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Why is Maricopa County prosecuting, mistreating my mentally ill sister?

Taura Thornton

Taura Thornton

Moving to Maricopa County in May 2013 turned out to be tragic for my 51-year-old sister, Jewel Ewing.

She moved to be closer to her adult son. But instead of spending time with him, Jewel has been in and out of Maricopa County jails, where she’s been isolated, shackled and shocked. She eventually ended up in a coma and is now being prosecuted unfairly.

Jewel has manic depression and paranoid schizophrenia, conditions that can be managed with the right medication.

But Maricopa County’s criminal justice system has ignored her conditions. Instead of treating her as a mentally ill person in need of medicine, the county has allowed her conditions to go unchecked and then repeatedly mistreated her after she acted out.

Jewel’s nightmare started in early July 2013. She got into a fight, was arrested and jailed. From the start, my sister said, the county neglected to provide her normal medications, refusing to contact her pharmacy for guidance.

As the days wore on, Jewel grew violent. She ranted about the “blood of Jesus,” washed her clothes in the toilet and banged her shoulders against the cell door.

Jewel said the guards tazed her when she refused to leave her cell. She was isolated most of the time and was often tied down, she said. By October, when my dad finally saw Jewel for the first time since her arrest (earlier attempts to see her were thwarted by jail officials) she had lost most of her hair and a frightening amount of weight.

The next month, Jewel suffered a severe seizure in her cell and, I’m told, fell and hit her head. She went into a coma. When I arrived at the hospital, my normally vivacious sister was on a ventilator, strapped to the bed with leather belts and heavy chains. Her ankles and hands were swollen from the tight restraints.

Two days after my arrival, the county dropped the assault charge against her. It was well into the spring before Jewel fully recovered, got back on her medications and returned to her spirited self.

But then, in June, my sister’s story took an unthinkable twist. Maricopa County issued a warrant for her arrest, charging her with damaging a cell “privacy screen” in the Lower Buckeye Jail’s mental health unit.

According to court records, in September — months before hitting her head and falling into a coma in her cell —Jewel caused $150 in damage to a metal wall that was placed in front of her cell to prevent her from seeing other people.

So now Jewel is back in Maricopa County’s custody, for damaging county property during a violent psychotic episode that likely could have been avoided with proper care.

Maricopa County came close to killing my sister once before and I’m terrified that’s exactly what will happen if she’s not released soon and given the care she desperately needs.

— Taura Thornton is a nurse in Chicago.

5 comments

  1. Why was this woman ever allowed to be in the criminal justice system in the first place? Our state has some of the best involuntary treatment laws in the country, why did the behavioral health system drop the ball?

  2. Sheriff Joe the jack__s arpiao is already under federal watch, contact the ACLU to file a lawsuit.

  3. “Lower Buckeye Jail’s mental health unit”. That’s odd, she was in a mental health unit and they refused to give her medications for her illness. She or her representative (family) can sue for injuries, she went to the hospital in a coma.

  4. Thank you to all those that responded with information that our family can use to pursue legal actions. We are very greatful.

    Ewing & Thornton Family

  5. Please if the Ewing & Thornton Family could contact us at David’s Hope – Arizona Mental health & Criminal Justice Coalition, we would be honored to provide support. You can learn more about us and get contact info at davidshopeaz.org

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