BROOKLYN (CN) - A disabled Vietnam veteran died in his apartment after the New York City Housing Authority locked him into it, having failed to see him there as its agents tried to collect rent, the man's family says in a $9 million complaint in Kings County Court.
James Cleveland Gales' badly decomposed, unrecognizable body was found months after he had been locked into his apartment on 105th Street in Brooklyn, his family says.
Gales was 61 when he died. He was known in the neighborhood as "a Vietnam War veteran who liked telling jokes and recounting war stories from his wheelchair. His usual spot was outside his building at the housing project in Canarsie".
The housing authority sent workers to Gales' apartment in March 2009 to collect 3 months back rent. Not finding him at home, housing officials called his next-of-kin, plaintiff Kenneth M. Gales II, told him James Gales was not at home, and then, "negligently, carelessly and recklessly padlocked the apartment without regard to the fact the plaintiff was in fact inside the apartment," according to the complaint.
Within days, Gales' neighbors began calling the housing authority complaining of a strong odor coming from the apartment.
"Apparently the severe odor which the tenants and neighbors began complaining about in or about March 2009 was emanating from the decomposing remains of the decedent," the complaint states.
But the housing agency failed to respond. Gales' body remained in place until an employee with the medical examiner's officer passed by the barred windows of the apartment in July 2009 and informed authorities that a dead body was inside.
The police then broke down the door and discovered Gales' unrecognizable remains.
Kenneth Gales said the incident had profound emotional effect on the family, who not only had to deal with a loved one's being "left to decompose in his apartment" but also "could not have an open casket and proper viewing of the body as part of his funeral."
Gales is represented by Casilda Roper-Simpson of Brooklyn.
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