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.

Three months later, in June 2000, Adair spent a day at the hospital after she'd reportedly tried to hit her case manager -- it's unclear if it was the same one she'd been released to. That day, however, hospital officials decided Adair was competent to refuse medical treatment.

Actually, what she was was out of control, as she had been for years. Still, no one sought to have a guardian appointed -- the county's Public Fiduciary would have been a suitable candidate -- to look after her best interests.

HIV-positive Arizonans who pose ongoing health threats still aren't legally in the same "public health hazard" category as those with tuberculosis.

David Terrill
David Terrill

One law allows local health officers to detain anyone with tuberculosis "who endangers another person or the community, and the afflicted person fails or refuses to comply with voluntary examination, monitoring, treatment, isolation or quarantine . . ."

The law also orders the "receiving institution" -- it's not supposed to be a jail, however -- to provide suitable housing and care of the [tuberculosis] affected person." Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) officials say they haven't tried to use that law in recent memory.

No such laws, however, govern those with HIV or full-blown AIDS. (DHS statistics show that 292 new cases of people infected with HIV were reported in Arizona last year, and 236 new cases of full-blown AIDS. That contrasts with 261 new cases of tuberculosis in 2000.)

But no one has sought to have Adair detained as a "threat to public safety," which authorities universally agree she is.

Did someone actually have to contract the HIV virus to qualify as one of Adair's victims?

No, Tempe prosecutor Geri Mattern concluded last September, when she charged Adair with prostitution and reckless endangerment in the Tempe Bowl case. The endangerment charge stemmed from Adair's unprotected sexual interlude with the parking lot customer, because she could be transmitting a fatal disease.

Adair remained incarcerated at the county jail from September 13 to January 19, during which time she took her medications, and apparently got better, both mentally and physically.

After the latest case got dismissed because of Adair's continued legal "incompetence," authorities shipped her in late January from jail to another familiar haunt, the county hospital. There, a social worker wrote January 24 that "the patient has been engaging in dangerous behaviors. She has been prostituting [in the community], despite the fact that she knows she is HIV-positive. When asked about this behavior, the patient states that voices at times tell her to prostitute."

Despite that damning notation, it became evident that history was going to repeat itself: Adair would be out on the streets again before long. Prosecutor Mattern says that was unacceptable to her and to the Tempe police officers with whom she works.

"It's easy to see why the county jail has become the biggest mental hospital we have," says Mattern. "If people like Danielle aren't supervised properly and helped with housing and all those things, they'll be back in jail in no time. This woman should not be out there doing what she's been doing. It's just not right, for the public or for her."

The veteran prosecutor knew Adair tends to vanish into the Valley's underbelly when she's not on anti-psychotic and other medications. As a stalling tactic, Mattern refiled the parking lot case in Tempe City Court. She also called BHS, where she spoke with Vicki Staples.

Staples says Mattern told her that Adair was about to be freed again, and New Times was going to write about it. Staples made several phone calls, imploring those in charge of Adair's well-being -- ValueOptions for one -- to find answers, quickly.

And, finally, they may have, though many close to the case are taking and wait-and-see posture. As of a few days ago, Adair remained in a locked ward at MMC, awaiting to hear if a small west Phoenix group home under contract with the state will accept her as a resident. The facility is said to be supervised 'round-the-clock, and is armed with buzzers that sound when someone enters or leaves.

ValueOptions' Mary Jo Whitfield points out that her agency recently formed a special team to look into the most difficult cases: "We're having more direct case consultation with our case managers concerning the very complicated cases. We want to teach them that no problem is impossible to solve."

Danielle Adair says she has the answer. "I know I belong in a hospital where they can take care of me," she says. "I like to sleep on real pillows and eat real food. It eats you up being in a jail cell for a long time. I don't want to go back to what I was doin'. They let me out, you know what's gonna happen, and so do I."

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