D.C. gives $1 million to family of fatally beaten patient

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The District paid $1 million Monday to the family of a former patient of St. Elizabeths Hospital, the city's public psychiatric facility, who was stomped to death by another patient.

City officials made the payment 10 months after a D.C. federal court jury found the city liable in the 2005 death of Alan Martin. Martin, 56, a former Washington physician who had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, was admitted to St. Elizabeths just four days before he was housed with another inmate, William E. Dunbar, 29, who investigators said later stomped Martin.

Martin was found April 4, 2004, with a cracked skull and a broken neck. He lapsed into a coma and died about a year later. Dunbar was charged in the killing.

St. Elizabeths officials were criticized for placing Martin, a nonviolent patient, in a unit with Dunbar, who was admitted for having homicidal thoughts and threatening family members.

In January, a jury found the District negligent in Martin's death. The District appealed the verdict but later withdrew the appeal.

Martin's sister, Theresa Roberson, said in a statement through her attorney, William Lightfoot, that the lawsuit was about forcing the District to take responsibility.

"I knew the city would not accept responsibility, so I filed the lawsuit to hold the city accountable," Roberson said.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said he authorized the District to make the payment to get the case "behind us."

"The judgment had been entered against us, and interest was accruing, so I felt it made sense just to get it over with," he said.

Just weeks after Martin's death, another patient, Willie Fraley, 76, was fatally beaten by another patient. Two years earlier, hospital staff had been criticized for not properly supervising Frank Harris Jr., who used his hands to gouge out his own eyes in March 2003. Most recently, in January 2007, Mark Harris, 39, went into cardiopulmonary arrest and died after a hospital employee tried to restrain him when he became disruptive and violent.

Critics of the hospital cited the incidents as the most egregious signs that the hospital was overcrowded and understaffed.

The settlement comes two years after the District agreed to implement a long list of improvements as part of a settlement with the Justice Department, which had threatened to sue over widespread deficiencies at the hospital. Nickles said that since the agreement, the District has "made progress" in improving the hospital, partly by reducing the number of patients and shifting patients to community-based treatment facilities. The hospital also renovated and subsidized apartment units for patients who have shown they can live on their own.


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