Injured Annapolis officers again seek disability retirement Decision due soon in new hearing ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY - Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

December 02, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Time after time, they have trudged up the worn stairs at Annapolis' City Hall, seeking retirement with disability benefits. Time after time, they have come away empty- handed.

Yesterday, three injured city police officers tried again, hoping at last for an answer. They had come for another hearing before the city's Public Safety Disabilities Retirement Board, and were told a decision would come by Christmas.

Officers Scott Collins, Anthony Davis and Katharine Wheeler, all injured in the line of duty, have sought for two years to persuade the board to retire them with disabilities benefits.

None of the three is able to perform police work. But the board has repeatedly found that they're not "permanently disabled" from any job with the department.

Joel L. Katz, attorney for Officers Collins and Wheeler, argued yesterday that they can no longer fire a gun or pass the basic physical exam to be an officer. "I think all three officers should be retired," he said.

A 12-year veteran of the force, Officer Collins suffered neurological damage after his neck and back were injured in several scuffles since 1984. He has been struck by a car, beaten while breaking up fights, hit over the head in one fight and knocked down while breaking up a melee on Clay Street, Mr. Katz said.

Even though he's been assigned to a desk job since the board refused to retire him in November 1990, Officer Collins has to take muscle relaxants and arthritis drugs to make it through work every day.

Officer Wheeler hurt her back when she was slammed against a wall by a violent mentally ill man in 1989. When she first applied for benefits, she thought she might be suffering from a degenerative muscle disease. But doctors have determined her injuries were job-related.

Ms. Wheeler has been unable to collect benefits since she was retired by former police chief John C. Schmitt on Jan. 1, 1990.

Officer Davis, who has worked for the department for seven years, has an immobile thumb and cannot hold a gun steadily, said his lawyer, Timothy F. Talbot.

"Any time I use my hand I have an enormous amount of pain," Officer Davis told the board yesterday.

The five-member board will decide on the cases by Christmas, said City Attorney Jonathan Hodgson.

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins replaced a member of the board who failed to show up at a hearing last week and ordered yesterday's hearing. Four months ago, Judge H. Chester Goudy, of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, found the board had violated Officer Collins' civil rights and ordered it to reconsider his case.

Board Chairman John H. Fellowes, a retired Navy captain, announced yesterday that he was resigning as chairman. Dr. Jonathan T. Lord, a physician from Arnold who is new to the board, took over the seat.

The board lacked a physician for a long time, and only three of the five members frequently attended hearings, said the Rev. Robert McCoy, the police chaplain. He has called on Annapolis lawmakers either to reform or abolish the city's system of retiring disabled police officers.

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