Iraq War Veteran Charges His Police Department with Discrimination Due to Forced Retirement After PTSD Diagnosis

The Herald News (Fall River, MA)

February 15, 2009, Fall River, MA — A highly decorated city police officer and Iraq war veteran says he is being forced to retire from the Fall River Police Department, alleging that administrators have discriminated against him because of his post-traumatic stress disorder.

Officer Eric Madonna, a 13-year police veteran who also served two tours of duty in Iraq, said he is being “punished” by administrators because of a 2006 high-speed chase from Fall River into Brockton. Madonna apprehended a suspected violent felon after the pursuit, but state police made the arrest.

Police Chief John Souza issued a statement Friday through police spokesman Sgt. Thomas Mauretti after The Herald News inquired about another officer’s report that Madonna had been fired.

“Eric Madonna has not been fired from the Fall River Police Department. He is currently on our payroll, and he is on sick leave,” Mauretti said.

Mauretti declined to comment further, citing personnel restrictions.

Madonna did a one-year stint in Iraq beginning in February 2003, then returned to the war zone in 2004 for a second, 18-month tour. He returned home from Iraq in June 2006.

“My only desire was to be able to return to my civilian job after serving my country faithfully and honorably,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Fall River Police Department administrators continually question my ability to function and perform my official duties.”

Madonna said he was cleared to return to police work last Nov. 4, after being diagnosed and treated for PTSD at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Coatesville, Pa., where he spent three months.

He said he returned to the department with a “clean bill of health” and had no disciplinary problems.

His doctor asked the department that he work a day shift because of sleep problems related to PTSD.

Madonna said that before he was placed on paid sick leave, he was relegated to a desk job in the Identifications Bureau.

“They agreed to put me in the ID Unit at a desk in a dark room with no windows as evidence custodian,” he said. “There was never such a position in the history of the department.”

On Feb. 6, the department issued a statement to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)  that Madonna was out of work sick, regarding “police-related stress issues.”

Madonna said his locker was emptied and his belongings were boxed and left outside his home.

“They threw all my stuff in front of the house, like I was a dog,” he said.

His department-issued firearm was taken away, and he was ordered to surrender his personal guns, which were legal, he said.

“I have PTSD. It’s war. I did two tours in Iraq. I just did what I was told — to serve my country. Then I come home and I’m treated like a criminal,” he said.

Madonna said he’s also been mistreated because of his role in a high-speed car chase Sept. 24, 2006.

That night, Madonna tried to stop a Dodge Caravan occupied by a man who had allegedly struck a juvenile boy with a handgun and threatened to kill him. The van failed to stop, and Madonna’s sergeant authorized him to follow to vehicle and try to stop it.

Madonna reported the van, driven by a woman, traveled 80 to 90 mph northbound on Route 24. At one point, the male passenger appeared to point a handgun out the window. Madonna said he pulled his cruiser to the left, out of the line of potential fire, and heard what sounded like a “pop.”

The van later ran over state police spike strips, damaging a front tire, and Madonna saw an item thrown out the passenger window. The van exited the highway in Brockton and crashed. Madonna chased the male suspect on foot and apprehended him, injuring his left hand in an ensuing struggle.

State police took both suspects into custody and found a Class A drug and ammunition in the van. More drugs were found along the highway where Madonna believed the male had thrown something. Madonna was treated for his injury at a Brockton hospital, then assisted state police in searching for the gun, which was not found at the time.

An inmate work crew from the Bristol County House of Correction, Dartmouth, found a handgun in the area two months later. The gun was 9mm, matching a spent shell casing police found in the van.

Madonna said administrators were livid because state police took the arrests of the two suspects. But Madonna said that was his supervisor’s call, not his, adding that Fall River police were outnumbered by state police about 12 officers to three.

Madonna has numerous awards and commendations from his police and military careers.
“I’ve never been disciplined on the job or in the service,” he said. “That chase destroyed my career. They claimed the guy never shot at me. I was thrown off the SWAT team four hours later.”

Although he has an unblemished work record, he said, he has not been allowed to work overtime or paid details, preventing him from supplementing his salary and interacting with colleagues and citizens.

“That’s discriminatory,” he charged. “I’m being forced to retire at age 40.”

He said he has been involved in several critical incidents and found to perform his duties in “complete accordance” with department rules and regulations.

He said he has had first-hand knowledge of other officers who have relapsed because of their various disabilities. “And without question (they) have been afforded the opportunity to seek treatment and return to their positions with no retaliation or repercussions from their disability, and have been afforded advancements and opportunities I have not been afforded.

“I’m being punished because of my disabilities and that chase,” Madonna said.

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