Jailed Montgomery County cops can keep disability pay, arbitrator rules

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Local,Maryland,Brian Hughes,Rachel Baye

Montgomery County police officers who commit a crime should be able to keep their disability pay, an arbitrator ruled.

Philadelphia-based arbitrator Walt De Treux wrote that police officers should not receive their disability pension benefits while they are in jail, but the benefits should resume after the sentence is served.

The County Council last year passed legislation, set to take effect July 1, that cancels an officer's disability pay if he commits "certain offenses." During union negotiations, County Executive Ike Leggett narrowed the restriction to officers who commit a felony, said Bob Drummer, council senior legislative attorney. But De Treux rejected that proposal as well.

The union called the county's proposal to take disability benefits away from someone who has committed a criminal offense "draconian," according to the opinion.

The FOP "cited a hypothetical situation of a 25-year-old officer, injured in the line of duty, who loses a lifetime of benefits because he engaged in some minor criminal conduct that resulted in 60 days probation," De Treux wrote.

Arbitrators have sided with the unions 15 of the last 18 times, so the ruling wasn't surprising, Drummer said.

De Treux did not return requests for comment.

He also accepted the union's proposed changes of a two-tiered disability pension structure.

In the legislation passed last year, the council created a system that would give a county employee who was injured on the job but could work a tax-free "partial disability" retirement benefit of 52.5 percent of the employee's earnings. An employee who was incapacitated beyond the ability to continue working would receive 70 percent.

The FOP proposed instead -- and the arbitrator accepted -- a partial disability benefit of 60 percent, a full disability benefit of 66.7 percent and a "catastrophic" disability benefit of 90 percent, all tax-free.

"No police officer should fear for the welfare of his or her family before taking action to protect the community," FOP President Marc Zifcak said.

The union's victory is just the latest in a series of disputes with the county. For example, union employees have won multiple victories in workers' compensation cases over the last several years:

• Librarian Ginger Wilson won $5,500 in workers' comp after she hurt herself while trying to get a shampoo bottle out of her car during her lunch break, court records show.

• The county lost a case against firefighter Kenneth Deibler, who the Maryland Workers Compensation Commission awarded $14,000 because he was assigned work duty and couldn't work his customary overtime hours.

• Helen Smith, a county permit technician, won a workers' compensation case after she said she couldn't work at her desk job for several weeks because of nagging back pain caused by fall at work. Smith was filmed by a private investigator touring Luray Caverns and having a picnic, and a jury overturned the commission's decision.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner