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DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS PHOTO ILLUSTRATION 

Oakley's Chandler Jones works a portrait session Tuesday night, Dec. 5, 2017, in Twin Falls.


Crime-and-courts
Gooding High employee arrested on allegations of sexual battery of a student

GOODING — A Gooding High School employee and coach was arrested Friday and accused of sexually abusing a student.

Ann Kuroki, 26, faces eight felony counts of sexual battery of a minor child. She is the second Magic Valley teacher to be accused of having sex with a student in the past two weeks.

Kuroki was arrested after the Gooding Police Department was told about inappropriate behavior with a male student, the department said in a statement. The student is 16 or 17 years old.

After initially denying allegations, Kuroki admitted to police she’d had sex with the student six times at her house — starting in late November or early December — and bought him alcohol twice, according to a police affidavit.

An investigation began Wednesday and is ongoing, according to police.

Kuroki was fired Thursday from the Gooding School District “due to other findings uncovered while conducting their own internal investigation,” police said.

She was arraigned Monday in Gooding County Magistrate Court.

At Gooding High, Kuroki was a classified, at-will employee — meaning she wasn’t a certified teacher — and was hired last school year. She monitored the Idaho Digital Learning Academy lab, where students take online classes. She also coached junior varsity boys basketball.

“Our first concern in the Gooding School District is for students and their safety,” Superintendent Spencer Larsen told the Times-News on Monday. “When we got information, we acted upon it.”

A police affidavit gives this account of what happened:

During a couple of interviews with police, the boy denied ever having physical contact or a sexual relationship with Kuroki, and said he’d never been to her house.

After obtaining a search warrant, police searched Kuroki’s house Friday, and seized three cell phones, bedding and a card with a handwritten note given to Kuroki by the boy.

On Friday, Gooding police officer Sabrina Becker received a missed call and text messages from the boy’s mother saying Kuroki had come to her house to talk about her relationship with the boy.

The mother texted Becker: “I have Ann with me and I am taking her to the station. She’s going to confess…” They both arrived at the Gooding Police Department.

When questioned by police, Kuroki told them her communication with the boy began after she’d received a message that was “kind of flirty” from the boy over the summer — probably, in July — after she’d posted a picture on Instagram.

They began talking again in August when school started.

It was a normal teacher-student relationship at first, she said. But after the boy asked for her help editing his senior paper via Google Docs, they communicated through that platform.

Around November, “she started breaking down with her resolve to keep things professional with (the boy),” Becker wrote in the affidavit. “Kuroki stated she was nicer to him, she did not send him to the office nearly as much and they started talking more. Kuroki told me their messages became a lot flirtier.”

She told police she was “boozing” pretty heavy one night when the boy sent her an Instagram message. She asked him to pick her up from the Sidetrack Bar.

She said they drove around for a while, and then he took her home and left.

The next week at school, things felt different. “Kuroki said she knew what had happened was wrong but at that point she was already ‘Two feet in.’”

Kuroki told police she never had sex with the boy.

In mid-December, they were making out and “messing around” with sexual touching at her house, Kuroki told police, but said they didn’t have sex.

“Kuroki told me she had second thoughts about their relationship at this time and she broke up with him,” Becker wrote.

The boy was upset and very apologetic, and wrote a note saying he loved her. Kuroki said it killed her to know she “wrecked him.”

They met during Christmas break, and Kuroki apologized to him and tried to explain the situation. He kept trying to get back together with her.

After Christmas break, rumors were flying about their relationship, and Kuroki lied when questioned by the school principal and superintendent because she was scared.

She got the boy’s mother’s phone number off the school records system and called her to meet to talk about the rumors.

The boy’s mother recorded Kuroki’s voluntary confession to her, when Kuroki admitted to having sex with the boy and buying alcohol for him.

After being questioned again by police, Kuroki admitted to having sex with the boy six times at her house, starting in late November to early December, and buying alcohol for him twice.


DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Governor C.L. 'Butch' Otter looks back as he gives the State of the State address Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at the Capitol in Boise.


Govt-and-politics
Gov. Otter gives final State of the State speech, says education is again his top priority

BOISE — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter delivered his 12th and final State of the State and Budget Address Monday, reflecting on his years in office while laying out highlights of his proposed budget for fiscal year 2019.

The governor’s hour-long speech focused primarily on his top priority for the year — education — while also highlighting tax relief and the state’s “improving” relationship with the federal government under the Trump administration.

Under Otter’s proposed budget, the state would spend 6.6 percent more than it did in fiscal year 2018, starting the year with a balance of $155.9 million and and ending with $70.2 million.

Education

The budget proposes $123.3 million in funding for enhancing “K-through-Career” initiatives, including $41.6 million for the fourth year of the five-year career ladder plan and funding to improve professional development, college and career counseling, classroom technology and literacy for elementary students.

Throughout his speech, Otter repeatedly referred to the state’s “moonshot goal” of having 60 percent of young adults earn a postsecondary academic degree or professional-technical credential. He told reporters in a post-speech press conference that he believes the creation of a “chief education officer” to streamline functions across Idaho’s public university system will help the state reach this goal, by freeing up money that could otherwise be put toward making college more affordable.

The position, recommended by the governor’s higher education task force, is projected to cost the state $769,500, including a salary of about $200,000 a year.

“There’s no doubt these changes will upend the status quo,” Otter said in his address. “They will mean less working from isolated silos and more rowing in the same direction.”

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Governor C.L. 'Butch' Otter looks back as he gives the State of the State address Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at the Capitol in Boise.

Taxes

Otter’s proposed plan includes $115 million in tax relief over three years through reducing the unemployment insurance tax.

“As I said at the end of the 2017 legislative session, unemployment tax relief is job one for 2018,” Otter said.

The budget also includes $97.7 million in relief by substantially conforming to tax changes at the federal level. The proposal would drop income tax rates by 0.45 percent in all brackets for both individuals and businesses and create a $85 nonrefundable Idaho dependent tax credit.

When asked by reporters what he would do if a bill cutting the state’s grocery tax were to come across his desk again — a situation that ended in a veto and subsequent legal challenge at the end of last year’s session — Otter expressed support for keeping a tax on groceries.

“If you enjoy a government service and that government service is driving up and down the highway, or police protection…I don’t care what it is, you should pay some tax,” he said. “I’m not going to try to tell everybody how much they should pay. But you should pay a tax. And in many cases, that’s the only tax they pay.”

Relationship with the federal government

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Governor C.L. 'Butch' Otter speaks during the State of the State address Jan. 8 at the Capitol in Boise.

This year brought “a renaissance of responsiveness and regulatory relief from our national government,” Otter told legislators. “It has been especially refreshing to see the Trump administration’s willingness to seek our input — to really listen and embrace the value of state perspectives on issues that affect us most directly.”

He cited as one example the “Good Neighbor Authority,” a collaboration between the Forest Service and the state that allows logging on federal lands. The partnership has resulted in the Department of Lands selling and overseeing the harvest of 6 million board feet of timber from fire salvage and forest thinning projects over the past year, Otter said, bringing in upwards of $1.8 million in revenue.

Another example of the state’s “improving relationship with the feds,” according to the governor, are rangeland fire protection associations: groups of local ranchers professionally trained, with the help of federal agencies, to fight wildfires.

“Of course, there are still challenges,” Otter said. “Obstructionists in Congress and the undue influence of a carryover proscribe-and-punish mentality in some federal agencies are still slowing progress. But we’re having fewer ‘mother may I’ moments with our federal partners.”

“There’s no doubt these changes will upend the status quo. They will mean less working from isolated silos and more rowing in the same direction.” Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter

Local
Judge rules to dismiss standoff case against rancher Bundy

LAS VEGAS — A judge in Las Vegas has decided to dismiss criminal charges against a Nevada rancher and his sons accused of leading an armed uprising against federal authorities in 2014.

Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro signaled when she declared a mistrial last month that she might dismiss the case outright against 71-year-old Cliven Bundy, sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy, and Montana militia leader Ryan Payne.

The judge severely criticized prosecutors for what she called “willful” violations of due process rights of defendants, including failing to properly turn over evidence to their lawyer.

But she gave the government a chance to submit written documents opposing dismissal of all charges.

The Monday decision is sure to reverberate among states’ rights advocates in the Western U.S., where the federal government controls vast lands that some people want to protect and others want used for grazing, mining and oil and gas drilling.

The tense armed standoff outside Bunkerville, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas, stopped a federal Bureau of Land Management roundup of Bundy cattle from public land including what is now Gold Butte National Monument.

About three dozen heavily armed federal agents guarding corrals in a dry riverbed faced hundreds of flag-waving men, women and children calling for the release of some 400 cows. The cattle had been rounded up under court orders issued over Bundy letting his herd graze for 20 years without paying government fees.

No shots were fired before the outnumbered and outgunned federal agents withdrew.

Several gunmen among the protesters who had assault-style rifles were acquitted of criminal charges in two trials last year.

Ryan and Ammon Bundy also were acquitted of federal criminal charges in Oregon after an armed occupation in early 2016 of a national wildlife refuge to demand the government turn over public land to local control.

Payne awaits sentencing in that case but is trying to withdraw his guilty plea to a felony conspiracy charge that is expected to bring a sentence of more than three years in prison.

In Las Vegas, Navarro declared a mistrial Dec. 20, leaving Cliven Bundy as the only one of the four defendants still jailed after refusing the judge’s offer of release to house arrest.


Local
Sister: Former Twin Falls fugitive's death a 'suicide by cop'

TWIN FALLS — The sister of a fugitive killed by Boise police last week says his death was a suicide.

Formerly of Twin Falls, Robert Cassidy Hansen, 27, died Thursday evening when police were forced to fire their weapons during a traffic stop, Boise Police said in a statement. Hansen was pronounced dead at the scene.

“If he had a choice — and obviously he did — that was the way he wanted to go,” his sister, Cori Hansen of Twin Falls, said Monday.

Cassidy Hansen was riding in the back seat of a Cadillac driven by his girlfriend on 27th Street near Fairview Avenue in Boise when she was stopped by police for a canceled registration, his sister said.

Police say he pulled out a gun and pointed it at the officers, himself and the driver, who police have not named. Officers shut down traffic and ordered him to drop the gun. Fearing for the driver’s safety, officers A. Crist and K. Zubizarreta, both 10-year veterans of the Boise Police Department, each fired one shot, according to police.

“This was understandably a very traumatic situation for the female driver,” Boise Police Deputy Chief Eugene Smith said in a statement. “We are thankful she is now safe and was not hurt.”

Idaho State Police are leading the Ada County Critical Incident Task Force in an investigation of the shooting.

Cassidy Hansen was in and out of jail — or on the run — most of his adult life. At 20, he was arrested for aggravated driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an injury accident and domestic battery. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

He got married soon after the hit-and-run accident in which 20-year-old Donovan Jones of Twin Falls was severely injured, his sister said. He has a 7-year-old daughter from the marriage.

He was released from prison on an early parole when his mother, Bobett Hansen, was diagnosed with cancer. His mother’s death “was very hard for him,” Cori Hansen said.

He left Twin Falls after breaking parole, and was a fugitive at the time of his death, Twin Falls County Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs said.

Cori Hansen said she hadn’t seen her brother in the past few months. He had kept his distance because she works in a domestic shelter and is studying criminal justice, and he didn’t want to jeopardize her future.

“Cassidy didn’t want to drag me down with him,” Cori Hansen said. She said she had a dream he was killed by police two days before he died.

A friend sent her a link to a breaking-news story about Thursday’s shooting.

“She said, ‘I think this is your brother,’” Cori Hansen said. “I called the police, the hospital and coroner. The coroner told me it was Cassidy.

“It was suicide by cop,” she said. People “need to know he had no intention of hurting his girlfriend.”


PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS 

Winding Technician Justin Vogt works on a motor Dec. 14 at Industrial Electric Motor Service Inc. in Twin Falls. The company has since moved into a larger building in Kimberly.


Crime-and-courts
Twin Falls District Judge Randy Stoker dies of cancer

TWIN FALLS — Randy Stoker, who was a judge in Twin Falls County for 15 years, died Monday.

His stepson, Scott Pemberton, posted on Facebook: “Today the world has lost a great man. Former Honorable Judge Randy Stoker lost his courageous battle with cancer. He has been fighting it for 8 long hard years. Not only was Randy my step-father, but he was my mentor, and friend. I can honestly say if it wasn’t for him I would not have turned out the way I have. He will be miss by all that knew him. God Speed Papa, I will see you again.”

Stoker presided over many of Twin Falls County’s high-profile cases. As a district judge he handled felonies for the county along with now-Idaho Supreme Court Justice Richard Bevan.

“It’s a tough, tough deal,” Bevan said Monday evening, still reeling from the news. “He was such a good friend and colleague. We worked together 14 years and had lunch every Monday.”

Bevan said Stoker had a wonderful work ethic and prided himself in being well-prepared for each case.

“Twin Falls has lost a wonderful servant,” he said.

Twin Falls County Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs and Stoker were professional friends for 25 years.

“He was always approachable,” Loebs said Monday evening. “His door was always open.”

Stoker’s death, combined with Bevan moving to the Idaho Supreme Court, will leave a big hole in the county’s legal house, he said.

Loebs said he had talked about Stoker at lunch earlier Monday and had decided to check in on him when he got back to the office.

But that’s when he heard the news.

“We’re going to miss his experience,” Loebs said.

“It’s a sad day. He was a nice guy,” said Fritz Wonderlich, the Twin Falls city attorney.

Wonderlich was surprised to learn of the news on Monday after having worked with Stoker since the 1980s. Stoker was doing criminal defense when Wonderlich was a prosecutor, he said.

Stoker’s rulings drew national attention in the past few years, including the sentencing of John K. Howard, who was sentenced to probation in the assault of a mentally disabled black teammate in a locker room in October 2015. While the sentencing drew some criticism, The Idaho Judicial Council unanimously decided Stoker did not violate the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct in his handling of the case.

For the past decade, Stoker presided over many high-profile cases in the Magic Valley. Recently, he sentenced Jerry Burton Kimball to up to 45 years in prison for being an accomplice in the murder of Twin Falls developer Kent Wayne Storrer.

As he often did, he advised Kimball to use prison as a time to think: “I hope you spend your next 24 years trying to figure out not only why it happened, but what to do if you are placed in that situation again,” Stoker said. “If you can’t figure it out I don’t think the parole board will let you out again.”

Stoker could have stern words for defendants and occasionally went outside the box of traditional sentencings, once telling a man who fired a shotgun at a crop-duster he had to buy a half-page advertisement in a Sunday edition of the Times-News explaining what he did and why it was wrong.

Others saw a softer side of the judge. Stoker regularly married couples at the courthouse, and on one busy Valentine’s Day, married a record seven couples, earning him the nickname “The Love Judge.” Stoker, a Shriner, could also be seen riding a mini-motorcycle in Buhl’s Sagebrush Days Parade.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS FILE 

Judge Randy Stoker rides a mini motorcycle during the Sagebrush Days Parade Thursday, July 4, 2013, in Buhl.

Other notable cases include Stoker’s denial of a request to repeal Idaho’s ban on insanity pleas and his ruling in a contentious 2014 lawsuit where he ousted an embattled Idaho GOP chairman.

After 28 years of practicing law in Twin Falls and three attempts to gain a judgeship, Stoker was named as a magistrate judge in 2002 at age 52.

The Burley native was a University of Idaho graduate and worked in private law practice, including work as a public defender. He was appointed a district judge in 2007 by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.

Parke’s Magic Valley Funeral Home is handling services.