Md. Police Officials' Disability Retirement Probed
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Federal investigators are probing the disability retirement packages of two former assistant police chiefs in Montgomery County and appear keenly interested in how one of them was able to secure a subsequent job heading the Gaithersburg police department, according to subpoenas reviewed yesterday.
As part of what federal authorities described in the subpoenas to the county and city as a "criminal investigation of a suspected felony," the investigators are seeking information about William C. O'Toole and John A. King, both of whom receive tax-free disability payments because of back injuries suffered while on the Montgomery force. King is now Gaithersburg's chief, and O'Toole is executive director of the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy.
The probe comes as county leaders are examining the disability retirement system. Over the past decade, 91 percent of Montgomery County police officers who applied for disability retirement benefits received them, and in the past four years, more than 60 percent of all Montgomery officers who retired have been collecting service-related disability payments. By comparison, no officers in Fairfax County have retired on service-related disability since 2000, and three officers retired on disability in Howard County during the same period.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and the County Council are working to make changes to what they say is a troubled system through legislation and possible union negotiations.
The investigators have asked Gaithersburg to turn over financial, medical and personnel records on King. The subpoena to city officials shows that the federal agents are interested in how King presented his fitness for the job and whether that conflicted with statements or documents he submitted to the county about his disability retirement.
The subpoena asks how the job was advertised and whether King was required to "meet any standard for health, physical fitness or ability to perform the duties of a police officer." It also asks for video, photographs or police reports that document King's personal participation in arrests, search warrants or "other non-supervisory police activity."
It also seeks "all documents relating to any subsequent modification of any such qualifications, conditions and requirements" for the chief's job.
According to an advertisement for the job posted in the January 2007 edition of the Police Chief magazine, candidates were required to be certified by the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission "prior to or as soon as possible after hire."
Such a certification, according to state regulations, requires a medical doctor to state that an applicant is "physically able to perform the duties of a police officer as determined by the employing law enforcement agency."
King's attorney, Richard Finci, said yesterday that his client disclosed to Gaithersburg officials in April 2007 that the job description might not fit him. In an April 26, 2007, e-mail to a Gaithersburg official, King said he had applied for disability retirement from Montgomery and asked the city to change the job description from meeting "police officer" requirements to meeting "chief of police" requirements, which do not carry the same physical fitness standards.
"I have spoken with the staff at the Maryland training commission about this," King wrote in the e-mail, according to his attorney, "and they are in agreement that I can retire from MCP on a service-connected disability retirement and be a Maryland certified chief of police."
Finci said that King fully disclosed his physical condition and that Gaithersburg officials had "full knowledge of his back issues" before they offered him the job. "John King did everything he was asked to do," Finci said.