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Coronavirus case confirmed in Pinal County

FLORENCE — The Pinal County Public Health Services District confirmed Friday a presumptive positive case of coronavirus.

The patient, a health care worker in her 40s, lives and works in Pinal County and is currently in stable condition in a Maricopa County hospital. She is not a known contact of any confirmed COVID-19 cases and has not traveled to any areas where COVID-19 is spreading widely. For this reason, Pinal County Public Health is treating this case as its first instance of community spread.

“Community spread refers to the spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. Just like during flu season, if you get symptoms, you need to stay home and take care of yourself,” said Dr. Shauna McIsaac, director of Pinal County Public Health. “Similar to the flu, most people will only have mild symptoms that do not require a visit to a health care provider or hospital. Individuals who are older or have underlying health conditions like chronic lung disease are at higher risk of more severe illness. Occasionally, a young, healthy person will have severe disease. Unfortunately, this woman is one of those people.”

The two previous Arizona cases involved people in metro Phoenix.

The Pinal woman’s case was the second identified through testing by a state health lab.

“I understand that this sounds concerning,” said McIsaac.. “But it's important people know that public health is prepared for community spread of flu-like illness every year.”

Washing hands with soap and water and not touching your eyes, nose or mouth continues to be the best way to decrease the spread of the virus, officials said. They also urged anyone feeling sick to stay home.

“These are three things that will be the most effective way to prevent the spread of this virus," McIsaac said.

The virus spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The symptoms are thought to appear between two and 14 days after exposure, the department said. Children appear to have milder forms of the respiratory illness and aren't at risk for “severe disease,” said  Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for disease control at Maricopa County Department of Public Health. 

“Just like the flu, the vast majority of people will have mild symptoms and completely recover without any treatment at home,” Sunenshine said.

Meanwhile, three firefighters and two ambulance workers in Scottsdale remain in quarantine at their homes after treating a patient who later tested positive for coronavirus. They have not displayed any symptoms, according to Maricopa County Public Health officials.

The man they treated last week was the state’s second patient with coronavirus.

COVID-19 is a respiratory infection with symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath. The vast majority of people with the disease have mild symptoms and will not require medical intervention.

COVID-19 is believed to spread mostly through respiratory droplets produced when a sick person coughs or sneezes. Currently, there is no vaccine or treatment, but treatments are being studied and a vaccine is currently under development. Individuals with COVID-19 should be provided with supportive care, including fluids or fever-reducing medication.

Since receiving the presumptive positive test result, Pinal and Maricopa counties have been working together to interview close contacts of the case and recommend symptom monitoring.

“We are moving into a public health strategy that is just like seasonal flu. We know that health care workers are exposed to people with flu and other infectious diseases all the time and therefore are at higher risk, which is why they wear personal protective equipment,” said Sunenshine. “Now that there is community spread of COVID-19, just like during flu season, it is important for everyone, especially health care workers, to stay home when they are sick to avoid exposing others.

“We are no longer recommending quarantine of exposed health care workers who don’t show any symptoms because we need our health care workforce during this response,” Sunenshine added.

Overall recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases spread through respiratory droplets are:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water is not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces like doorknobs, light switches and electronic devices using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Public health officials encourage concerned individuals to follow credible sites for information about COVID-19. For up-to-date facts, visit www.pinal.gov/publichealth and http://www.Maricopa.gov/Coronavirus.

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Champion bull rider has fond memories of his CAC days
 mstaude  / 

CASA GRANDE — The journey from inner-city Los Angeles to becoming a champion rodeo competitor was a wild ride for Charlie Sampson, and it took him through Casa Grande and Central Arizona College.

Sampson attended CAC and was a member of the rodeo team from 1976 to 1978. Soon after, he went on to become the first African American to win a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association championship for bull riding and earn a spot in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Now retired and living on a 45-acre farm in Pennsylvania, he’s considering scripts for a movie about his life.

“Over the years there has been some talk about making a movie about my life,” Sampson said. “We’re still looking for the right script. People always ask me about discrimination and racism and I tell them that I did go through some racism in my life, but when I was at CAC I was part of a diverse rodeo team and we all had one desire — to be the best cowboy possible.”

Sampson retired from the rodeo life in 1994. He now stays busy as a motivational speaker, rodeo judge and mentor for up-and-coming bull riders. He still enjoys roping, one of the two rodeo events he competed in during his CAC rodeo days.

“CAC was known for its ropers when I was there,” he said. “We had a great group of cowboys and cowgirls and I loved being around them. I learned to ride bucking horses and to wrestle a steer.”

Growing up as the 11th of 13 children in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in the 1960s, he said dreams of rodeo fame weren’t even on his radar until he was a teen.

As a child, he said he fell in love with horses. When he was a teen, he began visiting a horse stable in downtown Los Angeles to avoid gang members in the area.

“I was 13 when I started working at the stable,” he said. “I would hang out and clean the stalls. The cowboys there taught me how to ride horses and rope steers. I just fell right into it.”

When he was 14, he rode his first bull.

“Some of the cowboys there saw me as a potential cowboy,” he said.

Before long, he was competing in rodeos and winning.

When CAC offered him a full scholarship, he accepted.

“I broke my leg the summer before I was supposed to go to CAC so I spent my first year there on crutches,” he said. “It was interesting because I left a predominately black area and went to CAC, where I met people who were Mexican and Native American. It was a great group of kids and we bonded and motivated each other. “

As soon as his leg was recovered, he began riding with the team and participating in college rodeos.


Throughout his career, Charlie Sampson was featured several times in the Casa Grande Dispatch. 

He became a member of the PRCA after graduating. In 1983, at a time when there were only six African American members in the PRCA, he rode his way to a bull riding championship by beating the then-champion, Donny Gay.

Other bull riding wins were Sierra Circuit in 1984; the Turquoise Circuit in 1985 and 1993; and the Copenhagen/Skoal competition, among others. He’s was two-time bull riding champion at the Pendleton Round-Up, Grand National Rodeo, California Rodeo Salinas and Del Rio George Paul Memorial.

He’s been inducted into the Bull Riding Hall of Fame, Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Rodeo Hall of Fame, Multicultural Western Heritage Hall of Fame and Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

While at CAC, Sampson said he fell in love with the desert. During much of his career, he owned a 20-acre ranch near Casa Grande, off of Interstate 8.


Skyla Teel, left, and Charlie Sampson during a recent CAC rodeo event. Sampson, who became a champion professional bull rider, remains in touch with the CAC rodeo team. 

Although he says he faced some racism in a sport with few African American cowboys, he said when people made comments about race, he’d respond: “The bull has no idea what color I am.”

Throughout his career, he had some injuries. He’s had broken bones, including legs, wrists, arms and his collarbone, lost teeth and lost his right ear after a bull stepped on his head.

Sampson retired in 1994 and went on to do a few commercials for Wrangler jeans and Timex.

He continues to stay in touch with the CAC rodeo team, said Skyla Teel, professor of reading and education and rodeo co-coach at CAC.

“We are very proud that we can say Charlie Sampson is a CAC rodeo alum,” Teel said. “He still supports our team and pays tribute to his time as a Vaquero and has even come back to judge our home rodeo. Our team’s roots are diverse, honorable and strong. And we’re happy to carry those traditions with us as we grow.”

During Black History Month in February, the CAC rodeo team paid tribute to Sampson with a Facebook post about his life and career accomplishments.

“We’d like to honor this amazing Vaquero rodeo alum for Black History Month and thank him for his contribution to the rodeo world and our team’s history,” the Facebook post read.

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ACLU examines camera installation in Pinal jail
 jheadley  / 

FLORENCE — The Pinal County Attorney’s Office says cameras were installed in lawyer-inmate interview rooms at the jail to prevent contraband from being passed, and that statement has drawn attention from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office installed the cameras last month in rooms that defense attorneys use to speak privately with their clients.

Twice since the installation, public defenders have asked Pinal County Superior Court judges for continuances because they have not been able to have private discussions with their clients due to the presence of the cameras.

Sheriff Mark Lamb and County Attorney Kent Volkmer maintain that the cameras do not record audio and are pixelated so that documents or lips cannot be read from the video.

At first, Lamb said the cameras were installed to keep an eye on attorneys and protect them in the event that their clients attack them. Since their installation, authorities instead claim the real reason for the cameras is to stop contraband from coming into the Pinal County Adult Detention Center.

In a Feb. 21 interview, Lamb said, “What this all boils down to is a safety issue. When you have someone else in your facility, we don’t know if that inmate intends to harm their attorney. We’ve had inmates try to attack their attorney before. This is a safety issue for the attorneys going in there. In no way, shape or form is this an attempt to monitor their communication with their clients.”

On March 5, Volkmer said, “You’re aware that they did (the television show) ‘60 Days In.’ One of the things they noted in ‘60 Days In’ is that we had too much contraband within our jail. The DOC (Arizona Department of Corrections) has the same issue. As they identified there was contraband in there, they started identifying how can contraband get in. They identified that you can get it in through visitation. It could come in through attorneys or through defense teams.”

Volkmer said other counties have the same problem.

“Nobody’s got it solved and all of them said they record attorney-client interactions. Just the video, not any audio. Maricopa County has three different cases where they have charged defense attorneys or mitigation specialists for the defense team for smuggling contraband in that they caught with those video cameras,” said Volkmer.

No attorney has been charged with passing contraband to a client in Pinal County.

Volkmer said there are two areas where attorneys meet with their clients at the jail.

In one area it is impossible for the two people to have physical contact as they are divided by a thick piece of plexiglass. There is a slot in the glass where papers can be passed but it is not very wide.

“I can’t in good conscience say that cameras in this area have anything to do with attorney safety because there is not the ability to have physical contact. But they do have additional rooms where you can actually sit in the same room,” Volkmer said.

Volkmer said keeping contraband out of the jail is a larger issue than the personal safety of the attorneys.

“We don’t have any reasonable belief that this (smuggling of contraband) is happening at this point but that is an area where it could happen. What we are doing is eliminating. If we know it is not coming in this way, we can start focusing on different areas,” Volkmer said.

ACLU attorneys don’t seem to agree with Volkmer’s point of view on the jail cameras.

“In our view this is very problematic that they are recording these interactions,” said Jared Keenan, ACLU of Arizona criminal justice staff attorney. “The conversations between an attorney and client is protected and supposed to be private. Even if they are not recording sound, there are still a lot of things that they would be able to see.”

Keenan said if attorneys and inmates meet after a court hearing, jailers might be able to detect subtle clues from body language or facial expressions of the attorney or the client.

“That could give away some information that should be private,” Keenan said. “I know they claim that the video quality is such that you can’t read documents. Oftentimes you have to go over other evidence that are non-written evidence, like photographs. If you’re going over that kind of stuff with a client, it could show up on a video.”

Keenan said once video is allowed into this sensitive meeting area, who’s to say that the video and audio quality couldn’t be upgraded and improved in the future.

“Any interaction that is recorded violates the attorney-client privilege. The reason that privilege exists is to encourage frank communication between attorney and client. If you stick a camera in what should be a private meeting room between attorney and client, it likely will have a chilling effect on what types of conversations occur in that situation. You are undermining the whole purpose of the attorney-client privilege because you are scaring these parties into not having these robust and frank discussions,” Keenan said.

He added there are many jails around the country that don’t video-record protected meetings as they do not have overwhelming safety concerns about the well being of defense attorneys or possible contraband being brought in by defense attorneys.

“To me it is concerning that there are these overwhelming safety concerns in one particular jail in one particular county in Arizona but in no other jail or county in the state. To me it doesn’t really matter — it violates the attorney-client privilege if there is a legitimate safety concern or not. The fact that there isn’t one is even more troubling,” Keenan said.

“There are constitutional protections in place that simply make the job of the government more difficult and the attorney-client privilege is one of them. It does not mean that you can just throw out a theoretical safety concern and ignore those protections that are in the Constitution,” Keenan said.

The ACLU views the recent motions by Pinal public defenders for continuances because they could not have private conversations with their clients as an aftermath of “chilling” of the attorney-client privilege.

“It is requiring a defense attorney to seek continuances which means you are then violating the speedy trial rights of defendants. This request for a continuance isn’t something the defendant necessarily wants because their conversation with their attorney is being recorded. They can’t point to a specific safety concern but we can now point to specific instances that just having the camera there has forced defendants to postpone their case,” said Keenan.

Another area the ACLU is concerned about is if these videoed interactions between attorneys and inmates end up on a national television show.

Keenan said he is concerned that the sheriff might be doing this not for any legitimate reason but to “make for better entertainment” for the national television shows.

Volkmer said the way everything is set up, video of attorneys talking to clients cannot be used on one of the national shows.

Volkmer said the video is taken from the ceiling looking downward and faces cannot be seen, unless the defense attorney looks up at the camera. The inmate’s face will not be recorded by the new cameras and the inmate cannot see the surveillance camera.

“They can’t see it. I would tell them that it is there if I were the defense attorney. They should have the right to know that,” Volkmer said.

At this time attorneys for the ACLU have their eye on the camera installation. Keenan said requests about civil rights issues come into the ACLU Arizona office constantly, “but this is one that we are monitoring to see where it goes.”

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Retired Casa Grande doctor indicted for prescribing narcotics
 Suzanne Adams  / 

CASA GRANDE — A retired Casa Grande doctor has been indicted for allegedly continuing to prescribe narcotic drugs after the Arizona Medical Board ordered him to stop.

Dr. James C. Barsz, 72, was indicted by a grand jury on one charge of fraudulent schemes and artifices and five counts of illegal administration of narcotic drugs, according to court documents.

According to Arizona Medical Board documents, Barsz signed an interim consent agreement with the board in May to stop prescribing controlled substances while the board investigated claims that he had allegedly prescribed Suboxone to at least three patients “without adequate justification or a comprehensive treatment plan.”

Suboxone contains a narcotic and also naloxone, which is used to treat narcotics users.

In a press release issued Thursday, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office stated that in a recent review of the state pharmacy board’s Prescription Monitoring Program, agents found that Barsz had continued to prescribe narcotic drugs to at least five people in May and June.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, Barsz allegedly “informed select patients at the time of his retirement in October 2018 that he would continue to write prescriptions on a more informal basis. In the months that followed, Dr. Barsz is accused of meeting with patients at local restaurants or in his home, where no medical evaluation was performed, and he would prescribe narcotic drugs in exchange for cash or gift cards.”

Barsz emailed a statement to PinalCentral and the Casa Grande Dispatch:

“I practiced medicine for 40 years, addiction for 10. I am under indictment for treating addicts with drug-assisted treatment in exchange for meals and gifts,” he said. “By the time addicts saw me, there was no home, income, spouse, job, insurance or assets; it is not clear to me what the state expects my fee to be.”

According to Medical Board documents, Barsz surrendered his medical license to the board in September after board staff found similar violations.