There Goes the Neighborhood

Buddy Hickerson

The relationship between Dr. Rebecca Bridges and the woman known as Jane Doe is by all accounts a troubled one. Describing it any further becomes a challenge, not because of a lack of apt labels, but because of an overabundance of them. Depending on whom you ask, the duo could be lovers, roommates or even sisters. Their respective roles started as doctor and patient, morphed into parent and child and ended up, according to some, as master and puppet. But the one description that troubles some Lakewood residents the most is the one that on its face would seem to be the most benign: neighbor.

As the Dallas Observer previously reported ("Reluctant Patient," September 15), Bridges' tumultuous personal life spilled into the courts on June 28 when her former patient and current live-in partner filed suit against her for sexual exploitation. The woman, identified by the pseudonym Jane Doe, also sued Bridges' former employer, Dallas' Cathedral of Hope, the nation's largest gay church. Doe claims that church personnel knew Bridges was taking advantage of her patient and did nothing. "They never got involved when they should have been involved," Doe says. She spoke to the Observer but requested that her pseudonym be used. The church denied Doe's charges in a written statement. Efforts to contact Bridges were unsuccessful, but she has denied the allegations in court.

Long before the lawsuit, however, law enforcement became a regular feature of the couple's private life. Since Doe, 38, moved in with Bridges at her three-bedroom home west of White Rock Lake in 2003, Dallas police have responded to at least a dozen calls to their address. In April 2004, Bridges, 49, called police after Doe began throwing things during a fight. Most of the emotions generated in their affair, however, seem to have been directed into a running feud with the neighbors.

In one two-week stretch this summer, for example, Doe called police about her neighbors at least five times. The complaints ranged from noise to trespassing to allowing dogs to defecate in the couple's yard. No charges were ever filed. Neighbor Suzanne Griffin says Doe overreacts to what she considers parts of everyday life. "My friend's kid hit a golf ball into her fence," Griffin says. "Oh my God, you would have thought he burned the house down."

While some neighbors reported nothing unusual, Griffin and others say the couple's constant screaming fights and occasional tire-squealing car chases have made the neighborhood unsafe for children. Once, Griffin's mild-mannered collie mix dog Coco was playing with children in a nearby yard when two police cruisers roared around the corner with lights flashing, responding to a call claiming a Rottweiler was savaging a toddler. "The waste of police time, coming here every day, is unbelievable," Griffin says. Tall and thin, the sunny Griffin jokes about the feud in her soft drawl: "If they find me dead, you can just march yourself right across the street because they're going to be the ones that shot me."

Another family, who spoke on condition of anonymity, is less disposed toward humor about the situation. They say that Doe reported them for child abuse late last year out of sheer spite. A Child Protective Services (CPS) investigator found nothing--"After 20 minutes, she said, 'I don't know why I'm here,'" one spouse recalls--but the specter of losing their children to foster care still haunts the couple. "We just don't go outside like we used to. The kids don't; the kids are scared to," says the parent. "My [child] still has nightmares."

Despite their ordeal, the family is reluctant to fault Doe, instead placing the blame squarely on Bridges. "She's very smart, very manipulative," says one. "She controls it all."

Doe had long been troubled by violent emotional swings when she went to Bridges for counseling in November 2000. According to her lawsuit, Bridges, a licensed social worker who was then the director of the Cathedral of Hope's Hope Counseling Center, began using a technique known as "re-parenting." Essentially Bridges had Doe regress to childhood and set herself up in the role of an ideal, caring parent. "On June 30, 2002," the suit alleges, "Bridges violated all professional, ethical and moral standards by engaging in sex with Jane Doe, her vulnerable and mentally ill patient."

If proven, the action would also violate legal standards. Texas law specifically defines sexual contact between "a mental health services provider" and "a patient or former patient" as sexual assault. As in the case of a minor, a mental patient is not able to consent to sex. Doe says she felt trapped and forced into the relationship. "It's not at all consensual," she says. "It's never been consensual." Now she finds herself financially and emotionally dependent on Bridges.

But there is no indication that Bridges is facing criminal charges. Steve Slough, an investigator for the Texas Department of State Health Services, made an exhaustive inquiry last year into Bridges' alleged misconduct but says that, in general, policy prohibits him from involving police. "We would have to advise the victim of our belief that there is a criminal violation," he says. On December 3, 2004, based on Slough's investigation, the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners voted to revoke Bridges' license. Bridges' appeal is still working its way through the system, and Doe's civil case is scheduled for trial in May.

The effects of the conflict continue to spread, most recently to a New Orleans evacuee family whose lives had already been turned upside down by Hurricane Katrina. Rodney Lee and Letitia Livious stepped off the bus from New Orleans completely exhausted. The first people who greeted them were Bridges and Doe, who told the New Orleans couple that they were sisters and offered to help care for Livious' four children (two with Lee, two from previous relationships). "They were talking and talking and made everything sound so good," Lee says. He and Livious readily agreed.

Soon the two older boys, ages 5 and 4, were spending much of their time at Bridges' home. "We spent over $1,000 on those kids," Doe says. "We took very good care of them." What came next is hotly disputed. Doe says a doctor found scars from old abuse and called CPS. "It was totally false," Lee says. He and Livious say the "sisters" made a brazen attempt to steal their children. On the night of October 14, Livious came to collect her children and Bridges and Doe wouldn't let them go. Livious called 911, and once again police sped to the house.

"I leave one area of disaster, and I've got to come to Dallas and run into another disaster," Livious says sadly from the southern Dallas apartment where she now lives with Lee (the two married in November). After a month-long investigation, CPS returned her two boys who, after a weekend at Bridges' house, had been staying with their natural father. "These women had brainwashed my kids," she says. "My 4-year-old son didn't even want to come by me." Doe denies trying to take the children but admits she may have given Livious cause for concern: "I did tell her that I wanted to adopt a baby, and she makes gorgeous babies."

As for her lawsuit, Doe says she simply wants the financial freedom to leave Bridges and get proper mental treatment. "I went for help," she says, on the verge of tears, "and now, somehow, I'm the bad guy." Those who have borne the brunt of her desperation have mixed feelings, however. Says Livious: "Like I told the case worker, I don't hate these women, but I don't want to have to have contact with them ever again."

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