Helping Lucia

'Intensive probation' wasn't enough to keep mentally ill woman on her meds

In April 1999, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael McVey sentenced Lucia America Diaz to five years intensive probation on charges that she stalked her onetime gynecologist and fired bullets into his Glendale office. The judge could have sent the Mesa woman to prison for 12 years, but at the time even prosecutors said it wasn't the best answer.

Now 42, Diaz is among hundreds of county residents deemed "seriously mentally ill," but who have been judged legally competent to stand trial ("License to Stalk," July 29, 1999). The judge ordered probation officers to keep a very close eye on Diaz, and to ensure that she continue to take anti-psychotic medications.

But the officers and the mental health system didn't do enough. And on December 5, McVey, after presiding over a meeting of people involved in her case, ordered Diaz to enter a mental health treatment facility.

In late November, a probation officer had written to McVey that Diaz's treating psychiatrist "indicates that [she] has become overtly delusional in the last week."

It seems Diaz hadn't been taking her all-important medications for weeks. During that time, according to probation officer Judi Brantley, "She indicated she was going to divorce her husband and marry the [victim] doctor."

Prosecutor Dyanne Greer told the judge, "I don't want to have to send Lucia to prison. But something has to be done."

Said Diaz's psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Sbilris of ValueOptions (a firm that runs Maricopa County's mental health system), "Without medications, I can see this spreading into a straight-out manic episode, and can see Lucia becoming dangerous again."

Sbilris suggested that Diaz be hospitalized immediately under a court order, a strategy with which Dr. Jack Potts agreed. But Potts, a psychiatrist who heads the Superior Court's forensics unit, chided ValueOptions and the Adult Probation Office for not being more attentive to Diaz's mental health needs.

"Obviously, an individual's mental status doesn't deteriorate overnight," Potts said. "I'm really miffed. This is not a close call. This person should have been civilly committed a month ago."

Sbilris defended his handling of the Diaz case. "We always respect people's civil rights, and we always like to balance that," the psychiatrist said.

Diaz's attorney, Michele Lawson, said Diaz herself agrees she needs more help than she's been getting.

McVey ordered Diaz to report to an inpatient mental health treatment facility, Desert Vista Hospital. It's uncertain how long she'll be residing there until authorities return her to the community.

 
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