Deaf and Damned

If Artie Martinez weren't deaf, he might have talked his way out of the Arizona State Hospital. Instead, he was locked up there for nearly 40 years.

Hospital social worker Winnie Brewer analyzed Martinez that month differently than had Dr. Matty:

"This type of ambivalent behavior would indicate that [he] uses his mental illness as a manipulative device over which he has full control. We would recommend that . . . [Martinez] be confronted with the non-psychotic aspect of his behavior, and we should recommend that he be held accountable for his behavior in the eyes of the law rather than in a mental-health institution."

Doctors, however, chose not to ship Martinez to jail. In early 1984, they stuck him in the Cholla unit, repository of the sickest of the hospital's sick.

Until a few years ago, hard-core criminals were caged in the same quarters with far less dangerous patients. The latter included Artie Martinez.

Cholla would be his lot for the next decade.
Records show it cost $809,056 from late 1982 to April 1994 to keep Martinez housed at the State Hospital. Of that sum, his social security income paid for about $54,000. The rest was covered by Arizona taxpayers.

Earlier this year, Gary LaVigna described his first impressions--made in 1993--of the State Hospital's Cholla unit.

"It's a place that you would expect to see with, quote, criminally insane and psychotically violent people," said the Los Angeles-based doctor.

LaVigna's task was to evaluate Artie Martinez and his living conditions.
"From floor to ceiling as you approach the unit was a wire mesh wall, and the imagery as you stood outside waiting for somebody with the keys to open the door to let you in was of these violent-prone people pacing back and forth, mumbling, sometimes incoherently.

"And as you are waiting for somebody to open the door, you are realizing, 'Oh, my goodness, I'm going in there . . .'"

For years, the 60 or so men on the unit included the criminally insane--murderers, rapists and the like--a few dozen severely mentally retarded and brain-damaged individuals, and one deaf mute named Martinez.

The inmates wiled away their days doing nothing, potent drugs having induced a trancelike state. Those who weren't stupefied often were prone to violence.

As early as 1978, a report by a state prison official said Cholla was "not designed to house the type of extremely hostile, agitated patients you have. Clearly, the patient population at Cholla is the most violent, assaultive (group) . . . at ASH."

Cholla was not meant to rehabilitate: It was designed to keep wild animals contained.

In his deposition, George O'Connor, who was Cholla's lead psychiatrist from 1988 to 1994, described daily life at the unit:

"A person who would walk into someone else's room, take or break their radio, if staff weren't there, many times it was likely that they would probably get hurt."

He added, "Most of the patients on the Cholla unit expressed the male gender as their gender of preference. We did have some exceptions."

"When you say that, it almost sounds like you are talking about a hermaphrodite or something like that," said attorney Elliot Glicksman.

"I am."
In late 1983, a judge ordered the county Public Fiduciary to determine if Artie Martinez needed a legal guardian.

An investigator from that office responded that a guardian was unnecessary because "it is likely that Arturo will never be placed in the community."

No one quarreled with that assessment.
Late in 1984, psychiatrist John Marchildon wrote a two-page annual evaluation of Martinez for the county courts. He conducted his interviews of Martinez with a counselor who knew some sign language, and by written notes.

The report read like many others over the years; doctors didn't quite know what to make of Martinez.

"There have been various diagnoses over the years such as epilepsy and schizophrenia," Marchildon wrote, "the basis for which cannot be currently demonstrated. He became highly institutionalized after 29 years of hospitalization, and efforts to place him in society have been unsuccessful . . .

"He has the idea that he can live alone, but he barely adjusts in the hospital. This man is perceived by society and by the county hospital personnel, as well as the police and judiciary, as being mentally ill as his outburst coupled with his muteness present a picture suggestive of same. . . . He should be committed for up to 365 days as gravely disabled."

So it went.
Martinez tried to strangle himself with a tee shirt in June 1985 after an unspecified incident involving another patient.

In April 1987, another patient punched him, breaking his eye socket. Martinez exacted his revenge after he returned from a medical ward, assaulting his assailant as he slept on a couch.

His punishment was severe: Martinez was kicked out of the hospital's education program, which had been providing him one-on-one attention with a teacher's aide versed in sign language.

A note from the aide in Martinez's file before the incidents had cited his "tremendous progress" in communication skills.

In March 1988, hospital social worker Janine Klabe wrote of Martinez's expulsion, "This meant that Arturo, who already suffers from social isolation by being the only deaf mute on the unit, no longer had the special time daily when he could actually communicate with someone."

After that, Klabe reported, Martinez's self-abusive behavior increased dramatically. He burned his eyebrows with a cigarette, punched walls, failed for days on end to groom himself. When he did shower, he kept his underwear on, saying that he feared homosexual attacks.

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