D.C. police officer Sherrie Forester loved hitting the streets and making arrests. During her 19-year career, she has won awards for taking down drug peddlers and getting valuable tips about homicides and other serious crimes.
Then, in May of last year, she badly hurt her right wrist when she fell down stairs at her home, she said. She has been on limited duty since, unable to pull the trigger of her gun.
Now the department is trying to retire her.
Forester, 46, said she has been unfairly targeted under a new law designed to weed out a large number of officers who are too sick or injured to work. She said that her injury was initially misdiagnosed and that surgery might repair her wrist, allowing her to return to full duty.
"It's not fair," Forester said. "They shouldn't judge this as black-and-white. I did a good job for the city. This shouldn't be happening."
After her accident, Forester's doctor and others at the D.C. Police and Fire Clinic told her she had tendinitis, she said. They prescribed rest. Meanwhile, Forester has been working in the office of the 1st Police District.
Her wrist seems not to have improved, and tests in February revealed that she had torn cartilage. She will need surgery to be able to work full time again.
Because Forester had been on limited duty for so long, the department moved to retire her under the new law.
Her case is pending before the city's Police and Firefighters' Retirement and Relief Board, which is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter next Thursday. Forester said she is trying to obtain a letter from her doctor discussing the option for surgery and her prognosis. She hopes the letter and her testimony will persuade the board to give her more time to undergo the procedure and heal.
If the board decides to retire her, Forester said she can expect to earn about 30 percent of her pay for the rest of her life. If she retired after 25 years, she would earn 62.5 percent. She said her situation is particularly unfair because some officers have been on limited duty for several years and never tried to return to the job.
"You should take into consideration what that person has done for this department in determining whether to retire them," Forester said. "Why are you rushing me? Why couldn't you put me at the back of the list? If I have surgery and it doesn't work, then I understand them retiring me. But give me that chance."
Forester has drawn praise from her supervisors over the years.
Cmdr. Thomas McGuire of the 1st District, who supervises 360 officers, said he admires Forester's work ethic.
"She's a good officer," said McGuire, who declined to discuss Forester's medical status or the retirement process. "I can give her an assignment and she carries it through to the end. She's thorough. She is very good at what she does."
Forester is being represented by the D.C. police labor committee of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1.
The union has been critical of the retirement process and the law on cutting the rolls of limited-duty officers. Sgt. Gregory I. Greene, chairman of the committee, did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment on her case. Forester, who was raised in Kansas, came to the District in the mid-1980s. She joined the police force in 1985 because, she said, it seemed as if it would be fun. She worked on patrol for three years and then became a plainclothes investigator. She said she has spent the majority of her career working in the 1st District or for the major narcotics unit.
In 1990, she was honored for her work in taking down a "notorious" drug dealer in Southwest, according to a letter of commendation written by a prosecutor to Isaac Fulwood Jr., the police chief at the time. In the late 1990s and in 2000, she was commended several times for drug and gun investigations.
The month before her injury, Forester and other plainclothes detectives seized six handguns and an assault rifle in one night.
The retirement proceedings have been particularly hard on Forester's oldest daughter, Dyana Forester, 25. She said the department owes her mother more time to let her injury heal. She vividly recalls being teased and threatened as a youngster by drug dealers annoyed by her mother's work. Her mother even arrested some of her friends and their parents.
"She put herself on the line," Dyana Forester said.