Judge gives FBI deadline to resume training disabled veteran Justin Slaby

November 22, 2013

A federal judge on Friday gave the FBI a deadline to start re-training an Army veteran who was taken out of the agency's academy because of concerns about his prosthetic left hand — bringing to an end months of legal wrangling after a jury’s decision that the veteran was qualified to train in spite of his disability.

The judge’s decision is something of a second victory for 31-year-old Justin Slaby, who won a discrimination suit against the FBI earlier this year. While the FBI can still appeal the case, the order — at least for now — gives Slaby a concrete path to becoming a special agent.

“This is a great result in the sense that not only will the American people have Justin Slaby, but it opens the doors to other veterans who have overcome wartime injuries so that they can serve us upon their return,” said John W. Griffin Jr., one of Slaby’s lawyers. “We’re absolutely excited about it.”

An FBI spokesman declined to comment.

The case itself is simple, though it has dragged on for years. After Slaby — whose left hand was blown off by a defective “flash-bang” grenade in 2004 — passed basic fitness-for-duty tests and was admitted to the FBI’s training academy in 2011, instructors removed him, concluding that he could not safely fire a gun with his prosthetic hand. He disagreed, sued and won a verdict that deemed him qualified to train as a special agent and gave him $75,000 in damages.

The FBI agreed to re-train Slaby, of Stafford County, but then balked at when and how that training would begin.

The 12-page order from federal district Judge Anthony J. Trenga requires the FBI to start training Slaby on his own by April 1, or — if the FBI can put together a class of other trainees — by June 1. Lawyers for the FBI had asked Trenga not to impose any deadline on when to resume Slaby’s training, saying the federal budget cuts known as sequestration had left them unable to put together an academy class, and it would be costly and detrimental to Slaby’s learning to train him outside of a normal group.

Slaby's lawyers had argued that Slaby did not need the traditional teaching in a group because of his military experience and his non-agent work with the FBI’s hostage rescue team. And at a hearing earlier this week, Slaby himself offered to use the damages he was awarded to pay the $70,000 cost of his training. He told a judge that he was concerned not just with money, but with becoming a special agent.

“I went, I fought for it, I won,” Slaby said. “I’m flabbergasted that we’re still arguing over the semantics of it.”

An FBI official said at the hearing the agency could not take Slaby’s offer.

The FBI had also argued against imposing any restrictions that might prevent trainers from expelling Slaby for a reason unrelated to his shooting with the prosthetic hand. Trenga declined to issue an injunction against the FBI, but said in his order the agency would need the court’s approval to dismiss Slaby from training again.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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