Cop fired for using drugs to treat PTSD is fighting to get his job back, wife says

"This is what officers are afraid of if they go seek help," said Sandy Reyes, his wife. "The system needs to change"

By Domingo Ramirez Jr.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH, Texas — A Fort Worth police officer fired for his abuse of medication and illegal use of a controlled substance will seek to reverse that decision on Thursday during a disciplinary appeal hearing.

Officer Jose Reyes, who joined the force in 2010 and named the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas Officer of the Year in 2013 for the region, is seeking to get his job back, a position he lost for taking drugs to alleviate his symptoms of PTSD when he couldn't get his medications, his wife said Wednesday.

Reyes, 46, was indefinitely suspended on June 10, 2020, after he declined to take a medical retirement.

Family and friends of Reyes plan a peaceful assembly on Thursday and Friday outside of the Bob Bolen Safey Complex, where the hearing will be held.

"I don't want another BLUE family to go through what we've gone through," said Sandy Reyes, his wife, in an email to the Star-Telegram. "The system needs to change. Our heroes and their families deserve better. How do we expect officers to ask for help when they run the risk of losing their job and not being able to provide for their family?"

On the advice of his attorney, the police officer declined to comment on Wednesday. Fort Worth police declined to comment because it was pending case.

Sandy Reyes said Wednesday their family was not prepared for the nightmare as her husband tried to seek help for his PTSD.

"This is what officers are afraid of if they go seek help," Sandy Reyes said, referring to the hurdles officers face when they seek mental help. "Recruits need to know about this. I'm sure my husband is not the only one going through this."

Sandy Reyes said Fort Worth police started a new policy in November 2020 mandating psychological treatment after an officer critical incident. She said that was a step forward.

The Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act was passed in 2018, recognizing that law enforcement agencies need and deserve support in their efforts to protect mental health.

But she pointed out that her husband was not given a case manager until 2019 when his condition was out of control and years after he was involved in several critical incidents.

[READ: My experience with PTSD while in law enforcement]

"During this time, my husband was forced to move out of our home and live in a hotel because he did not feel safe around our own family," Sandy Reyes said.

Constant exposure to death and destruction can result in substance abuse, depression, the inability to properly respond to emergency situations, and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a research. First responders often come to their professions with military backgrounds already packed with trauma, so new stressors are added to the old.

Reports of police officer suicides in the United States increased from 172 in 2018 to 239 in 2019, a 39% increase, according to Blue Help, an organization that compiles police suicide data. In 2020, the number dropped to 174. Since 2016, when the organization recorded 143 police officer suicides, the numbers have increased by nearly 60% when compared to 2019, Blue Help figures showed.

In 2021, 81 law enforcement officers have died, according to Blue Help.

Originally from California, the Reyes moved to Texas in 2006. Jose Reyes owned a landscape design and pool business, but the market crashed and he decided to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a police officer. He joined the Fort Worth Police Department in 2010.

In seven years, according to his family, Reyes had these four critical incidents:

— In 2012, Reyes rescued a pregnant woman after she was shot by a man. The officer was awarded the Certificate of Merit from the city of Fort Worth and was named Officer of the Year for the region by CLEAT in 2013.

— In 2014, Reyes was the first officer on the scene as someone opened fire on officers on Samuel Avenue.

— On April 22, 2015, Reyes and another officer were involved in a shooting that left a suspect dead. Reyes was never offered psychological evaluation or treatment, his wife said.

— In 2017, Reyes suffered a broken wrist when he was dragged by a suspect's vehicle during a domestic dispute call. At the time, Sandy Reyes said, Reyes was on his own to seek professional help for depression, suicidal ideations, panic attacks, nightmares and uncontrolled anger. Reyes was diagnosed with the onset of PTSD and prescribed medications, but the psychologist retired from seeing patients and the police officer did not have a doctor.

Because Fort Worth officials did not assign him a case manager, Reyes found it difficult to fill his PTSD medications, his wife said. The police officer also enrolled into various PTSD programs, but he was forced to pay out of his pocket because workers compensation and York risk management (now Cedwick) would not cover the cost for treatment, his wife said.

[READ: A multifaceted approach to first responder health and wellness]

Once he was assigned a case manager in 2019, Reyes was told of a PTSD program in San Antonio where he enrolled. He shared confidential information with his doctor there about what he used to self-medicate, his wife said. The confidential information was shared with York/Cedwick and the city's medical liaison, who filed an internal complaint about his abuse of medications.

"The stigma of PTSD needs to change," Sandy Reyes said. "We want to bring awareness about PTSD and the importance of knowing the signs for early treatment before its too late."

(c)2021 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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