- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2002

When The Washington Post published an investigative report in 1999 that documented the tragic deaths of 114 mentally retarded and handicapped persons who lived in homes funded by the D.C. government, everyone was choked up and angry. Folks raised such a ruckus about the poor care and the pace at which city lawyers were slapping their estates with liens that Mayor Anthony Williams had to suspend the practice. That was then. Today, with city lawyers being city lawyers and the mayor not paying attention again, they are disgracefully at it again:
Frederick Brandenburg, 57, a mentally retarded man and ward of the city, died in 1997 in a group home. The home, which aided people with developmental disabilities, was financed by the city and found to be "out of compliance." Mr. Brandenburg died after being improperly tranquilized, and his death was suspicious enough that police initially considered classifying it as a homicide. In return for paying for his care and allowing him to languish and die, the city is suing his estate to the tune of $441,000. "I'm dismayed and appalled," his sister, Juanita DeButts, told The Washington Times.
Sheila Payne, 32, like Mr. Brandenburg, died in 1997 while in the care of D.C. Family Services, the second-largest such for-profit provider. The cause of her death was aspiration, from being improperly fed. The city sued her estate for $386,000. Her mother, though, will pay the city $40,000 to settle the claim, The Post reported March 28, because she is cancer-stricken and "did not want to go through a trial."
Wayne Moxley died in 1999 after heavy doses of psychotropic drugs reached toxic levels in his blood. The U.S. Justice Department smacked the city around for the negligence that caused his death. In return, the city is suing his estate for $1 million.
Outrageous, isn't it? What's even more outrageous is that neither the number of deaths nor the litigation list ends with those three cases. More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed since 1999, and the city is rightfully named as a defendant in most of them. So, it's still more troubling to know that the city is now deliberately countersuing, "apparently as a negotiating tactic," as The Post put it. "No one ever said we are totally giving up any claim to this money the city has expended on these people, no matter what we discover later about our real liability," Arabella Teal, the city's principal deputy corporation counsel, told The Post.
But wait a minute. "Expended on these people." First of all, the mayor needs to explain to Ms. Teal that that is not the way to refer to human beings. The city should not refer that way to deceased human beings who were sick and vulnerable, and whose very deaths have now placed the city in a very shameful and indefensible position. Mr. Williams must again step up. This time, however, instead of ordering Ms. Teal her and co-workers to suspend the liens, the mayor has to stop the madness. After all, while the city did in fact lose tax dollars because of its own negligence, Miss DeButts and the others lost loved ones.


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