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Seattle Man with Developmental Disabilities Awarded $8M Settlement After Living Alone in Rat-Infested Home for Years

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Vernon Gray lived in the same house in Seattle, Wash., for 50 years. That is where his two parents took care of their adoptive son with developmental disabilities. That was until 2000 when his mother died and Gray was suddenly left to fend for himself. His house, much like his quality of life, deteriorated.

As neighbors began to witness Gray eating out of the garbage, broken windows and “at least 500 rats” at the home with no heat and no running water, they begged the state to intervene.

“There were so many rats in and around Vernon’s house that the grass moved in waves like water as the rats ran through his lawn,” one neighbor told The Seattle Times. “From outside the house, I could see rats swinging from the drapes inside Vernon’s windows, and licking the condensation from inside.”

Adult Protection Services came to his house three times since 2009, and each time they left him in the same dire situation they found him — garbage coating the floor, a squalid odor in the home and rats all over the place.

The state never stepped in, and that failure led to an $8 million settlement, one of the largest in state history, according to KOMO News.

“Adult Protective Services was receiving warnings from loving, caring people in the community. Not just neighbors but professionals,” David Moody, Gray’s attorney, told KOMO.

“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.”

Six years after losing his mother, Gray lost his home. The mortgage was fully paid at the time but Gray failed to pay the property taxes and the county seized the house. Gray’s parents had left him money however he was unable to care for himself.

A mental health professional finally found him to be “clearly gravely disabled” after he was brought to Harborview Medical Center in March 2017 when police found him walking in traffic for the second time. Gray had been living on the street for the past 10 years surviving on food given to him by neighbors, Mount Zion Baptist Church members and the owner of a cafe.

According to the psychiatrist at the medical center, “Mr. Gray has never been able to survive on his own without intensive involvement of others. This disability ultimately has led to homelessness, blindness and ongoing vulnerability that put him at risk of deterioration and death.”

Gray received a guardian who got him into an adult family home. It was Gray’s guardian, Channa Copeland, who got the lawsuit going against the state.

Gray, age 64, will receive about $4.7 million in a special needs trust account to provide for his care after attorney fees and other costs.

Copeland’s main goal now is to get Gray back home with 24-hour care.

“I want to get his house back,” Copeland told The Seattle Times. “His parents set him up and did everything they possibly could for him. I want to give him what his parents intended him to have. He wants to go home. He’s always wanted to go home.”

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