Valentina Gloria stands up and hugs her guests. She raps Big Sean with perfect diction. She jokes easily during a game of cards, and will openly tell you she has no patience for the Twilight book series.
It’s hard to imagine that the now-20-year-old woman sitting at the Haven Behavioral Hospital of Phoenix visitor center is the same one that was restrained in jail, every limb handcuffed to a bed, just a few months ago.
But then her smile fades, her brown eyes expressionless for a moment.
“I don’t ever want to go back there,” she says.
Valentina Gloria, a young woman with serious mental illness and autism spectrum disorder, spent nine months of last year in jail for spitting on officers during a mental health episode.
Gloria has been temporarily released and relocated to a mental health facility, but is still facing charges for this act. Prior to her release, she acquired two additional criminal charges.
As her charges remain, so does her fear of prosecution in a public case that’s raised questions about how Maricopa County deals with mentally ill citizens within the criminal justice system.
Jailed for Spitting
Valentina Gloria, at age 19, spent the majority of last year in a Maricopa County jail for an alleged crime she committed while experiencing a mental health episode inside the facility.
She already was incarcerated in Lower Buckeye Jail’s mental health unit, where she’d been sent for treatment after attacking two nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital while experiencing another mental health crisis.
A video of the spitting incident depicts Gloria restrained with her hands and ankles handcuffed to a bed. She appears calm. But when correctional officers force Gloria’s hands above her head to restrain her, it triggers another episode. Gloria, amid cries, spits toward two officers.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office charged her with two felony counts of “assault by a prisoner with bodily fluids,” for this act, according to court documents of that day, as well as two felony counts of “aggravated assault on a correctional officer,” which also appear related to the spitting.
Though the charges for the mental health crisis that brought her there were dropped shortly thereafter, her new spitting charges were sustained – keeping her in jail from February into late fall.
On October 23 of last year, the court released Gloria from jail for mental health treatment.
Her four charges remain, but she accrued two more felony charges for alleged attacks on correctional officers during her time in the mental health unit of Lower Buckeye Jail. Court records provide little detail on the nature of these additional charges – they allege she knowingly touched, "with intent to injure, insult of provoke," two named correctional officers on July 26, 2019.
When asked on two separate occasions, Gloria did not seem to understand what specific incident led to these charges. Her mother, Vangelina Gloria, did not know the nature of them either — she said Valentina’s lawyer, Leanne Bailey, was trying to find out more details. Bailey has not yet responded to requests for comment.
For now, Gloria waits. As long as she’s able to continue with her treatment plan, she’ll remain in temporary mental health centers while awaiting trial. (She’ll move to a group home if a bed opens up for her at one of the long-term facilities.)
Gloria told Phoenix New Times she’s been to four different facilities since October; the moves happened due to outbursts at previous facilities, according to her and her mother. Another fresh gash runs along her forehead from when she banged her head against a wall a few weeks ago, according to her mother.
“I want to get past my charges, to move forward and start fresh,” Gloria said. “But my mind just gets so messed up sometimes, and people don’t know how to deal with me …”
She said Haven Behavioral Hospital, where she arrived on December 12, is different — she likes the staff, she has a team of mental health advocates supporting her, and people listen to what she believes she needs. And she has community — she knows some of the other patients from her time at in-patient mental health facilities as a child.
Gloria said it’s still hard to adjust to unexpected changes – she shows three deep red scabs, running like railroad tracks along the inside of her forearm. She harmed herself, scratching her skin until it bled, after she found out that her mother wouldn’t be able to visit last Wednesday (Haven’s visitation hours changed in the new year).
But the Haven is letting her work with doctors to decide her medication treatment plan. She’s no longer on lithium, she said, a drug which she and her mother previously alleged she should avoid due to doctors’ notes that it increased her thoughts of suicide, but which she was prescribed during her time at Lower Buckeye Jail.
“I don’t want to go back there,” Gloria said again and again during New Times’ hourlong visit.
What Comes Next
The court has demonstrated growing awareness of Gloria’s complex needs – in addition to her release from jail for mental health treatment, her court-appointed guardian recently petitioned the court to assign her a permanent, long-term guardian.
“Valentina suffers from schizophrenia, bipolar type, with symptoms of mood instability, hallucinations, and delusions,” Shad Blackford, her temporary guardian, wrote in the court document. He also noted the young woman experienced cognitive deficits. “Due to the severity of her physical and cognitive diminishment, Valentina is unable to protect herself from harm or undue influence, or to give appropriate instructions to others to sufficiently protect herself.”
It’s unclear how many years Gloria would serve in prison or a secure facility if she is convicted of her four felony charges. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and its prosecuting attorney declined to comment on her case.
What’s clear is that if Gloria is brought to trial, her mental illnesses can’t be used to defend her case.
“There is not much in the way of help for felony cases anywhere in the state since our state does not allow evidence of a mental disorder to be used in criminal defense other than in the cases of insanity,” said Mary Lou Brncik, founding director of David’s Hope, an organization that works to reduce the number of individuals with mental illness who are incarcerated in Arizona. “Until this changes, we will continue to send massive numbers of people with mental illness who break our criminal codes to jail and prison.”
Gloria is working her way through the Divergent book series – a gift from her lawyer, she said. She said she feels safe at the treatment center, where she can visit her mother three times a week.
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office cited a long list of groups and government entities it works with to help people like Gloria, but would not comment on Gloria's situation.
“MCSO continually works with the arresting jurisdictions, the courts, Correctional Health Services (Medical and Mental Health Professionals), community partners, and our advisory boards (such as the LGBTQ Advisory Board) to ensure appropriate care and lawful process in the custody of detainees,” said MCSO spokesperson Sergeant Calbert Gillett. “These partnerships help develop and shape MCSO policies and practices that provide a safe and secure environment for all who work and [are] held within our jail system. The level of care an inmate may require can be met by these internal and external resources.”
Gloria’s next court hearing is on February 5.
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