Breaking News

Missing Phoenix Woman Found in Cancún, Mexico, Now Detained in Houston

Recent photos of Emily Lopatofsky
Recent photos of Emily Lopatofsky Phot by Gladys Jahn
A mentally ill woman who had been missing since April following a violent run-in with Phoenix police was found last week in a hospital nearly 2,000 miles away, in Cancún, Mexico.

But Emily Lopatofsky's situation remains dire. Her mother flew to Cancún to retrieve her and worked with the State Department to get an expedited passport for Lopatofsky. When the pair returned to the United States on Friday, they were stopped by Customs and Border Protection in Houston because bench warrants had been issued for Lopatofsky, who had failed to appear in court and report to her probation officer while missing in Mexico.

As of Saturday evening, Lopatofsky was being held at Ben Taub Hospital in Houston, where Houston police officers are stationed outside her door, waiting to transport her to the Harris County Joint Processing Center once the medical staff clears her for release. Her mother, Glady Jahn, believes Lopatofsky is a trafficking victim and fears her daughter is at risk of committing suicide in jail, given her agitated mental state.

"She has felony warrants out of Texas and Arizona. We called those jurisdictions verifying those warrants," John Cannon, a spokesperson for the Houston Police Department, told Phoenix New Times on Saturday. "When that happens, you have to at least detain that individual. Once we heard from the family that she was possibly pregnant, instead of taking her to jail they took her to the hospital for a physical evaluation, a possible sexual assault kit, and a mental health evaluation."

"She is at a hospital and it's really up to the medical personnel at the hospital as to when she would get transferred over to the Joint Processing Center," Cannon said.

Rescue From Mexico

In late September, when Jahn's daughter had been missing for nearly six months, she finally heard the news she feared she would never hear. An official with the U.S. State Department called her and told Jahn her daughter had been found in Cancún. But the news wasn't all good. Lopatofsky was in the hospital, and Jahn would need to fly down to Cancún and pay nearly $1,000 in hospital fees to retrieve her.

A few days later, on September 25, Jahn and her husband boarded an early-morning flight from Phoenix to Cancún, with a three-hour layover in Houston. They hired a private car to take them from the airport to Cancún General Hospital Jesus Kumate Rodriguez. There, she found her daughter, who looked haggard and noticeably thinner than when she went missing.

Jahn shared an email with New Times from Jose Miguel Garcia, a U.S. consular agent in Cancún, who said that Jahn's daughter was a patient at Cancún General Hospital. On September 24, New Times called the hospital and spoke with its head of social work, Suemy Aracelly Vadillo Cantillo, who confirmed that Lopatofsky was in the hospital. She added that the 31-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital with only her clothes and shoes. The next day, a hospital official confirmed to New Times that Lopatofsky had been released, but did not respond to additional questions.

Jahn and her husband brought Lopatofsky to the Westin Resort & Spa in Cancún that evening, and spent most of the following week at the U.S. Consulate in Merida, where they worked with consular agents to get Lopatofsky a passport. She's never had one before, according to Jahn.

Her daughter remembers only bits and pieces of the months since she's been missing, she said.

Jahn said her daughter's mental illness has been exacerbated by her ordeal. A Maricopa County court order issued on March 1, 2019, states that Lopatofsky is, "as a result of a mental disorder, persistently or acutely disabled and in need of psychiatric treatment."

A 2018 psychiatric assessment obtained by New Times states that Lopatofsky is severely mentally ill and was "presented to the emergency department via police with psychosis (initially grandiose, hyper-religious, claiming she was talking to God and that St. Nick wanted her to cut her own throat)."

Jahn and a family friend, Robert Cook, said Lopatofsky told them she had been repeatedly sexually assaulted and is several months pregnant. New Times has been unable to speak to Lopatofsky directly, given her mental state. Jahn planned on bringing her daughter to a hospital in Scottsdale for treatment when they got back to the United States.

"Emily is barely functioning as a person. It's so sad to see her like this," Jahn said. "This is worse than hell."

New Times spent hours attempting to speak with consulate officials in Mexico regarding Lopatofsky, but ultimately, the only person who responded to the dozens of phone calls and emails was a Department of State official who mostly made general statements about the department's dedication to helping U.S. citizens in need abroad.

After Jahn signed an authorization form permitting the State Department to share information with New Times, an official sent the following statement: "We are providing all appropriate consular assistance to the family. In general, consular assistance includes: providing families with information on how to make arrangements to return a family member to the United States and issuing an emergency passport. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment."

On Thursday, October 3, Jahn was finally able to obtain Lopatofsky's expedited passport from the consulate. On Friday afternoon, Jahn and her family boarded a flight back to Phoenix, with another layover in Houston. But they still haven't made it home.

click to enlarge
Emily Lopatofsky (left) speaking with police outside the hotel in Cancún where her family was staying
Phot by Gladys Jahn

Stalled in Houston

When Jahn, her husband, and her daughter went through Customs in Houston just before 8 p.m. on Friday upon arriving from Mexico, an agent noticed Lopatofsky had active warrants and contacted local police.

While they were being stopped by Customs, Jahn called New Times in a panic. She had pleaded with customs agents not to take her daughter into custody and told them she was a sex trafficking victim who had just been rescued with the help of the State Department, she said. She had begged them to call the State Department officials who had been helping her throughout the process to confirm what she was saying.

Jahn said that a Houston police officer was adamant about taking her daughter to jail, and refused to speak with the State Department official who had been assisting her, even when Jahn got the official on the phone.

"Basically, once the CBP agent spoke to the State Department, they realized this is true, they said, 'We're trying to help you. We want the police department to go away — we called [the] paramedics and [said] to take her to the hospital,'" Jahn told New Times the following morning.

So for now, Lopatofsky remains at the hospital, with officers outside her door.

"The major thing is she's in a safe place under care and supervision. It's up to those professionals to decide when she goes," Houston police spokesperson John Cannon told New Times. "If we don't hear anything else and the doctors say, "Okay, we checked her out, and she can be released Monday or Tuesday, our lone job at that point is to take her to the processing center and it'd be up to the Harris County Sheriff's Office and other jurisdictions to figure out what to do next."

Legal Problems

Lopatofsky currently has two warrants from two different jurisdictions. On August 4, 2017, Lopatofsky was arrested in Collin County, Texas, for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. According to her mother and a family friend, Lopatofsky had been in an abusive relationship at that time. Court records show that both Jahn and her daughter have an order of protection against Lopatofsky's ex-husband.

New Times could not immediately obtain the arrest paperwork related to this incident, and court records beyond orders in the docket are not available online. But Jahn said her daughter "took a knife, held it to her neighbor's throat, and asked, 'How would you like it if someone did this to you?' because it was done to her by her husband. The neighbor called police."

On October 12, 2018, Lopatofsky pleaded guilty and was given deferred adjudication. "Adjudication of guilt [is] Deferred and Defendant [is] placed on probation for 5 years, subject to terms and conditions of probation served on Defendant, including completing mental health assessments and psychiatric evaluations," the judge in the case wrote in comments left in the court docket.

At that time, Lopatofsky began probation. But she was unable to check in with her probation officer, Aaron Wagner, while missing in Mexico.

So on June 4, 2019, a motion to adjudicate probation was filed. The following day, a warrant was issued by the Collin County Sheriff's Office.

Shortly after Lopatofsky was ordered to begin probation, she moved to Phoenix, where she continued to complete the requirements of her probation, including mental health treatment. But on March 31, Lopatofsky had a run-in with the Phoenix Police Department that led to her being arrested and charged with resisting arrest and assault on a police officer.

Jahn claims that daughter was beaten by Phoenix police, and shared photos with New Times documenting the extent of Lopatofsky's injuries following that arrest. Days after that encounter, Lopatofsky went missing.

On April 10, Jahn filed a missing persons report with the Phoenix Police Department's missing and unidentified persons unit. (New Times requested that report nearly two months ago, but has not received it).

Days later, on April 15, Judge David V. Seyer issued a bench warrant for Lopatofsky's arrest, because she failed to appear in court for her March 31 arrest. At that time, Lopatofsky may have already been somewhere in Mexico.

"There is a valid arrest warrant for Failing to Appear on an original charge of Aggravated Assault on Police. Full extradition is authorized. There is a $1,000 bond," Sergeant Vince Lewis, a spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department, told New Times.

Because of these warrants, Houston Police will take Lopatofsky to jail as soon as she is released from the hospital.

But HPD spokesperson John Cannon said there is a way for Lopatofsky to avoid being taken to jail.

"It's up to the agency that has that warrant in the system to update it and/or clear it," Cannon told New Times. "Those jurisdictions would have to contact HPD and/or update it in the system."

New Times contacted the Phoenix Police Department and the Collin County Sheriff's Office, who said it is up to the county attorney's office, judges, and Lopatofsky's probation officer to change the warrant.

"The Aggravated Assault on Police case has yet to be adjudicated and it is not within our authority to quash warrants. The Police Department submits the case, and the County Attorney charges it. If the defendant does not appear, a warrant is issued. Arrest warrants are orders from the court, a judge, for law enforcement to deliver the person as ordered," Phoenix police spokesperson Sergeant Vince Lewis said.

"That warrant is issued by the judge and the probation department," said Captain Nick Bristow with the Collin County Sheriff's Department. "The sheriffs in Texas are statutorily mandated to serve these warrants. This is a warrant that is issued by a district judge that we're serving. Any changes to it would have to go before that judge, especially on something like this that's already been adjudicated."

To change the warrant, "an attorney would have to contact the probation office, district attorney's office, or an attorney would have to go in front of the court in Emily's place," Bristow said.

Courts won't be open until Monday. Lopatofsky's mother hopes medical staff keep her daughter in the hospital and out of police custody until then.

Amanda Steele, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, did not immediately respond to an email asking if the County Attorney's Office would make any changes to the warrant given the circumstances. The Collin County District Attorney's Office also did not immediately respond.

Aaron Wagner, Lopatofsky's probation officer, did not respond to an email and voicemail seeking comment.

Emily's Disappearance

Lopatofsky went missing following her a violent arrest by Phoenix police earlier this year. On March 31, Lopatofsky was walking down McDowell Road wearing a sundress, a fur coat, and a child's backpack. At some point, Lopatofsky, who was described in a report of the incident as having a childlike mentality and lacking situational awareness, stood near two men in the parking lot near Section Hair Studio on McDowell Road and Third Street.

Just before 1 p.m. on that Sunday, someone inside one of the buildings at 325 McDowell Road called Phoenix police and asked them to remove Lopatofsky and the two men from the property, according to police reports. When the officers arrived, they ran a records check on the men. One had warrants out for his arrest, so they detained him.

Police say Lopatofsky attempted to intervene in the arrest. They say she tried to pull the man away as officers were handcuffing him, and that when they tried to arrest her, she resisted. In his report, Officer Brian Lilly — who once shot six times at a homeowner he was called to assist, then tried to cover it up, resulting in a $1.75 million settlement — wrote that additional officers had to respond to the scene to help detain the 5-foot, 125-pound woman. Lilly said officers used a RIPP restraint on her, a type of restraint used by law enforcement to a restrict a detainee's movement.

Lilly wrote that he "had a small laceration on [his] elbow" from his altercation with Lopatofsky. So, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office filed charges against her for two counts of felony aggravated assault on a police officer and one count of resisting arrest, also a felony in Arizona.

Photos of Lopatofsky shared with New Times show that her arms and legs were badly scraped following the encounter with Phoenix police.

According to a notice of claim filed against the city of Phoenix and Brian Lilly by Jahn and her attorney, Elizabeth Tate, police brought Lopatofsky to St. Joseph's Hospital for medical treatment. Then they took her to jail, despite the court order issued just one month earlier stating that she is severely mentally ill and ought to be taken to a psychiatric hospital if found, the claim states.

A spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department said the agency could not comment on Jahn's claims due to pending litigation.

click to enlarge
Emily Lopatofsky's injuries following her arrest by Phoenix PD.
Photo by Gladys Jahn

When Lopatofsky was released from jail the following day, Jahn said, "she called me crying, saying the police beat her really bad. She kept begging me to get the video." Jahn met with her, documenting and treating her injuries. She said she planned to return the next day to check on her daughter again, but she disappeared.

"I went to the police and filed a missing person report. I posted on Facebook. I asked them to put out a Silver Alert for Emily," Jahn told New Times in August. "I couldn't find her anywhere ... They beat the living hell out of her. There is no excuse for what they have done, and now, we may never have her back. It's been hell."

Jahn believes Lopatofsky's encounter with Phoenix police triggered a psychotic break and caused her to go missing.

"They don't know how to deal with the mentally ill; this is the result of it," Jahn said. "I hope Phoenix police is real proud of that officer who beat Emily."

Emails shared with New Times show that on April 9, Jahn emailed several photos of her daughter's injuries to Allison Steinberger, a Phoenix police sergeant. Jahn said she and her husband have asked for the bodycam footage of the arrest and attempted to file an internal affairs complaint, but were told the footage needed to be redacted and that the officer's actions were in line with department policy. New Times requested the footage nearly two months ago, but has not yet received it.

Jahn doesn't believe that her daughter left the country willingly, since she didn't take any of her belongings.

"When I spoke to Emily, I said we need to come and get you and bring you back home," Jahn said. "She got frantic. She said I'm never coming home. I asked who she was with. She said Jesus Christ and the angels ... If they brought her to a mental hospital, she would never have been taken down to Mexico."

Bri Arreguin-Malloy contributed reporting to this article done by our sister paper, Phoenix New Times.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.