Fort Worth considering new pay arrangement for injured officer

Posted Wednesday, May. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The city is considering withdrawing “extended leave” pay for a police officer who remains paralyzed after being shot on the job more than 10 years ago, a move that would effectively force her into medical retirement and pare what she makes today, the officer and the president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association said Tuesday.

Officer Lisa Ramsey, 50, was shot Jan. 2, 2003, while undercover as a narcotics officer trying to arrest a drug suspect. After two years, she returned to a position in the police gang unit in a wheelchair.

Ramsey said she learned of the city’s plans Monday.

“Human Resources pretty much told me they’re going to recommend to the mayor and City Council that my extension not be accepted, which basically means they’re going to force me into medical retirement,” Ramsey told the Star-Telegram.

After she was shot, city and police administrators struggled for months to come up with a new limited-duty policy. They agreed to a base salary of $77,000 annually. Ramsey agreed to work up to 20 hours per week, which the city pays for. The city’s workers’ compensation program covers the other half of her salary, referred to as extended leave.

Ramsey also draws lifetime income benefits approved by the Texas Insurance Department and paid by the city based on her paralysis.

The city is citing “a little rule” that says she shouldn’t be receiving both workers’ comp and lifetime income benefits, Ramsey said.

“I said, ‘It’s been going on for 10 years. I only have five years left’” before full retirement, she said. “They said, ‘Well, we need to get this tied up and then the city will be straight again.’”

If she is forced into medical retirement, it will be a significant financial loss, Ramsey said.

Because of her paralysis, she has extra expenses, such as a larger house to accommodate her wheelchair and a specially equipped van, Ramsey said.

“I can no longer mow my yard. I can’t wash my dog; I can’t wash my own vehicle,” she said. “These are things people really take for granted. These day-to-day expenses just mount up.

“For them to tell me, ‘That’s enough for you to live on,’ they’re full of it. You try to do what I do on my budget.”

Sgt. Steve Hall, president of the Police Officers Association, said the council will vote July 9 on a city staff recommendation to stop the extended leave benefits. If the recommendation is approved, Ramsey would have to continue working to accrue leave, draw the leave she has left if she can’t work and medically retire once she exhausts her leave, Hall said.

Ramsey hasn’t reported to work since November because of a medical condition related to her injury, Hall said. The condition is a bedsore that if aggravated by something as minor as a scratch, can “in a matter of two days turn into a major wound,” Ramsey said.

On Tuesday, Hall asked the City Council to consider letting Ramsey work from home, saying she could work 40 hours a week if allowed.

“The job she does can be done from her home,” Hall said.

Mayor Betsy Price said Tuesday that she hadn’t read the staff’s final recommendation and couldn’t discuss it in detail.

“What we’re trying to do is get into compliance with all the laws on workers’ compensation, and to make it equitable,” she said.

As for the police association’s proposal, that would be up to Chief Jeff Halstead, she said.

In an email, Assistant City Manager Susan Alanis said, “The city is committed to ensuring [Ramsey] continues to be paid the equivalent of a full salary.”

Hall said that equation takes into account Ramsey’s lifetime benefits.

Alanis said, “In addition, the police chief will continue to evaluate opportunities to work in assignments that meet her restrictions.”

Hall said he raised the proposal for the first time Monday at a meeting of the Police Department command staff. Halstead said he was reluctant to have employees working from home because of the difficulty monitoring them, “but that’s the only discussion we’ve had,” Hall said.

Ramsey, shot while approaching the front door of a convenience store, wasn’t expected to live. Her heart flat-lined six times, and she almost died twice at the shooting scene and four times at the hospital. She received 21 pints of blood and spent two months in John Peter Smith Hospital and Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation in Dallas.

Her reason for working hard to get back to work: “I don’t like to be told that I can’t do something,” she said then.

Ramsey is assigned to the unit that investigates potential recruits’ backgrounds, work she said she can do from home.

“The job assignment, in a nutshell, is a lot of computer research, a lot of phone calls, and you have to go out in the field to interview somebody on rare occasions but you could pretty much do your whole investigation sitting at a desk,” she said.

“I can do all that. I can do everything the other officers can do except go out in the field. When I’m at home, I’m bored to death. I want to help out somehow.”

Staff writer Deanna Boyd contributed to this report.

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808 Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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