- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A former St. Mary’s sheriff’s deputy told the county commissioners at a forum Tuesday that he was fired during his recovery from a post-traumatic stress disorder related to a fatal shooting, and he later said he wants his job back so he can retire.
Michael George’s appearance this week before the county officials followed the filing of two civil actions, including a workers’ compensation appeal that he said has been settled, and his recent challenge to a decision by trustees of the sheriff’s office retirement plan.
“I’d like to return back to work as a deputy sheriff, that’s what my ultimate goal is, ... [but] I know that I cannot. I know there’s the reality of it,” he said after his remarks to the commissioners. “It’s an eye-opener when you go through the situation like I had.”
George said that reinstatement with the sheriff’s office would allow him to complete his ongoing treatment to the level of his “maximum” medical improvement, at which time a doctor could give an opinion as to whether George could return to duty, and there could be another opportunity to seek a medical disability retirement.
George, who had attained the rank of corporal at the agency, filed the claim of a post-traumatic stress disorder after shooting and killing a man two years ago in Wildewood. George did go back to work two months after the shooting, he testified last year at a hearing on his claim, until his police dog bit him, and he asked for some time off amid a lingering stomach ailment. The county government contested a workers’ compensation award George received for four months of lost wages and medical expenses.
In January of this year, the sheriff’s retirement board’s trustees issued their opinion upholding a denial of George’s request for disability retirement benefits, and cited the findings of a psychiatrist that George “discontinued treatment when he was having documented progress, and ... simply decided he wanted to pursue another line of work. Common experience dictates that people may have changing attitudes and career preferences as time passes, based on a host of ongoing life experiences, without the experiences and the changes being disabling within the meaning of the retirement plan.”
George opened a trophy and awards shop after he last worked as a sheriff’s deputy in January of 2013, the trustees’ opinion states, and they concluded a year later that “Mr. George has not met his burden of establishing a total and permanent disability within the meaning of the retirement plan.”
The county’s appeal of last year’s worker’s compensation award was still pending in court in early February when Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) said during a brief interview that George was out on what “would be considered sick leave.” George said this week that his employment with the agency was terminated on Feb. 26.
During the commissioners’ forum, George said he was put on administrative leave for six months after his post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, and was granted an additional six-month extension of that status.
“I may improve with more time, but there was no time to be granted,” George said of his ongoing treatment after the September 2012 confrontation that left Stephen Robert Wycoff dead. “I had to take a man’s life. One year was not enough time for me to come to terms with that.”
Rebecca Russell, George’s mother, told the commissioners that she “knew the sheriff’s office was his second family and they would take care of him,” but that the reality proved otherwise.
“The dream that he always had [of a law enforcement career] was crushed because he did his job” during the fatal shooting, Russell said, and because of the county’s government’s response, including a letter from the human resources department thanking her son for his 10 years with the sheriff’s office and encouraging him to “enjoy your retirement.”
“This is just a slap in the face, or [shows] that no one knows what’s going on,” she said, “or a combination of both.”
George asked the commissioners to change the leave policy, and reinstate his employment, a request which was met by a promise to refer the matter to the county’s department of human resources.
“We’ll take it to HR,” Jack Russell (D), the board of commissioners’ president, said. “And thank you for your service.”
Outside the meeting room, George said, “I think that’s fair enough. He seems like a good man of his word.”
St. Mary’s County’s state’s attorney determined shortly after the shooting that George had “no choice” but to fire the gunshots that killed Wycoff. The sheriff’s office also conducted investigations of the matter.
George, 28, testified at last year’s Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission hearing, the transcript states, that Wycoff approached him and another deputy from a stairwell to a walkway bridge where the officers were standing, cursed at them and began punching them, even after he had been doused in the face with pepper spray.
George said this week that the sheriff’s office did not retrieve the handgun and AR-15 rifle it had issued to him until eight days after he lost his job.