Officials at Forest Haven, the District of Columbia's home for the mentally retarded, are scheduled today to exhume for an autopsy the body of a 24-year-old resident who died at the institution two weeks ago.
The resident, Frankie Hopson, was found dead in his bed and was buried on the Forest Haven grounds. Tyrone Hopson, a brother of the dead man, went to D.C. Superior Court yesterday seeking an emergency order to have the body exhumed.
He said in an interview that Forest Haven officials had told him his brother died of an apparent heart attack, he had repeatedly requested that an autopsy be performed, and that Forest Haven officials had denied the request.
At a hearing, a D.C. Corporation Counsel told Judge James A. Washington Jr. the dispute had been "a misunderstanding," and that officials would act immediately to remove Hopson's body from a cemetery on the Forest Haven grounds and transport it to D.C. General Hospital.
Martin Shaller, Forest Haven's deputy superintendent, said Hopson's body was buried at the facility at the request of Hopson's sister, who Shaller said is a staff member at Forest Haven.
Shaller said he had not been aware of requests for an autopsy, but arranged for one yesterday after attorneys for the city called and "asked that we take steps to exhume the body."
Hopson said his brother suffered from a chronic heart ailment and was taking medication for it at the time of his death.
"If he died the way they said he did, that's okay," he said. "But if your brother died and you asked for an autopsy and they denied it, wouldn't you be suspicious?"
Hopson said his brother was committed to Forest Haven 10 years ago. Both of their parents, he said, have died.
Deputy administrator Shaller said that, like most family members of residents who die at the facility, Hopson's sister requested that the body be buried in the facility's cemetery, where approximately 100 former residents are interred.
Shaller said the burial took place after a nonsectarian ceremony performed by two staff ministers at Forest Haven's chapel and that about 75 residents and staffers attended.
Shaller said he was unaware of any requests to have an autopsy performed on the body. "We've never talked to him Tyrone Hopson so I have nothing to say about that," Shaller said, referring questions about the dispute to city attorneys.
Corporation Counsel Judith W. Rogers said she was unable to explain why Hopson's earlier requests were denied.
A local funeral home has been retained to exhume the body and transport it to D.C. General for an autopsy, Shaller said.
Hopson, an unemployed former mail clerk at George Washington University, said he is considering having his brother's body buried elsewhere after the autopsy is performed, but that he is uncertain he will have the means to do so.