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D.C. Wrongly Jails Mentally Ill Man for Two Years

D.C. Wrongly Jails Mentally Ill Man For Two Years

Joseph Heard, 42, was released from the Washington D.C. jail on August 13, 2001. He served nearly 2 years in solitary confinement in the jail's mental health unit. The problem is that all charges against him were dismissed nearly 2 years earlier.

Heard was arrested in November 1998 on a charge of unlawful entry at George Washington University. After several mental health evaluations, all finding Heard mentally unfit to stand trial, the charges against Heard were dismissed, and he was ordered released.

When federal marshals returned Heard to the jail from the court hearing at which Heard's release was ordered, they told jail guards that Heard's release order was on its way. The order never arrived, however, and jail guards never bothered to follow up.

Heard's file was then labeled inactive and archived. The mistake was not discovered until shortly before Heard's release when administrators were reviewing prisoner files for possible transfer to the federal prison system.

Heard was ultimately transferred to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington D.C., where he at last might receive the mental health treatment he needs. Heard, a slight black man, reportedly believes he is related to John F. Kennedy, and that he hears messages from God.

"We knew from day one that his case had been dismissed," said D.C. Department of Corrections Director Odie Washington. "There was a failure to follow up," he said, "and the case got lost after that."

Heard thought he had been in jail for 4 years, although it had only been two. During an interview after his release, he said "I do not know why I stayed in jail," and "I was not happy in jail."

On October 17, 2001, following a two-month investigation, D.C. DOC spokesman Darryl Madden announced that four jail employees would be disciplined for failing to adequately monitor Heard's case. The names and positions of the employees were not released.

Initially, jail officials had refused to release the report on their investigation into the matter, based on advice from city lawyers fearing a lawsuit. Mayor Anthony Williams later agreed to release a redacted version of the report once the city's attorney had sanitized it.

After Heard's ordeal became public, D.C. DOC director Otie Washington tried to blame Heard for the problem. "We heard nothing from the inmate, his family, or his attorney. Do you think if we had known he was illegally locked up, we wouldn't have let him out?" Washington told media.

However, an unnamed jail guard and a jail medical worker told the Washington Post that they had repeatedly asked jail records staff to review Heard's file to determine if he was properly imprisoned. Heard told guards, medical staff, and other prisoners that he was wrongly imprisoned but, according to the guard and the medical worker, he was ignored by the jail employees responsible for overseeing his case.

Jail officials denied that anyone had raised the possibility that Heard did not belong in jail. Upon hearing this, the guard said: "I thought I told competent people. Now I regret that I didn't walk him [Heard] and any paperwork right into the warden's office. I should have taken it all the way myself."

Source: Washington Post .

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