A Hanging Offense

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

When the time came for the annual reapplication for funding with the Illinois State Board of Education, which was granted, Brown noted that Cecilia was in the ninth grade, not on any medications, not having any behavioral problems in class, but that she still had trouble understanding what others said to her and in expressing herself and was emotionally delayed for her age.

Brown took the information from Devereux and processed it into the reports she was making to Chicago and the state. When Cecilia reached a level six, she noted that, but also that Cecilia was having "increased difficulties following directions and demonstrating appropriate relationship with peers."

Later in October, Cecilia got word that instead of being done by January, her case had been reassessed and now July 1997 was her new target release date.

Cecilia, shown at a young age, grew up in the Chicago 
Cecilia, shown at a young age, grew up in the Chicago projects.
On the night of her death, Cecilia got in a shouting 
match with other girls on her unit.
Tifenn Python
On the night of her death, Cecilia got in a shouting match with other girls on her unit.

Again, a scheduled Christmas pass was denied at the last minute. The level six rating she'd attained in October was a two by December. She exposed herself in PE class. She had a kicking fight with another girl, punched a boy and was physically restrained on December 10. She was put on room restriction for four days, which meant she couldn't talk with fellow patients.

After her pass was pulled and a few days before she died, Cecilia made a distraught call to Jean Brown in Chicago. Cecilia cried and raged, saying they'd lied to her. Robinson, who stood by her side during the call, said she was "screaming and fussing…and she wasn't going to live to see Christmas and she didn't want to be here anymore.

"I had to end the phone call and get her under control," Robinson said.

Two years after their daughter's death, in December 1998, the Garretts filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Galveston County against Devereux, psychiatrist Mohammad Saeed, therapist Patti Thompson, then-operations director Melba Lindberg, family services representative Ron Winkler, staff psychiatrist Isabela Iovino and then-unit manager Jeff Kennedy. They asked for actual damages of not more than $10 million and punitive damages in the maximum amount allowed by law.

"I think this young lady essentially was being warehoused," said James Doyle, who became the lead attorney for the Garretts. "I don't think it makes any sense for her to have received this type of hospitalization and therapy over a thousand miles away from her home and family."

According to the lawsuit, when Devereux found out there were additional funds to be had, "defendants falsely and fraudulently re-characterized Cecilia's condition and subsequently manipulated her environment, her treatment and her emotional stability such that she became increasingly depressed…Her holiday trip home was canceled owing to her worsening emotional condition, whether real, manufactured or concocted."

"Our contentions are that they pushed her buttons and they had encouraged staff to be critical in terms of their assessments," said Doyle, of the firm Doyle, Restrepo, Harvin & Robbins.

Cecilia's condition worsened and "she was once again a substantial risk for suicide," the lawsuit says. She started giving away her belongings, was moody, isolated, depressed and crying. Although Devereux promotes itself as offering specialized care for suicidal patents, these procedures were ignored or avoided in Cecilia's case, the suit says.

The night of her death, Cecilia was allowed to leave a group session unattended in an agitated state. Defendants ordered observers to stay put rather than follow her, the suit says. She was found dead a short time later.

Besides failing to protect her, the lawsuit alleges that the defendants "knowingly attempted to conceal the causes and circumstances of Cecilia's death to discourage independent investigation…and to avoid liability."

The Garretts contend that records were changed to indicate more care was being taken with Cecilia in the days leading up to her death than actually was the case. Robinson says she was told to backdate records to show that Cecilia was on suicide precautions, which she refused to do.

Devereux officials and fellow defendants deny backdating or falsifying any of Cecilia's treatment records or telling anyone else to do so. They point out that Robinson has an ax to grind, having filed a lawsuit against Devereux after the center fired her. Another former employee, Hernandez Miller, who was fired, also said he was asked to falsify records in Cecilia's case. He also filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against Devereux following his dismissal.

The center denies leaning on Cecilia in any way in order to make her act out. Devereux says that it had no indication that Cecilia was suicidal, that any moroseness she was showing before her death was just part and parcel of the normal teenage condition. While the Garretts contend that Cecilia's own writings show she was suicidal, Devereux personnel say they wouldn't have looked at her private journal. Dr. Joan S. Anderson, another witness for Devereux, also said she wouldn't have been concerned about suicide in Cecilia's case, even based on her journal, saying that "teenagers typically write morbid stuff." She said she would have put her on close observation. She testified she thought Devereux was doing its job.

As for giving away possessions, Devereux personnel maintained that Cecilia gave no more than she normally did.

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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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