License to Stalk

A judge said Lucia Diaz should be force-medicated to control her psychosis. Instead, she was turned loose to terrorize.

Diaz's case also exposes broader problems that first arose in the late 1960s, when officials nationwide started to move as many mentally ill people as possible from warehouselike institutions back into communities.

Conceptually laudable, the practice often has had dire consequences, says E. Fuller Torrey of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

"It failed not because the vast majority of released individuals cannot live in the community, but because we did not ensure that they receive the medications and aftercare that they need to do so successfully."

In Lucia Diaz's case, a court commissioner in March 1997 ordered Diaz to undergo involuntary medical treatment for one year. The order said Diaz posed a danger to herself and was a "persistently, acutely disabled" person.

Commissioner Gary Donahoe committed Diaz to Maricopa Medical Center, with plans to release her within a month if her mental condition "stabilized."

The effects of such court orders are profound: It gives doctors the right to medicate someone as they see fit and, if appropriate, to lock that person in a psychiatric ward for an extended period.

Because of her mental illness, Diaz fell under the wing of ComCare, a regional umbrella agency that then ran Maricopa County's mental-health system.

ComCare's main mission was to look after the welfare of its troubled clients. Its legal duty was much the same as a parent or guardian's.

The agency failed in its duty.

Doctors released Diaz from the county hospital after less than a month, pronouncing her "stable." They instructed her to take her medications, and to report to a ComCare psychiatrist monthly.

But records show she told ComCare doctors soon after her release that she wasn't taking her medications, and wasn't going to.

"[Diaz] has not been taking her medication," a psychiatrist wrote in an April 7, 1997, ComCare "progress note." "Today, she is upset and complaining that Dr. Castro is using a computer to change people's minds. Patient refused any medication."

He then circled the word "DECOMPENSATED." That means Diaz's mental state had deteriorated since her release from the hospital.

What's most outrageous about this is that Diaz was under court-ordered treatment. She already had lost her rights to refuse medication. But ComCare wasn't enforcing the court orders. The agency had several alternatives, including rehospitalizing her and involuntarily medicating her.

Instead, ComCare left Diaz to her own devices -- and delusions.

One night in late May 1997, someone broke four windows at Dr. Castro's office. Castro told Glendale police that he suspected the vandal had been an ex-patient and longtime tormenter of his, Lucia Diaz.

Beginning in 1994, Glendale police reports describe interactions between Diaz and Castro that would escalate into gunfire in September 1997.

Lucia Diaz's descent into mental illness didn't become apparent until after her 35th birthday in 1994.

Before then, police and court records show, she'd never had even a brush with the law or the mental-health system.

Born in Texas, Lucia Guerrero was the second oldest of 13 children born to Ramon and Josefina Guerrero. Her parents were migrant farm workers whose home base was the town of Surprise in the northwest Valley. She dropped out of school after sixth grade, then married Juan Diaz when she was 16.

No one knows why serious mental illness overwhelmed Diaz years later. Doctors suspect a contributing factor may have been the weeks she spent in a coma as a teen after a car wreck that killed two of her siblings.

Lucia and Juan Diaz raised four children. Lucia Diaz says she never got into alcohol or illegal drugs and worked many jobs -- including stints as a school-bus driver, supermarket cashier and nurse's aide.

She earned her GED at age 23 before taking classes at Glendale Community College for two years.

"I never had much, but I used to be pretty happy," Diaz tells New Times in a recent jailhouse interview. "I had my kids, and I never got into trouble with no one. Then things got messed up."

Responsive to questions, but diffident, she shows the most emotion when discussing her late father. It still pains her that sheriff's officials didn't allow her to attend his funeral a few months after her October 1997 arrest.

As for Dr. Castro, she says tersely, "He is a person in my past. I don't want to see him or to think about him, because I don't have to anymore."

Castro had served as Diaz's OB/GYN for the births of her two youngest children, in 1984 and 1993. Her medical records show Diaz suffered from postpartum depression after the latter delivery. It was during that time that she started to express a growing obsession with the doctor.

In August 1993, Diaz showed up at Castro's office and was bitterly disappointed when he wouldn't see her. In the months that followed, she sent him barely coherent letters and continued to appear unannounced at his office.

By 1994, she had separated from her husband, on the way to divorce. Early that May, Diaz crawled on her hands and knees past Castro's receptionist, spotted the doctor, and announced, "I just want you all to know he is mine," before leaving.

One week later, on May 20, 1994, Castro phoned Glendale police after Diaz stormed into the office.

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