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Bipolar Daughter Needed Help; Her Parents, Answers

The Nation

September 05, 2006|David Heinzmann | Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Hour after hour, Christina Eilman threw herself at the bars of her cell, shrieking threats one moment and begging for help the next.

Even the women in adjoining cells, many of whom were used to the chaos of lockup, called out to guards on Eilman's behalf.

"I heard that girl screaming for her life, 'Take me to the hospital! Call my parents!' " Tamalika Harris, 26, said in an interview. "The way she was screaming and kicking on the bars, I knew something was wrong."

Another woman in a nearby cell recalled the response of police officers: "Shut up."

In California, Eilman's mother, Kathy Paine, was begging for help too, calling police a dozen times through the night and the next day. How could she rescue her 21-year-old daughter, who suffered from bipolar disorder, was stranded in an unfamiliar city and had been arrested after a disturbance at the airport?

Repeatedly, she says, police told her to call back later.

The last time Paine called on May 8, police told her that Eilman had been released -- alone, in one of Chicago's highest-crime areas.

Three hours later, Eilman plummeted from a seventh-floor window of a nearby public-housing high-rise. The chain of events has raised questions in the police department about whether officers' actions led a vulnerable woman to disaster.

A gang member is awaiting trial on charges that he abducted and raped her, but whether Eilman fell, jumped or was pushed remains a mystery. Although she survived, she will never fully recover from the damage to her body and brain, her doctor said.

Through interviews with three women who were locked up with Eilman and with her parents, a picture of the hours leading to Eilman's fall has emerged.

Police are conducting an internal investigation of officer conduct during the 29 hours Eilman was in custody. Meanwhile, city lawyers are trying to settle a $100-million lawsuit that Rick and Kathy Paine filed on their daughter's behalf.

The Paines, from Rocklin, Calif., north of Sacramento, are focused on their daughter, who is being treated in the brain-injury unit of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Eilman, once a UCLA student, lives in a sort of twilight consciousness, in physical pain and able to make only the most rudimentary responses.

The Paines hope that by speaking publicly, they will pressure the police to change the way officers deal with people who might be mentally ill.

"Our daughter was incredibly tortured because of their disregard," Kathy Paine said.

Police declined to comment.

The first sign of Eilman's bipolar disorder came in February 2005. She lost control of her car and struck a utility pole, her mother said, but walked away from the wreck.

A friend called her parents the next day, saying Eilman was behaving erratically.

"She was very different. Very irate. Aggressive. Loud. Out of control," Rick Paine said. "We were going to pick her up and take her home, but we realized, 'This isn't going to work.' ... So we called 911."

Eilman spent 37 days in a psychiatric hospital, diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Upon her release, she was prescribed pills, but stopped taking them after a few days, her mother said.

Although worried, her parents thought she was stable.

When she enrolled at UCLA, her parents grew more confident that she was better.

But after some time, Eilman was faltering. Without telling her parents, she dropped out.

Late on Saturday, May 6, a distraught Eilman called her parents from a rental-car counter at Midway Airport in Chicago and said she was stranded.

Rick Paine arranged a room for her near the airport and booked her a return flight for the next day.

In the morning, he spoke with her several times. "She said: 'I feel really good. I got a good night's sleep,' and she sounded really calm versus the way she was the night before," he said.

When he left for work Sunday, he was confident his daughter was headed to Midway on a hotel shuttle and would soon be home.

In the afternoon, though, a Chicago police officer left messages on both Paines' cellphones. Eilman had been arrested for creating a disturbance.

Rick Paine called back immediately. He said he explained to an officer that Eilman was bipolar. The officer "was very supportive. She seemed like she was getting what I was saying."

He asked whether it was possible for the police to help his daughter board her flight. The officer said she would have to check and call back, he said.

But he missed the return call. About 10 minutes passed before he noticed the voice mail and called Chicago.

This time he spoke to a different officer, who told him the first officer had left and Eilman was on her way to lockup.

At this point, Kathy Paine took over calling the police. Redirected to the district where Eilman was held, the tone of conversations changed, she said.

"I asked, 'What do I need to do?' and she said she was going to be fingerprinted, so call back in a couple of hours. That basically became the same line through the whole next day."

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