License to Stalk

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

"The system failed Lucia, and it failed Dr. Castro," said Greer, herself a former psychiatric social worker. "I wish the mental health system could adequately deal with people like Lucia. But it has proven that it cannot and will not do that. I have little to no faith in their follow-through with Ms. Diaz when she's released, without additional involvement of the criminal-justice system."

The Diaz case was Michele Lawson's last with the Public Defender's Office before she joined a private Phoenix law firm. She, too, spoke emotionally about the events that had ended in near tragedy.

"... I think the measure of a community is how it deals with people who are unable to take care of themselves," she told Judge McVey, "and included in that are mentally ill people, children, and elderly people. ... Lucia is one of the only clients that I have cried with and I have cried for. I think at this point, what is so important is to protect the community. And to protect the community means to treat Ms. Diaz in the least restrictive manner possible. There are a couple of reasons that I think prison is absolutely the wrong thing to do. One, the prison can't force-medicate her. So she goes to prison, [then] she's out in the community, and ... if for some reason the medications are discontinued, she'll deteriorate."

Dr. Castro had a far different perspective.

"Since she has refused her medication in the past and has had problems, it is only a matter of time before she relapses into that same sort of behavioral pattern, and then we will all be at risk again," he said.

Judge McVey, a thoughtful jurist who seemed anguished at times by his task, nodded slightly when Castro finished.

"This is one of the most difficult cases that we can deal with here in the criminal-justice system," McVey said later in the hearing, "because there are very real and competing interests. ... This court has an obligation to do justice and to balance the needs of the victim with the requirements of law. And in this case, there is a factor which this court can and should and must take into account, and that is the presence of mental illness as the driving force behind these crimes."

Then the judge told Diaz that he was putting her on intensive probation.

Lucia Diaz's outburst during her sentencing -- "If I wasn't being stalked ..." -- made some seriously doubt her chances of succeeding on intensive probation.

Success, of course, is relative.

For Dr. Castro, success in this instance will mean that Diaz stays far away from him and his office.

Diaz's probation officer, Geri Gervais, challenges Maricopa County's new mental-health authority -- ValueOptions and its subsidiary agency, Alternative Behavioral Systems (ABS) -- to do a better job.

"There's much more involved in this than to give someone a pill and expect things to go voilá," she says. "Prescribing pills for 30 days, handing out bus passes and having an SMI person spend a few minutes with a shrink once a month doesn't do the trick. Not a lot has changed. Now, it's ABS that expects us to do too much of the work they're supposed to do. We see lots of cases where someone on court-ordered treatment is allowed to deteriorate to where he or she gets in serious trouble with the law."

Lucia Diaz says she now knows she's been cursed with mental illness. But she wants to find work when she gets out of jail, preferably at a supermarket, just like the old days.

"I don't think I'm a bad person because I got sick," she says. "I want to be a person who can do good things, not bad things. But it's kind of scary for me right now."

Contact Paul Rubin at his online address: prubin@newtimes.com

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