D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration has hit Frank Harris Jr. with a $2.2 million bill for his care at St. Elizabeths Hospital, even though the 55-year-old schizophrenic man gouged out his eyes with his bare hands while he was supposed to be under constant supervision.
The D.C. Attorney General’s Office has included the bill in an ongoing lawsuit, which was filed in 2004 by Janice Motley, Harris’ legal guardian, over his treatment at the District's mental hospital. The D.C. government is now arguing that any award won in the suit, which seeks more than $10 million in damages, should be offset by the $2.2 million hospital bill, says Joseph Cammarata, Motley’s attorney.
“That’s the outrageousness. That’s the mean-spiritedness. That’s getting paid for your own wrongdoing,” Cammarata says. “What’s the accountability?”
D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson will hold a press conference with Motley and Cammarata at 10 a.m. on Wednesday at D.C. Superior Court to protest against the city's legal strategy. In an Aug. 13 letter to Fenty, Mendelson called the claim for the hospital bill "offensive" and said it is “intended to discourage litigation against the District." Mendelson noted that Fenty had protested against the same legal strategy in 2002 when Fenty was a councilmember. Fenty spokeswoman Carrie Brooks didn’t respond today to requests for comment.
In 2003, Harris was under a physician’s orders to be physically restrained and receive constant supervision. But Harris broke loose from an orderly who had freed him from his restraints, even though the orderly was required to request help and authorization from other staffers, Cammarata says. Harris, who suffered from delusions, then pulled his eyes one by one out of their sockets before he could be restrained again.
Harris, who is now blind, still lives at St. Elizabeths, where he has been a patient since the 1970s. Motley hopes to use damages awarded in the suit to move Harris to a private facility where he can receive better care, Cammarata says. But until then, Harris remains “a ward of the District of Columbia subject to their mercy, subject to whatever they want to do with him,” Cammarata says.