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Three Bullets Haunted Officer to a Deserved Stress Pension

Police Pensions: Cashing In On Stress

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

Although the Los Angeles Police Department contends that many officers seeking early retirement have filed phony stress claims, it is generally agreed that officers with genuine psychiatric problems due to job stress should be retired on comfortable pensions.

Lt. Ed Gagnon, who believes the vast majority of claims are unjustified, pointed to William Skiles as an example of an officer who deserves a stress pension.

In the predawn hours of Sept. 28, 1982, Skiles and his partner were patrolling the Hollenbeck area when they surprised a burglar at a service station.

As they got out of their car to investigate, the suspect pulled a gun and fired. Three bullets struck Skiles. Although bleeding from his wounds, Skiles gave chase before falling to the ground and passing out. The suspect was later captured.

For his efforts that night, Skiles was awarded the department's highest honor--the Medal of Valor. Two months later, Skiles, 32, retired from the force with a stress disability pension.

Psychiatrists who interviewed him said he suffered more than physical wounds. One doctor said Skiles suffered post-traumatic stress from the shooting.

The department tried to bring Skiles back by putting him on a light-duty assignment as community relations officer at the Hollenbeck Youth Center, but his depression got worse and, finally, fellow officers urged him to see the department's psychologist.

Skiles told the pension board that one day he was sitting in a car while another officer went into a bank. As he waited, a friend happened to walk up behind his car and Skiles said he was so unnerved that he nearly pulled his gun.

The department took away Skiles' weapon and, last spring, he checked into a psychiatric hospital on two occasions, according to pension officials.

Fred Tredy, a director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, who represented Skiles before the pension board, said taking Skiles' gun away caused him even more stress because he was without protection when he ventured into public.

"It was to the point that he had a hard time even coming downtown," Tredy recalled.

Another officer whose problems illustrate genuine police stress is Lloyd O'Callaghan. He was awarded his stress pension in 1981, two years after he was involved in one of the most controversial police shootings in Los Angeles history.

O'Callaghan found himself the focal point of outrage by the black community and the subject of an intense Police Commission debate after the fatal 1979 shooting of Eulia Love, a 39-year-old black woman who had failed to pay her gas bill.

O'Callaghan and his partner, Officer Edward Hopson, emptied their guns at Love as she prepared to throw an 11-inch kitchen knife at them.

Although both officers were eventually exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing, they were later accused of "serious errors" in judgment and tactics by the Police Commission.

Hopson, who is black, survived the denunciations and became a detective. But the badly shaken O'Callaghan, who is white, gradually became depressed and eventually gave up trying to salvage his career.

"They called me a murderer," O'Callaghan told the pension board in 1981. "I have nightmares. It's a horrendous thing to see."

Chief Daryl F. Gates later expressed sympathy for O'Callaghan, saying he was "just as much a victim of this tragedy as Eulia Love."

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