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Jury vindicates pro-life activist

U.S. BRIEFS | Mark Houck escapes possible 11-year sentence after dramatic FBI arrest

Mark Houck speaks with a reporter following his acquittal. Thomas More Society

Jury vindicates pro-life activist
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Fact box sources: U.S. Census Bureau and World Atlas


On Jan. 30, a jury acquitted pro-life activist Mark Houck on federal charges of obstructing an abortion facility. Houck was arrested in September in front of his wife and seven children by FBI agents who surrounded his home carrying guns and ballistic shields (see “Locked and loaded,” Jan. 28, 2023). The arrest and charges stemmed from an incident in which Houck shoved an abortion-clinic escort who was harassing Houck’s 12-year-old son. During the trial, Houck’s son took the stand to describe how the clinic escort approached them and used profanity. Local authorities had reviewed the incident and declined to file charges before the Department of Justice became involved. Had he been ­convicted, Houck could have faced 11 years in prison. “From day one, this case has been an intimidation tactic by the Biden Department of Justice,” said Houck’s attorney Peter Breen at a news conference after the verdict was announced. —Emma Freire


Car thefts in St. Louis have skyrocketed. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department logged 691 reports of motor vehicle theft last month. In January 2022, that number was only 311. Older Kia and Hyundai models that have security flaws are driving the increase. Videos on social media show how to steal them, leading to higher theft rates across the country. Progressive and State Farm, two of America’s largest auto insurers, have temporarily stopped writing new policies in some locations for Hyundai and Kia models they say are too easy to steal. The car companies say they are testing ways to address the problems. Meanwhile, St. Louis police are struggling to combat crimes of all kinds due to an officer staffing shortage. —Emma Freire

New York

Education officials have halted business contracts with dozens of companies providing special education or child care services primarily to Hasidic Jewish schools, known as yeshivas. The New York City education department cited concerns over fraud and advised employees to stop hiring the firms, according to emails obtained by The New York Times. The companies received $60 million for special education alone. The decision is the latest blow in a statewide crackdown on yeshivas amid media reports about students’ lack of secular education and failures on standardized tests. In September, the New York Board of Regents approved increased oversight for certain private schools, including yeshivas, that have operated autonomously for years. —Mary Jackson

Heather Rooks/Twitter


Biology students in Glendale will be taught that sex is binary if Heather Rooks has anything to do with it. Within a month of gaining a seat on the Peoria Unified School District board, Rooks used Facebook and Twitter to expose a textbook being considered for the district’s high school that discounts biological sex. The 32-year-old wife and mother of four calls herself a “Warrior Mama” on social media, where she urged parents to drop by the district office and review the proposed textbooks. “Everything is available to see and read through. Even the companies’ names,” she said. Rooks included a photo of a page in the book that reads, “The biochemical, physiological, and anatomical features associated with ‘males’ and ‘females’ are turning out to be more complex than previously realized.” After being appointed clerk by the board in mid-January, Rooks told The Glendale Star she was ready to shake things up: “I’m ready to solve some issues that are going on right now. I’m very excited.” The Peoria Unified School District includes more than 36,000 students. —Kim Henderson

City of Grand Forks/Facebook

North Dakota

The Grand Forks City Council voted unanimously on Feb. 6 to stop a previously approved plan to build a Chinese-owned food processing plant 12 miles from an Air Force base. Fufeng Group announced in November 2021 it had purchased land to build a corn-milling factory. Federal, state, and local elected officials objected. They said the Chinese government would gain access to sensitive information about flight operations and communication links at Grand Forks Air Force Base and missile warning and space-surveillance activities at Cavalier Space Force Station. After the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States said in December 2022 it lacked jurisdiction to stop the project, North Dakota’s U.S. senators asked the Pentagon to weigh in. Air Force officials said Jan. 27 the project represented significant threats to military activities in the area. —Todd Vician


Prisons in the Bayou State regularly detain more than a quarter of inmates past their court-mandated release dates, according to the Justice Department. After a yearlong investigation, the DOJ issued a report Jan. 25 accusing state officials of ignoring warnings to change the system for over a decade. Between January and April 2022, 27 percent of prisoners eligible for release, about 200 per month, were detained too long—most for 90 days or more. Some were first-time offenders. The practice costs Louisiana taxpayers over $2.8 million a year in housing costs alone. Most other states release prisoners within a few days of their release date. The DOJ report says many of Louisiana’s problems stem from insufficient training and high ­turnover in the state’s Preclassification Department, which calculates time served. The department uses a computer system last updated in 1991 that requires manual data entry, leading to backlogs and errors. —Elizabeth Russell


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