The Chicago police pension board is reducing pension payments and taking away health care coverage for a former officer who was shot while on duty and is still suffering emotionally from the incident.
The former officer, Brian Warner, plans to fight the board’s decision in court.
Warner was shot in the shoulder in 2011. He returned fire and killed the shooter. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and stripped of his police powers.
Now, an expert hired by the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund has determined Warner’s PTSD is “in remission” and no longer prevents him from being a police officer.
In January, 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.
“I was only a hero when I got shot and everybody showed up at the f***ing hospital,” Warner said. “They abandoned me, and it’s such a poor message to other officers.”
‘A danger to himself and others’
At issue in the board’s decision are two things: whether Warner is emotionally or mentally capable of returning to work and whether his emotional issues are duty-related.
At a September board meeting, psychologist Nancy Landre told the board members that Warner was no longer suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a transcript of the meeting.
Landre said whatever symptoms he may have do not rise to the level of PTSD. Rather, she said Warner’s anger at the Chicago Police Department was the “main barrier” to Warner returning to the police force.
Landre described Warner as being angry that the department failed to help him and officers like him deal with trauma and stress.
“If he could deal with his anger issues toward the (Police Department), he would be capable of going back to work,” Landre said.
However, Landre also concluded that Warner was not able to return to police work in any capacity, and she acknowledged during the hearing that Warner’s anger and inability to return to policing stem directly from his 2011 on-duty shooting.
Landre told the pension board that Warner could only return to work with the proper treatment. However, psychologist Stevan Hobfoll testified at the September hearing that the Chicago Police Department does not have a program in place to help people suffering from PTSD get back to work.
Hobfoll, who has treated Warner, agreed with Landre that Warner is not currently suffering from PTSD. However, he said Warner still suffers many symptoms of the disorder and is at great risk of suffering from PTSD once again, especially if he were put back on the street as a police officer.
“He has deep fears of, first of all, not being able to protect his partner even above his own life; secondly, not being able to protect the public; third, not being able to protect himself. And you don’t want an officer in that situation with a weapon,” Hobfoll said. “I believe he represents a danger to himself and others to be in a position of having a weapon and having the police powers.”
During the hearing, the board’s attorney, David Kugler, asked Hobfoll if it would be possible for Warner to be “weaned back” into police work.
Hobfoll told him it would not be possible in Chicago “because the city of Chicago has no such program.”
Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the department does have a “protocol” for easing officers back to work after a traumatic event. He said officers returning from disability undergo a “fitness-for-duty process” that is guided by clinicians and the department’s medical section.
Guglielmi declined to comment on the board’s decision in Warner’s case, saying the department had not been briefed on the case or had a chance to review the decision.
‘You don’t understand PTSD’
After Warner’s shooting in 2011, he returned to the department with a plan laid out by his therapist for how best to reacclimate him to police work. The department rejected that plan, and Warner felt he had no choice but to leave the department.
“They said no thanks, and they forced me to the disability board. Now five years, later I’m screwed by the disability board financially,” Warner said. “So how in good faith can any of them stand up in front of a camera and say we have these officers’ backs?”
Since he left the department, Warner has been an outspoken advocate for police mental health and a public critic of the Police Department. He said the decision by the pension board in his case is another example that the city doesn’t take care of the emotional and mental health of its police officers.
“I was shot in the line of duty and had to take a life and I can no longer perform my job as a police officer,” Warner said. “I mean, how do you look me in the eyes and say that what I did is worth 50 percent of my salary and that I’m not worth health care? Because you don’t understand PTSD.”
Pension fund Interim Executive Director Kenneth Kaczmarz declined to comment.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.