PHOENIX — Opening statements were heard in a $6 million civil jury trial Monday in U.S. District Court for a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and a deputy by the Longoria family.
According to court records, on Jan. 14, 2014, Manuel Longoria, 40, was shot and killed by Deputy Heath Rankin after a 70-minute chase by Eloy Police officers and PCSO deputies in Eloy. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office cleared Rankin of any wrongdoing in the shooting in July 2014.
The family is suing Pinal County, former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, Rankin and several other PCSO employees for wrongful death and for violating Longoria’s Fourth Amendment right by using excessive force.
According to court records, Longoria was upset over his relationship with his wife, stole a brother-in-law’s car and drove around Eloy. When an Eloy Police officer attempted to stop Longoria in the stolen car, he fled and several officers gave chase.
Eloy Police officers asked PCSO to be on standby in case Longoria left the department’s jurisdiction. During the chase, Longoria stopped several times to speak or yell at officers before getting back into the car and again leading the chase.
Shortly before officers ended the chase by disabling Longoria’s car, PCSO deputies were ordered to stand down from the pursuit. Rankin was ordered, with his partner, to set up a perimeter at the intersection of Main Street and Battaglia Road with other deputies.
Rankin allegedly abandoned his position at the perimeter when he heard the crash caused by Eloy Police stopping Longoria’s car. Rankin grabbed a rifle and ran to the scene with his partner.
At the scene, Longoria got out of his car and stood facing Eloy officers with one hand behind his back. At first, Longoria did not comply with officers’ commands to raise his hands in the air.
According to court records, an Eloy Police sergeant shouted at least twice for officers to use less lethal rounds such as bean bags or a stun gun. Other officers called out that Longoria was holding a wallet behind his back. Rankin claimed he never heard those calls.
Longoria was hit with several bean bag rounds by Eloy officers and shot with a stun gun by a Pinal County Sheriff’s deputy. He eventually complied with officers, turning to face his car and starting to raise his hands in the air, when Rankin shot him twice in the back, killing him.
Rankin claimed that he saw Longoria bring his hands up in a “shooter stance” before he shot him.
The family’s civil lawsuit was dismissed in 2016 when a federal judge determined that Rankin’s actions were covered by qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages for doing their job as long as a reasonable person would determine that the official’s actions did not violate someone’s clearly established state or federal rights. It also protects law enforcement officers from “mere mistakes in judgment.”
The family appealed the decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2017, that court reinstated the lawsuit and remanded it back to the U.S. District Court of Arizona.
The Ninth Circuit stated in its ruling that video evidence and testimony from officers at the scene undermined Rankin’s claims that he was justified in shooting Longoria and that only a jury could determine which side was correct.
The defendants in the case, Pinal County, PCSO, Babeu and Rankin, asked the Ninth Circuit to reconsider its ruling in November 2017. When the court denied the request, the defendants appealed the circuit court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. In June 2018, the Supreme Court declined to review the case.
CASA GRANDE — Construction is in full swing downtown on Florence Street and Main Avenue as roadways receive milling and asphalt overlay.
Back in late July, the city announced that the project would begin in August and is set to be completed in December.
Improvements were first done on a section of Third Street just west of Florence Street.
According to a press release by the city, the remaining project area, south of the railroad tracks, consists of Florence Street from Main Avenue to approximately 230 feet north of Third Avenue and Main Avenue from Sacaton Street to Florence Street.
For the intersections on Florence Street, workers will remove the concrete roadway and replace it with full-depth asphalt.
According to the city, installation of handicap-accessible ramps, repairs to curb and gutter, and some streetlight work are included.
The city said that there would be minimum disruption to businesses and residential access and detours around the work area.
According to Kevin Louis, the public works director, there have been no problems to date and the project is still set to be completed by December.
MARICOPA — Early into Debra Wright’s treatment for breast cancer, she shaved her head and chose not to wear a wig in hopes of empowering women to take control over various life challenges.
Two years later, with chemotherapy, radiation treatments and a double mastectomy behind her, Wright is now on a mission to raise awareness of the financial impact surviving cancer can have on a patient.
“I’m about $70,000 in debt now because of cancer,” Wright said. “A lot of people don’t realize the stress and financial hardship cancer can cause.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to educate people about the disease and raise money for research into causes, prevention and treatment.
But Wright believes the focus should be on the patients.
“We already have awareness of breast cancer,” she said. “What people aren’t aware of is how stressful it is to pay for treatments. I had days when I had to decide whether I was going to pay my medical bills or buy groceries. And there are so many people out there, especially seniors on fixed incomes, who are in the same situation.”
Wright is a retired teacher from New Jersey. She works part time as a PBX operator at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino — a job she said she loves in part because of the supportive coworkers.
The casino often conducts fundraisers during Breast Cancer Awareness Month with various events, including its annual Battle of the Bras showcase. This year, the fundraiser is a private event for employees only.
Wright has medical coverage through Medicare.
“Even with Medicare, I’d have co-pays for everything, all my treatments, blood work and doctor visits. It all adds up. I had an appointment with one provider who wouldn’t provide service without upfront payment,” she said.
Throughout her cancer treatment, as bills began to pile up, she applied for several grants and programs aimed at helping patients pay for treatment or cover bills but said she found little help.
“I received one grant that paid a little bit of my cancer treatment with one chemo provider,” she said. “And I received two $50 grocery store cards. I was so grateful for the help I received.”
The Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino Heroes Help program paid for about two months of her utility bills, she said.
But she said she’s still struggling to pay down her medical debt while living on a fixed income and working part-time.
“I applied for 25 different grants to help but a lot of organizations told me they were out of money and to wait and apply next year,” she said.
Wright, an avid crocheter, mother and grandmother, said her cancer story is much like that of other patients.
“I avoided getting a mammogram for years, even though my mother had breast cancer. She survived and is now 88 years old,” she said. “Mammograms are uncomfortable so I avoided them.”
When Wright had a mammogram at age 62, it revealed a growth. A biopsy later revealed the growth was cancerous. She started a round of chemotherapy with a provider in Gilbert.
A few weeks into treatment, a follow-up X-ray determined the tumor was growing, not shrinking and more intensive treatment was needed. She transferred treatment to a Casa Grande-based provider and said she tried to stay positive.
“For me, it was important to keep making jokes and to stay positive,” she said. “Even when I started losing my hair, I wanted to stay positive. Rather than wear a wig or a bandana, I shaved off the rest of my hair and walked around with a bald head as a way of staying strong. When life gives you challenges, it’s important to not let those challenges control you but to stay in control.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among American women. Skin cancer is the second most common.
Each year, about 250,000 women nationwide, as well as some men, are diagnosed with the disease and about 42,000 die from it.
Mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer early when it’s easier to treat, according to the CDC.
Cancer is also one of the most expensive medical conditions to treat because patients tend to receive multiple types of treatments, including medications, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and are often hospitalized, the awareness site cancer.gov says.
“Cancer patients with health insurance are paying higher premiums than in the past. They are also paying more for copayments, deductibles and coinsurance,” the website says.
The financial toxicity that can result from cancer treatment can lead patients to feel stressed, not complete treatments, skip medicines or file for bankruptcy. The stress can also result in a lower quality of life and depression.
“Every cancer patient I talked to was in the same situation. There are a lot of cancer patients out there with no way of paying off the cost of their treatment,” Wright said.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Wright urges people to donate to organizations and foundations that shuffle funds directly toward cancer patients either to cover treatment costs or living expenses.
“When people are trying to get healthy, they shouldn’t have to worry about paying their bills,” Wright said.