- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2005

The District’s legal system mistakenly put Joseph Heard behind bars for almost two years, but it also made the formerly homeless person a wealthy man.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has approved a settlement, granting Mr. Heard $1.1 million — plus legal fees — from the D.C. government.

Mr. Heard’s total settlement could reach $1.55 million when the still-undisclosed sum from the medical care contractor that treated him in jail is included, his attorney, John Moustakas, said. The precise amount of the award from the contractor remains confidential.

“It’s terrific we’ve been able to settle this case,” said Mr. Moustakas after yesterday’s hearing.

Mr. Heard — who is described as deaf, unable to speak and mentally impaired — was jailed in 1999 on a trespassing charge from a year earlier, although a D.C. Superior Court judge had freed him, declaring him mentally unfit to stand trial, Mr. Moustakas said.

Prison officials then lost track of his records and he was not released until 670 days after his arrest, when officials were processing a transfer of prisoners to a federal facility.

Mr. Heard’s case stated that the city violated his civil rights by falsely imprisoning him, and neglected to supply him with an interpreter or TeleType machine to allow him to communicate with his jailers.

His case against the medical contractor, the Center for Correctional Health Policy Studies, asserts that the firm administered psychotropic drugs to him without his consent, Mr. Moustakas said.

“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 said.

The money will be put in a “special needs” trust fund that will allow Mr. Heard to continue receiving government medical benefits, Mr. Moustakas said.

Mr. Heard, who now lives near his family in Orlando, Fla., will receive between $55,000 and $100,000 each year from the fund.

Mr. Moustakas denounced the D.C. government for resisting the settlement through “little legal fights,” even though it knew it was in the wrong.

But D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti defended his office’s responsibility to hold out for a settlement in both parties’ best interests, “even in cases in which the District acknowledges its error at an early stage in the litigation.”