Arizona Foster Care Class Action Lawsuit Gets Mixed Reactions

Categories: News analysis

John K/Flickr
Since the news of a lawsuit about Arizona's "dangerous, severely deficient foster care system" broke on Tuesday, February 4, the story has made headlines around the nation. It's been reported in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, and if the past week is any indication, Beth K. v Flanagan appears to be a case many will follow closely in the upcoming months.

To recap, 10 plaintiff children in the Arizona foster care system filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Department of Child Safety and Department of Health Services for numerous "structural and operational failures." They're suing on behalf of the 16,000-plus children in the state's foster care system, and their suit is similar to others currently being fought around the country.

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In Arizona, West Nile Virus: 75, Ebola: 0

Cynthia Goldsmith/CDC
West Nile Virus
Ebola may have the nation on high alert, but the deadly virus hasn't yet made its way to Arizona. With the late summer's heavy flooding, locals should be more concerned about mosquito-borne diseases, officials say, especially the West Nile virus.

"West Nile virus is here; we know it's here, and so it's a much bigger risk," says Jessica Rigler, chief of the state Department of Health Services' Bureau of Epidemiology and Disease Control.

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Gila Bend's Dead Body Problem

Wikimedia Commons/Karen Funk Blocher

Does Gila Bend have a dead body problem? An examination of Maricopa County Medical Examiner's data indicates yes.

The medical examiner's Unidentified Persons Bureau offers a public database listing every unidentifiable body found in the county since 1970. Since that time, the database records 260 unidentified male bodies and 40 unidentified female bodies found within county limits, adding up to an even 300.

The database's details on these bodies are sometimes thin, sometimes rich, and always sad.

"Every unidentified body is a missing person," a sign in the examiner's office reads. Some cases stem from the discovery of a single skull or femur, often decayed for decades. Others list details down to the color of a deceased person's underwear, or the name on an ID that turned out to be fake.

But dig a little deeper, and you'll notice a disturbing pattern of descriptions in recent years:

"in a desert area near Gila Bend"
"a wash in a remote area near Gila Bend"
"in a desert area near Gila Bend"
"covered in mud in a wash in Gila Bend"
"in a desert area near Gila Bend"

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Families of the Fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots Are Not Getting the Answers They Need

Categories: News analysis

Graham Smith
If anyone knows why the Granite Mountain Hotshots left a safe area on top of the Weaver Mountains west of Yarnell and descended into a box canyon that became the worst death trap in the nationwide history of such crews, it's Brendan McDonough.

The only survivor of the 20-member hotshot crew that perished in the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013, McDonough, 23, is in the unique position to have heard some, if not all, of the discussions between Granite Mountain Supervisor Eric Marsh and Captain Jesse Steed in the moments before Marsh, Steed, and the others died.

What McDonough heard could explain why the crew moved off the mountain and whether it was ordered to do so by fire commanders. But McDonough isn't speaking publicly, and two state-sponsored investigations into the tragedy have shed no light on what he heard over Granite Mountain's intra-crew radio channel.

For complete coverage of the aftermath of the Yarnell Hill Fire, visit our Special Reports page.

His silence has angered one widow who believes it's time for McDonough to share what he knows.

"The answers I've received from him are brief, and clearly he's been coached," Juliann Ashcraft writes in reply to an e-mail sent to 12 families who are plaintiffs in a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Arizona Forestry Division, the Central Yavapai Fire District, and individual fire commanders.

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Innocents Hassled by the MCSO in MLB Caper

Categories: News analysis

Matthew Hendley
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office last year initiated an intense traffic stop on an innocent Prescott Valley family while deputies were helping Major League Baseball chase a suspect in an alleged game-fixing scandal.

Plainclothes MCSO deputies went to Prescott Valley -- in Yavapai County -- at the request of the MLB to follow their suspect, although the game-fixing scandal turned out to be nothing. Nonetheless, MCSO deputies told the suspect's family they were all going to jail, and the suspect's brother was handcuffed during the family's run-in with the Sheriff's Office.

A Center for Investigative Reporting writer who covered the story that's in the current issue of Sports Illustrated tells us that one of the family members recorded the traffic stop, and the audio corroborates what's reported.

"These officers really scared those people," Lance Williams says. "His family didn't do anything bad; they were just picking up his car for him."

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Military Equipment Used by Police in Ferguson Also Found at Arizona Police Departments

Categories: News analysis

A tank used by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
There's a lot of discussion taking place about the militarization of police amid protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the local police department's controversial shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Peaceful protests have been met with police tear-gassing, aiming rifles at protesters, and arrests, according to reports. It's gotten to the point that even U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says he's "deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles [by police] sends a conflicting message" in the community.

The militarization of police has been an issue the American Civil Liberties Union has reported on well before this incident, and just a few months ago, the organization reported on "massive military-grade weapons caches" at police departments in Arizona.

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Arizona Attorney General Seeks to Bring Latest Abortion Battle All the Way to Supreme Court

Matthew Hendley
Attorney General Tom Horne.

Attorney General Tom Horne wants to take a legal battle against Planned Parenthood of Arizona all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The two are fighting over a law passed by the Arizona Legislature in 2012 that would force physicians to follow the original FDA approval guidelines for a medication used in non-surgical abortions.

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Phoenix and the SCOTUS Ruling that Private Corporations Can Exercise Religious Beliefs

Categories: News analysis

East fa├žade of the Supreme Court Building. (Franz Jantzen)

The United States Supreme Court sided today with Hobby Lobby and other privately owned corporations that argued they should not be required to provide access to contraceptives in employee health plans -- as mandated by the Affordable Care Act -- if doing so violates their closely held religious beliefs.

The 5-4 split favors privately owned corporations' rights to sidestep the healthcare law because following it would infringe on their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. That law prohibits government from substantially burdening "a person's exercise of religious," and federal law defines a "person" as a corporation as well as an individual.

So there it is -- a very similar argument to the one made not long ago by Cathi Herrod, head of the Center for Arizona Policy.

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Charles Keating's Techniques Were Replicated by Those Who Helped Trigger the 2008 Financial Collapse

Categories: News analysis

Dennis Brack/Newscom
Charles Keating Jr. at a House of Representatives hearing on the Lincoln Federal Savings and Loan scandal.
Charles H Keating Jr. is remembered not only as the most notorious figure of the savings & loan crisis that swept the nation in the late 1980s - and as the namesake of the infamous Keating Five political scandal - but also as the fraudster whose techniques were replicated by those who helped trigger the 2008 financial collapse and Great Recession.

Keating, who pleaded guilty to federal bankruptcy-fraud charges in 1999 after earlier state and federal criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, died March 31 at age 90. He served four years in a Tucson federal prison, where he (a competitive swimmer himself in his youth) watched on television as his grandson, Gary Hall Jr., won Olympic gold swimming metals during the 1996 Atlanta Games.

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Half-Baked ABC 15 Report Misses the Complete Story on Florence Cops

Categories: News analysis

Former Florence police detectives Walt Hunter and Jarris Varnrobinson.
An ABC 15 reporter told viewers a story earlier this month about two former Florence detectives who'd botched cases so badly that the Pinal County Attorney's Office couldn't prosecute them.

Only no one has been able to cite what the cases were about.

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