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Video: PCSO deputy under investigation following DUI arrest in Tempe
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TEMPE — A Pinal County Sheriff’s deputy is under investigation after he allegedly tried to convince an Arizona State University Police officer to let him go after he was pulled over for suspected drunken driving.

According to an ASU Police report, Julian Navarrette, 26, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of liquor/drugs/vapor/combo and driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher.

“Deputy Navarrette is currently the subject of an internal investigation related to this incident, and as such we cannot discuss the case,” PCSO spokeswoman Lauren Reimer stated in an email.

At 2:14 a.m. on Dec. 5, an ASU Police officer spotted a white Dodge Challenger allegedly pull out of a bar in the 900 block of East University Drive in Tempe at a “high rate of speed.” The officer started to follow the car and clocked it at approximately 60 mph in a 40 mph zone. The officer also saw the vehicle swerved out of its lane into the fast lane and then into the bike lane.

When the driver made a southbound turn onto South McClintock Drive, the officer pulled the vehicle over.

When the officer approached the vehicle, the driver, later identified as Navarrette, already had his driver’s license out and “also made it a point to show me his Pinal County Sheriff’s Office ID,” the officer reported.

The officer stated in his report that he could smell a strong odor of alcohol on Navarrette and asked him how much he had had to drink. Navarrette allegedly told the officer a couple of drinks.

The ASU officer called for a sergeant from the office to respond to the scene. As the officer waited for the sergeant to arrive, he stated that he attempted to get Navarrette into a position to start a horizontal gazed nystagmus test, a field sobriety test that looks at how a person’s eyes react in following an object placed in front of them. Navarrette allegedly refused to comply.

He allegedly kept telling the ASU officer “‘I’m good wit you bro’ in a slurred manner.”

Navarrette then allegedly asked the officer what they were doing and when the officer told him it would be a gazed nystagmus test, Navarrette asked if someone else in the car could do it instead.

“I asked him why we would have someone else do the tests and he told me ‘Because I’m a police officer.’”

At that point, the sergeant arrived on the scene and Navarrette allegedly told the officers, “I’m just trying to get my (expletive) friends home” and “You’re risking my (expletive) career.”

Navarrette also allegedly kept asking officers to “help him out.”

The sergeant stated in his report that Navarrette asked to speak to him. When the sergeant asked how many drinks Navarrette had had, he allegedly told the sergeant that he had had three mixed drinks. The sergeant asked Navarrette if he felt that he was impaired and Navarrette allegedly responded “I feel like I could get my friends home” and “I feel I’m OK to drive.”

The sergeant was able to talk Navarrette into doing a different series of field sobriety tests that gauge a person’s balance and ability to follow directions. Navarrette allegedly did not do well and officers asked him to breathe into a portable machine. The portable breath test showed a blood alcohol content of 0.121%.

When Navarrette was informed that he was being placed under arrest for DUI, he allegedly asked the officer “why are you doing this to me?” and told the officer he was jeopardizing his career.

At the ASU Police station, Navarrette allegedly consented to another breath test, which at 3 a.m. showed him to have a blood alcohol content of between 0.147% and 0.144%.

While officers were giving Navarrette the second breath test, the sergeant notified the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office of the arrest. A PCSO captain said he would report the information and asked the sergeant to tell Navarrette that he would need to call his sergeant at PCSO and inform him of the arrest.

Navarrette was then cited and released to an Uber driver that his girlfriend called for him.

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ASU Prep students ready for world robotics competition
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CASA GRANDE — With a robot named Choasu, nine students from ASU Preparatory Academy of Casa Grande will compete in the VEX Robotics world championship in May and they hope to win a first-place trophy.

In April, the students competed against 32 other teams from across Arizona and won first place in the VEX Robotics state championship tournament.

“I’m so proud and impressed with what this team has accomplished,” said Sean Mark, a teacher at ASU Prep and the team coach.

The Casa Grande team has nine members. Among them are three seniors who have been on the team every year since their freshman year — Rivaldo Contreras, David Reyes and Carlos Servantes. Other members are Kayden Glickman-Williams, Tony Garcia, Bruno Acosta Perez, Andrew De Lapp, Nicholas De Lapp and Job Hernandres.


The VEX Robotics competition is played on a 12-by-12-foot field, and each team has 16 colored balls to place in nine baskets

The VEX Robotics competition is played on a 12-by-12-foot field, and each team has 16 colored balls to place in nine baskets.

During the event, teams maneuver a robot, which they built themselves, across the field and attempt to score points by placing their balls in the baskets. Up to three balls can be placed in a basket by either team, with the goal being to score the most points.

The opposing team can de-score a team’s points when its robot removes their balls from the basket.

The competition requires teamwork, strategic planning and expert driving of the robot, Servantes said.

“The competition is based on how organized and professional we are,” Servantes said. “We need to do everything professionally and be prepared, just like in the real world.”

In the state competition, the ASU-Casa Grande team was in the midst of a tough third round of competition — playing for the first-place trophy — when they noticed a flaw in the opposing team’s robot.

“We noticed that it couldn’t remove the balls from the basket very well if there were three balls in a basket,” Servantes said.

The ASU-Casa Grande team quickly changed its strategy. Rather than having Choasu crisscross the field to put balls in each basket, the team instead had the robot place three of its team’s balls in one basket before moving on to another basket.

“The other team couldn’t come along and remove our balls. We overwhelmed their defense,” Servantes said. “At the end of the match, we still had all of our balls in the baskets.”

Using that strategy, the ASU-Casa Grande team went on to win the competition by a 20-1 margin.


Teams from Arizona compete at the VEX Robotics state tournament in April.

Winning competition trophies is nothing new for the team, which was created in 2016.

During the 2020 competition season, the team won six tournament trophies, including awards in the categories of excellence, judges, skills and design.

The team has qualified for the VEX world championship three times, and they were a state finalist in 2018 and 2020 with a second-place finish.

“We qualified for the world championship last year, and we were going to go,” Mark said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, prompted the cancellation of the event.

This year, the championship event will be virtual. The team will remain in Casa Grande and participate in the competitive robotics event from their classroom on the ASU Prep campus near Francisco Grande Hotel on May 21.

The event will be livestreamed and parents, fans and others who are interested may watch the event online.

The group hopes to raise between $3,000 and $4,000 to invest in robot upgrades prior to the competition. The robot’s name, Choasu, is a mash-up of the team name — Chaos Theory — and the acronym for Arizona State University.

“Choasu is our rallying cry when we huddle up before an event,” Mark said.

Servantes, Reyes and Contreras said they have learned so much from competitive robotics that they plan to pursue the sport in college.

Servantes, who hopes to study cybersecurity and information technology, plans to attend Central Arizona College and later, Grand Canyon University.

Contreras plans to become an engineer, starting out at CAC and later transferring to GCU, and Reyes plans to study business and finance at GCU. All hope to take part in VEX events at the collegiate level.

“GCU does have a VEX team,” Reyes said. “I plan to get involved and hopefully Carlos and Rivaldo will join me there and get involved too.”

The robotics club is one of several extracurricular activities at the ASU Prep-Casa Grande.

The school is an open-enrollment, tuition-free charter high school. Several open house events are planned for parents considering the school for the next academic year. The open house events are from 5 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 18, June 22 and July 20.

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Casa Grande adding security enhancements to City Hall
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CASA GRANDE — Residents can expect to see new security enhancements at City Hall after the City Council voted to approve a contract with Capital R Construction worth nearly $50,000.

According to a presentation Monday, improvements include two non-bearing walls, card-lock doors, bullet resistant film added to glass at the receptionist area and wood baseboards.

“We’ve had incidences where employees have not felt safe, and that’s really our number one priority,” said Deputy City Manager Steven Weaver.

City Hall will also be establishing a culture where citizens will be escorted to their destination rather than walking freely around the buildings.

“It’s kind of sad, but I understand the need for it, but like 10 years ago we didn’t even lock the doors,” Councilman Matt Herman said. “We’ve come to this, it’s for the better that we do it.”

City of Casa Grande 

On Monday the City Council awarded a contract to Capital R Construction for security improvements at City Hall. 

Besides security improvements, the council authorized a contract with Continental Flooring Company for a total not to exceed $138,092. The contract will provide for purchase and installation of flooring materials for both City Hall A and B buildings in carpet replacement projects.

During the meeting, the council authorized the purchase of one 2021 Ford F-150 Police Responder four-wheel-drive truck from San Tan Ford. The vehicle can only be used for the federal border project Operation Stonegarden, which would reduce the amount of wear and tear on regular fleet vehicles. Once it reaches the end of life, the department will not ask for a replacement.

The council also approved a right-of-way license agreement with Zayo Group to allow for the installation of a fiber-optic communication system within the city.

According to the agenda, Zayo’s installation would provide a more ready fiber system in the city for future expansion and availability to businesses within the city.

“The initial buildout within the city is expected to be approximately 420,000 linear feet as the project connects and provides fiber to many public schools in Pinal County,” says a document with the agenda. “Much of the project is above-ground and co-located with other infrastructure already in the City’s right of way and approximately 17,768 feet is expected to be undergrounded.”

During a study session, the council was given a presentation on the Pinal County Transit Governance Study.

The mayor and council were also given an update on CG CARES Act funding.

According to the presentation, the city will be receiving $10.87 million from the federal government. However, it is not clear what the money can be used for and staff will return to the council when it is clear.

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Pinal school officials rebuff Ducey’s decision to lift mask mandate
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PHOENIX — Education officials rebuffed Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision this week to lift the mask mandate for state schools, with many districts planning to ignore the order in a state where COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

“As soon as the governor released it, right away our locals went and met with superintendents, met with governing boards … almost within a couple of hours, it was, ‘Of course we’re going to keep the mask mandate,’” said Marisol Garcia, vice president of the Arizona Education Association.

Arizona Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman was more critical, calling Ducey’s move another in “a long line of decisions that have resulted in Arizona’s embarrassing response to a virus that has claimed over 17,000 lives and impacted thousands more.”

“While vaccines hold the promise of a return to normalcy, letting up on other mitigation strategies now just increases risk of transmission at a time when we should be doing everything possible to keep students and their families safe,” Hoffman said in a statement, noting that children younger than 16 are still ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

The executive order, released Monday, reverses a July order that had required masks for staff and any student older than age 5 while at school, on the bus or at a school-related activity. In a statement with the order, Ducey said that COVID-19 “transmission is low among youth, and Arizona was among the first states to prioritize vaccinating teachers.”

But the order leaves the decision on masks to school districts, which means the governor’s action “may not have as big of an impact” as initially thought, said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association.

Humble called the decision “puzzling,” noting that it comes as counties in the state are still seeing moderate to substantial spread of the virus.

“We’re in a slow increase of cases. Hospitalizations have dropped and deaths, so that’s a good thing, but cases are continuing to go up,” Humble said. “Unless his decision was framed through the lens of pure hospital capacity, then I can’t say that there was any evidence to make the decision when the decision was made.”

The Casa Grande Elementary School District plans to continue to enforce a mask mandate throughout the current academic school year.

“As you likely know, our community spread rate is still in the substantial range, and it is not prudent nor is it safe to change course at this time,” CGESD Superintendent JoEtta Gonzales told parents in an email. “We will continue to evaluate the situation during the summer to make a determination for next school year.”

The Casa Grande Union High School District also plans to enforce a mask mandate for students for the rest of the school year.

“Part of Casa Grande Union High School District’s mitigation plan to get students back on campus to learn in person on a full-time basis was built on both staff and students wearing masks while on our campuses,” said Superintendent Steve Bebee. “The CDC and Pinal County Health still recommend that masks be worn for the safety and well-being of all staff and students. As a district, we agree with these recommendations and we will continue to require masks to be worn by both students and staff for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.”

Staff and students in the Toltec School District will also continue wearing face masks on campus through the end of the school year, a letter from district Superintendent Denise Rogers to parents said.

“Within 25 reporting weeks for the area within Toltec School District boundaries, 20 weeks have had high ratings in at least two benchmark categories,” Rogers’ letter to parents said. “Results for the past eight weeks depict a continuous rating of high in both transmission level and the number of cases.”

The Toltec district includes two schools, Arizona City Elementary School and Toltec Elementary School.

Superintendent Orlenda Roberts said there are no changes planned at this time for the Santa Cruz Valley Union High School District. Masks are still required.

The Eloy Elementary School District will continue to mandate the use of face masks.

“Recent data indicates that our district continues to have a high rate of transmission,” EESD Superintendent Ruby James said. “For the safety of students, staff and our community will continue to adhere closely to CDC guidelines.”

However, there was one Pinal County school district that followed the governor’s order and changed its mandate to wear masks in school to a recommendation.

The Combs School District in San Tan Valley said it “will continue to prioritize the safety and well being of our community, and will encourage the practice of known mitigation strategies such as social distancing, hand washing and temperature checks.”

Other Pinal districts were still considering what action to take as of Wednesday evening.

A spokesman for the governor defended the order Tuesday, saying the “health and safety of Arizona kids and teachers remains a priority.”

“This executive order and emergency measure ensures schools are able to make their own decisions around mask requirements, depending on the needs of their community, in alignment with CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance,” said C.J. Karamargin, the spokesman.

But Hoffman said the CDC “still recommends universal masking in public schools to ensure safe learning environments.”

“While vaccines hold the promise of a return to normalcy, letting up on other mitigation strategies now just increases risk of transmission at a time when we should be doing everything possible to keep students and their families safe,” Hoffman’s statement said.

Humble also questioned the timing of the decision, saying it makes no sense for schools to suddenly abandon mask policies, especially with summer break around the corner.

Hoffman said the move “destabilizes school communities as they end what has arguably been the most challenging year for education.” She urged school boards and administrators to work with their communities “to make transparent, evidence-based decisions that build trust in the safety of our schools.”

Most school districts appear to be doing just that. Garcia said educators are so far “really happy” with the response of individual schools that have decided to retain a mask requirement for now.

Garcia said she was frustrated by an apparent lack of communication between school employees and the governor’s office before the decision was made.

“More than anything, I think we’re disappointed that the governor refuses to even meet with educators in the classroom, or driving a bus, or working in the cafeteria before he makes any of these unilateral decisions,” Garcia said.

Despite Ducey’s decision, Garcia was confident that keeping local mandates is “the right thing to do.”

“It is a layered approach of keeping everyone safe in a building,” she said. “I guess it just lends to yourself the question of why the governor chose to do that yesterday without speaking to educators who are actually doing the work.”