Disability retirement board charged with failing injured Annapolis workers

October 13, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

In the summer of 1989, Annapolis police Officer Katharine Wheeler hurt her back badly when she was slammed against ddTC wall by a violent mentally ill man. Her life would never be the same after that incident.

Retired without benefits because a volunteer board found she had a pre-existing medical condition, Miss Wheeler, 35, says she is struggling to pay the mortgage and keep food on the table for her children.

The head chaplain for the Annapolis Police Department challenged the City Council last night to help her and two male officers who were also injured in the line of duty.

The men have been unable to retire with full benefits because of serious problems with the city's Public Safety Disability Retirement Board, said the Rev. Robert McCoy, the head chaplain.

After outlining several ways in which he charged that the volunteer board has violated the city code, the police contract and the state constitution, Mr. McCoy called on the council either to abolish the board or correct the problems.

Mr. McCoy said the board has lacked a physician for a long time, and board members routinely refuse to accept medical evidence from applicants at hearings. He told the council that only three of the five board members show up for hearings, and that the board did not properly elect its chairman.

Even though Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr. ordered the board to hear an appeal of one officer's case in August, the board has not met since then, Mr. McCoy said.

He also criticized the board for trying to substitute a new clause in the police contract to require that officers be "permanently disabled" instead of "permanently incapacitated from active service" to collect benefits. The "permanently disabled" standard has been used by the board to argue for keeping Officers Scott Collins and Anthony Davis on light duty. Both have been trying for two years to retire with full benefits.

Miss Wheeler, who was on the force nine years, said she was retired without benefit of a hearing three years ago.

Officer Collins suffers from a degenerative spinal injury, and Officer Davis has an immobile thumb. Both were caused by car accidents in the line of duty, breaking up fights and other police work, the men said.

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins agreed to meet with Mr. McCoy this week to try to resolve the problems. The mayor said the city has struggled in the past to find a physician to volunteer on the board.

In other business last night, the council approved continuing a voluntary consent order to recruit and promote more black firefighters.

Four black firefighters filed a lawsuit in 1985 alleging the Annapolis Fire Department discriminated in hiring, promotions and testing procedures. In settling the suit, the city agreed to increase the percentage of black firefighters to reflect the percentage of blacks living in Annapolis. About 30 percent of the city's 32,000 residents are black.

Ten of the city's 79 firefighters are black, up from seven when the suit was filed. Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat, questioned the rate of progress, saying, "At the rate we're going, won't we be extending this to the year 2000?"

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