A Hanging Offense

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

Robinson was getting ready to leave, but Cecilia's roommate was headed for her room, so she decided to go with her. She walked into the dark room and saw Cecilia's bed all torn up. There was a light under the bathroom door. Robinson turned around and put the roommate out because she couldn't see Cecilia. She pushed the bathroom door open, which was hard to do because Cecilia's weight was against it. When she finally shoved the door open, Robinson said, Cecilia's body fell in front of her.

It wasn't until August 1997 that Gladys and Victor Garrett got Cecilia's death summary report from Devereux. Saeed said he was behind on his paperwork.

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.

Therapist Patti Thompson and Cecilia may not have been a good match. Joan Anderson, reviewing the files, said she felt that Cecilia liked Thompson in general, but that there were times when she was very angry with her.

Saeed said he talked with Thompson about how to deal with Cecilia because of her size, which made her appear older than she was.

Thompson said Cecilia would write her notes, then tell her to tear them up. She wrote poetry about death. "Cecilia had a somewhat hopeless feeling about her future at times in terms of would she make it," Thompson said.

Thompson apparently had problems meeting some state standards. For instance, in the year after Cecilia's death, Thompson, who was the therapist for half the unit, or 11 clients, did not provide any individual therapy for another patient for a six-week period in late 1997, which resulted in a citation for noncompliance with the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services.

At another point, other employees accused Thompson of falsely documenting that she was providing therapy when she was actually at her chiropractor.

Psychiatrist Aaron Fink, who reviewed Cecilia's case files for the plaintiffs, said Thompson provided substandard care to Cecilia because she failed to recognize her intellectual limitations.

Thompson wasn't the only Devereux employee to attract complaints in the late '90s. Unit manager Jeff Kennedy didn't have the proper certification to be in that job. TDPRS notified Devereux that it was in noncompliance because of his lack of qualifications. He was moved laterally to another position after Cecilia's death.

On another occasion Kennedy got in trouble for spraying water on a sleeping client to wake him up. According to a document from the state licensing department, "Mr. Kennedy did admit that he used poor judgment." Yet when asked about it in his deposition, Kennedy said he could not recall the incident.

Melba Lindberg, despite being Devereux's director of operations, said in her deposition that she was unaware that Kennedy had been accused of spraying anyone with water.

Lindberg herself was cited by the state for failing to report two suicide attempts in April 1996, one a patient who slit a wrist and another who attempted to hang himself with a bedsheet over a door, just as Cecilia would do eight months later. Lindberg insisted these were not "major" attempts at suicide and thus didn't need to be reported to the state. She was instructed otherwise.

She was investigated by the Texas Department of Health after employees filed complaints about her.

Devereux had an adult patient who died by hanging himself using a door in the year before Cecilia's death. Following this, Gail Atkinson said, some policies and procedures were changed, such as when kids could go to the bathroom and when doors could be locked, so there would be better supervision. Robinson had suggested cutting the tops off the internal doors, but that wasn't done. The fire marshal said that would violate fire codes, Atkinson said, adding, "There are many other ways that a person can hang themselves other than the door." The group also discussed throwaway gowns and sheets that would tear easily, but Atkinson said that upon talking to a number of people they decided that wouldn't be effective.

League City police reports for 1995 and 1996 show repeated calls -- more than 100 a year -- to Devereux. Some were prank 911 calls, but others included repeated claims of assault and sexual assault, as well as reports of missing persons.

Despite this, Devereux doesn't appear to have a reputation for problems in the community at large. Some of that may be owing to its influential board of directors, which in 2002 included the following from the economic development side: Tom Brooker, a developer with the South Shore Harbour Development Corporation; Jim Reinhartsen, head of the Clear Lake Area Economic Development Foundation; Tedd Olkowski, head of the Galveston County Alliance; and Doug Frazier, with economic development for the city of League City. Law enforcement showed itself on the board as well, with Pat Bittner, assistant chief of police in League City, and Gean Leonard, Galveston County sheriff.

Joyce Robinson is a crucial figure in the Cecilia Garrett story. In one of her letters home, Cecilia complained that "it's hard trying to live off these white people rules." Robinson, a fellow African-American, said Cecilia called her "Mom" and felt comfortable with her. In her deposition, Robinson was positive about Cecilia's future; she said she felt Cecilia was working hard to overcome her background and make something of herself.

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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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