A town police officer diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who has not worked since the December 14 shootings at Sandy Hook School, has been informed by the town that he could be fired as a police officer.
Town officials have nothing to say on the topic, declining comment and terming the issue a personnel matter.
Officer Thomas Bean, 38, who has been a town police officer for the past 13 years, was off duty last December 14 when he heard about the shooting incident at the school at 12 Dickinson Drive. He responded to the school and worked with the more than a dozen Newtown police officers who had gone there, as well as numerous state police, and municipal police from other towns and cities.
In an August 9 letter to Officer Bean, Police Chief Michael Kehoe wrote, in part, that under the terms of the police department’s rules and regulations, termination of his employment is warranted and would be recommended to the Police Commission.
The job termination plan stems from the town’s receipt of a May 29 letter from Officer Bean’s physician which stated that he is “permanently and completed disabled from [the] duties of a police officer,” Chief Kehoe wrote.
The chief noted that Officer Bean had attended a July 16 session at which he was represented by the police union’s lawyer and a by union officer. At that time, Officer Bean stated that he did not anticipate any change in his medical status or work status, according to Chief Kehoe.
In the letter, the police chief added that Officer Bean had failed to respond to several job severance options proposed by the town: retirement, disability retirement, or resignation.
Certain specific reasons for the chief’s recommendation to terminate Officer Bean were listed in an August 9 letter from Chief Kehoe to Police Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico. A copy of that letter was not made available for review.
Mr Mangiafico declined comment on the labor issue, referring the matter to attorney Monte Frank, who represents the Police Commission. Mr Frank also declined comment. Chief Kehoe also declined comment for this story. Similarly, First Selectman Pat Llodra declined comment. “This is a personnel issue, therefore I am not free to comment,” she said.
On October 16, the Police Commission held a special meeting in closed session to discuss “a personnel matter concerning Officer Thomas Bean.”
All five commission members, as well as Mr Frank, attended the 40-minute meeting. According to the meeting minutes, a discussion occurred, but no action was taken.
Although Chief Kehoe had scheduled a termination hearing for Officer Bean for August 22, that session never occurred.
Police Union President Scott Ruszczyk said this week that the police union labor contract guarantees that if an officer finds himself in a situation such as Officer Bean’s, involving long-term disability, the person is eligible to receive 50 percent of his or her pay until their retirement. In Officer Bean’s case, such retirement would come in November 2025.
Officer Ruszczyk said that the town’s insurance coverage, however, does not provide for such an extended period of a police officer receiving half pay.
Officer Bean currently is receiving half-pay and full fringe benefits under the terms of the long-term disability clause of the contract. Under the current town insurance, that long-term disability period would only extend for two years, Officer Ruszczyk said.
Officer Ruszczyk pointed out that 15 town police responded to Sandy Hook School on December 14 and they face the potential of experiencing PTSD symptoms.
PTSD may not manifest itself until long after the traumatizing incident has occurred, he said. PTSD may become apparent as long as two years after a traumatizing incident happens, he said.
Officer Ruszczyk said that in view of the intensity of the Sandy Hook School shootings, the town has allowed affected police officers to take more “sick time” from work than normal, if needed. A special fund covered such costs.
Officer Ruszczyk said that the three employment options initially offered by Chief Kehoe to Officer Bean — retirement, disability retirement, or resignation — do not provide viable options to Officer Bean.
If Officer Bean were to “retire,” pension money would not be available to him until 2025, said Officer Ruszczyk. Officer Bean is married and has two children.
Officer Ruszczyk said he expects that eventually the town and police union would reach some agreement under which Officer Bean would leave his police employment under “some form of disability.”
Police union lawyer Eric Brown had sought to reach some agreement with the town on the matter, after which the town issued Officer Bean the letter concerning his termination, Officer Ruszczyk said.
Mr Brown said, “I think it’s unconscionable that they’re putting him in this situation.”
The situation is having a “chilling effect” on the other officers at the police department, according to Mr Brown.
The attorney said the town is trying to “weasel out” of its financial obligations by putting strong pressure on Officer Bean.
“It’s strictly a financial calculus without any compassion,” Mr Brown said.
The lawyer estimated that half-pay for Mr Bean across the next 12 years would amount to about $400,000 and the fringe benefits costs to the town would be about $300,000, for a total cost of about $700,000.
‘It Killed Me Inside’
“It’s been a difficult year,” Officer Bean said .
“I don’t see a future in [law enforcement], and neither does my doctor,” Officer Bean said of his psychiatrist’s appraisal of the officer’s future employment.
“I’m trying to figure out what I want to do and can do,” he said.
Of the 12/14 incident, he said, “It definitely was a hellish experience…It killed me inside.”
On the night following the incident, he drank alcohol heavily to change his emotional state, he said. The following morning, he was numb and in a state of disbelief and contemplated cutting himself, he said.
“I really don’t know how long [an emotional] resolution will take…I am in the process of figuring that out,” he said, adding that he is now developing plans for the future.
“I have to have faith that [the town] is going to do the right ting,” he said.
“I hope that no one else has to go through what I’ve been going through with this” prospect of job termination, he said.
Reflecting on his struggle with PTSD, he said “Everybody’s different and it affects everyone differently.”
For him, PTSD has included anxiety, depression, loss of hope, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, and death fantasies, he said.
Initially, having flashbacks about what occurred in Sandy Hook School could be almost physically paralyzing to him, he said. Symptoms included crying while awake and while sleeping, he said.
A former US Army reservist, Officer Bean said that he has done some volunteer work recently for an organization known as Save A Warrior, which seeks to aid people with PTSD due to military service. It is a relatively new nonprofit organization that potentially could provide employment for him, he said.
Officer Bean said he has received some “equine therapy” in which the handling of horses provides opportunities for emotional healing. He said he may become a guide to others receiving such equine therapy.
Officer Bean said he does not want his employment situation to reach a termination hearing. However, if such a hearing does occur, he would opt to have the hearing held in public, he said.
“I’m not doing this just for myself,” he explained. Police officers have to know that they are protected by the terms of the police labor contract, he said
“I still can’t pick up a firearm,” Officer Bean said. Yet broadly speaking, life is emotionally better for him today than it was three months ago, or six months ago, he noted.
It would be difficult for him to move into another career path that is as financially secure as law enforcement has been for him, he said.
Unfortunately, the town has shown an unwillingness to negotiate on its contractual agreement to provide him with long-term disability pay and benefits until 2025, he said. The public should be made aware of that, he said.
Officer Bean said he requested approval from the police department for some secondary employment while he is out of work as a police officer on long-term disability, but that request was denied.
Officer Ruszczyk said the police union’s drive to publicize Officer Bean’s plight is an effort to get the town to act. “We’re hoping that the town will sit down and will negotiate a settlement that is acceptable to both the town and the union.”
(EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated on 11/15/13 to include the two links to the online petitions.)