Kate Wells

Reporter/Producer

Kate Wells is an award-winning reporter covering general news for Michigan Radio. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Morning EditionAll Things Considered, and Weekend Edition, as well as on WNYC, Harvest Public Media, KUT (Austin Public Radio) and in the Texas Tribune.

Kate got her start as an intern with New Hampshire Public Radio before heading out to the Midwest, where she covered the presidential caucuses for Iowa Public Radio and won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for investigative journalism. She joined Michigan Radio in 2012. Kate enjoys hiking, the Muppets, and cake in all forms.   

Tens of thousands of water filters have been distributed in Flint.
steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Volunteers will be going to thousands of homes in Flint this weekend, making sure everyone's got a water filter.

Some 25,000 Flint homes are already using filters, according to the state's count.

But local and state teams are going door-to-door this weekend, to check on some 2,300 homes they still aren't sure about.

Michigan State Police Captain Chris Kelenske is with the state's emergency management team.

Police lights.
J J / Flickr

Leroy Payne has apparently gotten out of Dodge.

The man State Police have identified as a suspect in a quadruple murder for which Davontae Sanford wrongfully spent eight years in prison – has “left town,” according to his lawyer.

“I believe he was moving,” says Mark Magidson, Payne’s attorney, possibly somewhere “down south.”

U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court

Michigan's ban on affirmative action still stands, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Thursday.

That ruling upholds the University of Texas’ use of race as one factor in its admissions process.

But that doesn’t override the ban that Michigan voters approved in 2006, which amends the state Constitution to say public universities can’t discriminate against, or give preference to, anybody based on their race:

MI State Police website

Three possible suspects have emerged from a year-long Michigan State Police investigation into a quadruple homicide in 2007.

That investigation helped clear Davontae Sanford, who walked out of prison earlier this month after eight years of wrongful incarceration.

Two of the State Police suspects are currently behind bars for other crimes, but the third, Leroy Payne, is believed to be a free man.

The State Police investigation resulted in warrant requests for three homicide suspects. But the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office is asking for “further investigation.”

taliesin / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A suburban Grand Rapids police officer will not be charged in the fatal shooting of Lamont Gulley, the Kent County prosecutor’s office announced Tuesday.

In a 15-page report released along with disturbing audio and video footage, Prosecuting Attorney Bill Forsyth says “a review of the facts, and an application of the law to those facts” indicates that “the death was a result of an honest and reasonable belief in the need to act in defense of Officer Hoornstra.”

James Tolbert
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A Michigan State Police investigation into a nine-year-old murder case suggests Detroit police lied about evidence, and failed to follow up on big breaks in the case that might have freed a wrongfully imprisoned young man.

That man, Davontae Sanford, was finally released from prison last week, after serving eight years – largely because of what the Michigan State Police investigation found.

A brutal crime, a young teen, and a professional hit man

Davontae Sanford with family and supporters after his release.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Davontae Sanford's family is considering a civil lawsuit, sources close to the family tell us, after he was wrongfully imprisoned for eight years.

Sanford was arrested at age 14 for a quadruple homicide on Runyon Street in 2007. A recent Michigan State Police investigation shows Sanford is likely innocent, but was allowed to sit in prison for years -- well after convicted hit man Vincent Smothers confessed to the Runyon Street murders.

Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

Crowds packed Hill Auditorium Tuesday night in Ann Arbor for “Requiem for Orlando,” a community performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” to honor and mourn the victims of Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.

One of the organizers, Austin Stewart, says he was alone at his home when he first saw the news about the 49 victims gunned down at an LGBT night club. As a grad student at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater and Dance, Stewart says he wanted a way to bring people together.

Eastern Michigan University
krossbow / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

Union workers say they’re holding a press conference Tuesday at Eastern Michigan University to talk about their concerns over the school’s move to privatize dining services.

In a letter to students and staff on Monday, interim EMU President Don Loppnow says an outside vendor will pay the school enough to “expand and upgrade the dining facilities while maintaining high-quality food offerings and services.”

Only 17 miles from Lake Michigan's shore, Waukesha, Wis. wants to replace its contaminated drinking water with water from the lake.
flickr user Rachel Kramer / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Eleven of Michigan's 14 members of Congress are urging Governor Snyder – and the other Great Lakes governors – to deny a request from Waukesha, Wisconsin to divert water from Lake Michigan.

The city's ground water is contaminated with radium, which can cause cancer.

But 11 Michigan congressional reps signed a letter opposing the city's request, including U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn).

Attorney General Bill Schuette
(Courtesy of the Michigan Attorney General's office)

Attorney General Bill Schuette sent a letter to the Obama administration this week, blasting it for the recent school guidance over transgender students.

So far, 12 states have sued the Obama administration after the Department of Education sent out a letter earlier this month, telling schools their transgender students should be allowed to use the bathrooms that fit their gender identity.  

And a few Michigan Republicans say they want Schuette to sue, as well.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Studies suggest even low levels of lead exposure can hurt a fetus’ development in the womb.

And for months now, the state health department has been looking into whether the Flint water crisis caused problems with pregnancies.  

Meanwhile, researchers at Hurley Medical Center are investigating whether the lead in the water increased the number of miscarriages.

But it turns out that trying to track miscarriages is really tough.

Davontae Sanford
Michigan Department of Corrections

The Michigan State Police have wrapped up a nearly year-long investigation into who really killed four people in a Detroit home one September night in 2007.

Back then, police brought in a 14-year-old kid named Davontae Sanford. After hours of interrogation without a parent or a lawyer, he confessed and was later sent to prison.

But just weeks later, a professional hitman, Vincent Smothers, was arrested and confessed to those same killings, even leading police to the weapon he used. 

A prison block
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this week that Lorinda Swain, who served more than seven years in prison for child abuse, is entitled to a new trial. And the prosecuting attorney says he’s dropping all charges.

Swain was convicted in 2002 of sexually abusing her adopted son. But her son later recanted and told the court he’d lied about the abuse.

Swain’s attorneys also presented new witness testimony they said made the prosecution’s timeline of the abuse impossible.

Money
Steve Carmody

The White House says more than 100,000 Michiganders could see bigger paychecks, under new overtime rules.

The Department of Labor is essentially doubling the salary threshold for workers who are guaranteed overtime pay.

Starting in December, salaried workers making less than $47,476 will qualify for overtime, if they work more than 40 hours a week.

But some employers just won't be able to absorb those costs, says Wendy Block, with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

map of michigan
Screencap from Google Maps / Google / Google

Waukesha, Wisconsin got some good news today: the city wants to build a pipeline to pump millions of gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan, because its own groundwater is contaminated with radium (which can cause cancer.)

And that plan just got preliminary approval from a regional body of Great Lakes states.

Technically, the vote just finds that the Waukesha’s plan meets the “exception standard” for cities outside the Great Lakes basin to use the water.

public domain

Flint residents are again being warned about the risk of Legionnaires’ disease, which increases as the weather warms up.

At least a dozen people died during an outbreak after the city started using Flint River water in 2014.

Usually Genesee County sees between 9 to 11 cases of Legionnaires’ in a year. But state officials say there were 91 cases of the disease during the summers of 2014-2015.

The Legionella bacteria causes a kind of pneumonia, and it’s riskier for people over 50 and anyone with a history of smoking or lung problems.

The red lines show where Enbridge's Line 5 crosses Lake Michigan.
screenshot from Enbridge report to the state

The National Wildlife Federation is suing a federal agency over safety concerns about an oil pipeline running under the Straits of Mackinac.

Line 5 is operated by Enbridge Energy, the company responsible for a massive oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

taliesin / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will not hear a case where Wayne County sheriffs were found to have violated the First Amendment.

The case goes back to Dearborn's Arab International Festival in 2012. A group called Bible Believers showed up and told the mostly-Muslim crowd that their prophet was "a pervert," and that Muslims were going to burn in hell.

Some hecklers threw plastic bottles at the protesters. Eventually, police told the protesters to leave or be arrested for disorderly conduct.

Ricardo Solis/Flickr

Sewer rates are going up for Detroit's suburbs by nearly 5 percent – and most of that is to cover Highland Park's $30 million debt.

The Great Lakes Water Authority says it has to raise sewer rates on its suburban customers by 4.9% starting July 1. Without Highland Park's debt, the increase would have been 1.7%.

Last year, a court ruled Highland Park had to pay up. But the city appealed that ruling, and the case still hasn’t been settled.

everydayfamily.com

Chicken pox cases are up nearly 60% from this time last year, state health officials say.

The majority of those 239 cases were people who hadn’t been vaccinated.

"There's this misconception that because they're not seeing the illness as much as they were in the past, that there isn't a need for immunizations,” says Jennifer Eisner, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“But really, what that's showing is that immunizations are effective, and they're still necessary."

A Detroit water shutoff notice
Ali Elisabeth / Michigan Radio

One week after Detroit resumed water shut offs to residential customers behind on their bills, more than 1,800 households saw their service turned off. 

But city officials say another 3,000 customers avoided shutoffs in the last week in two ways:

1) by paying their bills, which 765 customers did, according to official numbers.

2) by getting on a new payment plan, as 1,892 customers opted to do. 

Those payment plans allow residents to pay off their past-due bills a little bit each month, on top of paying new monthly water bills.

Kylie Clifton (right) and her mom, Ginger, talk about Kylie's transition and life as a transgender girl.
Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

Kylie Clifton has long, thick waves of blonde hair, the same sandy shade as her mom's.

And the day Kylie's mom took her to the salon to get those hair extensions – that was a big day. And not just because, for the first time, Kylie felt really pretty.

"Today is the first day of the rest of my life," 11-year-old Kylie posted on Instragram that evening.  "So happy I don't know what to do with myself."

Just a few months before, Kylie was still living as Kyle – an earnest, thoughtful boy who struggled with anxiety.  

Water running from tap
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

Some 20,000 Detroit water customers could have their water shut off starting Tuesday.

That's how many are behind on their bills, according to the city.

In Detroit, the average monthly water bill is $75. The average past due amount? $633.

All those unpaid bills add up: Last March, the city was owed some $47 million in past-due residential bills – though a department spokesperson said they’re not sure what the current amount owed is, because so many people are currently making payments to avoid shutoffs.

Research
Flickr/Bill Dickinson

It would be a felony to get any money for donating or transporting fetal tissue in Michigan, under bills passed by the Republican-led Senate today. 

But Democrats say the bills are cracking down on something that's already illegal – and potentially criminalizing basic medical practices. 

Since 1993, it's been illegal to make any profit from fetal tissue donation. 

Michigan will see more extreme storms as the climate changes
Flickr/mdprovost

By 2095, Michigan's summers will be like those we're used to seeing in Arkansas and Mississippi. Our winters will be like West Virginia's and Kentucky's.

And that changing climate – with extreme heat, big storms, plus a LOT more rain and snow – means we're looking at five major health risks, according to a new report from climate researchers and the state health department.

white house
David King / Flickr Creative Commons bit.ly/1iowB8m

White House and federal officials met with LGBT advocates in Metro Detroit on Thursday, as part of a summit focused on creating safe schools and improving health for transgender youth.

The Department of Education has said for more than a year now that under Title IX, schools are legally required to treat transgender kids "consistent with their gender identity in all aspects" – including letting students use the bathroom that fits their gender identity.

Kate Wells

Firefighters have been pushing to get the cancer coverage they were promised by state lawmakers for more than a year now. 

And while the $3 million approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday still has to be approved by the full House and Senate, it is a sign that crucial Republican leaders are on board. 

Bernie Sanders speaking in Traverse City, Michigan.
Todd Church / Flickr

He may have won Michigan's Democratic primary in March, but now Sanders’ campaign wants to make sure the delegates he won, actually stick with him.

“We need to ensure delegates committing to Bernie are 100% committed Bernie supporters who will not change their vote during the second or third rounds of voting at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July,” an email sent Tuesday from the Michigan for Bernie campaign states.

“We need you to join the Michigan Democratic Party so you can be a member before the April 21st deadline.”

Alton / Creative Commons

Bills heading to Gov. Rick Snyder's desk would make it a misdemeanor, with possible jail time, for posting sexually explicit photos or videos of someone in order to threaten or intimidate them.

“I’ve had numerous complaints from mothers that their daughters had to leave high school because an ex-boyfriend put their nude image all over the high school,” says Republican State Sen. Rick Jones, one of the bill’s sponsors.

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