The man who entered Qurban Bana’s Chevron convenience store with a gun was unlike any robber Bana had seen before.
He was tall, skinny and clean-shaven, and when he placed the gun on the counter as though it were a Gatorade he wanted to buy, he asked for only a dollar. Then he told Bana to call the police.
Bana had pressed the panic button as soon as he had seen the pistol. But panic had begun to seem like an overstatement: The strange man had wandered away from the counter and started pacing around the store, simply waiting for police to arrive. He surrendered politely, and then he was charged with aggravated robbery and booked into jail — where Patrick Dupuy had wanted to be.
Dupuy’s story, as recounted by his attorney, public defender Scott Pope, is one of “desperation I think most people probably couldn’t grasp.” Dupuy, 56, had been suffering from major depression, Pope said. Before the staged robbery, he had been living with a lifelong friend in a quiet neighborhood near Sharpstown, paying some rent until he ran out of money. When he began to feel like a burden, that’s when Dupuy bought a gun and left the home one day, his friend, Roger Lochridge, said: He had apparently decided that he would not be a burden if he were in jail.
In six months, though, Dupuy was dead.
A stroke had taken him, one that doctors said was caused by high blood pressure, Lochridge said. Harris County Jail staff had transferred Dupuy to the hospital, but before long he was on a ventilator, and never woke up. Lochridge and his wife, Sheryl, say they are now left wondering whether Depuy had been given the right blood-pressure medication in jail, or whether his health was ever monitored beyond the depression, for which he received treatment. Pope, however, says it may have been too little, too late.
Dupuy's story, Pope said, is about how the systems set up to help Dupuy could not — at least not in time.
“It’s possible that, after the stroke, the delay in getting someone from the jail to the hospital I would imagine is lengthy, and it’s possible that if he could’ve been transferred earlier, more could’ve been done,” Pope said. “But there’s no way to know that, really. I have no indication that anyone at the jail did anything wrong. The shitty part is that it’s a systemic failure. Everybody always wants to say, well, we just need to help the mentally ill. That’s a bunch of B.S., because we don’t do that, at all. And he just didn’t have a place to go.”
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to multiple requests for comment, or even multiple Texas Public Information Act records requests.
Roger Lochridge, who had been close friends with Dupuy for nearly 40 years, said Dupuy came to live with him and Sheryl after Dupuy lost his job and had also recently been hospitalized for his depression. It was the fifth time in as many years, Lochridge said. Dupuy had become suicidal, he said, and would sometimes spiral into dark places when he would try to wean himself off the antidepressants and antipsychotics his psychiatrists had prescribed. He had been living with the Lochridges for about six months before he walked into the Chevron gas station.
But before then, Lochridge said, Dupuy had been a businessman making six figures.
Throughout his life, his defining feature had been impulsivity with a tinge of dissatisfaction. He was always looking for the next best thing, Lochridge said — never staying in one place for too long or one relationship for too long, moving on the second he thought he could find happiness elsewhere. The problem, Lochridge said, was that he never seemed to find it.
Dupuy had been married seven times, Lochridge said, and had worked for about a dozen different companies or institutions — including NRG, the City of Sugar Land and the University of Houston — where it was usually his job to get financial quotes on big repairs or projects. He’d graduated with multiple business degrees from Liberty University in the 1980s and had climbed his way up the ladder. But Dupuy was a terrible money manager, and never saved a dime, Lochridge said. “If he saw a $400 suit and liked it, he’d buy it,” Lochridge said. “He spent every dollar he made.”
The last job he had was at the Houston Airport System as a procurement manager, Lochridge said, but he hated the work, and Lochridge believes it only made his depression worse. He was divorced and looking for a relationship, but wasn’t having any luck. And as his depression deepened, Dupuy was stubborn about accepting mental health treatment or taking medications, Lochridge said.
“I think he had a lot of guilt and remorse from so many failures in the marriages,” Lochridge said. “But the bottom line is, he had some mental illness that was untreated for a while. He just didn't want to accept that he had to be on medication to be normal.”
Pope — who as a public defender generally works only with mentally ill defendants — said that when he reviewed Dupuy’s mental health history, it appeared consistent with what he sees among many of his clients: They are often on and off medication, in and out of mental health facilities — but never sticking to one full treatment plan, he said.
“The problem with mental health treatment is that it often requires them to participate in a stable environment and they’re not able to do so,” Pope said. “Sometimes I don’t see how any of these people get help. Because if you’re counting on someone to have the wherewithal to keep their appointments and to come see you, it’s like, well, he’s got a history of mental illness and suicide attempts, and you’re just asking people who are inherently unstable to be stable.”
As the Houston Press reported earlier this year, some of Harris County’s most severely mentally ill patients often fall through the cracks for exactly the reason Pope described. In a story exploring the revolving door between jail and mental health care, Dr. Reginia Hicks — the director of Harris County's mental health diversion program that connects mentally ill people with services instead of keeping them in jail — told us that oftentimes the most severely mentally ill are ineligible for the program, because they are unable to comply and keep up with the terms.
These same patients may wind up at the Harris County Psychiatric Center during mental health crises, but, as attorneys and advocates told us, are released once they are stabilized after a week or ten days, given that there are not enough beds to keep them longer and for more comprehensive treatment. Hicks had said that residential facilities where people could have access to 24-hour services would be the best option, yet it is unfortunately the one least funded by the state Legislature. Pope called for similar housing options.
“There needs to be another facility you can take someone who is mentally ill without forcing them to be in the criminal justice system,” Pope said. “Once they get into the system, it’s really hard to get out.”
In Dupuy’s case, Pope had been working first and foremost to get Dupuy access to mental health treatment and a diagnosis, then find him housing. He had been working with prosecutors to try to get them to drop the aggravated robbery charge and instead agree to a misdemeanor, perhaps offering him probation instead of a prison sentence. But if he were to be on probation, he would need both income and a home, Pope said.
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Finally, not long before Dupuy died, the social worker Pope had been working with had found Dupuy a place to live. It was a group home — what Pope called a “personal-care facility,” similar to the type of residential-treatment facility Hicks described. After Pope had ordered a mental health competency exam, doctors diagnosed him with major depressive disorder, which would make him eligible to receive social security benefits. All that would be left, Pope said, is to get Dupuy some help finding work once he was out of jail. This becomes all the more complicated with a criminal record — one Pope, and certainly Dupuy’s close friend Lochridge, believe was needless in the first place.
The last time Lochridge saw his friend, during a visit to the jail, Lochridge said, he was healthy. Despite the mental plagues, Dupuy had left the house physically healthy too, and so his death, especially at such a young age, had come as a shock to Lochridge. Dupuy had always been on high-blood-pressure medication, but had never had any serious problems, Lochridge said.
It’s why he believes the jail was the last place Dupuy ever should have been taken.
“While I don't think there was foul play, I understand why he died: the lack of a future, being in jail, probably not getting the medical attention he really needed. I think there may have been some neglect,” Lochridge said. “I firmly believe that if he never would have went to jail, he would still be alive today.”