Mentally ill man 'dumped' by Nevada has happy reunion with daughter

04/12/2013 12:00 AM

10/08/2014 10:42 AM

Shotzy Faith Harrison cradled her father's face for the first time in years Thursday afternoon, staring into eyes that were large and hazel and misty, very much like her own.

"Dad! Daddy! It's really me!" she said, moments after stepping out of her rental car and into his arms.

"You are the only thing I ever did in my life that was worth doing," James Flavy Coy Brown told his only daughter.

Brown, who is 48, suffers from schizophrenia and depression. The last time his daughter saw him, she had tracked him down in the woods of South Carolina, where he was living in a tent. That was in late 2010. When she went back to look for him weeks later, after giving birth to her second daughter, he was gone.

Without word, he had left for Las Vegas. He spent about three years there, living in shelters and on the streets, ultimately landing at the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, Nevada's primary hospital for mentally ill people.

After 72 hours in a psychiatric observation unit, staffers there put him on a bus for Sacramento, a place he had never visited and where he knew no one. They made no arrangements for his housing or care.

In response to a series of stories about his saga in The Bee, state and federal authorities have opened investigations into whether the incident is part of a broader pattern of abuse. Preliminary reports show Rawson-Neal has made a practice of sending mentally ill patients to other states via Greyhound bus, dropping them at the bus terminal with a one-way ticket and just enough medication and Ensure nutritional supplements for the journey.

Nevada has bused more than 100 such patients to California since last July, and scores more to other states, according to data provided by Nevada health authorities. Officials acknowledge making mistakes in Brown's case, but contend it's an aberration.

Harrison, 25, learned about her father's plight when The Bee contacted her last month. She began the complicated process of preparing to bring him home to North Carolina, where she lives with her husband and two young children.

She has turned her basement into an apartment where he will live while she assesses his mental condition and what it will take to keep him stable. She arranged for him to see a psychiatrist and have his Social Security payments transferred to the Winston-Salem area. She began working to replace his identification card, which he lost somewhere in Las Vegas.

Then she flew to Sacramento to bring him home.

Harrison arrived Thursday afternoon at the tidy south Sacramento boarding home where Brown has been living in recent weeks, thrilled for the chance to see her father for only perhaps the fifth time since her parents divorced when she was a toddler.

"I look just like him!" she said. They share thick hair, a soft Southern accent and a love of Reese's peanut butter cups, barbecue and Pepsi.

"I thought he was going to end up dead, and I was preparing my heart for that," Harrison said. "I am over the moon."

Yet Harrison, a nurse, is not entirely sure how this next chapter of her father's story will play out. Brown has struggled for decades with mental illness. He has been suicidal at times, and may be too disabled to live in her home with her two small children, she said. He has talked about living in a small trailer on her property, but that plan is on hold for the time being.

"If it's not safe, we'll make other arrangements," she said. "But I'm going to take care of him."

Even during his short stay at the boarding home, where he is getting daily medications, Brown experienced several suicidal episodes. He credited one of his housemates, Doug McKinney, with helping him through.

Brown erupts in frustration at times when he runs out of tobacco or soda, but "he really is a gentle person," McKinney said.

"I just talk to him in a humane manner," McKinney said. "I listen to him. I try to dispel his fears. That's all he needs."

Harrison brought her iPad with her to Sacramento, and showed her father pictures of his granddaughters, Lucy and Ginger, and his new living quarters. Brown talked of taking the girls fishing for bluegills, and said he was eager to explore his new "man cave" inside his daughter's house, and maybe get a Jack Russell terrier.

After closing some loops in Sacramento on her father's behalf, including meeting with civil rights lawyer Mark Merin about a possible lawsuit, Harrison plans to take him to Lake Tahoe for a short vacation. Then they will board a plane and start a new life.

It will be Brown's first time flying, he said. "I always rode the Greyhound. But I'm not a bit scared. I'm so excited, I'm about to burst!"

He arrived in Sacramento on Feb. 12 with little more than the clothes he was wearing, and will be carrying all his possessions in a gray backpack: four shirts, two pairs of pants, a jacket, socks and undergarments, he said.

All things considered, Brown concluded, his bus trip to Sacramento turned out all right.

From police officers to homeless-services staffers to doctors and social workers, "everyone has been very kind to me here," he said. His daughter brought thank-you cards to distribute to everyone who helped.

Since telling his story in The Bee, Brown has become something of a celebrity in the capital city.

"I can't go anywhere without someone recognizing me," he said with a smile.

Someone from Sacramento even anonymously paid for Harrison's and Brown's airplane tickets.

"I'd say I was lucky to be shipped to Sacramento after all," he said.

Call The Bee's Cynthia Hubert, (916) 321-1082. Follow her on Twitter @cynthia_hubert.

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