WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- Under the terms of two settlements announced today, the District of Columbia has agreed to pay Joseph S. Heard $1.1 million, and a private medical service provider hired by the District has agreed to pay Mr. Heard an undisclosed, but significant, additional amount. The awards will be held in a Trust, providing lifetime support for Mr. Heard. Mr. Heard was illegally held in the D.C. Jail for nearly two years after a court ordered him to be released from custody. During his unlawful imprisonment, the District never provided Mr. Heard with any communication assistance, even though he is deaf and unable to speak. As a result, he was unable to effectively communicate to anyone the fact that he was being illegally held. While he was illegally detained, the private contractor -- the Center for Correctional Health Policy and Studies, Inc. (CCHPS) -- performed medical testing on Mr. Heard and gave him potentially-dangerous anti-psychotic medications, all without communicating to him the dangers of those treatments or obtaining his informed consent. The settlements end litigation brought by Mr. Heard alleging that the District and its employees and contractors violated his rights under the Civil Rights Act, unlawfully discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, and committed negligence. "These settlements put an end to a terrible and traumatic chapter in Mr. Heard's life. They will enable Mr. Heard, who values his freedom above all else, to live independently for the rest of his life," said Mr. Heard's attorney, John Moustakas, a partner at the law firm Goodwin Procter in Washington, D.C. "It is pure Kafka to illegally throw a man in jail on charges of nothing and then make it impossible for him to protest the illegality," Mr. Moustakas continued. "But that is precisely what the District of Columbia did for 670 days when it recklessly jailed Mr. Heard on false information, repeatedly failed through sloth and incompetence to recognize and correct its mistake, and refused to provide him with the federally-mandated sign language interpreter services and other communication assistance that would have allowed him to call attention to his wrongful imprisonment." Mr. Heard and his lawyers hope that the publicity surrounding his case will lead to meaningful changes in the D.C. correctional system that insure no one else will suffer silently through years of illegal detention. "This settlement is an extremely important success not only for Mr. Heard, but also for the community of people with disabilities," said Elaine Gardner, Director of the Disability Rights Project of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. "The significant monetary component, as well as the published accounts of the case, should work to ensure that the District of Columbia correctional system will communicate effectively with future deaf inmates, and will treat all inmates who have disabilities with dignity and respect. We salute the legal team at Goodwin Procter for undertaking this challenging case and for their remarkable and extensive efforts in securing this noteworthy result." In November 1998, Mr. Heard was arrested for trespassing by entering a George Washington University academic building during the day. Nearly a year later, the charge was dismissed, and Judge John Campbell of the D.C. Superior Court ordered that Mr. Heard be released. Despite the order, Mr. Heard was not released. D.C. Jail officials held Mr. Heard for the next 670 days without any legal basis for doing so. During the period that he was illegally imprisoned, Mr. Heard was subjected to medical evaluation, testing, and treatment by District medical staff and by CCHPS. Mr. Heard was never advised of his rights as a person with a disability or his constitutional rights to due process. The decision to deny his court-ordered release was due in part to erroneous information in the computer system of the D.C. Jail. An initial search of the D.C. Jail's computer system apparently listed as pending a 1996 misdemeanor case that had, in fact, been dismissed more than three years earlier. "The District has long known that the Jail's computer system contained utterly unreliable, stale, and oftentimes mistaken information. It has also known for more than a quarter of a century that the system responsible for insuring individuals are properly released -- and not illegally held -- was badly broken," Moustakas explained. Mr. Moustakas pointed to a report commissioned by a federal judge during the time of Mr. Heard's incarceration finding that "the D.C. Jail Records Offices is in shambles." "Lacking policies designed to protect against unlawful detentions and failing to adequately train and supervise the staff making detention and release decisions, what happened to Mr. Heard should come as little surprise," Mr. Moustakas said. "That it led to two years, rather than two days, in jail can only be blamed on the District's failure to provide the required assistance that would have enabled Mr. Heard to communicate the fact of his illegal imprisonment to his lawyer, the judge who dismissed his case, or his family." Under the terms of the agreement with CCHPS, the amount of that settlement is confidential. CCHPS is a medical services provider hired by the District to provide care to the inmates in the Jail. During CCHPS' frequent contact with Mr. Heard, they drew blood from him and performed other invasive tests, and gave him potentially-dangerous antipsychotic medications. But they never provided him with a sign language interpreter or other assistance that was necessary to ensure that he understood the testing and medications, which violated Mr. Heard's constitutional right to informed consent to medical treatment. Mr. Moustakas credits District of Columbia Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti for taking a personal interest in the case and facilitating the settlement after almost four years of hard fought litigation. About Goodwin Procter LLP Goodwin Procter LLP is one of the nation's leading law firms. The firm's core areas of practice are corporate, litigation and real estate, with specialized areas of focus that include financial services, private equity, technology companies, REITs and real estate capital markets, intellectual property and products liability. Goodwin Procter is headquartered in Boston, with offices in New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC. Additional information on the firm may be found at http://www.goodwinprocter.com.
SOURCE Goodwin Procter LLP