Senator wants law changed for injured officers after FOX 8 investigation

Published: May. 3, 2018 at 3:06 PM CDT|Updated: May. 3, 2018 at 3:38 PM CDT
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(WVUE) - After a state board slashed pensions for injured officers, a state senator said he wants changes made to the law.

Sen. Troy Carter calls the whole thing disturbing.

"The last thing you should worry about is how you're going to care for your family," Carter said.

That's his reaction to our story that first detailed moves by the Municipal Police Employees Retirement System to slash the pensions of former officers critically wounded in the line of duty.

"My staff, I understand, is making overtures to try to figure out what exactly we can do and what they can do," Carter said. "If a legislative remedy is needed, then we can kinda run those traps simultaneously with the hopes of getting this resolved."

We first introduced you to Chris Ahner when he spoke at a board of trustees meeting last month in Baton Rouge.

"I got hit by a car going 70 miles per hour, I broke my neck, my hips have been fractured, both of my legs nearly ripped completely off," Ahner explained to the board.

He is irate over the board's decision to slash his lifetime pension from 100 percent to just 40 percent. The board also asked the former NOPD officer to pay back more than $200,000 in payments he's already received. The father of three calls the decision crippling.

"I was mad, I was hurt - better term, I was betrayed by the board members elected by us members to take care of us," Ahner said.

In February of 2000, a fellow drunk police officer slammed into Ahner as he was on the side of the road performing a traffic stop. The force of the crash propelled his body into the windshield of another vehicle. He spent months in the hospital, unable to walk.

His recovery was grueling. Today, 18 years later, rods and pins hold his limbs together.

"Both right and left leg, that's where the hardware is," Ahner said.

He and his wife describe the toll his injuries took on their family as life changing.

Jennifer Ahner tearfully recounts: "I'm the one that plays ball with the kids, I'm the one that taught them to ride a bike, and I know he'd like to."

Doctors only gave Ahner a slim chance of walking again, which makes his recovery that much more remarkable.

"You can be critically injured, catastrophically injured, and not be able to function as a police officer and still be able to function in life," Ahner said.

In 2003, the law pertaining to disability benefits was rewritten. It states that if someone loses the total use of a limb because of injuries suffered on or after July 1, 2003, they're eligible for a full pension. But before that date is another story. Ahner contends, although he didn't lose a limb, he can't perform the functions of a police officer.

At last month's board meeting, his daughter shared her frustration.

"Tell me how it makes any logical sense that a person after 2003 qualifies for 100 percent with a bi-lateral knee injury but a person before 2003 who has lived with a 100 percent qualifying knee injury, for more time, does not? That makes no sense," Amanda Ahner Gritten said.

Chris Ahner isn't the only one affected by the law.

Former Monroe police officers Paul Brown and Jeff Bailes, also both critically injured in the line of duty before 2003, received notice that their pensions would be slashed to 40 percent.

"I would never want nobody to imagine the feeling I had when I got my letter," Brown said.

Bailes adds, "They disregarded their own doctors' recommendations and took my retirement anyway. It's worrying about if you're going to lose your house or not. I took a job here in Columbia to try to offset some of the stuff that I lost."

"Costly, it's frustrating. You go through a lot of misery and your family gets hurt along the way with it," Brown added.

Both men filed suit against the board. Bailes' attorney said he actually won his lawsuit, filed in district court in Baton Rouge, with a judge awarding him his full pension plus money that had been withheld and attorney's fees.

James Carroll explains, "Mr. Bailes was completely successful, and they are in the process of appealing that because they don't want to pay it."

For now, the former officers' hopes rest with lawmakers.

"The Legislature needs to get a hold of this and make this right," Ahner said.

"Clearly that law needs to be re-looked at, needs to be tweaked, and I'm more than happy to be part of that solution," Carter said.

Sen. Carter thinks the affected officers should be grandfathered in should a new law take effect.

"That certainly would make sense that you would protect the people that are in, but I think not only the ones that are grandfathered, but I think it makes good sense prospectively going forward that we take care of all of our peace officers," Carter said.

Because, as he explains, people who put their lives on the line every day for citizens deserve to be taken care of when they suffer life-changing injuries.

Carter said at this point in the legislative session, there's no current bill that could be amended, so he'll likely be introducing new legislation concerning disability benefits next March. He also said he's working with the pension board to see if there's anything the board can do on its end to remedy the situation before the Legislature gets involved.

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