MOUNT VERNON — The city of Mount Vernon’s requirement that a former police sergeant commit to a fit for duty examination was unjust according to the sergeant, and he plans to argue that point when he pleads for his job back during arbitration on Sept. 17.
On Dec. 3, 2012, Mark Perkins returned to the Mount Vernon Police Department following an injury leave that lasted several months. He told the News he provided the city with a return to work notice from his doctor. However, his stay at his administrative supervisor position was short lived as he was sent home later that day.
“I worked 3 1/2 hours and they sent me home,” Perkins said.
According to an email sent from Chief Mike Merrilees to Perkins on Nov. 30, acquired through a public records request earlier this year, Merrilees stated that the last report he heard on Perkins’ condition was that “temporary restrictions” remained. If Perkins was planning to return on Dec. 3 and the restrictions remained, Merrilees suggested that Perkins should request to “return to restricted duty,” which is at the “sole discretion of the city.” If the restrictions were lifted, Merrilees asked that Perkins bring the appropriate documentation.
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, “there shall be no light duty or transitional work assignments.” However, in the case of injury leave, “restricted (light) duty” is possible but not guaranteed.
In the short time Perkins was at the police station Dec. 3, he had conversations with Capt. George Hartz regarding his return to work and whether or not the city would require him to have a physical first. Perkins shared with the News secretly recorded audio of his conversation with Hartz.
“Is there a medical evaluation that you guys want me to do,” Perkins asked Hartz.
“At this point in time, I am not aware of one,” Hartz said. “... I recommended to the chief that I think this is not a bad idea.” He went on to refer to another officer that had a surgery in the previous year and stated he believed that the officer should have been required to have a physical “to protect the city’s interest in the future, but for whatever reason, that hasn’t taken place,” Hartz said.
“... If it’s your position, or Mike (Merrilees)’s position or Dave Glass’ position, or whoever, that you are going to want a medical evaluation then I’d like to go do that,” said Perkins.
“At this point, there is not going to be a medical evaluation with the conversation I just had at the chief’s office,” Hartz responded.
Perkins said there was no conversations that day that explained to him why he was not permitted to return to work. Weeks later, on Jan. 10, the city requested that he have his electronically produced return to work slip signed.
On Jan. 14, nearly six weeks after Perkins was sent home, he had a phone conversation with Glass addressing his plan to visit his doctor the following day, along with Glass, to acquire that signature. The safetyservice director told Perkins he was unavailable as he was leaving for vacation.
“You told me you were going to take me down there, so I told him Tuesday would be a good day,” Perkins told Glass.
“I was offering because I thought you didn’t want to go down for some reason. What do you want me to do, go down there with you,” Glass said.
“No, that’s quite all right,” said Perkins. “... And that’s the last thing I need to get me back to work right?”
“Yes, its the last thing we need,” said Glass. “Get it in here so we can see what kind of restrictions he’s got. But, you know that’s the only thing I can think of. Can you think of anything else?”
“Well the paperwork, all he’s going to do is sign the slip that you got,” Perkins said.
“So, you have no restrictions then,” Glass said.
“That’s correct,” said Perkins.
“OK, get it in here,” Glass said.
Perkins said his doctor signed the return to work slip and he reported to work on Jan. 22. However, he continues to question the need for an ink signature when the city accepted an electronic document that stated he would be off work for the injury leave.
“The same slip of paper that they would not allow me to return to work on, the one in February (2012) that said I would be off work, that was not signed in ink either and they paid me six months salary on that one but won’t let me return to work,” Perkins said.
“What happened between Dec. 3, and Jan. 22, when I came back to work, they just needed ink on the paper,” Perkins said. “Nobody wanted a physical, it was never mentioned until Feb. 5.”
On that day, Perkins received a letter from Merrilees stating the city was going to send him for an evaluation.
“The purpose of this examination is to evaluate, and conclude definitively, your ability to perform the essential physical tasks of a police officer,” Merrilees said. He continued to state that the exam would be independent of worker’s compensation and would be “conducted to verify, for liability purposes, your ability to perform adequately.”
The letter also required Perkins to provide the following medical records:
•“The narrative section of all of your physician visits or the visitation notes
•Any reports generated from any diagnostic tests completed (not the films)
•The final “return to work” excuse that states you may return to work without restrictions
•Any other medical record that you have received pertaining to this injury.”
The collective bargaining agreement addresses physical examinations under the injury leave article.
“Any employee who is granted Injury Leave Pay Status shall, at the request of the Safety-Service Director, submit himself to a physical examination by a physician of the city’s choice. The city shall pay for the physical examinations. In the event the physician finds that such person is able to resume his duties, the employee may be ordered to do so.”
The request for an examination was reissued in early March by the safety-service director, the same day Merrilees dated a letter to Perkins stating the Feb. 5 request included Glass when he said “we” wanted him to participate in the examination.
“When you look at the collective bargaining agreement, you only have a few instances when you have a right to request a physical,” said John Scaccia, Perkins’ attorney. “The first instance is when a person is off on injury leave before they come back on board they have a right to ask for a physical. The difference between that and what happened here is that before Mark came back to work, he said, ‘I’m here. I’m ready to work. Here’s my doctor’s note and I have a full release.’ It was accepted at that point.”
Glass declined to comment about the actions leading up to Perkins’ termination on April 19, stating it was “highly inappropriate” considering the upcoming arbitration and pending federal lawsuit filed by Perkins on April 18.
- Police Captain George Hartz
- Police Chief Mike Merrilees
- Sgt. Robert “Kit” Morgan
- Mount Vernon Police officer sues chief, city for discrimination April 19, 2013
- Perkins fired from MVPD April 22, 2013
- News investigation uncovers ‘fishy’ deal May 24, 2013
- Motorcycle debate causes rift with Mount Vernon Police Department May 30, 2013
- City policy protects whistleblowers June 3, 2013
- BCI investigating MVPD chief, sergeant June 10, 2013
- Storage, scrap sale add to MVPD woes June 11, 2013
- Merrilees’ evaluations unimpressive June 12, 2013
- Morgan qualified, respected June 13, 2013
- No felony cases for MVPD detective June 19, 2013
- City officials get training in records retention June 28, 2013
- Tapes tell tale of MVPD deals July 1, 2013
- Officer: It’s ‘miserable’ at MVPD July 9, 2013
- Same test given for captain, chief July 10, 2013
- City denies claims in Perkins lawsuit July 12, 2013
- Merrilees, Morgan placed on leave July 13, 2013
- Retired officers concerned about future of MVPD July 15, 2013
- Acting police chief Hartz suspended August 19, 2013
- Details emerge in suspension August 21, 2013
- Perkins questions validity of physical request September 3, 2013
- Accounts of alleged altercation differ September 4, 2013
- Mark Perkins: I want my job back September 5, 2013
- Mount Vernon Police Department files released months after request September 6, 2013
- Perkins’ evaluations show good, bad sides September 6, 2013
- City waits while BCI investigates October 12, 2013
- Twitter talk sparks 9-1-1 policy changes October 18, 2013
- City embarrassed by length of investigation November 16, 2013
- Lawsuit filed against MVPD officers November 20, 2013
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