Dangerous Minds

An alleged rape at a county psych ward has Maricopa County acting like a schizophrenic

In late 2000, a Superior Court judge had committed Gregg to the care of county psychiatrists, who were ordered to treat him with antipsychotic drugs, and a combination of inpatient and outpatient treatment.

But during an outpatient phase in March 2001, Maricopa County sheriff's deputies arrested Gregg after a bizarre incident involving a 13-year-old girl at Phoenix International Raceway.

Avondale police reports say Gregg was arrested after he grabbed the girl by the arm and told her, "You're coming with me."

The girl quickly fled from Gregg to family members, who immediately informed authorities. Gregg later told an Avondale detective he'd been following the young girl for a few hours because she was "pretty," but insisted he'd just wanted to show her around the racetrack.

"It needs to be noted that he did appear discombobulated," the detective noted in his report, referring to Gregg's mental state.

Prosecutors charged Gregg with attempted custodial interference, a felony considered less serious than kidnapping.

For legal reasons, however, the prosecution languished, and a judge released Gregg from custody that May. (That case was dismissed, only to be refiled by prosecutors after the Mesa rape charge surfaced.)

A month later, he landed at Desert Vista, five days before Jennifer McAllister also found herself committed there for psychiatric treatment.

Apparently because of overcrowding, Gregg at first was placed in Unit 7, the geriatric ward. According to depositions filed in McAllister's civil case against Desert Vista, at least two nurses soon complained about Gregg's outlandish sexual behavior on the ward.

Registered nurse Donna Barnet testified that when she got to work one day in late June, "The whole unit was talking about this gentleman, how inappropriate he was."

She said she soon found out what they were talking about. According to Barnet, Gregg "would come out to the nurse's station in front of other patients and the staff naked and masturbating."

For a patient to have made such an impact on experienced psych ward staffers such as Barnet is noteworthy. She testified she'd seen other patients doing sexually improper things over the years, but didn't make a habit of asking supervisors to move them elsewhere.

Later that day, Barnet said, she went to check on Gregg in his room, and found him masturbating under the sheets.

"He pulled back the sheet and asked me to get in bed with him and have sex with him," Barnet told Jennifer McAllister's civil attorney, Martin Mathers, during her deposition.

"Did you feel threatened by his actions?" Mathers asked.

"Yes."

"Did you feel that the patients in the facility were also in danger?"

"Yes."

Barnet said she soon informed a Desert Vista staff psychiatrist that "[Gregg] needed to get off the unit . . . immediately."

That day, staffers moved Justin Gregg up to the second floor, to Unit 5. At the time, the unit was a coed, semicircular, seven-room pod with two beds each, and a nurse's station in the middle.

Supervisors informed the Unit 5 team of Gregg's sexually aggressive behavior, and doctors ordered them to check on his whereabouts every 15 minutes – but not one-on-one monitoring that could have been imposed.

In the deposition, Mathers asked Barnet if she felt Maricopa County was responsible for McAllister's alleged rape.

"Yes," she replied. "Because she is, was, mentally ill in the hospital. And the hospital is to be a safe place for each patient that's there, and she was not safe . . . regardless if it was rape or consensual. I don't feel that she was able to make an appropriate decision."

Another nurse, Linda Hoover-Merkley, said in a deposition last November that she'd experienced Gregg's "sexual preoccupations" on the geriatric ward.

"[He said] he wanted to have sex," Hoover-Merkley testified. "I need sex. I need someone to fuck.' That's all I really remember. . . . He was sexually preoccupied, but he hadn't really done anything."

She, too, had reported Gregg's behavior to higher-ups, but says a supervisor responded that "we just needed to watch him. We tried to keep him in his room and just keep him closely observed."

McAllister's attorney asked a supervising nurse who also observed Gregg on the geriatric ward if "there was some point when you got the opinion that Justin Gregg was a sexual predator."

"I don't believe that was the case," Theresa Wilson replied. "The sense I have is that it was more of an aggressive nature."

She added that her supervisor hadn't responded immediately to her concerns about Gregg on the geriatric unit.

"We thought something could possibly happen," Wilson said.

"Did you think it was possible he could sexually assault another patient?" Mathers asked.

"Yes," Wilson replied. "We were worried [about] him, the way he was looking at our old ladies."

In June 2001, Jennifer McAllister was a 21-year-old single mother of a daughter, Patricia, then 2. (She now also has a son, Mick, who recently turned 1.)

An articulate woman, McAllister has an associate's degree from Mesa Community College, and says she's about three semesters away from graduating from Arizona State University.

But like Gregg, McAllister, too, has endured serious mental illness for years. Doctors have diagnosed her with a bipolar disorder that causes her to suffer manic episodes – extreme highs and lows. She hasn't worked for a few years, and survives on her boyfriend's income as a supermarket employee, plus her own checks totaling about $800 monthly for social security disability and Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC).

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