Unlawfully Detained Man Awarded Over $1.1 Million

Joseph Heard held for nearly two years in DC Jail

Aug 04, 2005, 01:00 ET from Goodwin Procter LLP

    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
     "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
     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
     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.
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