Gila County, AZ — Tamara Barnicoat is not a criminal and she’s never been in trouble with police before. However, in 2019, Barnicoat — a grandmother who takes medication for her mental illness — threw a cup of water on a carwash employee in the midst of a mental break. She was subsequently thrown in jail where she was tortured by officers and forced to drink toilet water to survive.
Barnicoat, 63, was never charged with a crime. This month, this innocent grandma received a $130,000 taxpayer-funded settlement for the clear violation of her 8th Amendment rights.
After her arrest in 2019, Barnicoat was thrown in an isolation cell. She was denied her medication and was left alone and delusional in a cage. Barnicoat is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression and instead of allowing her access to her treatment, sadistic cops proceeded to subject her to cruel and unusual punishment.
According to police, in the midst of her mental breakdown, Barnicoat threw water on a car wash employee claiming it was “poisoned.” When asked to leave, she refused and was subsequently arrested.
“I wasn’t violent or anything,” Barnicoat said of her mental break. “I just thought I saw aliens and stuff and spaceships.”
During her confinement, deputies turned off the water to her cell without reason. The act of turning off the water to an inmate’s cell is called “dry-celling” and is usually conducted when inmates attempt to flood their cells. Barnicoat was not flooding her cell.
“I was crying the whole time I was in jail,” Barnicoat said. “I kept telling them, you know, you’re taking away my rights, and they seemed like they didn’t care.”
Violating jail policy, nobody turned the water back on in Barnicoat’s cell — for at least two days. As ABC 15 reports, isolated and dehydrated, Barnicoat resorted to drinking from the toilet. Jail employees, and even the sheriff, confirmed this account through written reports and interviews with ABC15.
Despite her original arrest, police never filed any actual criminal charges against her. Instead, they held her for 27 days without charge, torturing her the entire time.
Once her public defender got around to looking at her case, a judge ordered her immediate release. “Absolutely, we wish we would have known earlier, and then it wouldn’t have happened,” Sheriff Adam Shepherd told ABC 15.
During the same interview, Shepherd admitted to ABC 15 that Barnicoat’s 8th Amendment rights were violated as she was subjected to horribly cruel and unusual punishment as she was forced to drink toilet water to survive.
In an insidious move, after she was released, a sheriff’s official went to Barnicoat’s home with a check for $7,500 in an attempt to silence her with a written agreement not to pursue legal action against the department.
Barnicoat’s lawyers in her recent lawsuit argued that this was an attempt to take advantage of an elderly mentally ill woman who didn’t have an attorney to understand her rights. They were correct.
After Barnicoat refused the $7,500 payoff, and filed a $500,000 suit against the department, the department struck back. A year after she was released without charges, the Gila County Attorney used the original police report about water throwing to charge her with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and assault.
Luckily for Barnicoat, an outside county attorney saw the charges as retribution and dropped them all. And now, two years after she was tortured at the hands of Gila County’s finest, Barnicoat’s suffering is over and she has received $130,000 in damages. She also sued her public defender for not looking at her case as she rotted in a cell for nearly a month. That incident was settled in a separate suit.
“You got to fight for what you believe in,” Barnicoat said. “No matter how they treat you, just hang in there and fight for what you believe that you deserve.”