Letters from the week of October 28, 2004

 Mentally Challenged

System failure: I would like to thank Paul Rubin for his tragic story about the horrible fate of the Aviles family ("Blood on Their Hands," October 14). Arizona has failed seriously mentally ill adults for more than 20 years now, and it scares me to think how many people are released from inpatient facilities well before they are anywhere close to healthy.

In 1999, someone I cared about very much was admitted into the Maricopa Medical Center for symptoms similar to Rodney Aviles'. He was delusional, paranoid, threatening, and quite clearly a threat to himself and others. He was involuntarily committed for six days, given buckets full of anti-psychotic medication, and released to my care (I was a single 22-year-old woman). He attempted suicide 10 days later.

The tragedy of mental illness is that unless and until society begins to recognize it as the real and serious threat that it is, it will never be fully funded, and desperate families like the Avileses and mine will be fighting for the most basic and humane treatment for our loved ones.

What happened to the Avileses can happen to any of us, take my word for it. Finding yourself seriously mentally ill in Arizona might as well be a death sentence.

I would urge people to call Governor Janet Napolitano and the Legislature and demand that they fully fund services for seriously mentally ill adults in Arizona, as ordered by the Supreme Court more than 20 years ago. And pray for those of us who deal with these issues every day.
Name withheld by request

A judgment call: Congratulations on your article on the Aviles case. I am retired now, but for more than 50 years I was a forensic psychiatrist in Phoenix. The case you cite is complicated by a lack of decision-making in dealing with what sounds like a chronic paranoid psychotic individual who is also an antisocial personality. Further complicating matters is the involvement of both the correctional and mental-health systems.

There is no doubt from your article that this is a very dangerous individual, and the psychiatrists involved now would be well advised, for their legal protection, to release the person only in response to a court order; a judge has immunity for his decisions, but doctors are liable for mistakes in judgment.

My opinion is that there is a trend in the mental-health system to overlook or minimize dangerousness in patients who have a history of dangerous acts. There is pressure from administrators to discharge patients who haven't done anything dangerous recently, and a tendency on the part of some judges to release patients using the same excuse.

What must be remembered is that there is no such thing as too careful.
John W. Marchildon, M.D., Phoenix

Mock the Vote

Held recountable: Thank God for New Times! Since the Arizona Repugnant refuses to show us how our votes may not be counted, it has again become your responsibility to educate us ("Election Eve Nightmare," John Dougherty, October 14).

It has come to my attention that thousands of registration forms have not been entered into the voter database yet. That means more disenfranchised people. As the Democratic nominee for the District 20 House of Representatives seat, I have turned in forms for supporters only to find they never got officially registered.

Peter Weisskopf (the voter-registration person for District 20 Dems) tells me he feels the Maricopa County Recorder's Office displays contempt for voters. Makes you wonder.

Now we see that, in a best-case scenario, 489 votes were not counted in the September Republican Primary in District 20? Many local elections are decided by fewer votes than that! In this case, you can only hope the recount total was right rather than the initial count of 489 fewer votes.

What's the worst-case scenario in this situation? Ballot tampering, since the possibility of a machine error that high is improbable.

And people wonder why we don't trust the government!
Jim Torgeson, Democratic candidate for House District 20

A vigilant media: "Election Eve Nightmare" was a great column! Glad John Dougherty is so attentive and that he understands the process and the issues so well.

The only problem is the conclusion. The feds are not prepared to intervene. A General Accounting Office report released recently says that the Justice Department is ill-prepared to handle a large influx of complaints about voting rights violations in the November 2 presidential election.

Vigilance by the press and the nonprofits will be the only way to get this right. Keep on watching and writing.
Jo-Anne Chasnow, Project Vote

Recount your blessings: Thanks for the great column on the District 20 fiasco! There clearly needs to be a thorough investigation of optical scanners. I have requested such an investigation.

As you are now well aware, Arizona's paper ballots do not guarantee accuracy of the count. Legislation is needed to require routine random election-day verification testing in order to catch errors and better understand the behavior of these machines.

I worked last year to develop such legislation, but Secretary of State Jan Brewer and county elections chief Karen Osborne were opposed, and it went nowhere. I intend to keep trying.
Tom Ryan, Arizona Citizens for Fair Elections

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