Newtown chief withdraws request to fire officer with PTSD

Chief Michael Kehoe sent a letter to the town police commission and to 12-year veteran Thomas Bean last week

By Dave Altimari
The Hartford Courant

NEWTOWN, Conn. — The Newtown police chief has decided not to recommend the firing of an officer who has been out of work with post-traumatic stress disorder since responding to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Chief Michael Kehoe sent a letter to the town police commission and to 12-year veteran Thomas Bean last week indicating that he was withdrawing the "request and recommendation for the termination" of Bean.

In a June letter to Bean, Kehoe wrote that he received notice that Bean is "100 percent permanently disabled from performing the essential functions of your job as a police officer."

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."

The chief's new letter to Bean is on the police commission agenda for discussion Tuesday. Bean is currently out on long-term disability, meaning the town is paying him roughly half his salary. If he were fired, he would lose the benefit.

Soon after the shooting, Bean submitted a two-sentence letter from his doctor indicating that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the horrific scene he encountered inside the school, where 20 first-graders and six women were shot to death.

Bean, 38, was assigned to the Statewide Narcotics Task Force at the time of the shooting. He responded to the school with seven other members of that unit who were about to meet at state police Troop A in Southbury when the call about the shooting was broadcast.

The eight officers arrived at the school at 10:19:35, or about 44 minutes after the initial 911 call, according to a timeline prepared by the state police and included a summary report by Danbury State's Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III.

Bean's meeting with Kehoe, scheduled for early July, was postponed because of a death in Bean's family and was never rescheduled. In August, Kehoe sent a letter to the commission indicating he was going to recommend to the commission that it fire Bean.

After a Courant story on the potential firing, Bean appeared on national television programs and the attention brought criticism to town officials, who have refused to comment.

Bean will be covered by the town's long-term disability insurance for two years. After that the town will pick up the cost.

Under the police contract, an officer entitled to long-term disability would receive about half his salary until he reaches retirement eligibility, which is 25 years as a Newtown police officer.

Bean has nearly 14 years until he is eligible for retirement, meaning that if he were to get long-term disability taxpayers would have to pay his salary for about 12 years after the insurance expired. In Bean's case, that would amount to almost $400,000.

"I loved being a Police Officer for the Town of Newtown. I love the people and my fellow Officers. I am sorry that I can no longer be a Police Officer but I can not change what happened that day or how it has effected me," Bean said in a written statement to The Courant.

"What the Union and myself are asking of the Town Government, my employer, is to keep the promise that they made in the contract," Bean said. "The Town government is doing everything they can to make this more difficult on me and my family simply because they did not get the proper Long Term Insurance Policy that is in line with our Union Contract."

Union officials have criticized the town's decision to limit the insurance and warned that it could leave taxpayers footing an enormous bill if other officers are unable to work because of PTSD-related issues.

Bean is among at least 15 Newtown officers who missed time from work after the shooting. The others have returned to work, although many have missed substantial time.

"Essentially the town has provided insurance that doesn't cover the terms of our contract," Police Union President Scott Ruszczyk said. "They are going to make him fight for what he deserves to get."

Copyright 2013 The Hartford Courant

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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