Wichita Falls, TX – Tim Putney is a police officer with the Wichita Falls, TX police department.
Well, at least for now.
The city that he swore to serve and protect is parting ways with him, as a result of his medical condition. Oh, and they told him he is not permitted to carry a firearm outside of the police department facility or off-duty.
In July of 2017, Putney was responding to a call of a juvenile who was allegedly assaulting his grandmother.
Arriving on scene, the juvenile became combative. Putney, in an attempt to cuff the teenager, had his legs kicked out from under him. He fell backwards with the weight of the suspect coming down on top of him. He struck the lumbar region of his back on the curb. His right foot immediately went numb.
What followed next was a lengthy battle over worker’s compensation benefits. He had his first of seven surgeries and 13 procedures over a year after sustaining the original injury.
According to his wife Chelsea, that is part of the reason that her husband is in the dilemma he is in. According to conversations they have had with doctors, immediate surgery may have prevented the nerve damage and continued numbing of his right foot.
But worker’s compensation coverage only kicked in after a judge ruled in favor of Putney in the matter.
He has had all of the procedures and operations, but doctors will not give him a release saying he is at 100%.
According to the city and the department, that is what it will take to return to full-time patrol work.
Without that medical clearance, he will be terminated for not being able to fulfill the responsibilities of the job description. The fact that he was injured in the line of duty, doing his job, serving and protecting, is apparently irrelevant.
Christi Klyn, director of human resources/civil service, broke the news to Tim about city policy and his future in a February 17th meeting, Chelsea said.
“If we can’t change this policy for Tim to help him out, then we need to change it for the next person,” Chelsea said.
The Wichita Falls Times Record News reports that Klyn, speaking in general terms, said that the city strives to provide opportunities to injured employees by allowing them to work in available modified positions while recovering.
But city policy doesn’t allow permanently modified positions, she said via email.
Changing the policy would require final approval from City Manager Darron Leiker.
“If there was a recommendation to change the modified duty policy to allow for permanently modified positions, the recommendation would not be approved,” she said.
Klyn said if the city allowed departments to commit to permanently modified positions, they would basically be creating new positions.
Departments would need to add to their headcount and hire workers who could do full duty, she said. The city budget would have to go up, Klyn said.
Chelsea said that in her husband’s case, the WFPD wouldn’t need to create a new position.
“I don’t think this speaks very highly of the city and just proves you are just a number to them,” she said. “It comes back to the city doing the right thing and taking care of their employees.”
There are countless jobs within the department that he can still perform, Chelsea said.
She also said a police officer who has used up his or her line-of-duty leave but has no doctor’s release for full duty can still apply for other city positions.
“An injured worker would be let go only if he isn’t the best qualified applicant for a position — or if the worker decides not to apply for another city position, Klyn said.”
It is at this point we pause to inform the City of Wichita Falls about a little thing called ‘reasonable accommodation.’ It is part of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
To say that the city does not allow permanently modified positions leads one to assume that they will not comply with federal law.
‘Reasonable accommodation’ is assistance or changes to a position or workplace that will enable an employee to do his or her job despite having a disability.
Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship.
Qualified employees are those who hold the necessary degrees, skills, and experience for the job; and who can perform its essential functions, with or without an accommodation.
Examples of accommodations include:
- making existing facilities usable by disabled employees—for example, by modifying the height of desks and equipment, installing computer screen magnifiers, or installing telecommunications for the deaf
- restructuring jobs—for example, allowing a ten-hour/four-day workweek so that a worker can receive weekly medical treatments
- modifying exams and training material—for example, allowing more time for taking an exam, or allowing it to be taken orally instead of in writing
- providing a reasonable amount of additional unpaid leave for medical treatment
- hiring readers or interpreters to assist an employee
- providing temporary workplace specialists to assist in training, and
- transferring an employee to the same job in another location to obtain better medical care.
These are just a few possible accommodations. The possibilities are limited only by an employee’s and employer’s imaginations.
Furthermore, the ADA does not require employers to make accommodations that would cause them an undue hardship: significant difficulty or expense.
To show that a particular accommodation would present an undue hardship, an employer would have to demonstrate that it was too costly, extensive, or disruptive to be adopted in that workplace.
The EEOC, in its role as the federal agency responsible for enforcing the ADA, has set out some of the factors that will determine whether a particular accommodation presents an undue hardship on a particular employer:
- the nature and cost of the accommodation
- the financial resources of the employer—a large employer, obviously, reasonably being asked to foot a larger bill for accommodations than a mom and pop business
- the nature of the business, including size, composition, and structure, and
- accommodation costs already incurred in a workplace.
It is not easy for employers to prove that an accommodation is an undue hardship, as financial difficulty alone is not usually sufficient.
So, the federal law actually appears to negate the city’s existing policy.
Law Enforcement Today sent emails to both Klyn and Chief of Police Manuel Borrego. Those emails went unanswered. We will provide an update of the city does respond to our emails.
Here is one of the questions that we posed to them:
Why is the city not searching for ways to provide Reasonable Accommodation under the ADA? Can you provide the evidence required by the ADA that shows making accommodations would cause the city an undue hardship (i.e., significant difficulty or expense)?
By law, the city must show that a particular accommodation would present an undue hardship, such as demonstrating that it would be too costly, extensive, or disruptive to be adopted in that workplace, to keep Officer Putney in place with the WFPD.
Sadly, not only is the city and department leadership turning their backs on an officer who destroyed his serving his community, now they are trampling his 2nd Amendment rights as well.
Putney was also informed that he is only allowed to carry a weapon while on duty, and inside the department building.
The local newspaper reports that Chelsea said Chief Borrego “told Tim Monday he could not carry his weapon anymore because he is on modified duty.”
All the officers carry, including those on light duty, and this was the first time Borrego commented to Tim about it, Chelsea said.
Then, Tim’s superiors told him he could carry his gun but only at the department, she continued.
And we felt compelled to ask the city:
Why is Officer Putney being told he cannot carry a weapon off-duty? This is direct violation of his 2nd Amendment rights as an American citizen. Is there a legal precedent that would allow the PD or the city to remove his right to defend himself and his family when he is not on the clock?
The Times issued an update late on Thursday, writing:
Lindsay Barker, city spokeswoman, released a statement regarding Tim and the city’s policies late Thursday afternoon.
Barker said an officer on modified duty for an injury isn’t allowed to wear a uniform or drive a marked police vehicle.
The rules are to protect an officer who can’t defend himself because of injury, nor can he assist the public in emergencies, she said.
“Officer Putney was told not to wear his gun or badge during working hours, outside of the department, for his protection,” Barker said.
“This is due to his medical restrictions that prohibit him from defending himself or taking law enforcement action if needed.”
Barker pointed out that the City Council voted to extend Tim’s leave with full pay and benefits although state law allows partial pay.
“All future medical expenses related to Officer Putney’s on-duty injury will be covered by the city’s workers compensation insurance,” she said.
Tim, who has never been in a detective assignment, provides administrative support for criminal investigations, Barker said.
Klyn said no Wichita Falls police officers are working in a permanently modified position, and patrol duty is an essential function of the officer position.
In a few instances, officers injured in the line of duty couldn’t get a release to return to full duty because of the nature of the injuries, she said.
“In these instances, if they chose to do so, some were able to maintain employment with the city in a different, non-sworn position, or retire,” Klyn said.
Chelsea expressed her frustration about her husband’s situation.
“He has not done anything wrong. He has done everything right, and this whole process has just been a nightmare,” she said. “And it just keeps going on.”
Tim has been working in his current position, on modified duty, with misdemeanor criminal investigations since September of 2017, Chelsea said.
“Now, they’re going to have to take someone off of the streets when they’re already shorthanded to do this job. It’s just frustrating,” she said. “I can’t help but feel like it’s just personal because we’ve been outspoken.”
“He loves, LOVES his job, and I hate that this is being taken away from him when he still has so much to give,” Chelsea told the paper.
Chelsea’s frustration can be found in the statements issued by the city.
In essence, the city is saying they will let you keep your job as long as you apply for a different one and are the most qualified for that position. If you aren’t, they will fire you. And it will all be your fault for not being the most qualified for that position.
She took her frustration to Facebook last Friday to provide an update on Tim and his status, both health and career.
Update time and it’s a long one,Tim has been doing so well and was released from his doctor a few weeks ago! He…
Ironically, one of the comments to her Facebook post said, “police officers shouldn’t be able to attend political events in uniform (unless on duty and not in a way to campaign) or be filmed in political videos broadcasting their job while saying what their political beliefs are.”
A quick search shows that Chief of Police Borrego was the keynote speaker at a Democratic party meeting regarding fundraising efforts back in November of 2017.
Makes you wonder who the Facebook post was referring to.
We had the opportunity to speak with Chelsea. Below is what she had to say to LET.
She basically reiterated what she had already told the Times Record News, until we asked her a very specific question.
What have these circumstances done for your faith, and what has your faith done for these circumstances?
“Faith is everything. This whole ordeal has strengthened our faith in God. Every step, from the first injury to today, our faith has been so helpful. Our marriage is stronger, our faith is stronger and and God will continue to provide.
If we didn’t have our faith, this whole situation would look completely different.
I hate that we are going through this, the things that my husband has to miss out on, like picking up our son, I hate that. But, we are going through this, and it is for a reason.”
LET will provide updates once the city responds to our requests, provides accommodations to Officer Putney or, God forbid, they actually do terminate him.
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