When the Chicago police pension board considered reducing the benefits of a former officer wounded in a shooting, they discussed the officer’s long-running public advocacy for police mental health care.
In a written order shared with WBEZ by the former officer, Brian Warner, the pension board wonders how — if Warner is truly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder — he is able to talk about policing and trauma in the press.
Warner was shot in 2011. He and his partner returned fire, killing the shooter. Warner was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and stripped of his police powers.
In January of this year, the pension board voted 6-1 to cut Warner’s benefit from a duty-related disability benefit to an “ordinary disability benefit,” which Warner says is going to cost him about $2,500 a month.
In the written order, the board disputes Warner and his therapist’s contention that a return to police work would reactivate Warner’s PTSD. In the order, the board members point out that Warner is frequently quoted in the media about police officer mental health trauma.
The board concluded that if it were true “that Warner’s PTSD could be easily triggered if Warner was confronted with events related to violence,” then Warner would not be able to speak “about traumatic shooting events involving police officers on TV and talk shows.”
A transcript of a hearing on Warner’s disability benefits showed that psychologist Stevan Hobfoll tried to explain that there was a difference between Warner being put back on duty and Warner talking about police mental health needs in the press.
“He’s been very active in trying to get care to officers who have had bad reactions and who are having difficulty,” Hobfoll told the board last September.
In response, pension board attorney David Kugler asked, “Wouldn’t that arouse his post-traumatic stress?”
“For some, but people have different thresholds,” Hobfoll replied.
“So you think that someone like that can go on TV and talk shows, and talk about events involving shootings with other officers, and is able to to cope with those kinds of situations?” Kugler asked.
“Yes, sir,” Hobfoll replied. “But, again, your premise is correct for some and not correct for him.”
Hobfoll used to be the chair of Rush University Medical Center’s Department of Behavioral Sciences, and in 2014, he was given a lifetime achievement award in the field of trauma psychology by the American Psychological Association.
In its written order, the board deemed Hobfoll “not credible.”
In an interview Wednesday, Hobfoll said he was not able to go into too many specifics about Warner’s case because Warner is a patient of his, but Hobfoll warned that the board’s focus on Warner’s public advocacy contradicts research and could send a dangerous message.
“There are many advocates with PTSD who speak up,” Hobfoll said.
He said the decision by the pension board could be “a form of gagging those who have a disability.”
Warner said he took the decision by the board as a punishment for his frequent criticism of the Chicago Police Department and the city for how they handle police mental health issues.
“I advocate so that hopefully the city can hear me out there and hear my … account of what these officers who have just gone through a shooting are experiencing because I know it firsthand,” Warner said. “Maybe they’re mad because I’ve aired this dirty laundry.”
Meanwhile, pension board members, the Chicago Police Department and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have all refused to discuss the case.
Pension fund Interim Executive Director Kenneth Kaczmarz declined to comment, and emails to each board member who voted on Warner’s case have so far gone unanswered.
Emanuel appoints half of the board members, but when asked to weigh in on the decision, Emanuel spokesman Patrick Mullane said, “We don’t comment on police pension board rulings.”
As the Chicago Tribune has reported, the Police Department moved to fire Warner four years ago because, in their initial search of the arrestee, he and his partner failed to find the gun that was ultimately used to shoot Warner and because they did not seat belt the man in the back of the police car.
That termination was placed on hold by the city’s Law Department and Warner says he only learned of the termination when he was told of it by the Tribune this year.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which is in charge of investigating police shootings, is considering reopening Warner’s case, which could mean withdrawing the recommendation to fire Warner or recommending different discipline.
Warner said he believes the decision by the Police Department and the pension board were both inspired by anger at his public advocacy and criticism of the city.
“I’ve done nothing wrong, and to be treated the way I’ve been treated is disgusting,” Warner said.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.