A former Chicago police officer who fatally shot an innocent bystander is now asking the city for disability pay to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder from the shooting.
Dante Servin, who gunned down 22-year-old Rekia Boyd in 2012, is trying to collect up to $78,000 a year in disability pay, the Chicago Tribune reported today. He said in an application to the city's police pension board that he is suffering from PTSD from the shooting and cannot work because of it.
Servin was off-duty and in plainclothes when he confronted a group of four young black people after midnight in March 2012 and argued with them over noise. He claimed one of them—Antonio Cross—yelled at him and pulled out a gun. In response, Servin shot at the group while driving away, injuring Cross and striking Boyd in the back of her head. She died the next day.
Cross said he was holding a cell phone, and no gun was found at the scene of the shooting other than Servin's.
The officer was charged with involuntary manslaughter in Boyd's shooting, but acquitted in 2015 on a legal technicality, with a judge saying he should have been charged with murder. An independent police review board concluded that he had violated the department's policy on use of force, and Servin resigned in May 2016, two days before a hearing on whether he could be fired.
Now, Servin is claiming that he deserves disability pay. His lawyer, Thomas Pleines, told the police pension board that Servin has been diagnosed with PTSD by a psychologist and also treated by a psychiatrist. He can't work "as a result of the various manifestations of the PTSD," Pleines said in a legal memo to the board, without providing details, the Tribune reported. In his own handwritten note to the board, Servin continued to claim the shooting was in "self-defense."
His application, which could be decided on by the pension board as early as next week, may be denied because Servin did not take all of his sick days, a lawyer for the board told the Tribune.
Either way, because Illinois state law guarantees retired Chicago officers pensions equal to half of their final salary once they serve 20 years and turn 50, Servin will be eligible to collect his annual pension in just three years. If he wins disability pay, that would entitle him to annual payments of up to 75% of his $107,000 salary until the pension kicks in.
It's almost impossible for an officer to lose his or her pension in Chicago—even officers convicted of felonies can still receive them. Stripping Servin of his pension would likely require a change in state law.
Martinez Sutton, Boyd's brother, told the Tribune he didn't think Servin getting disability pay would be fair for his family. "Based on the experience I went through…we have to deal with this mental beating on our own and find our own way through it," he said. "And yet still, they go and hug their officers and make sure they are OK."
Research is conflicted over whether officers suffer long-term mental health effects from shooting someone. A 1989 study found that of 37 police officers involved in shooting incidents, 46% suffered PTSD in the aftermath, and an additional 46% showed some signs of PTSD. But a 2006 study published by the National Institute of Justice that interviewed 113 officers who shot people and found that few had recurrent physical or psychological effects after three months.
But people of color also face PTSD and other mental health issues from the relentless series of episodes like Boyd's shooting. Experiencing racism from police and seeing graphic videos of police shootings can lead to PTSD, Monnica Williams, a clinical psychologist and the director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville, told PBS earlier this year.
“It’s upsetting and stressful for people of color to see these events unfolding,” she said. “It can lead to depression, substance abuse and, in some cases, psychosis."
The pension board and Servin's lawyer did not immediately return requests for comment. We will update if and when we hear back.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.