Witness: Greene's actions caused by major depression

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Former PHA director Carl Greene arrives at the courthouse Tuesday for testimony in his lawsuit against the housing agency.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Former PHA director Carl Greene arrives at the courthouse Tuesday for testimony in his lawsuit against the housing agency.
Posted: January 31, 2013

WAS CARL GREENE a psychologically fragile public-housing hero, paralyzed by profound depression, whose contractual rights were violated when the Philadelphia Housing Authority fired him as its executive director in September 2010?

Or did PHA do the right thing legally in dismissing Greene amid accusations that he secretly settled sexual-harassment allegations with nearly a million dollars in public funds, suddenly stopped showing up for work without explaining himself to his board of directors and left his agency rudderless?

Greene is suing PHA and its then-chairman, John Street, in federal court for nearly a million dollars in back pay and benefits, plus damages.

During Monday's opening testimony in the civil nonjury trial, Greene sat quietly in a dark suit and black-rimmed glasses while James Eisenhower, who was a PHA attorney in 2010, described in chilling detail his fear that Greene might harm himself following published reports that he couldn't pay his mortgage.

Eisenhower said that there were "concerns about why he wasn't answering messages" and questions about whether the "brilliant but volatile man" who lived alone had "done harm to himself."

So, Eisenhower went to Greene's residence, in Grays Ferry, knocked on the door, called out to Greene, received no response. An unidentified woman called Eisenhower on his cellphone and said that Greene wanted to meet with him, but not there.

When they met, Eisenhower said, Greene was unshaven, "very disheveled," with "his clothing hanging off him," and "looked like he hadn't showered." He was passive, "looking at the ground."

"He said he needed help," Eisenhower testified. "Or I said, 'You need help.' "

Greene told Eisenhower that "he was embarrassed about people finding out about his illness."

A week later, after then-Gov. Ed Rendell helped facilitate arrangements, Eisenhower went with Greene to The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt, a psychiatric hospital in a Baltimore suburb, where Greene checked in.

Eisenhower said that his main concern was that "Mr. Greene received the help he needed and didn't hurt himself."

Meanwhile, when Eisenhower told Street that Greene was having problems, Street replied, 'Jim, all Carl needs is a beach and a book. Tell him to go down [to] the beach and he'll be fine," Eisenhower testified.

Eisenhower said he told Street that Greene's situation was more serious than that.

Street wanted to have a joint news conference, Eisenhower testified, but when Greene instead decided to do a series of media interviews by himself, Street told Eisenhower, "So, he's disrespecting me. And he's going to pay a heavy price."

Steven J. Engelmyer, PHA's defense counsel, said that the only question that U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter must address was whether Greene engaged in willful, reckless, intentional misconduct that materially harmed PHA. "Everything else is a sideshow," he said.


On Twitter: @DanGeringer

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