WOODBURY — In a council room ringed with off-duty cops, Woodbury Ptl. Robert Garish pleaded with the mayor and the city council to re-think his recent dismissal.
Garish was hurt in the line of duty on Aug. 31, 2013, when he tried to serve a warrant on a man outside the Wawa Food Market in Woodbury.
In the resulting fight between the guy they were trying to arrest and three Woodbury officers, two of those cops landed on Garish, his fellow officers say. Garish suffered injuries to both shoulders and a hip.
He went on workman’s compensation leave, earning full pay, according to Woodbury’s policies, while he had surgery to his hip and later a shoulder.
He’s been trying to rehab himself while on workman’s comp, but recently was put through what’s called a Maximum Medical Improvement exam. It was determined he’ll never see more improvement and that he’s fit only for light duty — which the police department doesn’t offer.
He was cut off from workman’s comp on Oct. 8. He has since filed an application for accidental disability retirement. Members of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 122, which represents Woodbury officers, said it usually takes from six to eight months for the state to set a hearing on a disability retirement application.
Garish had about two and a half months of accrued time on the job — not long enough to make it until a hearing.
So other Woodbury officers got together and agreed to donate more than four months of their accumulated time — comp time, vacation, personal time — to Garish.
This reportedly has been done in the city before.
Instead of accepting the offer, the city let Garish go as of Oct. 24, and will cut off his medical benefits at the end of November.
Reading a prepared statement in a voice at times thick with emotion, Garish asked the city officials to change their minds and agree to a plan he laid out. He would use the donated time, but not ask for medical benefits for the next six months.That would mean, he said, that giving him the time he needs to wait for word on his disability pension would not cost the city another dime.
Garish added that, during that time, he would provide an irrevocable letter of resignation which would spell out that, whether he receives the medical pension or not, when the accrued time ran out, he would resign.
“I am not asking for pity, but I am asking for your help to protect myself and my family while I go through this extremely difficult time,” Garish said.
Mike Cramer, the fiery president of Local 122, tried several times to ask Mayor William Volk or the members of the Public Safety Committee about a decision on Garish. Although advised by Solicitor James Pearson not to answer, since it was a personnel issue, Councilwoman Tracy Parker, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, eventually said the committee had not met since January.
“So it’s fair to say they had no impact on Garish’s firing,” said Cramer.
Volk is running for re-election, said Cramer. He vowed to go door-to-door, handing out pamphlets urging the election of the other mayoral candidate, Councilwoman Heather Tierney, if necessary.
“In the eyes of the public and police officers, the meaning of this is that, if they get hurt on our dime, we’re going to throw them out with the trash,” Cramer said
Nick Barbetta, the state delegate for Local 122, said “if this is not rectified tonight, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure it is rectified on Nov. 4.”
“What you’re doing is like what the federal government is doing to our veterans,” said retired Deptford officer George “Spike” Abrams. “These kids get hurt and we’re not going to support them.”
Ptl. Tim Nelson, born and raised in Woodbury, asked members of council, “If we’re willing to give” in terms of accrued time, “why can’t you give?”
When the officers left the council chambers at abut 8:15 p.m. no decision had been made.
But at 10:45 p.m., Volk called to say they couldn't discuss Garish in closed session, but istead appointed a committe of Councilmen Dave Swanson and Lex Lockman, Council President William Fleming and the mayor to look at the propsal made by Garish for the use of donated tme.
And the council directed City Adminstrator Michael Theoka to reopen negotians with the PBA about Garish's fate, said Volk.
"We're definitely going to do what's right," Volk said on the phone. "We need this to happen immediately,even if we need a special meeting," the mayor said.