A Hanging Offense

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

In her deposition, mental health technician Tundalayea "Cissy" Palmer testified that Cecilia told her she didn't care if she lost her pass and said it wasn't unusual since kids would sometimes jeopardize their passes if "they really didn't want to go or had mixed feelings about going."

Cecilia knew she wasn't going to be able to go back home, Palmer said. Asked why, Palmer responded: "Home environment, the issues with her brother…I think she knew that her parents couldn't provide for her." At the same time, Palmer described Cecilia as "one of our least behavioral kids…she maintained at least a level four most of the time and exhibited appropriate behavior most of the time." She said Cecilia grew up a lot at Devereux, "changing her clothing and the makeup and increasing her hygiene."

Devereux's position is it did everything it possibly could to help Cecilia.

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.

Even a nonprofit like Devereux needs funds to keep going. From the depositions filed in Cecilia's case, it appears Devereux was experiencing some financial difficulties, even with the expensive fees it was charging.

When Saeed started with Devereux he was being paid $120,000 a year for his work on Unit 4, where Cecilia ended up. In addition he was paid by the hour for work he did on another unit with individual patients. Over time, Saeed said, the $120,000 had decreased to somewhere in the $70,000 range.

In a letter to Gail Atkinson in October 1995, Saeed wrote, "You mentioned that Devereux Hospital in League City is still suffering from financial and administrative difficulties."

In another communication with Devereux about his compensation, Saeed wrote, "Here I would like to remind that the staffing of RN [registered nurses] and LVN [licensed vocational nurses] has been and remains a serious problem on Unit 4 and 5." He also wrote: "Use of float pool nurses poses the problem of inconsistency, which is detrimental to the care of the patients…Nursing staff tells me we need at least a charge nurse and medication nurse at all times."

Family services liaison Ron Winkler said Chicago and other school districts across the country knew Devereux's full rates, which were about $10,000 a month. Josie Winston said that while in the past Devereux had required additional funding, in Cecilia's case it was willing to accept what the Illinois State Board of Education would pay for her care.

Winkler said Chicago would have about ten kids at any time in Devereux's Texas facilities. Jean Brown, the Chicago case manager assigned to handle Devereux placements, estimated the average number at 14. Based on $10,000 a month, Chicago would be paying just under $1.7 million a year to Devereux.

Funding concerns are echoed in Joyce Robinson's account of what was going on at Devereux. Although Cecilia was originally scheduled for discharge around Christmas, in October Thompson told the staff that the Illinois State Board of Education had come up with additional funding and Cecilia didn't need to leave. Robinson said therapist Thompson told a group of staffers to "push her buttons because she was a high level." Robinson said this was not an unusual instruction from Thompson for different kids.

In another meeting, operations director Lindberg made an overhead presentation, telling them, "they had lost millions of dollars because of Medicare or Medicaid," Robinson said. They were told to "chart more negative…to stop charting more positively because the agencies aren't paying for kids to be here that are doing so great. Then they don't need to be here," Robinson said.

On the night of December 22, the girls were in a common room and began talking in what Joyce Robinson considered a sexually inappropriate manner. They were talking about "jacking off boys," she said, so she sent them to their rooms.

Cissy Palmer was the mental health technician working with the group that night. She had been out at a store, and when she returned, Robinson told her what had happened. Palmer called them out for a community meeting.

As soon as they assembled, Palmer said, the girls began attacking Cecilia for telling Thompson about their private comments in her private therapy session earlier that day. They also reportedly said that Thompson had been passing this information on to other girls. Tempers escalated.

"I could see that Cecilia was the focal point. She was real upset with them, wouldn't accept direction to stop cursing from me." Palmer said she asked Cecilia if she wanted some quiet time and she said yes, while continuing to curse and call the other girls bitches and whores. The group left the room, sat outside the door and then got snacks. Palmer went in to ask if she felt better and Cecilia said no. After a while, Cecilia went to her room without saying anything more to the girls. Palmer said she went to the nurses station to tell Thompson what had happened and Robinson was there as well. After that, Palmer went to the boys' side of the unit to relieve a worker there.

Ten minutes later, Palmer said, she heard Robinson scream her name.

Joyce Robinson's account differs from those of Palmer and Patti Thompson. According to Robinson, the girl stomped off to her room and Robinson attempted to go after her but was stopped by Thompson, who told her, "Let her stew," and by Palmer, who waved her off from the day room. Both Palmer and Thompson deny doing this.

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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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