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.

"I don't do anything that good," Adair says, unconsciously rubbing a small, fading tattoo of a heart on her right hand. "When I get money, I buy drugs and I buy food. That's my life."

It's unclear when and where Adair met her husband, but the two had a son together in 1992, shortly before her 20th birthday. The child suffered from medical problems from the start, then died in 1994.

Adair again was briefly hospitalized at MMC in late 1994, after her addled mind continued to slip. But she quickly returned home after her condition allegedly "stabilized," a term of art in the mental-health field that usually means whatever those in charge of a patient desire.

David Terrill
Tempe police arrested Danielle Adair at a popular bowling alley.
Paolo Vescia
Tempe police arrested Danielle Adair at a popular bowling alley.

In July 1995, a judge ordered her back to MMC after she allegedly struck her husband with a frying pan, then tried to burn his eyes with a cigarette. Again, authorities soon sent her home with an armful of pills and advice to seek counseling.

"I went crazy after my baby died," Adair says. "Things got real bad."

So bad, in fact, that Tempe police sergeant Leroy Betz says Adair became a sadly familiar face to him and his squad in the mid-1990s.

"It started out with domestic violence against her husband," he tells New Times. "Then she turned to prostitution and drugs. Then she turned out to have this illness [HIV], but she still was surviving on the streets. Our role was to keep arresting her for criminal violations. I know [Tempe city prosecutor] Geri Mattern was frustrated trying to find a mental-health facility for her. It's been years, and the mental-health profession still hasn't decided what to do with her, I guess."

On occasion, officials did try to find a place for Adair. They enrolled her in crisis shelters around the Valley, but she never stayed long before sneaking off to prostitute herself for drug money.

In September 1997, Adair's mental-health case manager wrote of "[Adair] complaining about being very tired. Out on street for days. Needs shelter, but kicked out of so many, does not know where to go." By then, county authorities had declared the woman "seriously mentally ill," which made her eligible for many services. She also was collecting social security disability payments of about $500 a month, which she says she would squander on drugs within days.

When Adair underwent yet another mandatory stay at the county psych ward -- this time for a week in July 1998 -- she tested positive for HIV. She says, "My husband told me he wouldn't have sex with me if I had it, and I had to get my blood drawn, 'cause I was out prostitutin'. And it came up positive. I don't use needles, so I guess I got it having sex."

Adair says her husband booted her out of the house, and she lived on the streets of Tempe and Phoenix when she wasn't in custody. Authorities by this time were on to her. A mental-health report in September 1998 said in part, "[Adair] presents as a danger to self and others by having unprotected sex in exchange for drugs, despite her HIV status."

Two days after Adair's "treatment" began that month, psychiatrist Stephen Borodkin wrote to the state director of Health Services. Dr. Borodkin's letter reiterated that Adair was a threat to public safety, and that authorities should monitor her closely.

Just two days later, however, on September 18, 1998, MMC inexplicably released the woman. Almost immediately, she returned to the only life she knew, as an HIV-infected, crack-smoking hooker.

Four days after that, according to Tempe City Court records, police arrested her on new charges of criminal trespassing. Less than a month later, Tempe police again arrested her for possessing a crack pipe. Prosecutors dismissed both of those cases because of Adair's continued "incompetence" to stand trial. On November 9, 1998, Tempe police arrested her yet again, this time on charges of possessing a crack pipe and for hitchhiking. Adair pleaded guilty -- it's uncertain why her attorney didn't play the "incompetence" card -- and served 90 days in jail.

Predictably, she started her destructive cycle anew almost immediately after her release.

In August 1999, Adair phoned her latest mental-health case manager from the county jail, saying she'd been arrested for prostitution and drug possession. That case wound up in Superior Court, where a commissioner considered whether Adair was competent.

In such instances, two court-appointed mental-health experts evaluate a defendant and opine about his or her competence. If the two disagree, the court often turns to Dr. Potts, who heads the court's forensics unit. (Judges may reject the experts' final recommendation, but rarely do.) One expert in this case said Adair seemed competent to stand trial; the other said she wasn't. Potts broke the tie after interviewing Adair, concluding she was incompetent, and posed a serious public-health risk.

Commissioner Lindsay Ellis sided with the majority, writing in February 2000 that Adair "suffers from diminished cognitive abilities and bipolar disorder and that [she] is currently experiencing serious medical conditions that require immediate attention. . . . [Adair] is likely, without immediate or continued hospitalization, to suffer (or inflict) serious physical harm . . ."

Ellis ordered Adair's return to MMC for an evaluation as a danger to herself, to others, and for her "persistently or acutely disabled" behavior. But hospital officials didn't agree with the commissioner or the two mental-health experts. They dismissed the court-ordered treatment petition on March 3, 2000, and released Adair to her case manager. She'd officially been "stabilized," after less than one week at the psych ward.

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