Town officials have notified a Newtown police officer who hasn't returned to work since responding to the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that he could be fired.
Thomas Bean, a 12-year veteran, submitted a two-sentence letter from his doctor indicating that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the horrific scene he encountered inside the school, where 20 first graders and six adults were shot to death.
Bean, who was off duty on Dec. 14, responded to the school and entered at least one of the classrooms where children were killed.
In a June letter to Bean, Chief Michael Kehoe wrote that he received notice that Bean is "100 percent permanently disabled from performing the essential functions of your job as a police officer."
Kehoe asked Bean to meet with him "to discuss the issue of whether termination of your employment is necessary due to the medical disability and your options if that is true."
That meeting, scheduled for early July, was postponed because of a death in Bean's family and has not been rescheduled. But union officials said they expect Bean will be fired -- and ultimately left with no disability benefits -- and that they are prepared to fight it.
"They haven't given him many options. It's either quit and get nothing, retire and get nothing or we will fire you and you get nothing," Newtown Police Union President Scott Ruszczyk said.
Bean was initially placed on short-term disability and is currently on long-term disability, earning roughly half his salary. But the town's insurance carrier will only cover two years of long-term disability payments, leaving the taxpayers responsible for payments after that.
Under the police contract an officer entitled to long-term disability would receive about half of his salary until he reaches retirement eligibility, which is 25 years as a Newtown police officer.
In Bean's case, he has nearly 14 years until he is retirement eligible, meaning that if he was to get long-term disability taxpayers would have to pay his salary for 11 years after the insurance expired. In Bean's case that would be almost $400,000.
"Essentially the town has provided insurance that doesn't cover the terms of our contract," Ruszczyk said. "They are going to make him fight for what he deserves to get."
Kehoe said Monday on advice of the town's attorneys he couldn't comment on the letter or the status of the officer's employment. The Police Commission's attorney Monte Frank said he couldn't comment on a personnel matter. First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra did not return multiple calls for comment.
Eric Brown, the union's attorney, said officers who responded to Sandy Hook Elementary School are being penalized for town officials "penny-pinching" ways.
"If Pat Llodra chose not to buy proper insurance because she was pinching pennies than that is on her," Brown said. "It is pretty clear what the contract says -- that these guys are entitled to get paid as long as they are disabled and now the town is just trying to find a way out of that obligation."
Police Commission Chairman Patrick Mangiafico said Monday that the commission ultimately will make the decision on Bean's employment status. He said while he is aware of the issue it hasn't been brought before the commission.
The issue is a big one for the Newtown officers because as many as 15 officers have missed time since the shooting because of PTSD issues. While all except Bean have returned to work, Ruszczyk said experts have told the officers that the symptoms of PTSD may not manifest themselves until nine month to two years after a traumatic event.
Bean could not be reached for comment Monday. Bean was one of several Newtown officers quoted in a New York Times story earlier this year about their experiences inside the school.
Bean, who entered the school without a gun because he was not working at the time, said in that story he had already received a diagnosis of PTSD and that he needed medication to sleep at night.
Copyright 2013 - The Hartford Courant
McClatchy-Tribune News Service