Prominent columns by Nick Coleman disappear, law targets cowboys

Blotter covers the weird Twin Cities news fit to print

Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman's byline disappeared from the paper's pages last month without a note to readers, and his end date at the Star Tribune has finally been set after he decided to take a buyout. Coleman will officially leave the paper's roster this Friday after more than 3,500 columns and 26 years of writing in the Twin Cities.

Coleman talked to City Pages last week about some of the details of his departure and what's in store for his future, post-Strib.

Coleman says he will be considered a Strib employee until March 13 as he uses up accrued vacation time.

"It's not easy, not fun, and not my idea," he says. "This was the best thing for me and my family."

So what's next for the well-known metro voice?

"I'm thinking of getting my chauffeur's license so I can drive limos, or maybe raiding chicken coops," he joked. "All you have to do is ride your bike down the street to know where they're at."

In all seriousness, Coleman says he is now working on putting together a new career that will likely involve "some combination of teaching, writing, and journalism."

Coleman taught an opinion-writing course at the University of Minnesota in the fall, but he says he doesn't have any definite plans to continue teaching there in the future. He says his buyout includes a non-compete agreement, but he was unwilling to disclose the details. Emily Kaiser

Law targets cowboys, not Muslims

Last week a Somali student group got its feathers ruffled over a state bill that implied that Muslim women would have to remove their headscarves for driver's-license photos. The bill stated that a license must "show the full head and face of a person."

Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud) said he introduced the bill because police had complained of people wearing head coverings that made them unidentifiable in their license photos. "People were wearing cowboy hats, baseball hats, bandanas, and the police coming back and saying this is not helpful," Gottwalt says. "There was a clear public safety request."

But the original language of the bill set off an alarm for the Somali United Movement, a group of college-aged Somalis in Minnesota. "This does not just offend Muslims, it also offends Sikhs—their men wear a turban on their head for cultural and religious reasons," says Hindia Ali.

Gottwalt quickly issued a press release that said the rules of the bill would mirror U.S. passport law. Under those rules, people may wear headscarves or turbans, as long as the full face is exposed. "We were never intending to offend, or to prohibit the kind of headwear that people require under Muslim law," Gottwalt says.

Scumbag of the week

A bus driver who held a little girl captive admits "he had feelings he did not want to act on and that he needed help," according to a criminal complaint filed this week in Hennepin County court.

On January 27, Jose Tiborio Lopez, 34, of Richfield, refused to let an 11-year-old girl off his bus as he passed her home. The girl attends Minnesota International Middle School in Minneapolis, and it was her second day riding that particular bus home.

The girl got on the school bus at 2:45 p.m. When the girl tried to get off at her stop, Lopez refused to let her off. He told her to sit back down and that he would drop her at the end of his route. The girl and the other children began arguing with Lopez, asking him to let the girl go.

Instead, Lopez continued the route, making several stops until the girl was the only child on the bus. He was mumbling in a language the child could not understand, but using profanity that she recognized.

He stopped the bus, knelt beside the girl, touched her arm, and placed his hand on her leg. He asked her questions like "Do you know your language well?"; "Where are you from?"; "How many people do you have in your family?"

The girl began to cry and asked the bus driver to call her mother and bring her home. He called her mother's number but hung up after one ring. He drove around for 10 more minutes, then told the girl to get off the bus. She was in an area that she did not know well, and it took the girl until 5 p.m. to reach home.

The girl has not ridden the bus since.

The police report for the incident lists criminal sexual conduct and false imprisonment, but so far Lopez has been charged only with felony false imprisonment.

Lopez was a driver for a company that the school contracts with, Monarch Bus Service. His criminal record includes a 2004 arrest for attempted robbery, but no child molesting or other criminal activity was on file for him with the Minneapolis Police or the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Erin Carlyle

Drunk on Sunday

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is really on a booze kick lately. First it was a bill to allow teens to drink with their parents or under direct supervision. Now she wants to allow Minnesotans to buy booze on Sundays.

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