Six months after she first went missing, Emily Lopatofsky has finally come home.
As Phoenix New Times reported earlier this week, the 31-year-old woman, who disappeared from her court-ordered inpatient mental health treatment facility in April, was found in a hospital over 2,000 miles away in Cancún, Mexico. Now, after a weeklong legal struggle in Texas, Lopatofsky and her mother, Gladys Jahn, have made it home to Phoenix.
"I’m so happy I’m finally coming home," Lopatofsky told New Times as she, her mother, and her stepfather waited at the airport in Houston on October 10 for their long-overdue flight to Phoenix. "It’s all over. I’m safe now. I was so happy when Miguel at the State Department said that my mom was coming to get me in the hospital [in Cancún]. I’m so glad it’s over."
Jahn flew down to Cancún to retrieve her daughter over two weeks ago, on September 25. But their return home was delayed when Customs and Border Protection called local police during a layover in Houston. While Lopatofsky was missing in Mexico, she was unable to report to her probation officer or make a court date stemming for her March 31 arrest in Phoenix, triggering two warrants for her arrest.
On October 4, instead of taking her directly to jail, Houston police transported Lopatofsky from the airport to a nearby hospital, because Lopatofsky is severely mentally ill and pregnant. Jahn believes her daughter is a sex trafficking victim and has contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Human Trafficking Hotline. A sexual assault kit was taken at the hospital.
Connor Hagen, public affairs officer with the FBI's field office in Houston, told New Times that local FBI agents have been in contact with the family, including Lopatofsky, but said he could not provide any additional details at this point.
Lopatofsky remained in the care of doctors at Ben Taub Hospital in Houston — albeit handcuffed to a bed and barred from receiving visitors — until around 10 p.m. on the night of October 8, when doctors cleared her for release and Houston police officers transported her to the Harris County/City of Houston Joint Processing Center. She was placed in the jail's mental health unit, the county sheriff's office confirmed.
Fortunately for the family, Lopatofsky didn't remain in jail for long: A family attorney filed a motion to quash the warrant triggered by Lopatofsky's failure to appear in court in Maricopa County, while an attorney appointed to represent Lopatofsky in Collin County, Texas, worked with a judge there to get Lopatofsky released to the custody of her mother, who is her legal guardian, and returned home to Arizona for treatment.
A day later, motions to recall the warrant and seek Lopatofsky's release were filed in Collin County court. Judge Angela Tucker left a comment in the docket stating that Lopatofsky "shall be released to her Mother ... and returned to treatment in Arizona pursuant to the court order."
"The Collin County judge called the Harris County judge, and he accepted a surety bond," resolving the hold from Collin County and allowing Lopatofsky to be released from jail, said Tom Gilliland, a spokesperson for the Harris County Sheriff's Office.
Also on October 9, Kimberly Tirrell, a Maricopa County deputy county attorney, responded to the family's motion to quash the warrant in Arizona by requesting the court schedule a hearing on the motion for October 30.
Amanda Steele, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, said her agency "made it so that the warrant doesn't require them to keep her in custody in Texas. We reached out to folks there and made them aware of that."
Due to the cooperation of several local, state, and federal agencies — and the tireless work of Lopatofsky's mother — Lopatofsky made it home.
"I'm so grateful we finally have her back," Jahn said as she sat beside her daughter at the Houston airport on Thursday, her voice full of relief. "I can't wait to see my little Brittany again," Jahn said, referring to Lopatofsky's 4-year-old daughter, of whom Jahn has custody. "I told her I'd be gone a few days, but it's been 15!"
Back in Phoenix, Lopatofsky will need to continue her court-ordered mental health treatment. Jahn plans to seek treatment for her at a hospital close to home; she is wary of returning her daughter to a facility like the one she managed to flee from last April.
Lopatofsky still has a long road of legal and health problems to navigate. A February 25 court-ordered psychiatric assessment of Lopatofsky shared with New Times shows she recently stated that she sees no reason to live, and that she's attempted suicide three times in the past year. She has been in and out of mental health treatment facilities, primarily because she repeatedly checks herself out against doctors' orders.
On top of that, besides having four years left on her Collin County probation, Lopatofsky has a pending case in Maricopa County, where she was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
The family has been drained financially from years of paying Lopatofsky's hospital and legal bills, not to mention the recent trip to Mexico, extended stay in Houston, and the cost of legally adopting Lopatofsky's daughter. And Lopatofsky's current pregnancy will incur additional expenses. Jahn said they likely will try to put the child up for adoption, as it is too late to get an abortion.
The family is hopeful the charges against Lopatofsky in Maricopa County may be dismissed, and they filed a notice of claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against the city over the summer, alleging that a Phoenix police officer's violent arrest of their daughter triggered a psychotic break and caused her to go missing.
That episode began with Lopatofsky's March 31 arrest on McDowell Road and Third Street, after she tried to prevent a man who had a warrant from being arrested.
Police say she tried to pull the man away as officers were handcuffing him, and that when they tried to arrest her, she resisted. In his report, Phoenix police officer Brian Lilly — who once shot six times at a homeowner he was called to assist, then tried to cover it up, resulting in a $1.75 million settlement — wrote that additional officers had to respond to the scene to help detain the 5-foot, 125-pound woman. Lilly said officers used a RIPP restraint on her, a type of restraint used by law enforcement to a restrict a detainee's movement.
Lilly wrote that he "had a small laceration on [his] elbow" from his altercation with Lopatofsky. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office filed charges against her for two counts of felony aggravated assault on a police officer and one count of resisting arrest, also a felony in Arizona.
Photos of Lopatofsky shared with New Times show that her arms and legs were badly scraped following the encounter with Phoenix police. New Times put in a records request for body camera footage of the incident over two months ago, but has yet to receive it.