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.

A few days before Christmas 1955, Artie Martinez took off his clothes and went for a stroll.

Sheriff's deputies found Martinez--a 27-year-old deaf man--wandering incoherently near 52nd Street and McDowell. Not surprisingly, he wound up at the Arizona State Hospital.

Martinez wasn't charged with a crime, never has been. Nonetheless, the State of Arizona kept him imprisoned at the State Hospital for most of the next four decades. He spent years in the hospital's infamous Cholla ward, among depraved and deranged murderers, rapists and other violent men.

He's an odd man, to be sure, but there's compelling evidence that Artie Martinez's biggest problem was his deafness. How did he get stuck in the belly of Arizona's mental-health beast?

A doctor who evaluated him in 1993 wrote that Martinez fell through the cracks "because he didn't have an opportunity . . . to make his case, to be understood, and to talk his way out of it."

Martinez endured his nearly 40 years in custody alone and in silence. No one at the State Hospital was able to communicate with him in American Sign Language on more than a basic level.

For years, Artie Martinez had no advocates--no legal guardian, no watchdog group, no friends. And after his parents died and his siblings scattered more than a quarter-century ago, he had no family to go to bat for him.

Assistant public defender Barbara Topf, who represented Martinez at annual recommitment proceedings in the 1980s, doesn't even remember him.

When officials finally did free Martinez from the State Hospital in 1994, he was a shadow of his pre-institutionalized self. The rakish athlete and fine artist who disrobed in 1955 "because it felt good" is now 69 years old.

He's lost his teeth, his personal-hygiene skills, his zest for sketching, and his ability to live independently. He needs constant monitoring, which he gets at a group home in Glendale.

After Martinez got out of the State Hospital, somebody found him a civil lawyer. In 1995, he sued the State of Arizona for ruining his life.

In August, the state quietly settled the case.

Last April 30, Artie Martinez promised an assistant Arizona attorney general that he'd tell the truth.

"You can believe it," he signed through an interpreter, then glanced at the roomful of attorneys with a twinkle in his dark eyes.

A video camera fixed on Martinez and his interpreter during the 44-minute session. The kitchen of his supervised group home served as the site of the legal proceeding. Martinez resides at the home with three other senior citizens whose lives also have been plagued by mental illness.

At hand was Martinez's deposition in his momentous Maricopa County Superior Court lawsuit against the State of Arizona and its mental hospital.

In an understatement, the lawsuit claimed state officials wrongly had incarcerated Martinez for decades, causing "missed opportunities for a normal life, including social and recreational activities, and freedom to enjoy life."

This was especially egregious, it alleged, in light of an Arizona law, passed in the 1980s, that commanded the state to move as many patients as possible into "community" residences. The suit also claimed Arizona had broken the law by doing little to accommodate Martinez's deafness.

It becomes clear from court records in the case--nearly 3,000 pages--and interviews that Martinez long has been mentally unstable. But the records also show that, year after year, doctors concluded Martinez was not seriously mentally ill.

"It is this examiner's strong opinion that this patient has not been psychotic over the past few years, and probably never was so," hospital psychologist Dick Miller wrote in 1982.

Psychiatrist Bela Matty agreed that year in a separate report: "As [Martinez] is not psychotic, any length of hospitalization is counterproductive."

Remarkably, it took almost 12 years after those reports for the State Hospital to free Martinez. Only then, shortly before release in April 1994, did doctors label him "seriously mentally ill" for the first time in years.

But even that classification was illusory: Without it, Martinez wasn't eligible to live in a group home operated by the nonprofit Foundation for Senior Living, which is geared toward seriously mentally ill geriatrics.

Gary LaVigna, the Los Angeles-based doctor who assessed Martinez for the State of Arizona in 1993, wrote, "For nearly 40 years, [Martinez] lived in psychiatric institutions among people who had serious, often violent psychiatric illnesses. It is difficult to even begin to imagine the level of anger and frustration felt at times by Mr. Martinez in response to these situations."

In a deposition last May 19, LaVigna added, "You don't put Artie in a cage, not somebody like Artie."

Martinez often resorted to violence against his mad, sexually aggressive neighbors--all men. He also assaulted staff, State Hospital records indicate, in twisted yet effective attempts to get into solitary confinement, free for a while from the bedlam.

Though the courts consistently called Martinez a "gravely disabled" danger to himself and to others, hospital staffers for years allowed him to wander the grounds alone with garden clippers and other implements.

Martinez still suffers mood swings, and needs constant monitoring. But his caretakers say he does fine most of the time.

Martinez didn't seem delusional when assistant AG Cynthia Ray asked him at his deposition if he knew about his lawsuit. He shrugged and tugged at his blue-plaid shirt as he weighed a response.

He answered in sign language, hands and fingers cutting through the air.
"I think so," Martinez said. "They gave me dope with shots, to my body in shots. All together, God, [it] is hard to remember. . . . In the hospital, I was hit. They wouldn't let me out. Finally, they did let me out."

A legislative committee approved an out-of-court settlement in the Martinez case last month. The sum remains a secret, though the fact that the committee had to okay it means it was for more than $150,000.

"This is Artie's chance, finally," says his Tucson-based attorney, Elliot Glicksman. "Money is not an issue. He can take fishing trips in Mexico if he wants, go to ballparks, have someone take him to see artwork. He has the chance at somewhat of a life until he dies."

Most of Martinez's days pass uneventfully, watching closed-captioned television, puttering around the backyard (when it's cool), flirting harmlessly with one of his caretakers, Valerie Blair. He gets away from the home once or twice weekly--always supervised--to eat at restaurants, spend time at a day-care center for geriatrics, visit a mall, maybe sit in a park.

"While in the hospital, all of Mr. Martinez's life skills atrophied," Elliot Glicksman wrote in a letter to a court-appointed mediator last July 18.

". . . When he left [the hospital], he was wholly dependent on the facility to survive. He was periodically assaultive, he destroyed property, he urinated and masturbated in public, he did not dress himself appropriately, he had no personal hygiene skills, and virtually no social skills. . . . In short, Mr. Martinez's entire life was taken away from him."

Many who know Martinez's story blame his deterioration on the mental-health system that kept him incarcerated for so long.

"It's not just Artie, but other people, too," says Wes Wilson, clinical director of the Foundation for Senior Living. "This is the experience that we have with the rest of the people--they don't have their skills anymore. . . . Because they spent so long having everybody do these things for them in the institution, they lose them."

he Artie Martinez case cannot be painted in black and white, although the evidence against the State of Arizona was damning.

Subtle shades complicate the landscape, as often happens in mental-health cases.

For one thing, Martinez's caretakers at the State Hospital weren't cruel toward him in the tradition of a Nurse Ratched, the antagonist in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. To the contrary, many staffers did little favors for him--gave him extra cigarettes, let him sneak an extra bowl of ice cream, tossed a ball with him, that sort of thing.

Joel Dvoskin, a forensic psychologist hired by the State of Arizona as an expert in the Martinez case, offered this perspective during his deposition:

"It's a question of balancing different interests of freedom, community safety, his own safety, et cetera. . . . There were other deaf people in the hospital who came and went. So obviously, it wasn't just that he was deaf--there was something else about him.

". . . Generally, I think that [hospital staffers] cared about him, I think that they worked very hard to communicate with him. At the time [before his release], there was not an expectation that there would be now about the availability of interpreter services."

A stark truth is that Martinez probably would have had nowhere to go in Arizona during much of his long stay at the State Hospital. That was true even after the landmark 1980s lawsuit of Arnold v. Sarn won, at least in theory, funding of community treatment programs for Arizona's seriously mentally ill.

Moving as many State Hospital patients as possible into the "community" seemed a noble way of freeing people from the shackles of government psychiatric incarceration. But for a variety of reasons--lack of money, inferior service providers, inattentive politicians--the reduction of the hospital population in recent years hasn't been a panacea.

When Martinez first was committed to the hospital in 1955, warehousing patients for years on end was the norm. Most asylums still favored techniques such as electroshock therapy, and wrapping a patient's body in cold towels to slow brain functions. Thorazine--the granddaddy of antipsychotic drugs--had been available for only a few years.

Such was the maelstrom into which Artie Martinez was thrust after he took off his clothes on a Phoenix street.

He was the third of six children born to Ernina and Brawlio Martinez. The Mexican immigrants were poor, but were very close as their kids grew up in a home south of downtown Phoenix.

Born on June 1, 1928, Martinez was a happy, normal child. When he was 4, however, a near-fatal bout with meningitis left him permanently deaf.

When he turned 8, Martinez moved to Tucson to attend the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind for the next decade. There, he became proficient at American Sign Language, played sports, was active in the Boy Scouts, and showed an artistic bent. High school photographs of Martinez depict a handsome, debonair young man.

He'd return to his family in Phoenix during summers.
"We'd play ball, play basketball, and we could talk very well together," Martinez's younger brother Ed Martin (he legally changed his name) said in his April deposition. "We would fight, we would play. And I always had a lot of respect for him because he was very handsome, strong and he was very athletic. And I admired the fact that even though he couldn't speak and he couldn't hear, he was very, very independent in his thinking and he was very intelligent."

Information about Martinez's whereabouts from his 1946 graduation from high school until his incarceration in 1955 is scant. What is known is that, other than being deaf, he wasn't much different from other young men: He pursued girls, moved from job to job and did some traveling as he sought his niche.

Martinez attended the Tucson Art School, but dropped out for unspecified reasons. He worked menial jobs in Phoenix, Tucson and Southern California, once saving enough money to buy a car.

In 1952, he visited three of his siblings in Los Angeles, where they had migrated. It would be their last contact with him until after the December 1955 disrobing episode.

Artie Martinez recalled the event during his deposition: "There was a policeman involved, one or two or three. One policeman grabbed me. I have forgotten a lot about that and with the hospital. . . . I disrobed, and I did it because it felt good."

His December 23, 1955, State Hospital admission papers said:
"Very nervous since last Friday. Restless--can't stay still in one place. Disrobed self at 52nd Street and McDowell, and was picked up by sheriff's deputies and brought home. Is a deaf mute since age of four years. Has periods when he is irrational and could be dangerous to himself and possibly others. He indicated that he (probably) heard the voice of God instructing him to disrobe on the street . . ."

A judge ordered Martinez committed "until sufficiently restored to reason or otherwise discharged according to law."

Doctors diagnosed Martinez as schizophrenic. It seems absurd now, but something stymied them from completing proper evaluations, then and later: They could not speak the language of the deaf.

"It is very difficult to converse with the patient since he is a deaf mute," a State Hospital doctor admitted in January 1956, "but from written notes, the patient confirms that he is nervous and also admits that he disrobed himself. [He] states that he did this because he was feeling nervous and wanted to call the attention of other people to his condition."

Martinez was released in April 1956, after treatment with drugs seemed to stabilize him. But he returned to the hospital less than a year later, after Martinez's parents told doctors that he paced the floor constantly, and didn't seem right.

Ed Martin visited his brother at the hospital around that time.
"Where [Artie] used to run and play and everything," Martin testified in a deposition earlier this year, "he came through the hallway like he had been drugged. . . . I think they said they had given him a shock treatment. . . . There was nobody there that could speak the language, sign language, so I would talk to him. . . . As time went by, I thought with the medication they were giving him he would get better. But he got worse every year that I saw him."

Martinez's parents visited him regularly until they died. But his siblings eventually lost contact with him.

"I couldn't see possibly how I could take care of him, if they couldn't take care of him inside," Ed Martin explained.

Martinez perplexed hospital staffers. Gary LaVigna noted in his 1993 report that records "contain accounts by staff of their frustration over the lack of options for Mr. Martinez and imply that he should not be in a psychiatric hospital. However, such an explanation never was a justification for his stay at ASH [Arizona State Hospital] and has little relevance today."

Martinez lived in the hospital's "open ward" until early 1968. Even in an asylum, he stood out as a quirky figure. He usually wore a rag on his head like a turban. He'd wrap newspapers around his legs like chaps.

Martinez was a loner, probably because he had few, if any, souls with whom he could communicate deeply. He drew in his sketchbook on occasion, sometimes likenesses of shapely women in states of undress, other times the Virgin Mary.

In the mid-'60s, doctors deemed Martinez well enough to allow him occasionally to visit his parents on weekends. The furloughs went smoothly, though he'd often be excitable and "act out" upon his return.

After Martinez's mother died in 1966, he became even more isolated and withdrawn. His father died in 1971, at which time his lifeline to the outside world essentially was severed.

In January 1968, Martinez was moved into a maximum-security ward after "he became aggressive and assaultive on an open ward."

Yet Martinez had learned how to manipulate the system. A hospital report during that era noted: ". . . He often would want to go into seclusion and restraint, claiming tension, anxiety and/or saying he 'cannot stand it any longer.' If he was not then placed in seclusion, he would attack other patients, knowing that this would lead to seclusion."

In the early 1970s, hospital officials began to release many longtime patients no longer considered a danger to themselves or others. Sadly, the "community" into which they were freed often meant ramshackle boarding homes and other substandard facilities.

Everyone agrees that releasing the mentally ill without adequate treatment and support systems often led--and leads--to their criminalization. In fact, people inside Maricopa County's health-care system aren't joking when they refer to the Madison Street Jail as the state's largest mental institution.

But Artie Martinez didn't have to worry about that. He had become a fixture at the State Hospital, where substandard treatment diminished any chances at a meaningful recovery.

In the book Mental Health Assessment of Deaf Clients: Special Conditions, the author describes the problems faced by institutionalized, mentally ill deaf people.

* "Unable to summon help or readily identify attackers, the deaf patient is an easy target for the more aggressive patient."

* "A temper tantrum may not always be a symptom of emotional disorder, but rather communicative frustration."

* "Nowhere is the glaring lack of counseling more apparent than in the treatment of deaf persons who suffer from emotional or mental disorders."

The book quotes an appellate judge's ruling in a case involving a mentally ill deaf man: "Any lengthy hospitalization, particularly where it is involuntary, may greatly increase the symptoms of mental illness and make adjustment to society more difficult."

The judge could have been talking about Artie Martinez.

In 1980, State Hospital officials asked private psychologist Daniel Overbeck to evaluate Artie Martinez. They did so because no one at the hospital was trained to communicate adequately with a deaf person.

"Artie Martinez is an intelligent deaf man who has withstood the rigors and pressures of long-term institutionalization with remarkable resilience . . . ," Overbeck concluded.

"This examiner feels strongly that community placement--both residential and vocationally--for Mr. Martinez could, if properly developed and sustained, result in a rapid healthy adjustment to non-hospital living."

Largely because of Overbeck's report, hospital officials released Martinez in August 1980. He was 51.

The challenges he faced were staggering: He wasn't "normal" by society's standards. He was deaf. He had no family in Arizona. Treatment services for the deaf and the mentally ill were spotty. He hadn't been on his own for a quarter-century.

Martinez returned to the Valley after a short stay in a Tucson halfway house for the deaf. He rented an apartment in west Phoenix, and tried to reacquaint himself with life on the outside.

Helen Young had served as an interpreter for Martinez at the State Hospital shortly before his release. After, she steered him to a church that catered to deaf people.

"He was a nice, quiet man who really wanted to do good on the 'outside,'" Young recalls. "He was very intelligent, but wary of people--with good reason after what he'd been through. I also remember that he fell for a lady."

The pair became inseparable.
"My girlfriend's name is Beulah," Martinez wrote to his brother Ed in the fall of 1980. "She is from Louisiana. She has traveled widely in the East and West as an evangelist or a pastor. She is deaf like me and has a good understanding for me and people too. She is very quiet and 53, but shows no wrinkles. I'm more than ever blessed even if I'm not working. Yes, I'm still drawing sometimes. Also doing well. Many say I look fine. I'm tired and too calm to write more. Love, Arthur."

Little is known about Martinez's day-to-day life during that time. Asked by New Times about it, he replied poignantly, almost poetically:

"That's a long time ago. I was out and then I was back in. I had some love and then I didn't."

Martinez returned to the State Hospital in April 1981 after he had a tantrum and he destroyed some furniture. Several months later, in January 1982, he was given another chance. This time, he lasted almost a year on the outside.

In November 1982, he showed up at Maricopa County's outpatient clinic for an appointment with a doctor. He said he and Beulah had broken up, and that he'd wandered the streets for days, not eating, sleeping or taking his medications.

Martinez became violent at the clinic, breaking a window, and attacking someone from behind (without inflicting injury). He was placed in restraints and sedated.

By the next morning, records show, Martinez was cooperating with doctors. That he had regained some of his senses became apparent when, still restrained at the hospital, he directed staffers to his apartment. His rent was due, and he said he had money stashed there to pay the landlord.

The money was where Martinez said it would be. But any notion that he'd be returning to the apartment soon vanished.

Martinez told doctors he needed a rest from society, and that he preferred to be at the State Hospital. By the end of November, officials used an affidavit signed by Martinez to support their petition for his readmission to the hospital.

"I feel unfit to live in the world right now until I have money," it said in part.

The following month, psychiatrist Bela Matty issued a quixotic report about Martinez.

"Earlier," Matty wrote, "he was considered to be paranoid, due to some persecutory feelings--which actually was realistic in that [maximum-security] setting, along with his irrational violent outbursts and demand for punishment. Presently, there is no evidence of psychosis and considering the fantastic progress in his functioning, I would question its existence before."

In January 1983, Martinez again was freed, this time into a Phoenix supervisory care home. But he wasn't ready. Within two hours after he arrived at his new home, Martinez ran naked into the street, was aggressive toward staff, and threatened suicide. He was back at the State Hospital before sundown.

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.

Nothing went Martinez's way. In late October 1987, a deaf priest visited him a few times, but quit coming by. The budding friendship's failure crushed Martinez.

"Arturo suffered several losses within the last year which appear to have directly affected his behavior," Klabe wrote.

But Martinez truly couldn't communicate what he was feeling to those around him. During an April 29 deposition, Elliot Glicksman asked Cholla ward psychiatrist George O'Connor if he knew sign language.

"Not well enough to be an official interpreter," O'Connor replied, "but I know sign language."

"Did you ever sign with Arturo?"
"Yes."
"If I asked you to sign for the word 'help,' could you show that to me?"
"No, I couldn't."

In 1988, the State Hospital lost its annual certification and, with it, a few million dollars in federal assistance. The blow largely came because of the Cholla ward--"a danger to staff and to patients," a federal report said.

The hospital won recertification in part because Cholla underwent a face-lift. By then, however, the patient-to-staff ratio had careened dangerously out of whack, causing new safety concerns.

Artie Martinez in 1988 still was legally considered a danger to self and to others. But, according to hospital records, "the patient was doing very well and basically keeping to himself and enjoying full grounds privileges."

Officials didn't just allow Martinez to leave the Cholla unit for supervised strolls around the hospital grounds, located at 24th Street and Van Buren. They provided him clippers, shovels and other garden tools after he showed an interest in horticulture.

According to hospital records, he did nothing to betray their trust with the potentially dangerous implements.

"I just had exercise and walking," Martinez explained to his attorney in late 1994. "That way I wouldn't have that many people bothering me. . . . I didn't have any friends. I mean, everybody is gay and I'm not gay. I just didn't want to be around them."

Congress in the late 1980s mandated nonprofit legal agencies to investigate incidents of abuse and neglect in psychiatric institutions.

Artie Martinez got a rare stroke of good fortune when the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest became the watchdog at the State Hospital. (In 1995, the center renamed its mental-health component the Arizona Center for Disability Law.)

In 1991, a staff advocate for the center named Maureen Zeeb learned about Martinez, and that the hospital didn't have an interpreter for the deaf on staff.

The center argued that, under the new law, Artie Martinez deserved services that weren't being provided. Its attorneys advocated for Martinez like no one ever had: They negotiated to get interpreters for Martinez. They noted that Martinez, though troubled, hadn't been diagnosed as seriously mentally ill for years, and asked the hospital to devise a discharge plan.

Concurrently, hospital officials had started to make decisions about its long-term geriatric patients. A senior center was developed on the grounds, and many patients were allowed to spend time at a similar center in Phoenix.

In 1993, the Arizona Legislature appropriated $2 million with an eye toward shrinking the State Hospital's geriatric population. That money led to the formation of the Foundation for Senior Living, a nonprofit entity which now operates 11 group homes.

About 70 longtime State Hospital patients were discharged from the hospital in 1992-93. Artie Martinez wasn't among them.

"Unfortunately," the Center for Law's Leslie Cohen wrote in September 1992, "there has been little progress made in either providing Mr. Martinez with effective means of communication at ASH, or performing appropriate evaluations in order to facilitiate his discharge from ASH."

Hospital officials complained that Martinez resisted services they did provide.

Countered Cohen, who now is executive director of the Center for Disability Law: "Given the history of neglect of Art's communication abilities and his mental illness, it is not surprising there is some resistance and embarrassment on Art's part at this point."

In that September 1992 letter, Cohen also told the Arizona Attorney General's Office that the center would sue unless Martinez's situation was resolved.

The following January, she informed State Hospital officials that, according to hospital doctors, Martinez was fit to be released.

It's not that he'd made a miracle recovery. If anything, hospital records show Martinez had deteriorated mentally: Institutionalization, aging and abuse had taken a steep toll.

But doctors hadn't tagged Martinez with a "serious" mental illness for years, which gave the center more justification for insisting on his release.

In December 1993, however, the hospital's George O'Connor diagnosed Martinez as "seriously mentally ill."

Though he denied it in deposition, it appears O'Connor's new diagnosis was done for nonmedical reasons: Such a designation was necessary before Martinez could move into a Foundation for Senior Living home.

In an irony befitting his extraordinary odyssey, Martinez was released from the State Hospital four months after O'Connor had diagnosed him as the sickest he'd been in years.

On April 5, 1994, Artie Martinez left the State Hospital, probably for the last time. The hospital's final "progress note" about its longtime patient recounted his parting comments:

"Moving, moving. I'm ready to leave. Let's go!"
He was 65 years old at the time.

Artie Martinez's life in the three years since his release hasn't been the stuff of Hollywood.

He hasn't regained the ability to handle money. His personal-hygiene skills, while better than they were, are inadequate. He doesn't know how to take a bus, how to make a phone call. He can't walk two blocks alone without getting lost.

Martinez has not risen from the darkness of institutionalization to become a famous artist. He rarely draws these days, blaming his failing eyesight and boredom. But he keeps his sketchpad by his bed, and proudly shows it to visitors who ask to see it.

Martinez takes antidepressant drugs and other medications daily, which keep him levelheaded most of the time. He is very close to his caretakers.

"Artie's my buddy," caretaker Valerie Blair says. "We get along great, and I know he trusts me as much as he trusts anybody."

Blair convinced Martinez to quit smoking. That he did so after a half-century was impressive.

"No big deal," Martinez says. "I just stopped because I wanted to."
Blair and the home's other caretakers know about 200 basic signs, which doesn't make for intellectual discourse, but is better than Martinez had at the State Hospital.

Ed Martin has been back in his brother's life for a few years. He visits Martinez every few months at the Glendale home.

A Maricopa County judge in May 1995 appointed Martin as Artie Martinez's legal guardian. A Phoenix attorney is serving as Martinez's conservator, responsible for watching over his client's newfound money.

The Martinez case was personal for Elliot Glicksman, the attorney who won the hard-fought settlement from the state in August. One of his lifelong friends is a deaf man with whom he once traveled around the nation and who taught him sign language.

"I saw the way he got treated--and he didn't have mental problems," Glicksman says of his friend. "There is the built-in handicap of communication, of associations. I'm an attorney, and I do what attorneys do, which is to try to win cases based on the law and the facts. But, like I said in one of our pleadings: This case wasn't just about the law. This was about morality.

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Phoenix Concert Tickets
Loading...