NEW YORK – An officer in the New York Police Department, who blew the whistle last year on NYPD’s approach to officers’ mental health medication, is now suing the city for $1 million in damages.
Jonathan Oliveras, an Iraq War veteran and member of the NYPD for 13 years, told the New York Post:
“I’m suing because they [department officials] don’t want cops to self-medicate but the job doesn’t want cops taking medication that would curb those cravings — and, so, hopefully, this can have the department revisit.”
“The job always talks about seeking help. They post these videos, you go to for these training classes but they don’t address medication.
“They don’t talk about or explain or educate [that] there are medications out that can help. Instead of just being vague just telling them just seek help.”
This cop came forward in an exclusive interview with The Post detailing the hell the job put him through when he told NYPD he was taking a moderate dose of an anti-depressant.https://t.co/LIFFPxTA3S
— Craig McCarthy (@createcraig) November 11, 2019
In 2019, the LAPD saw a record 10 suicides, more than double the typical number per year.
In August 2019, in the midst of those tragic record-setting numbers, the New York Post reports that Oliveras told an NYPD surgeon that he was taking “a moderate dose of Prozac,” an anti-depressant medication, while undergoing therapy.
As a result, he was made to talk to an NYPD psychiatrist. The following day, his gun was taken away – publicly.
“When they took my gun, the way they did it, they called the desk and they told them they coming in to take my firearm so they need someone to go to my locker … the whole command knew.”
This response to the report of a prescribed psychiatric medication was entirely unlike Oliveras’ previous interactions with NYPD on concerns about alcohol use.
According to the Post, Oliveras has struggled with PTSD and sought assistance twice for issues with alcohol.
In those instances, the department:
“…put him into rehab and AA meetings without taking his gun or making him into a pariah.”
Oliveras said of his revealing that he took Prozac:
“I should have lied … I should just have said I have relapsed.”
Taking his gun was just the beginning.
During the following two months before his Post interview in October, Oliveras was:
“…transferred five times, placed on modified duty with no path back to becoming a full officer and currently stuck in a post where the department hides the cop who screw up.”
Everyone in his precinct knew he was stripped of his gun and was then transferred multiple times.
“I would have just been better if I kept my mouth shut,” Jonathan Oliveras said.
— Craig McCarthy (@createcraig) November 11, 2019
According to retired NYPD psychologist Tom Coghlan, Oliveras’ story is not at all uncommon.
Coghlan told the Post that department policy requires officers to have fit-for-duty evaluations when they are on medications such as anti-depressants. Such measures, he said, are “meant to protect the department and not officers.”
He added that it was a “shame” that the department treats self-medication through alcohol less seriously than obtaining mental health treatment.
Coghlan stated further:
“[Oliveras] told the truth … so telling the truth under this policy gets you punished. You can’t have a mixed message.
“We want you to seek help, we want you to come forward, but if they come forward … if you disclose it to the surgeon, you can be disciplined.”
“You have people at the highest levels making mental-health policies that have zero mental-health background, so the department’s mental-health services are designed to mimic the disciplinary policies.”
In the wake of his adverse experience, Oliveras called formal attempts by the NYPD to encourage officers to reach out for help “smoke and mirrors.”
In October 2019, the “Finest Care” mental health program debuted at the NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Intended to provide counseling and medication free of charge to peace officers, this program promised to maintain an “anonymous” database of police officers seeking mental health help. The NYPD was only to know the numbers of officers looking for assistance, not the names. Information on assistance is also to be kept out of officers’ personnel files.
The “Finest Care” program came on the heels of a new department policy, initiated in September 2019, in which the NYPD would no longer take away badges of officers who seek assistance on mental health matters.
Despite the presence of these measures, says Oliveras, upper level members of NYPD sought to “hurt” him after he shared his story with the Post in October 2019.
After Oliveras’ story broke last year, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said:
“I’m sorry he went through that.”
“If that’s an issue we can talk to him about that and look at what happened in that specific incident and make sure it doesn’t happen in the future. This is what we need to do … we have to make sure people feel comfortable to come forward.”
According to Oliveras, however, the department never approached him to offer help. Instead, he said, Internal Affairs visited him at his position in Central Booking to ask whether he had been on the clock when the Post took photographs for their article on his mental health medication.
"The day after [an NYPD] cop exclusively told The Post he had been ostracized for seeking mental-health treatment amid an officer-suicide epidemic, the department reached out — but only to jam him up more, he said." https://t.co/FYMadjHNr9
— Ash J (@AshAgony) November 11, 2019
Oliveras, who maintained that he was not on the clock at that time, said the article “infuriated” NYPD leadership.
“Instead of solving the issue they look how they could hurt you.”
Oliveras’ lawsuit states that, since he came forward with his story a year ago, the department’s response has resulted in new anxiety and panic attacks for him, as well as a relapse in alcohol abuse.
With a lawsuit that “accuses the department of discrimination,” Oliveras says he hopes to remove the “stigmatization” officers face with concerns of mental health.
Oliveras’ attorney, John Scola, told the Post:
“The NYPD continues to fail when dealing with the mental health of their officers.”
“We hope this lawsuit will help shine light on these unlawful practices and cause other officers who are currently suffering in silence to come forward.”
Oliveras told the Post last year that the response from NYPD officers, current and retired, has been “overwhelming.”
“Hearing the tone of their voice, and some seeing their facial expressions, as they share their stories gives me a sense that it was the right thing to do coming forward.”
Oliveras also added:
“This has to be fixed for the next guy.”
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There’s a whistleblower in the NYPD. And they claim the department doesn’t actually care about what happens to their cops.
New York City Police Officer Jonathan Oliveras has been working for the city for the last 13 years, joining the force after returning home from his tour of combat in Iraq.
His mental health began to suffer immediately while working in the Big Apple, part of it stemming from what he saw overseas.
“The second tour in 2005, was really rough, saw a lot of things and it kind of stayed with me,” Oliveras said to CBS New York in an interview.
Knowing the stigma behind raising these kinds of concerns to leadership, the veteran cop kept his mouth shut and patrolled Manhattan day in and day out. But as the suicide toll pushed higher and higher throughout 2019, with the department making strides to offer better assistance to struggling officers, he thought it might be the time to tell them about his post-traumatic stress and anxiety.
He was wrong.
Oliveras told CBS that instead of getting the help and support he was searching for by telling them that he was on medication, the department punished him, stripping him of his weapons and placing him on desk duty.
And his coworkers obviously took notice and questioned him about the sudden change.
“I had to tell people why I was out, so it was more embarrassing. I was ashamed,” Oliveras said. “If I would have kept my mouth shut, I would have been on the right path like I was before.”
Now the U.S. Marine and New York City cop is slamming the department for pretending to care. He says the promotion of addressing officer concerns is a sham, and that department leaders only take action to protect themselves.
“It’s a lie, we know it’s smoke and mirrors. They do it to cover themselves.”
What’s worse, it’s been months since he brought the issue to department leaders, and they apparently have no plans to put him back on patrol. Oliveras said that since the meeting, he’s been reassigned five times.
Now Oliveras is done being quiet about the situation. He wants everyone to know that the suicide prevention programs made available to struggling officers are a sham, a check mark in a box.
The officer received a voicemail from another member of law enforcement after going public.
“I give you credit. You speak up because that’s what they’re known for, to backstab. The minute you open your mouth, something is wrong with you or family, they stigmatize you, and that’s what the department is known for,” the voicemail said.
When asked about the situation, NYPD commissioner James O’Neill argued that the department was actually, in fact, trying.
“If he endured that, I am sorry he went through that experience, but if you look at what we’ve done over the last three or four months, we’re trying to move heaven and earth to get people to take services,” O’Neill said.
Oliveras disagrees and says that the department needs to actually do something meaningful, before the statistics rise any further.
The average suicide rate for the NYPD is between four and five officers a year. So far there’s been 10 active duty officers that have taken their lives and a number of others who were no longer working for the force.
“Our persona is to be tough and the only thing we pretty much know is to punish, there has to be a gentle touch when dealing with these situations,” Oliveras said.
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