COVID-19 ended their careers — and now a small group of New York City police officers are hoping the city will give them the same disability pensions they would get for any other injuries sustained in the line of duty.
“I have an oxygen cylinder with me 24/7 and I need help with everything – taking a shower, walking, going up and down the stairs,” Lt. Yvan said. Pierre Louis, a 31-year-old veteran who received last rites when he contracted COVID at the start of the pandemic and was in a coma for 168 days.
Whether Pierre Louis and other cops seriously ill with the coronavirus will receive a pension will be decided by the board of directors of the city’s police pension fund.
In the final months of former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, city officials refused to approve COVID-19 pensions until disabilities related to the disease could be further investigated.
It is not yet clear how Mayor Eric Adams’ administration will deal with this issue. But the cops involved say they can’t work and would like to support their family as best they can while they grapple with life-altering medical issues.
“I’m not the same person I was before,” said Pierre Louis, 60, who fell ill in March 2020 while working with prisoners at Manhattan Central Booking, 100 Center St.
“There were no masks,” he said. “The only people who had masks were judges and lawyers. I worked there one day, but one day was enough to make me sick.
He has since been ill and will likely be declared disabled by the NYPD when he files for retirement.
Whether Pierre Louis receives a disability pension could depend on what the Pensions Board decides in the case of Detective Mike Smith.
The veteran Bronx detective boasts that he never took a sick day in more than 30 years on the force until he was struck – which he says could have happened either when he was interviewed a stabbing victim at St. Barnabas Hospital, either while visiting Rikers Island.
Like Pierre Louis, Smith, 58, ended up on a ventilator and given the last rites, and still got away with it.
He’s a shell of himself, and at one point was so weak he couldn’t lift the iPad his family gave him while he was in the hospital. He has stage 4 kidney disease, nerve damage in his feet and hardened arteries in his ankles.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, but I’m one blood test away from being back on dialysis,” Smith said. “The old adage, ‘Can you walk and chew gum at the same time?’ I can’t because I have stabilization problems. I have to concentrate when I walk because if I don’t, I stumble.
NYPD doctors declared him disabled, unable to work as a cop again. But for now, he is sick and also waiting to see if the police superannuation fund approves his disability pension.
To get a pension, Smith and other COVID-affected cops will need a majority vote from the 12-member Pension Fund board. Police unions have six votes on the board of directors, and various city officials, including the mayor and police commissioner, have the other six votes.
Nick Cifuni, a disability attorney who works for four of the police unions, said the city seemed concerned in recent months that approving forever sick cops for disability pensions could open the floodgates. if other officers are also afflicted.
A key question, Cifuni said, is whether Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell will side with the unions. On Friday, the NYPD would not say whether Sewell has taken a position on the matter.
Lou Turco, who heads the Lieutenants Benevolent Association, noted that cops “didn’t have the luxury of working from home or not coming to work.”
Smith, who some days exercises as much as possible and others spends 20 hours in bed, hopes the city realizes that he and others like him are not looking for handouts – rather just compensation for having worked during a pandemic when much of the city was shut down.
“I did what I was supposed to do,” he said. “We all did.”
Paul DiGiacomo, head of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, said the city had “an obligation to provide Mike with every type of job-related benefit possible”.
“He deserved it and deserves nothing less,” DiGiacomo said.
With Michael Garland
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