A Hanging Offense

Did the Devereux Treatment Center provide the care Cecilia Garrett needed or did it drive the young teenager to her death?

While insisting that most of Cecilia's behavior put Cecilia herself at risk, Winston also acknowledged the girl's aggressiveness, as when she kicked in the door at a friend's house. "We're talking about a child who had slashed up several people and had no remorse about it." In fact, it was Cecilia slashing her brother in the face that brought about her most recent hospitalization.

Winston agreed with the Garretts that it would be better for Cecilia to be placed close to home, where they could be involved in her treatment. Of the eight or nine facilities she contacted, Winston said, only one other than Devereux would take the preteen. An all-girls school, it had the advantage of being much closer to Chicago, but it wouldn't have any openings until later in January. In Illinois, none of the facilities was a lock-in, and as officials of those schools rejected Cecilia they told Winston they thought the girl needed long-term care in a secure facility.

Meanwhile, back at Hartgrove, Cecilia was not doing well. Even under medication the 12-year-old was extremely aggressive toward the staff and other students on the unit, Winston said. She was put in seclusion. Winston started looking for a school with a stronger psychiatric component.

Devereux officials encouraged Cecilia to write in her 
Tifenn Python
Devereux officials encouraged Cecilia to write in her journal.
There were a lot of missed connections in Cecilia's 
attempts at family therapy by phone.
Tifenn Python
There were a lot of missed connections in Cecilia's attempts at family therapy by phone.

In the end, with no other options readily available, Winston and the Garretts decided to trust Cecilia to Devereux, a facility known for taking on children and adolescents with all of Cecilia's problems and more.

The parents came down for a tour at Devereux's expense, momentarily overcoming their fear of flying. What they found was a mental health center divided into units, some mini-hospitals, others less restrictive. On Unit 4, to which Cecilia was assigned when she died, there were 22 patients, a mix of males and females ranging in age from 12 to 21, two to a room, the girls on one side, the boys on the other.

According to therapist Patti Thompson, Cecilia's admitting process into the Devereux hospital unit did not go smoothly:

"She spit in the doctor's face that admitted her. Her dad either tried to slap her or slapped her, called her a 'fucking bitch' and a 'ho.' "

Diagnosed as having a bipolar personality, Cecilia was heavily medicated for the first year with lithium, Haldol, Tegretol and Depakote. She was also diagnosed with a conduct disorder.

At the end of that year, Cecilia's behavior had improved and she was moved to a residential unit at Devereux. On an in-house rating scale of one to six, Cecilia was now a five and ready to begin building life skills, Devereux concluded.

But shortly after the switch, Cecilia encountered problems. At the last minute, her pass entitling her to a home visit for Christmas was canceled; her new psychiatrist said he needed more time to assess her. Her rating dropped to level two. In January 1996, according to Devereux records, Cecilia said, "My temper, I just blow up, saying the wrong thing, cutting myself, doing drugs, cutting people and hurting people."

Cecilia's new doctor was Mohammad Saeed, who was to achieve some measure of fame in June 2001 for his involvement in the case of Andrea Yates, the Houston mother who drowned her five children in the family bathtub. Saeed had taken Yates off the medication she'd been on shortly before the time she grew increasingly psychotic and killed her children.

In Cecilia's case, Saeed dropped her from the medication she'd been receiving as well. He concluded that the earlier diagnosis of bipolar personality was incorrect, that instead she was suffering from a conduct disorder and a narcissistic personality disorder.

Early in 1996, Cecilia and a new girl who'd entered the Devereux program teamed up to sexually attack a smaller girl on the unit. The victim's parents reported the case to police, and then Devereux operations director Melba Lindberg reported it to the state. Devereux told Cecilia to write up a statement without any legal representation; she was prosecuted and listed as a juvenile sex offender and was required to meet monthly with a probation officer. In the space of 30 days, Cecilia's rating level once again dropped, this time from a five to a one.

There were two reports of Cecilia being sexually abused at Devereux. On one occasion it was alleged she was fondled under her blouse; on another, a male patient reportedly put his hands down her pants.

Cecilia was able to bounce back from her drop to a level one, learning to take care of herself better. In May 1996 she was finally allowed a weeklong visit home that included Mother's Day. In September 1996 she was named student of the month at Devereux, and in October she was given a level six, the highest rating.

By fall 1996, Cecilia and her parents expected her to be moved back to Chicago, not yet ready for their home but to a nearby group home. In a letter dated October 8, 1996, she wrote her father, urging him to stay on a sober path: "I miss you when I went home. I could tell you were proud of the way I changed. I was proud of you too. You not an alcohlic (sic) no more. I'm so proud of you." She wrote a separate letter to her mother that day, saying, "Momma these white folks be down here saying Cecilia's mother isn't working in therapy don't put your self on the spot o.k." She wrote to the Chicago school district and to Devereux officials. An October 17, 1996, letter was passed on from the clinical team to Jean Brown, the Chicago case manager assigned to handle Devereux placements. Cecilia asked when she would be leaving. "I almost been here for 2 yrs. And that's a lot." She concluded the letter with a PS saying she was watching cartoons.

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This is not the truth I was there I was one of the girls at group. That place is a mad house ,ive been messed up since that day

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