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Woman in Gila Co. Jail abuse case is charged with crimes

Prison jail bars
Posted at 6:07 PM, Jun 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-18 22:51:01-04

GILA COUNTY, AZ — An Arizona woman, who claims her civil rights were violated at the Gila County Jail, was not charged with a crime until after she threatened to sue.

Tamara Barnicoat, 62, from Miami, AZ, is a grandmother who suffers from mental illness. Globe police initially arrested her in October 2019 for allegedly refusing to leave a car wash and throwing water on an employee. Barnicoat admitted she was not taking her psychiatric medication and she was delusional at the time of her arrest.

"The only crime that she committed is being mentally ill, and that was the only reason, basically, for her arrest," said Robert Campos, her current lawyer.

The county attorney filed criminal charges in late April, which was six months after her arrest. It was also less than a month after Barnicoat filed a notice of claim against Gila County alleging her civil rights were repeatedly violated inside the county jail. A notice of claim is a precursor to a lawsuit. In the claim, Barnicoat asks for a $500,000 settlement for violations of her civil rights, emotional distress, false imprisonment, and other damages.

The ABC15 Investigators first aired Barnicoat's story in February after obtaining internal jail and court documents detailing the abuses. The most serious violation involves denying the woman water for at least two days while she sat in an isolation cell.

"I kept saying, 'I am American! You can’t treat me like this,'" Barnicoat recalled in a January interview with ABC15.

The Gila County sheriff admitted to ABC15 that a detention sergeant had purposely dry-celled Barnicoat, but he failed to document the water shut-off, create a required dry-call log or tell other staff members. Barnicoat, unable to advocate for herself due to her mental condition, had to resort to drinking out of the toilet and urinating on the floor.

A judge had to order a mental health evaluation for Barnicoat twice before jail staff complied.

Barnicoat was also was held in jail for 27 days after her initial arrest, even though state law requires release unless charges are filed within 48 hours of an inmate's first court appearance. Again, Barnicoat was not charged until April, six months after her arrest.

"We are not talking about an intentional act here; mistakes were made," Sheriff J. Adam Shepherd told ABC15 in January when discussing several allegations of jail misconduct.

“Arresting a mentally ill, elderly American citizen, simply for having a treatable mental illness, keeping her illegally locked up, with no criminal charges, caged liked an animal, without even the most basic of necessities, is not just a 'mistake', it is an act of torture," said Campos in the notice of claim.

The claim also said that a representative from the Gila County Sheriff's Office went to Barnicoat's home in March offering a payment of $7,500 if she would sign a "release of all claims."

"You have, from what I can determine, an armed deputy in full uniform," Campos explained. "These are the people who victimized her asking her to sign a document that she did not understand." While Campos said Barnicoat signed the release, he believes it should be invalid because the document was not notarized, and she signed without legal consultation.

Barnicoat's current charges include trespassing, assault, and disorderly conduct. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for July.

ABC15 emailed and called the Gila County Attorney's Office seeking an explanation on the timing of the criminal charges, but we did not receive a response.

Got a news tip? Email ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius at Melissa.Blasius@abc15.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.