By Bryan Avila, Backgate Contributing Author
OK, I’m scared now. Not just for myself, but for my family as well. As I was checking the news on the phone this morning, I came across an article that caught my attention. It was titled “South Carolina Cops Not Entitled To Workers' Comp If They Are Traumatized By Killing Someone.” Needless to say I clicked on the link and proceeded to read. By the time I was done reading it, my heart sank and I thought I was going to throw up.
Here are the cliff notes on the article: Deputy shoots suspect. Suspect dies. Deputy develops PTSD as a result of the shooting and files for Worker’s Comp since he can no longer work. Claim is denied, denied, and denied (from his initial filing all the way through the SC Supreme Court). SC Supreme Court in a 3-2 decision said that officers are trained in deadly force and since there is a probability of having to kill someone, it is not "extraordinary and unusual" to qualify for benefits as the statute currently reads. The opinion also mentioned that five other states -- including Hawaii, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Oregon -- have dropped the "unusual and extraordinary" provision.
WHAT???? I don’t live in any of those five states! I just may be screwed….
Now, I will tell you up front that I am no legal scholar, legal analyst and certainly don’t have an alphabet soup after my name. However, I do understand the ramifications of legal decisions and the precedent that they can set.
My knee-jerk reaction when I was done reading (aside from wanting to throw up) was that the SC Supreme Court in a nutshell stated that an officer shooting and killing someone was ordinary and usual/common practice (remember, they said it was not extraordinary and unusual so therefore the opposite must be true). After a few minutes it got me thinking about how it applies to corrections.
As correctional officers, we are trained in hostage situations and we know full well that we may be taken hostage at any time. We are trained in riots since we may be involved in one at any time. We are trained in deadly force since we may have to use it to protect the life of another or ourselves at any time. But even though we know all these incidents may occur, AND we train for them, they are not the norm. They are the exception, not the rule.
We know and understand the risks that we face at any given time. The job that police officers do is not that different than what we do. They enforce laws, we enforce policy and procedure. They write tickets. We write a disciplinary. They arrest someone and take them to jail. We cuff them up and take them to seg. They respond to emergencies. So do we. The only real differences between them and us are that they get a different title than us and while they don’t know who the criminals are while working the road (for the most part), we know exactly who and where they are.
Does this ruling now mean that if I am taken hostage, and as a result develop PTSD to the extent that I can no longer work, I may not be entitled to Worker’s Comp? What if I had to shoot someone? What if I had to take their life with my bare hands in order to save mine? Since I do not live in Hawaii, Michigan, New Jersey, New York or Oregon, I may not be covered. In these tough financial times where every state and agencies are looking to cut back somewhere, they may look at it as say “Hey! Another way to save!” Lord, I hope not…
This last June, a Correctional Officer at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, South Carolina was held hostage for over 6 hours and assaulted. A tactical response is what terminated the situation. Simple math:
- SC Deputy + shooting/killing suspect + PTSD = No worker’s comp
- SC CO + being hostage/assaulted + PTSD? = screwed?????
Editor's note: Corrections.com and Backgate Website Contributing author, Bryan Avila started working as a Police Officer in 1994 while attending Norwich University in Northfield, VT. In 1999 he began working for the Vermont Dept of Corrections while still working as a Part-Time Police Officer. In 2007 he left public service until 2009 when he began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. - Note; the views expressed within this article are opinion and do not reflect those of the TDCJ (Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice) in any way.