Oklahoma judge says suit over Tar Creek audit can proceed

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A district judge has ruled a lawsuit can go forward seeking the release of an investigative audit into the cleanup of the Tar Creek Superfund site that Oklahoma's attorney general wants to keep secret.

Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish on Friday denied a motion from Attorney General Mike Hunter seeking to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Accountability.

The public watchdog group is seeking to make public an audit into some of the millions of taxpayer dollars spent cleaning up the heavily polluted site in northeast Oklahoma.

Former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and now Hunter have both refused to release the audit. Hunter says the release of an investigative audit that didn't lead to criminal charges could "tarnish the reputation of innocent Oklahomans."

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Former teacher aide sentenced in Oklahoma child abuse case

PERRY, Okla. (AP) — A former teaching assistant who pleaded guilty to molesting 10 girls at an Oklahoma elementary school was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Arnold Cowen, 86, pleaded guilty Thursday to 21 felony counts in a deal with prosecutors, The Oklahoman reported. Under the agreement, Cowen will serve at least 8 ½ years in prison with 10 years' probation. He would have to register as a sex offender once released.

"No amount of punishment would be enough to come close to being appropriate," said Noble County District Attorney Brian Hermanson. "We were mindful of the additional pain these families would suffer if they were forced to go to trial and be required to testify about what the defendant had done to them."

Cowen was charged last year with inappropriately touching 10 girls ages 10 to 13 at Upper Elementary School in Perry. He also was accused of having more than 100 pornographic images and videos on his home computer.

"We were also aware that the defendant would turn 87 years old next week and with these crimes being such that he would have to serve 85 percent of the time assessed, we knew any sentence would be a life sentence," said Hermanson. "In talking to the families, they understood and did not object to this sentence."

Cowen and his attorney declined to comment to the newspaper after being sentenced.

Former Principal Kenda Miller and former math teacher Jeffrey Sullins face misdemeanors accusing them of failing to promptly report accusations against Cowen.

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Law firm seeks $400K after Tulsa loses civil rights case

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The city of Tulsa could pay nearly $400,000 in legal fees after losing a federal civil rights case involving a black police officer who was forced to march in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade.

The Tulsa World reports that attorneys for Tulsa Police Capt. Walter Busby Jr. filed a motion Wednesday saying the city's "take no prisoners defense strategy" is responsible for the over 1,000 hours spent working the case for nearly eight years. The Bullock Law firm is seeking reimbursements of legal fees.

The city hasn't responded to the newspaper's request for comment.

A federal judge ruled last month that the city violated Busby's civil rights by retaliating after he objected to being ordered to march in the 2010 parade. City officials deny the order was race-based.

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Shelters open amid Midwest flooding as rivers keep rising

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) — Shelters were open to assist people forced from their homes by flooding in Indiana and Michigan on Thursday, as rivers swollen by heavy rain and melting snow continue to rise in the Midwest.

Flood warnings were in effect across a wide swath of the central and southern U.S., from Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio to Texas and Louisiana. The American Red Cross said it has opened eight shelters in northern Indiana, where crews used boats to help residents evacuate their homes.

Local officials declared a state of emergency in three local cities and asked that traffic be limited to first responders and emergency personnel. Indiana University-South Bend canceled Thursday classes, and residents of a student apartment complex surrounded by water were encouraged to leave.

"I ended up grabbing my favorite blanket and stuffed animals," 15-year-old Madison Schmidt, who was evacuated from her home in Elkhart to a shelter at a church, told The Elkhart Truth newspaper. "I got into the boat. Seeing what happened, just almost made me cry."

Record-high flooding along the St. Joseph River closed down a wastewater treatment plant for several hours in South Bend, a city of about 100,000 residents. It later restarted at limited capacity. The National Weather Service reported the river was expected to stay above its major flood stage until Tuesday.

"This remains major flooding and it's going to be that for a while as water from the whole county continues draining into the river, even though the rains are mostly behind us," South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said.

Officials haven't yet estimated the extent of building damage, which is concentrated in low-lying areas.

Other parts of the Midwest were under winter weather advisories on Thursday, with Kansas school districts and universities canceling classes and many state employees being told to stay home.

In Michigan, states of emergency were declared in the Lansing area as officials recommended the evacuations of several neighborhoods. City officials said anyone living in the possible flood areas should temporarily leave their home by midday Thursday.

"While the rain has stopped, we are expecting significant flooding," Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said.

Flooding also hit nearby Michigan State University , where some roads, parking lots and athletic fields were covered by water from the Red Cedar River that runs through its East Lansing campus. Classes in several buildings have been relocated and the school put up sand-filled barriers in an attempt to curb flooding.

"Be careful if you're trying to come to campus," Schor said Wednesday, noting the river was at its highest levels since 1975. "Changing conditions are affecting not only the roads but sidewalks and walkways."

The storm system started pushing heavy rain, snow and ice into the region earlier this week, affecting roads and other low-lying areas. The weather was been blamed for hundreds of car crashes and several deaths, including a crash that killed four people along a slippery interstate in Nebraska.

In central Michigan's Fairplain Township, a 1-year-old girl was found dead Wednesday in standing water from rains and snowmelt in her backyard. In Oklahoma, authorities said a 53-year-old man drowned when he drove onto a flooded bridge near Stilwell and was swept off the roadway.

In Illinois, authorities issued an evacuation order Wednesday for residents in Marseilles who live near the Illinois River. Fear of the rising river also prompted the evacuation of a nursing home in Ottawa. Two days of rain in southern Wisconsin also swelled waterways, leading to a handful of high-water rescues.

And flooding continued in parts of North Texas. Authorities said about two dozen homes were evacuated Thursday in the Dallas suburb of Rockwall when runoff from a creek overflowed a lake in the neighborhood. No injuries were reported.