stated students retrieved ropes and webbing from a nearby hiking group and attempted to search for Plotkin. The school instructors then contacted heir headquarters in a village 150 miles away and emailed the U.S. Embassy later that day to request a helicopter.

Officials from nearby villages and a Indo-Tibetan Border Police supply post less than a mile away said they were surprised they were not contacted immediately. A school program manager said locals did not have adequate training or equipment to go down the mountain.

School officials said they did contact the disaster management department in Munisiyari and did not actively decide keep the Border Police in the dark.

Dance Marathon

The UI Dance Marathon 18 had another record-breaking year, as February's Big Event raked in more than $1.3 million for pediatric cancer.

"The total is great, but at the end of the day, it's for the families. It didn't matter what we raised," Elyse Meardon, the executive director of Dance Marathon 18, said after the Big Event concluded.

"At the same time, it's a great feeling to have the money to provide monetary support for families."

More than 2,300 dancers participated in the Big Event, dancing for 24-consecutive hours to raise money for pediatric cancer patients and their families.

UI Dance Marathon has raised more than $11 million since the organization began in 1995. This year's participants allowed the organization to finally surpass the $10 million mark in fundraising efforts.

Obama

President Obama visited the Field House on April 25 to discuss student loans and college affordability.

More than 5,500 students and members of the UI community gathered in the Field House as Obama spoke for nearly an hour about the federal loan situation he's urging Congress to act on before July 1.

Interest rates for federal loans would double from 3.4 to 6.8 percent if Congress doesn't vote to extend the cuts for at least another year. Roughly 7.4 million students nationwide receiving federal student loans would be affected by this legislation.

"Now is not the time to double the interest rates on our student loans," Obama said during his UI visit. "Now is the time to double down on starting investments that build a strong and secure middle class."

Mark Warner, the UI director of Student Financial Aid, said students should be focused on the possibility of an interest rate increase.

Federal student loans represented roughly 93 percent of loans borrowed by UI students in 2010-11.

The average student debt for the graduating class of 2011 was $25,446, Warner said. The national student debt average is $25,000.

Caucus

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was initially declared the winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses by a narrow margin on Jan. 3.

However, the Iowa Republican Party later said former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., had won the caucuses. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, finished third.

Romney had significantly more support in Johnson County, where he earned votes from 35 percent of caucus-goers compared to Santorum's 16 percent. Despite wide support from UI students, Paul only won 31 percent in the county.

Local transgender community struggles with health-care access

Former Daily Iowan employee Shay O'Reilly visited the UI Hospitals and Clinics endocrinology clinic to regulate a hormone imbalance in May 2012 and was turned away because he identified as transgender. Individuals who are transgender identify with genders different than their biological one.

O'Reilly later filed a complaint against the UIHC to make sure easy access to health care would not be denied to any others who identify as transgender.

"What I would like to see out of this complaint is that the university would do whatever is necessary to ensure no patient is turned away," O'Reilly said.

A similar case occurred when UI student Zeke Swim — who had been undergoing hormone therapy for seven years — was in need of immediate medical attention because of abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding.

Swim said hospital staff does not know how to treat a transgender person.

Two UIHC doctors confirmed the medical field may be behind the times but said the UIHC is taking necessary steps to better serve the transgender community.

Peng Tang

Iowa City resident Peng Tang allegedly assaulted a woman while she was showing him her apartment for sublet on March 29.

Tang allegedly restrained the woman and threatened her with posting online nude photographs he took of her during the assault. He was charged March 30 with first-degree kidnapping.

In a later search, police found handcuffs, a knife, women's clothing, and Viagra at Tang's apartment, 923 E. College St. No.8.

Many of Tang's apartment neighbors had never met him, and they said he usually kept to himself.

Tang's parents, Li Qiao and Xuefan Tang, were charged April 5 with allegedly sending a letter to the victim promising a reward if she changed her story. Those charges were later dropped.

Peng Tang also allegedly sent a letter to the victim claiming he would reward her if she dropped the charges against him, and he was charged April 13 for solicitation to commit an aggravated misdemeanor and tampering with a witness or juror.

Tang is being held in the Johnson County Jail on immigration hold with a $750,000 cash-only bond.

UI junior holds protest for size discrimination

UI junior Jordan Ramos said Union Bar bouncers allegedly discriminated against her by not allowing her on a bar dance platform because of her size.

"They were letting a bunch of other girls on the platform, and the only different [between them and I] was that they were thinner," Ramos said about her March 3 and March 4 visits to the bar.

Ramos said she and supporters planned to protest the bar, demanding three things: for the Union bar to publicly apologize to her, for the Union bar to apologize to anyone it has discriminated against, and to have it in writing that all customers will be allowed the same privileges.

Union owner George Wittgraf offered an apology for the employee's alleged actions, and Ramos changed the protest to a May 4 rally on the Pedestrian Mall against size discrimination in general.

Some UI students said Ramos deserved the apology, but they were skeptical of comparing size discrimination to other forms of discrimination.

Occupy IC protesters camp in College Green

Iowa City residents founded a local chapter of Occupy Wall Street, a movement protesting the distribution of wealth among corporations and corporate influence in politics

Occupy Iowa City obtained its first permit to camp in College Green Park in October, and the group set up a host of tents and outposts for community discussion and organization.

The number of protesters decreased during the winter months, going from around 70 to 10 protesters when the permit was set to expire late January. City officials denied the protesters' reapplication for a permit.

City officials said Occupy Iowa City representatives, who did not appeal the denial, were very cooperative when told they needed to vacate.

Though the protesters moved out of the park, they continued to hold meetings elsewhere Sundays and Thursdays.

Occupy Iowa City advocates marched from College Green Park to the Pedestrian Mall on May 1.

The march was to protest corporate greed and other alleged social inequality.

Ryan Spurgetis, Occupy Iowa City's May Day event planner, said the protest worked well with May Day traditions solidarity among undermined groups.

"I think [the May Day] message carries forward from the 99 percent," he said. "… Identifying that it's the wealthy and the powerful who cause the problems for our world. These struggles are in fact connected, and we need everybody to fight for change."

Hawkalerts

A series of HawkAlerts, and concern over the university's decision not send out alerts in some cases, drew attention during the fall and spring semesters.

Iowa City authorities first head about a possible armed suspect near town around 9 p.m. Nov. 14 but did not send out a Hawk Alert until 10:30 that night. UI officials said steps were taken to ensure warnings were issued as quickly as possible.

According to an Iowa City police press release, a female UI student was assaulted at night on Jan. 20 near the Becker Communication Studies Building. A HawkAlert was not sent out, UI officials said, as it not generally thought of as posing a potential immediate threat to others.

A HawkAlert was sent Feb. 2 after a man allegedly robbed a woman at knifepoint in downtown Iowa City.

Veterans

Political experts took differing stances on the call to bring American troops home from overseas in light of GOP hopefuls being largely divided over the issue.

Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, said it would be nearly impossible to pack up all of America's resources in the Middle East and leave mid-mission.

O'Hanlon analyzed the GOP candidates' lack of clarity on the issue as "political positioning."

Veterans for Peace director Mike Ferner supported then-GOP presidential candidates Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, who at the time called to return all U.S. combat troops.

9/11

The UI and Iowa City community gathered on Sept. 11, 2011, to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The Consultation of Religious Communities held a gathering at the Riverside Theater Shakespeare Festival Stage in Lower City Park to present speeches and embark on a "walk of peace" around City Park.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, and Veterans for Peace Iowa President Ed Flaherty spoke at the event of the importance of carrying on despite great tragedy.


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