Board blasted as 'kangaroo court' Lawyer charges retirement board violated court order

November 26, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

An attorney blasted the board that retires disabled police officers in Annapolis as a "kangaroo court" yesterday and threatened to have the city held in contempt for failing to hold a court-ordered hearing.

Only four of the five members on the volunteer Public Safety Disabilities Retirement Board showed up, prompting lawyer Joel Katz to charge the hearing would be "improper and illegal."

Although board Chairman John H. Fellowes insisted enough members were present for it to take action, Mr. Katz said he would ask a circuit judge to hold the city in contempt for violating terms of an order that required the full board to meet.

"I find it unconscionable and inexcusable," Mr. Katz said.

Mr. Katz and another attorney, Timothy F. Talbot, called off the hearing after the chairman said he thought the fifth member was out of town for Thanksgiving. The lawyers represent three police officers hurt in the line of duty who want to retire with full benefits.

Officer Anthony Davis, who has an immobile thumb, jumped up muttering, "This is a joke." JoAnn Collins, whose husband, Officer Scott Collins, suffers from a degenerative spinal injury, rushed out of the City Hall room in tears.

Both officers say they were hurt through car accidents, breaking up fights and doing other police work. Former officer Katharine Wheeler, who injured her back when she was slammed against a wall by a violent mentally ill man in the summer of 1989, claims she was retired without a hearing.

"I'm broke," Mrs. Wheeler said yesterday.

The 35-year-old, who was retired without benefits in December 1989 after the board concluded she had a pre-existing medical ** condition, said she is struggling to pay the mortgage and feed her children.

The board ruled on Mrs. Wheeler's case without calling her in for a hearing, declaring she was not disabled and should remain on the force. Former Police Chief John C. Schmitt retired her anyway.

Officers Davis and Collins have been kept on light duty for two years while appealing the board's decision in November 1990 not to retire them. They could be fired if the board continues to refuse to retire them, since they can no longer fire guns or perform police work, Mr. Katz said.

Mr. Fellowes, a retired Navy captain who chairs the board, was flustered by the attack and said he could not lead members to the hearings by hand. Nevertheless, he said, the hearing should have gone on because key members, including a newly appointed physician, were there.

Anne Arundel Circuit Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr. found in August that the board had violated Mr. Collins' civil rights and ordered an appeal. But the board was unable to schedule one because it lacked a physician, as required by the city code. The other two officers have appeals pending in Circuit Court.

Dr. Jonathan T. Lord of Arnold was appointed to the board recently.

In October, the head chaplain for the Annapolis Police Department called on city lawmakers to abolish the board or correct long-standing problems. The Rev. Robert McCoy told the City Council that only three of five members routinely show up, hearings are repeatedly delayed and medical evidence has been rejected.

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins appointed a three-member committee to investigate.

Yesterday, the chaplain sat slumped in a chair. "From what I've seen today, I still make the recommendation that the board should be abolished," he said.

JoAnn Collins said she was fed up after making her sixth trip to City Hall. "I'm tired of it," she said. "This is ridiculous."

In an interview later yesterday, Mr. Fellowes said he sympathized with the officers, but said they did not meet the board's definition of "disabled."

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