Editor’s Note: In March the Vanguard covered the case of a young woman mistreated by a CHP officer following a DUI collision. On April 9, 2021, this young woman, Maya Disney, took her own life.
By Rose Disney
Defendant Maya Disney’s mom here. It’s been a couple of months since I first read your article about her preliminary hearing, but I only now have the strength to start speaking out and telling Maya’s side of the story. Here it is. I plan to keep telling it until whoever needs to hear it, hears it. So don’t forget her name.
I was at the scene of the arrest. She called me immediately after the accident, which occurred near my house. I told CHP Officer Greg White as she was being arrested that Maya suffered from untreated mental illness. I warned him about the nature of her issues, and told him exactly what was going to happen. She was visibly on the brink of a psychotic break, and I begged him to get help for her. I told him that a forceful response would make things way worse than they needed to be. I asked him to allow me to accompany her to the hospital, and he told me to go home and let him do his job. According to his testimony at the hearing, she was totally fine until she suddenly and inexplicably began screaming that she wanted to call her mom, and banging her head against the wall AT THE HOSPITAL. This was consistent with the warning I’d given the officer at the scene. How did this not look like a psychiatric issue? I’m shocked that no one – the officer, the doctors, whatever concerned citizens may have been present – cared enough to stop and meaningfully evaluate her mental state. Instead, Dr. Hal Jakle and Lisa Jacobs, RN (Mercy San Juan Hospital) cleared her for booking and officer White literally dragged her, kicking and screaming, through the parking lot to his car for transport to the Sacramento Main Jail.
Notably, CHP Officer Greg White lied that night, which created a domino effect of awful. I can only hope he didn’t realize how severely his lie would affect the trajectory of Maya’s life. Specifically, he lied about her spitting on him, presumably so he could justify booking her on felony battery of an officer. Other than spitting, he said she used profanity toward him. Cursing at a cop doesn’t rise to the level of felony battery, yet there they were. In Maya’s version of events, the officer bullied and verbally threatened her while driving her to jail, saying “If you’d been good, I wouldn’t have to do this to you,” and began driving erratically, causing her to be painfully knocked around in her constraints. In her first phone call to me from jail, she urged me to get the video from that night. Based on some things he said and did during the drive to the jail, Maya accurately predicted that officer White would say she spit on him in the car. Officer White’s written statement/report said the night’s events were all recorded by the in-car dash cam, so of course her lawyer requested the footage immediately. The CHP ultimately only produced a short snippet of the evening’s videos, and not until the day before the March 2021 hearing. This was after nearly a year of requests. Their explanation for the limited footage was that, “the battery must have died,” which isn’t even a thing, according to multiple knowledgeable sources I’ve spoken to since.
Maya was deeply wounded by this entire case. She was profoundly remorseful for having hurt an innocent person with her “stupid and careless decision.” What’s more, her very private mental health issues were paraded into a public forum, only to be callously dismissed by Deputy District Attorney Emily Divinnagracia. Maya was humiliated and disheartened at that moment. From what I understand, Ms. Divinnagracia is fairly new and may have been trying to make an impression with her aggressive “technique” Well, she succeeded in making the impression of a person in a position of authority who is willing to disregard vulnerable populations in her efforts to make an example of them. Not a good look, Emily. And shame on you, Davis Vanguard, for publishing an article that made that woman look like some kind of hero for doing so. Why not highlight the fact that officer White, during testimony, was pretty much unable to reliably confirm ANY of his written allegations? He was all about “I don’t know” and “I don’t recall” but you didn’t seem interested in that part of the story.
The stress and anguish of the past year was so severe that Maya lost all of her hair, which caused her to fall into even greater depression. She felt overwhelmingly afraid of going to jail. Maya spent two weeks in jail after her arrest with no arraignment, no lawyer, no pretrial interview, and no information about when she’d get out. This clear violation of her Sixth Amendment rights has been repeatedly ignored based on the fact that an emergency declaration was made the day before she was arrested, which apparently negates the constitutional rights of American citizens. (Good to know!) While in jail, Maya was assaulted and bullied by inmates, harassed by officers, and deprived of any sense of dignity, safety, or well-being. She fixated on how much worse it would be having to go in without hair. To say it was distressing would be a disgusting understatement. The trumped-up charges against her made her ineligible for alternative sentencing, which meant she’d spend a minimum of six months in jail as part of any plea deal the DA would accept. Maya never denied the DUI. She understood there would be a consequence for that. But the DA (and the judge) only seemed interested in amplifying the hearsay and the half-truths, and quashing her side of the story altogether. Even the alleged runaway passengers in her car were a matter of her word vs some random guy that didn’t even testify, and didn’t contribute to the charges anyway. Yet, they seemed to play an unnecessarily large role in the prosecution’s arguments, and were even mentioned in your article two separate times.
I can’t help but wonder how differently things would have turned out had the officer stopped and genuinely listened to my explanation of Maya’s medical conditions. Or if the doctor in the hospital would have concerned himself less with potential injuries on her face, and more with what was happening inside her head. Or if that nurse would have recognized a psychotic break for what it was. Or if the officer wouldn’t have lied about the events of the evening, and instead of jail they sentenced her to rehabilitative counseling and classes. Or if the DA and/or the judge had taken even five minutes to review the more than 50 pages of written substantiation of her years-long psychiatric struggles that had been submitted, instead of blindly rejecting them. Or if the interpersonal culture inside the jail itself weren’t so dog-eat-dog, if inmates could be assured they wouldn’t be beaten, starved, and raped (by other inmates AND by the guards responsible for overseeing them). Or if any of this would have been treated differently were she white. In her last days, Maya became hopeless and decided that no matter how hard she tried or how “good” she was, she would never be viewed by society as a worthy human.
Tragically, the burden of her mental anguish became too great to bear and Maya took her own life on April 9, 2021, her 20th birthday. Maya deserved a better chance in this life. She had no criminal record, not even a speeding ticket. She dedicated her life to helping underserved populations. She was an amazing handler to the best dog in the world. She loved gardening, art, astrology, hiking, and music. She always rooted for the underdog and stood up for people in the face of bullying or judgement. She would have been an incredible mother. She could have made a huge impact on this world. Instead, she’s now just one among countless brown and black people who have been failed by our systems. Failed by the education system, failed by the healthcare system, and failed by the criminal justice system. Mental illness is REAL. Bias in the healthcare and criminal justice systems is REAL. Even if it’s just a college kids’ news publication, you should do better, Davis Vanguard. For the sake of someone else’s child, I beg you to do better.
Thank you for providing the space for me to respond to your article, and to anyone taking the time to read this. I’m eager to share Maya’s story. Maya was passionate about systemic change, and I’m honored to help that become her legacy.
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