A 22-year-old man accused of abducting an 8-year-old Lincoln girl from her bed and raping her in his garage has been deemed mentally fit to stand trial after more than two years of treatment at a state psychiatric hospital.
Lancaster County District Judge Darla Ideus ruled Thursday that Cody Riddle now has the capacity to understand the case being made against him and to help with his defense.
Riddle is charged with kidnapping, first-degree sexual assault of a child and burglary in the case; he faces the possibility of life imprisonment if convicted.
Police allege Riddle went to steal items from the girl's home in the early hours of Aug. 27, 2015, entered through an open garage, saw the girl and took her.
At his home, he bound her in his garage, sexually assaulted her and threatened to kill her or her family if she told anyone about it, according to police.
Riddle then let the girl go. He was arrested later that day.
At his first court appearance on the charges, Riddle tried to talk about the case, his bipolar disorder and drug problems before a defense attorney and the judge cut him off.
In December, his defense attorney asked to have his competency reviewed, and a psychologist found he was mentally incompetent and unable to understand the court case against him.
After a series of delays and evaluations at the Lincoln Regional Center, psychologists for the state and for Riddle's defense offered different assessments of whether he could help assist his lawyers with his case at a hearing in March.
A bearded Riddle appeared in a green sweater with gray sleeves and shackles at a Lancaster County District court hearing March 28.
Riddle remained silent during the hearing and had one of his hands freed so he could take notes.
But the psychologist testifying on Riddle's behalf said he didn't see many notes on Riddle's legal pad.
"It's hard to know what's going on in Mr. Riddle's head," said Mario Scalora, a former psychologist at the regional center, "but I don't see a lot of engagement."
Scalora said he believed a vicious cycle of Riddle's anxiety and low intellectual function prevented him from being able to fully participate in complex activities such as discussing a strategy with his attorney.
Regional center psychologist Jennifer Cimpl-Bohn countered that Riddle excelled during scenarios simulating tasks he would need to do to help with his case, but then when she observed him with his own attorney he shut down, she said.
"He's worried about the potential consequences should be be found competent," Cimpl-Bohn said, noting fears Riddle had of the violence sex offenders suffer from other inmates in prison.
Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Chris Turner had asked the judge to find Riddle competent, but if she didn't, to find that he can still be restored to competency.
Chief Deputy Lancaster County Public Defender Paul Cooney said there was no evidence his client is competent. And, Cooney said, the only determination that Riddle was competent to stand trial in the summer of 2016 had subsequently been reversed by Cimpl-Bohn.
Ultimately, Ideus agreed with Cimpl-Bohn's latest assessment.
"(Riddle) has shown improved problem-solving skills and an ability to integrate detailed information to make legal decisions when discussing hypothetical cases," Ideus said. "He has sufficient intellectual abilities."
She ordered him to remain at the regional center as the criminal case proceeds.
Neither Cooney nor Riddle's family immediately responded to a request for comment.
Riddle will appear in court June 6.
Police arrest couple after gunfire in Lincoln neighborhood
Police arrested two people in Belmont after residents heard several gunshots in the north Lincoln neighborhood early Thursday, a police spokeswoman said.
Residents called police around 1 a.m. after hearing the shots and seeing a white Chevy Impala drive away, Officer Angela Sands said.
A short time later, police responding to the call saw the vehicle described by neighbors and pulled it over, Sands said.
The driver, identified as 26-year-old Tiffany Barker, was arrested on an outstanding warrant. Police discovered the passenger, 26-year-old John Oliveros, had a .45-caliber handgun under his seat, and he was arrested on suspicion of possession of a firearm by a felon and felony carrying a concealed weapon, Sands said. Both were taken to the Lancaster County jail.
State prison records show Oliveros was convicted of felony drunk driving in 2016.
Investigators believe Barker and Oliveros, who are in a relationship, got into an argument before he fired the handgun, Sands said. No one was injured.
18-year-old Lincoln father charged with felony after infant son sustains broken bones
An 18-year-old Lincoln father faces a felony child abuse charge after doctors consulted by police said the broken bones suffered by his infant son last month weren't the result of an accident.
Lancaster County prosecutors allege Antoine Barbee negligently abused his son sometime between his birth in December and April 14, the date Barbee took the child to a hospital, according to court documents.
Barbee and the child's mother brought the baby to CHI Health St. Elizabeth that day, and doctors found he had a bruise over his right eye, a broken left arm and several healing fractures throughout his body, a Lincoln police investigator said.
At the hospital, neither Barbee nor the child's mother could explain to police how the boy suffered the injuries, Investigator Troy Cockle said in an affidavit for Barbee's arrest.
Further testing revealed the boy had fractures in various stages of healing in his left leg and both wrists, Cockle said.
Doctors transferred the boy to Children's Hospital in Omaha, and he was released two days later, the investigator said.
The state took the boy and another child under his parents' care out of the home, alleging the parents couldn't provide an adequate explanation for how the infant sustained the injuries, according to court records.
Police received their first explanation for the injuries April 18, when Barbee called the investigator and said he accidentally dropped the boy following a bath.
Barbee told the investigator his son's arm was broken when he picked up the child, Cockle said.
But investigators allege neither Barbee nor the boy's mother could explain the baby's healing injuries.
Doctors with Children's Hospital and Project Harmony in Omaha ruled out an underlying medical condition as the cause of the baby's injuries, Cockle wrote.
Dr. Suzanne Haney, a child abuse pediatrician, said the injuries were consistent with "non-accidental trauma," the affidavit said.
Prosecutors obtained a warrant for Barbee's arrest Monday, and he was arrested Wednesday, according to Lincoln police.
The child's mother hasn't been charged in the case.
Barbee has entered a denial to the allegations in the juvenile case, and his attorney didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.
Juvenile court records say the children remain in foster care.
3 Lincoln residents report falling victim to online scams
Lincoln police say three people reported Tuesday falling victim to online scams, collectively losing more than $5,000.
Officer Angela Sands said a 52-year-old is out $1,554 after posting an ad on Craigslist for his Mustang. The “buyer” agreed to pay $1,000, but sent a check for $2,554, saying to send the rest to a third-party in Virginia who would transport the car. After he transferred the money, he learned it was a scam.
Sands said a 66-year-old woman is out $4,200 after she got direct messages on Facebook from a friend who told her about a grant she got to pay bills and encouraged her to apply.
The Lincoln woman did, and was told she was approved for a $200,000 grant but had to pay a $4,200 fee to get the money. After she paid the money, she began to have concerns and called her Facebook friend, who said she had been hacked and didn’t send the messages.
And a 49-year-old woman is out $695 after trying to buy an English Bulldog she saw an ad for online. She was told to wire $495 to a Louisiana account and then to buy $250 in Amazon gift cards, which she did, and to go to the airport in Omaha to pick up the dog. But the dog never came.
Sands cautioned people to be aware of scams such as these and to look for red flags, such as a buyer sending a check above the agreed-upon price or seller asking to be paid in gift cards, or for a business asking for a fee to collect winnings.
Sheriff’s office part of national human-trafficking investigation
Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner said his office took part in a yearlong, nationwide human-trafficking investigation that resulted in the arrest of 15 Asian women who offered erotic massages and escort services through online ads.
Also arrested were three owners of call centers in Florida and California with ties to China.
The sheriff's electronic evidence unit helped handle some of the search warrants that helped investigators get evidence that led to the arrests, Wagner said.
He said the complex investigation focused on the use of websites such as Backpage and City Vibe, where the ads were posted.
Wagner said the ads were covers for prostitution services offered in dozens of U.S. cities, and the profits were funneled to Asian-based stakeholders in the U.S.
“Operation Extended Stay” spanned more than a year and concluded April 10, with federal and local law enforcement serving multiple search warrants in Omaha; Bakersfield, California; Los Angeles; Salt Lake City, Utah; Orlando, Florida; Lafayette, Louisiana; St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri.
Investigators were still exploring whether the women were being trafficked, he said.
Lancaster County deputies were not involved in the arrests of the 15 women.
Wagner didn't have additional details on the arrests of the women, including which states they were arrested in, or the arrests of the call center owners, who investigators believe coordinated their travels.
The far-reaching nature of the investigation surprised Wagner, he said.
"There were even connections with China as far as Chinese females coming to this country," the sheriff said.
Trail, Boswell enter pleas in federal fraud case
A former Wilber couple considered persons of interest in the disappearance and death of Sydney Loofe entered pleas Tuesday in an unrelated federal fraud case.
In separate hearings Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Lincoln, Aubrey Trail and Bailey Boswell each pleaded guilty to a single count of interstate transportation of stolen property.
Prosecutors say they will dismiss the remaining counts against them in that case during sentencing in August. Boswell had faced eight additional charges, Trail 13.
The fraud case against the pair — the last people believed to have seen Loofe alive — has eased pressure off investigators and prosecutors as they quietly look into how Loofe died and what roles Trail and Boswell might have played in her suspicious death.
To date, no charges have been filed related to her death, and investigators have not provided an update since December. It's unclear what impact, if any, Tuesday's developments might have on their work.
Boswell entered her plea first.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Russell laid out how Boswell helped Trail, her boyfriend, scam a Hiawatha, Kansas, couple, identified only as M.E. and B.E., of hundreds of thousands of dollars by claiming a gold coin was worth far more than it was. The plot involved a website and Boswell acting as a broker to sell it.
When Russell finished, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Zwart asked Boswell if what he said was true and if she knew Trail.
“Yes, ma’am,” Boswell answered to both.
The judge asked Boswell what she did to get the Kansas man to travel to Beatrice to meet her in a parking lot Oct. 20, and give her $5,000 and a gun.
"I just went there because Aubrey told me to go," the 24-year-old said.
But she said she knew the coin wasn’t worth much and it was all a scam.
Nearly five hours later, Trail was in the same courtroom admitting his involvement in the plot.
Russell said Trail, who had given the Kansas couple a fake name, was responsible for duping them into giving him $375,000 between December 2015 and Nov. 7, 2017. Boswell didn't join in the scam until February 2017.
Specifically, Russell said, Trail was pleading to a charge for getting the couple to drive from Kansas to Falls City on Aug. 24, 2016, to give him $12,000 they thought was going toward the coin's sale. Trail said they would share the proceeds.
Since Trail's arrest in November, the 51-year-old has made repeated statements to the media about his involvement in this fraud and Loofe's death. But at Tuesday's hearing, he said little.
The FBI has said the fraud was uncovered during the course of a separate ongoing investigation into the disappearance and death of Loofe, a 24-year-old Lincoln woman who was reported missing Nov. 16 after she didn't show up for work.
She had gone on a date with Boswell a day earlier and was last seen in the Wilber area.
In December, shortly after law enforcement tracked down Trail and Boswell near Branson, Missouri, and brought them back to Saline County, Loofe's remains were found in rural Clay County.
Trail and Boswell have been in jail on the federal fraud charges ever since.
Now, they each face up to 10 years in federal prison, $250,000 in fines and hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution.
Trail had been set to enter a plea in the case in April, but before his scheduled hearing April 5, he decided to go to trial instead. He wrote in a letter to the Journal Star at that time that he declined to take the plea deal because it required him to implicate Boswell in the scheme.
Korey Reiman, Trail's court-appointed attorney, said his client and the government believed their plea deal fairly resolved the case.
Meanwhile, the Nebraska Attorney General's office and Lancaster County Attorney's office have said little about their ongoing investigations.
Reached soon after Trail's plea, County Attorney Pat Condon said he hadn't yet heard about the plea and was unsure how it would affect his office's ongoing investigation.
The Attorney General's office had indicated that the state would wait for the end of the fraud case to prosecute Trail on a gun charge.
"Today's pleas are specific to the federal case and do not have bearing on our office's charges," said Suzanne Gage, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's office, in a text message Tuesday.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said he couldn't say if Boswell's plea included an agreement to cooperate in any other open investigations.
Former First-Plymouth youth leader accused of making sexual advance on boy
Prosecutors have filed felony charges against a former First-Plymouth Church youth leader whom Lincoln police accuse of making an inappropriate advance on a 12-year-old boy at the church, according to court documents.
A Lancaster County judge Friday issued an arrest warrant for Taylor T. Martin, 22, on charges of attempted sexual assault and child abuse.
The allegation came to light in February, when the boy told a therapist Martin had approached him in a church bathroom during a Wednesday night youth group session, a police investigator said in an affidavit for Martin's arrest.
The boy said he had just left the gym, where he had been playing basketball, and gone into the bathroom when Martin entered, grabbed him by the sides, kissed him and asked to perform a sex act on the boy.
The boy said no, then left the bathroom, according to police.
Investigators believe the encounter occurred in 2017, according to the affidavit.
Martin, who now lives in Washington, D.C., didn't immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.
The Rev. Jim Keck, First-Plymouth's senior minister, said the church has been cooperating with police since staff learned of the encounter.
Martin left the church voluntarily after serving for a couple of years as a youth group leader, a contract position compensated by a monthly stipend, Keck said.
Martin, like others at the church who work with children, passed a background check and completed "boundary training," Keck said.
Early in the investigation, church officials held special sessions with youth and families encouraging them to tell someone if someone makes them feel uncomfortable, he said.
The encounter described by the boy is the only such incident church officials know about, Keck said, but church leaders overseeing the children and youth department will hold new sessions to provide more information since the case became public.
Keck is thankful the boy said no and was able to get to safety, he said.
“Obviously, we’re heartbroken about this and have been ministering to the family from the moment we first heard," Keck said.
If convicted, Martin would face up to 23 years in prison.
Police plan summer crackdown on racing on Lincoln streets
Lincoln police will crack down on street racing on and around O Street and trespassing at nearby businesses this summer, a department captain said Tuesday.
Officers will conduct special patrols beginning Friday between 8 p.m. and midnight and hope to reduce racing and noise to promote safe driving practices and improve the quality of life for nearby residents, Capt. Marty Fehringer said.
Nebraska State Patrol troopers and the department's helicopter will help in the project.
"Street racing is dangerous and puts everyone at risk," Fehringer said, noting that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.
In Lincoln, racing on city streets is outlawed by city ordinance.
Racers often speed down long stretches of road with space between stoplights, as can be found on parts of O, 70th and 84th streets, Fehringer said.
In their efforts, officers will also be looking for unauthorized gatherings in private parking lots along O Street, he said.
Ticketing trespassers will take away places where racers stage before and after and can prevent some fighting that results, he said.
Friday's project will be paid for through the police department's overtime budget.
Fehringer said the department plans to hold four or five of these special enforcements, and grant funding might pay for one of those.
Lincoln man accused of attempted rape after woman tells police he forced himself on her
Prosecutors on Monday charged a Lincoln man with attempted rape after a woman told police he forced himself on her at his apartment Friday.
Joshua Ruff, 29, was arrested at the Lincoln Police Department's headquarters later that day, according to court documents.
Police say Ruff messaged the 19-year-old woman on a social media app the day before and asked her if she wanted to hang out.
The two ate at a yogurt shop, then went to his apartment, where they watched TV, investigators said in an affidavit for his arrest.
That's when he grabbed her leg, tried kissing her and exposed himself, she told investigators.
She said she told Ruff they were just friends but he continued making sexual advances, the affidavit said.
Then she asked him to take her home and she tried to leave twice, but both times he slammed the door shut, police said.
At one point, he pushed her onto the couch and tried to have sex with her, she told police.
She head-butted him to stop him, she said.
But later, Ruff pulled her into the bedroom and again tried to have sex with her, but she fought him off, police said.
Eventually, she talked Ruff into taking her home, where she called police, the affidavit said.
The woman recorded audio of part of the encounter, according to investigators.
In the recording, the woman can be heard telling Ruff to stop multiple times and to get off of her, investigators said.
Ruff told investigators he never tried to have sex with the woman and denied any physical contact, the affidavit said.
In court Monday, a judge set Ruff's bond at $100,000 and ordered him not to contact the woman.
Ruff's attorney, Nick Glasz, declined to comment Monday.
If convicted, Ruff faces up to 20 years in prison.
Police arrest man suspected of beating friend with hammer
Police have arrested a Lincoln man they suspect beat and bloodied his friend with a hammer at a Hartley neighborhood home May 2, according to court records.
Jacob F. Brehm, 41, was arrested Friday on suspicion of second-degree assault, use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony and robbery, according to jail records.
On May 2, Brehm and a stranger came to the 37-year-old man's home near 35th and Q streets at about 9 a.m., police said in an affidavit for Brehm's arrest.
The victim had been hanging out with Brehm earlier that morning but believed he upset him, so he left, police said.
When Brehm and the stranger came to his place, the man opened the door and the stranger tackled him, police said.
Then Brehm began kicking him in the head and at some point hit him with a hammer, the affidavit said.
The man told police they bound his hands with electrical tape and gagged him with a sock sprayed with some type of cleaning solvent.
Ultimately, he got the men to leave his home by telling them he would say someone else attacked him, police said.
Before they left, they took his cellphone, tablet, gold chain, jacket and other items, he said.
The victim went to a neighbor's house to get help and was then taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Brehm remained at the Lancaster County jail Monday, and police were still trying to identify the other man.
Police investigating robbery at north Lincoln restaurant
Lincoln police are trying to identify a robber who mugged a Burger King restaurant employee in north Lincoln on Friday evening, a police department spokeswoman said Monday.
The 48-year-old manager at the 48th and Holdrege street location was walking to her car with the bank deposit bag when a stranger punched her, Officer Angela Sands said.
He tried to take the bag, and after they struggled over it, he pried it away from her and ran south, Sands said.
Police didn't disclose how much money was in the bag and didn't give a description of the robber.