AIDS and Abetting

Danielle Adair is a mentally ill, AIDS-carrying prostitute. But officials release her to the streets over and over and over again.

Prostitutes often frequent the parking lot of the Tempe Bowl on Apache Boulevard, so police keep a close eye on the area. When Officer R.M. Monteton cruised the lot on the evening of September 12, 2000, he got an eyeful.

Monteton saw a man and a woman having sex on the pavement. As he approached the pair, the officer recognized the woman, and was mortified. It was 28-year-old Danielle Adair, familiar to Tempe street cops as a homeless hooker who has plied her trade in the Apache corridor for years.

Monteton knew Adair is HIV-positive -- in fact, she has full-blown AIDS. Officer Steve Carbajal, who responded to the scene, told Adair's 31-year-old customer that she carries the deadly virus. The man said he'd paid her $10 for the sexual experience.

Danielle Adair
Danielle Adair

Prosecutors later would charge Adair with prostitution and reckless endangerment, and her "john" with soliciting a prostitute. But even as police arrested the pair, they knew there was little chance Adair would be held criminally accountable for her actions.

Tempe detective Dave Hubalik pointed out in a report written after the Tempe Bowl arrest that his agency had arrested Adair six other times on prostitution charges since September 1998. But she'd been convicted just once, and then only for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.

That's because Adair is seriously mentally ill, and mentally retarded. County judges have dismissed charges against her time and again, after finding her "incompetent" to stand trial.

In Arizona courtrooms, "incompetence" means an accused person suffers from a mental illness, defect or disability that has rendered him or her incapable of understanding what's happening in the courtroom. The law says a defendant who can't assist his or her attorney with "a reasonable degree of rational understanding" can't be tried for a crime.

Doctors repeatedly have said Adair is incompetent because of her serious mental illness. Most recently, she was diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder, a disease whose symptoms are a mixture of mood disorders and schizophrenia. Officials years ago ruled her eligible for mental-health services under the state's class-action lawsuit Arnold v. Sarn.

In most instances, judges also have found Adair "non-restorable," meaning they don't believe her mental state will improve significantly within 15 months.

That said, Danielle Adair seems aware she shouldn't be putting others at grave risk by having unprotected sex with them. (She also has syphilis, and has been treated for cervical cancer.)

"I know it's a bad thing to do," she tearfully tells New Times in a jailhouse interview. "But when I get out of jail and stuff, I don't know what else to do. I smoke crack, and I eat, and I need money. So I have to do what I have to do."

It isn't certain if Adair has infected anyone with the virus that causes AIDS. Still, by any definition, she's a menace to society, as well as to herself. Adair not only can't stay out of harm's way, she is harm's way.

Certainly, this woman has no business being on the street, and those involved in her case know it. How could they not, given Adair's 24 arrests, and 10 hospitalizations at the county psychiatric ward since 1994?

Among those keenly aware of her situation are public-sector attorneys, judges, psychiatrists and case managers working for ValueOptions, the private firm under contract with Maricopa County to provide and oversee services for its seriously mentally ill.

But until recently, little of substance has been done to protect the public from Adair, or to protect her from herself. Even though authorities agree she fits the legal definition of a gravely disabled public health hazard, Adair continues to float in and out of custody, then back onto the streets.

Many familiar with Adair's case say she could and should be subjected to restrictions of her freedom. They cite a slew of Arizona laws and policies concerning civil commitment, guardianship, public safety and other safeguards designed to deal with situations such as hers.

But the safety nets that were designed to help Adair and others like her -- and to protect the public from her -- have failed dismally. She continues to cycle through a mental-health system that often releases ill people to the streets rather than paying to keep them hospitalized.

Speaking generally, ValueOptions' director of clinical administration Mary Jo Whitfield says, "The issue is, once a person is stabilized psychiatrically, is it good care to keep him or her hospitalized? It's not. Ideally, there's supposed to be a continuum, in which a person who decompensates back in the community moves back and forth to the hospital. Do things work 100 percent of the time? Of course not."

Adair also keeps passing through a criminal-justice system where judges, prosecutors and others proclaim that she's an acute danger to herself and others, then don't track her whereabouts.

But Danielle Adair hasn't "slipped through the cracks," an aberration in an otherwise well-oiled system. And her plight isn't necessarily because of lack of funding, another common excuse for systemic failure.

"For [Adair] to continue to cycle in and out of jail as a default to the inadequate care she's gotten is gross negligence," says Jack Potts, a psychiatrist who heads the forensics unit at Maricopa County Superior Court. "This woman needs protection, and the community certainly needs protection from her. She just doesn't have the ability to stop herself. On an emergency room level, this is a Code Blue situation. And her case is not unusual."

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