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Crime-and-courts
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Courtroom emotion
Ex-Sioux Center teacher sentenced to 60 years for sexually abuse of 15 boys

ORANGE CITY, Iowa -- Many nights, a mother told the judge, she holds her son, helping him get his breathing under control when he has a panic attack caused by the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his former elementary teacher.

"I tell him it's going to be OK," she said.

Her son will live with the memories of the abuse committed by Curtis Van Dam, the mother said, and she, too, will suffer from feelings that she couldn't protect her son.

"How does a mom reconcile the guilt of knowing that day after day she handed her son over to the hands of a monster?" the woman said before asking District Judge Steven Andreasen Friday to sentence Van Dam, a former fifth-grade teacher at Sioux Center Christian School, to the maximum sentence allowable.

Andreasen did nearly that, sentencing Van Dam, 37, to 60 years in prison for sexually abusing 15 male students during a four-year period. Andreasen then added the sentence to a 15-year federal prison sentence Van Dam received in September for another sex crime for a total of 75 years. Van Dam must serve at least 32.5 years before he'll be eligible for parole.

Van Dam had faced up to 80 years in prison alone on the state charges.

"There is no sentence that this court can impose that will undo what has been done," Andreasen said before announcing his decision near the conclusion of the three-hour hearing in which the judge heard impassioned pleas from the victims and their families.

Van Dam pleaded guilty in November in Sioux County District Court to one count of second-degree sexual abuse, five counts of third-degree sexual abuse and one count of sexual exploitation by a school employee.

Sioux County Attorney Thomas Kunstle said Van Dam's behavior, which included coercing boys to show him their penises, allow him to touch them, masturbate in front of him and touch his penis, dated back to August 2013 and ended on Oct. 23, 2017, when he was arrested after the parents of an 11-year-old boy reported that Van Dam had had sexual contact with their son.

Van Dam pleaded guilty last year in federal court to one count of sexual exploitation of a child for taking video of seven other boys in a locker room shower.

For more than two hours Friday, Van Dam was forced to listen to the victim impact statements of 19 parents and boys -- none of whom were identified by name in court. All told him of the damage his actions had done to them and their families.

"How could you look at their precious faces and rob them of their innocence?" one mother asked. "You are not the person I thought you were. You are a monster. You are evil. You are a sick, sick human. You are a pedophile."

One father said Van Dam coerced his students to "fulfill his own sick pleasures daily."

"You even threatened his grades," another mother said to Van Dam. "You said his grades would go down if he didn't continue to see you."

Parents said they worry their sons may someday contemplate committing suicide because of the guilt and shame they feel. One mother said she and her husband were preparing to board an airplane when they received a phone call from their son's school telling them he had drawn a picture of himself holding a gun to his head.

"This is what you made him draw," the mother said to Van Dam, holding up the picture in the courtroom.

Throughout all the statements, Van Dam, wearing shackles and a black-and-white striped jail jumpsuit, sat up in his chair and showed no emotion as he looked at those speaking.

Many parents said they and their sons have trouble sleeping and suffer anxiety attacks. Their trust in authority and others has been destroyed.

"Whenever I hear my son say something about suicide, I worry he's going to do it. I'm mad at the whole school. I just don't trust anybody anymore," one father said.

One of the victims said in a statement, read in court by a guardian ad litem, that he can't leave behind the pain of what happened to him.

"It will forever hurt me to say I was a part of this," the boy said in his statement.

When given his chance to speak before he was sentenced, Van Dam declined. He showed no emotion when Andreasen announced his sentence.

His attorney, Edward Bjornstad, of Spirit Lake, Iowa, submitted no evidence but simply asked that all prison sentences be ordered to be served concurrently, or at the same time. Kunstle had requested that all sentences be served consecutively.

Andreasen said his sentence will provide Van Dam a chance to be rehabilitated and will protect the community from future offenses.

"The court believes Mr. Van Dam has expressed little or no remorse for his actions. It is my hope this sentence will bring some closure, at least on the legal side, to what you have been dealing with," Andreasen said to the more than 100 people who had filled the courtroom.

Van Dam had faced 146 charges, 103 of them felonies, related to his contact with the boys. The remaining charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

After the first victim came forward, at least 14 more boys reported incidents involving Van Dam to authorities. Court documents showed that some or all of the children were under age 12 or 13, and the incidents took place at various locations, including at school. Van Dam, who also was a coach and a youth leader at the church that many of the victims attended, was fired from his teaching post after charges mounted against him.

The fallout from the case has affected Sioux Center, the Christian school and the church, parents said.

"We trusted you to teach our kids about God and this world and you took advantage of them," one mother said to Van Dam.

Many parents said their sons will continue to undergo therapy to cope with anxiety, and they worry how the abuse will affect their sons' ability to have future relationships with women and their own children.

One mother, however, defiantly told Van Dam that the evil he brought upon her son will not win.

"The story doesn't end here," she said. "My son will be forever impacted by this, but he will not let it define him."


Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Kingsley-Pierson's Jayde Barto attempts to score against Woodbury Central during a high school basketball game in Kingsley, Iowa on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. Sioux City Journal Photo by Justin Wan


Govt-and-politics
topicaltop story
Nancy Pelosi: House may take action on Iowa's Steve King for his 'supremacist' remark

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Friday the chamber might discipline Rep. Steve King as the Iowa 4th District Republican spent a second straight day in damage control over remarks in which he asked when the term "white supremacist" became offensive.

“We’ll see what we do about Steve King, but nonetheless, nothing is shocking anymore, right?" Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol.

The California Democrat's comments came after King took to the House floor Friday to again deny he is either a white supremacist or white nationalist.

"I want to make one thing abundantly clear; I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define," King told the House. "Further, I condemn anyone that supports this evil and bigoted ideology which saw in its ultimate expression the systematic murder of 6 million innocent Jewish lives. Under any fair political definition, I am simply a Nationalist."

King said he made a "freshman mistake," taking a call from a New York Times reporter, who wrote a story on immigration and race in which King was quoted saying, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?"

“One phrase in that long article has created an unnecessary controversy. That was my mistake,” King told his colleagues. 

In his seven-minute floor speech, King did not apologize for the phrase, but said he regrets the "heartburn that has poured forth upon this Congress and this country and especially in my state and in my congressional district."

King, whose outspoken views on illegal immigration and support for far-right parties and politicians have sparked controversy in the past, has come under fierce bipartisan criticism with his latest published remarks.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the sole African-American Republican senator, cast King’s remarks and those like them as a blemish on the country and the Republican Party, which has long had a frosty relationship with black voters.

“When people with opinions similar to King’s open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole,” Scott wrote in an op-ed column in the Washington Post.  "King’s comments are not conservative views but separate views that should be ridiculed at every turn possible."

House Republican leaders also swiftly condemned King’s remarks as racist. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said in a statement on Thursday said that "Steve’s language is reckless, wrong, and has no place in our society."

The latest controversy has further imperiled King's standing with the GOP and in the House.

This week, state Sen. Randy Feenstra of Hull announced he would challenge King in a GOP primary in 2020, saying the conservative 4th District doesn't need any more "sideshows or distractions."

"Another day, another embarrassment," Feenstra tweeted Friday. "This behavior hurts our district and our conservative cause. We need an effective conservative. Congressman King isn't."

Two other Republicans also are considering entering the 4th District race -- Rick Sanders, of Ames, and Bret Richards, of Irwin. Sanders serves on the Story County Board of Supervisors. Richards is a former businessman and mayor of Irwin.

In November, King survived the closest race of of his political career, edging Democrat J.D. Scholten, by 3 percent, in a congressional district in which registered Republicans hold about a 70,000-voter advantage over Democrats.

On Friday, Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor and 2016 presidential candidate, called on Republican leaders to "actively support a worthy primary opponent to defeat King, because he won't have the decency to resign." 

"It’s not enough to condemn @SteveKingIA's unconscionable, racist remarks," Bush said in a tweet.

Some House Democrats have called on the House to censure King, a punishment spelled out under the Constitution that allows the chamber to express formal disapproval of a member's conduct. The procedure requires the accused member to stand in the well of the House chamber while a resolution is read aloud. In the history of the House, only 23 members have been censured. The most recent was Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-New York, in 2010 for failure to pay taxes, improper solicitation of funds and inaccurate filing of financial disclosure reports. 

Pelosi declined to answer what type of action the House might take related to King.

“I’m not prepared to make any announcement about that right now,” Pelosi told reporters. “But needless to say, there’s interest in doing something.”

King suggested Friday he’s been misunderstood. He said the foundation of the New York Times interview was partly a Sept. 12 tweet in which he wrote: ”‘Nazi’ is injected into Leftist talking points because the worn out & exhausted “racist” is over used & applied to everyone who lacks melanin & who fail to virtue signal at the requisite frequency & decibels. But...Nazis were socialists & Leftists are socialists.”

In his floor speech Friday, King said the Times interview “also was discussion of other terms that have been used, almost always unjustly labeling otherwise innocent people. The word racist, the word Nazi, the word fascist, the phrase white nationalists, the phrase white supremacists.”

King said he was only wondering aloud: “How did that offensive language get injected into our political dialogue? Who does that, how does it get done, how do they get by with laying labels like this on people?”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


Govt-and-politics
Iowa GOP chairman critical of King comments on ‘white supremacy’

JOHNSTON — As criticism rained down on 4th District Rep. Steve King for remarks he made about “white supremacy,” the chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa said those comments should be considered in their totality.

Chairman Jeff Kaufmann flatly rejected the idea of white supremacy, saying the term and what it stands for “is not of the spirit of the Republican Party or the spirit of this country.”

“Let me just say very clearly that the word ‘white supremacy’ is offensive to me,” Kaufmann said. “It’s offensive to the Republican Party of Iowa. We are the party of Lincoln … and, quite frankly, I think the use of the word is inappropriate.”

King, a nine-term Republican from Kiron, was quoted in the New York Times asking when terms such as “white supremacy” became offensive.

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?” he said in a nearly hourlong interview with a Times reporter.

King, a longtime opponent of illegal immigration who frequently posts politically incorrect comments on social media, was quickly condemned for his comments by leading Republicans in the U.S. House and elsewhere.

HISTORY

Kaufmann, a college history professor, wasn’t sure when those terms were not offensive.

“From Reconstruction times, ‘white supremacy’ has indicated some pretty negative things that are not of the American spirit,” he said Friday following taping of “Iowa Press.” “There are some things you can redefine in your own mind or not, but you have to understand the meaning of some of these phrases, especially if they’ve had those meanings for over 100 years.

“So if you said ‘white supremacy’ in Reconstruction days, it would essentially have about the same connotation that it does today,” he said. “I’m telling you the Republican Party in 1870 did not support that, and I’m telling you that the Republican Party in 2019 doesn’t support that.”

REACTION

U.S. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a statement calling King’s language “reckless, wrong and has no place in our society. The Declaration of Independence states that ‘all men are created equal.’ That is a fact. It is self-evident.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said it is “offensive to try to legitimize those terms.”

On Friday, King spoke on the House floor to clarify he was merely raising a question, not endorsing the concept of “white nationalism and white supremacy.”

“I reject those labels and the evil ideology they define,” he said, reading from a statement he had released to the media Thursday. “The people who know me know I wouldn’t even have to make this statement because they do know me. There’s nothing about my family or my history or my neighborhood that (supports) these false accusations.”

Later, Scalise said it was important that King “rejected that kind of evil because that’s what it is: evil ideology.”

It’s unlikely the criticism of King will stop anytime soon.

Former Florida governor and 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush said on Twitter “It’s not enough to condemn @SteveKingIA’s unconscionable, racist remarks. Republican leaders must actively support a worthy primary opponent to defeat King because he won’t have the decency to resign.”

So far, King, who survived his closest re-election contest in November by a 50 percent to 47 percent margin, has drawn three primary opponents. State Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, referenced King’s “caustic nature” in announcing his candidacy.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said Republicans are accused of racism “because of our silence when things like this are said.”

DEM RESPONSE

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said on “Iowa Press” that Republicans have been silent when King has made offensive comments in the past.

“Republicans have always stood by Steve King all the way up to and including the night before the election when (Gov.) Kim Reynolds ended her campaign with Steve King up in Sioux Center and then a week later says, ‘Oh, Steve King needs to really think about what his future is going to be,’ ” Price said.

“You know, you can’t have it both ways,” he said. “And the fact is, is that the Republican Party has always stood by Steve King. The latest rhetoric is not anything new from Steve King. We’ve heard this for years and years and years.”

“Iowa Press” can be seen at 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday on Iowa Public Television; at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on IPTV World; and online at IPTV.org.


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