Seizures leave officer fighting to keep job

Baltimore County officials say veteran is disabled

February 09, 2007|By Nick Shields | Nick Shields,sun reporter

A veteran Baltimore County police officer, designated by county officials for disability retirement after experiencing seizures, is fighting to keep his job.

Officer Philip Crumbacker, 40, who has served on the department's tactical unit, took his case yesterday to the county Board of Appeals, which is being asked to decide whether the officer should have to retire after suffering two seizures within two months two years ago.

During the hearing, two doctors gave differing views on whether Crumbacker, a more than 20-year veteran, should remain on the job. One said the officer's seizures are under control so long as he stays on his medication, but the other said the prospect of another seizure raised public safety issues.

Testimony in the case ended yesterday, but no decision was made. Lawyers are to file briefs in the case by next month.

"I am very certain that the Board is going to agree the risk that Officer Crumbacker poses, despite his many, many years of fine service to the county is ... unacceptable, and that he should be retired on disability as has been requested by the police department," Suzanne Berger, an attorney representing Baltimore County, said during a previous hearing, according to transcripts.

But John A. Austin, an attorney representing Crumbacker, has argued that the officer is not disabled, has not had a seizure in more than two years and is capable of returning to full duty.

"There's nothing physically wrong with him," Austin said yesterday after the hearing. "He's as physically able as he ever was, on his medication."

According to county Board of Appeals documents and transcripts, in July 2004 Crumbacker was asleep in his home when he had a seizure witnessed by his wife. He was taken to a hospital and later released, hearing records show.

It was the first time Crumbacker had a seizure, and after an evaluation a doctor declined to prescribe seizure medications, records show. But in September of that year he suffered a second seizure, this time while on police duty, the records show.

Crumbacker was driving on the Baltimore Beltway, responding to an incident, when a bottle of water that was sitting between his legs fell to the floor, hearing records show. As Crumbacker reached down to grab the bottle he "started to feel a little strange," according to a transcript of his testimony before the Board of Appeals.

He attempted to pull the car over but crashed into a construction site and rammed into a portable bathroom, according to hearing documents.

"I do not remember any part of the crash itself," Crumbacker testified, according to the hearing transcript. "When I did wake up, there was a state police paramedic standing over top of me, explaining I was just in a crash."

Crumbacker took off three months from work and was placed on medication, records show. He said in an interview yesterday that doctors do not know what caused the seizures.

In late December 2004, he returned to work and began participating in his unit's tactical training and exercises but did not go out on assignments.

Crumbacker testified that he has been assigned to light duty, and he said yesterday that he has been working in the county's 911 center.

In June 2005, he received a letter from Baltimore County saying that he was not fit for duty.

A county retirement board voted to approve the county's retirement request, and Crumbacker filed an appeal last

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