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Local census taker describes chaotic, frustrating conditions for 2020 count
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CASA GRANDE — Hot weather, a pandemic and distrust of government all led to a scenario in which a census undercount in Casa Grande was likely, according to an enumerator who worked for the census last year.

According to 66-year-old retired veteran Earl Marsh, census takers who went door-to-door encountered residents, many of them Hispanic, who refused to respond or divulge any information, or didn’t speak enough English to understand the request.

“I can honestly say it was the most disorganized job I’ve ever had,” Marsh said. “It was so convoluted. Everybody working was temporary. The right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.”

Marsh and just four others were tasked with reaching out to transient or semi-permanent residents within the entire county. That included those who had initially not responded to the census and residents who lived in RV parks or even homeless camps. Originally, Marsh said there had been 12 paid workers, but over half didn’t show up for the first day of training, leaving the five of them to do work meant for a larger crew.

Some of the neighborhoods Marsh visited included Fiesta Grande RV Resort just south of Florence Boulevard in Casa Grande and the Sierra Vista RV Park near Francisco Grande Hotel.

Within the RV communities, the census takers collected uncertain totals due to time constraints. At some of the parks, Marsh said they had to rely on the numbers given to them by a manager, because it was clear they couldn’t just count trailers. Marsh noted that at Fiesta Grande, which has about 800 parking spaces for RVs, there were only about four when he was sent to count residents there in October.

Other times, Marsh said, for various reasons they’d find out the census had already visited the neighborhood two or three times already.

“I am sure there were people that we missed,” Marsh said. “The guys I worked with, we all agreed there were people who didn’t get counted. There’s no way, in the amount of time we had, we could have gotten them all. In Ajo, we went to two out of the four or five trailer parks.”

Their orientation focused on how to properly fill out the census forms but did not train the census takers in how to handle logistical issues or persuade fearful residents to participate. From their headquarters in Tucson, the enumerators were sent out to places in Pinal County, but they were unsure what to expect.

In addition to hostility from residents, the enumerators sometimes worked in near-120-degree heat, and even if they wore masks, there was an issue of social distancing and health safety when they entered a home, however briefly.

“A lot of people didn’t want anything to do with us,” Marsh said. “They were afraid we were going to count them and turn their names over to immigration. That was really hard.”

For his part, Marsh said he tried to use his high school Spanish, or take pains to explain to skeptics that the census count was important for municipalities to secure funds for things like schools and roads.

“I treat people the way I want to be treated,” Marsh said. “I told them: I don’t care if you are an illegal alien, this is just about doing the count.”

Marsh said that “99 percent of the time,” if he got to the point where he was able to explain the purpose of the census, people cooperated.

However, if residents refused to participate, Marsh said workers were not supposed to argue and instead would mark down on a box that they “would not talk to us,” and were not counted.

The census count was originally slated to end on Oct. 4 of 2020; efforts to extend the count to ensure that everyone was included were cut short by the Trump administration and the Supreme Court, and the 2020 census count concluded on Oct. 15.

At the time, Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis sharply criticized the decision, calling it “a bitter pill to swallow” with “no explanation or rationale.” A month earlier in September, Lewis had said that only 15% of GRIC residents had filled out census forms.

“This continues a long history of leaving Indian peoples at the margins of the U.S. society at large and economy,” Lewis said of the undercount.

Marsh did not know whether it would be worth it for communities in Pinal County to request a recount, suggesting it would depend on how cities felt about the cost and whether marginal population gains would impact specific infrastructure programs. Local leaders such as Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland have said they are at least exploring recount options and their feasibility.

However, Marsh said that if the issues he saw in Pinal County occurred statewide, it would go a long way toward explaining why Arizona wasn’t allocated a 10th congressional district.

“Can you imagine what the Tucson or Phoenix area was like?” Marsh said. “They probably had the same problems we encountered, but multiplied by 10.”

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Community mourns and prays at vigil for Coolidge gas explosion victims
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COOLIDGE — About 100 friends and family members gathered at San Carlos Park on Thursday night to mourn the loss of Luis Alvarez and his 14-year-old daughter, Valeria Alvarez, who died after a ruptured gas line caused an explosion last weekend.

A third victim, mother Rosalina Alvarez, is currently hospitalized with severe burns.

Those who came to the vigil lit candles and said prayers for the family.

“Thank you for coming here; we appreciate the love and support from everyone,” said Eunice Salazar, Luis Alvarez’s niece. “This is a very hard time for the Alvarez family.”

Salazar said that Rosalina Alvarez was in stable condition at Maricopa Medical Center and that family was able to visit her. Mayra Yadira Alvarez, another niece, said that the victim underwent surgery to treat her burns earlier in the week.

Classmates of Valeria said they found out about her death on social media, including from videos people were posting of the explosion and subsequent blaze, which could be seen from as far away as Casa Grande. One said they learned she died in the fire on the evening news.

“I cried, I freaked out,” said a friend from elementary school who wished to remain anonymous. “It was so unexpected. She was a really nice person.”

The explosion took place at roughly 5:30 a.m. on Sunday. The gas line, which is owned by El Paso Natural Gas Co., is near Randolph Road and State Route 87.

Police and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are looking into the exact cause of the incident.

The family said they would announce a date and location for the funeral when they know details. Those looking to support the family with donations can check out their GoFundMe page.

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PCSO deputies face revocation of credentials from state board
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PHOENIX — The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board is considering the possibility of revoking the certifications of Pinal County Sheriff’s Deputy Julian Navarrette, who was picked up for DUI by Arizona State University Police in December.

The board is also considering revoking the credentials of a former PCSO deputy who allegedly struck his ex-wife.

The AzPOST board is responsible for establishing standards for professionalism, training and recruitment for law enforcement and corrections officers in the state. It can also do its own investigation into reports of officer misconduct and may deny, suspend, revoke or cancel a law enforcement officer’s certification. A person cannot serve as a law enforcement officer in the state without certification from AzPOST.

The board received information on both cases on Wednesday and unanimously approved initiating proceedings against Navarrette and former PCSO Deputy Jason Philpot.

Navarrette was stopped and arrested on charges of driving under the influence in December 2020 when an ASU Police officer noticed his car weaving across the road.

Navarrette tried to get the police officer and the officer’s superior officer to let him go by explaining that he was a Pinal County deputy and that it would ruin his career, according to body camera videos of the arrest. When tested at the ASU police station, Navarrette allegedly had a blood alcohol content of 1.47. He also allegedly became belligerent with officers.

Philpot had two cases filed against him, one for an incident in 2019 and one for an incident in 2020. Philpot resigned from the PCSO in December 2019. Navarrette is still employed by PCSO.

Philpot received PCSO’s Act of Bravery award, along with another deputy, for their actions during a 2013 bank robbery in Gold Canyon.

In September 2020, Philpot, who was no longer with PCSO, allegedly drove to the home in San Tan Valley where his ex-wife was living and according to witnesses, got into a fight with a man in the home. Philpot allegedly tried to hit the man but ended up hitting his ex-wife, who was pregnant at the time, in the stomach. He also pushed another man, a family member of his ex-wife, who attempted to break up the fight.

Philpot was arrested by PCSO deputies and allegedly admitted to entering the home in order to confront the man he tried to hit. He was charged with assault and disorderly conduct in court but accepted an agreement to enter a diversion program and the charges were deferred until he completes the program. Once he completes the program the charges could be dismissed.

On July 3, 2019, Philpot was put on administrative leave by PCSO for reasons that were not disclosed during the board’s meeting. While on leave, Philpot was supposed to stay at home and check in with his office at 8 a.m. and remain on call until 5 p.m. He was supposed to be available at any time during those hours to respond to a call or a visit from a superior officer, as well as follow other directions for requesting time off and be able to report to PCSO’s headquarters in Florence in about 60 minutes if called in.

On July 10, 2019, Philpot texted a superior officer around 1 a.m. and told him he was taking the day off. Later that morning, Philpot’s superior officer told him to report in at 8 a.m. as usual.

Then at 10 a.m. two superior officers went to Philpot’s home to speak to him about work-related matters. The deputies reported hearing Philpot’s voice inside the home but he allegedly refused to answer the door. He called one of the deputies and said that he was not at home and ordered the deputies to leave his property.

Later that same day, Philpot allegedly refused to report to PCSO headquarters, stating that he was on leave and that his leave had been approved when it had not.

In September 2019, superior officers found out that Philpot had allegedly been working off-duty traffic jobs in Phoenix while he was still on administrative leave. They also found that on three separate dates in November 2019, Philpot, while still on leave, had allegedly checked in with his superior officer and had been working a job for a private company when he was supposed to be at home.

The Pinal County Attorney’s Office filed and then dropped charges against Philpot in the matter.