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Cities sue Defense Department over gun-check system failures

NEW YORK — Three large U.S. cities filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the Department of Defense, arguing that many service members who are disqualified from gun ownership weren't reported to the national background check system.

New York City, San Francisco and Philadelphia said in court papers that the military's broken system for relaying such information helped spur the massacre of 26 people inside a Texas church last month.

"This failure on behalf of the Department of Defense has led to the loss of innocent lives by putting guns in the hands of criminals and those who wish to cause immeasurable harm," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. "New York City is joining Philadelphia and San Francisco to stand up to the Department of Defense and demand they comply with the law and repair their drastically flawed system."

Local law enforcement officials rely on the FBI's database to conduct background checks on gun permit applications and to monitor purchases. It must be up-to-date in order to prevent people from wrongly getting guns, the cities' attorneys wrote.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, seeks an injunction and judicial oversight to ensure ongoing compliance with the Defense Department's obligation to submit records.

Military officials previously acknowledged problems with their reporting.

A Pentagon spokesman on Tuesday said he couldn't comment specifically on the lawsuit.

"The department continues to work with the services as they review and refine their policies and procedures to ensure qualifying criminal history information is submitted to the FBI," said Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman.

The Defense Department's failure to report "significant numbers" of disqualifying records to the FBI's national background check system allowed former U.S. Air Force member Devin P. Kelley to buy a rifle and shoot 26 people to death Nov. 5 in a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church, the lawsuit said. Kelley had been convicted of assaulting family members in a 2012 court martial and should not have been allowed to purchase a gun.

Air Force leaders already acknowledged that the service failed to alert the FBI to Kelley's criminal history and that they discovered "several dozen" other such reporting omissions. They said that while policies and procedures requiring reporting were in place, training and compliance measures were lacking.

And Army leaders have said their service also has similar gaps.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon's watchdog agency found a "troubling" number of failures this year by the military services to alert the FBI to criminal history information. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a far-ranging review of the FBI database.

Philadelphia, in particular, has been plagued by gun violence and "relies on this reporting when making the crucial decision whether a license-to-carry applicant should be permitted to carry a firearm," said Mayor Jim Kenney, who is a Democrat like the mayors of New York and San Francisco. "We're joining in this suit because reporting these records is absolutely critical to those decisions. The background check system only works if it contains the proper records."

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement that the Department of Defense's failure to accurately report criminal convictions puts Americans at risk.

"We cannot accept the level of gun violence in our country as 'just the way it is,'" he said.

The lawsuit names the armed forces individually, as well as the Department of Defense, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and several other officials.

According to the lawsuit, the U.S. Air Force failed to submit records in about 14 percent of cases, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps failed to submit records in 36 percent of cases, and the U.S. Army didn't submit records in about 41 percent of cases.

The Air Force said it has already made changes designed to prevent such failures in the future. For example, it is now requiring that leaders up the chain of command verify that criminal history reporting requirements have been met in every case. And, additional training on these procedures is being conducted.

Siouxlanders are shivering
Cold front sent Siouxland residents shivering with temps 20 degrees below normal

SIOUX CITY | Sue Craney offered some sage advice while walking along Sixth Street in downtown Sioux City Tuesday afternoon.

"Got to know how to bundle up," the Sioux City woman said.

A bitter cold front left much of Siouxland shivering as wind chill values dipped below zero throughout the day. Along with deep freeze-like conditions, the tri-state region faces more snowfall later in the week.

Brad Temeyer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, said single-digit high temps Tuesday were at least 20 degrees below normal.

"Sioux City's high should be around 30 degrees and the low should be around 10," Temeyer said. "So after a relatively mild December, this sudden cold front probably came as quite a shock to the system for many people."

Wednesday might actually be considered a bit of a warm-up since temperatures will likely stay at around 9 throughout the day and night.

However, Temeyer warned Wednesday night's gusty southeast winds will bring in a 60 percent chance for snow.

"People in Northwest Iowa can see as much as 2 to 3 inches of snow from this system," he said. "In Sioux City, people should expect less than an inch of new snow accumulation."

The snow system will move out of the area fairly quickly. Thursday will bring partly sunny skies and a high near 20.

Colder temperatures and a 60 percent chance for snow will return on Friday. An overnight low of 6 below is in the forecast and Sioux City may see a light dusting of snow before the system leaves the area Saturday morning.

"People will see some of the white stuff on the ground on Saturday," Temeyer said. "But there will be very little accumulation from this system."

The real news for the weekend will come from wind chill values that may dip to 30 below early Sunday morning, making for bitterly cold New Year's Eve celebrations.

"The last time Siouxland has seen wind chills that low was in December 2016," Temeyer said. "Chances are we'll be saying goodbye to 2017 on a very cold note."

Mr. Goodfellow: Hy-Vee


AMOUNT: $1,000

ABOUT THE DONOR: The Hy-Vee stores have teamed up to assist children through the Goodfellow fund. Hy-Vee employs more than 1,300 people in the Sioux City area at its stores on Hamilton Boulevard, at Southern Hills Mall, on Gordon Drive, on Pierce Street and in South Sioux City.

DONOR COMMENT: "Hy-Vee has contributed to the Goodfellow program for many years. Hy-Vee’s community involvement has reached many lives in the Siouxland area through programs such as our Operation Helpful Smile program, Hy-Vee School Bucks and the church scrip program. Our customers have also earned more than $5 million in fuel saver rewards since December of 2012," said Hy-Vee spokesman Scott Wieck. "We feel the program helps a lot of children, and it is another way Hy-Vee can give back to the community."

Siouxland companies offering employees tax cut bonuses

SIOUX CITY — Receiving a $1,000 bonus from her job couldn’t have come at a better time for Catherine Schneider, a teller supervisor at Pinnacle Bank in Sioux City.

The mother of two daughters is pregnant with her third daughter — Schneider is due in April — and she and her husband are in the midst of trying to upgrade their home to better accommodate their expanding family.

So when Pinnacle announced late last week it was giving all full-time employees a $1,000 special bonus in celebration of the recently passed federal tax reform bill, Schneider was surprised.

"I was a little more startled than anything," she said. "It's really nice to have a company that cares about its employees and just feels that we can benefit from the (tax cut) just as much as anybody else."

Those types of reactions were common across the board at Pinnacle Bank, which operates Northwest Iowa banks in Sioux City and Hinton.

The branches are also part of the larger Pinnacle Bancorp Inc., a Nebraska-based financial institution that operates 149 banks in eight states.

Pinnacle is among several U.S. companies promising one-time bonuses or higher pay, citing the tax bill signed by President Trump Friday that cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Among those sharing some of their tax savings with their employees are some other businesses with a presence in Siouxland, including AT&T, the Sinclair Broadcast Group and Wells Fargo.

Pinnacle Bank president Dillon Retzlaff said company-wide, all 2,000 full-time employees — including all 12 in Iowa — received the $1,000 special bonus and part-timers received a $500 bonus.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Pinnacle Bank president Dillon Retzlaff said it "was the best feeling" in the world to tell his employees they were getting $1,000 bonuses before Christmas. Pinnacle, a member of the Nebraska-based Pinnacle Bancorp Inc. line of financial institutions, gave all of its full- and part-time employees bonuses as a way of celebrating the passage of the new tax relief bill.

Retzlaff broke the good news to his employees via an email and then walked out of his office to see their reactions.

“They reacted very well,” he said. “I saw some tears of joy, a lot of unexpected happiness; it was really fun to do that before Christmas. I think we caught them off guard.”

Retzlaff said it “was the best feeling in the world” to be able to tell his staff they were being given this bonus this year.

“After a tax cut, a lot of politics gets involved and discussions on tax reform, but we thought this sent the right message that it’s really fun to be able to take some windfall and make sure it ends up in everyone’s hands and everyone gets to benefit from it,” he said.

Brittany McKinley, a loan processor at Pinnacle Bank, plans on saving her bonus.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Brittany McKinley, a loan processor at Pinnacle Bank, talks about the $1,000 bonus she received during an interview at the bank's Sioux City location. McKinley plans to save her bonus, which the bank's parent company gifted all full- and part-time employees as a response to the new tax relief bill passed by Congress.

She told her family about it when they gathered for Christmas and she said they joked that the bonus was the reason she gave out really good presents although she hasn’t received it yet.

“They were jealous,” McKinley joked.

AT&T announced it planned to give all 200,000 of its full-time employees nationwide a $1,000 bonus. The nation's second-largest wireless carrier operates a corporate store in Sioux City on Singing Hills Boulevard.

Wells Fargo, which has four stores in Sioux City and locations in Denison, Iowa; Norfolk and West Point, Nebraska; and Beresford, Yankton and Vermillion, South Dakota, will raise its minimum wage from $13.50 an hour to $15 per hour, starting in March.

Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which owns two Dakota Dunes-based stations -- CBS affiliate KMEG and Fox affiliate KPTH -- is giving a $1,000 bonus to its nearly 9,000 full-time and part-time employees.