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5 Attempts to Confine AIDS Patient Told

July 01, 1987|TERRY PRISTIN | Times Staff Writer

Joseph Markowski, the AIDS-infected prostitute accused of attempted murder for allegedly selling his blood as well as sexual favors, was "a time bomb just ready to explode," a police detective said Tuesday.

Five times in the past five months, authorities tried to have Markowski confined in a mental hospital because of apparent psychiatric problems.

But each time, Markowski, who has a history of drug and alcohol problems as well as a criminal record, was quickly released from the hospital, said Detective Bill Pavelic of the Los Angeles Police Department's mental evaluation unit.

"He was a time bomb just ready to explode," said Pavelic. "We're very disappointed he was not held. . . . There's something drastically wrong here."

Last Thursday, one day after his most recent release from County-USC Medical Center, he was intercepted and arrested just as he was about to sell blood to a private blood bank for the second time in a week, authorities said.

Neither county officials nor the psychiatrists who treated the 29-year-old Markowski would discuss the case.

"First, there's the matter of confidentiality," said county Health Services Department spokesman Steven C. Stewart. "Second of all, there's an ongoing investigation by the district attorney's office."

In another development Tuesday, representatives of AIDS prevention organizations and the gay community, while condemning Markowski's alleged actions, criticized Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner for filing attempted murder charges against him.

Peter McDermott, acting executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles, called the attention given the case "sensationalism that creates fear."

"We're gravely concerned that the general population will be misled to think it's panic time again. . . . What we have is a recalcitrant individual who emotionally is having difficulty coping with his disease. There have got to be better resources in the community for treatment than prosecution for attempted murder."

Markowski's attorney, said, "This is the first time I've ever seen a (defendant charged with) attempting to murder John Doe. My question is, who was hurt?"

Blood sold to proprietary centers in California is never transfused directly into patients, and people familiar with the blood-screening process have said there are a number of safeguards to prevent contaminated plasma from reaching patients.

Pavelic said Los Angeles police first learned that Markowski had acquired immune deficiency syndrome when they detained him last Feb. 3 after he was spotted on Sunset Boulevard walking against the traffic.

On May 31, Pavelic said, police again picked up Markowski after finding him "crying, breaking down emotionally and stating that he would kill himself."

On both occasions, Markowski was sent to either the County-USC Medical Center psychiatric ward or another county facility, but was not even held for 72 hours, as permitted by law, Pavelic said.

A patient can be put on a 14-day hold if a judge determines there is probable cause that he or she is dangerous to himself or others, and hospital confinement can be extended after further court proceedings, if certain standards are met. Changes in the mental health laws in recent years have imposed strict rules for involuntary commitment to mental hospitals.

On two other occasions, the detective said, West Hollywood sheriff's deputies picked up Markowski and sent him to a county hospital. Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Merlyn Poppleton refused to confirm these referrals.

Markowski's most recent visit to County-USC occurred June 23. Police sent him there after he created a disturbance in a bank and pleaded with a security guard to kill him because he has AIDS.

Finding a receipt in Markowski's pockets from Plasma Production Associates, a blood donation center in Los Angeles, police wrote a letter to County-USC officials urging that he be detained.

"We said that he had AIDS, that he was highly irrational, that he donated blood to various agencies and that he possibly had hepatitis," Pavelic said.

Even so, Markowski was released the next day. Dr. Daniel Funderburk, the County-USC psychiatrist who authorized the release, declined to discuss the case, citing state confidentiality laws.

Markowski, who was charged Monday with four counts of attempted murder and six other felony counts, was being held in lieu of $1-million bail.

Police and others have described him as a transient who came to California less than three years ago from Flint, Mich. Ellwyn Bloemers, assistant Kent County, Mich., prosecuting attorney, said Markowski was charged with burglary in 1983 and placed on three years' probation.

At Markowski's request, he was allowed to move to San Francisco, where he enrolled in Acceptance Place, a 15-bed residential treatment program for homosexual drug and alcohol abusers. The program's senior counselor, Jim Ferguson, declined to release any information.

Sometime within the last two years, Markowski moved to Los Angeles, where he was arrested several times for such petty crimes as shoplifting, vandalism and drunkenness, records show.

Pavelic said Markowski occasionally worked at odd jobs and lived in a series of shelters for alcoholics.

In interviews Tuesday, spokesmen for the gay community and AIDS prevention groups said the case illustrates the need for better services for afflicted patients.

"We need more services for people who are prostitutes and find themselves in a situation with no money and nowhere else to turn. . . ," said Thomas West, director of Aid for AIDS. He suggested that Markowski should have been charged instead with violations of public health laws.

Times staff writers Cathleen Decker and Marita Hernandez contributed to this story.

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