Deaf Mute Mistakely Jailed 2 Years Gets $1.2M-Plus


Joseph Heard, a deaf, mute, and mentally disabled man who was mistakenly held in Washington, D.C.’s jail for nearly two years, will receive between $1.2 million and $1.5 million from the city and a private contractor to settle a three-year-old lawsuit, the Washington Post reports. The city also will pay reasonable attorney fees for the law firm Heard used, although that amount remains in dispute.

Heard was arrested in November 1998 on a misdemeanor charge of unlawful entry and ordered committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital several months later. After doctors found him mentally incompetent to stand trial, a judge in October 1999 dismissed the charge and ordered him set free. He was taken to jail instead because computer records erroneously showed that he had an outstanding charge in another case. Although a records officer at the jail later learned that this charge, too, had been dismissed, the paperwork authorizing Heard’s release never arrived. Heard, who had received a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, stayed at the jail until Aug. 13, 2001, after jail officials reviewing the files of inmates in the mental health unit wondered why they could not locate his records. Heard, now 45, lives in Orlando with his sister. His attorneys said they incurred $1 million in legal fees. They said legal costs would have been much lower if the city had not caused the case to drag on.


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