Fort Worth council extends benefits for one officer, not the other

08/12/2014 9:22 PM

08/13/2014 8:35 AM

In a 5-4 vote Tuesday night, the City Council extended the leave-of-absence pay benefits for one Fort Worth police officer critically injured in the line of duty several years ago.

Later, in a unanimous decision, council members voted not to extend the benefits of another critically injured officer.

Officer Lisa Ramsey, 52, was paralyzed from the chest down after she was shot during an undercover narcotics operation in 2003 and has had to have her leave-of-absence benefits extended each year since 2004 so that she could continue to work as a police officer, but on light duty, which consists of less physically intensive assignments for officers healing from injuries.

Councilman Dennis Shingleton initially made a motion to deny the benefits, but Councilman Jungus Jordan interrupted with a second motion to approve the benefits — not just for the next year, but until she is eligible to retire in just over three years.

That motion passed with Gyna Bivens, Ann Zadeh, Kelly Allen Gray and Mayor Betsy Price also voting in favor. The no votes came from Shingleton, Sal Espino, W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman and Danny Scarth.

Officer Richard Lambing’s leave-of-absence benefits were not extended, however. Lambing, who was critically injured while assisting the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department on a high-speed chase, cannot work for the Police Department, but he said in a previous interview that he hopes to return “in some capacity.”

Lambing, 41, cannot hear after the crash and requires a walker with wheels or a wheelchair, but he said in an email that he would like to work at the training academy.

The city staff had recommended denying extended benefits to both officers. Assistant City Manager Susan Alanis said the city has to consider its ability to maintain police staffing, the ability of permanently injured officers to carry out the requirements of an officer, and maintaining the same standards for all employees.

As of last week, the Police Department had 20 officers injured in the line of duty working limited duties and 25 other officers not allowed to work at all.

“The chief needs to be able to maintain police staffing; in addition there are several essential functions of a police officer that include forcible arrest in the job description,” Alanis said. “We need to ensure we have consistent standards for employees.”

Alanis also showed how much money the officers would make if the benefits were not extended. If Ramsey continues to work as an officer in addition to receiving lifetime income benefits, she makes about $114,000 annually, according to city documents. If she takes a disability retirement, her income shrinks to about $86,000.

Standing by police

Bivens, however, said the issue is not just about finances, but also about standing by officers injured while serving the public.

“I can’t look at you in this situation on a chart,” Bivens told Ramsey. “I just can’t. Because one thing I know, and this isn’t going to sit well with the establishment, but this city expects us to take care of our officers. … I can’t get away from the fact that your injuries came because you were an officer. That is hard for me to detach.”

Ramsey’s 16-year-old daughter, Kelsey, told the council about learning how to take care of her mom at age 5, and learning how to use an ATM and pump gas at the gas station when she was 8.

“I don’t resent her asking me for my help, I don’t resent her at all, but the fact is that I resent that I have to stand here tonight and I have to see her fight every day for her benefits and really her job,” Kelsey Ramsey said. “She has already had her ability to walk taken away from her, and I lost my childhood, so I’m asking you to please don’t take this away from us, too.”

Though the city has said it could offer Lisa Ramsey a position as a civilian, she contends that she could still act as a police officer, fulfilling other duties in the department. She has been working as an investigator in the backgrounds unit.

Without the extension and working as a general employee, Ramsey said, she would have been forced to medically retire, since periodic surgeries require her to take leaves of absence, which are currently covered under the leave-of-absence benefits, and then she would make about 70 percent of what she makes normally.

Ramsey said she cannot afford to lose her work salary because she incurs extra expenses stemming from her injury. For example, she can’t mow her own lawn, so she has a yard service.

Though Ramsey said she was relieved by the vote in her behalf, she was saddened for Lambing.

Holding onto hope

Lambing would actually make more on the disability retirement, $102,400 compared with $78,000 annually, but Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association, said the extension wasn’t about the money.

“It’s never been about the money for Rich. It is about being dedicated to public service; it is about being part of an organization that is bigger than you. It is about holding onto the hope that he can get better and return. Unfortunately, the council didn’t see that,” Van Houten said.

Jordan said the difference in the two situations is the ability to work.

“While it is not a dollars and cents decision, it really came down to: Officer Lambing is not able to work. Officer Ramsey is,” Jordan said.

“Really the only issue was your heart and I let my heart move me,” Jordan said of Ramsey’s situation.

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