HARTFORD, Conn. — Town officials have notified a Newtown police officer who hasn’t returned to work since responding to the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that he could be fired.
Thomas Bean, a 12-year veteran, submitted a two-sentence letter from his doctor indicating he had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of the horrific scene he encountered inside the school, where 20 first-graders and six adults were shot to death.
Bean, who was off duty Dec. 14, responded to the school and entered at least one of the classrooms where children were killed.
In a June letter to Bean, Chief Michael Kehoe wrote that he got notice that Bean is “100 percent permanently disabled from performing the essential functions of your job as a police officer.”
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Kehoe asked Bean to meet with him “to discuss the issue of whether termination of your employment is necessary due to the medical disability and your options if that is true.”
That meeting, scheduled for early July, was postponed and not rescheduled.
But union officials said they expect Bean will be fired — and left with no disability benefits — and will fight it.
“They haven’t given him many options. It’s either quit and get nothing, retire and get nothing or we will fire you and you get nothing,” Newtown Police Union President Scott Ruszczyk said.
Bean was initially placed on short-term disability and is on long-term disability, earning roughly half his salary.
But the town’s insurance carrier will cover only two years of long-term disability payments, leaving the taxpayers responsible for payments after that.
Under the police contract, an officer entitled to long-term disability would receive about half of his salary until he reaches retirement eligibility, which is 25 years as a Newtown police officer.
In Bean’s case, he has nearly 14 years until he is retirement eligible, meaning that if he were to get long-term disability, taxpayers would have to pay his salary for 11 years after the insurance expired. In Bean’s case, that would be almost $400,000.
“Essentially the town has provided insurance that doesn’t cover the terms of our contract,” Ruszczyk said.
Kehoe said he couldn’t comment. The Police Commission’s attorney, Monte Frank, said he couldn’t comment on a personnel matter.
Bean could not be reached for comment.
Eric Brown, the union’s attorney, said officers who responded to Sandy Hook Elementary School are being penalized for town officials’ “penny-pinching” ways.
“If (First Selectwoman) Pat Llodra chose not to buy proper insurance because she was pinching pennies, then that is on her,” Brown said, referring to the woman who fills a position roughly equivalent to that of mayor.
“It is pretty clear what the contract says — that these guys are entitled to get paid as long as they are disabled, and now the town is just trying to find a way out of that obligation.”
Police Commission Chairman Patrick Mangiafico said that the commission will make the decision on Bean’s status.
He said that while he is aware of the issue, it hasn’t been brought before the commission.
The issue is big for Newtown because up to 15 officers have missed time at work since the shooting because of PTSD.
While all except Bean have returned to work, Ruszczyk said experts
said symptoms of PTSD may not manifest themselves until nine months to two years after a traumatic event.