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Inmate calls girlfriend to pick up drugs at Pinal jail
 jheadley  / 

FLORENCE — Marcus Payne, 27, was already sitting in jail, charged with burglary, theft and multiple drug possession and dealing charges. But then, he decided to call his girlfriend about picking up the drugs he had with him when he was booked into the Pinal County Adult Detention Center.

His phone call from jail only added several new drug charges to his growing rap sheet.

On July 24, Payne, of Oracle, was placed in the Pinal County jail, accused of three counts of second-degree burglary, two counts of theft and trafficking in stolen property, and four drug charges. On July 29, Payne allegedly made a suspicious phone call to his “girlfriend requesting collection of his property that is currently at the Pinal County Adult Detention Center,” according to court records.

During the call he requested that she “pick up all of his property” and that only she be the one who picked it up. Later in the same phone call, “Marcus (Payne) illustrates that there is ‘all quarter of it’ in his property,” according to court records.

Based on training, the astute sheriff’s deputy who was alerted to the call quickly identified the term “quarter” used in the phone call as a “common drug term used for weight of illicit drugs.”

Jail personnel were advised about the call and the same deputy went to the property area of the jail to examine Payne’s belongings.

The deputy identified the clothing Payne was wearing when he was booked into jail on July 24.

“I felt a substance in a sock. Subsequently, a K9 conducted an open air sniff and I was advised the K9 alerted to the same sock. Upon a search of the sock, I observed a bag with a brown, powdery substance within a plastic bag that had .6 written on it,” the deputy wrote in the probable cause statement.

The deputy also found a white, glassy substance, “that I recognized as methamphetamine next to the heroin.”

For his phone call from the county jail, Payne was charged on Aug. 1 with five counts of introduction of contraband, possession of narcotics for sale, three counts of possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a dangerous drug.

All of the charges against him were combined into four plea agreements that he is to be sentenced for on Aug. 13. Three of the four plea arrangements were signed the day after he was caught with the drugs at the Pinal County jail.

In the agreements, Payne is pleading guilty to possession of a dangerous drug-meth, second-degree burglary, possession of a narcotic drug-heroin, possession of drug paraphernalia and promoting prison contraband-meth.

Based on all of the plea deals, Payne will likely serve four years in prison under concurrent sentences, two years on the new drug charges that are to be sentenced consecutively with the first sentence, and then five years probation, if the judge agrees with the recommendations.

The plea agreements were signed on July 30 and Aug. 6. The second agreement includes the charges Payne accrued when a sheriff’s deputy found heroin and meth in his sock at the jail on July 29, meaning the new felony charges against him went from being filed to plea agreement in eight days.

“It is hard to say that this is normal, but this is an unusual situation,” said Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer. “What happened is that he kept getting out of custody and committing yet another felony. He would not show up to court and there was an active warrant for his arrest. When they went and arrested him, he had more drugs on him. He didn’t disclose it when he went to the jail. They did a pat-down after he got through everything. He brought them into the jail and they found them when he went through the scanner. There were a bunch of separate offenses created at separate times.”

Volkmer said Payne was charged for drugs officers found on him when he came into the jail, and was charged again for the drugs he had in his personal property at the jail.

“We know his criminal history,” Volkmer said. “Primarily he is first, and foremost, a drug addict. All of his behavior is addiction driven. It wasn’t a complete shock that he had additional drug cases. The thing that bothers me the most is he burglarized a house to feed his drug habit. It’s one thing to have drugs but it’s another to create victims to feed your habit.”

The county attorney said a number of plea deals that were already in the works when Payne came into the jail.

“They were comfortable moving forward when they were sure that this was the last case he had pending,” Volkmer said. “At the end of the day, he’s going to do about seven years in prison and then come out with a five-year probation period.”

Volkmer said the last set of drug charges added about two years to his already negotiated prison sentence in the first series of plea arrangements.

He said at trial Payne could be facing up to 50 years imprisonment.

“We tried to fashion a plea where he is being held accountable and would be given the opportunity if he is serious about getting clean,” Volkmer said. “He will be given that opportunity as opposed to sending him to prison for the rest of his life.”

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Teen researcher hopes his work helps to heal lands damaged by copper mining
 mstaude  / 


Sixteen-year-old Evan Chaparro spent much of his summer vacation in a lab in Tucson, extracting plant DNA and analyzing soil samples. He now hopes his summer research project will eventually lead to programs that help heal and repair lands damaged by copper mining.

As an intern with the KEYS program at the University of Arizona’s BIO5 Institute, Chaparro lived the life of a scientist for seven weeks in June and July, residing on campus and researching the impact plants have in healing damaged terrain.

“I worked in the lab every day from nine to five,” he said. “I wanted a summer program where I would be treated more like a scientist and not just a high school student. I had a great time and learned a lot.”

Chaparro, a junior at Vista Grande High School, was assigned to the Center for Environmentally Sustainable Mining for the summer program. His project focused on land damaged by the Carlota Copper Mine near Miami, Arizona, and using revegetation to repair it.

“The main objective is to repair the natural environment that was destroyed,” he said. “I investigated the impact of seeding on the percentage of fines (clay- and silt-sized soil particles) across four sites at the Carlota Copper Mine from 2014 through 2018.”

The research studied how plants can break down particles and aid in healing the environment.

“A fine is soil less than 2 millimeters in size. I analyzed soil particle data and found that revegetation accelerates the creation of fines. If fines are increasing, then the depleted land can foster new plant growth increasing biodiversity, decreasing land toxicity and improving the overall appearance of the land. Revegetation’s ability to increase fines is a viable method for land restoration and will be applied in future mine reclamation projects,” he said.

Chaparro hopes to eventually become a chemical engineer working in the field of environmental sustainability. His love of chemical engineering is one of the aspects that earned him a spot in the competitive KEYS internship program. He’s the first student from Casa Grande to be accepted into the program.

“When I interviewed with the program, they asked what type of research I was interested in. When I told them chemical engineering and environmental sustainability, I also got to interview with the lab,” he said. “I went through a very intense selection process.”

Chaparro was one of 50 students selected statewide for a spot in the KEYS program and one of the youngest.

“Most of the students in the program are juniors going into their senior year or seniors going into their first year of college,” he said.

While students in the program work independently, their research is guided by professionals in the field.

Chaparro was mentored by Raina Maier and Julia Neison, said Lisa Romero, senior director of public affairs and engagement for the BIO5 Institute.

“He worked hands-on with top faculty in a research lab,” Romero said.

The KEYS program is run by the BIO5 Institute and is open to high school students from around Arizona with a strong interest in bioscience, engineering, environmental health or biostatistics. Since 2007, 477 students have completed the internship program. More than 97% of alumni pursue science, technology, engineering or math degrees in college, according to Romero.

It’s free to attend and includes housing for those who don’t live in the Tucson area. While attending the program, Chaparro lived in a UA dorm for seven weeks.

“The UA’s BIO5 Institute leads and administers the KEYS program,” Romero said. “State, community, alumni and campus supporters including foundations like the Thomas R. Brown Foundations, the APS Foundation Inc., the Connie Hillman Foundation and the Arizona Foundation for Educational Advancement as well as all five of BIO5’s foundational UA colleges and the UA Honors College, assist in funding KEYS so that the program remains free to interns from across Arizona.”

Chaparro described the program as “the best experience of my life.”

“I was able to form lifelong friendships,” he said. “I loved every single second of the internship and it has provided me with so many opportunities and benefits. Since this program is so prestigious, I am automatically accepted into the UA Honors College.”

Next summer, Chaparro hopes to attend another science lab program or serve as a mentor for the KEYS program.

“Since I am the first from Casa Grande, I will be working with UA staff to install a recruitment program here,” he said.

He said it’s up to his generation to solve some of the environmental issues facing society.

“My main goal is to reduce carbon emissions,” he said. “I love nature and I don’t want to see the environment decline. Science is for people who care about their surroundings. I feel like my generation needs to kick it into high gear to solve some of these problems the world is facing.”

Visit the website for more information about the KEYS program.

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Kansas to move inmates to Eloy prison to ease crowding

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas plans to ease crowding in its prison system by moving scores of inmates to a private prison in Eloy over the next four months, an arrangement that made some top state lawmakers uneasy before the contract with a giant corrections company was negotiated.

The state Department of Corrections announced Friday that it signed a contract with CoreCivic Inc. to house up to 360 male inmates at the company’s Saguaro Correctional Center. The department said the first group of 120 inmates will move to Arizona by the end of the summer and the rest, by the end of the year.

Kansas’ inmate population has reached the listed capacity of its prisons of 9,920 and it is housing more than 100 inmates in county jails. That’s after the state boosted those prison capacity figures two years ago by declaring that inmates could be housed two-to-a-cell in much of the system, including in places where officials previously hesitated to do it.

State prisons were plagued with staffing shortages and there were multiple riots in 2017 and 2018. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who took office in January, issued a statement Friday saying she was “left with a crisis in corrections.”

“We came into a mess,” she said, noting that she has opposed using private prisons in the past. “The decision to send some of our inmates to a private prison wasn’t made lightly.”

The current state budget includes $16.4 million to put 600 male inmates in county jails or out-of-state prisons.

However, the budget law required leaders of the GOP-controlled Legislature to release a majority of the funding. In a June meeting with Kelly, top Republican lawmakers expressed misgivings about relying on private prisons and blocked $6.6 million of the funding, limiting the number of inmates who can be moved outside Kansas to 360.

“This is not a long-term solution,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, said Friday. “It’s a temporary situation, where we make sure that everybody’s safety — inmates and staff — is being considered.”

In June, top Republican lawmakers publicly fretted about what conditions inmates might face in Arizona, despite Kansas corrections officials’ assurances that visits there found them acceptable. Under the new contract, CoreCivic will provide an on-site monitor who reports to Kansas officials, the department said.

The department also appeared to be acknowledging concerns that moving inmates to Arizona would be a burden on them and their families. It said that under its contract, CoreCivic will provide free video visitation services.

The state’s total housing costs under the contract will be $74.76 per day, and the company said its officials “appreciate their trust in us.”

Nashville, Tennessee-based CoreCivic has come under fire from the left as one of two private companies that operate most migrant detention centers for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to CoreCivic’s financial statements, ICE detention accounted for 25 percent of the company’s $1.8 billion in total revenue in 2018.

CoreCivic already is building a 2,432-bed prison for Kansas in Lansing, outside the Kansas City area, to replace the state’s oldest and largest prison there. The state is buying the new prison over 20 years under a deal executed early in 2018 during Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration. Kelly, then a state senator, was a critic.

GOP legislative leaders backed the Lansing prison deal and noted that the state will run the new prison.

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Supervisor Smith won't seek re-election in District 4
 mcowling  / 

FLORENCE — Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, announced he will not run for reelection representing District 4 next year.

“In 2008 when I was elected into my first public office, I had no idea I would have the pleasure of serving the people for twelve years,” Smith said Thursday in a news release. “As I examine where I am in my life and what opportunities I might have waiting behind the next door, I know it is time for me to head in a different direction. That said, I announce today that l will not run for reelection as county supervisor.”

Prior to being elected to the Board of Supervisors for the first of two terms in 2012, Smith served two terms as mayor of Maricopa.

“The county is very different from when I started my county service in 2013,” Smith said. “In 2013, we were still feeling the impact of the Great Recession. The unemployment rate had soared to 13 percent with hundreds of jobs lost in the housing, agriculture and retail businesses. Sadly, families were being disrupted and economic growth was basically nonexistent.”

Now, Smith said, the unemployment rate is down to 4%, and Pinal County was the first in Arizona to regain all jobs lost during the recession. He said from that low point, the economy has diversified in high-tech industries such as green energy, automotive, aerospace, tourism and others.

“I wanted to be transformational in my actions, framing a future worth striving for,” Smith said of his attitude when coming into office. “Coupled with our county leadership team and everyday workers, we definitely are a winning team.”

Forbes recently listed Pinal County government as one of America’s Best-in-State Employers for 2019. Smith said this is something Pinal County can be proud of.

When asked what he considered his biggest accomplishment as supervisor, Smith said, “In 2014 as chairman of the board, I led the effort to re-think the county’s strategic plan. I believe much of the success we’re having today is a result of driving to a roadmap that’s focused on growing jobs, improving the transportation network, increasing our quality of life and achieving financial stability.”

Pinal County Assessor Douglas Wolf told PinalCentral the county is better for having Smith as its supervisor.

“I enjoyed working with Tony,” Wolf said. “I thought he did a good job for the county. He made a real positive contribution.”

Smith said he’s thankful for the support he received during his time in office.

“I especially want to thank Nancy, my loving wife, and my family for their sacrifice and sharing time to allow me to be a public servant,” he said. “In addition, many thanks to Marlene Pearce, our district administrator, for her professionalism and loyal service, too.”

Smith’s District 4, in western and southern Pinal County, includes the city of Maricopa, Arizona City, Thunderbird Farms, Hidden Valley, Papago Butte, Red Rock, Saddlebrooke, the Ak-Chin Indian Community and part of the Tohono O’odham Nation.