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Young Officers Retire : Stress Pensions: LAPD Cases Grow

POLICE PENSIONS: CASHING IN ON STRESS The Times spent several months examining city and court records to document a startling increase in stress disability pensions in the Los Angeles Police Department. First of three articles.

February 03, 1985|CLAIRE SPIEGEL and ROBERT WELKOS | Times Staff Writers

The psychiatrists who examined the officer, Eduardo Jiminez, 34, believed that Jiminez was truly psychotic because of the tales he told about his prior lives in which he "wrote the legends on the great pyramids" of the Aztec Indians and defended the Count of Monte Cristo.

Jiminez, who receives a $1,522 monthly pension, contended that his problems were caused when he was ostracized by fellow officers who called him a "faggot" and "militant Puerto Rican."

The board decided that Jiminez's stress was not job-induced, but Superior Court Judge Thomas Johnson disagreed, saying in a brief ruling only that Jiminez deserved a tax-free stress pension because his disability "was caused by the discharge of his duties as a department member."

Johnson said he does not remember the case, but he recalled: "It didn't take an awful lot to show that the stress was work-induced to entitle a person to a pension."

Increasingly, attorneys representing police officers in trouble--with the department or with the law--are arguing that the police environment is to blame.

'It's a Cry for Help'

Orange County attorney Seth Kelsey said: "If the officer is engaged in an alleged illegality, it's because of stress at work. It's a cry for help. . . . I've never had a case where an employee has committed a crime and it has not been the product of a stress-related (job) injury."

Kelsey helped win a stress pension last year for Stephen Rasmussen, 36, after he was fired for various offenses, including drunk driving and the alleged extortion of a Calexico jeweler.

It was not disputed that Rasmussen's history of disciplinary problems stemmed largely from alcoholism. But although at least one doctor said that Rasmussen was predisposed to drinking, Kelsey successfully argued that his alcoholism was caused by police work.

"The majority of pension disability applicants have some disciplinary background," Mattingly of the pension department said. "It just seems to go hand in hand."

Former Sgt. Thomas Freeman, 45, recently won a stress pension of $1,780 a month after he had been fired for shoplifting. Freeman claimed that he stole some clothing from a department store because he was under stress from working on the vice detail four years ago.

Punishing Himself

He told the pension board in December that he had set himself up to get caught in an unconscious attempt to punish himself for visiting adult bookstores and also because he was depressed over the plight of his paraplegic brother-in-law.

Freeman, who until his firing had an exemplary record, told board members only minutes before they awarded him a pension that he now feels "great" about himself and is no longer seeing a psychiatrist.

Gary Lammers was a super-achiever and SWAT team leader until he ran afoul of top brass in 1977. He filed for a stress pension after his career suddenly collapsed.

Lammers had been assigned as a bodyguard to Los Angeles City Councilman Arthur K. Snyder, and he wound up being accused of having an affair with the woman who was then Snyder's wife.

After long closed-door conversations with Gates, then the department's assistant chief, Lammers was bounced from the prestigious SWAT team to a beat in Watts.

Judge Orders Pension

Soon thereafter, Lammers applied for a stress pension. The board finally granted him $1,700 a month on orders of Superior Court Judge Vernon Foster. The judge ordered that Lammers be given a pension if the department could not give him a job. And the department said there was no police job that city psychologists would give him clearance to do.

Now a licensed general contractor, Lammers declined to discuss his case, saying only, "The pension the city gave me is not that great an amount of money."

Brian Weld, 34, took sick leave the day after he was advised by the Police Department's Internal Affairs Division in 1980 that he was one of several officers in the 77th Street Division being investigated for protecting bookmakers. He later pleaded no contest to a charge of filing false arrest reports and received two years' probation.

But before the case was resolved, Weld persuaded the pension board that his stress stemmed from three shooting incidents that predated the misconduct allegations. The board awarded him a pension that now amounts to $1,444 a month.

"I got 10 years of service in the department," Weld said. "I feel I paid my dues. If the city felt I didn't deserve it (a stress pension), they wouldn't have given it to me."

Assistant City Atty. Siegfried Hillmer, who has been the board's legal counsel for 15 years, said that whenever an officer's career ends in discharge or discipline, "the potential of filing a stress disability claim is great and there's an equally good chance for an award."

"Why not go for it?" Hillmer asked. "It's tempting. The stakes are high. The risks are minimal. And the proof appears to be easy."

NEXT: The pension board.

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