Dangerous Minds

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

McAllister says she first tried to overdose on pills when she was 12, around the same time she began to cut herself with a razor on parts of her body.

By the time she was 17, McAllister already had been hospitalized more than once for her mental problems. And like Justin Gregg, she has a felony marijuana-related conviction on her record.

In March 2001, records show, McAllister admitted herself to a Mesa hospital for a short stay because she was contemplating suicide. The following month, records show, she overdosed on pills, and was on life support for a few days before being released to her mother and stepfather.

But there was nothing voluntary about Jennifer McAllister's admission to Desert Vista on June 28, 2001. Court documents show that her mother, Janie Williams, and her case manager at ValueOptions – a firm that supervises treatment of Maricopa County's mentally ill – persuaded a judge to order McAllister's emergency commitment after she disappeared for a few days with her young daughter.

"I was so mad at my mom for doing that," says McAllister, who now lives in Tempe with her children and her boyfriend. "Having my daughter taken away from me and then being committed was hard to take. Yeah, I was having problems, but I wasn't going to hurt myself at that point. And I'd never hurt Trisha and never would."

Authorities took McAllister by ambulance to Desert Vista on the evening of June 28. There, the staff gave her a pair of blue hospital scrubs to wear, and put her in a room with another woman. McAllister says she hadn't been wearing undergarments at the time she'd been hospitalized, and the hospital didn't provide any.

She says she stayed in bed most of the next day, June 29. Later that day, McAllister says, she went to the cafeteria for dinner, then went to the smoking area with her roommate. (Curiously, no one in the criminal or civil case seems to have interviewed the roommate, whose name remains unknown – even McAllister says she knew her only as Rochelle.)

McAllister said in a deposition last August 21 that she'd met Justin Gregg in the smoking area, when her roommate borrowed a few cigarettes from him.

They chatted for a few minutes, McAllister testified, after which Gregg allegedly told her something akin to, "You're going to be fun.'"

Civil defense attorney Michele Iafrate asked McAllister if she'd asked Gregg what he'd meant by that.

"No, I really didn't have a chance to," she replied. ". . . I sort of blew it off to, He's crazy. I'm in a mental hospital.'"

Later that evening, the movie Erin Brockovichwas playing in a day room at Desert Vista. McAllister says she attended the movie for a short time, then decided to return to her room because she wasn't feeling well. She says she got under the covers in her bed, still wearing her scrubs without underwear, and fell asleep on her stomach.

The next thing she recalled was chilling: "There was something heavy pinning me to the bed and I couldn't get up. . . . I was aware that I was wet in between my legs and I was being touched in between my legs. . . . Something was going inside me and around the outside, too."

McAllister, who weighed about 110 pounds at the time, says she somehow "came off the bed and I was on the floor, and I remember pulling up my pants, and I didn't have any panties to pull up, and I was on the far end of the room and he was on the bed, and I . . . ran out of the room."

McAllister's room was only a few feet from the nurse's station in the unit, but she says she didn't see the on-duty nurse there. That nurse, Terri Sessums, said later that she'd hadn't observed either McAllister or Gregg enter the woman's room.

McAllister says she couldn't immediately find any other staff, so she ran into another room on the unit (an empty one where she'd showered the previous evening because the shower in her room was broken).

She soon returned to her own doorway, and says she saw Justin Gregg "still in my bed . . . sitting in my bed."

Again, McAllister says, she looked around the unit for a Desert Vista employee, and finally found a psych tech named Kathryn Winscher.

"I asked her if she could get him out of my bed," McAllister says.

Winscher corroborates that statement, although she disputes much of what McAllister has to say about the alleged incident.

McAllister concedes she didn't tell Winscher that the 160-pound Gregg had just sexually assaulted her. "I was scared, and I wasn't sure what was going on, who to trust, what to think," she tells New Times. "I have no idea how I got him off of me. My face was in the pillow. I think the fight mechanism kicked in. When I tried to go back into my room, he was still sitting on my bed. I said, Oh my God, he's not done with me.'"

McAllister says she went into her bathroom after Winscher shooed Gregg back to his room, then washed herself off in the sink with soap.

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