Ex-Iowa officer fired after PTSD-related incident awarded $2.6M in discrimination suit
Matthew Hunter claimed he was given disproportionate punishment for his offense because he had disclosed his diagnosis
By Joanna Putman
DES MOINES, Iowa — A former sergeant of the Des Moines Police Department will be paid $2.6 million after a jury ruled he was unjustly fired by the department for a PTSD-related incident, the Des Moines Register reported.
In June 2021, the Indianola Police Department arrested then-officer Matthew Hunter for public intoxication after he attempted to get into his truck and drive away, swearing at and threatening officers who tried to stop him, according to the report.
That incident led to Hunter’s PTSD diagnosis, which was related to the 2020 death of his friend, Sgt. Joe Morgan, according to the report.
Hunter told the court that he met with Police Chief Dana Wingert and told him he understood that he would face consequences for his arrest, but that he hoped he could help other struggling officers.
It came as a total shock to Hunter when instead of a suspension or reprimand, Wingert fired him, according to the report.
Hunter sued, saying that his discipline was disproportionate to punishments other officers had received, and asserting that Wingert rushed the decision after he learned of Hunter’s diagnosis.
Wingert testified that Hunter “got himself fired” by his own actions.
On Wednesday, after a weeklong trial, the jury sided with Hunter, finding the city hadn't shown nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions, according to the report. It awarded Hunter $283,000 in back pay, $1.6 million to compensate for what would have been his future pay, and $750,000 for past and future emotional distress.
"Dismissing mental health issues only reinforces the stigma that many officers face when considering whether to disclose their struggles," Hunter’s attorney, David Albrecht, said. "Firing an officer who discloses his PTSD diagnosis sends a message, the wrong message, and presents a barrier to treatment, leaving first responders to suffer in silence."