ABERDEEN, Md. – An officer who was shot in the face and left blind in one eye has been forced to retire by a legal review board that has created a conundrum.
Aberdeen Police Officer Jason Easton hasn’t received a paycheck in more than four months. It was at that time the police department determined he could not return to the job he held for 10 years. That is, before he was shot in the face while on patrol in 2015, reported The Baltimore Sun.
Easton, 34, was shot in the face with bird pellets from a shotgun blast on Dec. 4, 2015 by Tyler Testerman, now 23.
Testerman and his accomplice, 28-year-old Scott Lawrence were arrested the same day. Both pleaded guilty for their parts in the shooting.
Lawrence tried to get the victim, who had been arguing with Testerman via text messages, to come out of the trailer where he was hiding while Testerman waited in the nearby woods to ambush him, according to news reports at the time.
Easton responded to the victim’s 911 call and was talking to him when he was shot. Lawrence was sentenced to 25 years in prison and five years’ probation, with the prison time suspended.
Testerman was sentenced to a combined 78 years in prison, although he will serve a maximum of 35 years after the remaining years were suspended. He is serving his sentence in Jessup.
As a result of the shooting, Easton is legally blind in his left eye. He still has small pellets lodged in his eye and eye socket.
Consequently, he wears a contact to mimic the lens in his eye. He’s had numerous surgeries and has oil in the gap in his eye to keep it stable, he said. He has to use an antibiotic steroid daily and sees one doctor every three months, another every six.
Even though Easton was unable to use his left eye, he was released by his doctor on April 1 to return to work. This had been his ambition since being injured. However, he had a permanent restriction. He was not approved to perform as a patrol officer.
Easton said, he was told by the department that if he couldn’t return in full capacity, he couldn’t return at all.
Easton understands that rationale, he said.
“Because it’s a smaller agency, everybody in a law enforcement role needs to be able to fill every position,” Easton said. “I have my personal disagreements with it, but I understand it. I have seen the effect it has on a small staff when an officer can’t do everything. I know what it’s like.”
But he doesn’t understand why he can’t return in a light-duty position.
“All my schooling, my training, it’s geared for law enforcement. I’d prefer to stay in law enforcement,” he said. “My desire has always been to go back but I’ve been notified that’s not going to happen so I’m pursuing retirement.”
After spending the rest of their savings to cover bills, Easton and his family have now had to turn to outside agencies like the FOP and police benevolent funds for help, reported The Baltimore Sun.
Easton, along with his wife Sandi and their four children understand other injured officers are in far worse shape. Nevertheless, they hope to use any attention generated by their story to help those other families.
Jason Easton said he has discovered there is no standard by which officers get medical retirement — some departments don’t offer it at all, he said. There is no process for injured officers and their families to get psychological support after a line-of-duty injury; and like to see requirements for continuing health insurance or to cover what worker’s compensation does not, since it only covers 66.6 percent, Easton said.
As a result, the Easton’s have turned to local lawmakers to propose legislation to streamline the process to get support when an officer is injured in a work-related incident, Sandi Easton said.
“We want to tell our story to change and effect change for everyone — not us,” Sandi Easton said. “We want our story to change what happens with injured officers everywhere.”
Aberdeen Police Chief Henry Trabert agrees. There are clearly problems with the department’s medical retirement. The chief and others in the police department are working with the city to remedy the problems.
Problems seem to reside in definitions, such as catastrophic and non-catastrophic injuries. They need clarification, restructuring or to be changed altogether.
“I support Officer Easton 100 percent. I think he deserves to get everything he can for what happened to him,” Trabert said. ” I’ll do anything I can.”
The department’s retirement board is run by the city not by the department so as chief, Trabert said he has no oversight or ability to provide additional benefits in Easton’s case.
Aberdeen City Manager Randy Robertson would not discuss the case since it’s a personnel issue. Moreover, he was not on the board that determined what disability he would receive.
Although, he also said Easton’s case is still active and there is an appeal process. Easton said he is working on an appeal.
The Aberdeen Police Department Retirement Board determined that Easton’s injury was non-catastrophic, not career-ending, so he is only eligible to receive a disability benefit of 33.3 percent when he retires.
This is a confusing determination. His career is ended due to the severity of his injury, yet they determined it’s non-catastrophic, which means it’s not career-ending. We’d like to hear someone explain that.
Nevertheless, he is in the process of appealing that decision. If the board rules his injuries are catastrophic, he would get a 66.6 percent disability benefit.
Since the shooting, workers compensation has paid Easton two-thirds of his salary and the City of Aberdeen paid the rest of his salary to 100 percent for two years. Easton said he was the first person this was ever done for.
“It was a really gracious gesture,” Sandi Easton said.
But when Easton was told he couldn’t return in a law enforcement capacity, he was put on unpaid leave effective April 1. He was also released from worker’s compensation because he exceeded the time during which he could receive those benefits. After Oct. 1, the family will be without health benefits.
Sandi Easton has met with a local senator in hopes of developing legislation to streamline the process and set standards for officers injured in the line of duty.
“We want them to get the physical support, the financial support, the psychological support, to make sure they get the help they need,” Jason Easton said.
“We want to take our media cause and pass along the torch, not let it burn out,” Jason Easton said.
(Photo: Screenshot BSMG)
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