Hope For The Zone: City Of Phoenix Ordered To Solve Homeless Crisis It Created

Hope For The Zone: City Of Phoenix Ordered To Solve Homeless Crisis It Created

By Corinne Murdock |

Downtown Phoenix’s residents experienced a glimmer of hope in the ongoing homeless crisis last month after a court declared the city to blame. If the city doesn’t appeal the court’s order, it may be the end of the massive encampment known as “The Zone.”

The decision flies in the face of the precedent set by other cities: plans and spending that yield no favorable results, ultimately forcing the residents to learn to live with the crime and squalor. Yet, Phoenix may no longer be resigned to the same fate borne by most other major cities. Downtown property and business owners were vindicated in their belief: city officials’ plans, spending, and promises alone don’t qualify as results.

Requiring results of the city could mean The Zone may cease to exist in the near future — restoring a square mile of the current wasteland of city-sanctioned slums into a healthy business district — but only if the city of Phoenix decides to follow through on the court-ordered action to resolve the homeless crisis. Cleaning up The Zone would mean finding shelter and services for around 800 homeless residing in the area, according to a census conducted by the Human Services Campus late last month.

the zone
Homeless sit outside a business in The Zone.

The first bout of legal relief came for The Zone’s residents and business owners after the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled last month that the city of Phoenix was at fault for The Zone. The court ordered the city to show that it’s taking “meaningful steps” toward fixing The Zone. They have until July 10 to do so, with a trial date scheduled for June.

The ruling came days after the city of Phoenix promised to finally meet to fix The Zone, a promise prompted by back-to-back murders in the encampment.

Vice President for Legal Affairs at the Goldwater Institute, Timothy Sandefur, who submitted an amicus brief in the case, told AZ Free News that this ruling was a good first step toward remedying The Zone — but that the city has a ways to go.

“I think this is a first step and a very important one,” said Sandefur.

Sandefur said that the superior court indicated the best next steps for the city would be to build structured campgrounds and establish treatment programs, rather than continue with their current “housing first” approach.

However, notice of a settlement in a separate, federal case issued recently may complicate matters in finally getting the city of Phoenix to fix The Zone.

In the Arizona District Court case, the ACLU and the city held mediation about three weeks ago.

Details of the settlement weren’t made public. The Phoenix City Council plans to convene April 18 in an executive session — a meeting not open to the public — to discuss the terms of the settlement. At some point after, the Phoenix City Council will announce the settlement terms during a public meeting.

Of note, the city attempted to dismiss the superior court case — but not the federal case. The city also spent just shy of $100,000 fighting the superior court case.

Ilan Wurman, another lawyer on the lawsuit against the city, told AZ Free News that the court’s order to fix The Zone was thorough to the point where he imagined it would be difficult for the city to fight it.

“The court’s ruling is such a thorough victory for the business and property owners that it will be very hard for the city to overcome it at a full trial on the merits,” said Wurman. “We hope the city does the right thing and considers a settlement or simply follows through on the court’s instructions — that will save a lot of expense to taxpayers and it will be better for the unsheltered community as well.”

In remarks to the press, the city stresses that it has allocated around $140 million to solve the homeless crisis. However, there’s a difference between commitment and spending. Of the $120 million in COVID-19 relief funds received to address the homeless crisis, the city has only spent about 10 percent.

Of what little the city has spent for the homeless crisis, the Maricopa County Superior Court assessed that none of this spending has actually mitigated the crisis.

homeless in The Zone
Homeless use drugs inside Phoenix’s sprawling encampment known as The Zone.

“With few exceptions, the action items about which city representatives testified centered around the creation of more bureaucracy, additional staff positions, and obtaining additional funding for programs to vaguely address homelessness in general,” stated Judge Scott Blaney. “The Court received very little evidence — if any — that the City intends to take immediate, meaningful action to protect its constituent business owners, their employees, and residents from the lawlessness and chaos in the Zone.”

However, in a recent interview, Mayor Kate Gallego indicated that the city was attempting to follow through on a “housing first” approach, and claimed that the city was “working very hard” to fix the homeless crisis.

As AZ Free News previously reported, “housing first” — also referred to as “permanent supportive” or “affordable” housing — holds the theory that the homeless will choose to seek employment, become financially responsible, and receive mental health care and/or substance abuse treatment if food and housing are provided. The theory also posits that enabling the homeless to choose their housing and support services will make them more likely to remain in that housing and stick with self-improvement initiatives.

Gallego shared that the city was working on launching seven new shelter options in partnership with various organizations, and that the city is hoping to receive additional help from both the state and federal government. She mentioned that she would meet with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Gallego disclosed that she recently spoke with Gov. Katie Hobbs about the homeless crisis — a conversation that had last occurred during Hobbs’ inauguration week in January. The mayor said that Hobbs was looking for additional resources to provide the city.

“Residents should feel confident that they’re going to see changes,” said Gallego. “The message we want to send to the public is that we recognize it’s a problem and we want to solve it.”

When questioned, Gallego didn’t directly deny that the city wouldn’t appeal the superior court’s decision.

In another interview, Gallego claimed that adequate law enforcement was taking place in The Zone. Gallego’s claim conflicted with the various investigative reports and witness accounts that depicted minimal law enforcement in The Zone.

“We treat every member of our community the same when they commit a crime. We want to be consistent and to enforce breaking the law,” said Gallego. “If you commit a crime, it is the same regardless of your housing status.”

However, the “Gaydos and Chad Show” testified to witnessing a myriad of criminal activity during a recent excursion in The Zone — including drug use, public defecation and urination, and prostitution — but not seeing any police presence. In response, Gallego claimed the city’s police were “too aggressive” when handling the homeless. The mayor cited the Arizona District Court case against the city as justification for her claim. However, that lawsuit concerned whether the city could enforce camping and sleeping bans, as well as whether the city had a right to seize or throw away items from homeless encampments as part of cleanup efforts. The lawsuit does not address police response to criminal activity.

Watch: The Zone – Homelessness and Crime Rampant in Phoenix

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

ACLU, Mainstream Media Sue Arizona Over Police Recording Ban

ACLU, Mainstream Media Sue Arizona Over Police Recording Ban

By Corinne Murdock |

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and 10 media companies and nonprofits sued the state over its new ban on recording police within 8 feet. The groups argued in their lawsuit that the ban violates the constitutional rights to free speech and a free press.

The law, HB2319, requires observers to obtain an officer’s permission in order to film within that distance while officers are questioning, arresting, or handling disruptive or otherwise abnormal behavior. If not, the filmer may be charged with a misdemeanor. 

However, individuals personally approached or stopped by police may record within 8 feet — so long as they’re not being searched, arrested, or tested for sobriety — as well as bystanders in an enclosed structure of private property where the law enforcement activity is taking place, so long as officers don’t ask the bystander to leave. 

The organizations filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Arizona. Those named in the suit were Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, and Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office told AP News on Tuesday afternoon that they hadn’t received the complaint, and therefore couldn’t comment. 

Media companies joining the ACLU in the lawsuit are: Phoenix Newspapers (Arizona Republic); Gray Media Group (AZFamily and KOLD); Scripps Media (ABC15 ArizonaCW61 ArizonaKGUN9CW Tucson); KPNX-TV (12News); Fox Television Stations (Fox 10 PhoenixTucson News NowYour TV Family); NBCUniversal Media (NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo Arizona); Arizona Broadcasters Association; States Newsroom (Arizona Mirror); Arizona Newspapers Association (represents 84 newspapers); and the National Press Photographers Association.

The plaintiffs recounted in the lawsuit how their lobbying efforts to defeat HB2319 failed in the past legislative session.

The lawmaker who came up with HB2319 was State Representative John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), a former New York Police Department (NYPD) officer. In a March opinion piece defending the ban, Kavanagh explained that individuals filming within 8 feet of an officer posed a potential danger to active investigations and arrests.

“Police officers have no way of knowing whether the person approaching is an innocent bystander or an accomplice of the person they’re arresting who might assault them,” wrote Kavanagh. “Consequently, officers become distracted and while turning away from the subject of the encounter, the officers could be assaulted by that subject or that subject could discard evidence or even escape.”

Kavanagh introduced the bill in response to requests from Tucson police officers who experienced bystanders videotaping as close as one foot behind them, even during arrests. 

Governor Doug Ducey signed Kavanagh’s bill into law last month. The ban goes into effect on September 24. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Arizona ACLU Opposed Bill to Ban Hazing

Arizona ACLU Opposed Bill to Ban Hazing

By Corinne Murdock |

The Arizona chapter of the ACLU spoke out against a bill to ban hazing, HB2322, during its consideration in the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday. ACLU campaign strategist K.M. Bell said that the ACLU was against the bill because they believe it criminalizes “light hazing.”

HB2322 would make hazing a class 1 misdemeanor, and a class 4 felony for hazing that results in death. The bill sponsor, State Representative John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), explained to the Senate Education Committee that the bill wouldn’t prevent “light hazing,” which the 71-year-old representative compared to his own experience as a new Boy Scout asked to stand with other new scouts at a certain spot in the woods on their first camping trip while the older boys caught “snipes,” which Kavanagh recalled he found humorous upon finding out no such creature existed. Kavanagh drew a distinction between that and dangerous hazing — that which results in injury or death — citing an Arizona State University (ASU) student made to drink a large amount of liquor in a short amount of time. 

“There is light hazing, and there is dangerous hazing. This bill does nothing to prevent light hazing. I think light hazing has a sociological purpose. You’ve all probably been exposed to it as some point in your lives,” said Kavanagh. “That’s just part of life: it’s whimsical, it’s harmless, it forms some kind of sort of sociological, organizational bonding, so everyone’s good with that.”

Kavanagh noted that he’d received no pushback on the bill from any fraternities, sororities, colleges, or universities. The only contention came from the ACLU.

One issue the ACLU took with the bill specifically was that they believed the term “calisthenics” was too broad. Bell argued that there should be some nuance to differentiate harmful versus harmless calisthenics. She said that it would criminalize people who made others do jumping jacks in order to join the high school chess club. Bell added that language addressing hazing that results in embarrassment wasn’t suited for criminal law. She argued that other laws addressing crimes like reckless endangerment could better cover hazing crimes.

“That is why our suggestion was that the calisthenics and things like that that aren’t necessarily harmful only be criminalized in situations where they could potentially cause serious injury,” said Bell. “That would address those situations where somebody is forced to do 10,000 jumping jacks versus five. Obviously those are very different situations.”

Further, Bell argued conspiracy law is so broad that someone in the room could report another for intent to haze. Majority Leader Rick Gray (R-Peoria) questioned whether people would report someone for entertaining an idea or vocalizing a whim of hazing. 

“I would just be shocked if someone were to take a situation like that and try to prosecute,” said Gray. 

A spokesperson of one victim of hazing spoke out. Alex Morris, an attorney at Beus Gilbert McGroder, discussed the 2012 death of Jack Culolias during a party hosted by Arizona State University’s (ASU) Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) chapter, of which he was a member. Morris alleged that Culolias drowned due to hazing that resulted in his intoxication, and read a statement from Culolias’ mother, Grace. 

“Over the years, so much harm has been done to young people because of hazing. Students pass along the traditions. What one student can endure the other person cannot do,” said Culolias’ mother. “Kids are administering pain to other kids. It keeps happening. Something has to change. The way it will change is at the individual level. The students who haze have to be penalized and it has to be on their record. This will make people aware and conscious. No other parent should go through what I went through.”

Culolias’ death, along with the incident five months later of a 20-year-old member dumped in front of an emergency room with a blood alcohol level at five times the legal limit, earned the ASU SAE the number-one ranking on the Rolling Stone report of most “Most Out-of-Control Fraternities in America.” University of Arizona (UArizona) also made the list with its lengthy record of hazing and alcohol-related hospitalizations at its Pi Kappa Phi chapter. 

State Press reported that Culolias’ lifelong best friend, Dante Jaramillo, believed SAE members pushed Culolias to his limits and, ultimately, his death. Culolias reportedly chose ASU because his father died from lung cancer earlier that summer, and he wanted a party school where he could leave his worries behind. 

“Like the pastor at his memorial said, he died trying to fit in,” said Jaramillo. “And it kills me to think that was what led to his demise.”

Only one senator voted against the bill: State Senator Sally Ann Gonzales (D-Tucson). She explained that she was concerned the legislation language would “hurt” people, though she didn’t expand on what she meant by that. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Bill Empowering Parents To Approve Or Deny Sex Education Access Passes

Bill Empowering Parents To Approve Or Deny Sex Education Access Passes

By Corinne Murdock |

A bill further regulating K-12 sex education courses moved closer to full passage on Wednesday. In a 6-4 party-line vote, the House Judiciary Committee determined that parents should have a greater say in what their kids learn when it comes to sex education.

The bill would require school boards to give parents advance notice of the education, acquire signed and written parental consent, as well as inform parents about their rights to opt into the course and review the materials and activities.

Currently, parents must opt their child out of the instruction. And, gender identity and gender expression weren’t included as topics requiring parental consent – just sexuality.

The bill would also limit schools from offering sex education, AIDS, and HIV instruction until students are in the fifth grade.

If passed, schools would have until December 15 of this year to change their courses to comply with the new law.

In the event that schools are modifying or drafting sex education courses thereafter, all corresponding committee meetings and proposed curriculum must be made public. The community would have 60 days and at least two public hearings to weigh in on the proposed curriculum.

The bill specified that schools aren’t required to offer sex education instruction.

For charter schools that do wish to teach about AIDS or HIV, they must ensure that the curriculum will be grade-level appropriate, medically accurate, promoting abstinence, discouraging drug use, adn dispelling myths about transmission. These schools would also be granted the ability to have the Arizona Department of Health Services or Arizona Department of Education (ADE) to review the materials.

Only four committee members voted against the bill: César Chávez (D-Phoenix), Melody Hernandez (D-Tempe), Diego Rodriguez (D-Phoenix), and Domingo Degrazia (D-Tucson).

Committee members Walter Blackman (R-Snowflake), Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley), Beverly Pingerelli (R-Peoria), Russell Bowers (R-Mesa), and Quang Nguyen (R-Prescott Valley) voted in favor of it.

Senate Education testimonies from those urging passage of the bill asserted that parental rights are being violated daily, and that parents know what’s best for their children. They cited examples of schools telling parents and children that sex education classes are mandatory, refusing to share curriculum materials with parents, and circumventing parental notification on the implementation of new curriculum like “Genderbread.”

The ACLU argued that the bill violates the Equal Protection Clause, saying that LGBTQ students’ rights would be threatened. Other teachers testifying concurred.

During the final vote in the Senate, Democratic opposed empowering parents to choose whether their children received exposure to certain sex education courses.

Juan Mendez (D-) likened the negative commentary around parents’ lack of knowledge on the materials within school sex education courses as “scare tactics.”

“[S]tudents are going to hear and learn all about this stuff whether or not parents want them to. So, do you want it to happen alone on the internet? Or, in the safe embrace of a school setting with comprehensive, medically-accurate sex education?” asserted Mendez. “We should be providing youth with opportunities to increase their knowledge, explore values, and develop positive skills. Any of that would do so much to mitigate interpersonal violence and dating violence.”

State Senator Sally Ann Gonzalez (D-) accused the bill of targeting LGBTQ students, and limiting teachers and administrators from creating safe, inclusive environments. She went so far as to claim it could violate Title X and the Constitution, therefore opening up the state to legal battles.

“This bill is a sweeping bill that impacts the ability of teachers to speak about a wide range of issues impacting all students,” stated Gonzalez. “Everyone has a gender identity and a sexual orientation, so this bill would – could inhibit the profession of everyone’s experience of gender and romantic relationships in the world.”

State Senator Jamescita Peshlakai (D-) dismissed the examples provided by XX as an exception to the rule – a few, one-off incidents of the very worst types of education presented to students, not the norm.

The Senate passed the bill in a close, party-line vote on March 3.

Corinne Murdock is a contributing reporter for AZ Free News. In her free time, she works on her books and podcasts. Follow her on Twitter, @CorinneMurdock or email tips to corinnejournalist@gmail.com.