In Tucson talk, journalist will examine media bias on Israel

It’s very important to understand who is feeding you information and why they are doing so, says Matti Friedman, an award-winning author and former reporter for the Associated Press’ Jerusalem bureau.

“We all need to be critical consumers of media, not just where Israel is concerned,” says Friedman. “The hostility to Israel expressed in mainstream media coverage is not dissipating. If anything, it’s growing – the story becomes more and more hostile as time goes on, and seems unaffected by other events.”

However, the proportion of biased and unfavorable coverage of Israel being published has somewhat improved, he says, because of newsroom cuts and the media’s shift towards other parts of the region as the Middle East continues to destabilize.

As an author, journalist and former soldier for the Israel Defense Forces, it’s his duty to help people better understand the world, says Friedman.

“I’m not writing about my experiences as a journalist or a soldier because they’re about me, but because those experiences contain helpful information for people trying to figure things out,” he says. “If someone walks out of a lecture, or puts down my book with a better grasp of a complex reality — I’ve done my job.”

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here.

Originally published on April 27, 2017.

Jewish Latino Teen Coalition marks 13 years of advocacy, diversity

Lobbying in Washington, D.C., for an increase in protections for immigrant families was an invigorating experience, says Nicolas Rios, a high school student and member of Tucson’s Jewish-Latino Teen Coalition.   

Rios, 16, a junior at BASIS Tucson North, heard about the JLTC from his college preparatory counselor.

Growing up in Southern Arizona sparked Rios’ interest in politics, as well as immigration and border-related issues, he says. Having the opportunity to engage with another dominant ethnic and religious group in Tucson piqued his interest in the JLTC.

“I had a very positive experience overall and there’s not too many opportunities like it, so I was really excited to be able do this sort of program,” says Rios.

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here.

Originally published on April 27, 2017.

Conviction, mistrial verdicts in child molestation case

Rubbing a child’s genitals is an inexplicable act and obviously motivated by sexual gratification, said Pima County Prosecutor Virginia Dawn Aspacher, during closing arguments at Superior Court on Wednesday.

It was incredibly difficult for a young child to testify against her father, Aspacher said, but she knows what happened to her, just as her sister knows what happened to them — and now so does this courtroom full of strangers.

John William Inman, 32, was charged with two counts of child molestation during a four-month period starting Nov. 1, 2015. Inman was found guilty of molesting his 7-year-old daughter on Thursday. The second allegation of sexual misconduct with Inman’s youngest daughter, who turned 3 this year, was ruled a mistrial.

He was arrested on April 14, 2016. Bail was set at $50,000 and Inman’s father posted $25,000 bond on June 9, 2016.

As the child watched TV, Inman joined her on the couch rubbing her vagina with his fingers, Aspacher said, recalling the young girl’s testimony that day. His daughter further said she saw Inman molest his 3-year-old, while saying “I love you,” according to Aspacher.

Ultimately, the jury decides the credibility of witnesses who testify, she said, but every element of this evidence has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defense Attorney Chelsea Padilla-Frankel said Inman’s daughter had trouble remembering being fondled during her testimony, because it never happened.

The defense argued that Inman’s youngest daughters were initially asked about the alleged molestation with misleading questions, in a “yes-or-no fashion,” by his teenage daughter. And the child was simply repeating a story her sister fabricated, Padilla-Frankel said.

But Aspacher refuted the claim reminding the jury that Francisca Serrano, a bilingual forensics interviewer at Southern Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center, said the initial interview of Inman’s youngest children was not misleading.

The defense insisted Inman’s children were asked a biased line of questioning, noting that Pima County Sheriff Deputy Jesus Rodriguez didn’t interview the pair, because he wasn’t qualified to do so.

Padilla-Frankel told the jury a day, month or year from now they should never wonder what the truth is about this case, and if they aren’t completely convinced acquittal is the only choice.

“Frankly, there is a lot of reasonable doubt in this case,” she said.

Judge Howard J. Fell told the jury this case presents a unique set of circumstances, whereas the state has not submitted any evidence. And the sole evidence is contained in the witness testimony, he said.

If the jurors had any clarifying questions, they would communicate with him via the bailiff, and Fell would respond in writing. He gave the group until 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday to reach a verdict, but urged them not to rush and said they would reconvene the following morning if need be.

Inman was facing 20-48 years in prison if convicted on all counts, according to prosecutor Aspacher.

A warrant was issued for Inman’s arrest on Thursday, and a sentencing date will be set when he is apprehended.

City Council mulls retirement incentive package for safety officers

Tucson City Council further discussed an early retirement incentive program for public safety officers, which could save the city more than $2.4 million next fiscal year.

The city anticipates about 12 officers from both the Tucson Police and Tucson Fire departments will take advantage of the retirement package.

The retirement incentive will offer a full payout of the officer’s sick leave, a one-time $50,000 cash payment and a three-year Medical benefit supplement. The temporary insurance package will pay about $28,800 annually, but the retiree will not receive government health coverage after the three-year mark.

City Manager Michael Ortega began by saying he wanted some direction from Mayor & Council before finalizing the retirement incentive offer. He further said the language regarding commissioned officer positions would be converted to civilian positions was misleading, and will be corrected when the proposal is complete.

Council Member Karin Uhlich, a Democrat representing Ward 3, confirmed the point of this initiative was to allow Tucson’s safety departments the opportunity to shape its supervising staff according to the community demand. For example, if a fire inspector is more valuable at a particular station, that change can be made because of the potential vacancy left by a retired officer, Uhlich said.

That is absolutely correct, Ortega said. “This gives us the best ability to really look at, and to really say, every vacancy is an opportunity. So how we approach that, and filling those positions is the key to that conversation.”

In order to minimize costs, the benefit package will be offered during a 45-day window, and local officers must declare their intent to retire by July 1, according to city documents. And officers will be granted a weeklong grace period if they change their minds.

For Tucson firefighters, this retirement incentive will only be offered to the rank of captain, or battalion, deputy and assistant chief. The amount of firefighters who can accept this offer is limited to 10 captains and two chief officers.

Similarly, the city’s offer will only be extended to officers who hold the rank of police sergeant, lieutenant, captain and assistant chief.  And the amount of peace officers allowed to take up the proposal is capped at 10 sergeants and 13 commanders.

Creating vacancies in the police department’s upper management could potentially place more law officers in the field, said Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. And based on precinct needs, the opportunity for promoting police officers also opens up, Rothschild said.

Ortega said this initiative is simply speeding up the natural process of attrition for ranking officers while keeping in mind the importance of public safety.

“Vacancies give us an opportunity, from a management perspective, to look at how we do business,” Ortega said.

“What I’ve challenged both police and fire to do is really look hard at the basis for us providing services,” he said. “Whatever those services are, and because of some of the constraints that we’ve had, we obviously can’t afford to do exactly what we’ve always done.”

Council Member Shirley C. Scott, a Democrat of Ward 4, asked the language regarding replacing sanctioned officers be changed in writing before the council approves the final draft of the initiative.

What if the number of ranking public safety officers willing to retire exceeded the city’s estimates, asked Steve Kozachik, council member and Democrat of Ward 6?

That would be troubling, said Ortega. The burden of replacing the maximum amount of ranking officers could prove difficult, but he’s confident with the current estimates. He said although facing that challenge wouldn’t be easy, the financial and reframing flexibility could be an asset.

“That’s a discussion, on a macro scale, that would be a nice problem to have,” he said.

City Council gets progress report on inmate reduction program

Tucson City Council discussed the progress of multiple initiatives recommended by a statewide task force that are designed to decrease the population of local jails.

The “Justice for All” report, compiled by the Arizona Supreme Court’s Task Force on Fair Justice for All: Court-Ordered Fines, Penalties, Fees, and Pretrial Policies, was released on Sept. 1, 2016.

The report recommended alternative options for non-violent offenders awaiting pretrial services including:

  • Statutory changes for setting and collecting court-ordered payments, as well as potential waiving of fines
  • Offer payment options for people who cannot afford to pay court fines, and allow more community service based repayment
  • Recommend the best practices for releasing non-violent civil offenders, while maintaining public safety
  • Review and consider alternatives to the current driver’s license suspension policy
  • Recommend educational programs for judicial officers, judges and court staff responsible for the pretrial decision-making process
  • Identify and enhance technological notification services for defendants, which can reduce the amount of those who fail to appear in court and possibly encourage defendants to appear

Christopher Hale, court administrator at Tucson City Court, said the city could quickly implement 17 of the 65 recommendations made by the task force’s report, according to city documents. Eight of the improvements were put into effect immediately, while others are still being worked on.

Amelia Cramer, Chief Deputy at the Pima County Attorney’s office, presented an update on the initiatives aimed at quelling overcrowding in the Pima County jail.

Pima County recently received a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, a national endowment designed to help reduce over-incarceration by providing support for local jurisdictions to create fairer judicial practices, which helped finance some the county’s new programs.

The county was awarded $1.5 million for the next two years from the MacArthur Foundation grant, the option to extend the financial award for a third year has yet to be determined.

Cramer came across two cases that epitomized the need for Pima County to take part in this program about two years ago, she said.

The first case concerned a severely mentally ill woman who spent 45 days in jail, because a bench warrant had been issued for her arrest for failure to appear in court. The woman was originally charged with a misdemeanor for stealing a candy bar, she said.

During that same week, a man from Northwest Tucson shot rounds through his front door at Tucson Police Department officers, she said, and was released the next day on a $150,000 cash bond. This defendant was wealthy enough to post bail, Cramer said.

“We need more safety, in terms of those who are violent and dangerous predators in our community, to make sure they are in custody,” Cramer said. “And we need more justice for those who are poor, and can’t afford to post bail.”

In 2014, Pima County jail was housing almost 2,300 inmates, Cramer said, and the overall capacity of the facility is 2,377. According to county projections, Pima County jail will see an 18 percent increase of inmates by 2020, which would place the number of county inmates at about 2,800, she said.

“And you all, Mayor and Council, are well familiar with the costs of the current jail, can you imagine how much greater those costs would be if the county had to build yet another jail,” she said. “So the county began looking for ways in which to reduce the jail population in a manner that would be safe, and also ensure justice.”

The county recently determined that more than 80 percent of inmates housed in Pima County jail have not been sentenced, Cramer said. Although inmates in jail and prison are often erroneously lumped together, the two populations are quite different, she added.

When the county began implementing their automated reminder system, there was a 24 percent decrease in defendants failing to appear in court. The city is planning in rolling out its own Interactive Voice Response system, which will offer reminders in both English or Spanish via a mobile alert.

Council Member Richard Fimbres, a Democrat of Ward 5, asked Cramer what is being done to combat recidivism.

Council Member Regina Romero, a Democrat of Ward 1, further asked Cramer whether the MacArthur provides bias training for law enforcement and judges, which can prevent cultural discrimination for peace officers in the field and presiding judges.

Cramer said there are efforts being made, at the city and county level, to recognize and reduce implicit bias for law enforcement and within the criminal justice system.

Hale, court administrator at Tucson City Court, said city court is an innovator and leader regarding limited jurisdiction courts, which is why they were able to immediately implement some of the improvements recommended by the statewide task force.

For example, Tucson City Court hasn’t issued a failure to pay warrant in at least 10 years, Hale said. “We’ve just been ahead of the curve for a long time, and I just wanted to make that clear.”

After two years, armed robbery and kidnapping trial winds down

Michael J. Thurman testified against his former friend and co-defendant Quentin L. Evans, on Thursday, during the tail end of an armed robbery and kidnapping trial at Pima County Superior Court.

According to court records, at about midnight on March 5, 2015, Javier Figueroa, Moises Enriquez, Travis Vertrees and Omar Estrada-Vasquez were robbed at gunpoint by three men, while arriving at Figueroa’s home.

Thurman said Figueroa was considered a thief amongst his friends, and the robbery was supposed to teach him a lesson, but until the night of incident talking about the robbery was just a joke.

Rebecca Mueller, deputy Pima County attorney, asked Thurman how their discussion went from being to a joke to something serious.

“Alcohol and drugs will do a lot of things to your thinking, but I can’t really answer that,” Thurman said.

Mueller said at some point it was no longer a joke, which Thurman confirmed.

Thurman, 19, was 17 at the time of his arrest, and was on probation services for a previous felony conviction.

Defense attorney Stephanie K. Bond evoked a range of emotions from Thurman during the cross examination. At one point, Judge Sean E. Brearcliffe directed Thurman to simply answer Bond’s questions.

As Bond went through his prior interviews, she methodically identified the inconsistencies with his testimony. Thurman said he was being medicated at the time.

Evans and Thurman were charged with five counts of armed robbery, kidnapping, aggravated robbery and aggravated assault. In exchange for his testimony, Thurman is being charged with one count of attempted armed robbery, and will serve between two and nine years in prison.

Mueller walked Thurman through the night of crime, also pointing out where his testimony and prior interviews with police were inconsistent.

Thurman said he restrained one of the victims with makeshift handcuffs, and held all three outside, while Evans and another suspect entered the Figueroa residence in search of marijuana and money.

During an interview with law enforcement in July 2015, Thurman said Evans bragged about pistol whipping one victim during the home invasion — a claim he denied during his testimony.

Figueroa told the Tucson Police Department that he recognized the defendants, because they used their street names during the crime.

TPD obtained a search warrant for Evans’ residence, and found a semiautomatic handgun, a revolver, a black mask and identification cards belonging to the victims as well as Estrada’s watch and wallet.

Thurman and Evans were inseparable at the time of their arrest, he said. The two friends moved into Evans’ new apartment one day prior to the incident.

Thurman’s step-mother died in December 2014, of an alleged drug overdose, according to a letter written by his biological mother, Michele Keller.

Keller gave birth to her son while in prison, and Thurman remained under his stepmother’s care until her death. Keller served multiple sentences in prison for drug offenses, but has remained clean and sober for more than 10 years.

The defendant’s bond was originally set at $50,000. Thurman’s bail was reduced to $10,000, but he has remained in jail since his arrest. Keller pleaded with the court to release Thurman in her custody, although she could not afford bail.

Judge Brearcliffe told the jury that they are ahead of schedule, but some witnesses cannot testify early. The trial is set to end on Friday, March 31.

Amphi School Board gifts brightest students

The Amphitheater School Board approved two measures that will bolster programming for its gifted students on Tuesday.

The board agreed to improve Amphi’s Realizing Excellence through Academic and Creative Help program by: hiring at least three new full-time elementary school teachers and increasing the time allocated for instruction; and expand instruction in English high school classes for advanced students.

Spending an estimated $117,660 for supplementary textbooks and technology for the district’s elementary and middle schools will be explored at a later date.

Patrick Nelson, superintendent for Amphi, said the initial report that earmarked ways the district can improve its REACH curriculum would be too costly, so school operations identified the three most pressing issues.

“Implementation of the entire report would be, at this point in time, prohibitively expensive and probably not doable — unless the governor and the legislature come through with quite a bit of additional funding,” Nelson said.

Monica Nelson, associate superintendent for Amphi, said this discussion would only address the first steps towards revamping the REACH program, which were identified by meeting with parents and teachers involved in the curriculum.

“And we felt like we couldn’t do everything, that’s why we called these, very carefully, ‘first steps,’” she said.

Deanna M. Day, vice president of Amphi’s Governing Board, asked for clarification about why there’s a difference between the cluster model — a technique that groups gifted students together — in elementary school compared to high school.

Donna Shreve, a department chair at REACH, said the cluster model of instruction at the elementary school level is mandated, whereas high school students can choose whether they want to attend a seminar-style cluster class.

Shreve further said expanding the push-in technique — where gifted instructors would visit a student’s regular English class, teaching joint curriculum throughout the year — would make the advanced programming more efficient at the 9th and 10th grade level. “So by having the REACH teacher push-in to that classroom, then they’ll get those services.”

One of the biggest concerns is the inconsistency in Amphi’s gifted program, said Melanie Derksen, a department chair at REACH. Students in middle school receive daily advanced instruction, but once they reach high school the program diminishes, she said.

“We need to figure out what we can do, in 9th and 10th grade, for our REACH teachers to service these children,” Derksen said.

Jo Grant, president of Amphi’s Governing Board, asked how the REACH committee and Amphi school operations choose the three items being considered that evening.

Shreve said the glaring shortfall of the REACH program was in outreach to the youngest gifted students at Amphi schools, which is also the greatest concern for parents.

At the high school level, the REACH chairs, as well as Associate Superintendent Nelson, said if they had to choose between implementing a boost in programming for freshman and sophomores, or continuing to fund the gifted internship program, they would choose the former.

Reducing, or removing, the junior- and senior-level internship opportunities in order to supplement the costs of enhancing outreach for younger high school students would be a detriment to Amphi students and the community overall, said Scott A. Leska, an Amphi Governing Board member.

“I think that’s a disservice to those students who are looking forward to it,” he said.

The original framework for assessing, and improving, Amphi’s advanced curriculum was not a matter of choosing between slashing one part of the program to fund another, said Cymry DeBoucher, an honors internship coordinator at Canyon del Oro High School.

Moreover, the honors work DeBoucher is involved with is much more than a once a week seminar class for Amphi’s brightest pupils, she said. Honors counselors often spend up to 15 hours each week, scheduling job interviews for students looking for advanced-level internships, and molding the direction of these pupils beyond graduate school.

“We also see academic competitions as an important part of what should be provided to gifted students,” she said. “And that may or may not be part of the gifted process, but it certainly has been at my high school for 20 years.”

Blending two loves: hoops and helping others

Why shouldn’t we care about other people, Michael J. Rosenkrantz asks rhetorically, adding that he refuses to live a selfish lifestyle. 

“I feel like it’s really important to think about the larger community, and it’s not just the Jewish community — it’s bigger,” says Rosenkrantz. “But in the Jewish faith, there’s a lot of talk about giving back, and I definitely try to do that.”

Rosenkrantz, 60, is a Los Angeles native who moved to Tucson in September from Nepal to teach alongside Peter Hughes, head coach of the University of Arizona Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team, and learn the intricacies of wheelchair basketball.

He chatted with the AJP on Friday, March 31, in between games at the National Wheelchair Basketball tournament in Louisville, Ky., saying he hoped that the Lobos could turn around their 1-2 record with one game left in the series.

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here.

Originally published on April 14, 2017.

Greenberg of ‘one and done’ fame to offer inspiration at MNO

The key to overcoming obstacles is setting a goal, says Adam Greenberg, a former major league baseball player and motivational speaker.

“No matter what’s going on, always persevere and always get up, because that’s why we were given the opportunity we have to live and have the life we have,” says Greenberg.

Greenberg, 36, dedicated his life to becoming a major league baseball player, and on July 7, 2005 he stepped up to the plate for the Chicago Cubs. During his debut at-bat, he was struck in the back of the head with a 92-mph fastball, effectively ending his career in the majors.

He’s the guest speaker for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s “Men’s Night Out” fundraising event on Thursday, April 20.

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here.

Originally published on April 14, 2017.