A1 A1
top story
Arrest made in Casa Grande homicide
  • Updated

CASA GRANDE — A man who intervened as a couple were arguing in a hotel parking lot early Saturday was shot fatally and the man in the argument has been arrested.

Casa Grande Police were called to the Radisson Hotel, 777 N. Pinal Ave., at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday regarding a shooting in the parking lot.

Upon their arrival, officers discovered 35-year-old Casa Grande resident Brian Robinette with what appeared to be multiple gunshot wounds to the upper torso. Officers immediately initiated lifesaving measures, according to police spokesman Thomas Anderson. The victim was transported to Banner Casa Grande Medical Center, where he died of his injuries.

According to Anderson, detectives have determined the victim intervened in a physical argument between a male and female couple in the parking lot of the hotel. The victim and male suspect engaged in a verbal altercation. The male suspect then shot the victim multiple times. The male suspect and the female he was arguing with both fled the scene. No one else was injured.

The suspect was identified as 21-year-old Giovanni Olivieri and the woman he was arguing with is his 19-year-old girlfriend. At approximately 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Casa Grande Police Department detectives located and arrested Olivieri on the street in front of his girlfriend’s residence in the Rancho Grande neighborhood. Olivieri was booked in the Pinal County Adult Detention Center.

Anderson said CGPD is working closely with the Pinal County Attorney’s Office to determine all charges that will be submitted.

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Marshals Service assisted in the apprehension, Anderson said.

Anyone with further information regarding the incident is asked to call the Police Department at 520-421-8700.

spotlight featured top story
Tribes celebrate 'sacred work' of securing water, vow to continue fight
  • Updated

CASA GRANDE — As Arizona moves into Tier 1 shortage status next year due to the megadrought, regional water rights will become a prominent issue, including among tribal territories.

The University of Arizona’s latest conference on water resources, Aug. 30-Sept. 1, focused on tribal water resiliency, and the three-day series was dedicated to Rodney “Rod” Lewis, a tribal attorney whose legacy was fighting to protect the primacy of water rights on tribal lands.

“Rod was an icon in the Indigenous and non-Indigenous water world,” said Water Resources Research Center Director Sharon Megdal. “He was a great leader.”

Lewis, who was the first tribal leader to practice law in Arizona, was integral to securing water rights for tribes such as the Gila River Indian Community and Tohono O’odham Nation, beginning in the 1970s. Lewis died in 2018 at age 77.

During the conference, family members, including GRIC Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, who is Rod Lewis’ son, honored Lewis with recollections and praise.

According to the speakers, Lewis was key, not just to preserving senior water rights, but to mentoring and inspiring the next generation of Native American leaders and the legal community.

“There was an informal mentorship he provided,” said John Blaine Lewis, executive director for Avant Energy and one of Rod Lewis’ sons. “He was a beacon. My father was from the Gila River Indian Community, born and raised, and in that sense that strengthened everything the community did.”

Blaine Lewis also warned tribal communities would be adversely impacted by climate change, and action is necessary to protect their environment and resources.

“It weighed heavily on my father that this will never end,” Blaine Lewis said about tribal water and environmental protection. “When issues intersect, tribes are going to be at risk. This burdens us with the responsibility to take action.”

Gov. Lewis said his father was “the strongest person I ever knew” and said he was proud to be part of the continuum of historic fights surrounding water settlements, which he called “sacred work.”

Rod Lewis’ granddaughter, Sarah Camille Chiago, also read a poem by Lewis’ wife, Willardene, entitled “The Law of the River.”

One portion of the poem reads:

“My journey to the river was always for you

And I reclaimed it just for you.

And when you reach your river

You will find me there waiting for you.”

Although not a member of the family, attorney John Echohawk, currently executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, recalled his work with Rodney Lewis and credited the late lawyer with helping use 1908 and 1963 Supreme Court decisions to affirm a “winter’s doctrine” that protected Native American rights to water within their territories.

“Rod and I knew that water was very important for the livelihood of our people,” Echohawk said. “We need to educate people about tribal water rights: They are the senior rights. So many people don’t know that.”

During the conference, “resilience” was broadly defined as being able to preserve water resources amidst climatic conditions such as Arizona’s current megadrought. Recent restoration efforts have helped turn portions of the Gila River, once the lifeblood of local Native American tribes, back into viably supporting local ecosystems.

One of the communities Rod Lewis helped secure water settlements for was the Ak-Chin Indian Community, and during the conference, Council Member Lisa Garcia detailed how the tribe’s fight to maintain water rights persists to this day.

Garcia began by noting that in 1912, the Ak-Chin community was awarded 47,000 acres, which was shrunk six months later to less than half that total.

According to Garcia, a leasing program run by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs drained the local aquifer from 40 feet to 400 feet below ground level mid-century, until the tribe established a farm enterprise in 1961 and stopped renewing any non-Indian leases.

In 1977, the tribe filed a lawsuit and became the first tribe in Arizona to receive a water settlement a year later.

Garcia said that currently, Ak-Chin is one of the largest farming communities in the country, and the farming methods employ stringent conservation methods such as sprinkler irrigation systems.

“Water is sacred,” Garcia said. “Water is life. Tribes must be part of the solution and have a seat at the table.”

Megdal announced the creation of the Rodney Blaine Lewis Scholars’ Award to honor his legacy, to support graduate students who are enrolled members of an Arizona Indian tribe and are enrolled in a program of study in water law, policy or a related field.

The university will be establishing an endowment to support the award in the near future.

top story
Benefits could be denied for those fired over COVID protocols
  • Updated

PHOENIX — So you got fired from your job for refusing to get vaccinated or wear a mask.

You also may have forfeited any right to collecting unemployment benefits.

That’s the conclusion of David Selden, a veteran labor law attorney. And he said it’s not just because Arizona is an “at-will” employment state where companies can fire workers for no reason at all.

But the Department of Economic Security, the agency that administers the benefits, said it may not be that cut and dried.

That issue has taken on increasing importance in the wake of an opinion issued last month by Attorney General Mark Brnovich. He concluded that private employers are free to require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID.

The only requirement is that company must make “reasonable accommodations” for those who cannot get vaccinated for medical or disability reasons, or have a “sincerely held religious belief.”

Selden said that pretty much anyone else who is let go — or quits — over issues like vaccination or masks has been terminated for refusing to comply with a condition of employment.

What makes that relevant is that jobless benefits generally are limited to those who are fired through no fault of their own. But refusing to comply with what a company sees as a safety measure, Selden said, is something quite different.

In fact, he said, it might even be considered necessary and good business for employers to get rid of workers that don’t comply.

Selden said that during the first round of COVID, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration began inspections and investigations in cases where they saw people working in close proximity to one another, not socially distanced and not using protective gear.

“Even in Arizona there were some reviews of working conditions on whether or not employees were being subjected to hazards based upon the adequacy or inadequacy of the preventive measures that have been adopted,” he said.

He pointed out that OSHA regulations impose a duty on employers to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards that could cause the risk of death or serious injury.

“Working in proximity to people, or where you’re going to be exposed to customers who could potentially be COVID positive, that could be one of those conditions,” Selden said.

All that leads to the question of whether a worker fired for refusing to be vaccinated or wear a mask can collect benefits.

Tasya Peterson, spokeswoman for DES, said there are multiple factors in state and federal law to determine who is eligible.

“Losing a job because of a failure to become vaccinated will not immediately disqualify an individual from benefits in Arizona,” she said. Conversely, shes aid not everyone who loses a job because they cannot — or will not — become vaccinated will be eligible.

“All case-by-case reviews will include obtaining information from the individual and the former employer as part of the fact-finding process,” Peterson said.

Selden acknowledged that, for the moment, it is “an open issue” as to whether disregarding an employer’s rule would be misconduct that is contrary to the company’s interest and therefore a justified firing — one that disqualifies someone from collecting jobless benefits

“I think there’s a good argument to be made that yes, it is, because the employer is trying to provide a safe workplace for all of its employees,” he said. Selden said it’s no different than disciplining or firing a worker for violating any other safety rule.

Masks may be a bit different. Safety issues aside, he said companies are free to impose dress codes on workers.

Consider, Selden said, people who work at In-N-Out Burger have to wear those paper hats.

“Or, you walk into Walmart, there’s a guy with a blue apron, he continued. “Employers could make this a part of their dress code for whatever reasons of the company image.”

And all of that is legitimate, he said, as long as there are those reasonable accommodations, like an alternate workspace.

That might even include being allowed to work from home. And Selden noted that companies were doing that before, making it hard for them to say that that is no longer possible now.

More complicated is determining whether someone has a “sincerely held religious belief” that a company would be required to accommodate.

Selden noted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that can be based on the religion that people follow. But he said it also can be “a set of beliefs or value systems that takes the same place in that person’s life similar to the role that recognized religions play in the lives of the people who adhere to one of the recognized religions.”

What that can mean, Selden acknowledged, is a wide-open situation where it could come down to a “do-it-yourself” set of beliefs.

“For example, you could say, ‘My Sabbath is Monday, Wednesday, Friday,’” he said. “That’s the bad news for employers.”

But Selden said that, in general, employers have to do “way less” to accommodate someone’s religious beliefs than they do for someone with a disability. He said companies don’t have to do anything if it involves more than what the law calls a “de minimus” cost, meaning anything more than trifling.

top story
New Fall-A-Palooza event planned for Pinal fairgrounds
  • Updated

ELEVEN MILE CORNER — A new fall-theme event at the Pinal Fairgrounds and Event Center aims to help people rediscover the county fairgrounds.

The Fall-A-Palooza of Fun Festival is scheduled for Oct. 29-31. And while it is not the annual Pinal County Fair, it will offer rides, food, exhibits, vendors and fall fun.

The Pinal County Fair is typically held in March and generally coincides with spring break for annual school children. The 2021 Pinal County Fair was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and planning of Fall-A-Palooza began as a replacement event.

“While we had initially planned this event as a postponed fair, it became apparent that scheduling all the county fair components would not be feasible,” said Executive Director Misti Todd. “The fall season hosts many county fairs in our state, in addition to the Arizona State Fair, so vendors, exhibitors and carnivals are already booked. We are fortunate to be able to showcase our local vendors during this time.”

The event is produced in coordination with Central Arizona Fair Association and MOSO Events, which will bring the Autumn Artisan Craft Fair, and its handmade and vintage specialty vendors, to Fall-A-Palooza.

Arizona Gun Shows is also involved in the planning. During Fall-A-Palooza, they will present their Ghouls & Goblins Gun Show, which features firearms, ammo and all tactical supplies.

Brown’s Amusements will set up a midway of rides, vendors and attractions.

“It really is something for everyone,” Todd said.

Fall-A-Palooza will not have animal exhibits or a livestock auction — so teens will not vie for blue ribbons or show their calves, pigs, chickens or other animals.

Some culinary exhibits will be on display and area residents have a chance to compete in squash and jack-o’-lantern competitions.

A lineup of musical entertainment is also not planned for the event.

“It will be an opportunity for the community to attend a festival close to home, enjoy our beautiful weather, get a taste of the upcoming fall season and make lasting memories,” Todd said. “The event is a combination of indoor and outdoor venues.”

COVID-19 safety measures at the fairgrounds include expanded cleaning protocols, increased hand washing/sanitizing stations, social distancing strategies, recommendations of mask wearing and encouraging patrons who exhibit symptoms of illness not to attend.

Hours of the event are:


Oct. 29

  • carnival and food vendors, 3 to 11 p.m.
  • gun and craft show, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 30

  • carnival, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • gun show and craft fair, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • food vendors, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 31

  • carnival, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • gun show and vendor craft fair, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • food vendors, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Admission for ages 13 and up is $15. For ages 6 to 12, it is $5. A ticket includes access to all three events on the property. There is no fee for parking.