Feathered Bastard

Marcia Powell Update: Her Guardian, the Cages, and a Friend from Perryville Speaks

For those who haven't seen this, the AP is reporting that the Arizona Department of Corrections "has suspended the use of all outdoor holding cells while crews retrofit them to provide shade and water" following the heat-related demise of 48-year-old Marcia Powell.

Of course, this comes too late for Powell, who was taken off life support around 11 p.m., May 19, according to reports, and died over an hour later, early May 20. Interim director Charles Ryan was the man who gave the OK to pull the plug on Powell.

Thursday, I learned that the county fiduciary's office was likely Powell's guardian, after the Medical Examiner's office informed me that they were holding Powell's remains at the request of the fiduciary's office. This, while the fiduciary researched whether or not Powell had next of kin.

The guardianship was confirmed today for me by Gary Strickland, the Deputy County Attorney who represents the Maricopa County Public Fiduciary. Essentially, the fiduciary serves "as court appointed guardian, conservator and personal representative when there is no other person or corporation qualified and willing to serve," according to the fiduciary's Web site.

The fiduciary's office has been Powell's guardian since being appointed July 7, 2008. Prior to this, there was a guardian ad litem, an attorney appointed by the court to be her guardian. Court documents from last year list Powell's "alleged disabilities" as "disorganized schizophrenia, polysubstance abuse, and mild mental retardation."

Strickland indicated that the fiduciary was not contacted prior to Interim ADC Ryan giving the order for Powell's life support to be removed. Yet, the office should have been contacted. The fiduciary, not Ryan, should have been involved in making that decision.

"In the normal course, should the guardian be contacted? The answer is yes," said Strickland. "We would expect so. And it happens all the time. A lot of these folks are elderly, incapacitated or ill. So this is not infrequent that [the fiduciary's office] would have to get involved with someone towards the end of life."

Strickland could not say if the ADC knew Powell had a guardian.

"You'll have to ask them," he said. Strickland added that there were not many fiduciary cases involving the ADC.  

Currently, the fiduciary's office is investigating the possiblity of next of kin for Powell, an investigation that should be completed in about five days, Strickland said.

Not long after talking with Strickland, a woman called me who said she had been in prison with Powell. She asked that her name not be used. But she remembered Powell as a cheerful presence, despite her desperate situation. Powell loved coffee, and would sometimes barter with articles of her clothing to get it. She never had money on her prison account or visitors. Sometimes her cell mates would have to remind Powell to keep clean.

Still, Powell was able to make her fellow prisoners laugh.

"I've never seen the movie The Wedding Singer, but I've seen that little piece where that old lady starts doing that rap," the woman told me. "I don't even know it to save my life. But she would do it. All we'd have to do is say, `Marcia, Marcia, sing that rap for us,' and she'd just go into it. She had us all laughing. For a woman that had the mental issues she did, she was full of life and she was happy. And she had a lot of friends that helped her when they could."

Powell was doing a 27-month stint for repetitive prostitution when she was placed in an outside holding cell, a human cage, with no shelter from the Arizona sun. After four hours of it, she collapsed, according to the ADC. (This week's Bird column was mostly about Powell's death.) After her collapse, she was taken to West Valley Hospital. I contacted the hospital, but staff there declined to comment, citing privacy laws.

We need to know more details, but one thing is certain, we cannot trust the ADC's investigation of itself. Moreover, how do we know Ryan's actions will be properly scrutinized if the investigation is not independent?

As I blogged previously, there will be a memorial service for Powell Saturday, May 30, beginnig at noon, at Encanto Community Church, 2710 North 7th Ave, Phoenix, Arizona 85007.

Charles Ryan himself is suppposed to be present. Let's see if he's ready to answer some questions, because I've definitely got some for him.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons