Washington state’s Department of Social and Health Services admitted they “dropped the ball” and agreed to pay $8 million to a parentless developmentally disabled man who reportedly lived in substandard conditions for years despite multiple calls made to Adult Protective Services.
Vernon Gray lost his father decades earlier and his mother in 2000. The Washington Post reported that Gray lived with her corpse for several days because he didn’t know what to do. He was also unsure how to pay utilities and bills—leading to his power and water being shut off shortly thereafter.
Over time, rats had overrun the Seattle home—something city and state officials had been alerted to multiple times. A concerned neighbor had reported the issue to officials, claiming that as many as 500 rats dwelled in the dilapidated home. Further, in 2009, a King County health worker called APS about rats living under the lawn and noted a horrible smell admitting from the home, according to KOMO.
His lawyer David Moody alleged that DHS closed a case involving Gray and his substandard living conditions because workers deemed the house was too dangerous for them to go in.
“That’s the home they left Vernon in,” Moody said in an interview with the news station.
According to the Seattle Times, it was also during that 2009 encounter when a social worker saw Gray was living in a garbage-filled home but didn’t intervene. In fact, neighbors and churchgoers alerted APS to this issue on three occasions since 2009 but nothing was done until 2017.
Reportedly failing to pay taxes on his late parents’ home, Gray became homeless in 2013. At that time, a neighbor alerted authorities to the fact that Gray was losing his home. A social worker arrived at the residence with police, who informed Gray that he couldn’t live there anymore, the tort claim stated.
While that the state Attorney General’s Office told that social worker that a guardianship case could be started if APS provided assistance to Gray, allowing him to regain his house if the agency could prove his was disabled. However, the social worker reportedly closed the case when Gray didn’t arrive at a shelter, where she intended to evaluate him.
KIRO reported that Gray, who has an IQ of 60, would get food from a local cafe owner. But Gray still had to endure living on the streets—where he was reportedly attacked and lost his vision.
Gray had reportedly wandered into the street half naked on multiple occasions in 2017. At that time, Seattle police transported him to a Harborview hospital, where a doctor determined he was “clearly gravely disabled.” He was also nearly blind and covered in lice, according to KOMO.
“The staff at Harborview saved Vernon by moving to establish a guardianship for Vernon,” the attorney said, adding that the now-64-year-old had to be “retrained” on how to use the restroom.
“This is what DSHS should have done eight years prior.”
Gray would have been eligible for benefits and other forms of state support but his parents reportedly never signed him up. The Post noted that he’s an African American who grew up in the 50s—making it likely that he would’ve been placed in an institution if his parents sought help from the state. Reports indicated that he did attend a high school for students with developmental disabilities.
“Adult Protective Services was receiving warnings from loving, caring people in the community. Not just neighbors but professionals,” Gray’s attorney told KIRO. “But APS wouldn’t do anything about it. They wouldn’t go to the home. They wouldn’t talk to Vernon. A simple assessment would have told APS that Vernon was vulnerable and needed services. You can’t meet Vernon for more than a few seconds and not come away with a sense that this man needs help.”
Channa Copeland, who operates a nonprofit organization for vulnerable adults, became Gray’s legal guardian and sued on his behalf. The $8 million payout is said to be the largest settlement made by the state in an APS case. In a statement, DSHS spokesman Chris Wright said “sorry for what happened to Mr. Gray,” calling his case a “system-wide failure.”
Wright went on to say that he hopes the multi-million dollar settlement “can improve his quality of life.”
“I think that this was a horrific situation where there were a lot of chances for people to intervene and nobody did. He lost everything, everything he ever knew, everything he ever owned, everything he ever had,” Copeland told KIRO.
She also revealed she plans to move Gray back into the neighborhood he’d lived since 1962. However, this time, he’ll have 24-hour supervision.
Copeland said, “Oh, he’s coming back. Yeah, he’s coming back. I want to bring Vernon home. This is his home.”
[Featured image: Vernon Gray/KIRO video screengrab]