CHICAGO – An appellate panel has supported a Cook County judge's decision to deny a disability pension to a suburban police officer who claimed his police experiences traumatized him, finding the officer's claims were dubious.
Justice Cynthia Cobbs delivered the ruling May 1, with concurrence from Justices Nathaniel Howse Jr. and David Ellis of the Illinois First District Appellate Court. The ruling upheld a decision by Cook County Circuit Judge Celia Gamrath, which in turn upheld a decision by the Oak Lawn Police Pension Fund Board of Trustees in a case denying a line-of-duty disability pension to police officer Daniel Miller.
"Miller’s testimony consistently contradicted his own police reports and other police officer testimony," Cobbs wrote.
Miller served on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1987 to 1991, then remained in the Marine Reserves. He joined the Oak Lawn Police Department in 1996. In 2004 and 2007, he returned to active duty with the Marines, serving tours in Iraq. Miller was in combat and said he killed a 12-year-old who had pointed a rifle at him, according to his court filings.
Miller returned to civilian life and to the Oak Lawn Police Department. In April 2010, the Veterans Administration gave Miller an 80 percent disability — 30 percent for a non-combat physical injury suffered in Iraq and 50 percent for combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder.
Miller was cleared for police duty and during the next several years, he claimed he handled four calls involving deaths that emotionally troubled him.
Miller was also disciplined for yelling obscenities at another officer in October 2010, court papers said. In March 2014, the same day he was served with divorce papers, he displayed a gun at a bar while off duty, then pointed the gun at responding officers, court papers said. He was suspended and the following April, he filed for line-of-duty disability benefits, citing distress caused by the four death calls. The requested pension would equal 65 percent of his salary.
In November 2014, he was charged in another incident with DUI and aggravated assault, according to court papers.
After a hearing, with testimony from Miller, the Oak Lawn Police Pension Fund Board granted him a non-duty pension, but denied a line-of-duty pension, finding any psychological disability was not connected to police work. The board based its determination on Miller's alleged "pattern of misrepresentation and exaggeration as to the alleged cause of his disability."
In December 2016, Miller went to Cook County Circuit Court to overturn the board, but Judge Gamrath refused. Miller then appealed.
Appellate Justice Cobbs also agreed Miller did not deserve the sought after pension, because he was not believable.
"The plaintiff is not entitled to line-of-duty disability pension benefits where the medical evidence demonstrates that plaintiff's disability did not result from any specific identifiable act during his tenure on the police force. Additionally, the plaintiff's testimony was properly discredited," Cobbs wrote.
Cobbs noted examples in which Miller "lacked credibility."
Miller testified to the pension board he did not receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder prior to responding to a murder-suicide in August 2010. However, the record revealed Miller previously underwent “intensive counseling” in connection with his military service, and as early as April 27, 2010, had been diagnosed and granted military-related disability for PTSD.
In another instance, Miller said he witnessed a suicide after responding to a call, but did not mention it in any police report he filed. Further, his story was contradicted by the police dispatch log and testimony from other officers, Cobbs pointed out.
Miller has been represented by the Law Offices of Jerome F. Marconi of Chicago.
The pension fund board has been represented by Richard J. Reimer & Associates of suburban Hinsdale.