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For murder of Peru State student Tyler Thomas, Joshua Keadle is sentenced to 71 years to life

BEATRICE, Neb. — Joshua Keadle will spend at least 35 years in prison for the death of a fellow Peru State College student almost a decade ago.

Keadle, now 38, was sentenced Wednesday to serve 71 years to life for the second-degree murder of Tyler Thomas, a student from Omaha who was captain of the southeast Nebraska college’s dance team.

Tyler Thomas

With good time and time served in jail awaiting a trial, he would be eligible for release on parole in 35 years.

Thomas family members expressed relief that someone had been punished for the death after waiting and wondering if that would ever happen. But Thomas’ mother, LaTanya also voiced regret that the family still doesn’t know exactly what happened.

“I had hoped through all of this to find out where she is and what he did to her,” the mother said. “We still don’t know ... but I’ll take this.”

Thomas, 19, disappeared on Dec. 3, 2010, after an early morning ride with Keadle to a boat launch on the Missouri River just a couple of miles from the Peru State campus.

Her body was never found despite months of searches.

Keadle, who did not testify at his trial in February, initially told investigators that he was not with Thomas on the night she disappeared. Later, he changed his story, saying that he had offered to give Thomas a ride to Omaha in exchange for a sex act. But he said the arrangement fell through and, after an argument, he left her behind at the boat ramp.

In announcing his sentence, Gage County District Judge Rick Schreiner said that despite Keadle’s claims that he was wrongly convicted, it was clear from his own words that he was responsible for the death of Thomas.

“You did nothing to make sure she got home safely,” the judge told Keadle. “Instead you chose to protect yourself.”

Keadle had even participated in the searches for Thomas’ body, Schreiner said, but searched far from the place he had left her.

“You didn’t want her to be found,” the judge said.

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The lack of a body complicated the investigation, which eventually went cold.

Then, in 2016, newly elected Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson agreed to take a new look at the case at the urging of Thomas’ family.

That led to the arrest of Keadle, who had been a person of interest in the disappearance and who by then was serving time in prison for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl in Fremont in 2008, while Keadle was a college student there.

Keadle, in a statement before he was sentenced, said he was “a better person” today and was haunted by seeing Thomas’ grandmother crying as searches were launched.

“I’m sorry for the choices I made,” Keadle said, looking at 10 members of the Thomas family in the courtroom. “I feel responsible for Tyler not being here. (But) I did not kill Tyler Thomas.”

Keadle was charged with first-degree murder but was found guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder by a jury in February. He faced 20 years to life in prison, and prosecutors had asked for a life sentence, while Keadle’s attorney requested that he get at least a chance to be released on parole.

But Thomas’ brother, Dillon, of Omaha, said he was satisfied that Keadle would have a long time behind bars “to consider what he did.”

The sentencing hearing had been delayed until Wednesday because of COVID-19 concerns. Most of the reporters and spectators wore masks through Wednesday’s hearing.

Notable crime news of 2020

'Tipping point' in public health debate?Walmart requires masks

MIAMI (AP) — Arizona, Texas and Florida together reported about 25,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday as restrictions aimed at combating the spread of the pandemic took hold in parts of the United States.

The face-covering mandates, lockdowns, health checks and quarantine orders underscored the reality that the number of infections is continuing to tick upward and that a return to normalcy may be further off than many leaders had envisioned just weeks ago.

Walmart on Wednesday became the largest U.S. retailer to require that customers wearmasks. Hours later, Kroger, parent of Baker's Supermarkets, said it would require masks starting July 22. Best Buy, Apple and Costco already required masks.

Alabama will begin requiring face masks after the state reported a pandemic-high of 40 deaths in a single day. In Texas, which again set a record Wednesday for confirmed new cases with nearly 10,800, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has increasingly emphasized face coverings as the state's way out of avoiding another lockdown, which he has not ruled out. Among the sternest measures were in New York, where Gov. AndrewCuomo added to a list totaling 22 states whose visitors will be required to quarantine for 14 days if they visit the tri-state region. Outof-state travelers arriving in New York airports from those states face a $2,000 fine and a mandatory quarantine order if they fail to fill out a tracing form.

The broad reach of the virus has brought scrutiny to governors' decisions. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a first-term Republican governor who has backed one of the country's most aggressive reopening plans, became the first U.S. governor to announce that he had tested positive for COVID-19. He plans to quarantine at home.

Stitt, who has resisted a statewide mandate on masks and rarely wears one himself, attended President Donald Trump's Tulsa rally last month, which health experts have said probably contributed to a surge in virus cases there, but Stitt said he's confident that he didn't contract the virus at the rally.

Florida surpassed 300,000 confirmed cases Wednesday, reporting 10,181 newones as its daily average death rate continues to rise. Major cities in Florida have imposed mask rules, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has declined to issue a statewide order, arguing that those are best decided on and enforced locally.

Still, on Tuesday the governor wore a mask for the first time while speaking publicly.

"We have broken single-day records several times this week, and there's nothing about it that says we're turning the corner, or seeing light at the end of the tunnel," said Dr. Nicholas Namias, chief of trauma and surgical critical care at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

He said diminishing bed capacity is creating problems at the hospital. "We're getting to the point where it's going to be full. We have gridlock and we won't be able to take patients and they'll just be stacked in the ERs," Namias said.

Recreation and entertainment destinations were confronting how and when to return to business.

Organizers canceled the 2021 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, because of the pandemic's impact on long-range planning for the New Year's tradition, the Tournament of Roses Association said Wednesday. But DisneyWorld went ahead with the rolling opening of its Florida theme parks that started last weekend, welcoming back visitors to Epcot and Hollywood Studios — despite the surge of cases in the state.

As schools contemplate how to safely hold classes, at least three dozen high school students in northern Illinois tested positive for the coronavirus after some attending summer sports camps showed symptoms of the disease. In South Carolina, meanwhile, elected leaders were joining forces to demand that schools open five days a week for in-person instruction.

Walmart's mask mandate, effective Monday, covers all of its stores and its Sam's Club stores. Given Walmart's clout as the largest retailer in the U.S., its decision is expected to push others to issue similar mandates.

The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, said it hopes Walmart's move will be a "tipping point in this public health debate."

Retailers had been hesitant to issue chain-wide mandates for fear of angering some customers. They also didn't want to have their workers play the role of enforcers of the protocols. It was already hard enough to get some customers to comply even in the states that had themandates. However, the recent surge of new virus cases — particularly in Florida, California, Texas and Arizona — has left them with no choice, retail experts say.

"I think Walmart's decision will give cover to other retailers to require masks," said Michael J. Hicks, an economist at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

Omaha police officers racked up $2.5 million in overtime during protests

After two nights of protests, which started peacefully but deteriorated into clashes between protesters and police officers, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer ordered an extremely rare shift change.

From Sunday, May 31, to Sunday, June 7, the entire Omaha Police Department was put on the “Alpha Bravo” shift. That meant all officers were scheduled to work every day, with 12-hour shifts instead of the normal eight hours. Many officers worked longer than 12 hours a day.

That schedule change, plus the hours logged by officers who were called in to work on the first two days of the protests, May 29 and 30, led to a huge increase in overtime.

During the entire 10-day period, the city paid its police officers a total of $2.5 million in overtime pay and benefits.

The highest total came June 1, the day Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced that charges wouldn’t be filed against Old Market bar owner Jake Gardner in the shooting death of 22-year-old James Scurlock. On that day, officers worked about 5,203 overtime hours, totaling $409,733 in pay, pension and health benefits.

The next-highest total was May 31, with 4,699 overtime hours, costing $379,219. On three days — May 30, June 2 and June 6 — officers logged between 3,400 and 3,800 overtime hours each day. The lowest in that time span was the first night of the protests, May 29, with 1,432 hours, costing $116,822.

May 28, the day before protests began, the department had only 2 hours and 15 minutes of overtime, costing $186.

The protests began May 29 at 72nd and Dodge Streets after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. At first, that protest consisted of people holding signs and chanting, but later, some protesters became unruly and officers used pepper balls and tear gas to break up the crowd.

Saturday, May 30, after the large gathering at 72nd and Dodge was broken up by officers, many protesters headed downtown, where some people smashed windows and vandalized businesses. The night would end tragically with the death of Scurlock.

Subsequent rallies and protests of varying sizes were held in the following days throughout the city — in the Old Market, at 72nd and Dodge, in Memorial Park and North Omaha and near Kleine’s west Omaha home.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert ordered a citywide curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. May 31 through June 2 and 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. June 5 and 6, as part of a declared state of emergency. On the first night of the curfew, protesters did not follow the 8 p.m. cutoff, which led to a skirmish with officers and arrests. Two nights later, peaceful protests ended on time, which prompted Stothert to lift the restriction for a couple of days before imposing it again the next weekend.

Overtime amounts dropped considerably on the two days when no curfew was in place.


Omaha police fire tear gas as they approach protesters sit in the eastbound lane of Dodge Street just west of 72nd Street on May 29.

According to the police union contract, any time worked after 8 hours on an Alpha Bravo shift is overtime; if the officer was scheduled to be off, then the entire shift is considered overtime. During a normal schedule, any time past 8½ hours worked is overtime.

Officers who had scheduled time off during the Alpha Bravo period weren’t allowed to take it. Some were called back to work as they drove toward their vacation destinations. One sergeant was told he would have to miss his daughter’s wedding, but after police union representatives talked it over with Schmaderer, the sergeant was allowed to go.

“It severely affects people’s lives,” said Deputy Police Chief Michele Bang, who said Alpha Bravo had never before been ordered in her 26 years with the department. “But it was wise to do it.”

In late May, the department’s sworn strength was at 888 officers, which includes all ranks. Because some officers were on long-term medical or military leave or had been exposed to or were sick with COVID-19, and some homicide detectives performed their regular duties, 853 officers were working during the protests. That number includes 19 limited-duty officers who covered precinct offices or performed other nonpatrol duties.

The 12-hour shift schedule was flexible to allow for overlap, Bang said, and the department assigned more officers to the afternoon and evening shift than the morning.

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“It was all hands on deck,” Bang said. “If you were working, you were helping (with the protests) in some form.”

Once the Alpha Bravo shift was finished, the department returned to normal working hours — three shifts of eight hours. Some officers, because of when their days off were scheduled, didn’t get a break even then.

Tony Conner, the president of the Omaha Police Officers Association, said the cost of overtime pay was well worth it to Omaha residents and business owners, especially when one considers that damage to the city could have been worse.

“That’s where your tax dollars go to, to protect your business and the city,” Conner said.

Conner said working a protest is more strenuous and stressful than other assignments that require overtime, such as the College World Series, where officers might be directing traffic or on patrol.

“The assignment is obviously drastically different,” Conner said.

Numbers show that overtime hours and pay for officers during the entire 2019 College World Series, when teams arrived on June 12, 2019, until the third championship game on June 26, 2019, amounted to the second-highest total daily total during the protests.

During those 15 days just before and during the 2019 College World Series, the department logged 4,647 hours of overtime, about $374,000 in pay and benefits. That's about equal to the hours and pay from May 31, the first day Schmaderer ordered the Alpha Bravo shift — which was the second-highest daily total during the first 10 days of protests in Omaha. 

Protests in Omaha after James Scurlock's shooter not charged

Photos: Fourth day of protests in Omaha after James Scurlock's shooter not charged

After little federal guidance, health director looks locally for answers on reopening schools

Douglas County’s health director voiced frustration Wednesday about the lack of leadership at the national level in providing guidance about safely reopening schools this fall.

Adi Pour, director of the Douglas County Health Department, said she and other health directors across the state have been working with the Nebraska Education Department to produce some common parameters for reopening based on best practices.

The Health Department is already receiving near-daily reports of cases of COVID-19 among sports teams and other groups that have resumed games, practices and rehearsals.

Such cases could be a “preamble” to what happens when students return to classrooms, Pour said. One difference, she said, is that students in classrooms typically won’t have interactions as close as those in contact sports.

Pour said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has produced some documents on school reopenings, but they’re relatively broad. So on Wednesday, she said, she sent a page of questions to an infectious diseases physician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center seeking more specific guidance, particularly regarding what public health agencies should do when a first case occurs in a classroom.

“We need some answers from our (experts) locally here that we are not getting anywhere else,” Pour told the Douglas County Board of Health.

Pour’s remarks were part of an update to the board on the Health Department’s activities. “All the schools want to know: What does it take to really open schools safely in the middle of August?” she said.

She said the department and others have been working through some details. Every school is different, because every building is different and the occupants are different, largely depending on the ages of the students.

Two members of the Burke High School dance team tested positive earlier this month. Millard West has reported a positive case on its dance team, and Millard North had one on its cheerleading squad. In both cases, school officials worked with the Health Department and informed families.

The department also has tracked cases among three high school sports teams: one each in basketball, baseball and softball.

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“It is possible to do it safely, but it does require some work and it does require some sacrifice (from) the teams,” she said in an interview.

But Pour said local health officials had more frequent contact with the CDC during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic. They knew exactly what the recommendations were.

With the current broader recommendations for COVID-19, educators and health departments are drafting their own guidance. They generally agree on big concepts such as regular cleaning and social distancing. But more detailed information is missing. Most advise making such decisions in consultation with the local health department, based on the status of the virus in the community.

That means local staff members have to make some of those very difficult decisions, she said. Pour reported to the board that some members of her staff have not had a day off in months.

“That leadership that would give us some answers ... is not there,” she said.

Our best staff images from July 2020

Photos: Our best staff images from July 2020